Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Shouting from the Mountain Top, Echoes in the Valley

If you have never had the chance to descend through the clouds, I highly suggest you find yourself a plane to catch.  If you have never had the chance to descend through the clouds via a car, then I would advise you to make your way to the highlands of Tanzania.  Today, as we made our way to the base of the highlands and into the lowlands, we found ourselves faced with a towering wall of cloud-mass.  Before you feel inclined to correct me, no, this was not fog.  What we saw can only be described as a cloud, because the matter was thick, fluffy, and awe-inspiring.  It was also what we would be driving through to reach the top of the descending road. 
   Unfortunately, I was unable to capture this temporary natural fortification with a camera, but the memory of anticipating the entry into the white interim is unforgettable.  To me, it was like moving through a negative-space, where only our vehicle, the passengers, and a small portion of the road was available to us.  I opened my window to the chilly morning air to feel the clouds: they felt saturated, cold, and so unbelievably vast.  Empty.  As if the trees, the mountains, the countryside, and Tanzania were lost to us.
   Upon reaching the bottom of the mountains we found Tanzania once more.  Our journey down the mountain and through the clouds was behind us.  Beneath the wall there were patches of clouds lower still, clinging to trees, but spiraling upward, as if grasping desperately to take hold of the greater cloud above them. 
   When writing this post, it occurred to me something I find very peculiar.  Before entering into the cloud partition, we were laughing and considering the activities of coming day.  But once inside we were quiet, our breathing softened, as if to leave the air as undisturbed as possible.  No one person said a single word for the 15 minute drive down the mountain.  Once on the other side, we began to converse once more, like nothing had happened.  It was if we had begun our journey shouting from the mountain top, only to hear the echoes once in the valley.

And, as per request:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Big Bowl They’ve Named the 8th Natural Wonder

The Ngorongoro Crater, as it’s known, is a naturally formed crater from a collapsed volcano some *cough* years ago.  The land is fertile and lush, filled with greens and blues and blooming flowers… and wildlife.
Ngorongoro Crater from crest
   We departed for Ngorongoro Crater at 7:30am.  We were told that before descending into the crater, we would spend a small time conversing with the management team about the crater’s environment, economical impact, and…
   Well, you’re bored, aren’t you, reading about this.  To tell the truth, so were we.  We were sitting literally on the crest of the crater, in an office (air-conditioned, the first I’ve seen since arriving in TZ), impatiently waiting to venture into the bowl and see the animals.  We were being forced to waylay our safari for a lecture on infrastructure.  After what seemed like a long half-hour we were released to our vehicles once more.  Our driver, and wildlife ecology professor John Kioko, laughed at our uncontained excitement.  Kioko drives like he’s running from the law every time he drives, and riding in his car is a guaranteed thrill, especially careening down a narrow mountain path into the crater.
   The view of the crater was breathtaking from the top, but the view on the ground inside the crater is heart-stopping. 

   It should be noted, here and now, that on every drive through a national park, we are required to record the number of mammal species within 50 meters of our vehicle, and how many of each species’ individuals there are.  Why is this important? Because within the first 2 minutes of reaching the base of the crater we spotted zebra, buffalo, eland, cheetahs, hyenas, wildebeest, and elephants.  My hand-to-God, these creatures were all meandering about the entry into the crater and around a small lake, as if presenting themselves on their best behavior for the tourists. 

Within the day we estimated a count (just our vehicle of 7 students and one teacher) of over 1000 zebra, 1000 buffalo, 2000 wildebeest, and 40 elephant.  These are the big number animals, and were liberally littered about the plains.  What I want to discuss are the rare, not-so-easy to spot animals.
   Take, for instance, the cheetah.  We saw three.  Two were hunting, and one was lounging beneath the shade with some guinea fowl (no, surprisingly the bird wasn’t dead.  I guess the big cat was already full).  We also saw a cerval cat slinking through the tall grasses.  A treat for the day were three black rhinos, extremely hard to find in the park, and we were gifted with two parents and a baby.  Of course, they were visible only by binocular vision, but the awe was still there.
   Hyenas, while I’m told are closer in species to cats, act quite like dogs.  They trot, and lay in the sun, and lounge in small puddles of water.  Often we drove only a few feet from hyenas as they lay in the puddles in the roads, trying to find some respite from the brilliant sun.  The weather on this day was a perfect mix of sun, clouds, and a bit of a breeze to keep cool.

   While I was enthused by the abundance of wildlife I’d only seen on television (and, let’s face it, the Lion King), my eyes were frantically scanning the tall grasses for my own favorite mammal.  We were told initially that we weren’t likely to see these majestic creatures.  There must have been some deity poking around our area that heard my pleas, because on this day I was awarded not one, but 7 of my favorite mammal: Panthera leo, or simply known as the lion.  
   Aslan, simba, lav, leeuw, leone, or leijona, the lion is distinguishable around the world as a large, fierce, and proud animal.  In stories they’ve been named royalty in the wilds of Africa, and in history are often used as symbolism for families of the nobility (so, too, are the color purple, the mace, the flail & crook, and many others, but for now I’m gushing on my favorite large cat).  We saw a group of females, a lone male sleeping soundly in the sunshine, and a family of two cubs, female, and male.  The cubs were curious and often tried to make their way closer to our vehicle.  It was quite a feat for me to resist reaching out my hand to grab one of the little fluff-balls, but I figured that while this was illegal, I was also at the mercy of the parent lions.  So I withheld from my kidnapping endeavors, and instead settled on taking photos. 

   My smiles from the awesome sights of the day still hasn’t left my face.  Lion cubs, and other animals of Africa, can certainly inspire a lot of smiling.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Birds Were Laughing at Us

Today was a day for the birds. Ndege.  We walked transects about Rhotia (our local village) to identify and count any and all winged creatures flittering about the trees.  We ended our transects at Moyo Hill, which happens to be one of my favorite look outs.  It's a perfect place to look about the countryside, covered in farmland and forests.
Bird watching can be tricky.  One needs to keep binoculars and guidebook handy, and being keen on description is important.  I never realized how many parts of a bird held different names.  Their tale feathers alone are three or four separate parts.  One bird we found particularly interesting, and elusive, was one we named the "laughing bird."  We never could spot it, but we heard it's trill several times.  It sounded more and more like the bird was laughing at our mundane attempts to spot it, hence the name... and, well, a bird already held the name "mocking," so we couldn't very well copy it.

