Tanzania New Year’s Travel Reflections
You’re never too old to set another goal or to dream another dream -CS Lewis
So in my travels the last 2 weeks of the 2016 throughout Tanzania I have been reminded how small this world really is, how connected we can be at times yet also how very isolated we are in physical, cultural, emotional and spiritual ways. As 2016 ended and 2017 came I was sleeping in a tent on the rim of the Ngorongora crater in northern Tanzania with water buffalo wandering around the campground having somewhat of stranger tent mate (a 2 year peace corps volunteer originally from Illinois who was invited by a co-worker Deb to come on the trip but ends up she is the cousin of the husband of a co-worker Mary Barnes from St. John’s). But I was awake the next morning when the New Year arrived in Illinois.
I spent the last 13 days of 2016 on Christmas break from the University. My son Aaron and his wife Vanessa came to visit for Christmas, New Years and his 30th birthday which was wonderful and made it easier to make it through the holidays. He brought things my daughter & and he & their spouses got me from America (like chocolate candy and chips, zip lock bags, pecans, bath and body foot lotion, some electronics, garden seeds and ink pens etc.). Their visit was a good excuse to travel around Tanzania and see places I’d heard about but had not had the time to see. I hope to do more of this in 2017. So some pictures you may have seen posted by Aaron that I like but I’ll post a few more even though his are more professional photos.
The New Year often brings mixed reflection on past memories and emotions and thoughts of what lies ahead. With airport waits, 2–3 hour boat rides, 12 hour day drives of sightseeing, I thought a lot while seeing new sites here. How much my life and I have changed from last year this time when I had applied for this position. I had not interviewed and had no idea if I would be accepted, what country I might go to or what the future year would hold. The time has gone by so quickly since April when I was offered Tanzania as my placement. I try and journal and write in my blog some of the experiences but there is so much that I can’t put into words of the experience and change in myself. So I just continue to go day by day with the journey.
I thought how 32 years ago I had 2 children which changed my life and now this year I hope to travel some of Tanzania with both of them. Not something I would ever have thought would happen. Working in a foreign country was always a dream in my 20s but it did not happen until now. So though still figuring it out, I am able to use the years of life and professional experiences here which is much different than if I had come early in my life. I hope that some of the challenges I experienced over the past 30 years have made me more open, adaptable, compassionate, and less judgmental looking at what is most important every day. I thought about which is better: exploring the world as a young adult which opens up doors of career opportunities and changes your views of the world or waiting until later in life when you can apply life and work experiences to benefit others and form relationships. I don’t know the answer as they each have different positives and negatives. So I just continue my journey. Though things and people around us shift and change, God never changes. Putting up a fresh calendar for the year brings hope and new dreams. Some of those we may plan and others are planned by asking for God’s direction and plan.
The New Year:
I am thankful for change the past year: for finishing my PhD , then beginning to figure out how to live life again, and look at future goals. I am thankful for all the places and people in my life this past year, the good along with the difficult things, which have reminded me daily of my need to rely on a higher being’s presence, strength and faithfulness. I once again have been amazed at the unfolding of events that have occurred in my life that I could not have planned. I have no clue of what 2017 will bring but know the plan is not mine but someone else leads me each step and guides my decisions. I hope the year here and when I return I will be more generous, kind and look at the needs of others. I ask for doors to open and close, to understand, hear the voice of wisdom in pursuing God’s grace and love, above every dream and desire I have for 2017.
Though I had never traveled internationally, I thought of how the U. S. vacations I loved the most were near water and remote rural outdoor spaces with natural beauty and less people which was why I enjoyed the past two weeks seeing more of those areas of Tanzania (except the airports). Many of my co-volunteers went to regular city places in South Africa, Europe and America so came back having to re-adjust. Other than Zanzibar my vacation was a little rougher so I am just glad to be back in my Tanzanian home and work routine. So I know many think as I did of Africa and amazing land and animals here and want to see more Tanzania pictures. It was amazing and worth the trip here if you ever have considered it!
I met Aaron and Vanessa in the Dar es Salaam Airport and we went straight to Zanzibar. What better place to get over jet lag. Zanzibar is an island 20 miles to the east of Tanzania mainland noted for its beautiful clear blue/green water and Arabic influence. The East African slave trade occurred in the Stonetown where we walked around the winding maze of roads of shops and restaurants with Arabic architecture. Stonetown is the capital of Zanzibar on the west coast and was named for the coral stone buildings built there during the 19th century.
