So I have not posted in quite a while! I have just returned from a two week safari in which I went to Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park, and Lake Natron. Before we left for the safari my good friend Winnie from Minnesota was able to visit me because she is studying abroad in Nairobi, which is about three hours away. After that, we packed up our bags and left for the biggest safari of the semester.
We arrived at the crater on a Sunday afternoon, the first thing we did upon arriving there was get out at this gorgeous lookout spot and good lord were we in awe. Ngorongoro is sometimes considered the eighth wonder of the world and I can see why. It is this giant crater that you can see all the way across and when you look down you can see animals far off in the distance and little rivers winding around and forests, its kind of like looking at a map. After that we got to our campsite which was on the crater rim, probably the coolest campsite we have been to yet. We watched the sky at our campsite until it got dark and it was great. The next day we went down into the crater and went on a safari which was like our other safaris but the crater is definitely without a doubt the coolest location we have been to, especially geologically. The second night we were there, some of us stayed up late to do homework, and all of a sudden we look out the window of the mess building, and there is an elephant! And then we see two elephants and they are drinking out of our water supply.
The next day was the day that we drove to the Serengeti! This is what we had been waiting for the entire trip. This is one of the reasons that most people came on this trip! On our drive we stopped at Olduvai Gorge, which is a geological site where they found the remains of some of the oldest hominids on earth, I don’t exactly know the specifics but I’m sure if you looked up Olduvai Gorge on the internet you would find out loads about it. The best part was when we left the gorge, we went into this big flat sandy valley and instead of being on a road, we were five land rovers wide driving incredibly fast through the savannah, each car with a huge trail of dust behind it. It was pretty boss I must say. We stopped at the front gate of the Serengeti for lunch, where we climbed up onto the top of this huge rock outcropping and got to look across the Serengeti plains, which are some of the most vast open spaces you will ever see in your entire life. The next few days we spend doing field studies and going on safaris in the parks, seeing many amazing animals and places. Up until the last day though, I wasn’t too impressed. I mean I thought it was great but it hadn’t been quite what we had built it up to be. But then we went on a great safari drive to the southern Serengeti, where it was much greener and there were many animals. We drove to this rock outcropping that we were able to get out of the cars and climb on and look over the plains and other things. It was absolutely stunning. That night a bunch of us stayed up watching the stars, when all of a sudden there was a hyena at the door of the building we eat in, I screamed and it spooked the hyena so it ran away, but otherwise I think it would have gone in and bothered the people in the room. That night I stayed up real late by myself and watched the stars while hyenas would walk past once in a while. These were the most amazing stars I had ever seen in my entire life. Absolutely stunning. These stars TWINKLED. Like actually twinkled. There was about the same amount that you can see in Northern Minnesota, but these ones were brigher and twinkling. Probably one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my entire life.
The next day we began our journey to Lake Natron for our Massai homestay, we spent a night at a guest house in Wasso, which is a town with nothing in the middle of no where, I have absolutely no desire to live there ever in my life, but it’s a nice town for a night. We then arrived at our campsite at Lake Natron the next day. This is one of the most beautiful places in the entire world. Let me paint a picture for you of what the 360 of the views around our campsite are: Kenyan mountains to the north as a background for Lake Natron Beneath, Another mountain range to the East, Oldonyo Lengai to the South (This is the holy mountain “Mountain of the gods” for all of the Massai in all of East Africa, it is an active volcano), and to the West was the Rift Valley Wall. Absolutely Stunning. That afternoon that we arrived there a Massai man took us on a walk up this canyon that had a large stream running down it and we bouldered and hiked about forty five minutes into this canyon, where it was very hot, to this beautiful waterfall. We walked behind this waterfall to another rushing shorter waterfall and since we were all so hot we immediately dove into the water with all of our clothes on. Then my friend Lucy was like forget these clothes and got naked, and then almost everyone on the trip proceeded to follow this action so soon enough you had about 20 mzungu college students naked in some waterfalls. We had an absolute blast. It was such an amazing bonding experience and I think its probably the most fun I’ve had since being in Tanzania.
