Featured Writer: Wanderlustress
Fires were everywhere as we drove along 6,000 kilometers through the remote hills of Western Tanzania in order to get to the hard to reach national parks typically accessible only by flight. Bush camping, fighting tse tse flies and rationing water along the way, we found healthy national parks, extremely poor road conditions and some of the most unforgettable faces of the African people. The biggest impression, however, was of forest fires. I left Africa with a lasting sensation of heat, the smell of smoke and the concern for Africa’s natural resources.
During our hot and dusty long days of driving, we came across miles and miles of forest fires. Some we could see from a distance burning along the ridges of far away hills. Some fires we experienced up close along the roadside searing our truck as we drove through the intense heat. Unfortunately, I have no photos of the fires because the last thing one thinks about when having to drive through an inferno is grabbing a camera. We were too busy wetting handkerchiefs with our drinking water to cover our faces as we drove through the flames. Even after finding some respite from the flames while camping along the banks of Lake Tanganyika, one night the fire came down from the hilltops toward our tents and was broken only by the tiny dirt road separating us from the inferno. Heat, smoke and ash crackled and spun down onto our tents until the early morning hours just before dawn.
One of our trip leaders was a satellite image expert who guided us with his satellite maps through remote areas where road conditions were unknown and road-maps were unavailable. Those satellite images also helped us to see where we might end up in low-lying areas at the end of the day so we could plan to collect firewood before we arrived. He told us of images which showed that most of Africa is burning and I am convinced of it after experiencing the fires throughout our month-long overland expedition.
There is a tall dry grass that is everywhere in Africa, the perfect fuel for the most insignificant flame left behind by locals smoking out beehives to collect honey, or perhaps accidentally spilled over from camp and cooking fire embers. The biggest damage, however, is supposedly by people burning out the underbrush in order to hunt the denizens of rats and rabbits for food, or to have access for cutting down the taller trees to sell as firewood or turn into charcoal. Poachers also use fires to drive game into open arenas for capture. These seem to be the only livelihood resources for people whose crops are dry from a poor rainy season and their families have no food, having been bypassed by most food-aid due to the poor road conditions in the high plateau areas. Repetitive burning of the soil does not allow the earth time to replenish the necessary nutrients and the land becomes useless and infertile. Hillsides are wasted of trees and rich dirt. The rural people end up eating mostly maize meal and cassava, and go hungry.
There will be very few trees in these parts for the next generation to burn, yet there are no alternatives for a viable livelihood. Academics have put forth recommendations to the Tanzanian authorities for seed programs to plant more trees and for irrigation plans to divert water from rivers and streams, but many projects have yet to reach the areas with extensive burning today. In the mean time, Africans go hungry and Africa is burning.
I write about travel, humanitarian aid, and life as an expat living in foreign countries. You can read more of Wanderlustress at http://dwharlow.wordpress.com/. Thanks for visiting!
I have always kept Africa on my bucket list. My fiance is originally from Cairo, which is way up on the list. Interesting stuff.
Africa is wonderful. You will enjoy it.
LOVE IT! Makes me miss Africa. I went to Rwanda last year…love it! Your pots are awesome!
Thank you so much Joanna! I miss Africa, too.
Sounded like quite an unexpected adventure… wild fires vs wild animals… loved the post! Thank you for sharing!
You are very welcome. I’m happy that you enjoyed the post Diane.
I’m my entire family is from Mombasa, Kenya and my brother and I lived there for two years, so I can relate to seeing the fires. Great Post!
Thank you Kimanzi and good luck with your move to Hawaii!
Excellent post, thanks for sharing your experience with us!
Thank you, Joe! Hope you are enjoying your newest grandchild. Congratulations!
I loved reading this post. Very vivid and beautifully written! Thank you for sharing!
Thank you. I happy that you enjoyed it Blannie. I think that YOU are doing an amazing thing as “Skydiving Ambassador” for the American Heart Association. Wishing you all the best for your fundraising event later this month!
Sad story … sorry to hear abou the environmental degradation in the wild parts of Tanzania … hope they can turn it around!
Great pics and narrative, excellent post!
Thank you James! Your “About Me” page title made me laugh (not at you), funny.
Hi I enjoyed reading your post, My son and his new wife are not long back from Mombasa, they went on honeymoon.
They were very moved by what they found out there. I would love to go myself.
Africa stays with you always. You will be moved as well.
It is sad :(. What can we do from here? Can we do more than donate money to NGOs?
Even as a humanitarian aid worker who works for NGO’s, I don’t always think giving money at NGO’s is the only solution. We need an integrated approach to solving these kinds of problems, if indeed they are unnatural and out of control as mentioned by another commenter who added that burning to refresh the soil is a routine and beneficial activity in Africa. An approach to reduce the demand for poached animals for instance, or more support to the government to combat poachers. That said, poachers need alternative viable livelihoods that maybe improved education and better communication infrastructure can foster. It’s complicated and difficult to find the true root source of the problem and even more complicated to find locally-grown solutions.
Thank you for your comment and thank you for visiting.
You are right, it will take time to educate, inform, but one might want to start some day and ever the hard way to save the African continent. For example in the USA, and Europe, one can not just stand along the roadside to urinate, we, in Africa don’t even see it as anything bad. it is just normal. Is it truly normal to do so? where is our dignity and how do we protect our environment? so I still think that we need to start the hard way. Let just find that way
I live in south africa and can relate to some of things you have said. Sadly it will take years and several generations to make change, and mostly it will come through education and understanding from all parties
What a lovely post. Thanks for sharing. I especially like your photos.
Being African myself such posts sadden me but sadly it is the reality. Thanks for posting but I have to admit it has made me miss home so much!!
Can almost smell that woodsmoke… Good stuff. I was born in Zimbabwe and lived there until I was 27 (and I’m so thankful to be taking my wife and young children home for good after 13 years in the UK this August) and bush fires were always a part of life. Even close to residential suburbs any unused piece of land would get set on fire, and a crop like maize planted in a discreet corner. Strange thing is, I don’t think I ever witnessed a field going up in flame, so I guess it was against municipal bylaws and done late at night.
Great post! I too took a trip to Africa a few years back (Malawi) and what I can say is that it very much stays in your heart long after. The villages and surrounding areas are so run down, the people have so little however the amount of joy and the smiles that radiate off of them is simply breathtaking. Its something that sticks in your head humbling you and helps you to remember to be grateful for what you have.
Ever thought those happy smiling people see all those glum and needy western faces and tell themselves to be grateful for what they have?
It’s so horrible to hear about all the fires, as if there aren’t enough issues to address over there! I went to Tanzania as well and saw a few fires but nothing this extreme…it’s an amazing place, just a shame the education is lacking. I miss Tanzania!! 🙁
Great pictures of real Africa!
You’ve inspired us. Africa is on our bucket list and we’re going to find a way to somehow make it happen this year. Thanks for the inspiration!
Nice blog and awesome adventure! Give me a shout if you come to Cape Town! 😉
We are thinking about going to Cape Town in June 🙂