Maslow on safari!

Guides work through a learning style exercise with a Lego puzzle.

Guides work through a learning style exercise with a Lego puzzle.

We are in a classroom at Akagera National Park at this moment and Lisa is facilitating a discussion about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with safari guides and game lodge workers. It’s a very rewarding conversation because most of these folks exemplify an understanding of this concept in their daily work, even if they have not heard of Abraham Maslow or his articles on motivation in 1954.

When you arrive at Ruzizi Tented Lodge and many other similar safari camps, they greet you with the knowledge that you have driven a long way over bumpy, dusty roads. You are greeted in a friendly manner with a warm wet towel to wipe your face and wash your hands. A cool glass of juice is offered to quench your thirst and give a little pick up from traveling. They point out the restrooms for our comfort while they register us after collecting passports. Our basic needs are met pretty quickly, using Maslow’s Hierarchy. Great lodges do this so well that you miss it when you stay at one that simply registers you for your room and sends you on your way or worse yet, makes the registration process a difficult ordeal.

At one lodge we were greeted very nicely, given a beverage and warm towel. We had arrived just at dinnertime, but after they registered us, the reception staff had us set off to our rooms in a pouring, windy rain with umbrellas. They had our luggage with them. By the time we found our room, our clothes were soaked and our luggage was wet. In the damp rooms of a mountain forest, there was no chance our clothing would dry overnight. It would have been better to take us to dinner and help us find our rooms after the rain passed half an hour later. The choice to insist that we go to rooms first made us miserable at the end of what had already been a very long day of travel.

Nowhere do basic needs become so obvious than on safari. People who fear snakes or worry about being robbed will have trouble relaxing unless a good guide or host assures them of the safety of the facilities, rooms, and the nation itself. Rwanda is now a very safe nation in which to travel, but knowledge of the genocide in 1994 may be on the mind of first time visitors. We took our guests to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre on the first day out, both to interpret the tragic story and to assure people that today’s Rwanda is a safe nation rebuilding from a turbulent past.

But once basic needs are met, advancing up the hierarchy of needs requires some nuance and careful attention to detail. For the most part, we have found guides in Rwanda and Tanzania to be thoughtful and concerned hosts who go out of their way to ensure a great experience for their guests. Less experienced guides focus on sharing their knowledge only, while more experienced ones understand how to help their guests understand and appreciate the landscape, people, and animals. Good training helps reinforce the many ways in which guides can influence the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of their guests by providing interpretive opportunities along the way. Helping a guest have a great experience in the short term can lead to long- term commitments to conservation when a safari guest, enabled by a great guide, reaches the pinnacle of self-actualization.

Since Maslow published his motivation article, many have added the term, transcendence above the pyramid, to describe the rewards of being a facilitator who helps others self-actualize. We are both honored and humbled by the guides we meet here. It is a transcendent experience for us to be here training with dedicated guides and hosts in Rwanda.

– Tim Merriman

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