Posted: September 30, 2011

Name: Yash Gharat
School: Cornell University
Major: Natural Resource Management

There it was. I could not believe my eyes when the peak of the mighty Mt. Kilimanjaro peeked its way out of the clouds, looking like a huge snowy island suspended in an ocean of clouds. Since finding out that I had been accepted into the SFS East Africa program, I had dreamed of setting my eyes on the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. And Mt. Kilimanjaro, in all its tall icy glory, had presented itself to me and my fellow East Africa classmates on the very first day of the program, while we were still on our flight to Tanzania!

SFS’s East Africa program promises to be full of excitement, education and enlightenment, and all three were kicked into high gear as we made our way to the Moyo Hills Camp in the pretty little village of Rhotia. As our Land Cruisers traversed a multitude of amazing landscapes, we caught glimpses of rural Maasai life as well the occasional giraffe, zebra and crowned cranes. All this, our program assistant Moses promised, was merely an appetizer to what was to come! And surely enough, he was right; as we entered into the village of Rhotia, we could see that this was going to be nothing less than a great cultural immersion experience.

Hiking across the village and farmland that surrounds it, it is hard not to catch glimpses of rural Tanzanian life, and to meet children and adults who are eager to converse with you in Swahili. The staff and faculty at Moyo Hills Camp, who welcomed us with open arms and readiness to serve as Swahili interpreters and dictionaries have been truly amazing; I already feel as if I have known people like Moses and Bura all my life.

And there is more yet to come. Tomorrow, we set out on our first game drive in Lake Manyara National Park, hoping to catch glimpses of hippos, elephants, giraffes and (fingers crossed!) lions. One thing that will be prove to be slightly difficult over the next semester will be to remember that at the heart of all the wildlife-viewing, soccer and haggling at rural markets, lie academics. This much was made clear to all of us at our academic orientation, and since then we have already started thinking about our assignments and readings (all of which, however, seem to be about nothing less exciting than everything to do with Africa!).

As I write this, I am grateful to be in Africa, content that the day has been nzuri sana (very good) and excited about the adventures yet to come. There is more Swahili to learn, more environmental issues to discuss and more places like the Serengeti and Amboseli to visit. Already it seems that this trip will be nothing less than a life-changing experience. Cheers to that!