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Sam Davidson's blog

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Take an Eastern African to the Zoo

One of the perks of my job is getting to take international teenagers to fun places. Yesterday we went to the Nashville Zoo. For those who haven’t been, it’s the best zoo in Nashville, but pales in comparison to some in other states. But, the folks at Grassmere are certainly trying, having added elephants and now giraffes, and positioning themselves for growth, hopefully to add zoo staples like lions, bears, gorillas, walruses, rhinos, hippos or pandas.

Last Friday, we went to the Humane Association to discuss careers with animals. The students enjoyed the cats and dogs, but being from Somalia, weren’t as familiar with the animals as American children. We asked them “What pets did you have in Africa?” They answered, “Goats! Chickens! Donkeys! Camels!” So off to the zoo we went.

Chez Bez pointed out a few weeks back that some kids like other things at the zoo more than animals. But our students were hooked on the wildlife. Upon entering, they knew the sounds of the monkeys, and could name what type of monkey made what type of noise. They talked about times they had heard those monkeys either in Somalia or Kenya years ago.

We kept walking down the path to make sure we saw everything the zoo had to offer. The zoo does a good job of having some fine looking decks and wooden walkways, which reminded our kids of their homes in their refugee camps in Kenya. But everyone got excited when we saw the bongos.

No, not the drums. The bongo is an animal that looks like a steer and a gazelle met up somewhere in between Africa and Texas. One student talked about what they used to do back home: “See these nets they use as decoration? We used them to catch the animals, grabbed them by the horns to break their neck, and then the whole village had something to eat.” Wow. I once rode a horse.

The zoo also has a bamboo trial, a nice wooded walkway that takes you by a lot of habitats. With different types of trees providing shade and background, one student said, “My family used to collect this wood to build our houses. Where do you get wood for your house, Sam?” “Uh…Home Depot?”

And then we came upon the giraffes and elephants, and at once, it was like we were all back in their home in Eastern Africa. Singing Swahili songs and recognizing the Massai tribe symbols around the exhibit, the students talked about seeing village elders use the elephants to clear land. They talked about seeing giraffes across the plain when they woke up in the morning.

So if you haven’t done the zoo, I suggest you take someone with you who knows the animals in a way the 75-word placards can’t capture. Your world will become a little broader, and you’ll gain a perspective not easily found in Nashville.

And, the zoo has pretty good membership deals. If you go a few times, you’ll save money. They also make good gifts. A friend of mine gave one to a new family for Christmas, and they’ve been about 20 times already this year.