Dalili ya mvua mawingu

Clouds are the sign of rain.  A Swahili proverb, or metahli ya Kiswahili.  It is meant to warn of trouble when trouble seems to be brewing. 
   In my case, however, I’m using it as a literal translative statement.  Clouds are a sign of rain, and the rainy season here in Arusha, Tanzania, has officially begun!  This is a time of celebration, for now the farmers (kulima) may begin to plant their seeds and grow their crops.  The rainy season here is from January until May, and up until now there has been no rain.  The only source of water for the local farmers is rainfall, and they cannot plant their seeds until the rainfall is somewhat predictable.
   The predictability, or official start of continuous rainfall, began today.  It has been raining for two days (on and off), and it is enough that the seeds for corn, beans, and pigeon peas may be set in the freshly turned earth. 
   Families rejoiced as the rains fell upon their lands, bringing with it moisture for the starving earth.  Smiles were plentiful, and whistles musically sounded from amidst the turned farmlands as fingers pressed pips deep into the ground.  Whole families set out to set up their gardens, whispering prayers to themselves that these seeds would sprout, grow, and produce enough harvest for next year. 
   The animals, I believe, also rejoiced.  The rivers will fill, lakes will return, and with these waters brings vegetation.  Food.  Shelter.  These lands are essential to all living creatures, and the rain is a blessing upon the lands. 
   Celebration of these rains for our group came in the form of hiking.  A traveling lecture, we struck out into the highlands in which we reside.  We scaled mountain sides, our hiking boots eating up the loose ground beneath our feet.  Hitch-hiker pods clung to our socks, thorny acacia trees grabbed hold of our clothing, and footholds were few and far between.  The sun beat upon our skin, the clouds were moving swiftly, and the temperature was high. 
   The view at the top, however, was worth every bit of the rigorous climb; our blisters and scrapes a testament to our winning journey’s end.  Kilimatembo was the name of our mountain, meaning “Elephant Mountain.”  A place where the great giants once roamed freely, and we had made the climb just as they would have a mere decade ago.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

A New Family (Homestay Day, and Adam talks to the cat)

Today, we woke up, ate breakfast, dressed in our skirts and blouses (or long pants and shirts for men), grabbed our cameras, gifts, sunscreen, toilet paper, and headed for our designated vehicles. 
    The time was 8am.  We were headed to spend the day with our homestay families.
   We were going to live for a day with a family who would graciously welcome us into their homes, and direct us as they saw fit.  Our center director told us to expect anything from working and cleaning in the house to herding cattle to cooking and playing charades to break the language barrier.
   Two students per household, and my partner was my good friend Adam.  I was excited to be partnered with a man, because men and women play very different roles during the day around a Tanzanian household.  We were to be staying at the house of Bwana Leo Erinest and his family. 
   It was even better than I could have ever expected.
   We were spoiled rotten.  And I met a woman named Kristin, who delighted in showing me off to her friends.
This is one of my sisters, Emiliana.  There is also Lucia.
   Upon arrival, our babu (grandfather) greeted us with a large smile and a loud karibu!  (welcome!)  We were taken to a pair of stools and sat down.  We were treated to chai (tea) for breakfast, and told (quite adamantly) that we were guests, and would not need to do work while visiting.  Unlike some other groups, Adam and I were treated like favored guests, and were allowed much of whatever we asked for.  Picture-taking was encouraged, and if we wished to help cook or herd cattle, then we were allowed to “lend a hand.” 
   To sum up our day succinctly: Arrive, chai, talk, walk with cows/goats, tour of surrounding lands, play with children, cook lunch, play with children, spoke with the women at the water spigot, talk, play with children, talk.
Our brothers and Adam, cattle, and goats.
   Adam and I were allowed to tag along when the cattle and goats were taken to pasture to graze.  We watched the animals, and at the same time were given a tour of the area by our kaka (brother).  When we told him we were studying the environment, he abruptly began to tell us of farming in the area, land erosion, and walked us all over to identify trees and grasses.  He even asked about American farming, and was amazed to know that any farmer could own more than 20 cows at a time.  We attempted to explain the concept of a cowboy, and in saying “n’gombe mvulana,” or “cow boy,” he looked startled, contemplative, and then burst into laughter.  I believe he thought we literally had mixed hybrid boy-cows in America.  Needless to say, we provided a lot of funny statements to laugh at during the day.
   Back at our home we were given the chance to help cook lunch.  With two pots, one spoon, three rocks and some firewood we were able to provide lunch for 15 people.  With the three rocks positioned so as to support the pot above the fire, we first cooked beef in cabbage with onions, salt, and tomatoes.  In the second pot we mixed water and corn flour continuously to make ughali.  Positioned inside the small jiko (kitchen) the excess of smoke burned our eyes (often I was stirring with my eyes closed), and their cat was anxiously waiting for some scraps.  We were teary-eyed and smelled like a campfire, but the results were well worth the small troubles, because it was delicious!  I don’t know if it simply tastes different here, or we were just proud to know that we’d contributed, but we were delighted to share our meal with the rest of the family.
   My favorite parts of the day? There were three that stick in my mind prominently: conversing in Kiswahili with my babu na bibi (grandfather and grandmother), comparing American animals with African animals with our brother, and playing with the children.  Mind if I elaborate for a short bit?
School kids watching us.
   Babu na bibi only spoke Kiswahili, but were very happy to allow me to stumble through conversations with them.  They were proud, congratulating me often, and were quick to point out pronunciations.  My bibi often shuffled Adam and I into the shade to sit, so our very-white skin would not burn.  Poor Adam was pink by the end of the day.
(L-R) Pascali, Innocent, Erika, and Hendrix
   My brother and his friend spent many hours comparing their animals to ours.  It had never occurred to me how difficult it would be to explain a bear or a wolf to those who had never heard of such animals, much less seen them.  We took turns drawing pictures in the dirt, with hilarity ensuing at my picture of a bear.  They were convinced that a bear was something of a large rat, and we let it end with that.  They couldn’t wrap their heads around a mountain lion, or lion-without-mane.  If I’d thought of it later, it must’ve sounded as if we had lions without hair slinking around our mountains.
   The kids… my new brothers and sisters.  If you know me, or you’ve probably figured it out, I adore kids.  They’re sweet and funny and always fun to play with.  Here in Tanzania, where light-skinned folks are few and far between back in farmlands, the children are very excited to interact with any mzungu.  A group of children walking to school caught sight of us and beat-feet over to us, giggling and chattering as fast as they could.  My brothers and sisters, however, were a bit shy at first.  With a series of funny faces, smiles, and chasing games, they were quick to warm up to the strangers in their home.  But the best part of their time with us?  When Adam spoke to the cat.
Some local children watching us cook.
   Yes, Adam took the time to talk to the cat.  Upon seeing the creature slinking through the house, Adam said “jambo, paka,” prompting giggles from our new siblings.  No one talks to cats, so why was he?  Even better, knowing the kids would get a kick out of it, he would meow at the cat; the cat would respond.  What stories the children must’ve told their friends, that the visitors in their home danced, made silly faces at whim, and spoke to the cat.
   A wonderful day from start to finish, and we were fervently welcomed back again, having been named honorary children/cousins/siblings.  How lucky I am to have another family this far from my home in America!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I've Been Featured!

The School for Field Studies (SFS) program, of which I am currently researching under, has its own blog page where students and faculty sometimes post messages of their experiences and the curriculum of their particular program.  This blog was extremely helpful to me, and a huge reason for choosing to apply to the SFS program.  I was always thrilled to read about personal experiences of other students, because this type of program is extremely unique, and many exciting things were posted in this blog.

