Monthly Archives: May 2009

On the origin of ‘Safari’

“‘Safari’ is itself a Swahili word of Arabic origin, meaning an expedition and all that pertains to it . . . Travelling by marches from camp to camp plays a regular part in the life of the average Central African officer . . . It is a recognized state of being, which often lasts for weeks, and sometimes for months.  He learns to think of ten days’ ‘Safari’ as we at home think of going to Scotland, and twenty day’s ‘Safari’ as if it were less than the journey to Paris.”                                                            Winston Churchill From My African Journey, Winston Churchill, 1908

When we think of ‘Safari’ we envision wild game and East Africa and Dr. Livingstone, I presume.  We think of the elite, of ‘Safari Chic’, of a way of life that does not befit the average working American.  And yet, as Mr. Churchill points out, the actual Thesigerorigin goes back to Swahili and before that, into Arabic, to a mode of transport known as the “ships of the desert” – to the crossing, nomadic Bedouin travelling the deserts via camel.  The great adventurer, Sir Wilfred Thesiger, raised in Abyssinia (today’s Ethiopia), penned a lifetime of travel in the true sense of ‘Safari’ in such books as Arabian Sands and The Marsh Arabs.  For Thesiger, it wasn’t at all about travelling as an elitist or with the well-heeled.  “Once an old man in rags joined us,” wrote Thesiger.  “My companions, some thirty of them (for we were travelling through hostile country), greeted him with great respect. I asked the youngest why they paid him so much deference.  ‘Because he is generous. He hasn’t now, but once he owned many camels; he killed them all to feed his guests, till at last he had none left.’  I could hear the respect, even envy in the boy’s voice.”

Dan Eldon, a fellow fan of Thesiger, underlined the following passage from Arabian Sands, early on on the second page of the book.  “I have often looked back into my childhood for a clue to this perverse necessity which drives me from my own land to the deserts of the East.”  It would be in the deserts of East Africa where Dan would lose his life, in one of the many locales where the nomads would historically bring their camels from North Africa down through Somalia into Northern Kenya.  But the story of Dan Eldon is a celebration of life, of a life well lived, of a life that continues to touch and inspire many, of a life spanning multiple continents, including that of America.  “Energy, sincerity, clarity of vision, creativity,” wrote Dan, being his “Mission Statement for . . . Safari as a Way of Life.”

Like countless others inspired by Dan, one of my goals for Flash River Safari is quite simply to take him up on this call to freedom, in this case, back into the heartland of America, as opposed to the popular idea of ‘Safari’ as a far-flung exotic locale.  Straight into the center of who we as the American people are.  As Dan once wrote, “To explore the unknown and the familiar, distant and near, and to record in detail with the eyes of a child, any beauty, horror, irony, [meets] traces of utopia…”

We’re looking for Creative Activists today who want to make a difference.  Who want to help tell the American Story, one camp, one town, one city at a time.  Who want to join in on a bona fide Safari.

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A voyage of heartland, Main St., pastoral, native, natural.

KolbenI’m a great fan of travel & safari literature meets the lure, or wanderlust of planning and plotting, just prior to setting off on an epic voyage. One of my traveling treasures is an original 1731 set of Peter Kolben‘s Present State of the Cape of Good-Hope, the first scientific study of Southern Africa’s peoples and natural history. Kolben expressed the moment when he realized he was actually going to Cape Settlement as such: “Having felt, in my early Years, an ardent Desire to travel, and long fought in vain for a favourable Opportunity to gratifie so prevailing a Passion, I leave the Reader to imagine the Transport I felt…”

This word “Transport” is really a great word! This longing for expedition that led Daniel Defoe‘s first chapter of Robinson Crusoe to be titled “I Go To Sea”; that took Eric Arthur Blair from Burmese Days to Down & Out in Paris and London to an Homage to Catalonia; that transported Eddy L. Harris from Mississippi Solo to a soul-searching journey across Africa in Native Stranger; that delivered Alexander Supertramp Into the Wild; that forced Jean Louis Kerouac, complete with fifty dollars in his pocket, onto a cross-country writing session On the Road.

I feel giddy with delight even though I am none of these characters. I feel giddy because I share their delight.

