Monday, December 31, 2012

Water, water everywhere . . .

Market Day, Arusha
We're not in Tanzania anymore. I don't see people riding bicycles overloaded with produce or goods to sell at the market, young men pushing carts, or small boys driving a herd of goats alongside the road. I don't see women of all ages carrying heavy buckets of water home. I took this quick shot of the market in Arusha out the window of our jeep as we were being whisked through town to a national park. We didn't see much of everyday life on this trip.

Tanzania is decidedly a rural country:  90% of its people (2) live in rural areas and make their living from the earth, compared to 20% in the United States (1). Everywhere around Arusha, the Serengheti, and the Ngorongoro, people lived close to the land, tilling dry fields, and hoping for rain. A rainy season, we are told, that is getting shorter.

Maasai village near the Serengheti
So I've been thinking about global warming and wondering about its impact on Tanzania and its rural peoples.

The first article I found from the World Wildlife Federation itemized the dramatic shrinkage of glaciers (down 55% between 1952-2000), the loss of glacier and cloud forest melt to already short water supplies in the area around Mount Kilimanjaro, home to some one million people. Global warming in the Indian Ocean has flooded some traditional fishing communities and led to something called coral bleaching -- which directly affected tourism, again the loss counted in millions of dollars. Scientists say in the next hundred years, Zanzibar Island, a major tourist attraction with a rich history, may well be inundated by rising seas.

Over the last decade, I have seen glaciers shrink in Montana's Glacier National Park, where once 125 glaciers graced the mountains. My first reaction is how sad to lose such beautiful natural sites that we all enjoy. I don't immediately think of the impact on animals and the surrounding ecosystems as habitat changes. We've seen thousands of acres of forest destroyed by pine beetles in the US and Canada, directly attributable to drier land (4).

We take almost as a truism that third world countries have a lower standard of living, but everywhere we were welcomed with smiles. More statistics: The rate of crime in the United States is 715 incidents per 100,000. In Tanzania, the crime rate is 116 per 100,000. If a child begins school, he or she can expect to finish 15.2 years in the US; in Tanzania, 5 years. If we compare adult education, adults in the United States on average have completed 12 years of school. Adults in Tanzania, 2.7 years (1).

According to Tanzania's Minister of Energy, some 6.6% of those 90% living in rural areas have access to electricity, compared to about 20% of Tanzanians who live in major cities (2). We did not eat ice cream in Tanzania. I had never thought of ice cream as a first world treat before. The children at the school we visited did not exactly know what ice cream was.

Tanzanians everywhere talked about global warming, each not sure what to do. We can appreciate our time there, experiencing the amazing national parks with their diversity of wildlife, the stretch of human history from the earliest days, and its iconic landscape. I come away from this once-in-a-lifetime visit to Tanzania well aware of the differences in our quality of life. Money alone will not help, though our tour company, Overseas Adventure Travel, funds projects through a foundation in every country it tours. I think Tanzania is vulnerable in ways we cannot imagine.

(1) Statistics: NationMaster
(2) All Africa Reports
(3) WWF (World Wildlife Fund)
(4) Glacier National Park, Retreat of Glaciers

Friday, December 21, 2012

Maasai Women . . .

Our small group gathered in a large round Maasai hut to talk directly with three elders and a translator, all men, to ask them any question about their way of life. I wanted to learn what folktales or stories they told their children. My question was ignored. I wanted to learn more about the wonderful women who had welcomed us with song.

What we learned about that morning was the nearly unmentionable rite of passage that traditional people still practice. Both boys and girls go through circumcision, though for girls, this is called clitoridectomy or excision. The 'surgery' is very painful, and the government is trying to end this ritual. But because this practice is part of bedrock belief, people still at puberty undergo the rite.

In fact, we saw young boys -- who, if they show pain, shame their families -- with faces painted in elaborate white masks who had completed this ceremony. The boys approached our jeeps. Ombeni, our guide, told us not to take photos or give money because it meant the boys learned early to be dependent. One person took a beautiful portrait of these young boys, but I think I understand why Ombeni was angry, for the picture makes these boys into objects, a thing of beauty barely understood, out of a process that is difficult for the West to accept.

