Sunday, February 20, 2005I woke up this morning soaked in sweat and just a little grumpy. The shower is unacceptable so I have to spend the day encased in the dust of Lake Manyara. Add to that a night of little sleep and the fact that there is not a Starbucks for a million miles around, and one can see how I would be a little bit ornery!
Note: After my first two days at the coffee plantation, I have been relagated to instant coffee. (Can you hear the gnashing of teeth and ripping of hair!?!?) In any case, it is normally too hot to drink any coffee or tea, so I have managed to live, but when we arrived in Arusha yesterday, we saw a sign for “Stigbucks Coffee”. Yep…you heard me right….Stigbucks! Christy and I begged for a chance to run in, and for our troubles, emerged with piping hot lattes. They were WONDERFUL!!!!
Anyway………my mood lifted almost immediately when we got on the road and started to dodge the baboons. We had a two hour drive to the Crater, so I sat back and tried to memorize every single detail of the road we traveled. The heat rose up off the pavement in hazy waves and dust hung in the air, unable to settle before another car came along and stirred it up. We passed small villages full of people selling fruits, vegetables, goats and chickens. Women walked up and down the road in brightly-colored kanga carrying huge bundles on their heads while men rode bicycles, sometimes two and three men to a bike! Through the open window, I could smell dust, manure, hay, exhaust, and smoke from cooking fires. It is the smell of Africa. I know that it might not sound pleasant, but somehow it is. It is the smell of a community, and of homes, and peoples lives, and I love it.
Soon, the land changed around us, and we started climbing steeply. Ngorogoro Crater is a caldera created a ba-jillion years ago by a volcano. The result is a huge crater in the middle of a ring of tall hills. Imagine if you were to throw a watermelon into a pan of concrete. It is stunningly beautiful and home to several different types of geology. This means lots of different animals! However, the animals do not live here alone. There are many Masai villages here in the crater, and we are scheduled to visit one this morning. As we climb up the wall of the crater and back down inside of it, Masai men, women and children appear along the road. There is a group of young boys in tribal make-up jumping up and down….they are in the three month training period before their circumcision and subsequent entry to manhood. As we passed by them, we could see a small village down in the crater, surrounded by a fence made of sticks lashed together. This was the Masai village!
Again, unlike areas in the U.S. where you can tour an Indian village, or a Colonial outpost, this is a village where these people actually live. As part of their livelihood, the Masai allow tourists to come in, at a price, and learn about their culture. They sell crafts and answer questions about their lives and in return, they are able to rise above the total poverty that many of the Masai villages faces. The fact that these were their homes really touched me and I made sure to treat them and their village as respectfully as possible. The village itself is quite small, with the stick fence encircling about fifteen small mud huts. The huts line the perimeter of the village and in the center is another fenced-in circle for the livestock. They cannot leave the livestock out at night because of the lions. Seriously. Can you imagine?!
When we arrived, a group of men processed out and danced and sang for us. They were such a sight! Imagine fifteen or so men, cloaked in red and purple plaid, very tall and thin with long wooden staffs. The have many necklaces around their necks as well as anklets and bracelets. It was their ears that I loved the most, though. Their lobes had been stretched into huge circles by wooden discs and they had multiple piercings hung with beads and feathers. The sheathed-machetes hidden under their cloaks were the only thing that suggested that they might need to face something more dangerous than an pushy tourist during any given day. The amount of use each machete had seen really drove that home.
After dancing us in and welcoming us in the traditional style, I was surrounded by children. Maybe I am just a magnet for them!!! Actually, it might have had something to do with the candy I had brought to give them. I became like the pied piper and children grinned and followed me for the remainder of my time in the village. I took some time to look at, and buy, some of the gorgeous beaded work the women had done. It is intricate and beautiful, and I cannot imagine how they find the time to do this as well as live the lives that they are living! As I walked, many of the men surrounded me and we took turns laughing and trying to talk. The women watched silently from their huts and I understood that they were not welcome to interact with the guests. That was men’s work. As I began to pay for my purchases, the men crowded ’round me, laughing as I tried to speak Masai. After some bargaining, we came to a price, and I took out my money. It turns out that they had gotten all but 1$ of my money!! They laughed and laughed as I accused them of having x-ray vision. I told them that they could see inside my pocket and knew just how much money I had!! When I waved my last shilling in the air, they laughed and clapped. It was the most fun I have ever had spending money!
