Friday, June 29, 2012

Studying, Scorpion and Serengeti

We’re getting close to the end! This morning we had a wrap up lecture and we split up into small groups to each make a presentation on one of the topics we’ve studied. Listening to all the presentations was a good review for the final on Friday. After the presentations, we had a short review session for the exam. We had the rest of the day to work on a paper, but I finished mine pretty early so I made a trip to the tailor and took a nap. One of our professors just got back from his trip to Kenya and he brought us marshmallows! They were a bunch a different flavors, but he also brought one regular kind. I tried apple and strawberry, which were pretty yummy but had a lot of sugar.

This morning we had off as time to study for our exam tomorrow, but I could only will myself to study for about an hour. It’s so hard to just sit and study in Africa! After lunch, we had a few hours for community service, which were doing at the orphanage. The orphanage had just recently moved locations, so they have fewer kids than usual because not all the facilities are ready. They don’t even have a working bathroom currently. As soon as we got out of our cars all the kids rushed up to greet us. It was super cute! We were then welcomed with a few songs and given a tour of the orphanage. They had a large area in the back that needed to be cleared of brush and rocks so they could eventually have a garden and playground in it. I started moving rocks from smaller piles around the perimeter to a large pile in the center, which was going to be used as a foundation for the shop they wanted to build. It was the hottest day of the program so far, so people got pretty tired and sweaty. I was filling up a bucket of rocks and when I picked up one rock, it really hurt my finger so I dropped the rock right away. I thought I had a thorn in my finger, but when I looked at it I couldn’t see anything wrong with it. Then I looked at the ground and saw a scorpion! I quickly told our student affairs manager that a scorpion had just stung me so she gave me some painkillers and Benadryl. Although the scorpion was only two inches long, I got a pretty good dose of venom. The pain worked its way up my arm. It was only really painful in the tip of my finger and the rest kind of felt like pins and needles similar to when your arm falls asleep. After a couple hours, it just became a dull, aching pain in my arm and a sharp pain in my finger. After we had finished at the orphanage, we went to the old orphanage site that they’ve turned into a store. It had a bunch of pretty paintings and sculptures, but I didn’t have any money with me. After dinner, a couple of girls had coordinated a jeopardy game as review, but I had taken more Benadryl so I went to bed pretty early.

Final exam day! I can't believe we're already taking our final! We had the morning off to study and then had the exam at 2. I think it went pretty well but I guess I'll have to wait and see. After the exam, I went to tailor to have one last thing made and then played volleyball until dinner. Tomorrow we get to prepare for camping in the Serengeti!!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

We had another early start this morning.  After breakfast, we headed out to Ngorongoro Conservation Area. We first had to stop at the gate so our vehicles can get checked in. We were warned about aggressive baboons, but we didn’t see any. Inside they had an educational display about the crater and how it was formed by a volcano erupting and then collapsing in on itself. The dust and smoke from the volcano formed the plain of the Serengeti. There was also a gift shop inside that had Pringles – in different flavors!! We’re all a little tired of only getting original flavored at camp so we each got a different flavor. After having our vehicles checked in, we headed down to the conservation center and had a lecture about what makes Ngorongoro Conservation Area different from the national parks. People are allowed to use the resources in the area for livestock, but resources are always monitored to ensure they are not overused. We then headed to the beginning of the descent and got out to overlook the crater. At the top where we were driving it was cold, misty and very foggy, but looking into crater all you could see was a vast savannah. We then descended down into the crater, but our car got a flat tire on the way down so we had to get out. After the tire was changed, we went further into the crater. Right away our driver spotted an older male lion, so we followed him for a while. At one point he was right next to our car! There were so many animals in the crater! We saw thousands of wildebeest. We ate lunch at the hippo pool and there were a few hippos not far from shore. At one point, one of them started making a bunch of noise. After lunch, we continued our game drive. We saw a hyena just napping on the side of the road and he didn’t really care that we just pulled up along side him. We saw a few more lions, including one female who was stalking a warthog. We were hoping she was going to attack, but I guess they never came close enough. We then headed to the forest area close to the edge of the crater. We saw a small herd of elephants, including a mom and baby. A couple of them started making noise, which were the first elephant sounds we’d heard. We started the ascent up, and on our way up we spotted a jackal! He was chasing a butterfly, which he then killed and ate. Not the most exciting kill but it was entertaining. At the top, we got out again to take pictures of the overlook. It’s crazy how different the environment in the crater is from outside the crater. We stopped at the gate again to give everyone a chance to go to the bathroom and then we witnessed how aggressive the baboons are. Local buses also have to stop at the gate and a baboon had ripped open a bag on top of the bus, so the driver and some other men were trying to chase it away. It was a large male, so he wasn’t giving up easily and charged the men several times, but finally ran away. While we were paying attention to the drama happening with the bus, we failed to notice we had left our door open for too long to let the last two girls out of the vehicle. A female baboon climbed in the vehicle with the two girls and stole a Tupperware container from one of our backpacks! She quickly ran out of the car, but not before our Student Affairs Manager had started to freak out and ran towards the van. Luckily, no one was hurt but the girls in the car were a little surprised when a baboon jumped into the front seat! After all the excitement ended, we headed back to camp and celebrated another birthday. Ngorongoro was an amazing park, but I cannot wait to go to the Serengeti next week!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bike Ride and WMA

