• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


From Africa



January 7, 2017

I am on a guided tour of Tanzania. I came to see the animals. Today watching the hyena and giraffe, zebras and the buffalo crossing the Serenghti, it occurred to me that, minus the exotic nature of the animals here, large animal migration is what the United States plains resembled before the railroad, the gun and Westerners. No wonder the savanna  conjures such an allure for Americans.

The emphasis on nature is instructive. "The animals are very smart" our guide today said. We were watching three leopards resting in threes. One female and two males.  Evidently it is mating season and the two males have their eye on the female. Each sets in its own tree, on a hill overlooking the great plains. From that perch they can see both prey and predators. And the female is downwind of the males. They bide their time waiting for the moment to approach. What do they think of us? Five or six safari vehicles jockey for position. It is hot as hell outside and we are covered with dust from the day's drive. Our vehicle angles itself near the tree. We jump up grabbing the metal boxes hanging around our necks and point at the animals while pushing little buttons. We look ridiculous.

Yesterday we met with a Maasai tribal community. The leader was a dignified man, mid-forties, the eighth of eleven children who were the son of a tribal chief. His father, who stays in a hut because a lion gnawed on his leg several months ago, chose him to succeed. Quietly masterful, expressive without exaggeration, and inviting to us, he is a natural leader. He has three wives, almost sixty grandchildren. Known to the Western-oriented community probably because he is progressive, he meets today with local leaders to explain how to register children for school. Facing opposition, he fights female circumcision.

Through our interpreter-guide I asked how he keeps his wives happy. To appreciate the answer you need to know more about the Maasai economy. It is all about cows. The more you have, the wealthier you are, and the more wives you need to tend them. "I tell the first wife she can milk all of the brown cows. If I have a wife who proves difficult I tell her she can milk the cows of a color that is less frequent. The third wife gets the rest." Leisure loving women might find that prescription counter-intuitive, but it also reveals something less obvious to us. Being useful is important.  What a lesson that these "primitive" people have for our discontented civilization.

About the internet, bandwidth is not great in the hotels where we stay. Once a tour comes in the servers get easily overloaded and it is hopeless to send even simple messages. But still there is coverage of some degree almost anywhere, even on on a the Serengeti. "It's like a third world country" I have shrieked more than once driving anyone outside of Ithaca trying to get a signal or having calls dropped. Wrong. Tanzania is a "Third World' developing country and there is 3G service in the middle of one of the least populated plains in the world. Seems I came all the way to Africa to learn a lot about the United States.



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