Tag Archives: Africa

The Beautiful Diversity of Being. Perspectives and (Analog) Nostalgia.

It’s all about perspective. If you lay on your back on the parched ground, you will see bright blue skies through the opening formed by your body in the tall elephant grass. It is yellowed and crispy. It does not move. You see, there is not a breath of wind. Air is vibrating in the heat adding shifting patterns to the sky.  And you think of dance. Relaxing, slow dance of the universe.

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Traditional dancers in Zimbabwe early 1990s

If you sit up your perspective changes. You see a thick wall of dry grass. Covered in dust it is still standing, proudly reaching for the skies. More out of habit than anything else. Elephant herds have not yet passed by here, and the sun has not yet completely broken its back. But it knows from experience that not a drop of water will come down for a long time.

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An elephant family crossing the Luangwa river, Zambia,  late 1980s

If you stand up in the midst of the dry grass your perspective will change yet again. You will see the river flowing by. Its speed has slowed down since the rainy season and its banks are higher now. But it still transports the lifesaving elixir to all in need, people and wildlife alike. 

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Luangwa River, Zambia,  late 1980s

Beyond the river you can see an acacia tree silhouetted against the sky. And a lone giraffe seeking shelter from the burning sun. Still months to go before the heavens will open, making the rivers overflow their banks and bringing the savannah to life again. It will get worse before it gets better.

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Giraffe in Kenya early 1990s

These are but a few perspectives on Africa. As seen from a small patch of tall elephant grass.

Before experiencing Africa in the late 1980s to mid 1990s I had no idea how much this continent would adjust my perspectives on life. And of those sharing my journey.

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Fresh from the plane. Our first day in Africa (Lusaka, Zambia) late 1980s

I embarked on this journey to widen my horizons, and to add to my perspectives on life. I hoped to gain a better understanding of the human experience through immersing in cultures and traditions so different from mine. I wanted to experience the wild. And hopefully to do some good along the way, however insignificant.

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Attending a traditional coffee ceremony in Ethiopia in 1990
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Performing Lingala songs in Kampala, Uganda mid 1990s

Those were my hopes and expectations, but I had no idea of how much the rest of my life would be influenced by Africa. That I would feel the passions and pains of its people in my bones. Develop a lifelong love of the wild creatures roaming its savannahs. And come to embrace, at least partially, the differences and similarities of lives lived under the same sun in various corners of our precious earth.

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A young dancer in Livingstone, Zambia, late 1980s

What I learned gave me a firm respect for life, and overlapping perspectives to observe it from.

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Life is about following your path. Sometimes it may mean leaving behind the safe and familiar to experience the pulse of something new and different. To leap into the unknown in order to contribute, to learn, to discover and respect other perspectives than those one was born with. To see the beautiful diversity of being. aulikki-and-dylan-birthday-2016

Last week I grew a year older. An excellent opportunity to reflect on what has been. Thinking back to this meaningful passage in my life, I feel nostalgia. And tremendous gratitude for having had the privilege to peek into life on this old continent over several years in several countries. Despite some hazards and heartaches, my eight years in Africa rise to the surface among the good things that have enriched  my life experience. I appreciate the hardships and the blessings. Africa captured my heart.

On my birthday I found nostalgia right there in my lap, together with Dylan. And went to try on my Ethiopian national dress. It still fits.

 

The Wildlife Capital of the World: Sunset on the Savannah (Part III)

Have you rested enough?  The sun is getting lower now, and we have so much more to see before night fall. So let’s climb back onboard our sturdy safari van.

acacia trees on the svannah 2 ud48On the savannah between the many small hills, we encounter more giraffes. They are further from our trail now, enjoying a variety of afternoon snacks. Did you know that no two giraffes have the same pattern? It’s just like our finger print, or a snow flake. The pattern is unique to each individual.

giraffe on savannah 2 ud48

giraffe 4 ud48Holding on to the bar while we bob and hop forward, we look at every tree and every bush. And suddenly something really big flies over our van! A surprisingly nice looking Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture settles on a tree a bit away from the trail.

