Getting used to bushlife
Alright, so it’s been a week since I landed in Tanzania, and it took me about this long to secure internet and a way to communicate with people in the US. Noloholo is isolated. It is about a 3 hour drive from the city of Arusha, along a VERY dusty road, through villages and savannah, and up a pretty decent sized hill. Nestled at the top of the hill is an incredible environmental center, equipped with some actual flush toilets, a rain-fed water gravity water system, solar powered electricity, and (occasionally) internet access. There are about 30 Tanzanians working here, as well as Dr. Lichtenfeld (Laly) and Buddy (her husband and partner).
I am slowly (pole pole) learning Swahili – there are two program chairs here who speak English. Dennis, the lion specialist, and Neovitus (Neo), the education director. We have already spent a lot of time with them, and they are excited to teach us Swahili in exchange for practicing English. (Habari za asibuhi means good morning – but that’s about as far as I have gotten at this point.) Already we have helped Neo prepare for a teacher training program for primary school teachers from a nearby village, as well as went to the Maasai market and on a drive around the village boundary with Dennis.
It is easy to be so positive now, I feel very comfortable and safe here (not to mention, I am super excited for the work we will be doing), but I absolutely went through an adjustment period. We arrived at night on Tuesday and were taken to our tents – let me tell you, it is pretty hard going from sleeping in my bed in America to sleeping in a tent in the bush in less than 48 hours. Now, I find the constant hum of insects soothing, but, on night one, it was very stressful.
Occasionally we hear hyenas in the distance but, otherwise, no scary sounds yet (knock on wood). Additionally, the sun sets at about 6:30 pm and rises at about 6:30 am (because we are at about 4 degrees below the equator), which makes the nights feel long – another adjustment, for sure. For those of you who may be worried, it really is quite safe here – there are even Maasai Askari that walk around all the time (including at night) with big spears just in case anyone, or anything, tries to come up here.
Today we went with Dennis down into Liobor Siret, the nearest village, to the Maasai market. Armed with Swahili 101 phrases and Dennis, we explored the market for a bit. Sam and some TPW employees then shared some goat meat, stretched and cooked over the fire. I am a vegetarian, so I wouldn’t know how it tasted, but, according to them, it was delicious. The Maasai are a very interesting people – I definitely still have a lot to learn about their culture. The Maasai are traditionally nomadic pastoralists, but they are beginning to settle down and live a more sedentary lifestyle. What I found most striking was that every single one of them had a cell phone, and many houses were equipped with huge satellite dishes. It was a very interesting juxtaposition with their traditional robes, jewelry, and huts. Otherwise, their culture appears to me, as an outsider, to be pretty traditional – donning the traditional red robes, gauging their ears, shaving their heads, etc.
[Quick digression – after about 2 days here I came down with a cold. Upon telling Buddy this, he called for a Maasai to make me traditional medicine, made out of the root of the Loisuki tree. They boiled the root to make a sort of green, acrid tea. Despite being mildly skeptical, my pseudoephedrine and Claritin had failed, so I figured, why not try it. It was definitely not tasty, but it absolutely worked! I woke up this morning feeling great! I even drank another cup with breakfast for good measure!]
Anyway, after the market, we drove around the village boundary. It is amazing how quickly the landscape here changes, from savannah, to cropland, to closed savannah, back to open savannah. It was also incredible to see how large an area the Maasai will graze their cattle. Liobor Siret is one of the villages we will likely be working a lot with, so it was great to be able to see the extent of its area.
Sam will catch you up on some of the other stuff we have already done (we don’t want to overlap too much), but this summer is already shaping up to be pretty extraordinary. I will try to post some pictures later, if possible. Alright, well I am typing this from inside my tent and, since we wake up at sunrise, it is about time to go. Baadae! (Later!)