Category: Tanzania (Page 2 of 4)

learning accents.

“Tell me,” our assistant Professor, Yohana, requested, “How do you learn the American accent?”

Radwa and I stared at him in confusion, “We just know it?”

“Hapana,” he shook his head, No. “Where do you learn it?”

“Where did you learn Maasai?” I countered.

“Hapana,” he said again, “Maasai is not written. It is different. How do you learn to pronounce words?”

“We learn how to pronounce words from the people around us when we grow up. I grew up in America so I have an American accent but if I grew up in England, surrounded by people with British accents, I would have a British accent. It’s not something we learn.”

Kweli?” He asked, exasperated. “But then how can you understand eachother? You write the same words but you pronounce them differently.”

Radwa and I looked at eachother, stumped, and shrugged.

“But then which one should I learn?”

stealing twilight.

Shea and I were standing at the gate in the rain waiting for Martha before we headed to church when Paolo stepped through the door. He was dressed in a suit as always, even though he is grounds staff, and carrying a flowered umbrella. We greeted him warmly, exclaiming that we hadn’t seen him in a few days. Paolo, who is always soft spoken, smiled slightly. He politely asked us how we were and how our lessons were going, but his face remained grim. When we asked where he had been, assuming he had off days, he informed us that his grandfather had passed the night before. A man of 98, his grandfather was a well-respected Rhotia citizen and a highly esteemed member of the church. Paolo had spent the past few days in the hospital. While speaking his face exuded an immensely deep but extremely controlled grief. We gave our condolences, unsure of what to say. Shortly following Safari arrived with the boots Paolo had stopped by for and he headed on his way to make funeral arrangements. We grimly watched him go.

Throughout the day we all but forgot the grief of the morning. We attended a baptism, went to market and played a great soccer game. That evening staff and students alike were spraying each other with water bottles and racing each other up the hill back to camp from the soccer field, sweaty, tired and grinning. By the time we reached the gate the sun had almost set and the world was lit in an eery and colorful twilight.

Suddenly the ground started to shake and a rumble broke through the quiet evening silence. We all froze instinctively and glanced around, confused. Then, the sound breached the top of the hill and we were blinded by an instant flooding light. Our eyes adjusted and an amazing scene unfolded. Over 30 motorbikes were headed down the street, their inefficient mufflers growling in our ears, their lights illuminating the corn fields. There was an average three men per bike, all wrapped in bright Shukas and wearing their best shoes. It looked a bit like the clown motorcyclists in a parade – except no one was smiling. Adoring the front of every single motorbike was a bouquet of natural flowers.

“Wow,” Shea whispered, “They’re going to Paolo’s.” The men passed us, a few bowing their heads in salutation. We stood, amazed, as the bikes passed, followed by cars and walking people. A few moments later we stood in silence and complete darkness. The bikes had taken twilight with them, perhaps as a gift for the deceased.

The entire village of Rhotia must be attending this service, I thought.

The rest of the night and the night following we could hear the music from the celebrations pounding through the air. I couldn’t help but smile for Paolo.

What a show of community.

money is/n’t everything.

“Money isn’t everything,” Is undeniably something I have been known to say.

I always hated the concept of money and the harm it can cause. It can be an addiction, a distraction, a crutch. I swore I would live my life without letting money get in the way a long time ago. I don’t need to buy the world, if I have family, friends, health and happiness then I don’t need anything else.

Last night, I was swinging in the hammock and procrastinating from my paper with Martha. She is one our day guards. She is 26, grew up down the road, and has two kids. Despite the differences in our upbringings and futures and the language barrier she is easily one of the best friends I have here. We were sitting in mostly silence, swinging gently through the warm night air and listening to her pop music on my ipod.

“Sitaki kuondoka,” I grumbled quietly, I don’t want to leave.

I’ll miss you a lot, she responded in swahili, playing with the iPod, but you’ll be back soon.

Yeah, then we can vacation in Zanzibar, I joked.

“Tunahitaji pesa mingi kwanza…” She smirked, looking up at me, we need money first…

Well yeah, I’ll work a lot first. I laughed, knowing that in reality it will be a long time before I can think about vacationing in Zanzibar.

We swung for a few more minutes in silence. I looked over and noticed she was staring intently into space.

“Unafikiri nini?” What are you thinking about?

“Pesa,” she said offhandedly, Money. Then she smirked and surprised me with a new english phrase, “Money is everything.”

I laughed, my instincts rushing towards disapproval. Ugh, money. “Hapana,” I shot back, No.

“Kweli?” She turned to me with true surprise, Really?

I got defensive, Money is nothing if you don’t have family or love.

“Kweli?” she repeated. When I didn’t respond she sat up in the hammock to look me directly in the eyes, holding up her fingers to count off on. What if your family is sick? You need money. How do you feed them? You need money. For water? You need money. If you don’t have money you have nothing.

I lowered my gaze, chastized. “Okay,” I mumbled in English. I had no idea how to reply.

“Sema,” she said, still sitting upright, Say it.

“Money is everything,” I repeated. She smiled, relaxed back into the hammock and returned to playing with the iPod.

A short while later she got a phone call from her mother. I need to head home for the night, she declared in swahili. She tried to sound casual but I could hear the hesitation in her voice. The day before, she had left work early to pick up a friend in the hospital with typhoid fever. Going home meant providing medical care.

As I watched her go, my iPod in her ears and her token grin on her face, I thought about what she had said. Money isn’t everything. What a priviledged statement. Of course I can say that, I have never, ever had to worry about health, food and water. So to me, those things seem free. But they aren’t. So maybe money is everything, the base of everything. But I still maintain that family, love and happiness are just as important – and from what I have learned about Africa and this village, here those three things are rarely in short supply.

So really, I should stand by something else. Maybe, “Excess isn’t everything,” or “Less is more,” or “Money isn’t king.” But none of those really work… I will have to think about it. You get the point.

interviewing in reverse.

“This man here has said, these are new faces to me, we have never met before, how do I know that I can trust you with the information to these questions you will ask me?”

Each of us stared at our feet, dumbfounded and afraid to look the our interviewees in the eyes . I tried to grasp the meaning of the man’s words and form an answer. Mwamhanga, our Professor, offered to respond. Next to me Christine whispered, “I feel like we should say something…” but before we could he was already answering for us.

It was the last day of data collection. Our Professor set up a focus group discussion with various representatives from the village bordering the Community Forest we were studying. After the embarrassing introduction we awkwardly asked the list of questions we had prepared. The two women in the group stayed quiet and two of the men led the discussion for most of its duration. As time went on the conversation got more comfortable. The group exuded excitement when talking about local medicines, seriousness when discussing climatic changes, and pride while explaining their agricultural practices.

When we approached the last topic, gender, I stole a glance at Christine’s question list and involuntarily inhaled sharply. She glanced up at me and grimaced, “It’s what he wants me to ask.” She straightened her 5′ 2″ body on the bench and bravely began.

Immediately, the men started laughing and shifting uncomfortably in their seats in response to her questions – What roles do women play in the Iraqw community? How are these roles changing? The women listed roles such as cooking, cleaning, gathering firewood and raising children. The men stated that because of development, politics and the spread of urbanism women are demanding more rights, that they are leaving the house more and becoming more vocal.

“Are these changes a good thing?” Christine asked.

Two of the men vigorously shook their heads. The increased freedom of women, they said, threatened marriages. If women are allowed to go out on the town and speak to whomever they like how can they be trusted?

“Let me ask the women the same,” Mwamhanga offered before we could stop him.

In reply the women looked at their feet and shook their heads. “I think you understand them,” Mwamhanga directed towards Christine, “They say it is a bad thing, let me ask them why.”

