So, a very belated catch-up is in store for all of you still reading! The title of this post refers to Tanzania’s nickname, TZ (pronounced tee-zed, not tee-zee!). So, I am going to tell you about our week-long educational tour in Tanzania, which took place a month ago.
The trip started off in typical SIT-style, as our group had a “Sound of Music” singalong-sleepover at our program office the night before we were due to depart for Tanzania. It was exactly what the name suggests. We all crowded into the common room in our sleeping bags in various uncomfortable seats and watched the movie, singing along quietly so as not to disturb the neighbors!
Early the next morning, we awoke around 6 AM to meet the bus to leave for Tanzania! The drive to Tanzania took up a good chunk of the day. I passed the hours sleeping, listening to my iPod and watching the scenery change as we drove further and further away from Nairobi. As we were nearing Arusha, one of Tanzania’s major cities, the landscape became increasingly hilly and we were soon greeted with an amazing view of Mt. Meru as we approached and passed it on the highway. Later that day, we arrived at UAACC, a community center established outside of Arusha by a former member of the Black Panthers, Pete O’Neal, who has been a political exile from the United States for about 40 years. We were greeted by Mzee Pete himself (Mzee is a respectful Swahili title for an older man) and had dinner, followed by a documentary about his life in Tanzania.
The next morning (Monday) after breakfast, we headed to the ICC Tribunal for the Rwandan genocide, which is located in Arusha. After an introductory talk, we were allowed to sit in on an actual tribunal session. We sat in a gallery, watched through a large glass panel, and listened to the trial through headphones. I switched back and forth from the English translation to the untranslated sound, mostly in French, which I was pleased I could understand. It made a big difference hearing the actual voices of the defense lawyer and other people in the court. The case we heard was an appeal of a sentence issued to a Rwandan man for transporting the Interhamwe militia, who were responsible for much of the genocide’s deaths. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything particularly interesting, but I was very much mistaken, as we listened to the chamber debate a specific date in April 1994, and the alibi of the defendant. I have studied the Rwandan genocide in a lot of different classes in my life, so visiting the Tribunal was incredibly surreal. Getting the opportunity to do so was probably the highlight of the week for me.
On Tuesday, we traveled by bus to a Maasai village in a rural area some distance away from Arusha, where we stayed until Thursday. We camped in tents about a ten minute walk from the village itself, and had our meals made by UAACC’s camp crew. Our few days with the Maasai were quite packed. We were given lots of information about Maasai traditions and the village, and even learned a few greetings in KiMaasai! I was incredibly impressed by their ability to live in bomas (houses) that have no windows at all. Not only does this mean that it is pitch black indoors, even at midday, but it also means there is a huge amount of smoke in the mud houses with little ventilation. We sat inside a house for maybe five minutes on the first day, and my eyes were stinging for hours afterwards from the smoke! I must confess that I was a little grumpy during our stay in the village due to the environment (DUSTY), but there were still things I really, really enjoyed. One morning, we all got up around 5 to watch the sunrise over Mt. Kilimanjaro, which was sometimes visible (along with Mt. Meru) in the distance from the camp. We all stood in an expansive field covered with low bushes with little white flowers, the light spilling across the landscape and silhouetting the slope and summit of Kilimanjaro against a bright orange background. That was also a surreal moment.
Another surreal moment was participating in a Maasai courtship (I think) ritual, a dance ceremony by moonlight where men and women have a kind of exchange through different chants, songs, and dances. We all started out very hesitant, being way out of our element in the dark having a completely foreign experience, but it was really great. Watching the men do the infamous Maasai jumping was incredible (and startling when they came hurtling towards us!) There was one other event which was a highlight of the Maasai experience, though not one I can really say I participated in–a goat sacrifice. Knowing it was going to upset me too much, I decided to sit it out with a couple of other friends. I rejoined the group after the goat had been killed and they were skinning it and stewing its organs. It was really interesting to see the organs as they were removed, though the smell from the stomach was distinctly unpleasant. I declined the offer to drink from a cup of goat blood and instead sat with some of my friends drawing things in the dust. A lot of our group also ended up getting branded (yes, really) with little circle marks. I also declined that offer! While I felt a little bit of a party pooper at times, I’m proud that this semester I have honed the skill of listening to and making decisions for myself, and I saw this day as a microcosm of that general development in my personality.
