Saturday, 22 May 2010

Guide training

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, nothing bad (and not even a major shortage of things to talk about - I know we still need the full run down of our camping adventure at the very least - but we failed to locate our camera for that trip, so I'm hoping we may get some pics from the good folks we were with to illustrate it with), but a very frustrating internet connection at the moment - seems like our network card is playing up and it takes me 5mins of juggling cables and wires to get the computer to talk to the world. Which is not always the most exciting evening activity... Anyway, to get to business:

Unlike my big sister I'm not, nor ever have been a guide, guider leader or any such thing. But this last week I spent a happy day doing some training for a bunch of newly appointed guides for one of the smarter safari camp chains. The 30 guys (all men) in training are approaching the end of an eight-week intensive course timed so they'll be ready to head out to the camps to be resident guides for the start of the new tourist season on 1st June (the wet season is on the way out, though you could have fooled me today!). They've all done the standard 2-year course run by the local college, and plenty of them have been guiding a while too, but this was a special course to bring them up to the level expected when you're paying a small fortune for your tented accommodation. I'd been asked to give them a day on climate change things with the promise of some free nights in their camps by way of payment (sounded like a good deal to me, as I can't officially earn in Tanzania), so they got a fairly standard fare from me, split into four sections: some basics of how climate shapes ecology in general and the main processes that shape Tanzanian climate; the basics of the carbon cycle and climate change science; some specifics of climate impacts in Tanzania including my own work here; and finally a bigger picture session, covering everything from 550 million years of climate change to the general (lack of a) balance of nature. It was quite fun putting it together - you can go into a lot of detail in a full day - and I had the opportunity to brush up on a few things that I've sort of known before, really ought to know, but never been 100% certain of (e.g. what do the various models predict climate will be like in East Africa...). Isn't that why people enjoy being teachers? I also managed to get lots of gratuitious bird pictures on the slides to test their general bird ID skills (mostly found wanting beyond the most common and obvious species, so I've promised I'll get them out in the field some time too...) which made sure even the driest bits of atmospheric physics had some ecological input to them. And I really hope that they'll now be able to hold an informed and sensible discussion about global change with their wealthy clients - even the rich Texan oil barons (though actually, if I'm honest the only ones of those I've heard of here in Tanzania have been, rather predictably, taking part in major hunting safaries blasting away at the big five...).  And they definitely won't be giving Kilimanjaro's snow as a clear example of climate change... I also enjoyed the lunch, as the gourmet cooks for the camps were all being given their last-minute training sessions before being sent out for the start of the season and needed folk to eat their wares. Yummm. If they can produce anything half as tasty in the bush I'm going to enjoy redeeming my free nights...

But I was very interested to see what else the classroom training sessions have been about - they had 6 weeks in the field with a friend of ours before the final two weeks of classroom activities. Some, like mine, were fairly standard ecology type things, others were slighty more surprising... The full programme of 12 classroom days runs:
(1)  population genetics and ecology revision, particularly termites and ants (mmm).
(2) Mammal evolution
(3) Hosting and guest etiquette (what are all those forks for anyway? And do I really have to turn my mobile off in the bush?)
(4) Me

(5) Setting up bush 'sundowners' and mixing cocktails (did they need tasters? Apparently not...).
(6 & 7) Car mechanics
(8-12) Yes, five full days with the Arusha psychology unit on small groups, personalities and personality type, conflict resolution, stress management, and interpersonal relationships.

 I suspect they'll not only be well trained guides, but perhaps we should be shipping them to Darfur...

Anyway, all in all quite a fun day. And I look forward to meeting some of them in their natural habitat some time in the next few months. And maybe I'll be inspired to convert some of the training into some super educational blog posts too, when nothing better to talk about...

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