Monday, September 27, 2010

Be Free in Tanzania – Homestays

(this was written yesterday but I am posting it now because the internet wasn't working last night)

We very frequently hear the phrase “be free” from Tanzanians. They say this as a way to welcome you to be comfortable and to encourage you to be yourself and to not hold back. This is a frequently used phrase, but unlike American phrases like “peace” or “chill out”, I don’t think that “be free” is ever said here without genuine interest. Today we did homestays throughout the village of Rhotia, and I was able to experience the reality of a Tanzanian home. Today’s experience helped me see that Tanzanians are truly free with their way of life – they work hard at what they do, carry themselves with confidence, and love their families. We’ve learned how friendly and welcoming Tanzanians are from the great staff we have here at the camp, but it was further emphasized as we were welcomed into stranger’s homes as part of their families.
            This morning we were dropped off in pairs or groups of three at homes all around Rhotia. The mamas of the homes knew that we were coming and were told to treat us like their kids and to just go through a normal day. Leila and I spent the day with Irene and her five children – Ami, Lucy, Lucretia, Isabel, and Reggie. We also saw a lot of Irene’s sister, who lives next door, as well as other neighbors who were intrigued by the two mzungu (white people) who were attempting to act like Tanzanians. We spent the morning under the patient and helpful guidance of Irene and her oldest daughters – Ami and Lucy know a decent amount of English, but verbal communication throughout the day was definitely on the low side. That was ok though, because we learned English/Swahili from each other and got by pretty well saying “Naweza kusaidia?” - “how can I help?” - and “Sielewi” – “I don’t understand”. We helped wash the dishes, feed the cows and goats, shovel out the livestock shed, and made chai and lunch. Lunch was cabbage, chinese (a leafy green plant), and oogali (wheat flour added to hot water to make mush, that you then eat with your hands and use it as a spoon for veggies). We also walked to an area of acacia trees where we collected wood for cooking. Right before we left there was some time to hang around and we played hopscotch with the kids.
            We all came back to camp with exciting stories and the urge to brag about our families. Everyone’s experiences were different and it was nice to hear how other homestays went. After dinner we had a discussion about the experience, as we were the first group of SFS students to do a homestay in Tanzania. We talked about what aspects of our day were the most eye-opening, etc, and this helped me wrap my mind around what we did today – it was a pretty intense/overwhelming experience! Right now I am most struck by a sense of deep respect and appreciation for my homestay family. They may live in mud huts and eat wheat flour porridge at every meal, but these facts are only notable to an outsider like me because I am used to something different. As the SFS director Professor Okello said to us tonight, if you don’t know what living with electricity is like, then you won’t be sad when you don’t have it. Your reality is what you make of it. Today we were lucky enough to spend a day as part of a Tanzanian family, and were able to realize the reality of how so many people in the world live. This was humbling, interesting, awkward, challenging, fun… In all, an experience that I will remember forever (sorry this part sounds so cheesy) and hope that I learn from for a long, long time.

Be free, Catherine

if you want to hear more about our day, check out Leila's blog. She has photos too!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More scenes from Tarangire

Tembo and Twiga (elephant and giraffe in Swahili)