Vanessa found a place for dinner, the Emerson on Hurumvi which is a restored palace built in the late 1800s where we ate dinner on the rooftop. We were able to have a 360 degree view of Stonetown at sunset listening to the Muslim call to prayer and the Indian Hindu temple chimes and bells. There are 51 Mosques and 6 Hindu temples as well as a Catholic and an Anglican Cathedral in Zanzibar. The experience was dinner on the floor, live taraab music with Zanzibar spiced food-best tender goat I’ve had so far.
Zanzibar has its own president, its own parliament, and seats in the Zanzibar National Assembly. While Zanzibar as a rule makes its own laws, some union matters are made by the Tanzanian government. Zanzibar also produced cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper so we did a spice farm tour then a Tanzanian cooking class after shopping at the market.
Even though Zanzibar was hot, we should have enjoyed the amazing beach more as the next sites were a little less luxurious
Tanzania National Parks
Tanzania national parks occupy 30% of the total land area of the country and it has the largest wildlife concentration per sq kilometer with over 4 million animals. So animal #1 was the chimps.
Gombe Stream National Park
We went to the west side of Tanzania to Kigoma and traveled 2–3 hours by boat to Gombe National Park on Lake Tanganyika. So a few of you know my story of my first PhD paper where I had to use animal research to write about my dissertation topic which at the time was “online learning communities” in online nursing courses. I read and used a lot of the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee research to write this “scientific” and crazy paper. I refer to it as the :monkey brains and dolphin communities research paper. So though we did not visit the Jane Goodal research center which is near the national park we did see some of the Chimps.
This park is one of the smallest Tanzanian National Parks with 52 Sq Kilometers bordered to the west by Lake Tanganyika and across this lake to the west is the Congo and Burundi to the Northwest and Zambia to the South. There are many forest to the east thus protecting the famous chimpanzees which have been studied since 1960 (longest running study of a wild animal species). There are also olive Baboons and some red colobus, and blue monkeys in the park, other mammals, and 100s of bird species. The Baboons were around the park headquarters each morning and though cautious came pretty close. You had to close and often lock doors as they could open them. The kitchen where we cooked the food we brought and the dining room had to be kept closed or they would come in and take anything left out. Also we had to keep our food in a box in the kitchen not near the bared window or they would reach through and take food. They also told us not to leave a backpack laying around or you would have it taken.
The park is only reachable by boat so you have 3 choices: public ferry with no shelter from the sun that only runs on set days, the parks boat which is the most expensive and a private boat which we set up through a private campground in Kigoma where we stayed the day we came back from the park.
You have to pay the boat cost, then $100.00 per non resident person per day USD per 24 hours just to stay in the park, then $20.00 per night for a room and then for a guide $20.00 per trip to take you to look for the chimpanzees and/or go to the waterfalls. So it is not cheap but worth it.
We hit luck the first day and only had to walk on some rough trails, through vines on steep hills for about 30 minutes without any rain and we started to see the Chimps. There are three areas where they reside, the north and south group has 20–30 each and the central area has around 60 Chimpanzees. So it was exciting to find the central group that close the first day of hiking for this old person. We saw them on the ground, in the trees and moving through the forest, listened to their talk, and followed them with the guide.
The Lake does not have the snail disease like Lake Victoria so we could swim in it after sweating a lot while climbing around in the forest with the Chimps. The second morning they said the central colony was a 2.5 hours north walk so we decided to take a hike to the waterfall on Christmas day.
Being in a remote rural area the only people at the park were the few Tanzanians who worked there, a young Swedish woman who was doing an internship here between her bachelors and master’s degree and an older woman from France working with the refuge settlement. So we ate our meals with these two woman.
