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Anthony Bourdain #7
By Michael Moriarty
Learning that Mr. Bourdain’s next visit will be Tanzania, I do, as I usually do when watching this series on Places Unknown, I consult the subject of Tanzania in Wikipedia.
There, I learn that 61% of the population is Christian, 39% Islamic and 4% with no specific affiliation of any major kind.
Tony’s opening declaration about Tanzania is that “99 percent of the population is Muslim.”
There’s going to inevitably be what I call a story-telling conflict of interest.
With Tony’s lifelong and intensely inferred sympathy for Pakistan over Israel? Something along the story-telling route is going to ring alarm bells.
Tony’s clear evidence for Tanzania being an Islamic Republic appears to be based upon his admiration for the neatly ordered and impressively clean housing to be seen in Tanzania. The well-taken-care-of architecture in that province.
Meanwhile, the Western Civilization, particularly Christians, have apparently picked up a wide and generally bad reputation for messy neighborhoods?!
Who actually writes the copy for Places Unknown?
The problem of reputation, however, becomes much clearer when we understand that Tony mistakenly described all of Tanzania as 99% Muslim when it is not Tanzania that is so Islamic but the much smaller island of Zanzibar; which also means that this episode should have been titled Zanzibar instead of Tanzania.
And, indeed, that island just off the coast of Tanzania is listed in Wikipedia as having a population that is 99% Islamic.
While snacking with a resident of Zanzibar, Tony, following a few revelations about his companion’s family background, is so puzzled he feels obliged to recite the major events in the history of Zanzibar for the last one thousand years.
“Around 975 A.D.”, as Tony’s “copy” recalls it, the Persians first settled there. “Then the Portuguese used Zanzibar as a hub for their slave trade.” He goes on to include the British as one of the island’s list of occupying rulers.
“After overthrowing the mostly Muslim government?
Tony’s companion then remarks on how many Muslims were slaughtered in the revolution:
Then it becomes time for lunch; and, of course with Tony, all politics take a backseat to food.
While Tony and his program see Zanzibar as Muslim, Tony’s black companion on the island sees, quite optimistically, Zanzibar as “African”.
Halfway through the program, we return to Tanzania by plane.
Passing Mt. Kilimanjaro, we hurtle our way by truck into the Serengeti National Park.
We have a flat tire.
After settling into rather surprisingly palatial accommodations in the middle of what appears to be a wildlife reserve, our hero praises the “idyllic natural setting and good plumbing”!
The next morning?!
African wildlife galore!!
“Will he charge us,” asks Tony.
“If”, replies the guide, “we piss him off, he will!”
“Zebras,” declares Tony, “And more Zebras! So many of them, you get bored seeing them!”
“And even more massive herds of wildebeests!”
“Thousands and thousands of wildebeests, on their annual migration, are everywhere… stretched out across Tanzania and into Kenya!”
“It’s all about water and grass and a good place to make babies!”
“You don’t want to be outside of your car and on foot here!”
We then gaze upon a lioness!
“The evidence of this cruel math called survival is everywhere!”
The guide adds, “The vultures see them and then start dropping!”
He goes on, “The vultures really need the hyenas to rip open the skin!”
All this barbarity leads our hero into commenting, “I could really go for some pesto right now!”
Hippos start coming ashore.
Apparently the most dangerous animal of this wildlife’s frequent nightmares. More unpredictably dangerous than any of the other killers in Africa’s terrifying assortment of four-legged, lethal weapons.
Next we are introduced to one of the last great, warrior tribes of the Earth.
The Maasai people.
Their cattle are everything, even units of currency!
The big cat, the lion, appears; and an expert on lions and lionesses, Swedish native, Ingela Jansen, a field biologist, also enters this story.
She then drives Tony closer to a small collection of lions and lionesses.
No! The two do not get out of their truck.
I’m pleased to learn that these “cats” as they are sometimes called sleep almost as much as I do during the day!
God bless retirement!!!!
Finally, they visit a village of about 400 Maasai.
We meet the chief of the tribe, his 4 wives and his 12 children are somewhere in the vicinity doing what they have been raised to do, attend the vitally important cattle.
Our chief, quite coincidentally has a son studying in Tony’s hometown of New York.
The world is getting so small it sometimes terrifies me.
Meanwhile our field biologist, Ms. Jansen, grows increasingly more beautiful as the day continues.
Actually her face has the unforgettable charisma of a movie star.
With the not unattractive male, our Tony, we could be watching the beginning of a Hollywood love story.
Well, that romantic sidebar is quickly destroyed by the necessity for our hero to do something that almost makes him throw up: kill the goat that is scheduled to become his dinner.
He’s told to suffocate the animal.
In short, choke him to death.
That manner of execution keeps the blood where it should remain for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. However, I, like Tony, am in no mood to ask or even seek an answer.
He ends up eating raw kidney straight out of the corpse and enjoying it.
“Much better,” he says, “than when it is cooked!”
The episode ends on a mildly disturbing, meditative note, with our hero looking over a valley of the Serengeti from a hill and wondering what the drastically changing future can possibly hold for the Maasai, or, for that matter, Africa itself.
“Many aspects of their lifestyle and traditions,” says Tony, “remain unchanged. This does not mean the Maasai don’t have cellphones.”
“As the world and what we need to live in it shrinks every day, who gets to live here? Who or what do we want to see?! Nearly 1.5 billion dollars is spent here every year by people who come wanting to look mostly at beautiful animals. That amount is hard to argue with; and impossible to outrun!”
With that said, we continue to watch a Maasai warrior racing at a clip fast enough to put him quite noticeably out of breath!
Quite visibly into growing exhaustion.
As, however, it has already been said, the Maasai have survived for hundreds of years and dozens of so-called civilizations trying to “modernize” them.
Their children now attend colleges in America and will most likely return to Africa.
I envy the vast range of experience already given to these young men.
Finally, I am certain that most of these children of the Maasai will not dismiss the extraordinary strength they possess within their own impressively strong and resilient Maasai souls.
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty.