Category: Tanzania (Page 1 of 4)

the last week.

being mzungu.

I had only been in Tanzania for a week, everything was new – Swahili, Catholicism, the colorful patterns of women’s kangas and kitangas, and most of all the staring. As we joined the migration to the church I was uncomfortably aware of the glances, the giggles and the blatant stares. During the service I tried my best not to notice the turned heads. A little boy, no more than two years old, sat in front of me. He continuously shifted to look at me, wearing a blank expression. I made faces in an attempt to get a reaction out of him but he just stared intently. Then, half way through the sermon, he reached out and grabbed my hand. It wasn’t a gesture of acceptance or appreciation but rather one of a quizzical nature. He took my large white hand in his little black one and turned it over, again and again, grabbing at my skin in confusion.

I’m not African. This I knew from the beginning. I’m a mzungu, through and through. There is no fooling anyone. Despite this knowledge, when I first arrived in Africa, I found myself hyper-aware of my skin. I wasn’t used to standing out, to being different. I was uncomfortable going places with lots of other students and nervous about speaking Swahili. I cringed when kids screamed “jambo” and “mzungu” at me from inside their houses. The first time I met the Maasai a teenage boy asked me for money, when I told him I didn’t have any he replied, “but you’re a mzungu.” I didn’t want to be American. I didn’t want to be perceived as rich and oblivious. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I wanted to blend in.

As the semester progressed I adjusted to being different. I stopped noticing the stares. I learned to return the sass. Learning Swahili and making African friends helped this transition immensely. I quickly fell in love with Tanzania, with the culture. I learned quickly that knowing Swahili earns you immediate respect and vowed to learn as much of it as I could. I spent increasing amounts of time playing cards, cooking, talking and playing soccer with new friends from town and the staff. I learned about Tanzanian culture, about how people treat each other and how they perceive the world.

My love for Tanzanian culture quickly turned in to jealously. I became frustrated with being American. I felt like I was on the outskirts looking in on a community more intricate than I could understand. My African friends make up a group built on appreciation, love, support and kindness. Everything people do is based around the needs of others. It is a community structure I hungered for, a way of life I wanted to adopt. I was fascinated by the concept of having a tribe as part of your identity. The hardest part of the semester was realizing that no matter how much I wanted to I couldn’t be a part of it, not truly. Instead of wanting to blend in I found myself wanting to fit in, but because I am American I felt this could never be achieved.

Then things started to change. First I started to miss my family. My whole family. I started calling my parents more, I reread letters from my grandparents over and over, I talked to my baby cousins on the phone, I started chatting with my brothers online. Then I started talking about them, all the time. When it was my night to present something about myself I chose to present about my family, showing pictures I hadn’t looked at in years. Then I started talking about Maine. I missed the ocean, the forest, running, swimming. I spent hours showing pictures of my home to my friends, African and American. Finally, I started talking about American culture. I found myself explaining why we shave our legs, why we have factory farming, what organic is, how our school systems work, what folk music is, why we run. The funny thing was, despite how absurd half my explanations sounded and the number of times I said “America ni kicha,” America is crazy, I found myself speaking with a tone of endearment.

America might not be perfect, but it’s mine, it’s who I am. In Tanzanian culture you are not only an individual but part of a tribe, part of a team. There are traditions and values that you are born into, that you willing surrender control over. This group identity gives Africans self confidence and strong senses of identity. In western culture this concept seems constraining, controlling. Yet, I wonder if the western idea of individualism has lead to a higher prevalence of insecurity among our people. If you are ashamed of your past you are ashamed of yourself. During this semester I learned not only how to accept who I am and where I came from but how to embrace it. The culture I come from is not only a part of my past but a part of who I am in a way I can never change whether I like it or not. I learned to recognize it and revel in it, to be proud of everything that has made me, me. Because of this I know I can now fit in anywhere even if I can’t always blend in.

last safari.

Yesterday we went on our last safari. The Ngorongoro Crater was everything we knew it would be and didn’t disappoint. We saw full grown male lions for the first time and some of them came to sleep under our cars in the shade. Awesome.

graduation day, kind of.

Presentation day, scheduled from 10am to 1:30pm, ended up running from 11am and ending at 5:30pm… when we finally got to eat lunch. Despite the long day and delayed schedule, the room was packed to the brim with people from all over the district. Our translator, from Arusha, was not only the tallest man I have ever met but probably one of the nicest. It was a wonderful day full of chai, intellect, conversation and reunions with people we had not seen in many weeks. With the atmosphere and everyone dressed up it felt a lot like graduation. Fitting, I suppose. It was a day I will never forget for two reasons. First, it showed me the importance of sharing science with the people and the progressive reactions it can spur. Second, it was a day of limitless support I will always be thankful for. I have my presentation on video if anyone wants to watch it when I return to America (in three days!?).

to market, to market.

