The safari vehicles—sturdy Toyota Land Cruisers with pop-up roofs that let us stand and drink in the vast panorama of grass and sky surrounding us—were circled up on a dusty Serengeti track, miles from civilization but mere yards from a parade of elephants tearing into an acacia thorn bush with ravenous gusto. We were close enough to hear the crunching of every leafy, spikey bite.
Rowe McKinley, e’70, b’71, one of 16 Flying Jayhawks on the “Tanzania Safari During the Great Migration,” grinned and called out what many of us were thinking at that moment and many others on the February trip: “Just like in Kansas, right?”
Yes, a journey halfway around the world to the African savannah produced surprising echoes of life back home. Bouncing across Serengeti National Park on roads that ran from gravel to mud to faint two-track paths at times felt a little like driving in the Kansas Flint Hills. Except this sea of grass is larger—12,000 square miles spread across Tanzania and Kenya, compared to 9,900 in Kansas and Oklahoma—and mostly flatter, with vast, treeless open plains broken only by the occasional kopje, rock outcroppings of 500-million-year-old granite that are favored perches of the big cats that call Serengeti home.
Much, much more common, though, were other-worldly moments of awe.
The big cats—lions and leopards—had a lot to do with that. Along with the African elephant, the Cape buffalo and the black rhinoceros, they make up the “Big Five,” the exotic bucket-list quintet that big-game hunters coined to highlight the five toughest animals to hunt on foot in Africa. We were shooting only with our cameras, but the Big Five still loomed as must-see fauna, and our guides made sure that crossing paths with each was at the top of their to-do lists.
We knew we were living charmed lives when we spotted the toughest get on that list—the shy, mostly nocturnal leopard—less than an hour after we arrived in the park. Guides often spend their last day with a tour group trying to hustle up a leopard encounter; we were still shaking off the dust of our bush flight, buzzing from our first wildlife sighting (a bulky antelope called a topi) from the tiny airstrip’s terminal, when an excited burst of Swahili on the Toyota’s shortwave alerted our guide, Neiman, that elusive chui was lounging in a tree not far up the road. And just like that—after 20-plus hours of flight time across three continents, a couple of bus rides and short bush-plane hop—we found ourselves hot on the trail in a surefire African safari.
Over the next week we saw three more leopards, countless lions (including a mating pair that fulfilled their biological imperative with complete disregard for the giggling gaggle of spying tourists), and dozens of elephants ranging from massive solitary bulls to large clans of cows and calves. Alerted by vultures dropping from the sky, we converged on a pair of cheetahs lounging in the shade, their bellies swollen from feasting on a young eland whose parents retreated forlornly in the distance. We intercepted the great migration of wildebeests and zebra and sat idling like drivers at a rail crossing, watching as long trains of the grazers moving in search of fresh grass rumbled across the road in front of us. Somehow, amid a teeming swirl of thousands of the animals, we were able to focus on one wildebeest as she gave birth and, within minutes, nudged her newborn to its feet.
As the days passed, we grew adept at identifying the many, many different African antelope, from the dog-sized dik-dik to the massive waterbuck and the ubiquitous impala. We spotted a few solitary black rhinos and great herds of Cape buffalo, including one bull that nearly crashed our al fresco dinner when a ranger chased him away from the swimming pool, where he and a mate had come to drink. Side-trips to Olduvai Gorge, a Maasai village and the Kibaoni Primary School, where Jayhawks donated more than 30 pounds of school supplies, put us in touch with Tanzania’s human culture, both ancient and current. And back at the lodges after a long dusty day on the safari trail, we gratefully accepted the warm hospitality of our hosts and the good company of our fellow travelers, who included groups from Johns Hopkins and Ole Miss. The dark nights occasionally rang with the calls of baboons and lions, and a skyful of stars—some familiar, some unknown to us—lit our way.
On our first night at the Serengeti Serena Lodge, one of five lodges and hotels we stayed at on the 12-day trip, we gathered for a welcome reception on a terrace overlooking a beautiful valley where the sun was setting behind green hills. We watched as a local band serenaded Fred, e’67, and Juilane Chana, d’68, who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. On our last night there, the lodge treated us to a surprise barbecue, in recognition, our Gohagan tour director Lydian Eijsbouts related, that we were “a special group, always smiling and happy.” As we lingered after dinner under the cooling night sky, in the flickering light of bonfires set to create a festive mood (and to ward off the very real threat of marauding wildlife), we could hear a chorus of many singing voices coming nearer and nearer. Soon a line of lodge staff—bartenders and waiters and chefs in their tall white toques—paraded into our gathering, serenading us with a Tanzanian song as they passed around a cake festooned with a single Swahili word: Kwa heri. Goodbye.
As the song faded away, a lone voice piped up with a familiar refrain. Slowly at first, and then with gusto, the whole table joined in. “Rock chalk, Jayhawk” rang out across the African night, as our hosts smiled in surprise. We hadn’t really understood the words of their song, and likely they were mystified by ours. But the feeling behind both was clear enough: The world is full of wonders, and aren’t we lucky that, together, we’ve shared a few.
