Travels in Tanzania

June 14, 2012

Drew Doty ’13
"The rock I am on is called a kopje. These rocks are all over the Serengeti and usually are a resting place for a group of lions or cheetahs... and sometimes me," Doty said.

As a student in the Tanzania: Wildlife Conservation and Political Ecology program created by SIT Study Abroad, Drew Doty ’13 recently spent 15 weeks in Africa examining the people, animals, and landscapes of Northern Tanzania.

“I chose this program because I wanted to experience a life completely different than mine in America,” said the religion major. “I got exactly what I hoped for.”

Over the course of the program, which started in January, Doty conducted field research in the southeast African nation that is home to Serengeti National Park, the site of the largest wildlife migration on earth. He studied Swahili, visited nature reserves and conservation areas, and soaked up all there is to learn in one of the most exciting real-world classrooms in the world. What was the most challenging part of the experience? Saying goodbye to the place that became his temporary home for three months.

Drew Doty ’13
During his stay in Tanzania, Drew Doty ’13 wore Shukas, the native clothing.

Tell us about the first moment you entered Serengeti National Park.

I was standing through the roof of a Land Rover, the sun just above me and grass all around. Our car came to a stop just at the bottom of a small hill. On top were two leopards just chillin’ like villains.

I guess I felt conflicted. Conflicted because while Serengeti, Ngorogoro, and all the other protected areas in Tanzania are rich with wildlife and history, human presence in these places is now perpetuating a moral dilemma. Do we remove human life from the area to protect the wildlife, as if humans are not animals too?

Furthermore, the government only makes room for the existence of safari cars, whose passengers (myself included) are there only to snap a picture and capture the beauty of the place. It’s a beauty that less than 1 percent of Tanzanians will ever see because 99 percent of Tanzanians make less than $2 per day, 95 percent less than $1. The average safari rate, depending on where you go and for how long, can range anywhere from $350 to $20,000 per day.

So I say, I was, and I still am, conflicted. Serengeti is beyond beautiful, but so are the people who were once able to live there.

What was it like living in the rural setting among the Maasai community?

Living with the Maasai was honestly the most powerful experience of my life. I'm not really sure what can be said that will make you understand "what it’s like." It is exactly unlike anything I, or any American college student, has even known. Every night we slept under the Milky Way on cowhide and woke up right at daybreak. By sunrise we were herding the cattle out to graze.

One morning, my host brother hit me awake just before the sun was up. I could hear a faint chanting from far away, which we walked toward. It was the gathering "cheza" for a circumcision. For the Maasai, if you want to be a warrior, you must be circumcised. I won’t discuss the details of that morning, but I will say that I have never seen more strength exerted from a single person.

What was one of your most memorable experiences of your three months there?

Ten other students and I climbed six hours through the night up Oldonyo Lengai to reach the volcano's rim right at sunrise. Oldonyo Lengai is Kimaasai for Mountain of God. It could not be a more appropriate name. Walking around the rim, we watched the sun rise between Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru. To our right was Ngorogoro Crater, behind us the Serengeti, to the left Lake Natron, and just beyond them the Black Hills of Kenya. I cannot explain what happens to the mind when you’re in a place like this because it is beyond the capacity of words to express.

What field research were you conducting?

In the national parks, my research was directed towards ruminants, animals that ruminate their food after eating (giraffe, impala, cape buffalo, etc.). We were looking at population distribution, density/spatial aggregation within a specific population, and behaviors according to habitat.

Our purpose was not to come to any conclusions about ruminants, per se, but rather to use ruminants as a focal lens for understanding the Savannah ecosystem. These field studies were conducted in four different parks around Northern Tanzania: Ndara Kwai, Tarangire, Ngorogoro Crater, and the Serengeti.

What did you focus on for your independent study?

“I chose this program because I wanted to experience a life completely different than mine in America,” Doti said. “I got exactly what I hoped for.”

For my independent study, I looked at Muslim perspectives on love and sex. I acknowledged that essentially every human has an understanding of these two subjects, regardless of language or culture. However, our understanding is limited by the purely experiential and fleeting property of both, and it is the interaction of humans with these properties that I wanted to study. Therefore, I narrowed my study through the focal categories: marriage, sex outside of marriage, divorce, homosexuality, and rape.

Over the course of 26 days in April, I conducted roughly 60 hour-long interviews in the small coastal village of Ushongo, whose population of 700 is predominately Muslim. I found that in just three generations of Ushongans, perspectives surrounding these topics have and are still changing. This change is a result of a growing capitalist lifestyle, which, according to my interviewees, is making life harder.

What did you learn?

Well it depends on the day, but I learned everything ranging from conservation, westernization, globalization, Kiswahili, local tradition, Tanzanian culture, and how to bargain.

My courses were all hands-on, experiential learning. We had no textbooks, and the only classroom I used was during the three-week intensive Kiswahili training we had during homestay.

Even then, class was entirely unlike any class I have taken in the U.S. I lived in my tent for most of the semester, and the other times I was either with a Tanzanian family or in a cheap backpackers hotel. I lived outside far more than inside last semester.

By Kristen Manieri

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