Appreciation for Open Heart Safari 2014

I finally got around to putting up testimonials from participant’s on last summer’s trips.  You can read them all here.  Here are some high points:

“A spiritual journey in Africa.”
–Sheila O.
 
“I still have a hard time finding words that are powerful and profound enough to describe my experience, though the phrases ‘life changing’ and ‘soul touching’ frequently appear….  I can’t imagine myself traveling any other way after this amazing experience.”
–Ling Z.
 
“This trip more than any other is one that I cherish and remember with joy and fullness….  It’s a sacred trip.  You get to know people deeply quickly, and get to know things from the heart.”
–Eleanor D.
 
“This was such a deep and moving experience for me….  It’s hard for me to imagine that we could have had as rich and full an experience without the insights, guidance, connections and organization offered by Tom and Laura.”
–Liz B.
 
“I am forever grateful to Tom for so carefully putting together a journey that surpassed anything I could have imagined.”
–Renee B.
 
“It was more, much more than I anticipated or expected.  Thank you all for experiences to ponder this lifetime.  Overflowing heart.”
–Jeanne R.
 
No other trip compares. I got to connect with the people and the animals on a level that I couldn’t have anticipated….  Thank you Tom and Laura for all your efforts, beautiful dispositions and open hearts!!!”
–Rachil W.
 
It was amazing to watch the wildlife and meet the people, and to experience that in a community that was a safe container with committed people. It was so satisfying and fulfilling. I was just blown away.”
–Scott W.
 
Thanks to my trip with Open Heart Safari I’ve felt a connection to the earth and to other fellow earthlings that leaves me with something very, very peaceful and very still.”
–Jeanne T.
 
Thank you for convening this amazing experience….  The trip the two of you convened is, I think, a way of experiencing Africa in a really rare way….  Your open hearts invited us to open our hearts to the people, land and one another – in addition to the beautiful wildlife.  This experience has indelibly changed me.”
–Bonnie W.
 
And, while I’m at it, a few highlights from our first two trips:
 
“The most emotionally moving experience of my life.”
–Red B., 2013
 
“I just want to express my gratitude to you for running this trip and inviting me to be part of it.  I has had a very profound impact on me….  I am definitely still deeply affected and unusually open to whatever is and whatever comes next ….  Now at the end of the trip I feel a major transformation in my life has been catalyzed.
A year later: Remembering our time in Zambia still reliably brings me to a more peaceful, grateful, grounded state.”
–David M., 2012
 
“Tom and Laura really care about Africa and they care about you having an authentic experience of it.  Every game drive, every meeting, every encounter, is infused with their enthusiasm and heart ….  Open  Heart Safari will change your life in subtle and profound ways.
–Jean B., 2013
 
I want to thank you Tom and Laura for really putting together a thoughtful interaction with the environment and culture. I want you to know I had an incredible time….  How I relate to my world has changed.”
–Dove R., 2013
 
The safari experience exceeded our lofty expectations. South Luangwa National Park is teeming with incredible animals — so abundant, varied, natural and free, beautiful, graceful, powerful, funny, accessible and exciting….  What sets this safari apart, though, is the human interaction, both with the local people and with our travelling companions.”
–Steve H., 2012
 
For me the trip was invaluable.  I am changed and grateful….  I would follow Tom Bennigson anywhere.”
–Patti B., 2013
 
It’s such a crazy experience to see a wild leopard just a few feet from your jeep – it was so magnificent & moving, I almost cried….  This really is a once in a lifetime experience, and I really think going with Tom and Laura is the best way to do it.   I was able to experience Africa on a deeper, more meaningful level.”
–Katie H., 2012
 
Read all the testimonials here.
 
 

Open Heart Safari presentations: Oakland Jan. 7; SF Jan. 13

We invite you to join us for pictures and sounds of African wildlife, and tales of our travels in Zambia and Botswana.  Help us celebrate our amazing 2014 Open Heart Safari, and hear about our plans for 2015.  Light refreshments will be served.  Bring friends, and pass the word to anyone else who might be interested.  All are welcome, but please let us know if you plan to attend.

 
OAKLAND
WHEN: Wednesday, January 7, 7-8:30 pm
WHERE:  Caldecott Properties, 5251 Broadway,
Oakland 94618
(Near corner of College Ave.)
 
SAN FRANCISCO
WHEN: Tuesday, January 13, 7:30-9 pm
WHERE:  Russian Hill neighborhood
RSVP for location
 
RSVP or FOR MORE INFO
Email tom[at]openheartsafari[dot]com 
 
 
NEXT YEAR’S TRIP
Open Heart Safari to Zambia: July 18-31, 2015
Optional extension to Victoria Falls and Botswana: July 31-August 4
 
Zambia offers some of the greatest density and variety of wildlife in the world, far from the crowds of tourists you’ll see on most safaris.  We visit remote natural areas, accompanied by highly trained guides, with special opportunities to track lions and leopards on foot; float by hippos, crocodiles and elephants on a small boat; and get close views of animals hunting by night.  In addition we get to stay in a traditional local village, help facilitate youth activities in a poor urban neighborhood, and meet inspiring activists for conservation and social change.
 