We were told that the men take care of the cattle and think, and that the women do everything else. So, the women of our group were invited to help 'refresh' the walls of one of the Maasai round houses with a mixture of dirt and dung. We dove in, appreciating this 'hands on' opportunity, again welcomed into a community of women whose cultural identity we did not understand.

When I came home, I looked up Maasai folktales to see if this would add to my understanding of the division between genders. I found the Maasai believe that in the beginning, the women and the men were once equal, but they lived separately. The men raised cattle. The women raised antelopes and gazelles; zebras and elephants were their helpers. Occasionally, two would meet deep in the forest to mate. Boy children would go with the men at puberty; girl children would stay with their mothers.

But there was trouble in this paradise for the women were never satisfied, not even with their magical animal helpers -- their herds ran away, and the elephants and the zebras deserted them. The women were unable to survive, so they went to live with the men. In so doing, they gave up their independence. Forever.

I will remember these strong women, their voices welcoming us to their homes, their children close by, their impromptu dancing and market. I wonder how their culture, essentially a village culture, will be changed by the rush to modernity. What will be lost? What will be gained?

To read more about Maasai culture, go to this very helpful site on Every Culture.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Decoding Cultural Masks . . .

While in Arusha, Tanzania, we visited the Cultural Heritage Centre, a compound of shops and a large gallery of African art. Our driver said only an hour; we squeezed in another 45 minutes. I could have stayed the rest of the afternoon.

African Female Portrait Mask, Provenance unknown
The architecture of the gallery was circular, open, with excellent light.We saw literally hundreds of traditional African art objects -- sculptures, textiles, carvings, masks, chief's chairs, and modern paintings. I was reminded how Picasso's art changed irrevocably after he saw African art for the first time at a friend's house in Paris, about 1907. The result? Cubism and the beginning of abstract art.

But now that I'm home, reviewing my pictures, I realize layers of controversy and a lack of real information hinder my understanding of these works. As this was a gallery, not every work identified the maker, the tribe, or when or where the work was made. Are the art works authentic or manufactured for the tourist trade? Were they imported from India or other countries and made to specification? The desire to preserve traditional beliefs is juxtaposed against the commercial appeal of these works. Traditionally, fathers taught sons how to make the masks, passing along sacred and secret information. Once the masks are taken outside of their tribal context, how do we understand what these masks mean?

Beaded Mask, Provenance unknown
We admire a beautiful African mask. But to someone within the tribal culture, this mask is more important for what it symbolizes -- the mask can represent nature spirits, be a change agent, a bridge to the spirit world, or worn for a ritual, itself a rite of passage. Once the person puts on the mask, he (for typically men wear these masks) is transformed.

In the mask of the woman above, the high forehead may stand for intelligence, the closed eyes for patience and humility (desired traits in females), the beading and scarification could emphasized culturally defined beauty, and the cowry shells, royalty.

I'm guessing the beaded mask may be some kind of nature god for sea creatures swim around the green face heavily decorated with cowry shells. But I don't trust my interpretations for I was never the young child standing in the marketplace (as shown in the video below), watching an ancestral hyena come to life and dance.

In this 15-minute video on YouTube, Christopher Roy discusses some of the contexts of the mask in "African Art: The Masks of the Gnoumou Family in Boni Perform, 2007." His video is set in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Keratu and the Brickmakers . . .

On nearly the last day in Tanzania, we visited a brick-making business in the Iraqw community of Keratu. We were told these Cushitic people came from Ethiopia in the 14th Century, but academics debate exactly how long these people have been in Sub-Saharan Africa, perhaps as long as from 2,000 BC. I did find that the Cushitic language is part of a family of languages spoken in the Horn of Africa, Egypt, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, and Egypt. So these people have deep roots in eastern Africa.

Our host Saita led us on a tour through the large open-air factory, held by some 70 families.

The brickmakers demonstrated how to pound the red clay soil into a powder that was then mixed with water, fired in large kilns, and sold at roughly 7 bricks for $1.00. These bricks can only be made during the dry season, for dry weather is needed to cure the bricks.

The young men worked hard with few tools; they were strong and very thin. Yet they greeted us with big smiles.

