Turn off (the phone) tune in (to the wild) drop out – Tanzania

A study by
Fiona Mackay

NAME:Fiona Mackay
SPECIALISM:Fashion, digital strategy, writing.
LOCATION:The Serengeti, Tanzania
MATERIALS:26 x Photographs / 2 x Objects / x 2 Videos

Overview of Voyage D'etudes

I’m the director of digital at Karla Otto, which is a PR and consulting agency for luxury, fashion and design brands. Before joining Karla Otto I worked for 2 years at NOWNESS.com, where I was part of the editorial team that launched the site. I’ve also written for (the newspaper formerly known as) The International Herald Tribune on topics such as fashion and technology, education and social media, and the environment. I live in Hackney, London, but in January I’ll be moving to New York to study at Columbia Business School for my MBA. When I was in my early twenties I never imagined I’d want to be anything other than an editor or creative director of sorts. Now I’ve realized business can be creative too. I’m really interested in how new media and technologies are making people rethink existing business and communications paradigms. I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa and moved to London in my early twenties. Cape town is an incredibly beautiful city, sandwiched between Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean. You only have to drive for 40 minutes to find yourself on a deserted windblown coastal road to nowhere, or driving inland to the Karoo desert and its quaint dorps (hamlets). The skies are massive and the sense of space and freedom is dizzying. I travel home to South Africa and to other parts of the continent at least twice a year. Living in London with the accompanying crowds, pollution and stress, I think I’d go a bit crazy otherwise.

In September I travelled with boyfriend, family and friends from London to the Grumeti Reserve in northern Tanzania’s Serengeti Mara ecosystem. We stayed at two lodges that are part of the Singita concession: Sasakwa, a sprawling turn-of-the-century manor house built on a high escarpment overlooking the plains, and an eco tented camp set up on the banks of the Mara river. Two Kenyan Airways flights (London-Nairobi, Nairobi-Kilimanjaro), a bumpy private charter (Kilimanjaro-Singita), an off-road jeep ride and 18 hours later, we arrived with single-mided intent: to see the migration. Every year 1.5 million wildebeest and 300,000 zebra and antelope make the annual 1800-mile round trek following the rains north into Kenya’s Masai Mara and back south onto the Serengeti plains. The zenith of this epic journey is the crossing of the Mara river, where ginormous greedy crocodiles lie submerged, lions and hyenas prowl near the banks for the exhausted and injured, and vultures have their pick of the bloated corpses caught in the reeds.

Out on the Serengeti, life and death stare you square in the face. A buffalo calf nurses from its mother next to a picked-clean Impala skeleton. Zebras scatter at the threatening squawks of rowdy baboons. It feels truly ridiculous to worry about a maxed-out email inbox, website glitches, or some ‘viral’ video in the editing suite (all so intangible, behind that computer screen) when you are under the hot African sun watching a baby giraffe eat the leaves off a baobab tree.

I turned my iPhone off. I switched my hyperactive London mind to silent. I stared at the trees on the horizon and tuned into Bernard our game ranger’s chatter about why Ostriches turn pink in the mating season (to attract the ladies) or why a hyena’s shit is white (they eat the bones, along with everything else). The days were filled with long drives after early starts — the plains are most active when the dew is fresh.

Waking at 5.30am is surprisingly easy, when the purpose is to see the sunrise (and not, say, to catch the 7am Eurostar). I witnessed a territorial showdown between male lions: a violent fight, the loser left licking his wounds while the winner celebrated with a victory fuck of his opponents mate. We Ferrari safaried along the invisible boarder between Kenya and Tanzania, racing against a herd of leaping springbok. And there was the main attraction, the Mara river crossing: thousands of Wildebeest plunging like lemmings into the rushing waters, scrabbling over rocks and swimming to the opposite bank, hoping desperately to avoid the toothy torpedoes gliding their way.

Only the strong, fit, and cunning survived. I took note.

A brave little lion cub ventures off from the pack.

Blending in: besides the requisite safari beige, I brought along some colourful printed pieces from Kisua, which is a new fashion brand that collaborates with African designers from around the continent on capsule collections that are sold online. This wax print shirt-dress is by Beatrice Black Atari, who is from Lagos.

We came across this family of lions—male, female and 5 cubs—shortly after sunrise, walking down the one ‘road’ that cuts through the reserve.

Conclusion

Meditation meets David Attenborough on acid. Maybe it was the anti-malarial medication mixed with a stiff gin and tonic every night (just kidding!) but my senses seemed heightened—yet at the same time I had this feeling of total Zen. Apprently switching off my phone for a week can do wonders for keeping the insane/inane thoughts of my overanalytical mind at bay, and—excuse me while I go all esoteric on you—allow me to be much more present in the moment.But how to hold onto that feeling back in my unnatural habitat of the great, grey concrete jungle? Tough question. I don’t really have the answer yet… but I’m pretty sure road tripping through Namibia next spring could help me figure it out.

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