I had heard about refugees camps in Tanzania but learned more from the French woman. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) tracks refugee movements. Nyarugusu, Tanzania has the third largest refugee settlement in the world and hosts more than 140,000 people about 3 times the number it was built to house. Over the years more than 250,000 people have fled Burundi from the violence with ¼ of those living in Nyarugusu, Tanzania. Also in Nyarugusu there have been more than 60,000 people primarily from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who fled conflict in their country some who have been in the camps 20 years. Some do not register as refugees in Tanzania so do not qualify for food rations. She said one of the worst problems they have is boredom as they are not allowed to work in Tanzania. In a time we hear of Europe and their housing of Syrian refugees and conflicts on North America taking in some of these refugees I thought about how little our world knows or cares about these people in refugee camps.
The boat ride was interesting as we would go by small fishing villages along the lake. Then as we were getting ready to leave the park a storm came up so we had to wait for it to pass and the water was still pretty choppy on the boat ride back. Even though there were life vests in this boat and we were near shore it was probably not an activity the Peace Corps Safety Officer would have approved:)
We ended Christmas Day in a nice cabin in Kigoma making lentils with vegetables. Probably the healthiest Christmas dinner of our lives.
Home to Mwanza
Then we went to Mwanza for 2 days. We went into town down the rocky goat path through the local neighborhood. Then into the Market with my friend Amenia who navigated and helped Vanessa shop for material for a Tanzanian dress & jacket. I knew this would be a long process and it can become overwhelming. Aaron’s height, beard and two Mzungu women shopping at every material shop created a little stir. We think the shopkeepers were hoping we did not return:) But we finally had the material purchased and then went to the tailor who made my jacket. Aaron had a picture of the jacket idea on his phone so the tailor wanted a picture printed so we had to get that done. Aaron finally gave up on a tailored shirt as we found one at an artist shop that had screen printed an African theme so he like that style better and required no material or tailoring.We picked the dress and jacket up when we returned after the Safari. Another stir we created in the market as Vanessa tried on her finished clothes.
Fishing on Lake Victoria
The second day in Mwanza we went out fishing on Lake Victoria. I had asked a responsible man from our church who fished on his island to pay his way through college if he could set up a non-tourist trip. He was off his teaching job for the Christmas holiday so he worked it out. It was definitely a Tanzanian experience. Karl and Wreatha, volunteers from Dar came along as they were going on the Serengeti trip. Karl likes to fish too so we set out in a somewhat leaky boat where I was the bailer of the water. There was not a lot of true fishing going on but we got to see some of the other local fishermen who came over to us and showed us how they fished in their homemade boats. Lucas told us that it is hard to catch fish in Lake Victoria near Mwanza but easier near some of the islands. So we didn’t catch any fish , but Aaron showed Lucus how to use the fly rod that was in my house when I moved in which was fun. Then a storm came up and he said we had to go into shore early and were glad we did as the waves got pretty choppy and the sky dark with some light rain, It was a fun experience even without any fish. Probably not another Peace Corps Safety approved activity.
Serengeti National Park
Then we were off to the Serengeti. There were 8 of us total plus the driver. Deb had a midwife friend from the U.S. who came to Africa to see her son who is a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique, then co-volunteers Karl and Wreatha from Dar, then another regular 2 yr. peace corps worker from the Iringa area (the relative of Mary who I taught with at St. John’s), and Aaron, Vanessa and I.
The Serengeti National Park is the oldest and largest in Tanzania with 14,763 sq kilometers. The park has been protected since 1929 and a national park since 1951. There was a lot of driving in 4 days (about three 12 hour days and one 8 hour) looking for the big animals as well as many birds as one of our volunteers is a bird watcher. The roads are not paved so there was alot of bumping along, flat tire, and getting stuck in the mud with the wild animals. One fact our driver/guide told us is that if you hit and kill an animal in the Serengeti and you are caught the fine is $100.00 USD. This was shared after we saw the birds and hyenas eating a zebra that looked like it might have been hit by a car on the side of the road.
The Big Five Game Animals:
This does not have to do with animal size but the term originated with big game hunters and these 5 were hardest to shoot.
1. Lions are somewhat easy to spot. The Serengeti is believed to hold Africa’s largest lion population — with more than 3,000 lions in the park.
2. Leopards are more challenging, since their camouflage pattern makes them difficult to see on the ground. They are often in trees resting
3. Buffalo live in the Serengeti in herds of 1,000 or more.
4. African elephants travel in herds of 2 to 24.
5. The rhinoceros can be the most challenging animal to spot in the Serengeti. We were lucky to see one in the distance
We saw cheetahs, jackals, Hyenas, croodiles, Leopards, gazelle, Dikdick, monkeys, Baboons, Ostrich, Marabou storks, Eagles and lots of other birds. We saw probably 20–30 Lions, Giraffes, and elephants at various times.
