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The LEGACY Issue: Experience: “Tanzania will always have a special place in my heart”

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Featured image: Zac McMenemy

As I sat on my second long-haul flight of the day, bound for Kilimanjaro International Airport, a very friendly if somewhat over exuberant American man asked me if Manchester United would win this year’s “soccer cup trophy”. I responded absent-mindedly, mostly preoccupied with what lay ahead. I enrolled in Manchester Metropolitan University’s African Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Course, run in collaboration with the College of African Wildlife Management. Over the next two years I would spend six months in Tanzania meeting incredible people, visiting some of the world’s most famous sights and learning about a subject I was deeply passionate about. But I didn’t know that yet. As I got off the plane, I was hit by the heat, despite it being late October. I was struck by the colossal Mount Kilimanjaro growing ever larger as we drew closer to my new college.

The course was not without its teething issues but I was determined to get the most out of this opportunity. Over the next two months in class, I learned about wildlife management techniques, how to conduct research projects and the threats the natural world is facing.But this was no ordinary course. Every three weeks we were uprooted from the college and some of the world’s most famous national parks would become our classroom — the Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire. It was like living in a live-action Lion King, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise considering the film is set in the Serengeti and in Swahili Simba means ‘Lion’. As we camped in these beautiful savanna plains, we had the privilege of watching herds of elephants walking by, hippos bathing in muddy rivers and lions hunting, all while studying how to monitor and conserve these incredible creatures.

On my second stint in Tanzania, I conducted my Masters research project. For six weeks I lived in the wild in a small camp located two miles from the nearest village, Vilima Vitatu, which we would visit twice daily for breakfast and dinner. With my research assistant Nyerere and a ranger, we would head out each day to gather data on the critically-endangered pancake tortoises, setting up camera traps and taking measurements of each tortoise. Village locals were initially apprehensive of my presence but through my extremely limited Swahili vocabulary and with the help of Nyerere, I was eventually accepted. Returning to the village a few months later, ‘Mama Queenie’, whose restaurant we had frequented, welcomed me back with open arms. 

Of course, my time in Tanzania did not consist only of studying. Having joined the college’s football team, I quickly discovered that I was not as fit as I previously believed and had to work hard to adjust. However, I was in my element in the local bars and clubs, with the afrobeat tunes that I came to love blasting. There would be some great dancing from the locals, and some questionable moves from myself, inspired by a few bottles of Serengeti Premium Lager. On my penultimate day in Tanzania, I finally submitted Africa’s tallest mountain, the same one I had been awestruck by upon my arrival: Mount Kilimanjaro.

My time in Tanzania was not only an academic education but a cultural tutelage also. I made friends from across Africa, indulging in new food, music, and traditions. To say that my horizons have been broadened would be an understatement. Having now returned to the UK, I feel that I have become a more complete individual. Manchester United did not in fact win the “soccer cup trophy”, but Tanzania has won a special place in my heart.

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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