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Friday, June 6, 2014

Click here to see a summary video of our first full day in Tanzania (5/21/2014 - journey from Arusha to Serengeti National Park).

Thursday, May 29, 2014

May 26, 2014
Visiting schools

We continued our immersion in Tanzanian culture by visiting the primary school in the village of Iraqu. This school serves the surrounding community (primarily Iraqu) for K-7 grade. In Tanzania, mandatory education goes only through the 7th grade. At that time, testing is used to determine who may continue to secondary school. But all those who qualify must pay tuition, in both private and government-run schools.

We started the day by meeting the heads of the school and presenting them with the supplies we gathered and brought, including about 80 composition notebooks and 6 used laptop computers:

 The school masters told us about the schools, its curriculum, and the students.

We then visited a 7th grade class. They sang some songs for us, and then we asked each other questions (they were curious about how we traveled to Tanzania, and if we had any pets):

The class then ran outside and gathered beneath a tree to perform some songs and dances for us:

We had prepared a response, so we all gathered in a circle and participated in a rousing rendition of the hokey pokey. Video to follow!

We all mingled for a while, posing for photos, which the kids seemed to really enjoy:

We then played soccer together, which was a blast. We managed to avoid embarrassing ourselves, despite the 6500' elevation:

We mingled for a while more, taking lots of photos and sharing high-fives. The children seemed especially interested in long blond hair, which they spent some time braiding:

We drove out of Karatu and to Esilalei, a Maasai village near Arusha that maintains a relationship with Maasai Wanderings, the tour company that guided our trip. Esilalei is a typical Maasai village consisting of several clusters of homes, each of which houses an extended family. We began by visiting the one room kindergarten, a modest facility that saves the children a nearly 10 mile walk to the next nearest school. We presented the head teacher with a box filled with school supplies that he had requested (pencils, chalk, notebooks, etc.):

We then visited the children in their school room. They all seemed interested in touching and shaking hands with us. They clapped and sang a song for us, and loved having their photos taken (especially if they could view themselves on the back of the camera):

Our local guide walked us over to part of the village as he told us of life in the village. The women gathered to sing songs for us, pulling up most of the women in our group, who were decorated and then lead in a dance. Children played around the edges and watched and laughed.

The women set out beaded jewelry that they had crafted. We shopped for a while (with our guide acting as chief negotiator and money collector).

Although everyone seemed happy, many of the students were disturbed by the conditions within the village. It was certainly very dirty by our standards, with many swarming flies. Several students mentioned how disturbing they found it to see flies crawling over the faces and heads of the children. This was certainly an opportunity to step well outside of our usual Western experience, and while we tried hard not to judge anyone, or make value judgments as to their way of life, several students reported feelings of sadness and great discomfort while seeing how they lived. It certainly gave us an appreciation for the luck of birth that placed us within our present circumstances. I am certain that their lifestyle offers many advantages over our own (a greater commitment to and time spent with family and community, for example) but it is  hard for us to look beyond what seems to us to be obvious discomforts of their lifestyle.

We gathered for more photos, thanked our hosts heartily, and returned to our trucks:

From Elilalei, we returned to Ahadi Lodge in Arusha for a "day spa" visit. We were able to repack, shower, relax, enjoy some conversation, and then eat a fine dinner before heading off to the airport for our long journey home.

As always, thank you for reading!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 25, 2014
Village walk and Lake Manyara

Today represents a pivot point in our trip. So far, our sights have been almost entirely biological – viewing the landscape and the wildlife. Our interactions with the “real” Tanzania, it’s people and it’s villages, have been minimal. We have been in what I refer to as the “Western bubble,” a protective cocoon of service that has kept us safe and comfortable to the standards that Americans would expect while traveling.
But for the last two days of our visit, we will step outside the bubble and engage the culture of Tanzania more directly. To start, we were met by our local guide Stephen, wearing the traditional wrap/blanket of his tribe, the Iraqu (a name that is unpronounceable for us, with a final sound that is a guttural click/pop).

