Tanzania part 1

Trip Start Jun 29, 2006
Trip End Jun 29, 2007

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006


The first 10 weeks of my travels was spent with a not for profit organization called Greenforce in a small Maasai village called Eloui, which is near Arusha in Tanzania. The aim of the project is predominantly wildlife conservation, however we work with the local Maasai community, teaching English to the Maasai warriors we employ on camp and the current project in the wider community is to make fuel-efficient stoves. Each of us also had an individual project to work on. I oversaw the English teaching. Other projects included Impala tracking, grazing levels monitoring and the Hyena hide (which consisted of sleeping in a homemade cage and sleep in the dirt for the night, listening out for Hyenas and recording which direction they came from). A typical day would be the following:

06.00 Wake up
06.15 Bird Transect Walk
09.00 Breakfast
10.00 Construction on camp
12.30 Lunch
14.00 English lesson or an afternoon transect walk
19.00 Dinner

Thank you again to those who donated books to the Maasai - they were much appreciated and are certainly helping them with sentence structure and comprehension skills.

I wouldn't say the project was in any way relaxing, however I did not expect it would be and as we were on camp for 8 out of 10 weeks, I really wanted to be kept busy! On the upside I have never slept so much and averaged 10-12 hours an evening!

Our home was a typical Maasai boma made of sticks and filled in with a mixture of animal dung, soil and water. The roof is made from makuti (palm leaves or something similar). Our beds were made of flexible sticks and a petition between the beds were also covered in the dun mixture. To make them more comfortable and homely we bought Maasai blankets from the local market. Once we had our mosquito nets in place we could feel reasonably safe that the creepy crawlies (inc. hundreds of spiders living in the roof), were not going to bite us whilst we slept. This did not include fleas which were an ongoing inconvenience on camp. There were 2 types of fleas we encountered, your average flea found on any animal and what are called jiggers which are sand fleas that lived in the soil of our boma. Bare feet was not an option, as were sandals, as the fleas bury into your feet and lay there eggs. Lovely!!

Camp duty was twice a week on a rota which entailed cooking and washing up for the 3 daily meals, cleaning water filters etc. Two people would be on duty together. There were competitions for the most creative chef, given our basic staple ingredients were rice, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, potatoes and flour. In the end it was the most creative with dough that was appreciated more as we slowly ran down on fresh ingredients. My exploding dough balls were a particular hit (no pun intended!)

Osotua camp was situated on a hilltop with commanding views over the Rift Valley. From our bucket shower facilities, I could watch as the clouds drifted slowly over the vast plains - it was a very beautiful sight - so much I never minded the cold water over me! It was always just so nice to be clean! The record time to go without a shower was 12 days. I for one did not think I would ever cope with this but surprisingly it was not as bad as I had originally thought and you soon get used to it. Everyone else smells as bad and if you entered the boys boma, you would know you could not smell that bad!!

Often from camp we could see Giraffe cruising the countryside. The most common animals spotted on transect walks were Buffalo, Impala, Dik Dik, Vervet Monkeys and Thompsons Gazelle. At night we could here hyena calls and although we were fenced in by thorny bushes, it was not a favourite pass time to leave your boma in the middle of the night to relieve yourself!

Working with the Maasai was the highlight of the project. They made us feel exceptionally welcome from the day of our arrival. We were included in a number of ceremonies which were a wonderful introduction to Maasai life.

In our first week on camp we had 2 welcoming ceremonies which included the slaughter of a goat followed by the drinking of its blood, eating its body, and finally much singing and dancing. Yes I did manage to drink some blood, despite my vegetarian tendencies (see pictures for evidence). The dancing begins with the men competing on who can jump the highest, then the women join in with much shimmering and shaking of the shoulders. We all then retire to the fire for singing and telling stories into the night. Around mid-phase we had the elders from the village come and celebrate Liz's birthday (our project scientist - Koko Queen), on camp. The women's singing was amazing an there were many thank you speeches that lasted into the night. (The Maasai like to talk!!)