Yesterday was a non-program day, so we took a bike tour of Lake Manyara. The tour started in town and then went into the park. We rode mountain bikes, but they were a little worse for wear and the padding on the bike seats was almost nonexistent. It was a rough ride since only the main street was paved, but it was a little smoother when we got onto a dirt path in the park. After going through some forest, we emerged onto the grassy plain and spotted a herd of zebra. We kept biking closer to them and  a bunch of us sped up and got about fifteen feet away from the zebra. They all started to run in every direction. It was crazy but an amazing experience! We then continued to the lake and got to see some the of the local fisherman catching tilapia. We then headed back into town and went to a local tribe's carving shop. The guides explained the carving process and how you can tell how old the ebony was that they used by looking at the coloring. After the carving shop, we went to a local painter's shop. Since the school curriculum is based on Germany and Britain's, there are no art classes in school so the painters often have to find a mentor to teach them different painting techniques. After we were all thoroughly sore, we went to a pizza place for lunch. After lunch we went to a market and I picked up a couple things of fabric to bring to the tailor. My bargaining is still pretty bad, but I've gotten to the point that I don't really care. Today we had a traveling lecture at the local wildlife management area (WMA). We first stop at the newly constructed visitor's center which was funded by the US. After the visitor's center, we went to the local head office and had a discussion with a few of the local board members. They explained how the WMA is different than a national park and what benefits the local villages get for being a part of the WMA. The WMA functions as a corridor between parks, allowing wildlife to migrate without threat to their lives or habitats. In exchange for conserving the wildlife, the villagers receive half of the profits of the lodges. In the afternoon, we got a chance to relax at the lodge and just hang out by the pool. Tomorrow we get to visit Ngorongoro and I am super excited!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Maasai Manyatta

I got to wake up bright and early this morning since I was on cook crew. I probably cracked about three dozen eggs and made about two pounds of bacon. After breakfast we had a field lecture at a Maasai manyatta. The manyatta is a settlement of several different bomas or homes. It’s set up for tourists to visit, but they try to keep the experience as authentic as possible. The people still only eat meat and drink milk but are not as nomadic as traditional Maasai. The tour started with a welcome song, which was beautiful. We then entered the Manyatta and the tribe demonstrated the infamous jumping, which the two guys tried. They both said it was pretty difficult and a bunch of the staff had fun trying to jump high as well. Since they are a polygamist society, the son of the chief demonstrated a wedding ceremony and explained the differences in the ceremony depending if it is to the first or second wife. We were split up into groups and then got a tour of a boma. They are really tiny and made of mud, sticks and cow dung. It was pretty dark and the inside. I asked our guide if he and his wives share one house and he said yes. He had five people living in his tiny house! They had a little market set up where we could buy some goods to help sustain their community, so I bought a necklace made by some of the women. After we were done shopping, they demonstrated spear throwing, which was pretty cool to watch. We also got to see their version of kindergarten. After the tour was finished, the son’s chief led us in a Maasai prayer and thanked us for coming. After lunch, we had another computer lab to analyze the rest of our data from Tarangire. We have a “poster” due tonight on habitat preferences and population densities on a species of our choice. After working on another assignment, I’m glad tomorrow’s a day off!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Home Stay

Today I got a peek into the daily life of local Tanzanians. Me and another girl were assigned to Mama Beni's for the whole day. We left at 8 and when we got there were greeted by an older woman and an 18 year old boy, Christopher. We spent a majority of our time with Christopher because he spoke English very well. For the first two hours we just sat in their living room and drank chai tea. Christopher asked about how school works in the US and why we're always so busy and never have any time to visit family. After we finished our tea, he took us on a tour of his land. They had a large field of corn and barley and also owned several goats and cows.

Abby, the youngest daughter 

We then started on lunch, which took two and a half hours to make! Each dish was made over a single fire, so they have a lot of insulating cookware. Christopher has only recently learned to cook since it is usually viewed as a woman's job. He told us that if you're married man you are not allowed to cook. We cooked beef, rice, ugali (cornmeal) and cabbage. After lunch we took a walk to visit his neighbors and when we went to his relatives they insisted on feeding us again! We also got to see the other side of Moyo Hill and from the top you can see both Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro. We then walked back to his house and helped harvest beans before having some more tea. Christopher told us that he wants to be a doctor but he had to take a year off of school because he couldn't pay the fees. He has to wait until his sister, who's studying education, graduates university. We felt a little bad that the family wouldn't let us help in their daily tasks more, but I know they just wanted to treat us like guests. It was an eye opening experience and it was really interesting learning about what they think of the US and how different their lifestyle is.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Elephant Raids

