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Tanzania, February 17, 2003

Humble on the Plain

Its all Natural in the Serengeti

note the zebra background
My Fearless Leaders
pardon our dust, please
The King of the Road
kissing cousins?
Baboons are family too
It's alive. This sea of grass that extends as far as I can see is alive. Every square inch, from the dung beetle that is pushing her prize ball past my foot, to the herd of wildebeests that made the dung to begin with. Even the cattle egrets that feed on the back of the zebras, or the ants that live in the acacia thorns have their place in this vastness.

Oh and let us not forget the lions, hyenas, jackals, and even servals that hunt all creatures, as large as water buffalo or as small as the lowly field mouse. This is the Serengeti plain, one large ecosystem that we've left relatively unchanged, the herds of tourist-filled mini-buses excepted, where the gazelles still wipe their scent glands on stalks of grass and impala chase each other randomly.

Moreover, my cousin Sean, his girlfriend Christina, and I are now in the middle of it, this real-life National Geographic Special. We camp where elephants walk past on the way to water, we sleep to the sounds of hyenas hunting, and awake to the calls of baboons looking for breakfast.

When we pile into the Land Rover, we pause to let giraffe cross the road and reverse when elephants decide to wander down the wrong side of the track. Near the kopi (rock outcroppings), prides of lion watch us as we watch them, while they sleep off their nocturnal hunting and eating. Yes, out here we are very aware of the food chain, and if we step out of the Land Rover, our place in it.

While we were digging out two stuck scientists, we even had a close moment where two hyenas started to track us, looking for an easy meal. Out here, you realize how vulnerable man really is. Unlike the big herbivores, we have no speed or horns, and unlike even the baboons, we don't have fangs. Just soft, pink furless flesh ready for the taking by anything that can out-think us.

Luckily, we were not out-thought, and spent a week watching nature play out around us with impunity. Zebra chased impalas, elephants pushed over trees, servals hunted field mice, and jackals munched road kill while we watched with open-mouthed awe.

We might build Petronas Towers, International Space Stations, or even Disneyland, but out here, we pale in comparison to the beauty, majesty, and efficiency of even the lowly dung beetle. We are so unworthy.

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