Rüppell's Griffon Vulture ud47This is a remarkable bird. It holds the record as the highest flying bird, spotted at an altitude of over 37, 000 feet/11 kilometers. Like watching it fly alongside a jumbo jet. It also has lots of throttle. It can fly over three miles in six minutes from a standing start- a Ferrari of the skies – and can venture about 90 miles from its nest in search of food. That is quite amazing.

Not far from the vulture, but miles away on the beauty scale, we find a family with kids.  Beautiful Grey Crowned Cranes. The chicks travel safely between mom who leads the way, and dad who checks the surroundings for any dangers.

a family of Grey Crowned Cranes ud47This tall, colorful bird’s French name is Grue Royale, and they certainly look royal to me, with a golden crown and everything.Grey Crowned Crane ud47Our journey continues up and down the hills. And soon we spot some familiar looking birds. Actually they are the cousins of two salt marsh birds. The tall Black-faced Heron would get along great with our GBH, the Mayor, and the small Striated Heron could easily be mixed up with our Green Heron.

black-faced heron ud47

Striated heron ud47 also green backed heronNice to see some faces that look a bit familiar, isn’t it?

After a while we arrive into a grassland (phew, it’s flat and the ride gets a bit easier) where several different antelopes enjoy their afternoon. The first one we spot is the graceful Thomson Gazelle. He’s close to the trail and gets scared by our “zebra-van”. But he doesn’t show us how fast he can run…up to 40 miles/64 kilometers an hour. I guess that speed is reserved for real dangers, like lions and cheetahs.

Thomsons Gazelle ud48Then we notice a little head reaching up from the tall grass. A baby Bushbuck is observing us. She’s well camouflaged to stay safe. The Bushbuck calves don’t follow their mom until they are about four months old, so this little one must be younger than that. Stay safe baby, you mom will come back before nightfall.

a young bushbuck ud48The next sightings throw us directly into the “large department”. It’s aptly represented by the Eland, one of the largest antelopes. And the Cape Buffalo.

Eland ud48

African buffalo ud48These buffalos are quite surprising animals. They have an extraordinary memory – and they never forget. They’ve been known to approach people they like with great affection even after a long time. Similarly, they are known to ambush and kill hunters who wounded or hurt them many years earlier. And they are the strongmen of the bush, with four times the strength of an ox. We better be friendly.

We drive down a hill towards a small lake. We spot herds of antelopes and buffaloes on the other side. Down by the water, we find a couple of Egyptian Geese, and two other beautiful smaller birds: the Black-smith Plover and the colorful Crowned Lapwing.

egyptian geese couple ud47

Black-smith Plover ud47

crowned lapwing or crowned plover ud47This Lapwing has a black crown intersected by an annular white halo, and is really easy to spot in this short grass because of it’s bright red legs.

Much of this rough ride we’ve been standing up and looking out through the raised roof. I was hoping to spot a lion or a cheetah. You too? But in this vast park they could be anywhere.  My hope to find any of these cats is fading with the setting sun.

savannah sunset ud48But what is that? Looks like a bird running for her life. It’s a Yellow-necked Spur Fowl scooting across the trail from the tall grass to open land. She is obviously in a hurry.

yellow-necker spur fowl ud47Now look where she came from! Our fantastic driver/guide points to the other side of the trail. There’s a cat. Not one of the big ones, but a serval looking for dinner. No wonder the fowl was scurrying away, it has about 50/50 chance to escape.

Serval ud48While bigger cats on the savannah catch a prey in one of five to six tries, the serval only needs two chances. It’s sometimes referred to as small cheetah – because they look alike, but also because the serval is the next fastest runner of the cats on the savannah.

Just as we approach the east gate of the park at the end of our drive, we get company on the trail. A gorgeous young man comes to say hello and goodbye. A heart-warming send-off. A perfect expression of the savannah’s state of mind.

young giraffe 2 ud48I hope you enjoyed our afternoon in the wild. Nature is amazing. Let us take better care of it.