I'm very excited and happy to report that I have been featured on their page! My first impressions of Tanzania, and the program, have been chosen to take their place on their blog site among the others.  I'm super proud, and while I used a part of my original blog posts here to dictate my time, there are alterations to the ending (to make it more accessible for students).  Take a peak here!

If you're interested, take a look! Also, for any who may be interested in a fantastic adventure in studying abroad with SFS, please take the chance to look over their website.  SFS works all over the world, and their website is one of the easiest and prettiest to navigate.

Also, some caretaker notes:
I've added a new feature to the page, as you may have noticed.  To the upper-right side of the post page is a weather widget designed to show you the weather, time, and temperature of the area I am in.  Currently, I'm in the region of Arusha in Tanzania.

Tarangire Lodge

Anna and I relaxing in the lodge.

The view from our veranda, and I can't seem to smile.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Little Bit of Culture

While sitting in our Swahili social culture class, it was asked what would happen if a woman were to propose marriage to a man.  Circling her head with her hand in a gesture likened to a holy motion to God, our teacher smiled and replied, “God forbid.”
   Apparently, here in Tanzania, it is a shame if a woman needs to propose to find herself married.  Kwa sababu (because), here, it is the man who marries, and the woman who is married.  Want to know why?
Did you know that generally, here in beautiful Tanzania, it is the women who construct the homes?  In fact, it is the woman that creates, builds, and maintains the homestay while the husband is out working.  She builds, she cooks, she cleans, she works, she cares for the children, she washes, she sweeps, and can aptly be named the backbone – or foundation – of the home.  The father works and provides, while the mother handles and preserves.  For the man, our teacher explained, marriage is easy for them, hence the word to describe their married state is a short one: kuoa, or “to be married”.  For the woman, the word is longer, and a bit more structured: kuolewa
   Fun fact: boys as young as 4 years old can be the sole guard and attendee of a herd of cattle or goats (or both). 
   Just the other night there were three hyena spotted in the area.  The guards were on alert, and the townspeople were abuzz with gossip the next day.  No one likes a hyena, and they especially do not want them around their homes.  I couldn’t help but think of the three hyena from Lion King – Shenzi, Ed, and Banzai – creeping their way around Rhotia to cause trouble.
  Fun fact: Chameleons are often killed because they are believed to be bad luck, and if left alone they may climb into your head.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

This Isn't Helping

I cannot, cannot, cannot stop thinking about food.  Everyone tires of the same food, and for the last three weeks we’ve had the same kind of meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  In the spirit of missing home I’ve decided to induce a miserable feeling in my tummy by listing all of the tasty dishes I miss from home (note: I directed these into my personal journal, so, in essence, this is extremely private…):
   Grilled cheese sandwiches with vegetable soup. Junior’s turkey reuben and cheesecake.  Chipotle bbq bowl with mild salsa and corn.  McDonald’s.  Chick-fi-la chicken with special sauce and fries.  Meatloaf. Grilled chicken sandwich with mayo and cold crisp lettuce.  Taco Bell.  Cold salad with thousand-island dressing.  Sour cream.  Pita-Pit Philly cheesesteak pita.  Noodles & Company pesto cavatappi with extra mushroom and tomatoes.  Spaghetti from home.  Grape jelly.  Pancakes made with Bisquick.  Pub chips and beer cheese.  To-of-the-Hill fried chicken and mashed potatoes.  Tortellini in sun-baked tomato and basil sauce.  Swiss steak.  Chicken pot-pie and sweet tea.  Hushpuppies.  Coleslaw mix with smoked pork bbq.  Breakfast sandwiches.  Fried bacon.  Loaded baked-potato salad.  Burger King Whopper and chicken dippers.  Broccoli and cheddar soup poured over a baked potato.  Pringles original flavor.  Applesauce.  Yogurt and granola with pears.  Flaky biscuits and honey with Jimmy Dean’s maple sausage.  Enchiladas verdes with chips and queso sauce.  Philly-chicken sandwich and cherry drink from Don’s.  A glass of ice.  Chocolate √©clair.  Icecream.  Chili’s margarita tacos.  Five-Guys cheeseburger and seasoned fries.  Polish sausage dipped in mustard.  PF Chang’s honey chicken.  Asia Caf√© Chinese food with white rice and steamed veggies and sesame-seed chicken with egg-drop soup.  Waffle House hasbrowns with cheese and mushrooms.  Nagano’s tapanyaki chicken and shrimp sauce.  Boss Hogs pulled pork sandwich.  Cracker Barrel’s roast beef and fried apples.  Green beans.  Scalloped potatoes.  Hot Pockets.  Bagel Bites.  Corned-beef hash.  String cheese.  Cheese!  Deviled eggs. Scrapple.  Bagel with cream cheese.  O’Charley’s loaded cheesy baked potato soup.  Subway double-bacon egg and cheese sandwich on flatbread.  Chili-cheese fries.  M&Ms. Frosted Flakes.  Chesapeake Bay blue-crab cakes. 
   I’m going to quite enjoy the ride home from NY to NC, because I know along the way I’ll get to hit all my favorite food joints.  My goodness. 
   In other news, we received our first set of grades back from our professors, and I've gotten all As! Considering these are my first field reports for baboons and wildebeest, I was quite happy falling asleep last night.  
   On the 17th we'll be heading to the village of Kilimamoja to discuss with the Environmental Committee their mission and strategic development of plans in the area.  Policy, I'm so pumped!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Mother's Face in the Market

One characteristic of my family members that I’ve always admired is their no-tolerance for BS policy.  It is one thing to humor someone, but quite another to be taken advantage of or lied to.  My father is all about honesty upfront (though his April Fools pranks aren’t to be contended with).  My brother is quiet in sticky situations, but never lets someone play him for a fool.  
   And then there’s Jill P, a.k.a, Mom.  Growing up, I watched my mother turn her take-no-prisoners stubbornness on those unfortunate souls, including myself.  It is a face that many have seen, including some friends-considered-family, and it’s an all-or-nothing set of features; a look that says “you-are-an-idiot-if-you-think-I-will-fall-for-that,” or in other cases, directly stating in her commandeering tone that she won’t be taken advantage of, period. 
   I felt those exact features take up residence on my face today.  My mother, whom I’m told often I resemble extremely closely, was both my shield and my battering ram today as I took on the Mtu Wa Mbu Maasai marketplace. 
   In tourist towns and marketplaces, salesman and shopkeepers are quick to tell you that they’re the ones to give you a “good” price, or the “African” price, as opposed to the tourist price.  I will honestly, and quickly, be the first to tell you that this is almost always a lie.  Salesman are salesman are salesman, and they’re wanting the most money from your pockets.  As a foreigner in Mtu Wa Mbu, or any marketplace of the like, you have to be two things: an aggressive barterer, and a stubborn mule.  If you aren’t comfortable with a price, you walk away. 
   Today was more frustrating than ever before when shopping, and when I become frustrated I find my actions relatable to my mother’s.  My brow is set a little lower, my back is straight, and the tone of my voice drops.  In rare cases of extreme frustration I speak very quietly, with expert enunciation, and I can just feel my mother standing next to me, protecting me from rip-off deals. 
   And with time, and a bit of practice, you find that you hold a great deal of power.  That painting that originally was priced at 85,000 Tz shilling turns out to be sellable for a much lower, much more agreeable 25,000 Tz shilling.  The salesman dogging your heels are not so willing to follow you about and shove necklaces in your face, instead finding that you’re “hapana, sina pesa,” (no, I have no money) means – and I ask that you pardon my French – to “bugger off, I’m not buying.” 
   I am not, by any means, suggesting that you not show respect and be polite.  I encourage politeness, because giving a little brings much into your life.  But never let someone take advantage of you for your separate nationality, and never let someone allow you to feel uncomfortable if you do not wish to purchase their goods.  In the end, your happiness with a price is the key, and if they are unhappy with your price, then maybe they should find a different occupation.
   Metaphorically, you could take this bargaining analogy to a whole new level.
   It was nice “having” my mother with me today.  I never feel far from home, because the characteristics of my loved ones emerge when I need them most.  Today I needed my mother’s back-bone. 
   Who knows, tomorrow I may need my brother’s ability to occupy himself in the most mundane ways, as I’ll be camped out in a classroom for several hours.
I leave you with some more photos of my travels to Tanganire.  Kwa heri.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