Today was just a preview of how difficult it’ll be to communicate with our host families tomorrow. We went out in small groups with a local guide to interview locals. My group interviewed eight different families and it was really interesting to hear their thoughts about the local wildlife and conservation. All the families we interviewed lived in Rhotia valley so their biggest problem was elephants destroying their crops. Many of them used fires to try and keep them out, but one admitted he tries to shoot them! Since there are two local national parks, government officials have put beehives around some of the villages because elephants are afraid of bees and the locals also get to harvest honey from them. Most the farmers thought conservation was important, but didn’t like the damage to their crops they had to deal with because of the parks. Many of them were also confused as to why conservation is important but just thought it was because that’s what they’d been told their whole lives. Since we finished our interviews early, we visited a brickyard and saw how they make non-sustainable bricks. We all thought it looked like a difficult job but our guide said it’s an easy job in Africa. After lunch, we had a lab so we could compile the data from our wildlife counts yesterday. We eventually have to pick a species and make a poster about our findings. After dinner we were briefed on what to expect for our homestays tomorrow. It sounds like it’ll be an eye opening experience, but I’m still pretty nervous about it. Hopefully it goes well!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tarangire National Park

Our day started bright and early with a 6:30 breakfast since it's a two hour drive to Tarangire National Park. We got there around around 8:30 and split up into groups to perform our transects. We had to count all the mammals for 2 km and then break for .5 km and then start another count again. There were animals as soon as we entered the park. We saw a herd of zebra and then spotted a cheetah! The cheetah was walking parallel to the car path so we followed him and then he started running and caught a dik dik. It was an incredible experience! We also spotted a jackal on the road, which is a pretty rare sighting. We continued our counts until lunch, which we had at the Tarangire Safari Lodge. It was a beautiful lodge and had an amazing view from the restaurant/bar area. I had a burger and fries and it was the first real American food I've had in awhile. It tasted pretty amazing. We got to take a game drive in the afternoon and spotted a ton of elephants. We even saw a few babies. When we were going to a popular elephant spot, we heard there was a baby lion nearby so we waited for about twenty minutes and we finally saw him! It wasn't a small cub but he was definitely still pretty young and about the size of a medium dog. Tonight we watched The Lion King outside by the fire and I brought my glow sticks my sister sent me. Some of the staff from the local town was at the movie and they had never seen a glow stick before! They were all fascinated by them and asked a bunch of questions about how they worked. We have a really full day interacting with the community and compiling data tomorrow, so I'm headed to bed early!

Work Days

The last two days have been workdays, so nothing very excited has happened and we’re starting to get very restless. We had a class in the morning yesterday about all the different traditional animal uses by the Maasai and the one camp assistant who is a Maasai was there to give some personal information from his tribe, which was really interesting. We then had the remainder of the day to work on our baboon research papers. There was a traditional goat slaughter in the afternoon that was performed by our Maasai camp assistant, but I chose not to attend. The goat had been on campus all afternoon and I’m just not used to looking my meat in the eye before I eat them. We had another birthday last night and she requested banana bread, so we go the African version. It was very dense but it was pretty good and had a powdered sugar icing on top. Today was mostly devoted to continue to work on our papers, but we had one class in the afternoon to prepare us for our visit to Tarangire National Park tomorrow. I also finished my paper early, so I went to the Shirt Shack with another student. It’s pretty touristy but all the shirts are hand printed, which is pretty incredible. A walk through town is always enjoyable because all the children wave and say hi. We usually pick up a couple kids that just want to hold our hand and walk around with us too. It’s been a couple of slow days, but I’m glad we get a whole day in the park tomorrow!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Elephant Caves and Happy Days

Non-program day! We finally had a day off to relax! The morning started off great with breakfast being at 8:30 instead of 7:30. I still had to wake up at 7:30 because I was on cook crew, but it was much better than having to get up at 6:30. After breakfast we had to pack our lunch since we’d be gone all day. We headed over to the elephant caves to take a hike and see a waterfall near by. It was a moderate hike but it was really interesting to see the caves that the elephants create. It’s a clay hillside that the elephants carve out and eat the dirt because of the nutrients found in it. Other animals, such as baboons and buffalo come and eat the dirt also after the elephants carve it out. We then saw a waterfall looking over the valley. The view was amazing and not like anything I expected to see in Africa! It was more like a South American rainforest. After our hike we ate our pack lunch near the start of the trail. We then headed to a large curio (shop) on the side of the road that had a lot carvings and it also has tanzanite jewelry. Tanzanite is pretty rare and only mined in one spot in Tanzania. It was all really pretty but it was pretty expensive and I’m terrible at bargaining, so I didn’t purchase anything. We then headed to Karatu to shop around but after stopping at a few fabric stores, I decided to grab a beer with a couple of other students instead of continuing to shop. The whole group then headed to Happy Days, a bar owned by a British couple. I ordered a pizza and it was nice to eat something besides our usual selection. Everyone had fun letting loose and having a few drinks to celebrate one of the girls’ 21st birthday tomorrow. Tomorrow we’ll have to work on our research paper all day, but it was nice to finally have a day just to relax and enjoy Tanzania.