Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Studying Hemingway in Tanzania

Ernest Hemingway is one
of the most well known writers in the world. Not many people, however, know about his lifelong fascination with Africa. For years I knew about Hemingway, having read some of his works, but in the summer of 2002, I fell under Hemingway's spell. That summer, I helped lead a large group of American students, their parents, and teachers on safari in some of the game parks of northern Tanzania: Ngorongoro, Serengeti, and Tarangire. The safari was organized by Thomson Safaris,, and my role was to incorporate folklore into the experience.

As I prepared for this trip, I decided to take Hemingway's African stories with me. I could not have made a better choice, as I wrote in a Tanzanian newspaper afterwards:

I had with me the African writings of Ernest Hemingway, the famous American writer who had visited these areas many years ago. I had read some of Hemingway's writings and I knew what a skillful and insightful writer he was. But being in the Serengeti, and reading his stories about hunting there, and about the animals, made this trip even more exciting. Hemingway's descriptions of the landscape, the fauna and the flora ring so true that I could almost see the warthogs running across his pages ("The African," September 14, 2002, p. 8).

With such an experience, it was natural that I began thinking about creating a course on Hemingway in East Africa. Eventually, I created such a course, for Colorado College. In the summer of 2007, twelve students, with Professor Bill Davis, came to Tanzania for the three-week course. Other trips have followed. Hemingway traveled extensively in East Africa, in 1933-34 and in 1953-54. Hemingway was an avid traveler and we cannot, in only three weeks, go everywhere he went. Still, teaching this course has been most satisfying to me. It offers an opportunity to challenge popular misconceptions and stereotypes about Hemingway, on such topics as hunting, writing and the macho image. I have learned to respect Hemingway more and more, as a writer whose mastery of the craft of writing is both intriguing and enchanting, whose insights into human nature are sharp and original, and who genuinely respected and liked the peoples and cultures he encountered.

Students on a trek up to Longido Mountain, with a Maasai guide.

A student meeting local women at Namanga, on the border between Kenya and Tanzania. Hemingway passed here.

A student meeting local women at Namanga. Hemingway wrote some fascinating observations about the local customs, including the piercing of ears.

A class outside a hilltop hotel, above Lake Manyara, near Mto wa Mbu. Hemingway hunted in this area.

A view of the Ngorongoro Crater. Hemingway hunted here.

Students in the Ngorongoro crater.

In front of a baobab tree in the Tarangire National Park. Hemingway hunted in this area.

There are many lodges and hotels in and around the national parks. Above is Ndutu Safari Lodge, in the Serengeti. Hemingway hunted in the Serengeti.

Discussing Hemingway's writings, at the Bougainvillea Lodge in Karatu.

On the edge of Lake Manyara, three giraffes walk in single file, while countless pink flamingoes are busy in the Lake. In his Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway talks about this Lake and various features of the area, including its famous hot springs.

The Arusha airport. Hemingway flew from this airport to a hospital in Nairobi after he became ill with dysentry in the Serengeti.

Students meet local Maasai school children in Longido. Hemingway passed through Longido, on his way to Arusha.

A class on Hemingway's writings, at the Trinidad Lodge in Babati. Hemingway passed through Babati, on his way to Kondoa, Handeni, and Tanga.

Students celebrating the end of the course, in Arusha.

On the way to Kilimanjaro International Airport, after the end of the course, it seems perfect to take one more photo, against the background of Mount Kilimanjaro. What a way to end a course in which one of the readings is Hemingway's unforgettable classic "The Snows of Kilimanjaro."

No comments: