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A trip of a lifetime: Retired teacher journeys to Africa

Scott Gregory, a retired elementary school teacher, lived out his dream by going to Africa, which turned into him writing a book from his journals of the trip.

Ellen Pill

"Going to Africa was something I always wanted to do," retired Wooster Elementary School teacher Scott Gregory said, "but for some reason I always thought I could never do it."
Gregory explained in the preface to his book, "Going Back to Africa," how he spent years assuming his dream could never really happen.
Near the end of his teaching career, he began to think about traveling. Africa still didn't seem like a reality until one day in the midst of adding a picture of a leopard to an email, he suddenly realized, why not go?
Concerned about forgetting the details of his adventures, Gregory decided to keep a journal. "I just took notes while I was there and typed it up when I got home," he said.
After sharing some of those notes on Facebook during his trip, a friend of Gregory who owns a small publishing company got in touch and suggested the book.
"He said that when I got back, he wanted to publish my journal. So I typed it up and sent him a copy."
And with that, "Going Back to Africa" was born.
What was it about Africa that called to Gregory for so many years? "I've always been interested in animals," he said. "Growing up, I watched Mutual of Omaha's 'Wild Kingdom,' and that was Africa to me. I wanted to see animals in their natural setting before it was too late."
At times the trip was definitely up close and personal. A large part of the traveling occurred in a Land Rover. The author was hard-pressed to describe the feeling "to have a lion and a giraffe and zebras just right out there so close."
Much of the adventure involved riding in the Rover. "Some of our trips were four, five or six hours," Gregory said. "But the scenery was so interesting: mountains and forests. There were zebras, impalas, gazelles, ostriches, and then native goats and sheep. There were cattle on some of the highways and baboons on the highways."
During the course of the trip, Gregory's group saw all of the Big Five: leopards, lions, elephants, rhinos and cape buffalo.
"The leopard is the hardest to find, and we found two," Gregory said.
One overnight stop had an observation area on every floor for viewing the animals. "There was a watering hole," Gregory said. "Every time animals would come, they'd ring a bell. I was up all night watching."
It was from one of these viewing areas where Gregory saw elephants for the first time.
The trip was full of surprises about the animals. "I never think of elephants being in the mountains in an area that was cold, but in the morning it was 37 degrees," he said.
In rural areas warthogs wander around everywhere. "They are like squirrels," Gregory said.
The sheer number of animals was often mind-boggling. "We went to a large marsh, and there were hundreds of elephants. We also saw tons of hippos."
At one of the overnight stops the group was told not to venture out after dark without a guard because of hippos.
Another overnight stay found the group in a situation with an African twist. They stayed in tents with a bathroom and Jacuzzi tub. At 9 p.m. there was no more electricity.
"It was pitch black," Gregory said, "and you could hear all these monkeys and birds making all kinds of sounds."
Whether it was beginner's luck or pure inspiration, Gregory took some spectacular photos with his very first digital camera. "I didn't know what I was doing," he said. The photos are included as part of his chronicles in the book.
Gregory explained that another aspect of the trip came from being in a country where "[he] didn't stand out."
Gregory said, "Normally I'm the darkest person around. On the trip there were people darker. As long as I kept my mouth shut, they thought I was one of them."
He described being in an environment where there were not the racial overtones he has grown accustomed to at home.
"It was nice," Gregory said, "not being watched in some stores or being followed or having people make certain assumptions about you."
How did this adventure change the retired teacher? "It makes me want to get out more and meet new people of different walks of life," he said. "It's made me more adventurous."
With the adventure the accidental author also found a sense of gratitude. "I appreciate what I have," Gregory said. "I loved being there, but I wouldn't want to live there."
Dreams don't always live up to expectations. "It exceeded any expectations I had," Gregory said. "All of us in the tour group kept saying after the third or fourth day that if today was the last day, we'd be satisfied, and then every day got a little better than the day before."
Gregory will talk about his travels at the Wayne County Public Library on Tuesday, July 25 at 6:30 p.m. Bring a copy of the book or preorder. Gregory will sign the book after his talk.
Call Orchard Street Press at 330-264-7733 or email orchard721@gmail.com for information about obtaining the book.
"It's been almost a year [since the trip], and I can't stop talking about it. It's like I went yesterday," Gregory said. "People say it's a once-in-a-lifetime. I say I'm going back. I'm definitely going back."

Published: July 12, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170719982