“You don’t need… ” she began – but it was too late. The room became quiet. The men chuckled to themselves and the women suppressed embarrassed grins. “It’s really okay Mwamhanga… they don’t need to say why.”

After finishing the rest of Christine’s questions we closed up our notebooks and bags to head home while Mwamhanga said a public thank you to the group. Just as we stood to leave, however, one of the men spoke up.

“This man would like to know, what are womens’ roles in America.” Every Tanzanian in the room was listening intently, not a hint of mockery on their faces.

“Well…” Christine began slowly, “There is greater equality in America, women have achieved more rights, but it is still not completely equal.”

Mwamhanga translated and they stared at her, waiting for more.

“It is more likely in America that both parents work and that both parents do house chores,” I offered. During the translation all of the men laughed and shook their heads in disbelief.

“But how strong are marriages in America?” One of them asked.

We all shifted uncomfortably in our seats. Christine sighed, “Well… there is a much higher divorce rate in America than here I suppose…”

“Divorce is extremely difficult in Tanzania,” Mwamhanga explained, “How difficult is it in America?”

“Well, it’s not exactly easy…” Lauren piped up.

Another one of the men cut her off, “What about conservation in America? How is that done?”

“It is regulated more by government bodies, with stricter rules and enforcement,” I explained.

Jill added, “Americans don’t rely on natural resources as much as Tanzanians so it isn’t as necessary.”

“How did America transition to not needing firewood?” He pressed. The students all laughed.

“Well… we use a lot of coal, oil and natural gas for electricity,” Dylan replied.

“Which is one of the reasons the climate here is changing,” I replied instinctively. Then I turned to Christine and said jokingly, “I’m not sure if I would recommend it.”

But I really wasn’t. Yet, who am I to recommend whether someone should or should not have what I have?

doin’ work.

The first half of directed research data collection is over! We spent five days bush whacking our way through a community forest with Iraqw guides to measure vegetation and  learn the names of trees and their traditional uses. The altitude changes on the transects were ridiculous. Check out some pictures below. Now on to the second source of data collection – personal interviews! More on that later.

in time, in time.

There is a calm in Tanzania that, over time, seeps deep into your conciousness. It happens so slowly that you swear it was always there. Without a doubt, it is the greatest gift this country can offer.

Hakuna Matata. Amna shida. No worries.

Today we started our Directed Research Projects. We all awoke and crammed into the dining hall at 7am to grab our breakfasts and lunches and leave by 7:30. The room was a beehive of tension. Breakfast wasn’t ready until 7:15… apparently the kitchen didn’t get the early breakfast memo. As expected, chaos ensued. People running, pushing, whining. My group got our stuff together, jumped in our cars, and realized we had a broken GPS and were missing our professor… twenty minutes later he arrived, giving us enough time to find Yohana to fix the GPS (he can do anything, I swear).

We arrived at our starting point an hour and a half late, waited another half hour for our professor to find our guides, and then spent another hour wandering around in confusion. In short – we started our vegetation plot transects three hours later than planned. The whole of the morning I felt strange, uncomfortable, and I couldn’t figure out why.

We fumbled through the day struggling with our equipment, the terrain (we basically bushed whacked 5 kilometers up and down three hills), and communication with our guides. Mid-afternoon we breached the last hill to the marker that signified we had finished our very first transect. Not nearly what we had hoped for the day but an accomplishment nonetheless. But our professor, instead disappointed with the few plots we had completed, was utterly thrilled. When I looked up from the ground at the world the strange feeling that had hung around me all day escaped in one, big, satisfied sigh. There is nothing comparable to a hill-top view of an African valley, in the rainy season, in the sun. Rolling farms and forests filled landscape with vibrant reds and greens. The sun glimmered off all of the rain coated foliage. Sunflowers smiled from every field.