Now for the Massai homestay. Probably one of the craziest experiences of my entire life. We arrive at the town center where all of our mama’s are lined up decked out in full Massai gear. I get my mama who is this woman who is about five feet tall, very thin, and probably about 28. She has huge gauges in her ears and so much jewelry hanging off of them that they sag down, you will have to see pictures. She takes me to her home where she rips off all of my clothes and dresses me up in full Massai gear with tons of jewelry and the most horrible awkward hat/crown thing anyone has ever worn. Oh I almost forgot to describe my home, it is a tin roofed mud and stick hut, which is much swankier than I thought it was going to be. All of the other students slept in huts made of cow poop and mud with straw roofs, where the families did all of their cooking so it was extremely hot in them, so I was very fortunate in this aspect. We cooked in a hut like this, but only my Baba slept in it, the rest of us slept in the nicer house. Then my mother makes me go bathe with a bucket with about two inches of water in it and then we have tea. The tea here is not like the tea that you are thinking of, it is about half milk and has about seven scoops of sugar for every cup, it is incredibly sweet. She also gives me half of a potato that has been boiled, which I also proceed to have for the next three mornings, I still cannot eat potatoes plain because these ones were so awful. After that I sit around for a while, there is much sitting around in Massai life I must say. In the late afternoon my sister walks me to where we are going to get water and we meet up with my friend Sarah and her homestay sister. We go to this little stream that is about two feet wide and four inches deep at the very deepest part and they tell us its time to shower, and Sarah and I aren’t really in the mood to get completely naked where anyone could walk up and see us, so we tell them that we already showered and we will do it tomorrow. Our sisters get naked and then wash some of their clothes and we walk around in this sweet canyon that isn’t too far away. We then fill up our buckets that we are using for carrying water, strap them to our backs using sheets of fabric, and proceed home. Upon arriving at home we dropped of our water and then walked up this little hill near our house where a lot of other massai children were gathered and also some of the other students in my area. It was kind of like Massai children get to look at white people time to be honest. That night we had dinner, and then my homestay sister took me to this thing called an Esoto, which is a dancing tribal thing that they do at night in Massai land. Girls who have not yet been circumcised, so usually girls about 13 and under, and boys who are considered warriors, so who have been circumcised and are usually 15-25 but are not yet married or something like that (the details are slightly fuzzy, bear with me) gather and do this dancing ritual thing with lots of grunting and jumping and humming circle dance. Apparently at these Esotos, warriors will go off with young girls who are their “friends” and go have intercourse with them, and this is completely acceptable in their culture. The Esoto that we went to was not like this however, it was more just put on to show the Mzungus some Massai culture. Oh! On the way to the esoto I saw a scorpion with my headlamp and then my sister killed it with a rock! It was really cool, I had never seen a scorpion before.
So at this point in the Massai homestay I’m having an absolutely great time, my Mama is probably the sweetest woman in the world and everyone has been so great and I’m doing this amazing experience in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Then it was time to go to sleep. I was fortunate enough to not have to sleep with my entire family, but I still had to sleep on my cowhide bed with my sister in probably 100 degree heat. It was very hot. Cowhides are not exactly what one would consider comfortable, and the Massai are very cuddly people. We had a probably queen sized bed space, but that didn’t matter. My sister had me pushed up against the wall trying to spoon me and in that heat I was having none of it. I was having to wipe my face off every twenty minutes because I was sweating so much and she was not helping, so I had to elbow her a few times to get away because it was too much for me. This happened for all three nights of the homestay.
The next day, I was fairly tired during the day. My sister and I got up and had our typical breakfast, then we went to the woods to gather firewood, where Katie and Sarah were also gathering firewood. We gathered a bunch of firewood and then carried it home on our packs, strapped on us with leather straps. It is getting pretty hot at this point, and when I get home my Mama makes me take a nap. When I wake up it is time for lunch, and after lunch Sarah comes over. We are both sweatier than we have ever been in our entire lives and can dream of nothing better in the whole world than the little stream that we were at the day before. Then our sisters have us jumprope in the sun, it is probably 110 degrees out at this point. But after that we have the wonderful privilege of walking to the stream. It really puts things in perspective for you when you realize that back at home I complain when my shower isn’t hot enough for long enough and then I come here and all I can even pray for is the ability to be able to bathe in less than four inches of water, that isn’t all that cold, but is still refreshing. Sarah and I had absolutely no problem this day stripping down to our skivvies and bathing ourselves because I don’t think that either of us had ever been so hot in our entire lives.
