Out of Africa
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 01:02
On his penultimate day in Africa, Dylan McDowell thought he almost wasn’t going to get out of there.
McDowell was trying to leave the island of Zanzibar to get back to the mainland of Tanzania, and a taxi driver had convinced him to buy a scalped ticket for the ferry to take him back.
The scalped ticket would be cheaper, but McDowell, a junior double majoring in fisheries and wildlife sciences and education, was worried he wouldn’t make it through passport control since the ticket had another name on it. He also didn’t have enough money to buy another if this one didn’t work.
As part of the ruse, he had to escort a woman wearing a black niqab through the passport control. She told him to hide his passport and to continue going through.
“The entire time I was freaking out a little. I thought they were going to find out I wasn’t the guy whose name was printed on the ticket and I wasn’t going to get through and I was going to miss the last boat of the day and miss my flight back to the states the next morning,” McDowell said.
With some reassurances from his cab driver, McDowell made it through and onto the boat, even if he got some curious looks from some customs officials.
But this wasn’t the only time McDowell got into a scrape that left him worried. The first part of his trip, he worked at a game ranch, Rosslyn Safaris, in Zimbabwe. While on a trip to Hwange National Park, he and the other intern he worked with encountered some elephants as they were driving around the park.
“We waited for the elephants to cross the road because we knew you can’t come between an elephant and her child,” McDowell said.
When the pair thought the elephants were all across, the other intern, Austin Dulany, started moving the small Toyota pickup truck, only to see another baby elephant who hadn’t yet made it across.
The mother elephant charged the truck, flapping its ears and blowing its trunk, but the truck stopped moving.
“I was driving and it started running at us and I stalled out,” Dulany said in an email.
But Dulany was able to get the truck moving just in time, and the elephant missed the truck.
Visitors came from around the world to hunt animals on the game ranch, which included leopards, impala, eland, giraffes and zebras. McDowell was able to shoot both rifles and bows for the first time in his life and killed two impalas and a warthog while he was there.
With all the game hunted on the ranch, it meant there was a lot of meat from many different animals to eat. The meat would feed the other workers and then some would go to the people in the village. And McDowell found himself eating many different animals and parts he would have never thought of before.
“We ate a lot of organs, like heart, intestines, stomach,” Dulany said.
And there was sadza, which is ground up maize that is rolled into little balls and which was served with just about every meal there was.
“You would ball it up in your hand and dip it in sauce with meat, which could be anything from giraffe, zebra, eland or bushbuck,” McDowell said.
McDowell said he liked Zimbabwe, everything from the seven different kinds of beer he tried there, to driving into town to make deliveries.
“We had so much freedom there. We had so much freedom to explore there but we still had things to do,” McDowell said.
After Zimbabwe, he went to Tanzania for a more structured study abroad program put on by the School for International Training, focusing on wildlife conservation and political ecology.
The program allowed him to stay with a few different families. The first one, he lived with a family on the side of Mount Meru near the Arusha Serengeti Park and worked on learning Swahili. He also spent time with the Maasai people and learned about their society, from how they measure their wealth in cattle to their traditional lion hunts.
One thing that struck McDowell was the pace everything was developing at in Tanzania.
“By being such a new nation, they skipped a lot of stages of development,” McDowell said. “They skipped reliance on fossil fuels and there is a prevalence of solar power.”
He said everyone had cell phones and that no matter where he was, even out in the bush, he was still able to get good cell service, which surprised him considering how often he loses cell service in the United States when in rural areas.
He also eventually visited Zanzibar and thought it was beautiful with its stone town, spices, rubber trees and narrow alleys.
McDowell is now back in Corvallis and is continuing his studies and remembers his time in Africa fondly.
Camping in Hwange National Park, McDowell and Dulany pitched a tent on top of a ridge next to the small Toyota pickup truck they had. He woke up when heard some rustling outside and saw an elephant eating outside of the tent on a tree, oblivious of him in the tent.
Don Iler, editor-in-chief
On Twitter: @doniler