LakeItascaThis voyage is going to be raw and its going to be real, set to launch in approximately six weeks. I’ve received a wondrous outpouring of heartfelt advice and support from a great number of people, including my brother, Lew, who has been there to reaffirm what I honestly believe to be the correct course: There are to be no corporate sponsors for Flash River Safari. The imagery of the voyage is heartland, Main St., pastoral, native, natural.

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Gadgets on the go

Right.  So I’ve got the canoe, the paddles, and the tent.  Check, check, check.  I’ll even be bringing along my trusty MacBook laptop computer to conduct the odd interview.  All well and good.

However, what I have yet to secure are the gadgets necessary to power-up the flash of the Flash River Safari.  After all, one needs to keep iReporting from the field, well after pushing off from the latest internet cafe. Power to keep that MacBook humming.  WiFi necessary to send a streaming live signal back to Creative Visions Foundation from even the furthest flung Mississippi River locales.  Like the many islands in the river, between the towns and the cities, that I plan to camp along.  

My friend Ben’s dad, Jim, is going to be biking across America at the same time mifithat I’ll be coming down the river (see Jim’s cross-country bike blog link on right).  When I heard about his recent revelation for a WiFi solution on the road, the answer made perfect sense.  As Jim writes in his blog, the answer is Novatel’s MiFi 2200, and as the New York Times recently pointed out, the “revolutionary” concept of “a universal wireless bubble you can take anywhere” is exactly what I’m going to need.  

Which brings me to battery power, that out on the river is going to need to translate into solar power.  After an exhaustive online search, I do believe I’ve found it.  The Solarchargeranswer for the canoe is going to be a foldable solar charger from a company called PowerFilm, available from SundanceSolar.com.  Originally built for the military, these high power foldable solar panels are made to fit into your cargo shorts’ pocket or backpack whilst folded, or in my case, draped over the bags in my canoe, when opened up.  When the wind isn’t whipping, that is.  They come in 5 to 60 watt chargers (I’m going to go for the 30W) and are capable of “charging your satellite phone, laptop, GPS, etc.”

Problem solved!  All I need to do now is save the money necessary to pay for them!

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Citizen journalism

I was up on the balcony of my rooftop apartment in Taipei, Taiwan, in July of 2008, when the first signs of Typhoon Fong-Wong entered the city center.  The sun had just gone down and the normally bustling city streets  were empty below.  The following day would be a “typhoon day” with schools, government offices, and businesses closed.  There was a calm and an eeriness in the air and yet it was so beautiful I had to go back inside for my camera.  The calm before the storm.  I came back outside a minute later and the beacon from the world’s tallest occupied building, Taipei 101, was shining heavenward into the mist.  The storm had technically just arrived!  After shooting I immediately wanted to share  –  and so I uploaded the image as my first CNN “iReport” .  

Last year’s typhoon season would deliver four major typhoons in a row – including Category 5 Typhoon Jangmi. While a number of the footage clips I was shooting and talking head reports I was filing were used on air from Morning Express with Robin Meade in the US to CNN International in Asiait wasn’t until I was contacted by a woman in America with a husband on a ship just NE of Taipei (during Typhoon Jangmi) that I began to take the power of the iReport seriously.  She told me through a comment on the user-generated site that she couldn’t get the information I was providing anywhere else and that she was truly thankful.  

The point is that anybody can become a citizen journalist.  You can share your photos, your thoughts, and even try your hand at the odd interview.  So whether you’re a journalist, a citizen journalist, or a citizen journalist in the making, with Flash River Safari, you’re more than welcome to come along for the ride!

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Flash River Safari: Mission Statement

I’ve been fascinated by the Mighty Mississip meets the idea of Middle America personified for quite some time.  Just the idea that one can attempt to get to the heart of the story, to the heart of who we are: our triumphs and tribulations – a celebration of our freedom – in one setting, is as Huck Finn might say, mighty powerful.  We’re knocking on the door of the Great Recession and yet this is the time when our country rises to the occasion, when we as the American people help each other out, when we stand strong.  I want to try to capture this.  I want to attempt to underscore the word “freedom” by canoeing down the entire length of the Mississippi River.  Not necessarily as a catalysis for change but as an observer, as a mirror to what we’re doing right.  I’m a fan of adventure, of Mark Twain, of Hemingway, of Dan Eldon, and of Eddy L. Harris.  I’m a fan of America.

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Filed under Americana, Wanderlust