Reflecting on Culture

Earlier this week I was driving down a street in my home town, Marin Avenue in Albany, California. It’s only been a few days since our return from Tanzania. There is a orderly stream of cars moving along. The street is lined with neat single-family homes. There are no people on the sidewalks, no bikes on the bike path, just an orderly stream of traffic, each car with a single occupant. Each of us in isolation. I’m struck by the the contrast to our experiences in Tanzania. Where are the people, the humanity,  the motorbikes, the thousands of small shops, the roadside vendors and the people going about business? My own neighborhood seems stark and sterile compared with vibrant throngs of people on the streets in Arusha. A stark contrast in cultures. I feel like a fish, having just returned to my fishbowl, and having a whole new perspective about water. I see my own culture as one where people are isolated, insular, each in our own carefully constructed realities, where fear, suspicion and anxiety are prevalent. I wouldn’t even notice this if it weren’t for the opportunity to step into another culture. Even a brief visit gives insights about my own insecurities and biases. As we visited with the people in Africa, I began to appreciate a people that seem less anxious, less fearful, and free to express themselves. One morning as we toured the market place in Moshi, I wanted to photograph some of the people. I had been informed to be cautious about photographing people; many people do not want to be photographed. As I worked with our guide, Sophie, I found, that while some people clearly did not want to be photographed, others were more than willing, and became quite expressive. As we passed one little butcher shop the butcher invited Joann into his shop to pose for a photo, nearly grabbing her off the sidewalk. His enthusiasm and joie de vivre were infectious and something that seemed to create a bond of friendship, transcending our cultures. I doubt that such and interaction would happen on the streets of Berkeley.  I doubt that my idea of “normal” will ever be the same having spent time in Africa. Or if life does start to look normal, that will be my cue to plan anther trip.



Maasai Boma Visit

As part of our African safari we had arranged to visit a Maasai boma. The Maasai are an ethnic group that inhabit Kenya and northern Tanzania. There are some 120 ethnic groups in Tanzania, The word boma refers the the enclosures in which the Maasai live.

When we arrived at the boma, our driver, David, introduced us to the village chief. The first order of business was to negotiate a fee. We agreed on a fee of $50US, which we paid in small US bills. It seems that the tourist economy in Tanzania runs on American dollars whether it’s tipping a porter or paying a hotel bill. Small bills are preferred since there is really no way for the locals to break larger bills.

Having completed our transaction, the villagers invited us to join them in their traditional greeting. Jumping, chanting and prancing. Once we had been suitably greeted we were entertained with a lion dance. What struck me about the people was their genuine openness, and the passion they put into their activities. Even though we were just tourists the villagers were quite friendly and clearly have a passion for their culture.

Following the dancing we were given a tour of the compound including an a visit inside one of the mud huts, and a tour of the school where the younger children learn English. The older children have the job of tending the sheep, goats and cattle. At night the livestock is brought into corrals in the boma. A fence of very thorny acacia branches surrounds the boma which serves as a defense against predators.

Once our tour was complete we were offered the opportunity to buy trinkets that the villagers sell with the hopes of generating some additional income. We were warned ahead of time that the villagers might prevail on us to buy trinkets, so we were happy when they politely respected decision not to buy.


A Walk to Materuni Waterfalls

We spent our last two days in Tanzania in Moshi, a town on the lower slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. Our primary motivation was to visit Sophie Augustino. Sophie recently graduated from the College of African Wildlife Management and has started a tour company, Matriarch Hill Safari. We became acquainted with Sophie a couple of years ago when my sister Laurie connected with her while doing some non-profit work in Tanzania.

Sophie did an excellent job of showing us around Moshi. Our tour included a walk to the Materuni Waterfalls, a tour of a family run coffee farm, and a walking tour of downtown Moshi. The walk to the waterfalls took us through the lush, green picturesque farmland of the Materuni Village. The waterfall is a spectacular fall with water cascading 300 feet into a pool below.  A worthwhile visit if you have a reason to be in Moshi.