the pool at Tarangire Safari Lodge
with my banda-mates Rachel and Leila

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tarangire National Park


            Today we went to Tarangire National Park to do a large animal count for our Wildlife Management class. This involved waking up early, at 5:30 am, so I thought about how people back home might still be awake on Sunday night! It took an hour to drive to the park and we began our animal counts at 9 am. The counts worked like this (sorry if you aren’t interested in this, but I am a bio student… I’ll keep it brief): we would drive 2km along a park road, stopping each time we saw any animals within 500 meters of either side of the car (this happened a lot). Then we’d record the species, number of individuals, habitat type, etc. We got through 8 x 2 km transects between 9am and noon. Here is a selection of the animals we saw: impala, wildebeest, zebra, waterbuck, dikdik, giraffe, elephant, warthogs, and 4 cheetahs chilling under a tree!!! Seeing the cheetahs was amazing – they were lounging in a big pile under an acacia, and they were alert, but relaxed. We saw lots of elephant as well, and at one point we were parked in the middle of a group of around 16 elephants of all different ages feeding.
            After we completed our 3 hour field lab (isn’t it great that our lab involves going on safari!?) we went to the Tarangire Safari Lodge, which is a really fancy and beautiful lodge inside the park. The lodge sits on a ledge with an amazing view and we enjoyed some American food as we sat on a patio that looked out over the expanse of the park. We could spot tons of elephant, impala, and other animals spread out below us, and there were even some warthogs rooting around the lodge grounds. To complete the amazing-ness of the lodge… it had a swimming pool!! We could pay 5000 Tanzanian shillings (about 3 dollars) to swim, and it was so worth it! I was so happy to be in the water again, and reminded myself of some basic swimming things like egg-beater, in-water-abs, and the flip turns. It was fun for us to just splash around and relax for a bit, and it was also a good chance for us to get clean! After the lodge we drove through the park to Professor Kissui’s field research station. He and a team of researchers have a program that uses tracking collars on lions within Tarangire to study behavior and distribution – his job is awesome!
Our group at the Tarangire Safari Lodge
            We rode home from the park between 5 and 6:30, so we got to watch the beautiful scenery and sky as the sun set. It is still a bit hard for me to take in my surroundings to a full extent - I just keep being hit with the wonder of this place.
            It is pretty late here, and I’m about to go to sleep. (I’m writing this on my bunk bed, under a canopy of mosquito netting) As we’d say in Swahili, “Lala salama” – sleep well.
 Thinking of everyone back home and sending my best, Catherine

Saturday, September 18, 2010

busy week

It has been a very busy week and schoolwork has picked up to full speed. We have a number of papers due on Monday and lots of readings, it feels just like Bowodin! I’ll recap some of the highlights of the week:
 - Last Sunday was our non-program day (no classes!) We went on a hike and then went into Karatu, a large town about 10 minutes away. We walked around, practiced bargaining, and made many “friends” with the boys and young men who latch on to tourists and try to sell necklaces, carvings, and other curios. Another tactic of theirs is to just chat and walk around with us, showing us cool markets, and then demand payment for the tour. It is a great experience to walk around a Tanzanian town – so different from the United States! After we got our fix of the town we drove to a restaurant run by a safari company, called Happy Days. They have delicious food (and some American dishes like mac and cheese!) and we tried African beer – Tusker and Kilimanjaro are the famous ones.
Maasai boma
 - On Tuesday we had class and then went to a Maasai Boma that welcomes tourists to come and walk around and learn about Maasai culture. The Maasai women were beautiful and all of them wore cloths draped around them and beaded bracelets, large earrings, and neck plates. They performed traditional chants and dances and invited us to join in. After our tour we played with the children and looked at the duka (shop) where they sell jewelry made by the women. It was a very interesting experience and I felt a whole mix of emotions (interest, amazement, discomfort…). One of our papers is a reaction to the Maasai’s involvement in the tourism industry, which they have begun to use to supplement their pastoral lifestyle. The boma we visited was a bit unique in that it focuses on Maasai women, rather than the Maasai warrior tradition that is more famous.
Maasai children
- On Wednesday we actually went to another boma/tourist attraction. This one was Iraqw, which is another African tribe that was historically at odds with the Maasai. It was interesting to compare how each culture was presented at the bomas and to hear about Iraaqi traditions.
- On Thursday we went to part of a secondary school graduation ceremony for the school (shule in Swahili) down the road. What an experience! It was held in a large, empty brick building and was packed with people – the graduates (probably around age 18?), teachers, community elders, and other students. Many people could only stand at the windows and look inside. We were treated like special guests though, and were given seats behind the principals and important members of the community. We were also given sodas (that is a big deal). The graduation ceremony was really long we heard speeches by teachers (all in Swahili) and some performances by the graduates. The students had beautiful and confident voices and the whole experience was really fun and intriguing.
- Today we had class in the morning and then did one of our community service projects this afternoon. (We’ll complete a number of different projects through out the semester) Today we went to an orphanage outside of Mtowambu that SFS students have visited before. We helped pour cement for a floor of one of the rooms, delivered and installed a see-saw and play house that we built, and played with the kids. There were around 20 of them and they were all under the age of 11. They were so excited to have so many wazungu (white people) to play with and climb on. Sunglasses were extremely popular and little hands were always grabbing them from our heads. We gave many piggy-back rides, played soccer, colored, and in general had an amazing time.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Where am I?

