OWU in Tanzania, Safari-ing, & a Birthday on Mt Kilimanjaro

9 Feb

Welcome to a birthday edition of my blog.

A day after my last post, OWU prof and friend Mary Howard and the 2012 OWU in Tanzania group visited me in Nairobi. The students are a mix of current sophomores and juniors studying abroad in Tanzania for spring semester. I showed them around town and took them into a slum – Kawangware – to give them an idea of what Maono does. We sat in on two group meetings to learn about the concepts of microfinance, table banking, and the struggles and challenges that Nairobi’s poor face. Here’s a picture of us all after a visit with the Maono group “Glad Ways.”

Scott hung out with us as well and he shared his experience with the students – cultural, historical, etc.  Free from work, we all spent the weekend together – driving to the Rift Valley, sharing meals, watching traditional dance shows, and even attending a church service Sunday morning. Here’s a pic of us at a Rift viewpoint halfway between Nairobi and Naivasha. Warning – Facebook picture quality!

Back to work on Monday, I arranged for the students to have a tourist day at the Elephant Orphanage, Giraffe Centre, Kazuri Factory, and the Karen Blixen Museum. They enjoyed kissing giraffes just as much as I did! The group is learning fast and are fun to be around. It was fun acting as tour guide during their stay and made me realize how much I’ve learned here and also some things I don’t have answers to.

Mary invited me along with the group as they headed back to Tanzania. Their semester of schooling starts in mid-February in Dar es Salaam. Until then, they are playing tourist and acclimating themselves to East African life. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect – I needed to leave Kenya by January 31st to renew my visa. Since my main gig in Nairobi is volunteer work, vacation time is pretty much at my discretion. Also, a lot of my work can be done offsite since it is computer work.

So, I hopped on a bus with Mary and the students and now I’m in Tanzania. For the first week here, we stayed with two ex-Black Panthers at UAACC (United African Alliance Community Center). Pursued by gun charges in the US, Pete O’Neal fled to Algeria in 1970 and wound up in Tanzania. Along with his wife, Charlotte, they run a center which is a hybrid orphanage, school, recording studio, and community meeting place. Off the beaten path, many of the surrounding residents utilize the center. Read more about Pete’s story in a recent article appearing in the Los Angeles Times.

Pete and Charlotte were a true delight and are truly changing the community for the better. Staying at the center, we learned a tribal dance with Swahili lyrics and performed it at a little get-together one night. We got to listen to Charlotte play beautiful music on a traditional guitar-like instrument, met many interesting people visiting and teaching at the center, and played soccer and basketball with the kids.

OWU has a presence in Tanzania. Not far from UAACC, the School of St. Jude stands, built from an investment from 11th OWU President Elden and wife Betty Smith, the namesake of Smith Hall at Ohio Wesleyan.

Arusha town is settled on the southern foothills of Mt Meru, a mountain less than 5,000 feet shorter than Kilimanjaro. Here’s a pic of Meru, with clouds that make it look like it’s erupting.

Tanzania (and Kenya) are in a dry, dry season. The long rains don’t come until April. Mary brings a wealth of experience with her – she lived in Tanzania for five years in the 1970s. She remarks often that she has never seen the area so dry. In the entire month of January, I experienced only one rainy day. Global warming, deforestation, etc. seem to have reared their ugly heads.

The students are a diverse group of backgrounds and personalities and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them over the past 2-3 weeks. Hanging with American college students felt good after living mostly in a different culture for 6 months. They are picking up on culture and Swahili quickly. And I can’t say enough about Mary – author of Hunger and Shame and a cultural anthropologist, she has a deep understanding of historical and cultural forces that influence life in East Africa.

I finally went on a safari! UAACC organized some for our group. We spent time in three national parks in Tanzania – Tarangire, Lake Manyaga, and Ngorongoro. The three parks contained three very different ecosystems and environments. Tarangire primarily attracts birders. Unfortunately, my pics of the varied and colorful birds didn’t turn out too great. Tarangire also has a huge number of elephants.

Later, we saw more – a mother with its children –

Tarangire is packed full of massive baobob trees –

First wild giraffe spotting – they look equal parts majestic and goofy.

Slightly less majestic and slightly more goofy? That would be the ostrich.

Our next park was Lake Manyara. The lake is situated smack dab on the Great Rift Valley. The park was more lush and green than Tarangire.