After finalizing my sale, I walked out of the village to wait for the other volunteers. They were all still visiting with the Masai, so upon glimpsing an old Masai man up on the hillside with his herd of donkeys, I decided to go for a hike. I approached him with a pocket full of candy and proceeded to sit and talk with him. No, he did not speak English, and no. I do not speak Masai, but as I am sure you know, that did not stop us. A little while later, two of the young men from the village came up to join us, and they settled onto the grass under the sun. The two younger men took out a piece of cardboard with rough squares drawn on it, 12 bottle caps, and 12 lids from water bottles. They proceeded to play a game of pseudo-checkers, each looking up when he won to make sure that I was paying attention. The sun was bright and the sky was a brilliant blue. A cool breeze was blowing and there I was……sitting on a hill with three Masai tribesmen. The grass was soft and we became people to one another. Not a strange American tourist sitting with three men in strange tribal garb, but just….. people. Can you feel how special this was? Even now, when I close my eyes I can see that young mans smile, and hear the other man laugh as they tied their third game of checkers. The elderly man watched contentedly and I wanted to stay up on that hillside forever. When Wilson finally called me down, I went to the chief of the village and his translator. I thanked him for opening their homes to us, and told him how much it meant to me. The villagers talked animatedly, and then the translator said, “They like you very much and they would like to invite you to spend the night in the village”. Oh man!! Talk about an opportunity!! unfortunately, it was not one that I could realistically pull off, so with a million regrets I said good-bye and assured them that if I ever come back to Ngorogoro Crater, I would come and stay for a few days.
You would think that after that, the rest of the day would be somewhat of a let down, but the opposite was true. We descended the rest of the way into the Crater and before we knew it, we were surrounded by giant herds of Widebeasts and Zebra! The afternoon passed in a whirlwind of lions, elephants, wart hogs, hippos, flamingos, giraffes, hyenas, gazelles, and jackals. The highlight of our day was when we came upon two Black Rhinos. They are nearing extinction and it is very rare to see one, much less two. Wilson was so happy that he could not stop smiling! The animals were all very close, sometimes near enough to touch, and their smell filled the air. It was a wild, musky smell and we soon learned that the stronger it was, the nearer we were to an animal. I think the neatest thing of all was to see that many of the animals intermingled and grazed together. This isn’t Busch Gardens or Disneys Wild Kingdom…..this is nature. Seeing zebra, wildebeasts and gazelles all living in the same space was really wonderful.
Near lunchtime, a safari truck passed us, and we all yelled out for it to stop! It was our friends from the Arusha CCS project that had spent last Wednesday with us! We were so excited to see them and we all made immediate plans to have lunch together. As the two trucks headed toward a picnic area, we commented on how cool it was to be a skillion miles away from home, in the middle of the Ngorogoro Crater and to run into someone we know!! When we stopped for lunch, we were informed that because of the amazingly aggressive hawks, we had to eat in the trucks. The sky was full of them, and it seems that they don’t think twice before swooping down and removing the sandwich from a hapless tourist. Seeing as how they usually remove some of the tourists hand along with the food, we all agreed that the trucks seemed like a good idea. We all piled in one and laughed and gossiped as we ate lunch. Before we left, we made plans for the next week to meet in Moshi, and with hugs all around, we headed out.
We drove around for another hour or so, but in the intense heat of the day, the animals take to hiding from the sun. so we all finally agreed that we had seen enough for one weekend. Christy and I sat in the back of the truck and harassed poor Wilson as we climbed out of the Crater. “Are you sure we are not in any danger?” we whined as he laughed and laughed. Before long, we all fell asleep to the sound of the tires and the rhythm of the dirt road. An hour later, I woke up to hear Christy ask me if the mountains are pink. Huh?? “When the mountains are pink, it is time to drink!”, she said with a wicked grin. She pulled out a bottle of something called “Hakuna Matata” and handed it to me. The rest of the trip was spent with us giggling softly as the others slept. The mountains did turn pink with the sunset and gradually the stars came out. The smell of Africa became greener and muskier as the days dust and exhaust blew away. Small groups of people walked along the road, going home after their day at the market, and the sounds of the goats crying came into the window. As the truck rolls into the night, I cannot believe that my time here is almost over…………