Monday, October 26, 2009

Lions, Elephants, Giraffes, Zebra, Antelope, Leopard Part 1

Written on October 26th, 2009 as well as on other random days when I managed to find some free time.

This morning, the only reason that I have some free time and can work on my blog is because the two other girls in my hunting group were not feeling well so we came back to camp early. I was not too disappointed about returning to camp early because we had spent more than two hours walking around silently, looking for animals, following tracks, and identifying various animal dung. The Hadza hunters that we were with had shot at some dik dik (a small antelope), a large bird of some sort, and a cat but had missed all of the shots. The Hadza, the hunter gathers of the area that we are in rely on hunting for their meat and use a bow and arrow. Going out and hunting animals this morning made me realize how difficult of a task this actually is.

We returned to camp and I did some reading before the other groups returned with their hunters a few hours later. The next group back, a group of General Culture students returned excited. They had no dead animals with them but quickly informed us that the Hadza that they had gone with had shot a giraffe with a poisonous arrow. They were all so excited but as I sat there listening, I was just sad. Sad that we had spent so much time learning about these animals and watching them and now there was a dead one. This afternoon, after lunch pretty much everyone except for me is going to see the giraffe and bring it back to camp. I had absolutely no interest in going with them and felt like if I went and saw the dead giraffe, it would just make me cry. But, they will be returning with the giraffe so I might end up crying anyways.

Good news! The giraffe was not killed by the poison arrow. Apparently the giraffe bled so much that she bled out the poison from the arrow. The group of all the students except about 4 of us went on a search to find the dead giraffe. From what I was told afterwards, they went on a two hour giraffe chase, running after the giraffe for a majority of the time and trying to shoot it again but missing. Eventually they returned disappointed as they had not succeeded in bringing back a giraffe for dinner but had to return because it was getting late and would be getting dark soon.

So, during our free days in Arusha, before safari began, I worked a lot on my blog (which is why it was 15 pages long) but also explored the town. On October 12th, about 10 of us students got up early and went to the Arusha International Conference Center (AICC). This conference center is run by the United Nations and is where the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is taking place. We had to go through security and turn in our passports in order to receive a visitor’s pass. This pass gave us access to pretty much everywhere but we had no clue where to go. We walked into a building and were directed to the elevator, told to get off on the 2nd floor as the person we asked thought that there was a trial in session there. We didn’t have luck on the 2nd floor and were then instructed to try the 4th floor. We found a trial that hadn’t started for the day yet, put our bags on the shelves, and then walked into the area where people could come and sit to watch the trial.

In order to protect the witness that was being questioned while we were there, he was blocked by a curtain. This witness was referred to as ANAJ in an additional attempt to protect him. Besides that, we could see everything else through soundproof glass. We each received a headset through which we could hear what was going on in the court. When the judges were talking to each other and didn’t want the audience or other people in the court to hear what they were saying, they could turn off their microphone. The court came to order and for quite some time, they tried to figure out technical issues such as the fact that the witness had a doctors appointment on Friday and that they needed to make sure that the trial would not be in session during that time and so on. Then, finally, they started questioning the witness. This was obviously not the first day that the witness had been questioned and the defense lawyer spent a lot of time trying to get at minute details which were apparently important to his case.

The trial took place in English but due to the fact that the witness did not speak English, there was a translator who translated everything for him. The defense lawyer, who was British, would ask a question in English. The translator would translate the question for the witness and then the witness would respond to the question in his native language. Finally, the translator would translate the witness’s response to English. We heard all of this through our headsets. The whole thing with translating made things difficult, as at one point, there was a discrepancy which was due to the quality of the translation.

The defense lawyer asked many questions referring back to the events in Rwanda back in 1993, at the time of the genocide. The witness explained that although he was a Hutu, due to the fact that his wife was a Tutsi, he was attacked and injured. The questioning continued for awhile and both the defense lawyer and witness were becoming fed up and annoyed with each other as was evident by the tone of voice. After maybe an hour and a half or so, the court went into a closed session which meant that we had to leave. We were told that we could come back in awhile so we walked around and found a place to buy some chapatti and other snacks. When we returned to the court room, we were told that the court was still in a closed session and that it would probably be another hour before we would be able to come back in. As we didn’t want to wait around for an hour, we decided to head back to our hotel.