The East Africa program run by the School for Field Studies (SFS) occurs in two locations. The Tanzania site, where I will be until the end of October, is located in the district of Karatu, which is next to the district of Arusha in northern Tanzania. Our center is called Moyo Hills after a hill we are close to (Moyo means heart in Swahili). The full name is the Center for Wildlife Management Studies and it was built this summer – in the past, SFS used a camp close by, which was shared by a tourism company. The new camp is beautiful – we live in small buildings called bandas. Each banda is split into two halves and each side has two bunk beds and a bathroom. I wasn’t expecting such nice living spaces! There is a central building called the Chumba – the dining hall and kitchen. There are bandas for the faculty and staff as well as a building for a classroom and library and for offices. We are fenced in and there is a front gate that is painted with beautiful images of African wildlife and scenery. The guards, or ascari, are extremely good and friendly. There is a school down the road and many people pass by as they walk and herd animals. There is a trail that we can use to run or walk, as long as we sign out at the gate and go while more than one person is out on the road. The road is dusty and uneven and we meet many people as we go by (We greet them with “Jambo, habari?” – “Hello, how are you?”). For a while the trail follows a line of trees that borders two fields that grow beans and corn and the other day we passed by a lone cow grazing under one of the trees. We are so lucky to be able to run in such an amazing area – you couldn’t ask for a more interesting and refreshing place. The trail is quite short, not even a mile, but we run it multiple times and each time it feels unique. Also, I think I still feel the elevation – we are at about 5,000 feet.

All right, I’ll continue to try to write about all of the exciting things here. There are so many things that we’ve done and seen that are worth talking about! Kwaheri 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Time to catch up

Today is our "non-program day", which means we don't have class (we get one non-program day about every week and a half). This is our chance to sleep in a bit, work on course work, relax, and explore. I am going to work on a number of things today (for example, I am only now starting this blog!) and also we are going into Karatu, the town we are close to, this afternoon. There are lots of things I want to write about so I'll try to re-cap the past week when I have time later, but now I need to work on some stuff for our ecology class. I'll leave you with a photo that sums up what we did yesterday. I'll talk about it soon!

Journey to Africa

Hello from Tanzania!

I have been here in Tanzania for six days now. This is an amazing, amazing place and I don’t really know where to start. I guess I’ll start with an account of our trek to Africa, which was quite an experience! We started last Saturday night, flying from Newark, where the majority of the group met to travel together, to Heathrow where we met up with more students (There are 28 of us in all). We had a twelve hour lay over so a bunch of us went into London to spend some time in fresh air and stretch our legs. We took the Underground from the airport to Picadilly Circus and from there walked to some major tourist attractions. We found Trafalgar Square and took some pictures with the lion statues (very appropriate for our group) and had a nice view of Big Ben. We walked to Westminster Abby and got some lunch from a cafĂ©. We happened to be in the city while it was hosting a giant bike event, so there were about 75,000 Londoners riding on bikes through the streets very slowly. We found out that this is an event that is put on by the mayor once a year. We walked through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace and then headed back to the airport to catch our flight to Nairobi. Both of our long flights started at night and then ended in the morning, so we attempted to sleep on the plane and stay awake during the day to avoid feeling crazy jet lag. We arrived in Nairobi early in the morning on Monday and then hung out for ten hours in the Nairobi airport. We had a short flight to the Kilimanjaro airport, which ended with a very exciting landing. We got through customs easily (a Tanzanian stamp in our passports!) but then we learned that our bags were left in Kenya. That was all right, as most of them arrived in the middle of the next day. We spent that night in an Arusha hotel and then rode to our center the following morning (Tuesday). The drive was quite exciting – we sat in the land rovers and stared out of the windows as we passed villages, rolling landscapes, and kids herding goats and cattle. It is extremely dry here right now, the short rains will come in a few months. We saw a few giraffes, some groups of zebra, wildebeest, and baboons! The SFS Tanzania site is new as of this summer. It is located outside of Karatu, a town in the district of Arusha. It’s close to Lake Manyara National Park, and we stopped on the way to look out over the park. Lake Manyara is a salt-water lake along the Rift Valley and the presence of water means the park is a beautiful, green area in the middle of the surrounding arid land, and is full of wildlife. More on the park later!