The author recalls three years of adventure as a Peace Corps volunteer in a famous East African game reserve.
Tanganyika ceased to exist when it combined with Zanzibar in 1964 to form the East African nation of Tanzania. But readers can travel there via Herlocker’s engaging memoir about working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 3,200-square-mile Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which includes the famed Ngorongoro Crater and the eastern Serengeti Plains. Herlocker was technically an assistant conservator for forests, but his duties ranged from fighting wildfires and supervising the construction of game-viewing tracks for tourists to arresting trespassers and cataloging plant species. One controlled burn turned into “an unmitigated disaster,” he recalls. “We were responsible for one of the biggest burns on the crater floor in years.” Using dry humor and sharp observation, the author describes many of the characters he worked with, including the “recognizably English” Oscar Charleston, who “wore calf-length brown knit stockings into the top of which he clipped two ballpoint pens.” But the real stars of the book are the wildlife. Herlocker’s encounters with them are part Indiana Jones, part National Geographic. In the space of a few pages, there are lions, a slender green mamba snake, a cloud of bees and a serval cat. A rhino charges his Land Rover, leaving “a small dent in the left rear body of the car. I was vaguely disappointed.” Herlocker shows his attention to detail in a description of a strangler fig, its aerial roots resembling “the tentacles of a large dead octopus.” The author vividly conveys his sense of wonder at the Ngorongoro landscape, recalling how one morning “cottony white clouds were drifting in fragile fingers down the inner slope of the crater to disappear magically into thin air.” He also evokes the challenges for conservationists from increasing human populations that, among other things, were “taking more and more land for settlements and farms that blocked the old elephant migration routes” and using the crater floor for cattle grazing. Even if Tanganyika is no longer an official country, Herlocker puts it back on the map.
A winning memoir full of dry humor, sharp observation and vivid description of flora.