I still cannot believe that I had the chance to visit Africa despite my long history in connection with the continent.
Everyone who grew up in the former Soviet Union knows the verses from a famous children’s book about Doctor Aybolit, who was asked by a hippo to go to Africa. When Aybolit asked him where Africa was located, the hippo replied, “Well, we live in Zanzibar, In the Kalahari, and the Sahara Up on Mount Fernando-Po, Where the grumpy Hippo-Pop Roams the mighty Limpopo.”
As a result, I learned about Africa earlier than I learned to talk or even learned about my own country. Now, 27 years after I first heard the verse, I have been able to visit Africa and am sure that I will do so in the future.
In order to get to Zanzibar, you fly from the continent, and after miles of ocean, suddenly, a small island with palms appears, and the plane lands. Welcome to Zanzibar. This island is a combination of white sand, plantations of spices, and a historical stone town. After several days in Zanzibar we flew back to Tanzania again in extremely small planes, which was a real adventure. We landed in the Serengeti, the Tanzanian National Park, in the sand and grass without a conventional landing ground. There, our guides were already waiting for us and the safari drive began.
We crossed Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania, moving every day to another location. We came to Amboseli park in Kenya, where we camped out in tents at the foot of Kilimanjaro. Not only did we see a multitude of different animals, but we also learned how giraffes change color depending on their mood, who is the number one killer in the safari, and other interesting facts.
The safari was a true adventure. In the beginning it might seem strange, but gradually you get used to waking up at 6am to the burning sun and yellow dust, driving across the savanna at 20 miles an hour in order to take 100 pictures of elephants a day, discussing every evening how many lion cubs you saw, and playing the Mafia game with fellow HBS students day after day.
In Tanzania and Kenya we also had the opportunity to visit a Masai village. The Masai are the only people who are allowed build their homes and grow the cattle in the national parks. They live in very close communities and are trying to preserve their lifestyle as it was hundreds of years ago.
Business Meetings and Night Life in Nairobi
Finally, we headed to Nairobi, where we encountered peace, heat, and a lot of traffic jams. It was really difficult to reconcile the recent images of this city in mass media reports about the Kenyan elections and the real Nairobi during the time we stayed there.
We were also able to see how business is done in Nairobi. We visited the Nairobi stock exchange and had lunch with the CEO of Barclay’s Bank in Kenya, an HBS alum. We ate crocodile and ostrich at a restaurant and sampled the nightclub scene.
While you usually visit museums and see the architecture to understand the history and culture of a country when you travel, we didn’t do anything of the sort yet I feel we learned more about East Africa than we could imagine. Now, back in Cambridge, looking at the souvenirs I brought back from my trip, I still cannot fathom how someone from a tiny village in Tanzania can create avant-garde masterpieces with such a stunning mix of colors.
Many thanks to Joe Mutugu and Nana Quagraine who organized the East Africa trek and to all of the HBS Students and partners on the trek who made it an adventure.