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Look Who’s Talking – Kalamazoo Safari Company

EVERY TRIP TO TANZANIA HAS BEEN MY FAVORITE

Each safari has its distinctive flair. I first fell in love with galloping giraffes and believed that they would always remain my favorite, but that has not proven to be true. On a high bluff overlooking a river, we stopped abreast three lionesses casting an intense stare into the valley. Through communication and coordination, they slinked away from their perch to descend towards the massive zebra herd. After their successful hunt, they dragged their dinner to the river and waited. Enthralled with the scene unfolding below us, we were surprised by the parade of females, juveniles, and cubs filing silently by to join the waiting mothers by the river. Elephants are the landscapers of the savannah; using their mass, strength, and tusks as tools. I’ve also watched their gentleness with their trunk, using it as a straw, personal grooming scrubber, and a “hand” tugging a Go Pro held in my son’s hand. This pinnacle of matriarchal community can be seen within the elephant herd shortly after the birth of a baby. The females form a circle enclosing the newborn calf within the protective wall of grey hide and tusks. Although hippos are the grossest, they are ridiculously entertaining to watch. They fart, burp, fling feces with their tails, fight, squirm, snort, and bellow – the worst of adolescent boy behavior. The guides laugh and say, “You’ll still smell them from your photographs.” The mating ostrich dance is as graceful as the Flamenco with equal feathers and flaunt. Cheetah lives are spent scouting. They have speed but lack strength and endurance, forcing them to preserve energy. Cheetahs use stumps, termite mounds, and sometimes Land Cruisers to enhance their view across the flat endless grassland. When a cheetah leapt up on our spare tire, my heart stopped, I didn’t breathe, and it took everything I had to look into the eyes of the most beautiful feline. And in her eyes, I realized that she didn’t even see me. She gazed through us emphasizing how inconsequential our existence was. She was there for the elevation boost only.

I’ve just highlighted a few memorable natural moments. We equally enjoy dancing with locals, hunting with the Hadza, grinding coffee, summitting Mt. Kilimanjaro, floating in crystal clear springs, watching the sun disappear over an extinct volcano, and especially seeing a smile split the face of a child and eyes light up like happy chocolate kisses just from the gift of school supplies and from being seen.

HOW DID KALAMAZOO SAFARI COMPANY COME TO BE?

KALAMAZOO SAFARI COMPANY was born from our love of Tanzania and our desire to share with those inspired to journey there. Every sense ignites as you are immersed in a sensory smorgasbord of taste, scents, sights, sounds, and touch. Your world expands as you explore the Cradle of Mankind and the wildness that reigns supreme. Sunsets in Africa hold light differently, the shimmer of reds and oranges intensified by ancient volcanic debris and landscapes. And if you are lucky, by the time your travel ends, you might just feel that this trip marks a personal dawn, the time that you woke to view the world a little bit differently.

And since this is a love story, it is important to share how Erfan and I met. Of how, I first fell in love with a Tanzanian and then the country.

Erfan was born in Tanzania and immigrated to the United States at age 19 to attend university. There are many reasons that he chose the United States for education over elsewhere, but here he felt that he’d be able to learn and grow beyond the opportunity set available in East Africa. Eventually, he joined Trilogy as a computer programmer and statistician and moved to Kalamazoo. I attended university at Western Michigan and started my career as a financial planner and investment advisor. During my sophomore year, I had the opportunity to go on a three week adventure to Kenya and Tanzania but could not afford the excursion. I held onto that itinerary feeding my dreams of travel to East Africa.

In the spring of 1994, our paths crossed at the corner of Burdick and Lovell and again at The Warehouse Night Club the next night. The first time we met, there was discussion of adventure, but not Tanzania. Erf was always planning adventures, most likely to West Virginia, to raft the white water of the Upper Gauley River or the perhaps the Miracle Mile on the Youghiogheny in Maryland. The night at the bar I found out that “Earth” was from Tanzania. I was fascinated by this handsome man from Tanzania and who planned adventures. “Earth” was intrigued by this woman forward enough to invite herself rafting and who knew where Tanzania was located and its importance. (Erf edit: While all true, Erf says initially his attraction to me was more about my hotness than my mind.)

Our mutual attraction to fun, adventure, and each other took root and blossomed into a marriage combining continents and cultures. Our third wedding was in Tanzania at his community’s mosque where I was an honored guest with a privileged front row seat. I respectfully honored every nuance of his family’s culture.