Before we set out to Arusha, our guide had told us that there was a circus called Mama Africa going on and that during the week, the tickets were buy one, get one free. Of course, we were all interested and planned to go on Monday night as we were all being picked up on Tuesday afternoon. I walked with a group of students to dinner and then to the place where the circus was supposed to be. We could see the circus tent and some lights but it was very quiet. As the ‘mother’ of the group, I went to investigate and asked some people if the circus was happening that night. I was told that no, the circus was not happening that night. As some of the students wanted to double check that the circus really wasn’t happening, we asked some other people and were told that the circus was not happening that night due to an outside performance.

We were all disappointed as we were excited about the circus but whatever, maybe we can try to go again when we are back in Arusha in a few weeks. I led the group back to our hotel as one of the other girls commented on the fact that I was like the mother duck with all of her ducklings following her. This is because I am usually the leader and take care of all sorts of things such as checks at restaurants, etc.

After our free days in Arusha, we returned to Olasiti, the village in which our guides live. The tour company that Lewis & Clark uses was established by three brothers who were raised in Tanzania and have lived their lives here but are American citizens. Two of the brothers were with us while we were at the coast doing the snorkeling and the other is now with us on safari. They all live in Olasiti with their wives and have children, most of whom are away in college. We spent two nights in tents in their ‘backyard.’ During this time, we walked around the village as a group and visited some of the places that might be of assistance to us General Culture students when we do our Independent Study projects during the last three weeks of our program. Some of the activities from this day included meeting local village government leaders as well as traditional leaders, visiting an herbalist, primary school, and orphan center, and learning about an organic gardening project.

All of the places we visited were interesting in their own ways. Of course, my favorite stop of the day was the orphan center. Now, this was not a typical orphanage, not even like Christ Orphanage. The orphan center is one of the places where I will be conducting my research as my topic is ‘orphans.’ Other topics for Independent Study projects include water, family planning, etc.

So, safari thus far has had its ups and downs. My tent mate, Peggy and I have become pro at setting up and taking down our tent. It took a few times to get this down but we can now do it without any help and in a timely fashion.

On October 15th, we departed from Olasiti and traveled to Oldonyo Sambu, a community wilderness area adjacent to Tarangire National Park. We camped there for two nights, beginning the safari part of our course. We went on walks where our guides taught us how to tell the difference between various animals, their dung, tracks, and habitats. We used our binoculars not only to view game out in the distance, but also to view birds (which I have decided that I do not particularly enjoy).

On October 17th, we drove a little ways to Mount Sambu. We started the hike up the mountain which looked so much easier than it actually was. I had a difficult time with the hike on the way up the mountain as the altitude made it difficult for me to breathe. At one point, we encountered a cave – to get across this cave, we literally had to spread our legs and put one foot on each side of the cave and move our feet forward to get across. I was a bit scared (okay, rather, really scared) about this cave crossing. After a lot of hiking, we finally arrived at the top of the mountain. It was so rewarding to finally have reached the top! The view was amazing and we took the opportunity to eat some snacks and relax a bit.

The hike down was a bit scary as the mountain was pretty steep and my legs were shaking all the way down. I had to shuffle my feet so that I did not roll over or give in to my wobbly legs.

Later that night, we sat around the campfire, listening to some Maasai and asking them questions. All of the Maasai men who we were talking with agreed that they wanted to open bank accounts and save money as they are realizing that due to the drought, they will not always be able to rely on cattle for their survival. After asking them many questions about their lifestyles, they asked us some questions. Their questions all focused on how cattle are cared for, where they live, and how they are herded in America. They didn’t understand why we did not each own cows at home as cows represent wealth in the Maasai society.

