Two things pleased me about my speech at this year’s ceremonial farewell to Dareda Kati Village. One is that I did not mangle any Swahili. This was unlike last year, when, having planned to finish with Mungu bariki, “God bless,” I slipped and said Mungu baridi, a fractured rendering of “God is cold.” The other is that I kept the villagers waiting in the heat for less time than any of the other featured speakers did.
Nevertheless, I spoke for long enough to tell the people of the village that my own choice of a travel destination in 2007 had been Southeast Asia. I also told them that, even after Marianne and I decided on Africa, as she wished, we never meant to found a nonprofit that would demand our return to Africa every year. My point was to remind the villagers that we cannot always anticipate what will give us satisfaction—just as some of the residents of the village, who become disappointed when they hear that Karimu will build next year at a school far from their own homes, need to recognize that improvements to any of Dareda Kati’s schools benefit the entire village.
I don’t know whether they took my words to heart. I know I did not explain to the villagers that, as a little girl, Marianne had first been drawn to Africa not by its people, but by its animals. This would not have surprised them, of course. Africans are used to being ignored, or worse, by people from rich countries who visit the continent only to go on safari.
The 1966 British film, Born Free, awakened Marianne’s love of lions. (I am more moved by elephants. This may or may not be connected to the fact that, for most of our long married life, she has been the more avid meat-eater.) Based on her emotional reactions to the ten or twenty lions that we see—almost close enough to touch sometimes, as they doze in the shade of our four-by-fours—on our three days of safari in a typical year, that childhood love has not weakened.
The French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, claimed that “when one loves animals and children too much, one loves them against human beings.” That emphatic too much is a hint that Sartre believed the love of animals could overvalue the life of instinct. This would lead us to deny that we have responsibility for the choices we must make, since we are “condemned to be free.”
On the other hand, Sartre’s opposition of children as well as animals to human beings suggests that he may have understood, contrary to his explicit and famous philosophic position, that the life of instinct cannot easily be separated from the life of free choice. What marks, and what explains, the child’s miraculous passage from belonging with animals to belonging with human beings? The fact that each of us experiences coming of age not as a miraculous passage, but as growth, implies its naturalness. Animals and humans are bound together inextricably in nature, and both should be loved.
This does not make the tourist’s habit of admiring Africa’s animals at the expense of its people less interesting. Safari-only African tourism divides animals and humans into separate camps in a way that many of the Karimu volunteers find troubling.
A couple of weeks after we went home to California, a woman who had been one of the trip’s hardest-working volunteers sent Marianne an e-mail, which she passed on to me. This woman gave clear expression to sentiments that, over the years, we have heard occasionally from other volunteers. She noted that a Karimu trip consists of two sharply distinct parts:
“the village, which was Tanzania (albeit a small part, but one where we met real people and learned about their lives nonetheless), and the safari, which, as glorious and amazing as it was, only served to reinforce [the fact] that many of the world’s wonders are out of reach of the people whose countries they are in. How sad it was that the only ‘Africans’ we saw on safari were our drivers and the animals.”
That the volunteer overlooked the busload of Tanzanian schoolchildren whom we saw at the entrance to Tarangire National Park, where the great herds of elephants graze, is inconsequential. It was a single busload, lost among the scores of safari four-by-fours hired by people from rich countries. Some years we see a single bus full of Africans during our safari, and some years we don’t. Safari is indisputably a luxury, and one for which Marianne and I are grateful.
Other postscripts: Joas Kahembe and I agreed that the currency-exchange rate in the Babati District—which favors the dollar less than the rate available in Tanzania’s major cities does—warranted a money wire of seven thousand and six hundred dollars in order to complete the Bacho Primary School water project. Joas has received the Karimu funds and, as always, he has started to make efficient use of them.
The news about the lawsuit for slander brought by Kahembe’s foreman on the Karimu construction projects, Sifaeli Kaaya, is not as good. The mediation promised by Sifaeli’s lawyer, Abdallah Kilobwa, failed because none of the defendants showed up. This was at the end of July, but it took some time for us to receive the news. Although the report confused us, we think the judge intended to reschedule the mediation for later this month, instead of sending the case directly to trial.
Marianne and I are still waiting to hear, by way of Daniel Amma’s new Facebook account, about the cost of the knitting machine with which the members of Flaviana’s HIV support group hope to make the sweaters required for school uniforms.