Trip Start May 27, 2009
Trip End Jul 07, 2009

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

In the last couple of years, I have realized how many amazing things you can do by creating an opportunity to do something or simply asking someone. Last year, Leah had traveled with Ema to visit his home in Ngorongoro Crater. During their trip to Zanzibar earlier this month they had planned on stopping in Ema‘s village, but found themselves running low on time and money. Last year, my safari guide stopped at a Maasai village (Twenty Cows blog) and I was a bit perplexed as to how to judge the authenticity of that experience. Along the safari route, there are several villages that are part of Tanzania’s cultural tourist program. Apparently families decide to open their village to outsiders to educate them about the Maasai, although I have since learned that some of the villages are only open during the day then the Maasai retire to their real homes.

I was very curious about the true Maasai village and as Leah told Jackie and I about her original journey to the crater, our jealousy forced us to inquire if we could go. To our surprise, Leah responded that we may be able to do this. She informed us that as foreigners it would cost each of us $50 USD to get into the Serengeti plus an extra $30USD if we wanted to go into Ngorongoro Crater National Park. She spoke with Ema and he agreed to take Carly, Kiran, Monica, and I to his home. Perhaps Ema granted our wish because Ema knew Carly and I from our previous visits or perhaps it is because he has the most gracious heart. Ema arranged for a driver to take us and for the four day journey for $90 each. Leah explained that a gift to the village of two goats was an appropriate hostess gift and luckily Ema arranged for his brother to handle this on our behalf.

On Friday, June 26, we awoke a little after 5 am and none of us were on our best behavior as we packed the Land Cruiser and loaded up the car. There was some petty bickering along the way but two hours later we arrived at the western gate of the Serengeti. We had to pass through Serengeti National Park to get to Ngorongoro Conservation area, and discovered at the Welcome Center that we needed to pay an extra $50 to return through the park on Monday. Since we only brought so many US dollars and my other travel companions operated on a very tight travel budget this news caused a little anxiety. Fortunately, the park admission could be paid by credit card and once I offered to front the money, the decision to precede was quickly reached. We entered the park gates, and the stress and tension present earlier lifted as we encountered giraffe, elephants and thousands of wildebeest and zebras. We periodically paused along the dirt road to snap photos and admire the wildlife and five hours later we reached the eastern gate.

I remembered from last year the existence of a small grocery, and we headed off in search of different snacks and treats than we have found in Mwanza. Leah told us we would be given goat to eat, but further advised us to bring along plenty of food and water. The day before we had purchased peanut butter, bread, crackers, and lots of fruit for the journey. But that didn’t stop us from picking up a few more things to nibble on. As we ate our snacks, Ema pulled on my arm, “You na me to go to pay permit.” I was a bit confused. I knew we were about to enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and that we were still quite a distance from Ngorongoro Crater National Park. Although I went down into the crater on my safari last year, I had happily agreed to see it again one morning and had brought the $30 required. However, I did not think we needed to purchase that permit until we were arrived at the park. I followed Ema into the Serengeti Office where he had been talking with one of the staff. I was shown the information that a permit to get into the Conservation Area was $50 per day. We had planned to spend three nights in Ema’s village and this would be an additional $150 each. I knew I was able and willing to pay for this once in a lifetime experience, but suspected my housemates were not. I hesitantly approached the group. A tourist at the park had shared the news of Michael Jackson’s death and they were discussing the unexpected news from the outside world. “Don’t shoot the messenger,” I began as I explained the situation to them. I knew this would not be well received, but I was still surprised at the amount of stress this created. After spending quite a while listening to the other girls anxiously debate what to do, I finally stepped away as the decision had to be made by those more financially taxed then myself. As Leah had made this journey before, Ema himself was puzzled as to the confusion and kept apologizing to me. Carly, who is grieving the recent loss of her mother and sometimes has difficult days, was especially thin skinned and I felt awful when I realized she began to cry. After multiple discussions with the park attendant and multiple decision changes among the girls, we decided to continue to the crater but cut our visit short by a day.

Two hours after arriving at the eastern gate we passed into the Conservation Area and were welcomed by waving Maasai young males. Last year, the drive through this area was one of the highlights of my trip. I love seeing the mud huts and the landscape dotted with the red and purple blankets wrapped around the walking Maasai. While the Serengeti is remotely flat and perhaps what one pictures when they think of Africa in general, the Conservation Area consists of rolling hills and mountains. The air grew cooler as we climbed higher in elevation and I smiled each time I saw young Maasai boys herding goats and sheep along the rugged terrain.

As we drove through the conservation area, Ema asked “Ginger, when you to come again Tanzania?” As I have been repeatedly asked this question since the first day of my return, I quickly answered that I would like to come back, but I did not know when. I supplied my usual response that my husband and I wanted to have a baby soon. Since by Tanzanian standards, I am old to be married without a child, this explanation never seems to offend the asker. A big smile appeared across his beautiful face, “Oh Ginger. You na husband na mtoto (baby) to come again to Tanzania. And me…” He wrapped his arms around himself in a bug cuddle, “for mtoto.” I realized Ema was one of my favorite people in the world, and I thought how I would love for my family to meet him.