As we were so close to Tarangire National Park, of course we had to go there next! I was excited as our time at the park would actually be two days of game animal viewing. Ken, our professor from Lewis & Clark who is our program leader told us to keep our eyes open for leopards in the trees as the last group that he led got to view leopards in this park. I definitely had my eyes open the entire time, scanning the trees for possible leopards and being pretty much unsuccessful.

A little story about luck. So we are driving along, seeing lots of awesome animals in their habitats and all of the sudden, Lisa, Ken’s wife tells the driver to stop and go back because she saw a jackal. Up until this point, we had not seen any jackals so it was kinda exciting. Of course, not as exciting as a leopard or something though. The jackal was barking loudly and looking up a tree which prompted our guide to look up the tree and realize that there was a leopard in the tree which of course was what the jackal was barking at. It was pretty amazing and the only reason we found that leopard was out of pure luck.

On our first day of game driving, we also saw lions…yes, plural, not just one or two but more like five or six of them. They were so cute! One was sleeping under a tree, not at all bothering by us all staring at him and photographing him; another was in a tree just relaxing. We witnessed another lion run across the road and jump up into the tree to join his friend/ brother. We were all convinced that one of the lions up in the tree would jump because of the way they kept scanning the ground and due to his actions but we did not end up witnessing that happen. In addition, we saw elephants, giraffes, a variety of antelopes, vervet monkeys, baboons, warthogs, hyena, hyrax, and of course lots of different birds. We were able to watch and photograph these animals up close which was amazing but made it somewhat disappointing when we later saw them at further distances.

Tarangire National Park prides itself on having more elephants per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world. This park was a famous hunting group before becoming a national park in the 1970s. Tarangire is filled with baobab trees and in their brochure, it says that the legend about these trees is that “the baobab once angered God. It was thrown to the earth and planted upside down.” These trees are very popular throughout East Africa and live for hundreds – thousands of years.

We had lunch at a picnic site in the park before continuing on with our animal viewing. We stopped at the luxury hotel in the park where work was done on our trucks as they were having issues running. This gave us a great opportunity to see the amazing view of the park from the balcony. We hung out and I took photos of other students and the huge dust storm which we could see moving across the park. It started pouring so I went inside to protect my camera but could still watch all the crazy things that the other students were doing outside.

That night, we camped at a public campsite in the park that had flush toilets and showers! Now this is pretty exciting when you are on safari and only have pit toilets and irregular bag showers. We hand washed our laundry with a monkey hanging around not too far away and apparently had lions and other animals within a distance of our campsite as people (including our professor) claimed to hear the lions roaring during the night. Our laundry pretty much covered the entire campsite – there were laundry lines with clothes hanging on them everywhere you turned as well as random clothes on branches of trees and bushes.

On our second day in the park, we were on more of a mission rather than just game viewing. We split up into groups of four for an animal count on a 10 km transect in the park. The groups of four then broke up into two pairs with a pair on each side of the truck. Each group of four was responsible for counting certain species during our drive which lasted a little more than half an hour. We first did a test transect for 5 km but we did not see many animals out at this time. As a result, the professors decided to add to the species we were responsible for counting. For example, my group was originally just responsible for counting elephants and giraffes but due to the fact that between the pairs on each side of the truck, we only saw a handful of animals, they decided that we would also include zebra in our 10km count. After all of the data was collected, our assignment was explained to us in detail. We were to share our data with the rest of the General Culture students and write a lab report about our findings. This lab report was a bit more challenging than a lab report at school would have been for a few reasons:

1) We were out in the wilderness, in tents. It was cold outside and therefore cold in the tents.
2) We did not have access to computers or other technologies which make research easier.
3) Because we did not have access to computers, we had to handwrite the lab reports and couldn’t just edit our drafts easily like we do on computers.
4) They kept us busy all day and tired us out, not leaving us much time to actually do the assigned work.

Eventually, they extended the due date as we made it clear that it was impossible to get it done on time in addition to participate in all the other required activities. It was not easy to get the teachers to realize this and resulted in many breakdowns by us General Culture students because we were feeling extremely stressed. However, after they realized that they were overloading us, they gave us some time to get the assignment done which allowed us to get a huge weight off our chests and actively participate in the other activities.