The favourite party by far was the women's circumcision party we attended on our last week on camp. (The actual circumcisions took place months before - we gather to allow the women to recover before holding the party!). The whole district came together at a small group of bomas in the middle of the bush for dancing and celebrating. Food and drink was provided for everyone! The Greenforce mzungus did look slightly out of place, but we enjoyed ourselves immensely, especially watching the stick fights between the men and women. They place some meat on a stick in the middle of the group and take it in turns to try and steal it from each other whilst beating each other with whip like sticks. Hilarious!!

Sundays on camp were rest days - time to wash, read, write letters and relax. We spend two such days playing football with the volunteers from Mesarani Snake Camp near Arusha and named our competition the "Simba Cup". The Greenforce team managed to lose the first game by 4 points but came back in the second games on our home ground. We did however have an unfair advantage over them as we were living at 1600m altitude. The star of the game was our very own Maasai - Lengami.

We escaped camp over mid phase break and headed for Ngoragora Crater, on the way stopping to visit the Barabaig tribe. They live similarly to the Maasai, although here the women scar their faces in intricate designs made by hot rods from a fire. In Maasai culture it is the men that use scarring (more on that in a moment).

Our first evenings camp was under a gigantic Fig Tree which was next to a beautiful waterfall that had many cascade pools to swim in. I though it a fantastic place to bring in the New Year sometime if anyone is ken?!

On the second day we visited another tribe called the Hzabi who are very similar to the Bushmen of the Kalahari. With only 1200 left, they are one of the smallest tribal groups in Tanzania. These hunters and gatherers were once placed in communities so their children could receive an education however this proved unsuccessful. They still move about, however it was possible to arrange to go hunting with the men! We set off at dawn, following our hunters at record pace through the bush. The speed and agility of these people was amazing and we found it hard to keep up. They made 2 kills for us. The first, a Barbett bird with an arrow through it's head and the second, a small mammal. In 2 minutes the Hzabi would have a small fire lit, in 10 the animal was cooked and they were carving the poor thing up for us to taste, and in 15 we would be on the move again. I can now say I have eaten bush meat!

Our last day was spent in the Ngoragora Crater. We descended from the mist covered crater rim and at the bottom removed the roof on the vehicles so that we could view the game from the safety of the cars. In the duration of the day, we saw Cheetahs, Buffalo, Jackal, Giraffes, Zebras, Hippos, Lions, Flamingos and Wildebeest. The highlight was watching the Lions sleep after eating a fresh kill of Zebra that lay just by the way. Only lifting their heads to ensure there were no Jackal coming to steal there kill. It was a fantastic day. Four days break was just enough to wet the appetite for more safaris ahead but unfortunately it was time to return to camp.

On our last week at camp we found a way to remember our Maasai family forever by scarring ourselves as the warriors do. It is done using an acacia thorn to lift the skin, a razor to slice the skin and then a combination of battery acid, saliva and salt is coated over the wound which prevents it from becoming infected and healing over too quickly. I shied away from having a sword cut into my shoulder and opted for something more subtle on the top of my gluteus maximus. The Maasai found this highly amusing as they could then ask me every day how my bottom was ;) (photos attached).

It was a sad day when we departed camp for the final time. There is a chance some of our warriors will be in London next April for the London Marathon that the BBC is hoping to support. It would be great to see them there - although I wonder what the cultural impact of such a journey will be on them. Before I left I was trying to explain to Nguvu why he would not be able to carry his sword with him through the streets of London - a difficult task! I am sure they would be looked after by many a volunteer if they do make it, they are sure to be huge celebrities!! I hope to visit them all again here in Africa in December or February.

We completed our 10 weeks on the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar. The Greenforce group departed after only 3 days (I stayed on in Zanzibar). Saying goodbye felt a little like losing my family for a while but with a new challenge ahead I soon cheered up and looked forward to finally travelling alone!
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