The Wildlife Capital of the World: Into the Safari Van and onto the Savannah (Part II)

Welcome into Vintage Africa’s zebra-striped safari van, our home for this afternoon’s adventure. No, don’t sit down! You’ll not see anything for the tall grass. Stand up, hold on to the leather-covered bar in front of your seat and look out through the raised roof. We might spot some animals and birds we’ve not seen in the wild before.

See what I’m talking about! Our first encounter is right after driving through the gates into Nairobi National Park. A Baboon family, mom, dad and a baby. Mom and dad are busy examining the grass, looking for something to eat. And the baby is trying to learn this useful skill.

baboon family ud48After a while his curiosity wins. He comes and sits in the middle of the road. Examines us in deep thought.

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He looks confused. Not quite sure what to think about us. But then he smiles shyly and has it all figured out. Humans, right?

baboon baby ud48And so we begin our game drive on the curvy, bumpy, red soil trails. They lead us through many kinds of habitats, from forests to savannahs, uphill and downhill. We are lucky as the trails are mostly dry now after last week’s heavy rains.

trail through savannah ud48Soon we spot our first birds in the sky, the African Sacred Ibis. In ancient Egypt, the Sacred Ibis was worshipped as the god Thoth and was supposed to preserve the country from plagues and serpents. The birds were often mummified and buried with pharaohs. They are now extinct in Egypt, but we are lucky to observe their large nesting colony on an island nearby.

sacred ibis in flight ud47

sacred ibis colony ud47See, there are hundreds of birds. Some are building their nests, others just mingling and talking.

sacred ibis ud47And look out to the left! Our next bird is a big one. This male Ostrich walks slowly, but if need be he can sprint up to 45 miles/70 km per hour. The Ostrich’s eyes are large, but they still have a tendency to run into obstacles. Might it be because their brain is really tiny, about the size of the teaspoon?

ostrich UD47And there – three zebras with their striped butts turned our way. They stand up while sleeping so these guys may be taking a nap in the afternoon heat. At least two of them, while the third is standing guard.

three zebras ud48The Hartebeest have also gotten the memo and pose in the same manner. One is curious enough to look at us. Hello there!

hartebeest ud48We continue our journey and soon spot giraffes on both sides of our trail. They are such gracious creatures. And their eyelashes are just gorgeous, don’t you think?

giraffe 1 ud48

giraffe 16x9 ud48The one on the right seems to be sleeping. Amazingly, this world’s tallest animal only needs 10 minutes to two hours of sleep per day. We don’t want to disturb her, so we continue our bumpy journey.

Keeping an eye on the trees, we spot a bird with a spectacular bill. Our guide tells us it’s the African Grey Hornbill, a female. These birds build their nests in tree cavities and “lock the door” with a cement built of mud and fruit pulp while the female is incubating, just leaving a small “key hole” through which the male feeds her.

African grey hornbill 2 ud47When the nest gets too small for the female and the hatchlings, she breaks out and the door is “locked” again. Both parents feed the babies through the “key hole” until they are ready to fledge. Neat.

african grey hornbill ud47Next we spot a Mousebird flying across our trail.  Her long tail looks quite spectacular in flight. She settles down in a tree at quite a distance. Zoom out and you can see her.

mousebird 2 ud47Oh, look there, in the shade on a large tree branch!  A big bird.  Our knowledgeable guide tells us it’s a “dark morph” of a Tawny Eagle only found in Africa and Asia.

