Sunday, October 28, 2012

The beauty of the Serengeti

There is only one word to describe a 5 day camping trip in the Serengeti: unreal. We drove for about 7 hours and after a few rest stops we arrived in the Serengeti with sleeping bags, tents and headlights and not knowing what to expect. Part of the drive was spent game driving through the Serengeti towards the campsite. Game driving includes lifting the top of the land cruiser so we can stand up and look for animals in the bush. On the way to the camp we saw zebra, Thompsons and grant’s gazelle, impala, buffalo and some lions lounging under trees. Once at the camp, we pitched the tent which proved more difficult than it sounds. We used large tents that held five people and our s had some difficulty: we ripped the fabric by staking the wrong part to the ground, the zipper was broken and one of the poles was missing. After overcoming these slight problems, we had our home for the next few nights.
            The next few days included a lot of sun, animals, laughter and reflection. Being in such a beautiful and serene place makes me think about how fortunate I am to experience this as it is something that can’t be described in words or pictures. Seeing a leopard sleeping on its belly on a tree branch with all four legs hanging off, watching hippos roll around in mud pools, listening to the heavy footprints of elephants as they slowly walk past, witnessing a serval take two graceful hops into the tall grass to come out with a rodent, staring into the beautiful colors of the sunset, sharing this time with some great friends and lots of laughter, these are all things that are too good to put into words. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Funky kuku!

Jump for joy like the Maasai

This Tuesday we visited a Maasai Manyatta, which is a Maasai village that is set up to display their culture to tourists. We were greeted with a traditional welcoming ceremony that included singing, chanting, jumping, and dancing. The Maasai were dressed in shukas and lots of beaded jewelry, which they let us try on and join in on the dancing. Then we were shown how to make a fire with just two pieces of wood (one of a hard acacia and one of a soft acacia), donkey dung and dry brush. Next we were able to ask some questions about their culture. Of course we had to write a paper about the visit so we drilled the chief’s son about his tribe. After that we got a tour of their mud huts. Finally we were able to look at jewelry to buy. It was interesting to see how a tribe has had to participate in tourist activities and can no longer survive on their traditional pastoralist practices. This tribe does still have livestock, but the manyatta brings in much more money. This just shows that Africa is changing and unfortunately the tribes must also change and modernize.

On Wednesday we had a travelling lecture to see how local people were living sustainable lives. The first stop was to a primary school that had its own farm and chicken coup. They also grew trees that students could take home and villagers could buy to plant and reduce soil erosion and increase biodiversity. The school with over 800 students is able to do this solely because of the donations from a lodge owner. Yet, the students are learning all about conservation. Next we went to visit Mama Danielle (yes, I found another Danielle in Africa!) at her home, where her family uses biogas. Biogas is the utilization of products from cow dung in order to light her stove for cooking. It is a stinky process, but she is able to have a gas burner to cook food on instead of the typical coal burning fire that is of course terrible for the environment. Last we went to a brick making factory that also saves coal and wood by compacting bricks with a machine instead of cooking them. All of these conservation techniques are quite expensive, but local communities do support people to use them and help with some of the costs.

That afternoon we had community service at the Rhotia Primary School. Here we read stories, played games and worked on building a concrete wall for their new kitchen. The children are so sweet and love playing with the wazungu (what they call white people/tourists).

Saturday I spent the whole day with a local family and one other student. The father of the family works at the Shirt Shack, a local store that sells shirts and souvenirs to tourists, so they are wealthier than most other families. I spent the day with another student, Max, Mama Pascal, Francis (20 yrs old), Valentina (16), Martin (13), Veronica (6) and some other children that were visiting for the day. All of the children and even Mama knew pretty good English, so we were able to communicate pretty well and learn some Swahili along the way. We started the day with tea and bread. Then we started making the lunch that we brought: meat, rice, ugali, cabbage and some vegetables. Mama and Valentina made the lunch and Max and I helped by cutting vegetables and stirring the food while it cooked over coals or a fire. It was so amazing to see how much Vale helped around the house... She knew how to cook, do laundry, wash dishes and was a great hostess. After doing some chores we watched some tv and African music videos. This day taught me a lot about the values of being a family and every member helping out. Also, it was great to see such happy people that worked so hard and still had a smile on their face. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

On top of the world!