SMACK!

On the tsetse fly’s head!
    Oh, and Happy Valentine’s day for all of the couples together, and for those who take the time to love themselves this year.  I found my Valentine here in Tanzania today, on our journey through Tarangire National Park.  He’s tall, quite handsome, and very in love with my gorgeous brown hair.
   His name? I’m not sure I could pronounce it.  I would need some practice to get the language down.  Oh, and you’d have to be an elephant to understand.
   Yes, my Valentine for this year was a distinguished male elephant.  What I said about my hair was true, he was quite enamored, while I was somewhat terrified.
   You’d like the story?  Well, allow me to begin with a short story from the day previous:
   On February 13th of 2012, this year, I took my day and dedicated it to two activities.  First, I went to study a Maasai boma, and met some very wonderful mamas, and their children.  They sang their welcomes, all adorned in their best head dress and handcrafted jewelry.  The children wanted to sing and play with us, which we were glad to oblige them.  They were well versed in the “Simama, Kaa” song, which translated means “Stand, Sit.” 
"Simama, kaa! Simama, kaa! Ruka, ruka, ruka!"
   The second dedication was to an orphanage in Mtu Wa Mbu, where there are 40 children of parents lost to AIDS.  Their ages ranged from 3-12, but their songs and smiles were timeless.  Several hours I spent with my friends painting pictures on the walls of the orphanage bedrooms, and the rest were dedicated to the children.  Asha, a lovely girl of 4, had a beautiful smile and a pretty pink dress.  Her younger sister of 3 years loved to be held, and thought that riding the “chaka-chaka” train was some fun! To be completely honest, every child wanted to be held, and twirled, and danced with, and “chaka-chaka-ed” up and down the yard.  “Tena” (meaning “again”) was the theme of the day, as each wanted to be played with again and again and again! 
   A friend of mine brought a polaroid picture so that each child could have a picture of themselves to carry.  They were quite enamored with their photos, and took the time to show everyone their captured smiles and sparkling eyes!  They sang us songs, both foreign and similar to our own, and were quite happy to have some guests to cart about the yard. 
   If I deign to continue about these delightful children, I’ll only revisit my initial heartbreak from their adamant “simamas”, asking that we stay a little bit longer.  We’ll return again, and I’m hoping to get to play once more.
   As for today, the entirety of the daylight hours were devoted to Tarangire National Park.  We left the camp at 6am and headed east, excited about our hours watching the animals.  There were ostrich, warthog, zebra, waterbuck, mongoose, several birds, impala, giraffe, and hundreds of elephants.
Our Esteemed Admirer
   Among one group of these elephants was my admirer.  He was tall, and commandeering, and you should be surprised to know that I had no idea he was going to like my hair.  I was adjusting the lense on my camera when I felt a whiff, and then a brush of a trunk on my hair.  The elephant, it seemed, wished to get a good go at my hair. 
   I want to remind you, these are wild animals.  I write these words with a humorous tone, but while excitement is aroused when an elephant takes notice in your vehicle, there is also a bit of fear.  This savannah elephant was huge, and his eyes were set on our land cruiser.  Luckily, he wanted nothing more than a cursory sniff and poke.  The hair was safe, and no harm done, but I do wish he’d had an interest in blondes.
   The sunrise was pretty, the daytime fun, and the sunset unforgettable (especially thanks to my camera). 
Okay, Dad, want me to bring this home?
   A few lasting notes for my friends and family:
   Dad: I found a truck you’d go crazy for.  And, yes, I took a photo.
   Miranda: I find I’m quite like a certain novel character, in that I’m always munching on apples when I can get my hands on them. 
   Danielle: I saw several tiny, little baby elephants today.  I thought of you every time, and they were adorable!
   Red: The monkeys here have no interest in our drinks, only our shoes.
   Grandma and Grandpa: Congratulations on your 56th wedding anniversary! Definitely something to look up too, and I hope you got your tasty dinner, Grandma, and not the Taco Bell (though I'd kill to have some Taco Bell right now!)
A baby elephant, barely over a year old.
Tomorrow is a non-program day, in which I’ll be spending my time in the Mtu Wa Mbu Maasai market.  Shuka fabric, yes indeed!  I’ve already been to the tailor, and I’ll soon have a new skirt to show you all.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bless the Goat

A quick post.  The details are unnecessary.
Today we watched a Maasai ritual of the slaughtering, preparation, and cooking of a goat.
Yes, I watched the whole thing.  We deigned not to name the goat, because that was just too personal.
It was cooked over a fire, and it was delicious!

With the death and consumption of the goat brought the rain.  Our first rain in Tanzania since our arrival.
The most compelling memory I have of the rain was the smell it brought with it.  Never had I noticed the scent of the red clay dirt until today. It was strong and heady, and it smelled like Africa.

It was a wonderful day, all and all.

My Ankles and Their Dirty Feet

For these past two days we’ve been without internet.  In fact, it’s a blessing we’ve been able to keep electricity.  There are three main grids for power in our area, and on the morning of the 10th, we lost all three.  We recovered one, for basic electricity, but the other two (one including the internet) are down for now.  We’ve been regrouping, communicating, and running around frantically trying to find written studies on our scientific writing project topics.  I had decided that mine would be on the social behavior of wildebeest. 
     In this time of lost internet, and no way to find scholarly articles outside of our guidebooks, I reconnected with my ankles, and their dirty feet.  I name the feet as belonging to my ankles because they had, I had noted, lost their place as a part of my body’s entirety.  This is to say, they were simply no longer my feet!
     Allow me to explain.
     In East Africa, the shoes of choice are kandambilis, or sandals.  We wear sandals as often as possible, and exchange for boots or tennis shoes when we play soccer or head out on field excursions.  Socks and shoes dirty quickly, and hand washing one’s smelly socks after a day of hiking it across Tanzania is unappealing at best. 
     In the end, no matter what shoes or socks one wears, the red dirt from the earth finds its way onto the skin of your feet.  They, along with the sun’s rays, discolor and change your feet, seeping into the pores, creating new shades and lines on their surface.  Thus, you are presented with new feet other than the ones you woke up with.
     This dirt and sun dig so deeply into your skin that no matter how many times you wash your feet, the red coloring never quite fades.  My toenails have new faces, with their long skinny torsos browned and changed by the sun.  These are not the feet I’ve kept with me these past years, and they’ve become new entities attached by my ankles.  Thus, these feet belong to my ankles.
     I often laugh and joke, wondering if I’ll ever meet my feet again.  These feet that allow me to move about Karatu, Mtu Wa Mbu, and these other parts of Tanzania are becoming battle-hardened, and find it easy to navigate the dirty, sometimes rough terrain.  But I wonder, when they see a warm bath, a scrub brush, nail polish, and the paved roads of home, will they become recognizable to me once again? Or will they simply be these new feet, traveling across borders, taking me to new places, and collecting dirt from other places as well?
    People should take the time to know their feet, for they often tell many great stories, and are a map to all of the places we’ve traveled. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Counting Grass and Walking on Water

Today was spent counting the grasses of Lake Manyara National Park.
   No, I’m not joking. Yes, it really happened.  And no, it wasn’t exactly the neatest field exercise that could happen. 
   But think of this: who gets to say they walked 400 meters with a square wooden frame, metal pole, clipboard, and bottle of water to count and note the population species densities of grasses in the grasslands near Lake Manyara, beneath the burning sun of East Africa?  This girl.
   Well, okay, I haven’t sold you yet? That’s alright.  Because, at the end of the day, the time was well spent.  My morning had been dedicated to finishing a report on baboon behavior.  The afternoon to grasses.
   Oh, and did I mention the buffalo?  The wildebeest, the jackals, and the seeking waters of Manyara?
   Let me explain.
After counting grasses our professor pointed towards the lake, which was still about a thousand meters away, and said, “if you’d like, walk to the lake.  Do not approach the animals.  We’ll pick you up in the vehicles.”
   Putting our boots to the mud, we headed off in the direction of the lake.  We were running, prancing, leaping, and walking in parts in our headway to the lake.  Tourists were nowhere to be found on this side of the park.  We had the fields, the lake, the animals, and the entire shore to ourselves.  The grasses were tickling our legs as we ran, laughing as we desperately dodged small holes and even smaller rodents and birds.  The buffalo and Thompson gazelle nearby watched as we whooped and ran, and in the spirit (at least we think so) they ran with us to the shore’s edge.  Jackals and wildebeest trotted along around us, a wary perimeter, observing these two-legged mammals running happily towards the shoreline. 
   We ran to greet the waters when, in actuality, the waters were on their way to greet us!  Lake Manyara is never deeper than 3.9 meters at a time (about 12 feet) and the winds sweeping swiftly across the surface of the waters were pushing the waves closer and closer towards us.  Trickles of clear lake water were creeping across the dry, cracked earth.  We stood still as the waters flowed around our shoes and towards the grasses behind us. 
   If one looked at just the right angle, it looked as if a person were walking on water.  And that day, I believe, we were all floating a few inches of the ground, our cheerful spirits carrying us across these wild, untamed, and beautiful lands.
Walking on the waters of Lake Manyara

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reflecting and Relaxed Relativity.

Relaxation is, in my exuberant and often inflated opinion, relative.  Everyone has their different stand-stills, or those moments when their body and mind are at peace.  When the muscles are relaxed, your head is a bit empty, and all of the world falls away.  Tension melts into the ground.  Your eyes feel clear, and everything, for that time, falls into a graceful perspective.  A simplicity, if you will, that may or may not have alluded your mentality for a while.
   I am the definition of a stress-induced individual.  Stress-aholic, if you'll allow it, because I not only carried it around with me, but found myself opening the doors and welcoming it in, setting Stress down at my dinner table, and offering it a place to settle its ugly, heavy head for a time.  I'm well aware of my decisions when made, and try very hard to take into account what will come of them.  For a time, it seemed, I was finding stress where originally I would find comfort.  Unfairly I was judging the world, leaning heavily on friends, and expecting a lot where I had invested so little.  
   I needed to step out of my self-made, repressive bubble, and this was only going to happen by my own device.  If there was one thing I took from my uniquely supportive, yet glaringly blunt family, it was that things didn't just happen, and they certainly wouldn't be worth the time unless time was put into them.  In my house there was never a time we felt that straight-talk wouldn't help.  In fact, one thing I always expected from my parents and brother was their simple, sometimes harsh honesty (my brother has never shied away from a crazy conversation yet, and my parents are quick to tell me when I'm walking down a bumpy road).  I have a whole heck of a lot of support back home (always have) and I know I've got more than my fair share, so who was I to walk blindly about and expect glittering rainbows to be dropped into my lap?
   So I looked into traveling abroad, and I was sure to pick somewhere that would help to bring Humility back into my life, and send Stress packing.  I know this was the right choice, and I was given a lot more than I initially asked for.  In fact, Humility brought with it the extended, extensive family, including Clarity, the goofy cousin Awe who always inspires with the magic of simple actions, and Community, the uncle who always has candy in his pocket, and a story to tell.  Humility was in the people here, who were happy with the love of their families, the shining sun, and the unending faith in God.  Clarity from the children whose smiles shown with joy when we take their pictures, and play soccer with them.  Awe from being shown, again and again, that taking the time to appreciate small wonders keep this girl young.  
   And Community, that silly uncle, stems from the people I share this space with.  My friends here, both staff and fellow students, are very positive, dirty-hands-clean-minds-make-for-great-stories kind of folks, and here there seem to be no boundaries.  Living in such a rural/wild location, one learns to find strength in honest working and communicating, and smiles are abundant.  I think it takes a special kind of person to do this kind of work/study, and I'm very lucky to have met so many bright, uncommonly jolly peers my age.  But really, what could be so bad when you have the Tanzanian sun-rise to wake to every morning?  
   Peace had decided to gift me with a complete moment of silent, transient nothing today as I was hanging out my laundry.  It was before breakfast, and the sun had just risen.  My colleagues were abed, and as I pinned my last laundry pin into place, a morning dove cooed: and I felt at peace.  My mind was silent, my feet cool in the grass, my body free of aches and tension.  It was a terribly wonderful moment, one I felt I had been building to for a long time. 
   I think this is what my dad feels when we're camping, and he's hiking out with us, pointing out trees and birds and peering through his binoculars.  Or how my mother might feel when it's the evening after dinner, and we're settled in the living room; my father, brother, and myself are yelling over some ridiculous notion where none of us are correct, and she knows the answer but is happy to sit and let us bicker over false logic.  Even my brother must find this feeling at some point, but I can only imagine it might be when he's completely numbed out by his Xbox, or drifting to sleep with the television on.  I know for a fact that my dog feels this every time the family is together in the house, snoozing in the corner of the room, happy knowing that sooner or later dad will inevitably giver her another treat.  
   I only wish for everyone to feel this.  There's nothing quite like coming into yourself, and out of yourself, to a point that you know that in the world there's no problem too big, or too heavy, or too ugly, that life hasn't got anything prettier to offer you.  Your problems aren't really problems, but more color on your life-canvas.  Something my dad and I label the cracks and dents in the hardwood floor: character.  These moments are few and far between, but for the first time I knew that Stress was outside of my house, my yard, and even my country, off harassing some other person, because I was standing all on my own beneath the hanging laundry, listening to the doves call on the morning sun.