The Flying Jayhawks trip to Tanzania took place Feb. 1-12, 2018, and was hosted by Steven Hill, associate editor of Kansas Alumni magazine. View more pictures from the trip on Flickr. Pictures may be downloaded for personal use. For more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, visit our website.
Kelly Cure, b’09, earned a degree in marketing with a minor in Germanic language and literature. She currently works as head of strategic initiatives for Montigny Investments and resides in Swaziland. Kelly is a Life Member of the KU Alumni Association.
I became a Jayhawk because…
On my first visit to KU I was immediately drawn to the infectious energy present on the campus and around Lawrence. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to study, but I saw limitless potential to pursue my passions for dance and travel, while determining a major in one of KU’s fantastic colleges. I hadn’t found a University with this vibrant feeling that also offered a myriad of prestigious schools and areas of study.
How has KU propelled you into your current career?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that KU changed my life and set me on this phenomenal journey that I’m still enjoying today! Thanks to the KU School of Business Career Center, I started with Deloitte Consulting in Kansas City after graduation and began traveling the world through my work. When Deloitte sent me to London for several years, I had the chance to work and explore throughout Europe, the Middle East and was introduced to the continent that I now call home – Africa. After 6 years with Deloitte I was recruited to join an NGO in Swaziland where my eyes were opened to a new way of life in a country still developing with endless potential.
I now reside in Swaziland where I’m responsible for several projects and the Head of Strategic Initiatives for a local private company. The projects include developing renewable energy and managing community conservation projects. In the past year my work has taken me to London, Morocco, Israel, Italy and Johannesburg…There’s absolutely no way I would be in this brilliant journey if it weren’t for my education, connections and experiences in the Jayhawk family!
How did KU push you to try harder or to try something new?
KU introduced me to an incredibly diverse mix of friends, mentors and acquaintances, who inspired me through their work-ethic and constant commitment to growth in and out of the classroom. With such a vast array of clubs, activities and opportunities at KU, I found it the perfect place to experiment with new interests and see what I could learn. Specifically, joining the Rock Chalk Dancers dance team, attending the School of Business and studying abroad in Berlin were all instrumental experiences in my person growth while at KU that I’m forever grateful for.
My best advice for college students…
Take time to listen to yourself and not get swept up in the fast moving pace of college life – which I found difficult! This is your time to expand your knowledge in an area that ignites your curiosity…You know what these areas are better than anyone. Enjoy that.
What was the greatest gift you took with you after graduation?
This is the easiest question The greatest gift is the Jayhawk family that we all leave our time at KU with. My Jayhawk family never ceases to amaze me with their loyalty, love and unique but powerful approaches to life, work and friendship. It’s one of the greatest gifts I could ask for.
At the conclusion of the Tanzania Migration Safari, our group of eight Flying Jayhawks were unanimous in calling this their trip of a lifetime. The sheer expanse of the landscape was breathtaking, our drive through the middle of the migration surrounded by more than two million animals was unforgettable, and the highlight was our daily encounters with wildebeest, zebra, elephant, antelope, lion, leopard, cheetah, and countless more animals and species of birds.
Upon arrival in East Africa, our safari experience departed from the Lake Duluti Serena Hotel outside the city of Arusha. This departure gave us a glimpse of a fast-growing city of nearly 500,000 people. Our drive introduced us to the first observations of the Maasai Tribe members with their livestock herds. Upon entering Tarangire National Park we were thrilled to have our first sightings of several elephant herds as well as zebra, antelope, and gazelle.
Our guides were the perfect team: Babenga, known as the “wise one” and Emmanuel who quickly took on the nickname of “wise guy.” On that first day we were treated to the unexpected, real safari experience of getting both vehicles stuck in a dry, sandy creek bed! Nonetheless, after being freed from the creek bed we were rewarded with an up-close experience of watching a lioness coax her five cubs to cross the road right in front of us. Emmanuel was quick to point out that getting stuck was perfectly timed to make this sighting possible.
After entering Ngorongoro Conservation area we spent an entire day in the Ngorongoro Crater which is earth’s largest intact volcanic caldera with an unmatched natural wildlife sanctuary. In this setting, we had the special privilege of seeing two black rhinoceros which was a humbling experience given the sad circumstances of their threatened extinction.
Throughout our migration safari were treated to some of the greatest deluxe lodges and tented camps which provided us the opportunity to be surrounded by a landscape of boulders, fig trees, colorful garden settings, and night sounds of the Serengeti wilderness. One of the highlights was staying in the Kirawira luxury tented camp in the western Serengeti. This camp with Victorian-era décor is situated on a hilltop overlooking the vast plains of the Serengeti. And this is where we were treated to a memorable bush dinner under the stars with a roaring bonfire to keep away the hungry hyenas!
