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A TALE OF TWO BROTHERS AT AFRICANMECCA SAFARIS
Part 1 - African Birth HomageRaza and Altaf Visram are two brothers with a vision. Born in Kenya in the 70’s, a decade just after independence of 63, when the country was alive with pioneering spirit, they epitomized the new generation brimming over with love of their homeland and enthusiasm for personal and national economic progress.
At that time, Kenya was churning its potential for African adventure vacations, emphasizing the fragility of the wilderness as a resource that must be actively protected, and which would yield employment and open up education while state treasuries were intended to adopt and promote the integration of wildlife tourism with eco-conservation and community development. Kenya was the first African country to ban hunting in favor of wildlife photographic safaris.
The brothers grew up in inspirational locales in Africa. Their paternal heritage was the onshore island port of Mombasa in Kenya and the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar, both rich with trade, culture and history. From there, they regularly visited Tsavo East National Park, a vast fauna-rich wilderness alive with the famous man-eating lions, elephants, zebras, buffaloes, giraffes and hundreds of bird species, with surrounding human settlements dating back over 6000 years.
By contrast, their Tanzanian maternal home was the rural township of Lindi, where lions prowled in surrounding villages. They were close to the Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania, one of the largest pristine wilderness expanses and an offbeat destination for discerning wildlife aficionados on tour in Eastern Africa. This varied landscape of forest, grassland and sand rivers is home to threatened and very shy black rhinoceros, African wild dogs, elephants, leopards, crocodiles, other predators and vast numbers of hippopotamus, varied antelopes, buffalos, zebras, giraffes and assorted ungulates.
Raza’s in-depth understanding, experience and knowledge of operating specialized safaris, as well as his involvement with community-based projects in Africa and the United States has earned him the trust and support of many. Official representatives of the United States Secretary of the Navy and the former United States Ambassador to Rwanda and Burundi vetted and selected Raza to operate personal safaris in East and Southern Africa for these international leaders. For his work in the United States, Raza is the first African in more than 100 years to serve on the Board of Directors for the Jewish Community Center in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, and he continues to serve in this important position.
At this time, international interest was captured by African researchers: under supervision from Richard Leakey, a Kenyan paleoanthropologist had uncovered the skeleton of the 1.6 million year old Nariokotome Boy at Koobi Fora near Lake Turkana in the Northern Frontier of Kenya while Jane Goodall, a British with no scientific background or training was studying chimpanzees in Gombe - western Tanzania, and Dian Fossey, an American zoologist, was working with gorillas in the forested mountains of Rwanda.
It was a fascinating time of rapidly escalating change in Africa, and the brothers dreamt of new ways seeking sustainable employment for them, promote tourism to benefit their homeland, fund conservation efforts and provide a reliable enterprise from which native Africans could offer an authentic experience of the best aspects of travel in its lands. Native born, they had deeper and more heartfelt knowledge of the wonders of their world than any visiting and out-of-the-country tour leader on a stamped visa.
They knew the secret and enigmatic places, the awe-inspiring landscapes, the fascinating birds and animals, and the customs and rituals of dozens of different indigenous tribes. They held the keys to access far more authentic wilderness experiences for visitors on wildlife vacation trips to Africa than tour operators and travel agents who never left their offices in Europe and America.
Part 2 - Edification & Grassroots Tiered OutfitAs young adults, they decided to work towards higher education and a career in eco-tourism, although they knew this would not be easy. With singular determination, they begged, borrowed loans, and won grants and scholarships to complete Computer Science Undergraduate Bachelor Degrees in America. Their information technology skills and experiences were in demand (and still are) and would have provided them with immediate good living, but their hearts were not in corporate employment.
Instead, they invested their income in small-scale tourism networks, procurement and promoting services from native African providers, personal friends, acquaintances and colleagues where they cultured and sought to perfect the quality, integrity and reliability of tours to Africa from an intrinsic perspective.
Gradually, they built up their own company, AfricanMecca Safaris, as a prize-winning, internationally acclaimed, native African alternative to foreign owned and operated tourist companies. They soon earned recognition for the outstanding quality of their African vacations and opened safari planning offices in America and Europe. They also had the expertise to work with the innovative network of interlinked and interdependent service providers, which they personally visited regularly to maintain standards, even today!
Uniquely, they introduced a Three-tier Safari Rating System to gauge travel experiences in a very varied range of African wilderness accommodations, balancing such factors as strategic location with maximal wildlife experiences, accessibility and logistics, authenticity, standards of comfort with a guest’s expectation in mind, cuisine, service, quality of guiding, activities available and more.
They awarded premier Tier 1 status only to supreme luxury bases with superlative ratings in all aspects. Any shortfall, if only in one aspect, relegated a lodge or camp to Tier 2 deluxe status at a lesser price. Tier 3 budget accommodations for the more active adventurer, interested more in wildlife than in creature comforts, made the same quality of awe-inspiring vistas and animal encounters available to less well-heeled but equally enthusiastic explorers on tour in Eastern and Southern Africa.
What are our Customers saying about us? READ MORE REVIEWS
Greetings to you and our most fervent thanks for a wonderful trip of Kenya, Zanzibar, South Africa & Victoria Falls. Everything went very well. This was truly a perfect vacation. Thank you so much for all your arrangements.
Adrienne & Barrie Carter - Canada
Dear Raza, The accommodations you recommended were superb. We loved them all -- Giraffe Manor, Wilderness Trails, Governor's Il Moran, Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and Mnemba Island Lodge.
Pat Bernard, Vice President, Global Channel Sales, Novell Corp - New Hampshire United States
AfricanMecca Safaris created a remarkable honeymoon tailored to our interests and desires. The quality of service and delivery of experience was unsurpassed. I highly recommend AfricanMecca Safaris to honeymooners, families, or any traveler.
Noorin & Jason Nelson - Maryland, United States
We had a great time on your safaris. Thank you very much for all that you did for us. We were in Africa overall for 5 weeks and spent time in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. We just totally loved it.
Bruce and Susie Ironside - New Zealand
I cannot say enough about the quality of AfricanMecca. Their teams in Kenya and Tanzania were top notch. Raza, again thanks to you and your entire organization! We will be repeat customers.
Dan Kobick - Managing Director, PricewaterhouseCoopers - New York, United States
I booked my safari holiday through AfricanMecca. They were the most helpful company I have ever dealt with and I work within the travel industry. I had the most amazing time. The holiday went as clockwork with no hitches anywhere.
Shelley Roberts - Hemel Hempstead, United Kingdom
This is to let you know my guests, The Bryant's, had a wonderful time on the trip Samburu, Masai Mara/Kenya, Chobe/Botswana & Victoria Falls/Zambia. Everything was perfect! Thank you..
Christine Milan - MT Carmel Travel - Connecticut, United States
Part 3 - Distinct ProgressionAfricanMecca made a wide range of unique vacations in Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and other African countries and Indian Ocean Islands available to an equally wide range of travelers. They also made it possible for local team partners to develop services that they were able to augment over time, gradually climbing the ladder of ambition and improving their client range and African Safari Tier status.
This has resulted in a cascade of opportunities in their homeland with the creation of jobs in sustainable ecotourism, ranging from farmers and fishermen supplying food to camps and lodges, to young people training as hospitality staff, chefs and safari guides. There is increased scope for transport, accommodation and cooperative projects from furniture building, making herbal soaps and lotions, bee-keeping, cheese-making, production and sale of clothing, and arts and crafts, to recycling technologies, as well as entertainment, health spas, education, cultural tours and village development projects. Guests on vacation in varied countries in Africa are also invited to take part directly in the daily life and development of local communities.
In the same year that AfricanMecca Safaris won the Tanzania Tourist Board Safari Award at the African Travel Association Congress, the National Geographic awarded them the accolade of inclusion in their magazine listing of Best Adventure Travel Companies On Earth. They had succeeded in placing sustainable African native-led tourism on the worldwide map. Knock-on effects include a strengthening move towards grassroots upward mobility and independence, with improved attitudes towards ethnic tolerance and the emancipation of women.
Raza Visram of AfricanMecca Safaris received Travel + Leisure luxury travel magazine's Top Travel Advisor & A List designation for East and Southern Africa for his immense knowledge in operating complex and comprehensive custom safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and South Africa.
Amusingly, Altaf quotes as natural law his knowledge of one of his favorite animal, the spotted hyena, amongst which even the lowest ranking female is dominant to the highest ranking male. He tells how the cowed males hunt their prey, then stand back whilst the females and their cubs, in order of hierarchy, devour all the best parts, and how fortunate it is that the males are able to digest bone!
Part 4 - Giving BackPrivately, the brothers support a number of community initiatives, from micro-loans for business and medical expenses to bursaries for further education. Their favorite charities are for children. Smile Train promotes the repair of cleft palates, a simple operation that restores dignity and confidence to disfigured youngsters. Raza has been invited to assume personal responsibility as a board member of Teach Rwanda, which is a US-based non-profit partnership between government, teachers and local people to provide visionary educational opportunities operating two schools and serving over 120 children.
So, what kind of people are these two brothers who have achieved so much to promote native-led adventure tours in Africa? They are gifted, multi-talented, hard-working businessmen, at home in the capital cities of the world. They are also personal lovers of unspoiled wilderness tours, spending many weeks each year in the vast rejuvenating landscapes, amongst the plants, animals, and birds they know intimately from childhood.
