Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Long Way Home

The trip home was the same length, but it seemed so much longer. The travel there was full of excitement and anticipation, but the travel home was one of memories and transition. During the flight, and since, I have been listening to hear the sound of Swahili being spoken, or the desire to say 'Habari  za asabuhi'(good morning) to somebody. After a wait of 4 hours in the airport, an hour layover in Dar es Salaam, an 8 hour flight to The Netherlands, I had a chance to get out and about in Amsterdam, so I took a short bus tour from the airport . We saw a cheese and wooden shoe factory, a windmill, the canals, and the touristy spots of the red light district and the marijuana bars, along with the outsides of the beautiful museum area. I wish that I had more time . Finally, it was time for the last 8 hour flight back to Chicago. The flights were smooth and uneventful, just long. I now have my pictures and memories of a fantastic trip and an experience I will never forget.

Special Education in Tanzania

Since Special Education is an important part of our family ( I am a certified teacher of Special Ed, my wife is an Adapted PE teacher, my daughter is a Preschool Autistic teacher, and we have 2 adopted sons with Down Syndrome), I wanted to see some programs in the Moshi area that I had heard about. Many Special Ed students in Tanzania are hidden at home, or ignored, and they are mostly misunderstood. So hearing about a program that provides good services for them was exciting. The program is called Gabriella Center. It is housed in a farm house in the rural area outside of Moshi. A local doctor rents the property to the program. They are sponsored by a not-for- profit called Edpowerment, begun by 2 high school teachers from Chicago who went as volunteers to the area, and keep returning, as well as collecting money and searching for grants for this program and one other. The center has 2 trained therapists, 3 teachers and other staff. They have a day program, as well as a residential component for some of the students. They also do parent training weeks, parent and community workshops, and skills assessment. The center also has a rabbit hutch, chicken coops, and a garden to train the students in living and farming skills to hopefully become contributing members of their community. It is a model program, and one which should be emulated and replicated.

We also visited Kilimahea program which is like an alternative high school for students who had trouble taking the government tests for high school, many with Learning Disabilities. Through grants and donations, they have built a huge classroom and computer lab addition, and are building 5 large chicken coops for vocational training. They have also built a water supply, which they share with the community. Mama Grace is the coordinator and founder of the program, and they are also associated with Edpowerment. Mama Grace tells a personal story about her own son who has Autism.  The local shopkeepers and community members hired a person to hurt or kill her son as he was considered a nuisance and danger to the community. She held a town hall meeting to explain Autism, and finally the community got behind her and decided to assist her. Fortunately this story had a happy ending, but who knows how many others don't. If you are looking for a place to help to sponsor or donate, please check out Edpowerment, Autism Connects Tanzania, or Gabriella Center websites.

After these rewarding visits, it was time to head for the airport to leave. The time went too quickly!

Hanging with the Guys

Today the plan was to visit a Chagga village and a nice waterfall in the Marangu area. My guide was a Kili guide who was off for the day. He and the driver picked me up, and off we went. It was raining, so I was worried about driving on the rough dirt roads, but it went well. We visited the Marangu Gate, one of the starting points to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is called the Coca Cola route as it is the easiest. The Machame route is much steeper, and is called the Whiskey route. We saw wet people beginning their climb- not for me to be wet and cold and tired for the next 5-7 days, but more power to them!

The rain stopped as we parked in the Chagga area. We walked to a place that makes banana beer. We each had a big cup of the beer. Mine was in a calabash gourd, as the guest of honor. Theirs was in a plastic cup. They feel that metal transmits diseases. I am not a beer drinker, and was put off by the millet seeds floating on the top, so they drank mine also (both were young guys in their early 30s). We sat and talked and drank. It was just like hanging with the guys. We discussed many topics including the attitude toward 'muzungus'. The guide said his family always asks why he would spend so much time with 'those' people. We also discussed adoption, as 2 of my children are adopted, which they could not understand the concept why you would do that.

After the beer bash, we walked to the Ndoro waterfall. We had to walk down, and then back up about 300 rough stairs. It was a challenge for my poor knees, especially after fast walking with the Hadzabe a few days earlier. But the waterfall was worth it. It was beautiful. 