In Karatu District the biggest monthly event is the Karatu Market. It takes place at the beginning of each month in a field off the main town. It’s a regional event, with people coming from kilometers away to buy and sell clothing, household items, food and livestock. When we first arrived we attended the market with limited swahili and bundles of nerves. It was a whirlwind of noise, color and confusion. Today we returned to the market, this time armed with language, bargaining skills and confidence. Now that it is the rainy season the mud was a little more problematic…

the ‘search in Buger.

So a few weeks ago I told you that I was embarking on a research journey until the end of the program. Wednesday we will arrive at our big destination – community presentations. After a month of data collection, analysis and documentation we will be presenting our results and conclusions to the community as well as representatives from the government and park management spheres. Since all of you can’t be there I thought I would summarize my paper for you… the whole 29 pages might be a bit much.


Climate change impacts and local adaptation strategies within the Iraqw community in Buger Village, Karatu District, Tanzania

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that average annual and daily temperatures in Tanzania will rise 2-4°C by 2075 as a direct result of anthropogenic climatic changes. Predicted resulting decreases in rainfall have the potential to undermine current and future efforts to eradicate poverty in Tanzania. Over 90% of the population is dependent on agriculture or agricultural activities. The variability and unpredictability of precipitation strongly affects agricultural production through poor water availability and soil erosion, as well as increases of pests and diseases. In rural regions of Tanzania modern adaptation methods to these challenges can be expensive, confusing, and difficult to access. As a result, these communities rely on traditional practices for adaptation that should be documented and analyzed for potential standardization and replication. This study documents the current impacts of climate change on the village of Buger in Karatu District, Tanzania and the existing local adaptation methods.

The primary methods used in the research were focus group discussions and structured interviews. The focus groups ranked the impacts of climate change by severity and several agricultural practices by effectiveness in increasing production. A semi-structured questionnaire was completed through interviews at 106 households in the village.

Through this study it became clear that predicted climatic changes are already being felt in Buger, primarily increased drought frequency and duration. The villagers reported decreases in the rainy season by five to six months. A high reliance on natural resources leaves villagers vulnerable to these changes through effects such as decreased agricultural production, pasture availability and water availability as well as increases in malaria.

Climate adaptation methods were documented, most directly related to agriculture. In general, the respondents preferred traditional methods (such as manure as fertilizer, terracing, tree planting, crop rotation, and intercropping) to modern methods (such as the use of short season seeds and the use of inorganic fertilizers and/or pesticides), suggesting that traditional methods are more accessible, affordable and effective and should be preserved and advocated within the region.

The beautiful village of Buger.

The beautiful village of Buger.

This information is from a paper produced as a part of an academic directed research semester at the School For Field Studies Center for Wildlife Management Studies (SFS) under the TAWIRI – permit 2012-241-NA-2012-57 and supervision of Professor John Mwamhanga. Please contact with questions or concerns.

malaria? typhoid?

With the rainy season in Africa comes sickness, apparently. When we started our directed research writeups over half the staff disappeared. At first I assumed they had days off, but then I realized most of them were in the local hospital due to one ailment or another.

One morning while cooking breakfast, I asked our older cook, Esau, how the other cooks Patricia and Resti were doing. He told me they were staying at the local “medics,” which is a place where people can go for medicine and lay-ins but that doesn’t house any certified specialists. (It is not the clinic we, as students, go to if we are sick). Then he asked when I was going to visit them – not if, when. Flustered, I almost offered work as an excuse to not go, then I stopped myself and boldly stated, “this afternoon.”

I convinced two friends to go with me and we made our way to the medics, near the church. Patricia and Resti lay in neighboring beds in one of the patient rooms. The room had six beds, three of which were held by children. They were beyond touched that we had come to visit and I silently thanked Esau for demanding the obvious. We asked Patricia and Resti what they had. Patricia said the doctors told her she has allergies, Resti had “some kind of flu.” It didn’t seem very conclusive, but they said they would be home within two days. We sat and chatted for a few minutes, a woman randomly handed Shealyn her baby which entertained us for a bit. Then the priest came to pray for each person in the room individually and we decided it was best to leave.

That night in the dinner line I was chatting with the student managar about all the sick staff members. “What did they say they had?” She asked cynically, “Malaria? Typhoid?” I told her what we had learned and she laughed, “Yeah, the clinic isn’t very conclusive. It is always  malaria or typhoid, or sometimes just ‘the change in weather’.”

A few days later I was sitting in my room when I spotted Martha through the window. I jumped up and raced out to see her, she had been to the hospital for what I think is migraines. We greeted with a handshake and a headbump and I asked her how she was. “Eh, niko sawa,” she replied, I’m okay.

I asked where she’d been and she told me the hospital, then she laughed, “Daktari kicha,” The doctor is crazy.

“Kwa nini?” Why?