On October 20th, we exited the game park which was obvious as the scenery suddenly changed. Immediately outside of the park boundary, there were Maasai bomas (houses) and no wild animals. It was amazing how quickly things changed from the national park environment to the village environment.

We stopped in a village to fill up the gas tanks of our two large trucks. This little stop took quite awhile as they had to use containers to fill up the tanks as there was no gas pump. This provided us with some time to interact with local people which we hadn’t really done during the last week except for with our safari staff. I was so happy to be in the village as it reminded me of my village in Ghana. I walked around a bit and then interacted with a bunch of children. Eventually, my camera came out and all the children were engaged, posing and begging me to take their picture.

After a long stop, we left the village and traveled to the Nou Forest, through the Rift Valley. We had to drive up a steep mountain. During part of the drive, we had a dog running in front of us, leading us up the mountain, having to stop and wait for us at points because our truck was a lot slower than the dog. The sides of our safari truck started hitting tons of trees, bushes, and other plants on the sides. This meant that this stuff was all hitting us as well. It was quite a drive and I was covered with all sorts of beautiful flowers, leaves, thorns, sticks, and other random plant material which made me so itchy. As soon as we arrived at camp, before even pitching our tents, I stripped off my clothes and wrapped a kanga around me. It was very cold but I couldn’t put my jacket back on because I had worn it on the truck and it was making me so itchy.

We set up our tents in the dark and piled on clothing as this camp was super cold. It was definitely the coldest place I have been in while in Africa thus far. Yes, Melissa, it was much colder than even Kenya was when we arrived from Ghana and were freezing cold for days.

During the time in the Nou Forest, we put up mist nets to catch birds to study. I wasn’t a huge fan of this as when birds were caught in the net, they were brought back to camp and held even when they were making sounds which obviously meant that they were scared and wanted to get away and attempting to loosen themselves from the person handling them (our professor, Ken). In addition, the bird was held until a bunch of pictures were taken of the bird (keep in mind that at this time, it was dark outside so the flash was required). I did not take any photos of the birds as I didn’t think it was appropriate and thought it would add to the fear of the birds.

Other than looking at the birds which were caught in the mist nets, we had a free day. While most of the students went to a nearby open area to play capture the flag, I stayed at camp and finished preparing and practicing my elephant presentation. Each of us General Culture students had picked a topic at the beginning of safari to research and present on as part of our Biology class. I chose elephants because I love them but don’t really know much about them except for the fact that they are huge animals, grey in color with a trunk.

As it was so cold, we were all sitting close to the camp fire and I was standing on one side, presenting my findings about elephants. Here are some selected facts about elephants taken from my 10 minute presentation notes:

• Tusks weight about 134 pounds each for males (bulls) and about 42 pounds each for females (cows)
• Elephants have unique tears and holes in their ears which helps researchers tell them apart
• Elephants have padded feet for silent movement
• Elephant’s trunk = no bones, 300 pounds of hair, skin, connective tissue, fat, blood, lymph vessels, and networks of muscles and nerves
• A big elephant feeds from the ground to 20 feet high, higher than a giraffe can reach
• Adults consume about 330 pounds of food per day
• When in search of food, especially when food is scarce, elephants will push over trees, strip the bark from trees, and stomp around, transforming the woodland into open savannah and providing grazing habitat for dozens of grassland species (We witnessed during safari tons of trees that had been stripped of their bark and had been knocked over because the elephants had difficulty finding any other food during the drought)
• Baby elephants weigh about 256 pounds at birth and can walk within an hour after birth
• Matriarchal society: Herd’s welfare depends on the matriarch’s leadership as she sets the herd’s direction and pace
• During a life time, an elephant has 6 sets of cheek teeth – 2 upper and 2 lower – that move into place as the previous set wears out – They go to the swamp as last set of teeth wears in search of soft food and usually die there
• Elephants can make low pitched rumbling calls, too low for humans to hear that can be heard by other elephants up to 5 miles away. These calls travel through the earth and are picked up on the skin of the elephant’s feet and trunk
• There are 15 different types of rumbling sounds
• Poaching epidemic: In the early 20th century, there were 5-10 million elephants throughout Africa. By the last 1970s, 1.3 million, by the early 1990s, 350,000-500,000
• Elephant tusks = underground currency, by the 1970s, elephants were no longer seen as an animal but rather as a walking fortune, worth more than a dozen years of honest toil
• 1970s = sold elephant tusks at $100 + per pound
• Is selling ivory encouraging illegal practices or allowing poor countries to raise money to ‘help with the conservation of elephants?’

