My love of travel is only equaled by my love of art. I have a particular weakness for African wildlife art. Here are two artists which have captured my attention.
Simon Stevenson, www.abrushwithAfrica.com, paints with tea and ochre - a medium he explains on his site - which captures the dry season savannah palette perfectly. I have returned many times to his "Painted Creche" of Wild dog puppies, my finger hovering over the "add to basket" button. Wild dogs have taken on a special importance to me because I have never had the good fortune to see them in Tanzania, although I have been countless times to the Selous Game Reserve which offers me my best chance. A cherished going-away present from Tanzania in 2003 is a friend's framed photograph of Wild dogs in the Selous which he snapped on one of the few trips to the reserve without me. Wild dogs are a highly endangered species on the African continent: only Botswana, South Africa and Tanzania have populations of more than 300 individuals. Some surprising and exciting news out of Northern Tanzania in 2006 was that Wild dogs were spotted in Tarangire National Park in August, and again near the Serengeti's Naabi Gate.
Sue Stolberger, www.suestolberger.com, who grew up in Tanzania, works in oils, watercolors and pencil and has lived close to her source of inspiration for the past 11 years - on the banks of the Ruaha River in Ruaha National Park on Tanzania's southern circuit. Inevitably, Sue has been drawn into conservation issues. Ruaha NP takes its name from the Great Ruaha River, tributary of the Rufiji, East Africa's largest waterway and the river which defines the Selous Game Reserve. The Great Ruaha (Ruaha is a corruption of the word river in the local HeHe language) is drying up, the result of irrigation schemes upstream for rice farming. The tributaries of the Ruaha typically dry up completely in the dry season, exposing fine white sandy bottoms. Animal traffic is heavy on these "sand river" highways because beneath their surfaces lies a layer of impermeable rock that has trapped water within digging reach when parched game needs it the most. During the 2003 dry season even elephants couldn't find water beneath the sand highways, an indication of how low the water table has fallen. Hippos died, huddled in desiccated mud pools. One official response has been to close the irrigation gates from June through October (the dry season), but from her observation point of the river bank, Sue notes serious decline of the wet season flow as well. Less water results in a change of wildlife distribution: animals are forced out of the park in search of water where they get into conflicts with villagers who live on the park's peripheries. When this happens, wildlife loses out. Sue writes eloquently about the Ruaha River on her site and I recommend that you read what she has to say while also taking a look at her beautiful art work.
Sue is a member of www.natureartists.com which promotes nature art and conservation worldwide.
This amended prayer for animals is attributed to Dr Albert Schweitzer, whose concern for animals was paramount to his ethics and life. (He was a vegetarian.) "By respect for life," he wrote, "we become religious in a way that is elementary, profound and alive." I was familiar with the prayer for animals from long ago. It recently came to my attention again when it was used a grace before a meal (in a game reserve no less where animals are hunted) and I thought I would pass it on.
For animals who are suffering,
For any that are overworked, underfed and cruelly treated,
For all wistful creatures in captivity that beat their wings against bars,
For any that are hunted, lost, deserted, frightened or hungry,
For all that must be put to death,
And for those who deal with animals,
We ask a heart of compassion, gentle hands and kindly words.
Thinking Animals: Animals and the Development of Human Intelligence
by Paul Shepherd
University of Georgia Press 1978
This book has the exciting premise that the evolution of human intellect did not happen separately from other animals but because of man's interactions with them. For example, if speech is the means by which intelligence developed beyond that of the apes, the very process of thought - "searching, comparing, selecting, ordering and integrating" - parallels the skills of an early primate hunter, which is when man stopped searching for prey randomly and began to "track, stalk, intercept, and coordinate." The way we think is not only mirrored in the act of hunting. It is reflected in the carnivore's tearing apart of meat. You think what you eat, says the author of Thinking Animals, Paul Shepherd, professor of Natural Philosophy and Human Ecology. Speech allowed images to be recalled from memory and communicated; communicated images allowed for the classification and ordering of life; the objectified world allowed for the comprehension of a sense of self, or what it was to be human. We then recreated our ancient world in our own tamed image, a projection of the rationality that came with speech.
"The evolutionary sharpening of mind due to the interplay between animals" took place in open country where nutritious grasses supported large mammals and the ensuing dynamic between predator and prey. Although easy to dismiss as the power of suggestion - we're aware that early man has his origins in Africa - many visitors do describe their reactions to the East African savannah as "coming home." "If we are at home, we would not feel the need to journey there," says Malidoma Patrice Some, West African shaman, of the natural world. To Malidoma’s people, the Dagara of Burkina Faso, the trees and the plants are the most intelligent species because they don’t need words to communicate. Animals are the next most intelligent species because they use a minimum of uttered communication. Humans are the least intelligent of the three. Cursed by the speech, they are furthest from the "home" or the "source".
Thinking Animals wasn’t an easy read for me, but I did find it a brilliant one. If there were times when I didn't fully grasp what Shepherd meant, I nevertheless felt the truth in his words. Often my understanding struck me the way Shepherd describes birds (the model for human song perhaps by the way) - as ideas, flying across the sky (the inside of our heads), "coming from the unseen of the preconscious and disappearing again into the realm of dreams". The bottom line of Thinking Animals however is perfectly clear. We depend upon animals for our continued cognitive development. Our future doesn't look too bright. "A world where people are beginning to crowd one another intolerably is a world too small for animals".
Dark Star Safari
by Paul Theroux
United Kingdom 2003
Dark Star Safari chronicles novelist and travel writer extraordinaire Paul Theroux's journey from Cairo to Cape Town, a pilgrimage that took him back to Malawi and the school where he taught as a Peace Corps worker forty years earlier. Apart from one flight, Theroux goes overland from start to finish. If Theroux had undertaken his journey by air I doubt that I would have read the book. Anyone who desires to understand Africa needs to suffer the pot-holed excuses for roads on which Africans take their produce to markets and sick people to medical help, and from which (in Tanzania's case) half of the country's population lives a day's walk away. Egypt, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa is Theroux's impressive itinerary through the African continent.
You can consider Paul Theroux as the glass-is-half-empty kind of guy or as a realist. I've often thought that with pessimism like his he should stay home. But in Dark Star Safari I find that he has many things right, especially the self-serving nature of and the devastating dependencies created by foreign aid and many charities. In Malawi, where he worked all those years ago, he saw the negative effects of aid most clearly. The chapter about his return to Malawi is one of the most powerful.
I admit to an old fantasy about bumping into Theroux in the back of beyond. In Chapter Thirteen I realized that we must have come close in Tanzania's Southern Highlands. He describes a bus accident that happens on a bad stretch of road one week after he passes through. I recognize the details. It was a much reported accident in Mbeya town and it occurred two days before I set out on the same route.
Timing in life: it's everything.
Writer Paul Theroux of Dark Star Safari is critical of the international aid and charity businesses in Africa. Here is a list of books on the subject which have helped me understand the issues better.Africa in Chaos: A Comparative History by George B.N. Ayittey.
www.allafrica.com: collects and indexes the contents from over 125 African news organizations.
www.tanserve.com/news: news portal for a slew of publications - The African, the Guardian, Mtanzania (Kiswahili), Majira (Kiswahili), the East African, BBC Kiswahili.
www.nationmedia.com/eastafrican/current: Kenya's the East African newspaper online.
www.arushatimes.co.tz: for local news from Tanzania's north.
www.dailynews-tsn.com: the online version of Dar as Salaam's Daily News. I have files of Daily News clippings from when I lived in Dar. I became very attached to the paper.