Non Program Day 1 Delights


They use natural/real sugar in Tanzania. It's delicious!
Iraqw Tribe Handmade Goods (Jewelry and Baskets)

The Trifecta of Tanzanian local brews

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

“Sitaki Mume!” (or “I do not want a husband!”)

   We were given advice, and a translated statement to carry with us like shields: hold onto your money tightly, and “sitaki mume,” which means “I do not want a husband.”  The money against pick-pockets, and the saying against those who would declare themselves happy to be our husband. 
   Today was a day that will be best known for its abundances of the negative, “no.”  Hapana was a theme for the day, and it wasn’t because I was shy – oh no, never shy – but because pawners and salesman in Karatu are persistent.  It’s a lot like trying to tell a fly that it isn’t allowed to have a taste of the honey jar: flies do not understand English, and even if they did, it only makes them try for that gold delight a little harder.
   In this case the flies were the salesman, and the honey our Tanzanian shillings.  Here in Tanzania one U.S. dollar is worth approximately 1600 shilling.  Granted, everything here is pretty cheap, and Karatu is famous for its bartering inhabitants.  One tip I learned quickly: there’s an African price, and an mzungu price, or “white” price.  So whatever price I was given, I cut in half and worked my way slowly up.  And let me tell you, I walked away with some pretty interesting items for what I know, as an American having shopped for trinkets and fabrics before, these items were bought for a steal. 
I'm in the center, hopping and circling with the rest!
   But let me jump backwards a bit, to the morning.  We began our day visiting an Iraqw tribe boma, which is an outdated styled living/working hut.  We were directed on the process for making local beer, as well as the making for a wedding skirt and shirt.   Fun fact, it is the mother-in-law that makes the bride’s skirt and shirt, and this process can take up to three months.  The bead work is quite intricate, with symbols that represent the world, home, and future for the bride.  We were dressed in wedding garments (mine a simple kanga fabric-skirt), and proceeded to dance away the early morning hours with the Iraqw people in a mock wedding-dance and celebration.  The drums were heavy in our ears, the words flowing through our veins, practically moving our limbs all on their own. 

   It was after this visit that we proceeded to Karatu, a town near to our camp.  We were told to watch our money, and just say “no” repeatedly to street vendors. 
   When I say they were persistent, I do not only mean they would ask several times for your money, lowering prices as they went.  I mean that they would learn your names, teach you words, become your friends, and walk with you for the 5 hours you were in Karatu, hoping that by the end you would, finally, purchase that small blue beaded bracelet.  We were accompanied by a young group of men today, all hoping to learn new words in English, and show us the best places for fabrics/jewelry/shirts/food or anything you pleased.  They helped to barter, keeping to the African prices.  Most were genuinely friendly, and wanted nothing more than to spend the day with some new mzungu friends, learning our habits, and lending some much-needed know-how.  My personal companion, Jonathon, stuck with me the entire day, constantly reminding me to clutch my bag to my front with both hands, especially when visiting the Karatu market.  Jackson and Patrick, two other men with us, directed us to fabric sellers. 
   Men elicited cat calls often (though I cannot imagine how attractive my long, matronly black skirt is to any person).  Two marriage proposals were offered to me today, and my “sitaki mume”s (I do not want a husband) were quickly evolving to “nina kuwa mume”s (I have a husband) by the end of the day. 
   But one simply cannot visit a crowded market place without a bit of excitement.  I was helping my friend Adam pick out a kanga for his sister when, without any warning, an older woman (mama) leaps forward in front of Adam, is yelling loudly, and grabbing at a man standing behind Adam.  Thinking an argument was about to break out, I was shocked (to say the least) when the woman then wrenches her hand away from the man’s body and hoists into the air a wallet, all while screaming and pointing at the man.  Adam, baffled, notes that the wallet she has obtained is his own.  The man, the woman is yelling, is a thief, and she had seen him nip Adam’s wallet from his front pocket.  His front pocket, mind you, not the back.  Like a mama lion, this wonderful woman had rescued Adam’s wallet, and the folks in surrounding stalls were quick to chase the thief from the area.  The woman (and several others), in the midst of our thanks and gratitude, wished only to instill in us the necessity of simply keeping your hands always on your money.  Unaona pesa yako!
   What a wonderful world it is, it always seems, when something bad can produce such actions in complete strangers.  A woman, with no regard for her safety or anything, takes note to grab hold of a pick-pocket to forcefully rescue a wallet for a foreigner.  These people in Karatu – really in all surrounding areas – know who we are, and treasure us as much as we treasure them.  Goodness and kindness abound, and I only hope that I can return the favor to them.  Pay it forward, as it were.  Right is right anywhere, whether it be Tanzania or the U.S., and it’s nice to know that even though we’re foreigners stumbling around the area, trying to make a living, there are always polite gentleman, mamas, and generally good folks to look out for us.
   We ended our day sitting at a pub named Happy Days, enjoying French fries, and some tasty, locally brewed beer (the drinking age here is 18, Mom and Dad).  Stories were swapped, laughs were shared, and memories were sealed in Tanzania.

Monday, February 6, 2012

For my Parents (Plant Style)

This post is more directed for my parents, but you all are of course welcome to see what I have to share.
We have these spiky plants back home in NC in our yard.  They're painful if pricked by their leaves, and we are forever trying to remove them from the yard.  However, no matter how often we pull and dig them out, by next summer they return.  I've only ever seen them as tall as my waist, but I've discovered that they're here in Moyo Hill as well! And they're bigger, sharper, and ultimately badder than those we have in our back yard.  A photo has been provided with myself standing by to give you a rough idea of how large these puppies are (just as a note, I'm 5'6" without my boots on).
They are the Siso plant, and in Kiswahili they are called kitana.
It makes for marching about the countryside a bit difficult when faced with a wall of these, so we try our best to dig through all of the other foliage and flora, and to avoid these sharp buggers.  My t-shirts and cargo shorts are no match for the mighty points of the kitana plant!

Show and Tell... and Baboons Barking?

