By Jerry Bowen
Tanzania, Africa

We went to another kind of flyover country this summer far from our Iowa farm. We were in search of wild things and hoped to escape, however briefly, the insanity that oozes out of the Twitter-verse.

Our destination was East Africa and the country of Tanzania. The land of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti with its free roaming, living, breathing menagerie of amazing creatures. Aardvarks to zebras … giraffes, lions, hippos and elephants in between. An alphabet of nature’s grand creations.

Jerry and Val Bowen on safari

Our goal on this special trip, a celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary, was to witness the Great Migration of Wildebeests. They are on the move by the thousands in single file crossing river after river in search of nourishing grass. They risk their lives on the journey as hungry lions, cheetahs and especially huge river crocodiles wait to pick them off. The story of the continent: the predators after their prey.

Along the way we chanced upon a wise young man. Marcus Kassanga. He was our personal safari guide and much, much more. Teacher, environmentalist, writer and wildlife expert. A Renaissance man of the Masai Mara.

Marcus Kassanga

He is exactly the kind of person America would have put out the welcome mat for in another time to further add to the rich diversity of our culture. But Marcus is black. And he comes from a place our President called a “shit-hole country.” And besides that he is very, very content to be exactly where he is.

“Being born in Tanzania, to me, I count it as a blessing, while many others might see it as a misfortune because indeed Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest countries,” Marcus wrote in his new blog.  
“But if you look at it from my perspective, Tanzania is actually one of the richest countries because of what nature has blessed us with.”

Marcus is on a mission to conserve the species he helps his visitors find in the bush. Save them for future generations and for what he calls “the well-being of our universe.”

“It is a known fact that for years,” he writes, “Africa has suffered continuous oppression and exploitation due to greed and lack of appreciation of what it has been offering, and nothing breaks my heart like having to witness all the damage that has already been inflicted on this continent.”

Slavery. Plantation agriculture. Colonialism. Poaching. The ivory trade. The slaughter of millions of rhinos and elephants over time.

Marcus and his fellow guides (there are very few women guides) work at the Olakira Migration Camp, a mobile camp that is moved twice a year to position visitors near the best viewing points of the migration. This time of year, it is in the Northern Serengeti, a lush savanna that straddles the Mara river.

It is common for lions and hyenas to roam among the tent cabins here overnight. Morning brings zebras, wildebeests and elephants to the horizon. It is all very thrilling, exotic and safe. Visitors stay in their cabins. The wild things stay outside. It is exactly the kind of Africa we have come to see.

An elephant approaches

Marcus seems always in a good mood, wearing a perpetual smile as he drives his open-sided safari truck over the rutted dirt roads in search of game for us to see. It is a bumpy, lurching journey jokingly referred to as the African massage.

His native language, Swahili, rolls off his tongue in a joyous cascade of syllables … mysterious music to our ears, but the talk is of trade with other guides he meets on the road to share where an elusive leopard can be seen. Or a lion observed eating his fresh kill. An unlucky zebra.

Marcus and the other guides muse over what life here on the savanna would be like had nature given lions the human brain and humans the hyena lobes or the wart hog mind. The lions would be on safari watching us, he chuckles.

During a rainy morning we can’t venture out and Marcus joins us for coffee in the lounge tent, water puddling at the edges as it drips down the canvas top. We talk about this place and the mysteries of nature. (Why the Wildebeest is so odd looking?)

Wildebeest migration 

“A lot of people for years have thought the wildebeest to be one of the most stupid animals to have ever existed in the animal kingdom,” Marcus wrote in another blog posting. “The most likely reason is the fact the wildebeest have a very short-term memory. It is the type of animal that will cross the same river minutes after a crocodile has just killed one of them.”

It is a matter of survival he tells us. They are focused on their long-term survival and not paying attention to the immediate danger before them. It is the adrenaline rush that pushes them on. By the thousands. Single file. Eager to get to the promised land on the other side.

I bite my tongue. This is not a time for political analogies. That story remains an ocean away. Or so we thought. Truth is that nearly every remote bush camp is now equipped with Wi-Fi. Visitors demand it. They need to be connected.

The other truth is that even out here our Tanzanian guide and his colleagues are absolutely consumed with what is happening in America to America. They are baffled and greatly concerned by the impact of the Trump presidency and his apparent disinterest in the rest of the world. The problems they see.

Marcus is convinced, for one, that global warming is the new reality. It is seen in the changing weather patterns. Rainy seasons that come later and may be shorter. Hotter weather. It is not a matter for political debate. Not in his mind.

Marcus has an interesting philosophy about Man and Nature. Nature, he believes, makes spare parts. There are not just lions. But leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and jackals also to prey on the antelope, zebras and wildebeests.

Lionesses by the road 

His “spare parts” idea leads him to believe there is actually another earth with living things orbiting out in the cosmos. Spare parts. “There must be another planet with life. Nature makes spare parts.”

And what of global warming we ask? What if man triggers his own extinction? Marcus says Nature will start a new cycle of life. 

My wife opines, “The cockroaches will make it!”

Our guide chuckles at that.

Out here, where nature is such a vibrant reality show, it seems there is reason for hope. Or maybe, we are just hypnotized by this survival play unfolding before our eyes. Distracted by the drama of the savanna.

We hope the best for Marcus and his mission to preserve creatures large and small on his beloved continent. We need more like him.

Here and at home.

Marcus Kassanga 


Jerry Bowen is a three-time Emmy Award-winning news correspondent now in retirement after 33 years with CBS Network News. He lives in Los Angeles but escapes regularly to commune with the coyotes and cougars on his family farm in southwest Iowa.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.