Here’s a picture of the lake with flamingos and giraffes in the foreground.

Flamingoes like to hang out in the lake water due to high sulfur content, like other lakes on the Rift.

We also saw many gazelles, impalas, and baboons. Here’s a baboon carrying a youngling. Can you spot the baby?

At Ngorongoro, we visited Ngorongoro Crater, which is translated to – wait for it – “Crater Crater.”

Down in the crater, we saw a bunch of wildlife. Thousands of animals covered the area due to the nutritious grass and water in the crater.  Huge herds of buffalo, zebra and wildebeest could be seen for miles and miles. The wildebeest pictured here are part of the Maasai Mara – Serengeti migration. Ngorongoro borders the Serengeti and parts of it are in the same ecosystem.

Here’s some zebras with a baby –

At this point, we had come close to checking off my bucket list item of seeing the ‘Big Five’ – safari animals that historically were prized for hunting. So far, we had seen three – buffalo, elephant, and the elusive leopard (usually the hardest to find). On the last day, we saw lions! We first saw some napping and then saw other ones walking right by our Land Cruiser.

This lioness came really close!

Soon after, we saw napping lions wake up and stalk zebras in the distance. Quite a stare down!

Next, we drove to the west end of the park to see the Olduvai Gorge. On the drive, we entered the Serengeti ecosystem – seemingly never-ending plains.

Olduvai Gorge is a 30-mile long ravine in the Rift Valley. The site is where Louis and Mary Leakey discovered hominid fossils and also where their son, Jonathon, discovered the first Homo habilis specimen.

Here is a picture of the gorge – the dark red colored formation is a monolith.

Funny that Olduvai Gorge, a site that lead to further development of the theory of evolution, is situated in Africa – now the world’s stronghold for Christians and creationists who deny evolution.

At the mini-museum inside, we saw the bike that a Japanese man used in his 9-year trek from Cape Town to Cape Horn. Makes me feel lazy!

Back to the safari –

In literally the last hour of our safari, we spotted the last of the Big Five – the black rhino! Our tour guide and driver Julius has an amazing eye for spotting animals and he never disappointed us up until the very end. It was very far in the distance, so no picture. Nevertheless – Big Five, complete.

A few days after safari, we headed to Moshi, a town on the foothills of the Africa’s tallest mountain, Kilimanjaro.

We’re staying at a place called the Honey Badger Inn. Honey badgers are pretty fierce animals – they have been known to kill unsuspecting lions, tigers, and bears, as this sign and OWU student Kym indicated.

Thankfully, there are none in the compound. But they do have a pool.

The day after we arrived, Andrew, a PCV (Peace Corps volunteer) with Trees for the Future, took us for a day of packing soil for planting. The organization provides seed and training for reforestation projects, as the Kilimanjaro area has lost much of its greenery in recent years. That night, the students and I went out with Andrew and other PCVs. They provided us with perspective on life in Tanzania and we shared a local Serengeti brew or two. Rhyme unintended.

On Monday, I celebrated my 23rd birthday! We climbed up to the first base of Mt Kilimanjaro at roughly 10,000 feet. Climbing to one of the peaks runs about $1,000, so we decided on the cheaper option. I think I’ll join a short list of people who have climbed the Roof of Africa on their birthday!

Standing tall at 19,341 feet and about 50 miles wide, here it is. The snow-capped peak (although not nearly as snowy as it used to be) is Uhuru Peak, aka Kibo Peak.

Here’s part of the group at the gate entrance on the day of the climb.

The climb wasn’t too bad – we took it ‘pole pole’ as they say in Swahili. When we reached our destination, we had lunch and Mary and the students sung Happy Birthday! I was presented with two gifts as well – a pint of Kanyagi (cheap Tanzanian gin) and a sign containing lyrics to the addicting Kenya foreigner-welcoming song – Jambo Bwana.

We walked a bit further to get a beautiful view near Maundi Crater. The land in the distance is Kenya and the body of water is Lake Chala. Mt Kilimanjaro is right on the border, but the whole mountain is in Tanzania.

The breezy air was borderline cold and felt great after several hours of hiking.

At our destination, we held a little ceremony to remember those we have lost. We gathered stones to represent individuals who have passed on. For me, it was a good time to remember my mother. I like to hope that she’s somewhere up in the sky looking down, smiling at me.