Finally, we visited a Chagga traditional house, and some caves, where the Chagga hid and attacked the Maasai when they fought over the area and over cattle. It was fascinating. On the way back to town, we had a flat tire. As they worked to change it, some children came out from a farmhouse and I talked with them and we took pictures of each other. Hopefully they got to see that muzungu aren' t so bad after all.

Shopping Spree

Today we have a long drive, as we need to get from Karatu to Moshi, but we also have time to make some stops along the way. As the trip is coming closer to the end, I hoped to pick up more souvenirs and presents. We stopped at the small souvenir shop area in Mto wa Mbu, right across from the souvenir carts named Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama shops. As soon as you stop a tour car in a town, you are surrounded by street sellers. It was interesting that I knew some of them from my visits to the other markets in the area, as I began my trip. This time I had specific things I was looking to buy, as I had scoped things out along the way. As I mentioned some things, they all spread out to find the items for me at the various shops. One seller went into a shop and found what I was looking for, but the shop owner was not around, so he decided to sell them to me anyway. That seemed strange, but I found out they all work together and cooperate. He wanted $25 dollars for 2 basic bracelets, which sent me looking elsewhere. He kept finding me to lower the price, but not enough. I found other bracelets for less, and some other cool items that I had not expected to find. I have learned to go into these places with limited money, so I spent what I had, and started to head out. As more sellers tried to show me what to buy, I showed them that I only had 1000Tsh left (about 50 cents) . One seller sold me a nice bracelet for that, just to make a sale. As I got to the car, the original bracelet seller ran up to sell me the 2 bracelets for $5- it pays to wait and haggle the prices.

My driver knew that I am interested in artists and meeting the artist who actually makes the pieces, so he took me to a special Makonde carver on a backstreet. The carved pieces there were amazing, and I got to meet and take pictures of the carver working.I bought a carved gazelle that was so delicate that I was worried to carry it home (side note: it made it home safely, and it is beautiful!). We found out from the carver that there was an orphanage two doors down from him, so we walked over. The children (about 20), were so excited for us to visit. They just wanted to hold our hands or hug us and pose for pictures. They didn't ask for candy or money, they just wanted some attention. This was the perfect place to leave the supplies and some toys. The women who run the orphanage were very appreciative. It made me smile for the rest of the day.

From there, we started off for Moshi. I had hoped to get a view of Mt. Kilimanjaro , but it was cloud covered as usual. We passed the clock tower in Arusha, and I found out that is placed at the north-south center of Africa between Cairo and Johannesburg. Crispin commented to me that he feels that I saw the real Tanzania that many tourists don't get to experience. I agreed with him. He volunteered to take the rest of the school supplies that I still had, and deliver them to needy schools as he travels in the next few weeks. I gave him some gifts for his family and a good tip for his excellent job. We arrived at Springlands Hotel, which is owned by the Zara Tour Company which specializes in local trips and Kili climbs. It is basic accommodations, but comfortable, although on a very poor side road.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Into the Volcano

The best time to enter the crater is early in the morning, so we left early, braving the fog which usually covers the crater rim. As we got to the floor of the ancient volcano caldera, the first thing we saw was a cat alongside the road. My guide got very excited, as this is one of the animals that he has only seen twice in his 20 years of guiding. It was a caracal, or the African lynx, which is usually nocturnal, not seen during the day. After this experience, we drove around the crater and saw many zebras, gazelles, ostriches, wildebeest, and birds. Twice, we saw lions just walking down the road. When this happens, many vehicles swoop in and crowd around. The lions in the crater are so used to these vehicles, that they come right up to the cars and even lay down in the car's shade for a while. It almost seems like they are tame animals in an animal park, and somewhat looses the adventure aspect of animals in the wild. It is still cool to get a close up view, but not the same feeling.