African Safari: Day 10

Game Drive. Lion’s Paw Camp on the eastern rim of Ngorongoro Crater. At 0515 I’m awakened from a greeting from outside the tent, “good morning.” I respond in kind saying “good morning” to our steward. We join our guide, David for breakfast in the dining tent. Breakfast includes fresh fruit (mango, pineapple, watermelon), coffee, toast with jam, eggs, sausage and bacon. At 6:00 we lave the dining tent for the short walk to the truck. The air is heavy with mist and swirling clouds, and despite my thermal layer I feel a bit of a chill at 7000 feet. No sign of the sun yet, but our goal is to get to the crater floor ahead of the army of tourists that will be descending into the crater from the western rim, where most of the tours originate. Lion’s Paw is a bit remote and off the beaten track. We were, in fact, the only guests in camp. We felt well taken care of there with the staff of five to serve the three of us. The road into the crater is a steep narrow dirt track, and we find ourselves “herding” the zebras and Cape Buffalo off the road as we made our slow descent. Our goal is to hunt for elephant and rhinos, since we’ve already had the opportunity to view most of the animals that habituate the crater. And sure enough, with David’s expert knowledge and sharp eyes we find our first elephant shortly after sunrise. We spend a fair amount of time watching him pull up grass, knocking the dirt clods off and munching mouthfuls. Then it’s off to hunt for rhinos. We find a pair, at quite a distance. It turns out that rhinos are shy of noise and prefer to keep their distance from the noise of safari vehicles. None-the-less, it’s exciting to watch from a distance with binoculars and a long lens. We continue our tour of the crater floor stopping for Thompson’s gazelle, buffalo, zebras, hippos, lions and a variety of other birds and wildlife. At the hippo pool David sets up the picnic that the camp provided. Complete with china, table cloth, table and chairs. We compete with some pesty and colorful birds for our lunch fixings. After lunch we continue our drive. Now it’s the light that fascinates me. Rays of sun shining through clouds and lighting up the wildlife and crater walls.
It’s 3:00 Pm when we return to camp. A long enough day.

African Safari: Day 6

We’re enjoying some quiet time; taking the afternoon off at Sanctuary Kusini, a very pretty little wilderness camp. My afternoon nap was punctuated by thunder. We have dark clouds and rain, where this morning there a puffy white clouds and blue sky. Today marks the sixth day of our safari. Our adventures really started when David, our guide invited us to climb aboard our Landcruiser. By mid-afternoon we had seen impala, giraffe, lion, hippos, zebra and wildebeest  Later that afternoon as we approached camp, David became concerned about the road conditions; wet, muddy and slippery; speculating that we may not make it to camp. We persevered though slipping and sliding mud flying, the truck fishtailing left and right, and eventually we made it to camp. The next day, we stopped in the road and ate our lunches in the car while a heard of wildebeest and zebra marched by on migration. Stay tuned for the next episode.

Quick Tour of Arusha

We arrived at the African Tulip Hotel, late last night after an eight hour flight from Amsterdam. Our tour company sent a representative to meet us at the airport, escort us through immigration and drive us to the hotel.  This morning he gave us a quick tour of Arusha, with a drive through the market district, which seemed to go on for miles… stall after stall of everything from used shoes, to watches to potatoes. Then we made an interesting stop at Shanga.  An enterprise that employs people with disabilities to create unique, crafts and art work using recycled materials. We spent some time watching the glass blowers and the weavers.

In the morning we board a small plane to take us to our safari camp in the bush. I doubt if we’ll have internet access in the bush, so it may be awhile before we get a chance to connect again. Stay tuned.


Up the Creek

On Sunday February 20, I paddled my kayak up San Rafael Creek, launching from Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor. The original plan was to meet with a number of fellow paddlers for a paddle across the bay.  With high winds predicted, crossing the bay did not sound like a wise thing to do, so I cancelled the organized paddle. Being the trip initiator though, I thought I should show up at the launch site to intercept anybody that might not have gotten the word about the cancellation.  No other kayaks showed up. From the launch site it’s just a short distance to San Rafael Creek, and for the most part, staying close to shore provides protection from the wind. I decided I would go on a solo paddle. I was wearing a full dry suit for protection should I end up in the water, my personal flotation device (PFD, lifejacket), and I had a marine VHF radio and cell phone which I keep in a Lifeproof case, along with my trusty little Olympus Tough TG-4 waterproof camera which has become my go-to camera for paddling. I was also curious to know how my new boat, the Pygmy Ronan, would handle in the wind. So I put my boat in the water, climbed in and took my time paddling up the creek as far as I could go. Being solo I was able to poke along and explore the yacht harbors and boats without having to keep up with the gang; free to do my own thing. Here are a few photos I captured along the way. Happy to report that the boat handled the wind better than I expected. Many kayaks tend to “weathercock” meaning they turn into the wind, which adds to the effort required to get the boat to go in the direction you want. Skegs and rudders are often used to correct for this. I’m thinking I may be fine without any modifications. Shortly after I returned to my launch site the wind picked up and I was happy to be off the water.  A round trip of 5.5 miles. If you are curious about just where it was I was paddling you can see my track here.