I’ve now parted ways with Mary and the students. I’m now in an internet cafe in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s old capital and largest city. Later in the week, I catch a train to Zambia. In Zambia, I will conduct Scott & Durham University’s microfinance research, the same administrating that I did in Uganda in December. The train is a two-day deal, but sounds better than the alternative – 57 hours of bus rides. Plus, I’ll have a bed.

My time in Tanzania has been a good break from work, and I’ve enjoyed learning about a different country. Down here, Swahili is the language of choice. I’m realizing I’ve been spoiled by Nairobi and all the fluent English that is spoken there. Since Tanzania’s first President, Nyerere, chose to teach Swahili in schools after independence instead of Kenyatta’s preference to teach English, the average Tanzanian doesn’t know much English. While this makes the people seem a bit distant, good for them to hold on to their language. I’m learning more Swahili by the day. On a run the other day, I greeted an elderly woman with “Mambo” – just like I would in Nairobi – problem is, I wasn’t in Nairobi, I was in Tanzania. The woman raised her voice and said “Mambo? Mambo!!? Look at me, I’m old. For me, you say ‘Shikamoo.’ Duly noted.

I’m excited to start my 23rd (or 24th, technically) year of my life in East Africa. The Patriots losing the Super Bowl and my birthday celebration atop Mt Kilimanjaro made for a great day. One of the OWU students even had my favorite James Bond movie on her computer and we watched it. ‘Do you expect me to talk? No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!’

Now for a couple of links for those who made it to the end.

Maono’s new website is up and running, check it out here.

I’m happy I’m out of Kenya for the time being – the Schilling has strengthened and the conversion to the dollar would make life their more expensive than usual – hopefully it will depreciate by the time I return.

Thousands of Kenyans are suing the UK for brutal abuses to anti-colonialists during the 1950s.

Next post will be from my 5th African country to visit – Zambia. Until then!

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9 Responses to “OWU in Tanzania, Safari-ing, & a Birthday on Mt Kilimanjaro”

  1. Cuz Pete February 9, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    Love the photos Ben – proud of you fella.

    • Ben February 9, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

      Glad you enjoy the pics…East Africa is a little prettier than Ohio, you see.

  2. Dave Fisher February 12, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    Oh, but Ben, they don’t have the Beautiful Snow. We got 4″ last night. I actually got to use the snow blower.

    I really enjoyed running that indoor 10K in Fremont your dad told me about. I ran 46:44. Your dad ran 42:41 and Emily ran 61:53.

    I hope you are finding time to run a few times a week.

    • Ben February 13, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

      No snow, yes. However, now I’m in Zambia for work, and it is the rainy season here. Driving on a soaking wet mud-covered road is similar to driving on snow! Homesick no more haha.

      Thanks for giving me the times. Nice job. I’m so proud of the other Wallingfords, picking up the slack that I’ve left behind!

  3. cefa2012 February 12, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    Nice blog post !!!

    In Culture and Communication, we say “Language is a KEY to one’s culture, ” and yes you should learn language of a people so that you can get access to their territory:)

    And fyi ,”The size of your world is determined by the languages you speak.”

    Enjoy your safari to Zambia and you when you are back you will find the shilling even stronger , so, get prepared to cope for a just little more years , kidding 🙂 days /months.

    • Ben February 13, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

      Wow, you are full of wise quotes today! My favorite concerning language is my own quote – “If you don’t learn the local language, then all you will eat for weeks is chicken and chips.” Maybe not as eloquent as your quotes, but true nonetheless.

      Right now, the Zambian Kwacha is at an historic low! So I’m living large converting dollas to kwachas. For you, I hope the schilling remains strong, for me, I hope we see Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation 🙂

      • cefa2012 March 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

        Have fun friend:)

  4. Sheria Moore March 9, 2012 at 1:33 am #

    I am an indigenous Zambian living in South Africa and I just had an awesome awesome time in Livingstone. There’s something magical about these remote places with all their magnificent beauty…You just brought me to tears reading your very well written blog….My gudness ur such a gifted writer!! May I now officially announce you a zambian citizen…Let’s connect on facebook!! Ciao and enjoy every bit of Africa 😉

  5. safaris in tanzania March 14, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    Sounds and looks like you all had an incredible time. I have also been fortunate enough to have been to Tanzania on safari, whilst my husband and I were there we kept being taunted by the glistering white caps of Mount Kilimanjaro, so this year we have decided to climb it. We both love climbing and we both could no longer resist the mountains temptation.

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