Stress, I realized. That was the feeling I could not shake all morning. A feeling I have not experienced in a long, long time. When I looked at my professor’s face I almost laughed – how ridiculous. I thought back through the morning, through breakfast being late, my professor being late, the late drive, the late start. I realized that the only ones stressed had been students – and the whole time it was completely unnecessary. At first I considered the contrast in reactions as just a difference in the perceived importance of time, but the more I thought about it the more holistic it appeared.

Amna shida. Don’t worry. Pole pole. Slowly, slowly.

Nothing happens fast in Tanzania. This calm is apparent in time values, as already observed. It is shown through disregard for appearances and etiquettes. Grown men wear pink crocs and sweaters with flowers on them. Dress pants are obviously okay for soccer. Holes are more a factor of indifference than poverty. You should expect public presenters to answer their phones in the middle of powerpoints. It is totally acceptable to pick your nose during a conversation, or spit your watermelon seeds onto the table during lunch. It is apparent in resource sharing – people share food, clothes and other possessions like they were always community ware. The concept of ownership is skewed. I could go on and on.

None of this is a result of laziness, rudeness or aloofness – Tanzanians are the hardest working, kindest and most observant people I have ever met. It is simply because worries are reserved only for things that are important. Africans do not waste energy on the trivial. It does not matter if you are late, what clothes you are wearing, how you eat your food, or what you accomplish. What matters is if you are okay, that you are empathetic and patient, and that you work as hard as possible – everything else you need will fall into place, in time, in time.

Amna shida.

expedition 2 gallery.

tribal experiences.

Tanzania is home to 120 different tribes of people. I have encountered individuals from maybe 15 of them. Each group maintains very unique traditions and values and I have noticed that somehow a persons personality always seems to fit their tribe. Tribal identity is something celebrated, something to be proud of. Talking to people about their tribes makes me feel weird that I don’t have one, like I am lacking some form of identity. I already described the Iraqw community that populates the village we live in in this post. Last week we toured the homes of members from two other tribes – the Hadzabe and the Masai.


The Masai drip with pride from their shaved heads to their ear jewelry, their shukas to their anklets and tire shoes. The tribe’s homeland spans much of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. The Masai live in “bomas” which are circles of small stick and mud huts with a corral in the middle for livestock at night. Each boma holds the family of one man, with his many wives each in a different house. They are known for eating only meat, milk and blood and will often walk over 25 miles a day with no water. They also have intensive coming-of-age traditions involving ceremonies, exile, circumcision and age classes. I am not even going to pretend to understand them.

While many have been educated in English and Swahili they have resisted abandoning their traditions and dress and still practice pastoralism throughout their homeland. It is not unusual to see fully dressed Masai chatting with businessman in town. In addition, they have capitalized on the international attention they receive by setting up cultural bomas (or homes) to share their life style with tourists for money. The history of the tribe is less beautiful then their clothing. In the late 1800s many Tanzanian Masai were forcibly removed from a section of their original homeland, the Serengeti, by colonial governments. They were resettled in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as an experiment of combining human settlement and conservation and they maintain rights to live and graze there. The history of the NCA is also riddled with horror, but today the Tanzanian Masai now call it home.


The Hadzabe are easily the coolest people in the world (fact, not opinion). Shaking hands with them was like traveling back in time to a place I never dreamed still existed. Less than 1,000 Hadzabe remain in Africa and 300-400 of them live as hunter-gatherers outside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area around Lake Eyasi. Smaller and more muscular than other people in the region they are not closely genetically related to any surrounding tribes and have inhabited this region, living as they do, for thousands or even possibly tens of thousands of years. They are the last full-time hunter-gatherers in all of Africa. The Hadzabe travel in roaming groups of 20-30 individuals, changing camp every few days. Unlike many other neighboring tribes they marry based on mutual desire, choosing partners based on work ethic and physical appearance. Partners predominantly practice monogamy and limit themselves to under 3 children per couple, another tradition distinct from their neighbors. Children are raised in a high quality communal manner with all adults taking care of all children. Generally, Hadzabe men and women gather. They hunt with only bows and arrows and are the only people in Tanzania allowed to hunt without a permit. They’re also the only people in Africa who (as I understand it) are legally allowed to smoke marijuana. The Hadzabe have managed to escape the pressures of modern social and economic development in Tanzania and they clearly expressed this indifference to modern culture through their indifference to our presence (our guides were actually Iraqw neighbors of the Hadzabe). The fact that I met them still astounds me and I will never forget what their presence stands for.



on being 21.