Our host invited us to his home, a short walk from the factory where we met his wife and children, were dressed in kangas, and treated to a lunch of rice and beans called macondi. This is the closest recipe I can find that matches this delicious beans and rice dish we shared, though this version is called Wali Maharage. If you are feeling adventurous, here are some additional recipes (and a little history) from Tanzania.

Saita made a speech, saying he could only share his home and his music with us. He brought out what I later learned was a lute, a two-stringed gourd with a kind of drum pulled over the top. The family then sang and danced for us; the music was lively, punctuated by calls, clicks, and whistles. We were thrilled to join the fun, for music is central to the Iraqw community.

My only regret is that I was not able to take as careful notes as I would have liked to remember this very full day. But I can say Naas, which means, "Thank you!" The music remains!

Saita plays his two-stringed gourd

Read more about the Iraqw people of Tanzania here! Many issues remain controversial for these traditional rural people struggling to retain their culture while adapting to modernism.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Maasai Women welcome us . . .

Maasai Women welcome song

One of the most moving experiences of the trip to Tanzania was our welcome to a Maasai village. Apparently, someone had forgotten to tell someone that we were coming, so when we did arrive, the Maasai men, wrapped in red robes, took us to their corral to admire the cattle. We then returned to the village to find the women streaming out of their houses into a formal line, to sing this welcome song.

I never learned the words, but I was overwhelmed by the sheer exuberance of this welcome, this music which so warmly invited us to share a bit of the Maasai culture.

Together, we women brought straw for thatching the roof of this round Maasai home. Rain intervened, so we were put to work, hands on, for plastering the walls with a mix of dirt and cow dung.

Later we sat inside the headman's house for some discussion of serious matters, as three elders attempted to explain the complexity of their culture and their resistance to change. The afternoon ended with more songs, dancing, and an impromptu market of elaborate beadwork. I've carried these memories home, having found much more to research, yet grateful for these experiences.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

In search of the rare, the elusive . . . Red Colobus Monkey

Before joining up with our safari, we stopped in old Stone Town for four days, got to sleep under mosquito netting, and saw the Red Colobus Monkey. 

Pretty cute, huh? This little red monkey is an endangered species found only in Zanzibar, in the Jozoni Forest, about a half hour's ride down from Stone Town. 

There, we saw families of these monkeys just ambling from tree to tree as we walked below them along the ground. The monkeys stopped to check us out, pausing long enough for heartfelt glances. Then they scampered down on the forest floor, across a field, and up palm trees. Typically these little monkeys live to about age 20 and in social groups of about 30. The group we saw had about 8 monkeys, including babies.

Apparently the Swahili name for the Red Colobus is "poison monkey." Partly because of their 'bad smell,' people believe the monkeys kill the trees they eat, and they're never kept as pets.

Don't you wonder what they're thinking?

If you'd like to jump over to my writing blog, there's an African poem there . . .

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Jambo from Stone Town . . .

Beach near Old Town, Stone Town, Zanzibar
We began our sojourn to Africa with a four-day stay in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Somewhat jetlagged, the first words we heard on landing in Stone Town, Zanzibar, were "Jambo!" (hello), and "Jambo, Bwana," (hello, mister). We were blown away by outright, warm friendliness from everyone we met. We heard this tune everywhere --  "Jambo, Bwana," echoing down the streets, sung passionately by a young man climbing a coconut tree on a spice farm, and sung again most hauntingly by a woman at dusk, as we watched the sun fall into the sea. 

Written back in the 1980s by a group called Them Mushrooms, the song has become an anthem for Tanzania and Kenya. Here it is, in all its You-Tube glory:

We have our own "jambo" stories now.

I've always loved languages and thought perhaps Swahili might have feminine and masculine endings, for example, "Jambo" for males and "Jamba" for females. Everytime I asked if this were true, the folks around me burst into laughter. I learned later than "jamba" means fart.

So there we are, camping out in tents on the Serengheti. A young man comes around at 5:30 am with hot water, softly calling, "Jambo. Good morning." Allen reared up in his cot still asleep and called back quite clearly, "Jamba!"

Camping out like that meant we heard animals at night, sometimes the low cough of a lion or a mysterious large animal pawing the grasses outside the tent. So one morning, I won't say who was responsible, but a 'jamba' popped out into the morning. In the next tent, one of our friends said, "Did you hear that lion?"

