I am always outside. Coming from the cold winter of the states I am accustomed to never wanting to go indoors when its nice out. It always seems that the nicest weather occurs when I am in class and the rain, especially in Carlisle, PA, always seems to fall when I find a free hour. The first few days in Tanzania I never wanted to be within walls – due to instinctive fear that the weather would disappear. The sounds, sights, smells and sun of Tanzania were so enticing I didn’t want to go to bed, eat in the cafeteria or do my homework anywhere remotely productive. Through the past few days, however, I came to the conclusion that I am never, ever really inside – and that this is the best condition to learn in.
My Banda (where I sleep) is a one room house comparable to a yurt home to more bugs than humans and impossible to keep clean. The cafeteria, lecture hall and library doors are always open. We chase our resident feral cat out of the dining room daily. The sounds, smells and winds of africa join us during lectures. On campus there is no place where one can ever, really, be inside.
Most of all though, my classroom is the savannah. The first week consisted of learning field note taking techniques and practicing them in the most effective way possible – on safari. Monday afternoon we left for Lake Manyara National Park to see our first wildlife with our water bottles, cameras, binoculars, field guides and sunscreen in hand. The excitement was overwhelming. We were instructed to take notes on everything and anything we laid our eyes on for four hours. Tuesday morning we drove around endlessly trying to find baboons and then recorded their actions every five minutes for two hours. Wednesday we drove around to the far side of the park and walked over a mile back into it, guided by Maasai pastoralists, to do dung and footprint IDs over transects.
The act of seeing and recording was more rewarding than any lecture we endured. I found myself with more questions than observations on the relationships between the geology, vegetation, and hydrology of the region paired with the feeding ecology, inter-species relationships, behavior and social organization of all the animals we observed (including but not limited to zebras, elephants, impalas, flamingos, buffalo, wildebeest, giraffes and wart hogs).
It is all a little disorienting – I mean how many people get to go on safari for class? But even though I am a willing and eager learner I haven’t been this excited about education in a long time. Yes, the fact that I get to see African mammals on a daily basis might have something to do with it… however, I believe the core of my excitement is the opportunity and ability I have to observe what I study and come to conclusions on my own that have real life applications. The more I learn now, the more skills I accumulate, the more prepared I will be to aid my professors in their research through my “directed research” project later this semester.
My mind is racing. The amount I have to learn is astounding. I force myself to stay awake to study. I am exhausted through every bone in my body and every part of my brain. This is active learning and it is highly, highly underestimated.