As we were talking, Joseph was becoming increasingly excited in the back of the SUV. He began making typical Maasai noises, “Eh Eh Eh Eh,” as he pumped his shoulders up and down. “Joseph happy to shaky shaky Maria usiku (night), Ema whispered. I glanced back at Joseph who was close to bouncing himself off the seat. “Joseph to shakey shakey chisi sana (very crazy).” I cracked up and looked again at Joseph., who was too far back to hear what we were saying. When he saw me looking at him. He grunted loudly and a wide grin crossed his face. He then gave me his signature thumbs up and in his limited English yelled, “Very Good!”. Ema and I roared with laughter and nodded in agreement that Joseph certainly was excited to see Maria.

After another couple of hours, we pulled into a small “town” containing several of the ubiquitous dukas (shops) one finds throughout the country. The only difference was this town was filled with Maasai. Although it is common sight to see young adult males working as Askaris in the city, it was a new experience to see a nothing but Maasai men and women shopping and visiting in the street. Joseph and Ema jumped out of the car to purchase gifts for their mothers. The already surreal experience was intensified when the driver turned on the radio and blared Thriller.

Shortly thereafter we pulled up to a cluster of three mud huts surrounding a thorny brush cattle corral. A large group of Maasai men, women and children were waiting to greet us,. As soon as we exited the vehicle, the women formed a circle and began to sing and dance welcoming us to their home. At home, Ema and Joseph frequently sing the throaty chants that comprise Maasai singing, but I had never heard or seen the women’s version. The women sang in a circle as two entered the middle jumping and spinning. Children gathered to watch and even though flies often rested on their faces, they smiled shyly but happily.

Soon the men started dancing too. They formed a large U-shape and two or three would stand in the middle and leap high enter the area again and again. The welcoming performances were absolutely stunning and as we stood in between the dancing men and the dancing women, it was utterly overwhelming just trying to decide who to watch., Then the children began to sing and dance too, and I felt like I was turning in circles trying to take it all in. And of course, I had to eventually join in, thrusting my shoulders forward as I bounced with the men. Fortunately for everyone, I refrained from joining in the singing.

The sun began to set and a golden hue was cast over everything, The temperature was dropping and I was thankful for the winter hat and coat I had purchased at Mwanza’s used clothing market. I pulled on the warmer clothes and shoved my flashlight and some toilet paper into my pocket. As the ceremony commenced as soon as we arrived and it had been several hours since the Serengeti, I was now desperate to relieve my bladder. Ema had been continually whisked from relative to friend, but I finally found him and he pointed down a path into the brush that serves as the toilet.

As darkness settled in and the Maasai blankets and winter clothes no longer blocked the chill, we settled into Ema’s mud hit. The doorway was short and Ema had to stoop low to step inside, although inside the roof was quite high. The circular hut was divided into several compartments. The door opened into a small area directly opposite from a wall, I assume to block the chill when people entered. A long narrow coral stood to the right and housed Ema’s baby calf at night. We entered the main room, and Ema lit a paraffin lamp and the room glowed. A very small table and a fire pit stood in the center. In the left corner, a raised platform served as a small bed. And next to that an arched entryway opened into a slightly larger sleeping area. Ema laid our blankets from the house over the animal skins and placed our bags in the corner of the “bedrooms.” Ema offered us chai and as the wind howled outside, I was amazed at how cozy it was inside the hut.

Ema’s mother, Mama Susanna came in to welcome us again and thank us for coming. She took each of our hands into hers and held them into the air thanking Jesus for our visit. Ema exited the hut and came back handing as a small transistor radio and disappearing again. The Swahili speaking newscaster reported the death of Michael Jackson. One of my lectures at school is about the spread of American popular culture around the world. I had to laugh at this prime example as Billie Jean blared from a radio inside a mud hut in a remote Maasai village.

We listened to the radio as we waited for Ema to bring us our dinner. The men had killed one of the goats earlier and then in Maasai tradition drank some of the blood mixed with milk. The men they cooked the goat and ate their share before giving food to the women who eat separately. It was close to nine o’clock when Ema returned with a large plate of goat. I have had goat before and have never been impressed. However, I must say these Maasai men can cook. Ema placed the grilled goat onto the table and eating with out hands we helped ourselves to the delicious pieces.

After dinner, I made one last visit to the bush then called into the little cave where Monica, Jackie and I were to sleep. The area was not very wide nor long and we discovered that the three of us spooning was the best position for sleep. I was exhausted and managed to sleep better than expected although I did wake up several times with aching pains from the hard bed and little bites from the bed bugs. At about seven am, the calf, hungry for her mother’s milk, began to moo loudly and the noise echoed throughout the hut. Then the small kitten began to meow loudly as I woke and remembered where I was.

