• People and Parks: Pastoralism and Conservation in East Africa

Across The Great Rift

In only a day's time 16 students and 2 professors will be thousands of feet up in the air crossing over the Great Rift Valley. Stretching from the Ethiopian highlands, south through Kenya, this valley cuts a gash across the horn of Africa ending at our destination in northern Tanzania. Through the past few million years this rift has been formed as the African continent splits apart, leaving in the middle a deep valley that is home to some of the worlds greatest biodiversity, and near its southern reaches humanity. Besides its geologic significance I find that The Great Rift Valley is also a fitting landmark for the context of our program.

Though globalization has brought much of the world together, many traditional cultures have changed dramatically as a result of western influences, while those that have maintained their practices often seem all the more distant. For many a pastoralist people such as the Maasai are incredibly foreign, and there is a rift of sorts dividing their way of life from ours. This program atempts to cross that rift, introducing us students to a unique and traditional lifestyle, as well as the current threats facing it. For many of my classmates this change will be difficult, but as with any good journey rewarding. 

Tomorrow marks the first day of our trip across a great rift, into a lifestyle and place that im certain will bear similarities to our home here in Decorah. It will challenge, invigorate, and surprise each and every one of us students, perhaps even our professors. Throughout my time there I hope to use this blog to lend glimpses of our experiences, so that in some way the gap of understanding between our culture and theirs can be traversed by readers from back home and abroad. Im excited to have you join me on my journey across the Great Rift Valley, to the exciting land and people that await! 


Travis Houle is a Junior Environmental Studies & Biology Major at Luther College. Spending his fall participating in Luther's Earth and Environment in Italy Semester Program, he has become well aquanted with the joys of studying abroad. Beyond acedemics Travis participates in Cross Country, Track & Field, Student Sentate, Sustainability, Launching Luther Leaders, and KWLC Radio at Luther. Outside of the Luther community Travis also volunteers weekly at a Local Pottery Studio in Decorah, and recently has started to sing in a community singing group.