As a child, I dreamed of going to Africa some day on safari. Late at night I would drift to sleep hearing the imagined trumpeting of a bull elephant, and seeing visions of elegant giraffes moving like tall masted ships through the grasslands of the Serengeti behind my closed eyes. I read voraciously—first children’s books about the animals, and later the autobiographies of brave colonial women—Beryl Markham’s West With the Night, and Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa. But I never went there until two years ago, when I received a flyer in the mail about a trip to Tanzania during the great wildebeest migration sponsored by my college alumni association. I was fifty eight years old and had not been out of the country in ten years. It was time, and throwing fiscal caution to the wind, I exercised my credit cards and signed up.
My guide on that trip was Martin Matei, who at that point had been employed as a safari guide for twenty five years. Martin had an uncanny ability to see things the rest of us could not see, and hear things the rest of us could not hear, and upon doing so, would put his foot on the gas pedal of the old canopied Land Cruiser to get us right in the thick of whatever was happening. As a result, I managed to get some extraordinary shots of elephants mating (“Happy Babar”) and an exhausted lioness rolling on her back after a similar session (“She’s Having a Cigarette”). It didn’t take long for the six of us in Martin’s car to notice that wherever Martin went, the rest of the guides fell in behind. It was indeed the trip of a lifetime.
Martin and I have kept in touch over the last two years, and a few months ago, I received an email from a man named Beatus Mushi who identified himself as Martin’s nephew. Beatus, who lives in Colorado Springs, had a list of Martin’s email contacts and had taken it upon himself to organize Martin’s first trip to the United States, hoping that some of his former clients in the US would help out to show him the country. We were delighted. Martin left San Diego for Las Vegas today after three days packed full of activities, including a Hollywood bus tour and trip to the World Famous San Diego Zoo. More about Martin’s American safari later, but first a quick story.
In 2003 Martin was guiding a safari party that included Dr. James Doti, the president of Chapman University in Orange, California. Dr. Doti had a wonderful time on safari, and wanted to do something to show his gratitude to Martin, so he asked if Martin had any children. Martin had three, but at the time they were quite young. Martin asked why, and was told that as president of the university, it was Dr. Doti’s right to bestow three full Presidential Scholarships to deserving students. Martin said, “I have a nephew who is very deserving—smart, and a very hard worker.” Martin arranged for Beatus to meet Dr. Doti. Interviews and tests ensued, and a few months later, Beatus received a first class ticket from Arusha to Los Angeles. A few years later, Beatus was in possession of a first class education from an American university. And what did Beatus do? He became a US citizen and joined the United States Army. And in the process he supported his widowed mother and his six brothers and sisters so that they too, could rise out of poverty and get an education.
I think that from now on when I read the newspaper and feel despair over war, global warming and worldwide poverty, I’ll think of what Dr. Doti did by extending a hand to one, thus changing several lives. Serendipitous meetings and small gestures can make a huge difference: one does what one can.
For Dr. Doti’s account of running the Boston Marathon with the young man he came to call his African son, go here: http://marathonandbeyond.com/choices/Doti.pdf