Then she went into a long, and slow (for my benefit), story of what the doctor had told her, with a lot of pantomiming involved. Apparently, she arrived at the doctors, told him she had headaches and was told to wait. After a long wait they drew some blood and made her wait more. The results came back negative – no malaria, no typhoid, no HIV. However, apparently they revealed she has too much blood, and that’s why she’s getting headaches. The doctor told her she should have her blood drawn to get rid of some of it.

Daktari kicha sana. 

I will never take the American health care system for granted again.

portraits in africa.

I haven’t posted a lot of pictures of myself, so today I figured I would provide you with the best portraits of me taken in Africa.

‘going back’

During our homestay we spent the morning stooped in the kitchen building over a small fire stirring ugali, vegetables and chicken in the billowing smoke. After, as we waited outside for the table to be set, Kelsey turned to me and said, “It baffles me that in America we ‘go camping’ to go back to this.”

I’ve thought a lot about the concept of “going back” since then.

In America we are obsessed with the concept of progression, of development, of moving forward from a way of living that we seem to think is insufficient and unfulfilling. But as we moved further and further in modernity, materialism and ease we realized some basic cultural concepts as well as human needs and desires got left behind. Instead of recognizing that we had forgotten them, however, we addressed them as factors that needed to be added back in to our new life in new ways that fit our new model. God forbid we move backwards.

Tanzania has made these concepts and needs clear to me because the culture here never moved away from them. The two main concepts I am referring to are minimalism, and purity. The human needs and desires are nature, relationships, and mental health.

Minimalism in America is a new up and coming thing. Many people now see materialism as an evil, for reasons too numerous to name. You see cute thrift shops on popular streets. People bulk shop at health food stores that are ten times more expensive than convenience stores that individually wrap things. Reusable water bottles and bags are the hottest eco trend. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Well, there are no clothing stores in Tanzania, at least none that I have seen. Everyone buys their clothes used from vendors at markets if they haven’t had them handmade. Every local market is a thrifters paradise (and also explains why Tanzanian’s have a very, very interesting sense of fashion). In Tanzania, when you go to a small duka for things like rice or oil they are delivered automatically in bulk, measured out into reused plastic bags or plastic water bottles by necessity. One of the most baffling products in Tanzania is soda. All soda comes in glass bottles, all bottles must be drank in sight and returned to the shop owner immediately or the buyer pays a hefty bottle fee. As a result the soda is stupid cheap. In Tanzania minimalism make sense. You don’t waste more than you need to and you recognize that everything has value.

Purity is something we Americans are yearning for and the economy has decided to capitalize on it. All Natural, Organic, Local. People in Tanzania don’t even know what those words mean. At Moyo Hill everything we eat is local and all natural, not because its environmental, but because its cheaper. The way it should be. In America we decided that pure was for people with money, in Tanzania that logic makes no sense at all.

Nature is something, for a while, we disregarded as unrefined and backwards. When we started to miss it, instead of changing our lifestyles to include and celebrate nature we invented “camping” and “vacation.” Our relationship with nature became vacation, something only the wealthy can afford. In rural Tanzania nature is everything. It is how you cook, what you eat, where you get your money. It is what you look at when you walk out your front door, where your kids play because there is no such thing as a playroom. You go on a hike every time you go to the store. The weather sets your schedule and the sun is your watch.

Relationships between people lost footing as our obsession with money and individualism grew. More time is put into work and less time into family and community relationships. The idea is, if we have more money than our neighbors then our family will be happy. We created daycare and fences. The result has been depression, divorce, and the invention of counseling. In Tanzania, relationships are the most important capital an individual can accrue. Family is the center of everything and, most importantly, community is the foundation. If you don’t have people who care about you, you have nothing, and if you care about no one then you won’t survive. It is from these relationships that Tanzanians find happiness and success. It is love that makes life rich. No wonder people here are so damn content.

Mental Health. This one really caught me by surprise. In America our obsession with money and success has left us with a severe case of stress addiction. To combat this, instead of cutting out stressors, we found ways to help ourselves to handle them better: yoga, meditation, exercise. At home I do all of these things and more to keep myself relaxed. From the first day here when I went on a run I realized just how absurd all of it was. People in Tanzania don’t exercise, they don’t run, they don’t have gyms – they work, physical labor, and they walk, everywhere (and sometimes they play soccer). People in Tanzania don’t do yoga, they don’t meditate – they drink tea, they take breaks, they give themselves time to relax. Tanzanian’s don’t allow themselves more stress than is absolutely necessary, because when your potential stresses are as serious as theirs are you really should save all your strength.

America needs to rethink the “more, more, forward, forward will fix everything” mindset. Moving forward doesn’t need to mean moving away from the past. We need to admit that aspects of this life we have constructed are wrong. We need to admit that in some areas we have gone too far. We missed some crucial basics when we created this “modern world” and maybe fixing them by turning around isn’t necessarily admitting defeat.

More photos of the original homestay, cooking and relaxing over chai:

the big five.

the big five.

named such because they were the top five targets for safari hunters.

now used as a marketing campaign.

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