Dark morph tawny Eagle B ud47Just up the next hill we can see something shimmering in the sunshine.  A bird with jewel-like colors, a Superb Starling, jumps around in the grass.

superb starling ud47Oh, he gets scared of our rumbling approach and flies up onto a bush at a safe distance from the trail. He’s easy on the eye, isn’t he?

superb starling 3  ud47From the woods we come onto the open savannah. And there’s a Warthog! He’s looking straight at us for a second, decides he doesn’t like what he sees, and runs away into the high grass with his tail up in the air. Just like in the Lion King. Lol.

warthog ud48The antelopes are much braver. These Impalas are pretty close to the trail. The female examines us thoroughly, while the male decides it’s time to cross the trail to be with his lady. She might need some protection after all.

Impala female ud48

impala ud48And that’s when we arrive at our “rest stop”. The restrooms are here, in case you need to use them. I’m staying behind at the van. There are some animal skulls collected from the park on display around a little hut.

animal sculls ud48While we’re taking a break from all the shaking on the uneven trails, I finally spot an animal that doesn’t run away, at least not very fast, an African Spurred Tortoise.

african spurred tortoise ud48And a White-browed Sparrow Weaver approaches our van. She examines me from top to toe and judges me correctly. A harmless old lady.

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver ud47From here we will continue back onto the savannah. Please return to our safari van – in a couple of days. We don’t want to leave you here at the rest stop for too long.

Cheers from the savannah ~

acacia and bushes on the savannah ud48

Be Careful. Very Careful.

This weeks Photo Challenge, “careful” brought into mind many adventures in the wild all those years ago. I was young and adventurous, driving safaris in several countries while we lived in Africa. It was tempting to become confident. But that’s not an advisable mindset when entering the world that belongs to the wild. I would always tell myself “be careful, very careful.”  Even that wasn’t always quite enough. So I went to dig up some evidence in our scanned photo archives.

A male lion ZIMBABWEThis male lion was sleeping less than 90 feet from our vehicle. And not behind a sturdy fence in a zoo, but in a small national park in Zimbabwe. He looked peaceful with his huge head resting on his paw. But from previous close calls with lions, I knew we had to be very careful in his presence. That was the case also with a female lion who walked on the trail right in front of our vehicle for more than half a mile before veering off into the dry savannah in Queen Elizabeth National park in Uganda.

female lion UgandaA year or so before our first visit there, a male lion had killed a man on that very trail. The man-eater was killed by the rangers, but it was rumored that a ghost of a lion was seen roaming the park at night. We were not lucky to see it, but this is how it was described by those who saw it. Glowing in the dark.

GHOST LIONElephants also have my respect. It was not advisable to come between the matriarch and the youngsters in the family. Despite being very careful, I came to see an elephant’s belly and her front legs up in the air above our vehicle. In the bush in Uganda. Understandably there is no photo evidence of that particular encounter. Only a wild video recording of the roof of the vehicle when hubby’s camcorder flew around, capturing the elephant’s “trumpet solo” and our screams in the vehicle.  All my attention was focused on pressing the gas pedal to the floor, and getting out of there. That situation was very similar to this one in Zambia. Only the tree was lush and much bigger, effectively hiding the matriarch waiting for the young ones right next to the trail. Needless to say, that incident raised my careful lever even a notch higher.

Elephants in the bush ZambiaObviously we had to be very careful when walking along rivers. The crocodiles were known to snatch people and drag them into an underwater “storage”. This happened to a friend of my Zambian colleague. Luckily the storage room had “skylights”. He could get some air, and the villagers could hear his cries for help. They were able to dig a bigger hole and pull him to safety. He lost a leg, but survived. So being careful, I never swam in rivers or lakes known to harbor these dangerous giants, like this Nile crocodile in Ethiopia.

NILE CROCODILE ETHIOPIAAnother not so friendly swimming companion was the hippo. It may look slow and even cute, but it’s easily scared and capable of killing humans both on land and in water. One night in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, I woke up at 2 a.m. to a strange noise. It came from right outside the window. And there was a huge dark shadow on the curtains. I tiptoed carefully to the window and parted the curtain, just an inch. And was looking at the butt of a huge hippo. So when they were in the water, I was on the water. And when they came to graze on land, I learned to keep my distance.