Open Heart Safari seeks to offer something different from conventional safaris.  We approach the magnificent animals and their habitats in a spirit of reverence, and approach the people and their culture with respect and interest.  We do it all in a small group, opening to the incredible experience with frequent short simple meditation and yoga, and regularly processing our experiences together in sharing circles.  And we have fun.
 

Holiday Party–December 18

Come celebrate with us at our first ever official annual Open Heart Safari holiday party!  Bring your friends, and pass the word.

Candle lighting, music, pictures, stories, improv games, sounds of the bush, refreshments ….
 
Thursday, December 18: 7-9:30 pm.
3392 Adeline St.—look for the red metal door.
Berkeley, CA 94703
 
No charge for admission.  Feel free to bring refreshments or games or chanukiahs (nothing required except a festive spirit—or your best attempt).
 
RSVP to: tom@openheartsafari.com
 
******************
 
Mark your calendar for our January slideshows (more details to come):
 
Oakland, Jan. 7
San Francisco, Jan. 13
Sonoma County, date tbd
Santa Clara County, date tbd

Open Heart Safari 2014 was a powerful and profound experience.

Two months after returning home from our third Open Heart Safari to Zambia, I am still – in the words of one our participants – “struggling to find words powerful and profound enough to describe the experience.”

Of course, the wildlife viewing was spectacular.  

Even when we didn’t have our binoculars out, like the afternoon we came up on a gorgeous large male leopard relaxing in the shade, as we were lazily returning from a soak in a natural warm spring. Other highlights included:

  • Wild dogs: we saw them on walking safari at a remote bush camp on the Kafue River.Wild dog, Kafue National Park No other human beings for miles. Wild dogs are rare and seldom seen – in my many visits to the African bush, this was the first time I’d ever seen them anywhere.
  • A pride of 15 lions hunting buffalo in the evening. With no other vehicles around, we were able to watch the young males racing ahead, while other pride members  waited alertly to share in the kill.  (They didn’t – the young ones struck out that evening.)
  • Three cheetah devouring a recently killed impala … the day after our guide told us we would not see cheetah in that area.
  • Getting startled by an impala leaping out of the trees with a leopard on its tail.
  • A large herd of the rare and beautiful sable antelope.
  • A giant python right by the road.

 And every day: elephants crossing the river right in front of us, passing through our camp, strolling by our morning meditation; thousands of hippos in the river, some of them wandering through our camp at night; herds of impala, buffalo, puku, zebra, giraffe, warthog, kudu…; regular sightings of the reclusive and beautiful bushbuck; the constant presence of baboons and vervet monkeys; more kinds of spectacular birds than I can name.

Our community visits were amazing.

From rural villages to urban squatters’ settlement, we were warmly welcomed.

  • In a remote village in eastern Zambia we were received by Chief Mkhanya and his entourage at his palace, learned the protocol of meeting a chief, and discussed issues of westernization and tradition, climate change, and economic empowerment.
  • We were hosted by a women’s group in an informal settlement in Lusaka (Zambia’s principal city). We learned about African urban poverty and local people’s initiatives to empower themselves, saw new waterless public toilets (where recently there had no sanitation, leading to severe cholera outbreaks), shopped in the market, and were invited to women’s homes; there was also singing, dancing, improv games, and lots of laughter.  One highlight was watching the “elder” of our group, a 78-year-old California woman bond with a local woman in her 70s – with no shared language, they wandered through the streets holding hands and laughing.
  • We met an elder of the Bisa tribe, who was instrumental in restoring the elephant population of North Luangwa, and we learned about the human costs of park development – his community had been involuntarily displaced.
  • We met activists in conservation and economic empowerment from different parts of the country (including the only Zambian ever to win a Goldman Environmental Award), and learned about their efforts to preserve indigenous culture, and to promote community management and control of resources.

 The quality of the group experience was remarkable. 

After three pre-trip conference calls, our fellow travelers arrived feeling that they already knew each other, and were ready to jump right in, open their hearts, and connect.  Two weeks later, so many tear-filled good-byes, warm hugs, people making plans to return to Africa.  Six weeks after the trip ended, they organized a reunion in Oakland – almost everyone attended.

 Before the trip, our group had researched and organized gifts to bring: nondeflatable soccer balls, solar-powered calculators, bras for teenage girls….  Even more powerfully, they brought their own gifts.  Songs to share and wanting to learn local songs, so our meetings with local people were filled with singing and dancing.  Two acupuncturists brought their needles, and offered relaxation treatments to our group, and to community groups we met with.  Another traveler brought songs to share and and the desire to learn local songs to teach children back home.  Others brought their skills at group facilitation, environmental engineering, and public speaking.  And so our meetings were filled with warmth, singing and dancing, relaxation, and substantive exchanges of ideas.