After three days and two nights in Maasai land, we left on Thursday morning in a fleet of safari-looking Land Cruisers to our next adventure. On our way to that night’s campsite, we stopped by two different local tribes for quick visits. The first was one of the last remaining true hunter-gatherer groups. We spent about an hour with them, trying to start fires, trying to shoot arrows, and trying to follow them through a nearby forest-y area as they hunted. It was a brief but interesting experience, and we got a great view of the surrounding landscape as their camp was on top of a massive hill (which was quite interesting to climb in our cars!) After a quick lunch, we visited a tribe whose main craft is metal work. We watched a couple guys make a bracelet out of some positively molten-looking melted metal, which they solidified and cooled by submerging in a cool little track filled with water in the ground. That night, we camped in tents once more outside of a lodge type thing with a nice common area that included a big couch, a fireplace, and a TV, much to our happiness! Unfortunately, that day and night, about five people came down with a really nasty stomach bug (cause still undetermined), adding to the two people who already had equally awful stomach bugs they had picked up in Nairobi. If you know me well, you will know that my most infamous phobia is vomiting… so I became somewhat of an anxious wreck at that point in the trip, as well as a truly compulsive hand sanitizer-user. (God bless Purell!) Luckily, I was spared.
The next day, we awoke to torrential rain and scampered around gathering our things and piling into our cars for a game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater! By this time, several more people were feeling ill, which made it a pretty low-key event. Entering the Crater, the cloud cover was very thick and obscured our view, but the rain did stop for us, and when we reached the floor of the Crater we were able to appreciate both its immense size and immense beauty. We saw herds of zebras, elephants, hyenas, gazelles, and even a family of lions. We were also able to avoid the increasingly damp interior of our car by standing up and popping our heads out of the hole in the top of the car. (Okay, not a hole… but for some reason the correct term is not coming to mind! Someone refresh my memory?) Sunroof? Driving around the Crater made for an amazing couple of hours, and as we drove out we were able to get the full view over the Crater that we had missed driving in. Absolutely stunning!
That night, we were thrilled to arrive back in the comfort of UAACC– back to our bunk beds and showers from the first two nights in Tanzania! We all relaxed and went to sleep nice and early to prepare for the grand finale of our Tanzania tour–hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro!!! Now, before you get too impressed, I should specify that we only hiked to the first base camp. However, it was a fantastic experience. We drove up to the bottom of the mountain, climbing up and up in our bus, and all signed the register at the headquarters at the bottom. After, we started our hike. Now, just like I said about my vomit phobia earlier, those of you who know me well will know that I am not exactly fond of hiking. I can legitimately enjoy it sometimes, but I was quite resentful of the hiking I had to do during my high school’s yearly pre-school outdoor trip. But hiking Kilimanjaro is different, so I set out with the goal to enjoy myself. To do this, I knew I couldn’t bother trying to keep up with the group, so me and some other non-hikers took up the back. Because of this, I really enjoyed myself and set my own pace for the hike up, which wasn’t too strenuous, though it grew steep at times. The base camp came at the perfect time, after only two hours of hiking when I was starting to get really tired. Once there, we walked 15 minutes further to a point where we could see the summit of the mountain, as well as views in other directions! It was so surreal to be hiking Kilimanjaro, and I was incredibly proud of our group because every single one of us made it up despite being in various states of un-wellness. Not only that, but we apparently achieved the fastest time of a group ascent in a long time! That evening, we arrived back to UAACC feeling very tired but very satisfied. We enjoyed one last night in the community center, complete with birthday cake for one of the girls in our program who was celebrating her 21st, and a dance lesson from a local dance troupe! The next morning, unfortunately, I was awoken by some INCREDIBLE stomach cramps, but I managed to make it through the bus ride back to Nairobi with no incidents. Unfortunately the stomach problems persisted, but I eventually took care of it with our favorite medicine, the antibiotic Cipro, that will kill anything ailing the digestive tract. After an eventful week, I was happy to return to the comfort of Nairobi and the beginning of our research period!
Speaking of said research… I’m currently in the process of writing our 40-page final paper, which is due on Thursday. But I will try to get you all up to speed and up to date before we depart for the final week of the program in the coastal city of Malindi!