Zebras, Giraffes, and Goats, Oh My!

If you ever have a chance to see the sun rise in Tanzania, watch it. A few mornings ago, I awoke early with Max and Claire H. to run through the roads near the Vijiji Center. As we ran, and the locals started their days, we were greeted with jambo's and habari's. Most of the people we came across greeted us with smiling faces, especially younger adults. This speaks to the community interest that Emily talked about in her last post. But many people were more reserved and serious. It is difficult to determine whether they were intentionally trying to avoid contact with a mzungu (white person) or were simply going about their day in a straightforward fashion. Regardless, I look forward to more runs in the Maasai bomas.

Thursday we met with Gerson Mollel who began our program's discussion on ecotourism, wildlife conservation, and pastoralism. I was intrigued by these conflicts especially when we had been hearing about Tanzania as "one people" for the majority of the class so far. In a nutshell, pastoralists, whose livelihood depends on vast land to move cattle, are in jeopardy as national parks and game reserve areas require local people to move their homesteads out of the parks. Agriculture is also a threat to pastoralists, taking land that could be used for grazing. One possible solution to this problem is Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). These are places bordering national parks where humans and animals can live simultaneously. Mollel now works for an organization that promotes these WMAs. It was interesting to hear the competing views of Mollel and Ndosi in regards to the future of Tanzania's economy. Ndosi argues that farming, especially coffee, is one of the most lucrative businesses in the country. Mollel was worried about the reality of more farming and industrialization for pastoralists, however.

Speaking of coffee, some of you lucky readers may have the good fortune of receiving some coffee beans from a local farm we visited! Ahmidu Sumari graciously gave us a tour and showed us how to roast the beans. The farm was basically a large plot of land full of banana trees, coffee trees, and trees used for lumber and firewood. Sumari's trees were pruned down to the stem, compared to Ndosi's full trees on his farm. One of the reasons for this is Ndosi has the chance to irrigate his land, unlike Sumari. The bean-to-mug process was neat too. It was a team effort smashing the pods until they were removed from the beans, stirring while they were roasting, or hand-grinding them. We all enjoyed both the hospitality and the coffee.

Since then, we have been in boma country, sleeping in tents and learning about traditional Maasai culture first-hand. Before we entered the bomas, however, we were outfitted in shukas (Maasai clothing, pictured) in the Monduli highlands. While these offer protection from the sun and are great when a breeze passes by, we still cannot escape the blistering heat. And everywhere we go, the locals remind us of the climate change induced drought that is occurring in Tanzania right now, one reason Maasai are forced to abandon their pastoralist livelihood and look for alternate means of providing for their families.

These comments from the Maasai have sparked a conversation among our group about the challenge of contributing to climate change by using jet fuel and driving through the places we visit in order to experience a different culture. This is a hard topic because I think it is worthwhile to personally meet people we are learning about, but also our actions are negatively impacting their way of life. However, the benefits of being able to see these effects with our own eyes allows us to better understand the impacts of our pollution in the States, and may provide a better chance to invoke change.

Our guides, Musa, Killing'ot, and Leboy, have been a wonderful addition to our crew. Wherever we are, they know something about the land or the people. Their insight has been instrumental to our learning. Today we visited God's Footprint, a volcanic crater near Oldonyo. According to Leboy, this crater got its name when the Hadzabe tribe, a hunting and gathering people, became angry at God for not providing enough food and they shot an arrow in the sky at him. God was upset by this and stomped his foot upon the earth. Hence the crater was formed.

The other night the guides also helped translate a discussion we had with Elias, the elder of the first boma. We got a chance to ask what they thought about the wildlife conservation in Tanzania, to which they replied with both positive and negative consequences. On one hand, a large amount of big game is being diminished because of hunting, an industry that the national government supports. And they are required to leave their homesteads to make room for these wildlife-only areas. The Maasai benefit from these areas in some ways, including a monetary stipend from the national government to pay for a school or community building.

As time goes on, more and more Maasai are becoming accepting of education in a classroom. In fact, this morning, four kids from the boma hopped in the land cruiser with us and we gave them a ride to school. It was about a 30-40 minute drive by road, but takes close to three hours to walk. The students make the journey twice a week when they walk to and from school, but board at the school during the week. It was fun interacting with them at the boma, sharing high-fives and sharing wide smiles. We might not have been able to communicate with language, but laughter is universal.

Education for girls is especially important. After a Christian church service Sunday morning, we visited a women's bead project. Dr. Bethany Friberg and her husband Dr. Steve Friberg. Bethany had been working on a project that offered a chance for women to sell their beaded work to a market. She teaches them about and provides micro-loans through her program, and the women produce high quality work that allows them to provide for their families instead of depending on their husbands for the entire family income. Christianity is a major aspect of this project as well, and all of the women who are a part of the project were Christian when they joined or converted while they joined. Also, I met a Maasai woman who had attended Wartburg College for undergraduate schooling, and then went to the University of Idaho for a masters in education! (This was especially exciting to me because I'm from Idaho!) I invite anyone in Moscow to look for a school newspaper about Mrs. Laiser who was featured in an article. I'm not sure what year that was from, so you might have to do some digging.

Tonight we get a rare chance of being provided wifi, which seems pretty out of place among the zebras, giraffes, dik-diks, and gazelles we've seen thus far. We are also celebrating because it is Lori's birthday! To honor her, the people at the campground we are staying at sacrificed a goat and baked a cake! That's all we can really ask for. That, and a shower maybe.

Sere! Until next time!