 Our days began with short meditations and poetry reading at dawn. We did yoga at river stops and tea breaks and with a giggling audience of village children. Our meditations were punctuated by the sounds of the bush: the whirring of birds, honks of hippos, shrieks of monkeys, and leaf munching of all too close elephants.   Throughout we shared our impressions and reactions in circles that were deep, warm, teary and memorable. In the words of one participant, “this was such a powerful experience that it was enriched and heightened by sharing it so intimately with the group.  For me, it really was too much to take in and hold just on my own.”

 Oh, did I say we had fun?  So much laughter, long conversations. delicious meals (believe it or not).  To quote one more participant once more: “We had a lot of fun together, laughed a lot and bonded closely – all enhanced, in turn, by the magnitude of what we were experiencing together.”

 For me personally, I experienced deep satisfaction at our closing circle, hearing our travelers describe the experience as life-changing, and realizing that what had manifested was so much what I envisioned six years ago when I first thought of organizing a group trip like this.

 

Join Us at Pt. Reyes Seashore, Sat. Sept. 27

Open Heart Safari presents:

Open Heart Safari – Pt. Reyes National Seashore.  Enjoy one of California’s wild and beautiful places with an open heart. Offered by Open Heart Safari leaders Tom Bennigson and Laura Paradise, the day is designed to help you slow down and touch into a place of reverence and awe in the presence of wildlife and the natural landscape. We hope the retreat-like feel of this daytrip, including time for quiet reflection, meditation, guided walks, and discussion, will deepen your experience of the land, the animals, and yourself.

Saturday, Sept. 27, 10:30 am – 6 pm
 
Cost: $30
$50 for two – so bring a friend!
Half price for alumni of one of our Africa trips.

Cost can be credited toward a future Africa trip with us.

Please bring your own lunch, and comfortable walking shoes.
We will meet at Pt. Reyes, but we can help facilitate car-pooling.
 
For details, RSVP to tom@openheartsafari.com

Spotting a giraffe!

We have already spotted a giraffe in Lusaka! (Hint: it’s not real. But stay tuned, in a few days we will be seeing towers of giraffe live in the bush.) 

Giraffe?!

We have arrived!

Dirt roads, dusty air and gorgeous tomato red sunsets. Everywhere people are walking, often barefoot or in flip-flops. Every mode of transportation – from bicycles to cars, vans or buses, shuttling goods, from building materials to sacks of maize. Every roadside dotted with items for sale – mops, brooms, rakes, talk time, tires, hand-made bed frames and metal brassieres. 

Greetings from Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. We’re getting ready to welcome participants Open Heart Safari III. 

We’ve already spotted peacocks, guinea fowl and shetland ponies. And, as you will see in Laura’s post, we’ve spotted a make-believe giraffe!

Stay tuned for pictures from our African adventures!

(written by Laura while Tom busily makes phone calls to secure transport, confirm meetings and other assorted details)

Open Heart Safari – Pt. Reyes Postponed

We are sorry to announce that, for personal reasons, we need to postpone Open Heart Safari – Pt. Reyes, which had been scheduled for Sunday, May 18.  We hope to reschedule for some time in June.  Please stay tuned for updates.

This Thursday: Animal Rights, Human Rights

A special opportunity to see Unfair Game: The Politics of Poaching, a short documentary film about the impact of African game reserves and tourism on indigenous people, and meet with Emmy-nominated filmmaker John Antonelli.

Can wildlife conservation efforts go too far?  How about summary execution of suspected poachers without any judicial process?  Through the inspiring stories of two activists, Unfair Game explores the disastrous results when wildlife takes priority over indigenous people’s rights to land, due process, and life. The film also shows the positive potential when native people and animals are both valued and respected.

Thursday, April 24: 7:30-9:00 pm
3392 Adeline St., Berkeley, CA 94703 (near Ashby BART)
 


The Human Connection: Engaging Difference in Southern Africa—April 10

Spend an evening in conversation with Marc Tognotti of the Tikva Grassroots Empowerment Fund and Institute of the Commons.  Marc will share stories about his travels to meet with community groups and conservation activists in southern Africa.  Join Marc in reflecting on his experiences in remote African villages, encountering members of one of the world’s most isolated tribes in northern Namibia, and spending time in Zambian and Zimbabwean communities without running water, electricity, or tourists.  His theme will be making human connection across differences of culture, race, education and wealth, as he discusses his efforts to break through preconceptions that often get in the way of meaningful personal exchange … and friendship.

 
Thursday, April 10: 7:30-9:00pm
Two Hats Consulting
3392 Adeline St., Berkeley, CA 94703 (near Ashby BART)
 
 
Marc Tognotti, PhD, works as a consultant to government agencies and other organizations, designing and implementing participatory processes to help diverse stakeholders find agreement on complex issues.  He also serves as advisor to the southern Africa grantmaking program of the Tikva Grassroots Empowerment Fund, a small US-based foundation that seeks to partner with poor and disenfranchised communities around the world in their efforts to secure access to basic needs, and protect basic human rights. 
 
For more info, contact tom@openheartsafari.com