Ema came into the hut waving some paperwork. I realized he had found Leah’s permit from a year and a half earlier and wanted us to check it to see if it was “same same’ as ours. The paperwork confirmed that Leah’s group had been charged the same. I was not angry with Leah for forgetting the details, but was very touched by Ema’s offer to go the police if we had been cheated.

Ema brought us some Chai for breakfast, and I made half a peanut butter sandwich. The air was still chilly and he explained he wanted to wait a few hours until it warmed up before taking us on a “big walk.”

At about eleven we set off for on a walking safari. Ema stands tall at over six feet ,and I had to walk very quickly to keep up with him. He carried a large spear in his hand and as he saw me glance at it he raised and in the air, “In case of simba.” I knew that wild animals were a possibility and I certainly hoped to see some but wondered if I was putting too much faith in my askari friend.

We walked to several other huts along the way and were warmly welcomed and greeted. We then headed away from the scattered family clusters and walked along the edge of a very green ravine. Ema told us that elephants may be down in the ravine, but it was a long walk until we could find place to make it down. We continued to walk all the while taking in the truly African scenery. As we climbed more and more uphill, Ema began to worry about us getting tired. He steered us off towards a wooded area and found some miraa. He peeled off the casing of the plant stem, popped some in his mouth and then passed it around. It was slightly bitter with the familiar essence of green pepper. Not knowing how this herbal speed would effect me. I only chewed a couple of pieces and agreed with Ema that it had a similar effect to a cup of coffee. With a second wind, we climbed higher up the mountain and were soon rewarded with the discovery of a herd of zebra along the ridge. We walked quietly as zebra are quite skittish and managed to get a good look before they dashed off.

Joseph caught up with us at some point and loudly laughed when I asked him about Maria. He proudly showed me two new ankle bands that she had given him. I had mistaken Joseph’s feeling for Maria as simply “Shaky shaky love” but was realizing this was far more serious. After a couple of hours walking we reached a high peak overlooking Lake Eyasi and the area surrounding Ema’s home. We rested at the summit taking in the majestic views.

We arrived back at Ema’s home mid afternoon. He went to gather food for lunch, and we attempted to sit outside taking in the views and enjoying the now warm afternoon sun. However, the cow compound and its associated waste attracts large numbers of flies, so when Ema brought our food we decided it was wiser to sit inside. The simple construction keeps the hut cool by day and warm at night though dark as there is only one small slit for light. We ate our goat and boiled potatoes and commented on how worn out we were after the long walk. Ema sensing our exhaustion decided we should drive to the nearest town for a small look around. We piled into the Land Cruiser with several of Ema’s relatives. Access to the car allowed for them to make a quick trip to town for necessary supplies. The appearance of five white women accompanied by several Maasai attracted a lot of looks along with the familiar cry of ,”Mzungu.” Ema took us on a bit of a random walk showing us the source of the water supply, and then told us he would show us where people bathed. Although we were quite dirty at this point, we glanced at each other apprehensively hoping that Ema was not suggesting we bath in the river with the locals. Fortunately, he just wanted to take us on a rather awkward tour. We headed home shortly thereafter as we were all extremely fatigued. Ema’s mother was making jewelry for us and proudly hung a necklace around each of our necks.

The sun began to set and we headed into the hut. I breathed in the aroma of earth, smoke, tea and paraffin as we settled in to wait for supper. I was so tired that I could have done without supper, but when the evening’s goat was placed in front of me I found myself consuming piece after piece. We retired early, and luckily I found that my body had already begun to adjust to the hard bed.

We awoke early in the morning and gratefully accepted the morning chai. We left early so we would have time to drive to the overlook of Ngorongoro Crater National Park. Although bundled in my winter coat and hat with my kanga wrapped around my legs to provide an additional layer, I still needed to wrap myself in my Maasai blanket as we exited the car. I cuddled with Ema and overlooked the crate although it was mostly draped with clouds. I suspected the temperatures hovered just above freezing and was grateful when it was time to move on to the lower elevations of the Serengeti.

When we arrived back at the park, I quickly went into the office and charged the final entry fee to my credit card. I joined the group and as a sat down a herd of elephant began to walk through the brush about fifty feet from the campground. We stared at the magnificent creatures while Ema grabbed our lunch from the vehicle. Other tourists were spread out in the area enjoying their boxed lunches, and I had to laugh when Ema pulled out a large goat leg and began to cut off pieces with his large Maasai knife. And as we sat in the Serengeti enjoying a picnic lunch of leftover goat, Ema said, “I love you, Ginger” and popped a piece of meat into my mouth. I rested my head on his shoulder and replied in all honesty, “I love you too Ema.”

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