We named this lazy baboon Kermit
Yesterday (Sunday February 5th, for those finding it difficult to follow the time difference) was dedicated to research and field observations of baboons.  Olive baboons claim a fancy scientific name, Papio cynocephalus anubis, but are far from fancy creatures.  In Kiswahili, the term for baboon is nyani.  The olive baboons are somewhat volatile in activities and emotions, ranging anywhere from playful, to lounging and relaxed (as noted by Kermit, to the left), to screeching in anger.  A noted sound of the baboon is called a bark, because of it's facial similarities to a dog.  I have to argue that most dogs I know of are much cuter than these grown, amorous monkeys... well, alright, I am purposefully speaking of my own dog - Sami - who is a yellow labrador.  I miss her constantly, and this seemed the perfect time to mention her!
   Three hours were dedicated to driving and noting the behavior traits of the rapscallions.  For all of my research, I have come to three conclusions: 

  1. Olive baboons are extremely similar to people in social activities.  On this lazy Sunday morning I would have loved nothing better than to lie in a shady place and enjoy the sounds of birds.  These baboons were just what I imagine many parents doing with their children in the park, as the adults would relax or sleep, and the young would climb, jump, and play constantly with each other, taking a break only to return to their parents and incessantly bother them for snacks.
  2. Baboons like to be watched. They're show animals.  They know what the tourists are here for, and they aren't going to put off their activities just because a few hundred cameras are pointed directly at them.  Eating? No problem.  Butt scratching? No nerves for these baboons.  Climbing from tree to tree, pointedly ignoring Mama Baboon's screeching? Always.
  3. Baboons are the gray squirrels/rats of Tanzania.  They're everywhere! Just like back home in the states - especially in NC - these baboons are seen so often that one no longer takes keen interest in them.  After a time it was common to hear voices citing sighs of boredom over baboons floating about the interior of the vehicles, because baboons are simply installed in all crevices of the Lake Manyara habitat.  

Can you spot the baby hippo sleeping beside its Mother?
Worry not, for the rest of the day was spent observing other species in the area.
   Alright, in complete honesty, we were "observing" by means of camera, with our eyes combining forces with the great visibility of our camera lenses, as if our pupils had all become the wide, black photo-lenses shining beneath the bright light of the jua na Afrika, or "African sun".
   The hippos were all lounging out beside the pools, which was somewhat unusual for the time of day, so we were lucky to obtain some amazing photos.  There were two baby hippos, eager to swim, lounge, swim, sleep, swim, swim, swim! 
   As we headed towards the gate, leaving behind us the savannas filled with zebra and wildebeest, we were confronted by a herd of elephants.  The great grey animals sauntered purposefully past our vehicles.  Their steps were accompanied by various trumpets from their trunks, directing their young away from the vehicles that they were so curiously and eagerly wishing to examine.  Curiosity is curiosity in any eyes, and it's quite easy to spot the trait in any young person/animal.  These young elephants were quite ready to observe our large green cars.
   That evening I slept heavily, and peacefully, with animals of Lake Manyara dancing about my dreams.
They walked right in front of our vehicle.
   The morning brought with it another beautiful day, and the neighborhood rooster was fervent in his endeavors to waken us with his crowing.  We left camp at sunup, and hiked to an cliff that provided an overlook of the mountains/farming land of Arusha.  It was here, amidst the great winds flying up from the valley, juniper trees and morning doves that we had our morning lecture.  It is amazing that I can rightfully say that I've had class on the ledge of a mountain in the highlands of Tanzania.  Needless to say, our greedy eyes were wandering, scouring for imagery as aggressively as an eagle scans for prey when it is hungry.
Tomorrow, or Tuesday, is our first day off.  We are going to see an Iraqw boma, and then off to Karatu to visit the market, and finish our day at Happy Days, where we will get to enjoy some missed American cuisine.  I'll be sure to share my experiences tomorrow, marafiki zangu and family, but for now, kwa heri!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Just in case you're missing my beautiful face.

And I've already acquired so much color!
Banda living is interesting, to say the least.  There's no air conditioning, and no fans to dispel the evening heat.  The warm evenings settle quite like a dry heated blanket, only there's no thermostat to adjust the temperature.  We leave our windows open at night, hoping to catch some of the nighttime breezes as they drift through the air (and praying, in turn, that the bugs stay outside).  I never sleep inside my sleeping bag, but lie with it against my side, as if to have a friend sharing the space.  To be fair, like anybody who has ever shared a space with someone, if it get's to be too warm I am quick to shove my "partner" as far away from me as possible, without shame or regret for my hasty motions.
   Sleeping beneath a chandalua (mosquito net) is a bit magical, as if I'm a princess sleeping beneath a canopy.  In fact, I bet Cinderella, Aurora, or any of the princesses with canopies used them for just the purpose of halting bugs from entering their sleeping space (because what kind of princess has any red bumps from bug bites?)
   What physical item do I miss most while living here? Cold beverages.  We have clean, filtered water all around the camp, which is a miracle in itself.  I do, however, long for the days of ice cold, Carolina sweet tea.  In fact, I implore my friends to drink a sweet tea for me, and host a small distance-wake with sweet tea (or cherry), french fries, and a tasty sandwich.  Not to say the food isn't fantastic here in Moyo Hill, because it is! I never go hungry, and (this is mainly an address to my mother) we always have Heines ketchup!  That sweet tomato paste always fixes any dish.
   I'm quite sold on maize and Tanzanian sweet pancakes.  Breakfast is always a treat.  The staff took the time to devise some homemade salad dressings, and they assured us that nowhere would we find thousand island dressing that was as nzuri as their's... and they were right!  We're always quick to complement the staff here, because their smiles and chorus of "asante sana" are a treat.
   One wonderful aspect of this trip - a characteristic that I had no notion of needing until after this week - is the solidarity, stability, and overall easy camaraderie that exists among the group.  There are no cliques or groups, and everyone is friendly.  I never feel that I cannot speak to someone.  And when someone is feeling down, or there's a weak animal among the herd, we're quick to act like a mother baboon is to aid its young.  It's a blessing to be among genuinely happy people, and I hope to bring this happy feeling back with me to Chapel Hill.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dizzy in Manyara National Park (Literally and Figuratively)

