Friday, August 16, 2013

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! (Or Something Like That...)

Sorry for the long delay in posts.  We've spent the last few days camping out in the Serengeti Plains where, as you can imagine, there isn't any internet or cell phone reception.  At least, not for us muzungu with our foreign networks.

So much has happened since the last post that I'm honestly not even sure what to write about in the short amount of time that we have before we need to get to the airport.  I'll try to cram as much in as possible.

The Sunday Highlights:

Saw the construction of a few more stoves.  It's incredible how efficient and exact the women are when they're building these things.  This time, I actually watched the installation of some solar panels too.  They're pretty easy to install through the thatched roofs of the homes.  Solar panel is lodged on top and wires are snaked in through the dry grass/straw.  One goes to an LED light bulb that hangs from the centre of the home and thus can light all the rooms because the walls don't go all the way up to the ceiling.  Another wire is to charge cell phones.  It takes about 20 minutes to put the whole thing together and then voila: instant lighting and communication. Pretty cool.

Kisioki then took us to another village in the Rift Valley.  This one, Selela, was especially important for us to visit because it's where Kisioki grew up!  We got to meet a small part of his enormous family including his father, mother, a few of his father's other wives, four of Kisioki's brothers and dozens of half-siblings.  After a photo shoot directed by Erica of Kisioki and his family (the whole family, him with his parents, with his brothers, there was no end to the configurations possible), his mother and some of the other women were kind enough to bring out some of their bead-work so that we could buy some to bring home.  It was incredibly beautiful and choosing what to take and what to leave behind was hard.  Everyone crowded tightly around us so that we were pressed in from all sides, hands shooting into the circle from time to time to showcase work that we should pay special attention to. We wound up cleaning them almost entirely out (not going to name any names, but Erica definitely is coming home with heavier bags than she left with).  Figuring out the complex system of who received how much money for what was pretty entertaining, with Kisioki creating a complex accountant's spreadsheet to track the numbers.

When we paid up for the goods, the sun was near setting.  We drove just a few minutes over to the nearby boma where another circumcision ceremony was happening.  The actual circumcisions had happened in the morning, so we got there in time for the party.  The dancing here was very different from what we saw last time.  The warrior men were especially more exciting to watch as they crowded around in a tight circle and chanted a deep and primal song.  As they sang, they jumped together as a group, with single men breaking off into the middle and jumping much higher than the rest.  It was incredible to watch from the outside, heads and shoulders popping out way above the rest.  The younger, newer warriors (not yet in power and waiting for the older group to retire) tried to form their own little group that mimicked the song and dance, but it was nothing like the older, more experienced crew.

In the meantime, Erica was shanghaied by the older women, who decked her out in their wide circular necklaces and tried to get her to do the women's dance - a slow, sinuous bob that makes the necklace flap up and down.  A little tipsy, they were all crying with laughter as Erica tried valiantly to do the dance.  She's more brave than me, when I saw what was about to happen, I quickly ducked out and hid behind a group of men to watch the warriors.  Erica especially charmed one older woman, who kept hugging and kissing her, and who tried many times to kidnap her away to her home in the next boma.  There was lots of cheek pinching, shoulder smacking, and forehead kissing going on, and I think that Erica was pretty tempted to sneak out and become the adopted granddaughter of this feisty woman.

And just for fun, we totally found Snoop Dog's doppelg√§nger in the village.  When we post the pictures, you'll know exactly which man I'm talking about.  The killer was that as we were about to leave, he asked Erica to take a picture of him and pulled out a pouch of gin to pose with. It was too perfect.

Monday - Thursday

Not too much on Monday.  Just waking up at dawn, packing up the tents and the Jeep, and heading out on the long and BUMPY ride (think unpaved roads ravaged by hundreds of Jeeps and bad weather) to the Serengeti.  Lots of waiting for hours while we tried to buy tickets at banks.  Now we know what real bureaucracy is; I'm going to find it hard to complain about any amounts of waiting in line in the US.

An interesting moment:  Before we headed out, I tasked Erica with finding me an elephant on this trip since we weren't going to the national park famous for its elephants in order to go to the Serengeti instead. I threatened that if we didn't see an elephant, she wouldn't be allowed to come home.  So as we're entering the Ngoro Ngoro park, where pretty much the only animals you'll see are baboons, we were stunned to see an elephant hiding in the trees!  Kisioki, with his eerie, animal-spotting sixth sense pointed it out in surprise.  It was the first animal of the trip!

Tuesday was all safari.  We saw a stunning array of animals, and I think that the stories from here will be better when Erica is able to post some pictures. But let's just say that lots of animals came up extremely close to our open Jeep, and that we saw EVERYTHING that you would expect to see on Safari, including elephants, lions, giraffes, hippos, leopards, cheetah, warthogs, zebra, hyena, mongoose, ostrich, wildebeest, water buffalo, antelope, and a ridiculous assortment of gorgeous birds.  That is to say, everything except the ultra-rare black rhino which we would need to find if we wanted to spot all of the Big Five.

Wednesday, the plan was to leave the Serengeti and drive to Ngoro Ngoro crater (the only place to spot a rhino) before coming back to Monduli.  Unfortunately, a broken ball bearing in the tire left us stranded for 5 hours in the middle of the Serengeti until a mechanic was able to drive out and bring us a spare part.  We took naps and had entertaining conversation though, so it was actually a pleasant interlude.  And luckily, the hyena that we saw walking down the road about half a mile away never got to where we were.

I want to give Thursday's part of the trip more justice, so I'll write it up next time.  But expect: Ngoro Ngoro crater, lion and rhino stories, and visiting a local boarding school.

Lots of love from Tanzania!

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