I did well on my presentation (100%) even though I was crying part of the time due to the fact that the smoke from the fire was severely irritating my eyes. I was happy with my grade as I put a lot of dedication and effort into my research and in preparing my presentation.

On October 22nd, we hiked a few hours to a waterfall. It was a long hike but not a difficult one as we were generally either hiking downhill or on a flat area. I was not excited for the hike back though as I knew that we would be hiking uphill, something my body does not like at all. It was so cold outside and for this reason; I had no interest in changing into my swimsuit to go swimming in super cold water. However, most of the other students stripped off their clothing, put on their bathing suits, and hopped into the water.

Like on the hike to the waterfall, I was close to the front on the hike back to camp. But that didn’t last too long as I started having lots of difficulty breathing pretty soon after leaving the waterfall. I moved to the back of the line and frequently took stops with our guides who always wanted to stop and look at birds. It was a long hike back and I was so happy when we finally arrived back at camp. My chest continued to pain me for the rest of the day even though we didn’t do any physical activities after the hike.

At this campsite, we saw a number of beautifully colored chameleons. We had been warned that during the drive to the forest, we might have chameleons fall onto us but luckily that didn’t happen. Although they are cool creatures, I know that I would have freaked out if one had landed on me unexpectedly.

The following day, we walked into an Iraqw village and saw the one remaining traditional Iraqw house. It was basically dug into the ground and had a bump over it – for protection and insulation, I assume. From this village, we traveled to a Hadza camp where we would spend the next few days. The Hadza camp was the first opportunity in quite awhile that we could shower. Now think about how much you take showers for granted at home and know that you can take one at any time and that there will always be water flowing from the showerhead. Now, imagine that you are in East Africa where there is currently a drought and you are with 30 other people who all want to shower and you have a few bags of water for showers. Yea, that is pretty much how it worked on safari. There were times when the camp staff had to go get more drinking water and water was to be used sparingly meaning that we couldn’t shower or do laundry for days at a time.

I think the longest I went was 4 days without a shower which was not really fun cause we would do hikes and get all sweaty but couldn’t shower. Wet-wipes became our new best friends. But even when I went four days without showering, I don’t think myself or the other students smelled too bad. This made me think about some of the people at Lewis & Clark who are hippies and decide not to shower for long periods of time. If you walk past them, you get a whiff of their horrid stench – if we didn’t smell much after four days, I wonder how long these hippies go without showering.

After a night in the Hadza village, we broke down camp and put our bags in the trucks. However, this time, we did not get on the trucks and drive to our next campsite. Instead, we walked. And walked. And walked. And walked. We walked across the Mbulu highlands and into the Yaeda Valley through the dried up Lake Eyasi Basin. This long walk was about 10 miles long but honestly wasn’t too bad at all. We had to be quiet as we were with Hadza guides who wanted to take advantage of the ability to hunt animals during this walk. It is obvious that our scent and noise must have made their attempt at hunting a million times harder but they tried anyways. They shot at some impala but did not hit the impala. Towards the end of the walk, at the base of a mountain which we had to climb up to get to camp, we took a little break. There was a Hadza village at this spot with a few bomas scatted near eachother. Besides the open land, animals, and these few bomas, there was nothing else out here. We took the opportunity to eat lunch and I got my dose of children as I got to hold and play with a baby. Everyone on this program knows that I love children and knew that when I got up after eating my lunch, I was heading over to play with the baby.

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