After a few weeks in Tanzania, I’m starting to feel less like a tourist and am finally able to appreciate every day life here. Although I’m still walking around with my mouth gaping open, unable to believe that I’m really here, I think I’m starting to get used to it.

The people have been what struck me with the most force, and I think they are what I’ll remember for the longest time. Yesterday, for a Swahili assignment, we went into Rhotia with a partner to find a person to interview. Caleb and I met a woman named Celina, who was incredibly friendly and receptive to our form questions. She laughed with us when we couldn’t think of the right word, and even helped teach us a few new ones. Her little bit of English and our little bit of Kiswahili made for an interesting (albeit slightly awkward) conversation. She ended up inviting us to her house, and was still so nice when we said we couldn’t. All the people I’ve encountered here have treated us with a similar amount of respect and kindness, whether they’re Maasai herders, shop owners, farmers, SFS staff, mamas, tailors, or tour guides. I have yet to meet a single person who treats us like we’re tourists (except for the vendors in Karatu).

My prediction for the second strongest memory I’ll take away is an encounter my safari car had with an elephant. For a field exercise in Lake Manyara National Park, we drove around the property and observed various animals, taking time-stamped notes on their behavior. Although most of us were way too excited to take adequate notes, we somehow managed (out of necessity for a paper).

After about an hour of baboons, impala, and mongooses, we finally found one of the Big 5. Someone in my car spotted an elephant in the woods, and we stopped to look (trying our darndest not to shriek in pure joy). After looking at the elephant (about 50 feet away), our driver and Wildlife Ecology professor pointed out another elephant that we hadn’t seen, about 10 feet from us. She walked right behind the car and stopped. We were now 5 feet away from an elephant, who ended up standing in the road and looking at us for about 10 minutes. Can’t imagine a better first encounter with charismatic megafauna.