Our honeymoon was a Tanzanian safari. The vistas and sunlight did not disappoint. I remember falling in love with giraffes when they broke out in gallop in front of us. Following a herd of galloping giraffes blend wild with magnificence. The scene is breathtaking. It is a bit like watching a herd of horses run through pasture – but wilder, larger, and otherworldly. There were other moments that made me love travel to East Africa on that trip, including the famous hospitality and the food. But what touched me most was immersion into the endless landscape, the feeling of insignificance and humbleness, while witnessing the wilderness spectacle of the Serengeti. It was, it is magical.

Over the next decade we focused on growing our family rather than returning to Tanzania. We made promises to friends and family to one day take them back with us. We wanted to share the magnificence of Erfan’s roots; to create a trip where they would experience everything that I loved about visiting there. We first traveled with my parents in 2008 and then decided to host the long-promised friend trip in 2012. When we tossed out the idea casually, the response was gratifying as 28 people said that they’d love to go. While our desire to share Tanzania with those wanting to travel was already seeded, this trip ultimately became the genesis of the KALAMAZOO SAFARI COMPANY.

I thought organizing a trip for 28 people from two countries and five states would be easy. I thought that I would call or email one of several safari companies I knew firsthand or had seen while in Tanzania. I thought that they would be thrilled to work with a group of 28 who knew where they wanted to go and what they wanted to see. I was wrong. No one wanted to work with us. Everyone wanted us to buy a prepackaged safari and Kilimanjaro hike. There are places in Tanzania that are less fabulous than others and I wanted our group to experience the best. Going to Tanzania is an investment of time and money and I wanted to provide both a memorable experience AND value. As time passed, I was a trip organizer without a plan. I thought that we were going to either pay a lot more to travel with one of the more expensive safari outfitters or sacrifice our itinerary. And then I met Elvice.

Elvice is still our partner today. When we met, he’d split from Abercrombie just a couple of years earlier to book custom trips. At that time, his business was mostly European. As I asked questions, his answers clearly indicated that he was hearing our travel desires and was willing to cater to them. During this trip, there were several moments where his team’s service exceeded all expectations. Most notably, two of our Kilimanjaro climbers abandoned their luggage in the Nairobi airport. Elvice miraculously retrieved the duffle bags and his team hiked them up to our Kilimanjaro hikers three days into their hike. They literally delivered bags on the mountain in order to outfit our guests.

Erf and I loved sharing Tanzania with our friends. Every aspect of the trip was perfect. And through the eyes of our guests, we witnessed the gracious hospitality, stunning lodges, and audacious nature. Parents know that part of what is special about raising children is being able to view shared experiences new again through your child’s eyes. We are immensely lucky to know this wonder each time we return as hosts.

We returned to Kalamazoo and thanked Elvice for creating a custom itinerary with attention to details. Although our trip was over, we felt that our mission was incomplete. We began supporting charities by donating safaris in partnership with Elvice. Eventually, he encouraged us to become a more organized business partner. Within 18 months of our friends’ trip, KALAMAZOO SAFARI was born; providing customized crafted trips with midpoint pricing and the comfort of talking with an American firm. Travel to East Africa is a long, expensive, and expansive trip. Good travel opens minds to the world. Great travel changes hearts. And we are going for great.

OUR TANZANIAN PARTNERS & GUIDES KALAMAZOO SAFARI COMPANY IS CURRENTLY COMPRISED OF ERFAN, ELVICE, TINNER, ME AND OUR FABULOUS GUIDES.

DOUGLAS IS OUR MOUNTAIN GUIDE. Between Douglas, his brothers, and cousins, they have taken care of our hikers. His family has deep roots tying them to the mountain as he first hiked when he was very young alongside his father who just recently retired in his 70s. His father is best known for establishing the technical Umbwe Route. Proud Kilimanjaro experts, their knowledge includes mountain medicine, weather, equipment, human resilience, mountain cooking, conservation, and history. He and his family have traversed every path on Kilimanjaro.

SOLO IS A DEEPLY CARING SAFARI GUIDE whose love of the land and knowledge of safari has enriched our clientele’s experience. He’s even resourceful enough to secure a bottle of requested liquor in the middle of the Serengeti! And after just a little time spent in his Land Cruiser, it’ll become obvious why he has the nicknames Professor and Mayor; he knows everything and everybody. While he is an excellent guide, his explanation of charity has influenced our philanthropic philosophy. His work with Hope Ministries brings lifesaving and life improving surgeries to remote villages. But Solo understands limitations. When discussing need, he says be comfortable with what you can do and are willing to do because otherwise the need will swamp you. And that need is endless.

IBRA HAS EARNED HIS NICKNAME “EAGLE EYE.” This seasoned professional guide is detailed, organized, and knows tracking. He understands animal behavior and sees animals where others do not. His skill has astounded me regularly. He is an asset on any safari and while his vision is among the best, it is his legendary patience that I most admire. His voice is deep and comforting, a bit like Morgan Freeman with an East African accent. Ibra’s a great guide and we recommend him regularly for families and photographers.