On the morning of the third day, we woke up early and a bunch of us walked to the lake with our homestay siblings. We started the walk at six in the morning so that we could beat the heat of the day. We walked probably a mile and a half to the lake, and the last bit was on some crusty ground that is clearly part of the lake during the wet season, because it was covered in salt and crackling under our feet. We climbed up onto this large rock on the edge of the lake and looked out at the flamingos and everything. At this point, many of us are very greatful to be around other students because our homestay siblings are starting to annoy us extremely (as I am writing at the moment I am sitting on the balcony of my guest house in Arusha watching a gorgeous sunset, I might add). They love to take our cameras and take pictures with them and make us say things in Maa (the language the Massai speak, but a lot speak a fair amount of Swahili, which we know) and are always asking us if were tired and just not leaving much room for personal space. Never in my entire life have I craved personal space more than I did on that third day of the Massai homestay. You’re tired, hot, and not eating very well so you are so irritated and then people are proceeding to touch you and want to be around you all the time, and you are not having any of it. Over the course of the day my sister would probably say “pole” which means like sorry, or you say it to people when they get home from a long walk or something, a thousand times and every time you have to respond with thanks. So after being told sorry and asked if you are tired a thousand times a day you get quite irritated of it, white people aren’t tired all the time were just extremely sweaty!! So, sorry for the tangent rant, but after this we walked home and we did not really get to beat the heat. It was extremely hot on the walk home, so what did we do? We did the worst thing possible, we fantacized about milkshakes. Never in my whole life have I ever wanted a milkshake more. I don’t think I’ve ever actually wanted anything that bad. Whoever picks me up from the airport in December, please remember that I want nothing more in my entire life than a Dairy Queen milkshake, take me straight to Dairy Queen, even if I say that I don’t want it, remind me that at one point there was nothing I wanted more in my entire life.
When I get home from the walk, I have lunch waiting for me. Lunch today is goat stew. It is grey and has tiny chunks of potato in it. I start to eat it, and it tastes….fine? Not really find but I can’t complain about the broth. Then I put a very questionable piece of goat in my mouth and it turns out to be a chunk of goat spine. I show it to my sister and she tells me to eat all of the fat and cartilage off of it. These chunks of goat didn’t really have any meat on them, mostly just fat and cartilage. I am also told that the broth consists of goat brains. What a delicacy. It was just like the things that they used to eat on Fear Factor (that reference is for you dad). I hope to never eat it again. I cannot believe that a month and a half ago I was complaining about eating bread with butter slathered on it at my other homestay, wow things have changed. After that our mamas took me and Ian into town (his homstay was very close to mine so we spend much time together, which was very convenient because it is very nice to be able to speak English with someone) and we were bough Fantas. Never has a Fanta ever tasted so good. I don’t even like fanta, its way too sugary and I don’t like orange pop but it was delicious.
The next day we were taken back to our campsite nice and early, and when we got there we had to do focal groups with Massai mamas and babas. After three days of little food, no sleep, and being hot and dirty we did not want to talk to anyone. Everyone was extremely cranky so we wanted nothing to do with this. After these focal groups we did a traditional Massai goat killing and butchering. We watched them suffocate this goat and then butcher it, most of us tried some raw goat kidney and drank some goats blood straight from the goat, quite an experience. We then got our naps and hot showers so we were much happier than we were before. The next day we got to sit and relax at our campsite and explore if we wanted, and then returned to Arusha. The Massai homestay was an amazing experience, I learned a ton about another culture, and its crazy to see the way other people live in a culture completely opposite of your own. Its also cool to be doing this in one of the most beautiful places in the world, its nice to know that there is somewhere like that that still feels far away from anything modernized.
Now I am in Arusha for the rest of the program. I am preparing for my Independent Study Research Project that I am conducting here. I am moving into a house here and will pretty much be living and researching in Arusha, which is really fun. It’s very cool to feel independent and comfortable in a foreign country. Okay well that was a lot for now, so I should go. I put pictures up on facebook though! Please feel free to check them out.