Except for the many misquito bites spotting my skin, there really is nothing I can complain about here. It is sunny and getting warmer every day 

On Wednesday we had a travelling lecture on top of Kilimatembo (Elephant Mountain) and we got a short lecture from each of our classes. The view from on top of this hill was incredible! Even though it is called Kilimatembo, unfortunately there are no longer any elephants on the hill. Then we went to an acacia forest and just got to walk around and explore the area. We got to see one of the “small five” animals, a lion ant which is a little bug that digs holes in the dirt to catch ants and eat them.
Thursday we had wildlife ecology and Swahili class throughout the day.  Then there was an assignment due for environmental policy in the evening.
Then we went to Ngorongoro Crater on Friday and we got to go on a safari without an assignment to do at the same time! We just sat for a short lecture by one of the men working at Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Here we saw more zebras and wildebeest. We also saw cape buffalo, ostriches, reed bucks, gold crested cranes, ververts, a rhino and lions. At the beginning there was a reed buck giving birth really close to the road. A lot of tourists were stopped in front of it so all we saw was the baby after it was born. I was really excited to see a rhino even though it was lying down and super far way. Then the lions were awesome! One of them was so close to the road and she was so pretty!

On Saturday we went bird watching in the forest area of Rhotia. We saw a lot of birds and then stopped on the cliff to see an amazing view of the whole valley. It was mainly open landscape and farms. It is still so different to see such a large space of land without a huge city in the middle of it. I felt like I was on top of the world up on this cliff. I have come to realize that some things like this view can not be described with words or even a picture. A person has to experience it for themselves to get the full idea about how beautiful Africa is.

The next day we had another non-program day which we spent going to markets in Karatu and Mto Wa Mbu (misquito river). Here we just got some trinkets from the stores and did some bargaining for them. There was this wood shop that we went to at Mto Wa where the men make the wood carvings (animals and bowls and other stuff) made out of rosewood and ebony by hand with just chisels and knife. We also got to go to a monthly market in Karatu which was so energetic! It is a local market with thousands of people trying to buy and sell various clothing, food, and other items that lay on tarps on the ground.
Monday we had another travelling lecture to Mto Wa Mbu. We learned about the farming practices of people in the town and how they interact with wildlife. Also that there are just 3 perrenial rivers in the area that flow into Lake Manyara which causes people and wildlife to cram into the area. This becomes a problem as populations continue to grow.
All in all it was a good week and great way to end the first month that I have spent in Tanzania.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happy Days in Tz

This past week we have been busy, busy, busy with class work! We had three assignments due in three days. Two of them were papers for Wildlife Ecology and another was a paper for Swahili. Yes, we had to write a paper all in Swahili. Granted mine was only half a page and it was a lot of greetings and descriptions of where I come from and where I am staying in Tanzania. But still, we are going so fast in that class! 

Besides classes, we have been playing a lot of cards and keeping ourselves busy in the center with other random games. The other students and I are getting along smashingly. I love hanging out with so many people with common interests as me. We are all very passionate about science, specifically animals and the environment. 

On Sunday we had a non-program day and we got to sleep in! Then we chose between going to Kudu lodge where we can swim or Happy Days, which is a restaurant. I chose Happy Days and the only people there were us students and the staff of the restaurant, including Nix the owner of the place. It was a lot of fun to just relax and not worry about classes and assignments. And I got a burger, yum! Here's a picture of us at Happy Days:

After we got back from Happy Days and Kudu lodge a few of us sat in the campfire area and just talked. It's feels good to know that after only a few weeks I have made some amazing friendships here in Africa. Here's one of the cheesey happy pictures some of the girls took out in the campfire area:

Oh and last night it started to sprinkle a bit and it made me miss Oregon rain. I never thought I would have been caught saying that.