Tune in tomorrow for more about Stone Town and the rare, nearly extinct Red Colobus Monkey.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Leopards and Cheetahs don't share . . .

She was sleepy. She was grouchy. She had supper stashed in her tree.

Our jeep had just stopped. Ombeni explained that the leopard, like the cheetah, didn't like to share her food. In fact, a leopard commonly drags her kill (this time, a Thomson's gazelle), into a tree to hide it from other predators. She can run as fast as 40 mph to catch her prey. Apparently, it's quite difficult to see leopards in the wild as we did on our first day in the Serengeti, for these animals are silent and nocturnal, and they hunt by stealth. No wonder she was grouchy. We interrupted her nap.

Later, we spotted two cheetahs resting in the grasslands near a herd of wildabeest, just enjoying the sun. Notice her uptipped ears. She doesn't miss much as she lolls lazily on the ground. Those black tear marks on her face actually help her see long distances (just as footballers put black marks under their eyes to avoid sun glare).

The cheetah uses speed to bring down her prey and can reach 70-75 mph during her short chase. Smaller than the leopard, the cheetah may not keep her catch as more aggressive lions and hyenas will chase her away. The cheetah doesn't share willingly.

Poor baby.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

About the ostrich . . .

Female Ostrich
We saw a bit more of a love story than we anticipated as we crossed the bottom of the Ngorongoro Crater.

A small herd of ostriches crossed the road in front of our jeeps, but two females appeared to be fighting over a very cute male in full mating regalia.

But first, notice her fluffed out plumage and her thick, very strong legs. These birds can weigh between 150 to 300 pounds and can run up to 40 mph. Normally, they won't attack humans; they're vegetarian. But just one of her kicks could disembowel or kill someone who cornered her.

Male Ostrich
Wikipedia notes that normally ostriches live alone or in pairs, but during mating season, these large birds tend to gather into groups of 5 to 50, typically with other animals that graze, especially zebras. I still cannot quite get over seeing these graceful yet clumsy birds casually strolling among a herd of zebras.

The male's brilliant pink neck and legs contrast sharply with his dark feathers. When he is ready to mate, he performs a sort of a dance with his large wings to attract a female.

Later in the day, we saw such a dance on the far crest of a hill. He danced and drew closer. She hesitated, finally bowing her head in submission. Though the actual mating took just a minute, we felt we were seeing something very private, but we can't anthropomorphize nature. For afterwards, he shook himself (as did she), and they each casually wandered off in different directions.

Before Africa, I would have connected ostriches to the very large ostrich egg and that old story that ostriches bury their heads in sand. They do eat sand and/or gravel to help them digest, and they do lie down on the ground to hide from predators, stretching their necks and heads flat on the ground. From a distance, all we might see is a funny hill that blends into the tall grassses.

They cannot fly, but I would hate to discover an ostrich nest and then see the mother bearing down on me at 40 mph, flapping its wings. Best to leave that adventure for someone else. Leave the nest be.

To the Victor . . .

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Ah, the sensitive and lovely warthog . . .

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
As we entered the very large Ngorongoro Crater, we were treated to another amazing diversity of animals. Roughly 25,000 animals live in this natural conservation area, untroubled by day visitors -- or by the lions who rested in the long grasses on this hot afternoon. As we descended to the base of this volcanic crater, we had a sense of awe for we had just learned this area has been home to some form of humans for the last three million years. 

The warthog in all its beauty!
Who could not find a warthog lovely for its almost anachronistic face alone? That formidable looking warthog, really a wild pig, delights in feeding on the grasslands of the Ngorongoro, also snacking on fungus, insects, eggs, or any carrion that's laying about. Its tusks can give predators a nasty twist; its ears flicker constantly, as does its little fly-whip tail.

We watched as this particular warthog engineered his own comfort (see video below) by using those nasty tusks to carve a mud hole just a little larger. 

Unpreturbed by nearby "safari jeeps," he settled down, perhaps bothered by that very same complaint of the omnivorous spotted hyena! Actually, I learned from Wikipedia that the warthog's thin skin (who knew?), makes him very sensitive to changes in temperature. That mud bath cools him down.

At rest in self-made mud bath!