They are deeply committed fresh men, more respectful of spiritual values and human development than the acquisition of wealth, which they see only as a means to improve the influence they have over the quality of experience for their respected guests on vacation in Africa and over the quality of life for their beloved people. They are members of a devoted extended family, with a wide circle of friends, sharing the same dream. But they are also very different characters, bringing different strengths to their united venture.
Part 5 - Siblings ContrastRaza is an outgoing, relaxed extrovert, with a more holistic approach to the world. Altaf is a focused, classic type A achiever. Both Raza and Altaf talk passionately about their role as part of the face of change in Africa. Intensely aware of the value of time, they work and play with a fierce energy and an urgent will to win and provide sustainable solutions. Raza can enjoy a relaxed cuppa, drinking in a view of forest, desert or ocean, in rare moments of relaxation, and he sleeps soundly, classing an uninterrupted night of deep sleep as one of life’s supreme luxuries.
He is one of those men who are privileged to spend their working life in the pursuits they love. These attributes made him a perfect safari tour Director of Operations, since he knew the craving for action and adventure, but also the value of peace, stillness, time for contemplation and the importance of inner happiness.
He is also a vulnerable man, deeply feeling and sensitive. He describes childhood fears and pleasures with striking immediacy, such as the freedom of riding his bicycle, a gift from his beloved grandfather, and the temporary loss of his eyesight after an uncle terrified him during a power cut by convincing him that a ghost had opened a door and entered the room. Simply and movingly, he talks of his gratitude and deep love for his mother, his wife and his children, whom he enjoys unreservedly, looking after them, reading to them, clowning for them and delighting in their laughter.
His heroes are the scientists, medics, nurses, parents, and peace workers who selflessly seek to improve the lives of others. His ambition is to start another business creating solutions for Africa and the developing world, with renewable energy, clean water, education, jobs, security and accountable government.
Altaf is fiercely devoted to African wildlife and wilderness, from the vervet monkeys who chased him for his cassava crisps at lunchtime when he was a schoolboy heading to swim by the Tudor Creek and the orphan elephants he befriended more recently in the Okavango Delta, visiting them in the wild.
In his own words: “As part of an inimitable learning quest, I convoyed the herd on their grazing walks. As I was absorbed in elephant existence, heartfelt unions of affinity nurtured from a freshly, initiated gratitude of these tender titans. I discovered the elephants for myself, from the edge of their complex but authoritative trunks to the risen trimmings of their tails. I admired at their monstrous padded soles, huge auricles and selfless senses. I explored the surfaces of their tough membrane and the refined, smooth surface of their ivory. I wondered on the astonishing bonds of kinship forged over decades, between the elephants and their guardians in their mesmerizing wilderness haunts”. A photograph shows him with their trunks resting on his shoulders. He confides that they were so heavy he could hardly bear their weight.
To relax, he spends time with his adored wife, unwinds by the sea, plays energetic squash and detoxes in the sauna and steam room. His spare time interests are eclectic, from space exploration to philosophy, and from international politics to discerning sitcoms.
Altaf bases some of personal philosophy from Ralph Waldo Emerson transcendentalism in two of Emerson’s essays -- Life in the Woods and Nature, which basically mirrors the isolation and authentic simplicity he enjoys most i.e. a wholesome experience of life in relation to the wilderness and cultures of the world. As humans, Altaf feels we must divorce ourselves from flaws and distractions of our society to which we are naturally fitting. He also frequently quotes Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime”.
As a child and student, Altaf remembers the terror of thunderstorms and hunger. He admires Michael Faye, Co-Founder of GiveDirectly because he and his team have taken entrepreneurship to the next level of philanthropy, caring about the underprivileged people and providing financial assistance for their life and businesses with no strings attached.
In gratitude for many blessings received in this life, including his mother’s remission from cancer and the birth of a longed-for daughter by IVF and Caesarian section, his ambition is to create a small computer literacy center in Kenya as pilot center funded primarily by AfricanMecca, to extend their Africa travel services to US and UK universities for research, conservation and volunteer projects, such as the African safari program they devised for Dr. Michael Noonan’s Biology Department of Canisius College in Buffalo, NY to study animal behavior, ecology and conservation in the national parks of Selous, Mahale and Gombe in Tanzania.
The two brothers, with their unique approach to outback tours, are ideally placed to serve travellers in search of outstanding safari vacations in Africa, especially in Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Kenya and South Africa, whilst simultaneously promoting wildlife conservation and development opportunities for native communities.
They believe that tourism is the perfect vehicle to make Africa self-sustainable, by fulfilling dreams both for AfricanMecca clients and for the people of Africa. “To this end,” says Raza and Altaf, “AfricanMecca wilderness tours in Africa are designed as adventures of the spirit to meet the expectations of a specific type of traveler. They are not holiday commodities in the commonly accepted sense of the word. They are wonderful, mind-bending wildlife and cultural journeys through inimitable habitats and can change the way we look at the world”.
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