During our visit to the Zariki School at the Magu-Mwanza fishing village on Lake Victoria, it was a special treat for our group of Flying Jayhawks to witness the Jayhawk influence in every corner of the globe. One of the seven classrooms at this school is named “Jayhawk” thanks to the generosity of a Kansas family who previously visited the school during their own Flying Jayhawks trip.
Rock Chalk, indeed!
—Dale Seuferling, president of KU Endowment, hosted the Flying Jayhawks trip to Tanzania January 27-February 6, 2016 along with his wife, Marianne. For more information about the Flying Jayhawks program, including the 2016 schedule, or to sign up to receive emails or brochures about future adventures, visit www.kualumni.org/flyingjayhawks.
Zambia and Botswana are not the most accessible places in the world, but that didn’t deter a group of Jayhawks who were determined to experience a true African safari. Some of the travelers in our group boarded as many as thirteen flights to complete this journey, but not a single complaint was heard.
With the help of our tour guide, Robyn, we immersed ourselves in the African culture and wildlife. As we learned the tales of African explorer David Livingstone (and the origin of the iconic phrase “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”) and picking up our “bush babies” before bed, we experienced all the mystique and romance that southern African has to offer.
While some may think of going to Africa as “roughing it,” the outstanding hospitality of the native people makes it anything but that. In addition to enjoying delicious lunches out in the bush, we were also entertained by traditional songs and dances before our evening meals. I can’t forget to mention that in true Jayhawk fashion, we always found time to stop for “sundowners” before heading back to our lodges or camps.
For anyone who has ever dreamed of taking a trip to Africa, I would say only one thing: GO! The wildlife, scenery, hospitality and the culture are truly the experiences of a lifetime—something that I will not soon forget.
—Tyler Rockers, coordinator of alumni programs, hosted the Flying Jayhawks Botswana Safari from June 24-July 7, 2015. For more information about the Flying Jayhawks program, including the 2016 schedule, visit www.kualumni.org/flyingjayhawks.
This year’s Homecoming theme was Jayhawks Around the World, and we shared several stories on our blog from alumni across the globe. One of our favorite reader-submitted stories was from Nicholas Blume, d’09, who traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, last August on a medical mission trip with International Medical Relief. The organization helps provide medical care to underserved populations by recruiting qualified teams of volunteers to conduct medical clinics in areas where health care is difficult to obtain.
While he was in Kenya, Blume helped set up free health clinics that provided health care and education to more than 4,300 people in seven days.
David Johnston, the Alumni Association’s director of internet services and marketing, provided Blume with plenty of Jayhawk stickers to spread school spirit to another continent. It was the first introduction to the Jayhawk for many Kenyans, and Blume shared that many of his team members– including a student from our former rival school to the east– discovered the traditions and history that makes the University of Kansas unique.
Blume chronicled his experiences during the mission trip on his blog, Nick’s Big Adventure. Click here to read more.
Do you have a great Jayhawk story to share? We’d love to hear it! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most students probably don’t expect to live in a mud brick house with no electricity after graduation, but that’s exactly what Brooks Perry, d’10, did for 27 months.
Brooks, a kinesiology major originally from Buhler, joined the Peace Corps after graduation and served in sub-Saharan Africa. He lived in a rural Zambian village where he helped alleviate health problems by distributing mosquito nets, water treatment plans, administering health surveys and maternal health initiatives.
“It truly taught me patience, the power of a shower and how to laugh about life!” Brooks says of the experience, adding that he recommends to anyone considering living in the third world to do it. “It truly is an adventure.”
Currently, Brooks is an educator at a therapeutic boarding school in Idaho for teenagers with substance abuse and behavior issues. He helps organize the adventure education program and teaches health and physical education.
Why did you decide to attend KU?
I decided to attend KU after going to the University of Arkansas for a year. My heart was telling me that I would be happiest at KU. Life is about experience and KU is 100 percent genuine experience. I grew up a KU fan and knew what the school had to offer; I knew it would be the place where I would be most comfortable and positive.
What’s your favorite memory of KU?
Storming Massachusetts Street after winning the 2008 national championship in basketball. My hands still hurt from giving too many high-fives that night.
What groups or activities were you involved with at KU?
I was involved with Navigators, Habitat for Humanity, Kansas Kids Fitness Days and intramural sports.
What’s your favorite thing about Lawrence?
The energy that consumes the whole town. It feels like the entire community is simply an extension of the campus. Lawrence citizens are very accommodating of the students and help ensure their well-being and success. Lawrence has a smaller feel to it; however it has some of the best things the world has to offer– prime dining, great nightlife and pretty rocking musicians.
What advice would you give to incoming students?
Take it all in stride. It will go by in a flash, so live in the moment. The future can wait. While in school focus on the beauty of the day-to-day. It is a pretty special experience at the University of Kansas.
This year’s Homecoming theme, Jayhawks Around the World, celebrates the University’s global reach in terms of international students and faculty, research discoveries that change the world and the achievements of KU alumni, who live in 150 countries around the globe. Visit www.kualumni.org/homecoming for a schedule of events and to learn more about KU’s Homecoming tradition.