This tribe is the predominant one in the town of Karatu, where we had spent the night. Stephen led us on a walking tour of the “downtown” area. We walked along dirt roads past many active churches holding Sunday morning prayers:

We walked to the main road and through the town market, a combination farmers’ market, food court, and shopping bazaar filled with (mostly used) goods. Much of the wares for sale were items that, in American towns, would be recycled or donated (shoes, cooking pots, hardware, bicycles, etc.).

I think we all felt a bit uncomfortable (holding on to our wallets, etc.) although I could detect no real reason to be, other than the outside-our-experience foreignness of the place. Some locals were very friendly and stopped to chat or pose for photos with us, while others glowered (at least that’s how I read it) and waved off our attempts to engage them.

We continued our walk to the edge of town (during which we had a fascinating conversation about American pets – our local guides could not believe that we spent so much money to obtain, pamper, and care for our dogs/cats, because in Tanzania such animals are only for protection/hunting and are not usually even fed). Luckily for us, it was the last Sunday of the month in Karatu, which meant the large market was taking place. We ventured within and were struck by the variety of goods for sale, including large animals (both living and butchered) and many food items.

This woman showed us her cooking area and explained how strong Tanzanian women were for all the work they had to do:

It felt like a combination of a flea market and a county fair, with many strange sights and, especially, smells.
From there, we boarded our trucks for our last game drive through Lake Manyara, a large park surrounding a very big lake. This area is provided with water year round by streams that bubble up from underground between rocks. We drove through the park and admired the wildlife, including the numerous monkeys (of two species) and baboons:

The baboons were particularly interesting to watch. They travel in groups of 30-40, with dominant males, females, and many young ones and babies (who often clung to the underside of their mothers if very young, and rode atop their mothers if a bit older):

We also watched a family of elephants taking a mud bath:

We enjoyed lunch in the park and a night picnic spot:

Just before we left the park, we posed for one final group shot on the plains of Tanzania:

After a short drive we arrived at our final hotel. As we ate dinner that night, we were visited by a local group of Maasai warriors (as well as two young females and two older females). They sang and danced for us:

They also pulled several of us up to join them. Stay tuned for a video in the near future! It was a wonderful introduction to the Maasai culture, which would be the focus of our next (and final) day.

Greetings from Tanzania to all of you! Asante sana for reading.

May 24, 2014
Ngorogoro Crater

As we often did on this trip, we were up quite early, around 5:30AM for a 6AM breakfast so that we could pack and leave for the crater by 7AM. (Most days, we all got up around this time; sometimes we were able to sleep an hour later – and no one ever complained, I must say.) Our early departure allowed us to enter the crater soon after it opened for the day; access to the crater is tightly regulated and limited to certain hours of the day, so we wanted to get the most of our experience.

Ngorogoro Crater is an amazing place. It is a volcanic cauldera approximately 2 million years old. What remains is a large flat depression about 12 miles across, with a 2000’ ridge circling the edge. This creates a natural terrarium containing a vast array of wildlife. Here are some shots from two different lookouts that give you a good sense of the site. You can see a large lake in the center. Its size changes drastically depending on the season. When we visited, a few weeks after the end of the rainy season, it was at its largest diameter (but still fairly shallow).

We drove into the large flat plain at the center of the crater. We were able to observe vast herds of animals of many species:

We had many close interactions with animals, including foraging elephants, sparring zebaras, thundering wildebeest, and ostriches snacking among huge patches of yellow and purple wildflowers:

We observed the central lake, which contained huge flocks of (maybe 10,000?) flamingos:

We stopped for lunch at a rest area. There, we saw a pair of hippos lounging the water:

Ngorogoro is a truly amazing place. After driving up and out, we visited a local souvenir shop that featured paintings, wood carvings, tapestries, and crafts, all locally produced:

Satisfied that we had properly stimulated the local Tanzanian economy, we drove to Eileen’s Trees, our hotel for the night. Many of us felt that this was the nicest hotel during our visit. It was the first one that had both power and hot water always available, as well as Internet and a nice pool for lounging. This was also the first time during our trip that we had a few hours of down time, so we all appreciated some leisure:

We enjoyed a dinner that included some local dishes (such as curried chicken in coconut milk, and cabbage in peanut sauce). As we did most nights, we talked, played games, and joked, but all wound up turning in early.

Please feel free to leave any comments; I will always communicate them to the group. Thanks for reading!