Today was our first day driving to a national park, where we would conduct basic research and field exercises for identifying various wildlife.  5 hours driving across Lake Manyara National Park, world-renowned for its vast baboon population, driving with our heads popped out of the top of our Land Cruisers. Hours of yelling “simama” to our driver to stop when we saw an animal, followed inevitably by a “twende, tafadhali,” which means “let’s go, please!” 
   So I’m guessing you weren’t expecting me to begin with a word of advice.  No, I’m not giving advice on proper camera etiquette, or how best to protect your binoculars from the dusts of dry, red-dirt roads.  No, my piece of advice is fairly simple, and common, and something I wish I would’ve followed today:
Always follow the directions on your prescription medication packages.  Why? Because if, say, you were to take your malaria pill without food in your stomach, then your day at the park might be somewhat challenged by the nausea and dizziness you’d be experiencing.
When I say it was a dizzying experience in the park today, I meant it both figuratively and literally.   Our eyes and ears were attuned to nature, seeking out all natural wildlife that we could lay our greedy sights on.  Baboons so accustomed to vehicles would sit idly by the roads as we drove by, grooming or screaming, or watching the young play.  Giraffe peaked their heads out from the trees as if wishing to greet us.  Hippos, wildebeest, zebras, blue monkeys, vervets and grivets, impala, warthogs, dik dik, and elephants were only an arm’s length away from our vehicles at times.  We were so close to the elephants, or tembo, that we could hear the sounds of their ears flapping. 
   Did you know that dik dik mate for life? Just like penguins, it’s always the cute animals that take life-mates. 
I can honestly say that I’m living the Lion King dream.  My favorite movie, hands down, and I’m actually here where it was all based in.  The forests are lush and green, while the savannahs are brightly lit and baked by the sun.  Lebo M and his Zulu warrior singing-crew were staging a concert in the back of my mind all day.
   Them, as well as a pounding headache accompanied by dizzy spells.  I believe the hippos might have been laughing at my pale-white face. 
   Being sick could not surpass my awe for being so close to these African animals.  We had fun, and as long as the wind was on my face I was okay to go.  It was hot, and slightly breezy, with animals all around, and I couldn’t have been happier.
   Our second day excursion is tomorrow, where we’ll spend all of our time recording baboon behavior.  These baboons aren’t terribly concerned about being watched, which I guess is a good thing.  I will, however, need to recharge my camera battery tonight. 
    And my day would end with a nice cold shower, to rinse the dirt and grime from my body.  You’d be surprised how wonderful a cold shower feels after being out in the sun all day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chasing the Sun with a Soccer Ball

   Before you begin to read this entry, please open a second tab on your browser, head over to YouTube, and type in LP – Into the Wild.  It’s a song, the photo you’ll see is a very stunning woman with super curly hair/fro thing.  That is the theme song of my day today, and, I hope, the song to the rest of my days here in East Africa.
   I could take my time to tell you about my first time working breakfast cook-crew this morning, and how I rocked those pancakes (without Bisquick, but from scratch!)
   I could tell you about the fresh fruit we get every single morning here.
   But I’ll have time for that later.  For today, let me share two stories.  One is silly, and my friends will giggle when they read it.  The other is moving, and lovely, and quite striking in its simple splendor.
   Today in class we learned some tracking techniques for animals.  One informative source from animals is their – say it with me now – dung. Poop. Number 2. We were informed that a place designated by animals as their poop-palace is called a maiden… Yes (Hannah, Miranda, Mom and Dad, John and friends), our hometown shares the name of an animal’s crap-trap.  I could not make this stuff up, and you may or may not tell whomever you wish.
   Oh good ‘ole little Maiden, you just can’t get a break, can you?  (To John, how does it feel to know you play for the poop-camp blue devils?)
   Tonight we took our cameras, donned our now dirt-caked tennis shoes, and made a short trip to the “soccer” field to play some ball.  The children were waiting, smiling with happiness, reclining leisurely in the grasses.  It was tennis shoes against bare-feet.  Adults against watoto.  Us and them.  Feet beat the earth solidly, and laughter was the sound of the afternoon.  In soccer – in playing games – there is community, solidarity, and an equality perseverant above any language or culture barriers.  A smile is a kicheko is a smile; ultimately universal in happiness. 
   The last of the evening was spent observing the sunset, my first in Tanzania that I could watch the sun set fully behind the mountains of Arusha.  The land was golden, the clouds bursting with fiery hues of red and yellow.  The sun our target, the cameras our weapon, and our minds in paradise as we watched the sun fall below the horizon.  Children smiled for pictures, and silhouettes were popularly photographed.  We were happy, and we were all watching the sun set.  It was a shared moment we had today, one that everyone could partake and appreciate.  A sunset is beautiful, and all the more so knowing that I was standing in the foreign lands that many have termed God’s Country.  The beginning of man.  I’m not so sure it’s where it all started, or that Africa was the birthplace of man… but I do know that it has been the start of an amazing, life-altering experience.  One I hope to share with everyone.  
(All photos are mine mine mine.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fighting the Urge to Skip Class (First Day of Lessons)


This study abroad program is, ultimately, a semester with included coursework. This means that required readings, papers, exams, and lectures to attend. Granted, many lectures occur out in the field, and are aptly considered “field exercises.”  In the first 6 weeks of living in Tanzania we have our structured classes and schedule, whereas in Kenya there will be all directed research, or field and data collecting outside the classroom.  This all pertains to our final, big project and presentation of research. 
  The problem, of course, is that the weather and atmosphere here does not readily invite the want to attend classes ipo darasa, or in the classroom.  In fact, the sunny skies, mild heat, and breezes only make me long for time outside.  Unless relegated to the darasa I am always outside now.  I read, chat, play Frisbee, lounge, or generally enjoy the weather.
  My friends, family, and colleagues at the moment are probably cursing my name, as they’re dealing with North Carolina February winter weather at the moment. 
  Our first day of classes was in fact, to my pleasant surprise, extremely interesting to me.  Not to say that studying in East Africa would incite thoughts of boredom, but seeing as I am a Political Science and Peace, War, & Defense double major from UNC, a program dedicated to wildlife and natural resource conservation research seemed daunting to me.  I only took basic biology, and watch programs like National Geographic.  While I was well trained in wilderness basics and performance by my mountain-man of a father for North America, these skills aren’t readily applicable to the African Wild. 
  Granted, my mother’s over-exaggeration of packing necessary medical basics and toiletries has really helped others who may not have packed enough. 
  Did you know that mistletoe was an invasive parasite to other trees? It actually kills the tree it inhabits, unless by rare chance it happens to learn to coexist.  We discovered this fact to be a great analogy of relationships, for we all know the kissing-game for mistletoe, yes? We deduced that it signifies a relationship of two separate but alike organisms, upon which they will either find that unique combination to coexist, or one will inevitably become parasitic… oh yeah, philosophical discussion of mistletoe in East Africa.  Autobiographically worthy work right there.
  Also, the thorns on the trees here are ridiculously long, and difficult to avoid. 
  By the end of the 6 weeks we shall need to be able to identify 30 separate plants.  Thankfully, most of my days in my childhood can be characterized by my dad constantly asking me to name trees, and what their distinguishing factors are.  Really, you’d be surprised by how often I could school my fellow Girl-Scouts in flora recognition.
  We took a short walk around our town, Rhotia, which is relatively small.  A large group of Caucasian, light-skinned students toting cameras made for a spectacle, and many times we were met with smiles, greetings, and cat-calls.  The dogs and cats here are feral, not pets.  It’s difficult to recall that the dogs aren’t to be petted, especially to avoid fleas. 
  My younger brother would be proud to know that I’ve already been invited to play soccer with the grade-school kids down the street.  I think the children can tell that I am no soccer player, and they’ll be happy to kick my butt. 
  The rest of my day consisted of dancing and singing with a personnel for the camp, in which he taught us the words to the song from which Disney’s “Hakuna Matata” originated! Yeah, be jealous.  Which of course led us to watch the movie with the staff in the old classroom, with a projector and a sheet.  Was a magical time, I’ll tell you that.