Hippo in Queen Elizabeth National Park UgandaIf and when you enter the wild kingdom to enjoy the wonderful experiences it offers, my recommendation is to be careful. Very careful.

You can find other responses to this challenge here.

Musing Monday: Stop Weaving

“In Silence there is eloquence.

Stop weaving

and see how the pattern improves.”

– Rumi

We might believe we are at the controls of our life, and therefore able to weave whatever pattern we have designed. But many of us have already learned that the pattern we’ve weaved doesn’t look anything like the design we had made. And some of it certainly isn’t that eloquent. Can we stop weaving and trust that the pattern will improve? Something to ponder this week … when the Selfie Sticks sell like butter.

Just Landed.

I am happy to say the NaNoWriMo ended on my part this afternoon. I have a thick pile of paper sitting on my printer tray.  A raw manuscript of my second book.

The temporary cover that inspired me to write...
The temporary cover that inspired me to write…

It’s all there in a primitive form, the good and the bad: adventures, struggles, emotions and life learnings. It’s a story of a young “green hat” who goes to Africa on a mission to save the world, but ends up saving only herself. The writing journey over these past 28 days was all but easy, and I realize it has just only begun.

It is time to take a break from it. I’ll need to catch my breath after running for my life from charging elephants, and hiding under my bed during a wild shootout. Then, at some point, I’ll need to start editing it…and hopefully it’ll find its way to the public domain sometime late next year. For Christmas would be nice.

Now I’ll be catching up on your blogs and on my visits to see Papa Osprey. And some work that’s been neglected lately.

Namaste.

Do You Know What Day It Is?

It’s Saturday here in Florida. Sunny, windy and cool. And it’s November 1, 2014. This day arrived much too fast, and I’m not prepared. Not even close. But you know what?  I’m a brave soul, so I’m going to do it anyway. Plunge right into the shadows.

I’ll be attempting to write my second novel during this month.  A fairly complete first draft. NaNoWriMo is here, and it starts today. Unlike last year, I won’t get any help from Bumble. Why? Is this sweet dog suddenly becoming uncooperative? No, it’s really simple. He was not there, in Africa. But I’m sure he’ll sympathize, and offer a warm paw on my shoulder on a daily basis. In exchange for a light back massage.

Africa Moon (2)
Digital photo art “Africa”

So I’m all alone with my recollections of that time. And what I might have learned from those adventurous days, months and years when Africa changed my perspectives on life. Here’s a little teaser.

It’s all about perspective. When you lay on your back on the parched ground, you will see bright blue skies through the opening formed by your body in the tall elephant grass. It’s yellowed and crispy. It doesn’t move. You see, there is not a breath of wind. Instead, the air is vibrating in the heat, adding shifting patterns to the sky. And you think of dance. Relaxing, slow dance of the universe. Music in B flat. Your perspective on life is being adjusted by Africa.

african crocodile 3
An African crocodile

This will not be easy. There will be some pain along the way. And doubts about the value of my story. Or how it’s being told. The crocodile is waiting. But I have to try. This story has been bugging me for quite a while now. And know myself. I work best under tight deadlines. Always have.

To reinforce the time aspect, and make it a bit more difficult to quit,  I’ve put a validated word counter on my side bar. I’m hoping for some butt-kicking from my friends here when the bar doesn’t move. Such a kind act would improve the meager odds of reaching my goal of 50,000 words in November. I’m also hoping some friends will join me on this journey. It would be easier to suffer through the upcoming 29 days together.

I’ll probably post short poems and quotes to express my mood of the day along the way. And maybe one or another tiny update on Papa Osprey. I’ll need to exercise too when I sit nailed to my chair most of the time, right? I’ll also try my best to hang around your blogs to fetch inspiration for my journey. But it’ll probably be late in the day and a bit less than usual. I hope you’ll understand.

pelican just taking off 2
A pelican taking off

So here we go… taking off… it’s now or never.

Have a wonderful weekend. Love always, Tiny