March 15, 2007

Travel and Social Responsibility

Guest Post by Jeremy Jacobs
Professional Presenter and Speaker & Childfree Brit
Blogs: From Margate to the Maasai, Corporate Presenter

Just a few days ago, a close friend of mine said “Jeremy, you've had a bit of a spiritual experience haven't you"?

She was, of course, referring to my recent charity trek, on behalf of Breast Cancer Campaign, to the Foothills of the Maasia in Northern Tanzania. I don't know whether or not it was a spiritual experience – and in any case, the meaning of the term "spiritual" varies depending on whom you are speaking to. But I will state this; the thrill of walking 70 miles in temperatures approaching 90 degrees F over six days and on difficult terrain was certainly an achievement to be proud of. Those months of preparation paid off!

Now I've been back a couple if weeks the cerebral enormity of what I and my fellow trekkers achieved is starting to sink in. The ten of us all had something in common - either losing someone close in tragic circumstances or with a strong sense of social responsibility. And in nearly all cases, both. I think it was that "sixth sense" that kept us together and ensured that all who participated came through without incident, unnecessary physical pain or nagging self-doubt.

The charitable leitmotif, as you would expect, dominated conversations amongst the participants and some of our Tanzanian guides. Sharing experiences with complete strangers about ones personal life, close family members, faith and politics had an atavistic feel about it. Reminded me of school-days and holidays at summer camps. The amazing surroundings also made for a surreal few days. Every waking moment seemed to be filled with some new phenomenon, from the "Milton Keynes" style elephants outside Nairobi airport to the magnificently named "Superb Starlings", a brightly coloured version of that bird. Then there would be the confrontation, verbally, about female circumcision, followed by a description of termite hills, a Maasai boma, and who would be first into the field shower back at camp.

Wildlife featured heavily. Giraffes, ostriches and a nasty looking bull elephant took pride of place on the first full day. A deceased caracal (a type of wild cat) was the subject of much discussion over the campfire that night. Soon, a puff adder would be incinerated in full view of the gang. "Just as well" said one of the crew. "They're responsible for 25,000 deaths in Africa each year". We all guffawed and stared at the heavens which resembled a crisp new "Milky Way" chocolate bar wrapper with a low crescent moon completing the scene. Baboons; wildebeest, zebras; elands, Thomson gazelles; egrets, and lilac-breasted rollers were all viewed along with the vast numbers of goats and cattle belonging to the Maasai farmers. The most voluminous animal seemed to be the African donkey. At times, it was like trying to battle your way through an over- crowded beach at Margate or Blackpool!

Food and drink were plentiful and we were well looked after by our Maasai guides and crew. The latter all employed by the Tanzania Travel Company who in turn were under instructions to look after us by the overall trip organisers, Charity Challenge from North London. The camp sites were erected and dismantled each day in military-style efficiency. However, there was a moment when one of the party fell down a poorly constructed field toilet. The screams would have been heard for miles. Sorry Laura!

Earlier that day, a local school was visited. The classrooms reminded me of a scene from a Dickensian novel. You know, six to a desk and share the pencil. The following morning after nearly 2 hours of trekking, school-children could still be seen walking to that particular educational establishment which by that time was some 10 kilometers in the distance behind us. A black-backed jackal and a newly-born goat caused sensations that day but nothing could have prepared us for the entertainment that lay ahead. Firstly, there was the awesome "sunken crater", followed by traditional Maasai "jumper" dancing, then play-time.

Picture the scene - two jeeps, a variety of passengers in each, pitch black outside - its hunt the wildlife time. This involved the switching off and on of headlights until bands of wildebeest and zebras realised what was going on. They ran in all directions for their lives! After 30 minutes of animal baiting we headed home. Or at least tried to. Night-time in the middle of nowhere with no "SatNav" meant an hour of frustration ensued.

Twelve miles were covered in the heat on the last trekking day before another school was visited. Entertainment that night included a Maasai version of "show me the way to go home". The Ngorongoro Crater with its lions, cheetahs, hippos, flamingoes and hyenas was visited on the last day. Now that was something very special and I would recommend you pay it a visit [click here for Jeremy's crater picture].

[Editor's note: Jeremy raised thousands of pounds $$$ for breast cancer with his trek.You can view his individual fundraiser page here. There are some great photos on his trek blog. I will post a few here when Blogger fixes their upload bug! Jeremy suggests having a look at Charity Challenge if you are interested in doing something similar.]

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Ms. Grateful Blurker said...

I enjoyed reading this piece. It reminds me that, though it may be cool to roam around the blogosphere, nothing compares with taking yourself outside of your comfort zone and into new places. Congratulations to Jeremy for taking on and completing this journey.

Jeremy Jacobs said...