Tanzania Part 1: Roaming Animals and Cultural Lessons

After a week on the mountain without electric or toilets, I returned for one night in Arusha to find periodic power outages and a lack of hot water.  The adventure continues in Zanzibar, albeit with a lovely beach and perfect sunny weather.  In the meantime, I’ve been fortunate to escape the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy that has caused chaos across much of NYC and New Jersey.  (Fortunately, aside from a lack of electric, everyone I know has been spared major damage, but my beloved beach suffered serious erosion and many seaside towns have many difficulties to endure in the coming days and months.)

The last week has been equal parts fun and exhausting.  Climbing to the top of Uhuru Peak is without a doubt the harshest experience I’ve ever put my body through.  But it was worth every minute of the trek.  Since there is much to tell about this trip, I’ve decided to do several posts on Tanzania, starting with my one day safari to Tarangire National Park.

Having done a safari in India and come up close and personal with a tiger, seeing animals in their “natural” habitat was not something I planned on doing alone for any length of time.  To me, a safari requires days to optimize your chances of seeing animals mating, hunting, killing, running or what have you.  This experience is best shared and for many requires copious amounts of alcohol consumption in the evenings.  Since I was solo, I only wanted to acclimate to the time change and catch a glimpse of some of what this part of Africa has to offer in the dry season.

The trip to the park was more informative and entertaining than the Safari itself.  My guide/driver, Juma, spoke English well and kindly informed me about the Maasai people whose little thatched roof huts peppered the countryside.  They live without running water or electric and maintain a simple life.  Children tend a herd of cattle and goats.  Donkeys graze on the side of the road.  And the smell of trash burning is ever-present.  In this world of so many modern conveniences, it’s amazing to me that people can continue to live in such a simple existence, but then I was about to go without electric or running water for a week myself and could better appreciate this.

Although most Maasai tend to live near mountains and streams, these people chose to be near the flatlands where there were fewer resources.  With the dry season coming to an end, the men and boys were busy collecting branches and sticks to protect their roofs from the rains that will ensue.  Meanwhile, women washed clothes near a tiny pond that still holds some water, letting them dry on the nearby bushes.  Everyone has a role to fill.

What caught my eye most, was a boy of about 13 waiting on the side of the road, who Juma described as a “Morani” or a boy in the process of becoming a man.  His face was painted white and his hair was sticking up in a medusa-like fashion.  I passed too quickly to get a photo, but was informed that he was adorned in this manner because he was preparing to be circumcised, a process endured in silence (and apparently this is done to girls as well, a practice that we refer to as female genital mutilation).  Although older customs would have male adulthood reached by a series of tests involving killing animals and potentially raping women, many of these practices have generally ceased.  Surely, nothing I saw in the wild that day could compare with this bit of reality.

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But I did see a ton of elephants, wildebeests, zebra, baboons, monkeys and impala, a few ostriches and giraffes, brightly colored birds and one sleeping lion under a tree, among a few other animals.  A recent zebra carcass evidenced why the lion was so tired.  The other striking fact was that the trees were broken by the elephants looking for water.  They apparently crush the branches in search of a few drops of water, thereby killing the trees and decimating the land.

My lunchbox, on the other hand, consisted of a mango juice and cold, fried chicken with various other fried goodness (some Germans eating nearby had a hard-boiled egg in theirs- yuck).  Have to say the food has been pretty good so far.

On the ride back, I saw a few other Maasai boys with brightly colored faces, but this time it was the police who stopped us for a third time that proved most entertaining.  Nothing was improper, of course, they just wanted some money for a soda, which Juma was obliged to provide.  So my cultural lessons for the day had spanned from those who live a life of simplicity to the corrupt officials charged with protection.  Had I chosen instead to sightsee around Arusha for the day, I’d never have learned so much about what life is really like in Tanzania.

Up Next: Adjusting to Life on a Mountain

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