The great migration occurs when the animals follow where there is grass and rain so they move SW around this time and then back in late spring. So we saw herds of animals grazing.
We did see a Rhino but it was too far away for my camera to get a picture. We heard there were 200ish still around the entire Serengeti so we felt privileged to see one in the distance.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Crater:The 8th wonder of the world
The Ngorongoro conservation area is next to the Serengeti to the SE and highlights an enormous volcanic crater. This 8,288 sq kilometer site is a UNESCO world heritage site and an international biosphere reserve. The crater is 19 km wide where the volcano collapsed. It became a game reserve in 1921 and hunting banned in 1951.
Going in and out of the Crater area we saw many Maasai villages. They are semi nomadic herders who are thought to have come from the Nile Valley in Sudan. They are thought to be the most powerful and feared tribe in East Africa. The British took much of their land away as did the Serengeti and other preserves and they were evicted. They continue their herding nomadic life wearing the red and purple with still much conflict.
It was hard not to compare some of these sites to those in the US and how they were similar in their amazing beauty but yet very different in how the US presents its outdoor wonders and parks. We often say things in Tanzania are difficult so accessing these sites were not easy. Zanzibar is an island so either by ferry or a 20 minute plane ride; then to get to Gombe there are no roads so you have to take a boat. The roads into and throughout the Serengeti and Crater were gravel, bumpy with shattered windshields, sometimes muddy and getting stuck but worth it to see the amazing animals.
African eagle through the shattered windshield
So we saw so much in 13 days of the land, lakes and the amazing animals which were spectacular. I was out of my usual work relationships and dependent on regular Tanzanians at all these places to show us Tanzania. Wanting Aaron and Vanessa to see and experience all the good of Tanzania including the people made this dependence more important. In America I am able to navigate life and travels easier. Tanzanian National Parks are not the same in easy access, organization, cleanliness, having running water and electricity and educational programs. I thought about how differences we encountered changes how you see your own and others’ worlds if you just accept the way things are.
I was reminded of the genuine goodness of the people here. The Tanzanian boat and safari drivers, safari and chimp guides and cooks; then Tanzanian Mwanza friends and our usual taxi drivers who I could call on to show friends and family Mwanza and safely take care of them in Mwanza and Dar. I wanted those I knew here to meet my family visiting and know that I too am just a regular American who is a part of family who works hard to support myself even though I’m volunteering in Tanzania for a year.
For some of these Tanzanians it was their job dealing with Americans with differences in expectations of travel experiences. We asked lots of questions during the trip of our guides. I was aware of our Tanzanian safari guide and driver who was in the middle of some company miscommunication and who put in long days while we snapped pictures. Yet he was patient and looked for and found amazing animals and explained things to us. At one point he stopped on the side of the road and gave our leftover box lunch items and half drunk sodas we had given him to some Maasai children. He saved some mango drink boxes we had not all opened to take home to his 2 children. I talked to him about Alaska National Parks, the animals there and how we only would see lions, giraffes and zebras in a zoo or circus (which I had to explain). We talked about the Maasai people and our Native American Indians.
I thought about how Tanzanians must think about Americans and others from around the world who come to the Serengeti as we drove through it. We wanted the best pictures to remember this once in a lifetime experience. We had some snags in what we thought we had paid for and roughing it in tents with rain leaks in the night so not a perfect trip.
I thought of what is still most important is the people we interact with not the circumstances of travel. Seeing the Serengeti with 7 other Americans, some we had just met, we had to get along in the vehicle for 12 hours a day and in setting up and taking down tents. It was great being with Aaron and Vanessa to experience this even though they called it the AARP Serengeti tour — they were the only young adults but tolerated us oldies.
As I enjoyed some time off, I thought once more about how I represent not just myself in every situation here but our nation by all my actions and words. Being patient, courteous, kind, polite, respectful and also sharing a little of America in each interaction was to me more important than seeing the parks and animals. If you measure life and your experiences by the quality of your interaction with others in the world your life will be enriched more than by your experiences.