OUR NEWEST GUIDE ABBY IS LASER FOCUSED on customer service and the safari experience. He will go the extra mile to ensure that you are comfortable, safe, and thoroughly enjoying your time in his country. He’s actually like the host at the best gathering you’ve ever attended; attentive, fun, and knowing that you are there for the experience.

He exemplifies KALAMAZOO SAFARI’S “White Glove Service.” All guides are trained in safari mechanics, but some are like the MacGyver of the Serengeti. Did you know that super glue and sand will fix a radiator leak? Me neither. But it does.

OUR FAMILY, CAREERS & CHARITY

The common themes weaving through our family, careers, and lives include creating experiences and empowering individuals and families to achieve their goals. As a seasoned financial planner and portfolio manager for Merrill Lynch, I’m committed to integrating financial planning with purposeful portfolio management. Your life goals are my goals. As a Safari and Kilimanjaro host and Adventure Itinerary crafter, I collaborate with our groups to craft itineraries focusing on their unique travel priorities. Your travel goal is our goal. There is no doubt that in both financial planning and travel, time and money are critically important.

Erfan leverages his global reach to encourage exchange students from over 30 countries to attend high school in the United States to learn about American culture and to refine their English through Foreign Links Around the Globe (FLAG), headquartered in Kalamazoo. The idea behind exchange programs is learning about cultures through experiencing them. Diplomacy, after all, begins with family and is strongest person to person.

And as parents, we seek opportunities to diversify both our children’s experiences and cultural interactions to cultivate respect of differences and expand what they believe is possible.

Experiences leads to empowerment making access critically important. This mantra defines our life and philanthropic focus. We are committed to organizations that are committed to crafting experiences and therefore empowerment of our youth. Inner City Youth for Change is committed to equipping urban youth with tools to grow their leadership skills through service locally and abroad. Their goal is to change the world by breaking of generational poverty through experiential service, access, and empowerment. Separately, Girl Scouts provide access to a broad swath of opportunities and experiences. The diversity of experiences and access to adventure lead young women to knowing that they can do anything.

In addition to these organizations, the YWCA serves vulnerable women around the world. Reducing vulnerability is the first step to being able to learn from positive experiences. Here we focus on strengthening the foundation.

SUCCESS LEADS TO MORE SUCCESS. LEARNING TO MORE LEARNING. KNOWLEDGE TO MORE KNOWLEDGE. SUCCESS IS THE LAYERING OF MANY SMALL VICTORIES AND EXPERIENCES. WHEN YOU KNOW MORE, YOU CAN DO MORE.

We’d be remiss if we failed to emphasize that KALAMAZOO SAFARI COMPANY is fiercely committed to biologic conservation and we support strong local causes. Southwest Michigan Conservancy does a remarkable job of preserving and cultivating nature and Binder Park Zoo sets the standard to which other accredited zoos should aspire. Their large exhibits provide enough space for their residents to stretch their legs and explore habitat. They also participate in crucially important breeding programs, which while I wish were unnecessary, they are. We believe in our local zoos because not everyone can fly to Tanzania, but everyone deserves to see a giraffe break out in gallop across a grassland and see lions laze in the heat.

And lastly, we are a supporter of the American Heart Association. First, because the cause is important to so many and it gave us a great platform for visibility at their annual Go Red event. However, our support ended up being Provident when Erfan survived a Widow Maker in 2019. Now, our support is tangible and from the heart.

While charity begins at home, nothing tugs our heartstrings like the youth in Arusha, Tanzania. Fruitful Orphanage is one of many that house vulnerable youth who face existential struggles. Without Fruitful, they’d have no roof, no floor, no food, and no access to education. Fruitful is building a school with the intent to provide a better education than available through the government. African youth have demonstrated through enthusiasm the joy of being alive and appropriate enthusiasm for learning. They have enlightened me in the schoolyard, the forest, and the orphanage. I’ve learned that the most basic of human needs is to be seen, heard, and hugged.

WE INVITE YOU TO JOURNEY WITH US

Through KALAMAZOO SAFARI COMPANY, you can experience most adventures available in East Africa from Zambia to Zanzibar. Our heart, however, belongs in Tanzania.

When talking with future travelers, our focus is to hear their travel goals and do our best to craft an adventure that surpasses their expectations. While our itineraries have similar elements, they are not the same. We customize safari and hiking adventures with the intent to create memories for a lifetime. Afterall, once traveled, the journey never ends and you can revisit in your mind again and again.

Join me on my hosted Kilimanjaro hike and/or safari next summer July 2021 or call us to craft your own safari or East African adventure!!

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