We searched everywhere for the rhinos, but they were nowhere to be found. There are only 16 rhinos left in the crater, and this is the one place to still see them, so everyone was asking around to see if anyone had seen them, but no such luck. So I guess I failed in finding the "big five", but that was not my main goal, so the disappointment was minor. We also saw flamingos in the salt wate lake, and hippos in the fresh water lake. You could even get out of the car and go right next to the fresh water lake near the hippos which seemed a bit strange. There are no impala or giraffes in the crater, so we did not see them. As a finishing touch, as we were driving out of the crater, we saw a serval cat, which is also nocturnal and rare to see, so I began and ended my trip to the crater in an exciting way.

We drove to Karatu to stay again at the Country Lodge. I had hoped to stop at an orphanage in town to donate some medical and personal hygiene supplies, but we could not locate it. I stopped at Gibbs Farm again to use their Internet, but it was very spotty. They said that they had been having problems, as there were new government restrictions on the bandwidths prior to President Obama's visit next month.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

To the Crater (sorry the creativity has flown)

The morning was spent on our last game drive out of the Serengeti. We saw many of the same animals as yesterday, including the same 3 leopards in the tree, but remarkably, no lions. We did see dikdiks and Coke's Hartebeest. I took many videos but ran out of battery- it seemed short. It turns out that my converter cord on the iPad is not working, as well as the converter to charge the video camera. Maybe the difference in the electricity has damaged them. The other chargers work fine. I have also noticed some strange spots on my point- and-shoot camera, and it seems like dust has gotten into the lens. It is mostly noticeable when I use the zoom- I must be careful to store the cameras in airtight bags when not in use. I hope that it does not mess up my pictures.

After launch at Naabi Hill, we left the park headed for the Ngorongoro area. I met a waiter at Ikoma who is from the Maasai tribe at Ngorongoro. He actually goes into the crater with his herds right next to the wild animals! I asked him if there is a Maasai boma (village) to visit that is not just a tourist trap, but is actually fairly authentic. He suggested Longoku Cultural Boma,  right next to Oldupai Road. It was a good choice. Pictures are welcome for the admission price. The residents come out to dance and sing for you, with the women in one line and the men in the other. They then take you into the boma and the men have a jumping contest, then show you the inside of a house and explain its use. They took me to the village school, which only has Kindergarten students, as the other students go to the public school. They have to walk about 10 miles to attend school. The students sang a song for me, and I said hello to the teacher and saw their chalkboard work. After this, it was the money pitch to sell their goods. The money you spend goes 1/2 to the maker, and 1/2 to the community fund so it helps to sustain the community.

I stayed at Rhino Lodge for the night. It is nice, but basic accommodations. Animals often wander through their grounds. I was glad that my guide got to eat with me to keep me company. It does not have a view of the crater, but is on the rim, within an easy drive of the entry road of the crater, and it is economical.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Good Gnus

This was to be another day of adventure and excitement. I am learning that Crispin has a knack for sighting, and also for being in the right place at the right time. We saw herds of zebras yesterday in a mini migration in the Central Serengeti, but very few wildebeest. We decided to head to the Western Corridor or Grumeti area. Crispin asked the park staff the best way, and was told he could cut through the private sanctuary near Faru Faru Lodge. An American has bought up a huge area of land from the government, which had previously been used for hunting. He wanted an area to use for other tourism. It is very private and expensive. We found the wildebeest migration there! They were as far as the eye could see. After driving through and around them, we were stopped by a security guard who turned us back, but at least we were one of the few tourists who got to see them.

When we got back in the park, the first thing we saw was a cheetah crossing the road- beautiful and graceful. We saw a lot of the usual, and also saw an eland and some hyenas. I got some good shots of a group of hippos out of the water.

We stopped to watch a group of zebras who were approaching a waterhole, but were a bit skittish. As we watched, a couple of lions jumped out and grabbed a zebra. More lions came to help- 14 in all! They killed the zebra and dragged him into the bushes. For the next 15 minutes, you could hear the growls and ripping sounds. They then drank their fill and wandered off or layed down to rest.

After this, we found 3 leopards sleeping in a tree with their kill hidden in the branches. Crispin said this is rare to see. As we continued to drive, we saw a group of 2 lions, then 1, then 4, then 2. It was remarkable. We also found another lion who had already killed a zebra, and was busy eating. I guess I should have titled this day the Big Cat Diary!