Considering that I turn the big two-one today I thought maybe I would take a little break from studying for my finals and do a little reflecting (or procrastinating). Sorry if it gets a little dorky – I am my mother’s child ;).

This is about the most anticlimactic twenty-first birthday anyone could experience. First of all, I am in a country where drinking is legal for me right now, not that it really matters but it sort of takes the glamour out of “21.” Second off, it is Easter. Now, I have been dreaming about the day my birthday would fall on Easter every since I got my favorite stuffed animal – “Happy Easter” sheep – when I was probably three. Well, now it has happened, but I am not celebrating it with my family and I can’t even go to church because I have to take two exams and study for a third scheduled for tomorrow. On top of everything I am missing the premier of the third season of Game of Thrones – obviously the worst part. Before you start feeling really bad for me though I should probably mention that I am in Africa (in case you didn’t know) and that I am headed for the Serengeti on Tuesday… Happy Birthday Me! Oh and we get to slaughter a goat for Easter… what? I don’t know.

21. What a number. I guess it is supposed to mark a transition from childhood to adulthood (at least theoretically), and I think it is symbolic that during this birthday I am on my own in a foreign country. So many people and so many experiences have influenced my life. My family, for one, will always hold my heart in their hands. My friends will always have my unconditional gratitude. Everyone from the Theater, my education, my places of work and the church have placed their marks upon who I am.

I know 21 is just a number, and usually my birthdays feel like nothing more than that, but having exams really brings a feeling of transition to it this year. After tomorrow we will be done with classes for the semester, heading to the Serengeti and then returning to carry out our Directed Research Projects. I changed so much in the last year and years before that but I think I changed the most in the last month and a half. Today marks a transition from discovering what I want out of the next stage of my life to actually actively pursuing it. Africa has shown me the importance of practicing communication and patience but above all it has shown me the power of appreciation. I am beyond blessed for the last 21 years of my life and this experience in Africa – so thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who made this possible and who had a part in shaping who I am today.

Let’s go 21.


My birthday’s still look like this.

learning to communicate.

For the first time in my life I have immersed myself in a place where my first language is not the primary form of communication (at least outside the other students). Since my arrival to Tanzania I have studied kiswahili vigorously, determined to connect with the non-english speaking people around me – most of whom are our staff. The first few weeks were beyond frustrating. I didn’t know many words, I got embarrassed when I couldn’t say what I wanted to, and the staff didn’t seem interested. But once they realized my efforts they immediately were invested in helping me. I learned a ton of kiswahili in a few short weeks. Since then, however, life has gotten busy and I haven’t had the time I want to put into language study. Somehow, though, I realized my communication skills have still been improving. If I haven’t been actively studying, how could that be?

I realized this morning during cook crew that I have gained an extra set of communication skills here, above and beyond kiswahili – skills in physical communication. Half my relationships with the staff are based around eye conversations, body language, touch and sound. I will spend hours with them comfortably and realize we didn’t actually talk about anything at all. I have taken to whistling, winking and gesturing to convey messages. But above and beyond that I have become hyper-aware of the body language of those around me. I have learned how to read someones feelings through their posture, requests through eye contact and whistles, jokes through winks, and above all, affection through passing touches – a handshake here, a hug there, gentle pats on the back and shoulder squeezes. Through this new form of communication I have become sensitive to the conditions and needs of the people around me. As a result, I have formed new kinds of relationships that are almost more meaningful than any words could achieve.

At home we always say “communication is key,” but maybe we should consider that sometimes more than one form of it is necessary.

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