Serengeti, Mwanza, and Permaculture Design Courses
29.04.2014 - 05.05.2014 17 °C
So much happens here on any given day, week....even any given hour, minute, moment...it leaves my mind wild in thought, and makes it difficult for me to isolate any one and write it down.
Right now we have our first Permaculture Design Certificate course of the year, offered in Kiswahili. The teacher, along with some of the students are staying on site so we have more people around which, to me, is great. Though not a lot of English is spoken so I am still rather out of the loop in terms of comprehension, it is nice to have the energy for more people around. The teacher, who is from Kenya, speaks good English though and we had a couple great chats. I can't express how happy it makes me to know that he exists and is teacher the Permaculture love to people over here.
We spoke of many things, but one being the seeming lack of "we can do/change/fix this" type attitude here. I asked him why that is and we spoke about upbringing, and schooling. He noted that many people feel personal shame and that stops them from thinking they deserve to stand up for anything, as well, with hose who have not had an opportunity to receive proper education, the shame is increased. He said he noticed a definite correlation between those who have received a supportive education, and loving upbringing, and their desire/belief in creating change and not accepting the status quo. Of course this makes intuitive sense, but something you don't really realize until you think about it and talk further - or at least that's how it was for me, anyway. Add that to the list of things we unknowingly take for granted in "developed" world (for the record I hate using that word because the implication is that it is better than and I'd argue there are pro's and cons to each) - our sense of empowerment and belief in deserving certain things or creating change; arguably keystone to our evolution as a species, and our understandings of this world.
Despite having that lovely conversation and feeling more signals from the universe that I am right on track, today I feel off. I miss my home, my community, my people - Vancouver. I miss the place where I feel I belong and can create change. Here I feel rather dis-empowered and I am certainly not my best health-wise. It's far too rainy to be able to get a good run in, so my mind remains a bit of a blur....ahhh, what I wouldn't give for a long run by the seawall, followed by a nice big bowl of fresh garden greens, I keep seeing all these amazing things happening back in Vancouver, too, and I'm so glad they are happening, but I can't help but feel I am missing out and that inside I belong back there to create the most amount of change. As much as I love it here, I feel stuck. I suppose this time is about learning and discovery, and less about doing but it's hard to accept that.
Yesterday I was walking home from town, it had been raining so much but in this moment the sun was out and the air was thick with humidity. I was not in a very good mood because I just wanted to be home, where people would stop staring and pointing at me. Previous to that, in town, I was walking to the bus stand to get my sweater that I left on the bus home from Mwanza (a miracle I could even recover it), and I had my rainboots on....these local girls, I imagine a few years younger than me, said something, made faces, pointed at my boots and laughed amongst them selves, then as one got closer, she tugged on my hair pretty hard. I was very taken aback by the whole situation, but it also made me quite sad. I really would like to understand what their thoughts were on all of that and why the need to do that. So, that in conjunction with the usual stares and "Mzungu" callings, I was ready to be home. But back to my walk home.....behind me kids called out "Mzungu" but at this point, I just ignored them. In front of me, on the right, was this little boy, as I mentioned. He was carrying his little muddy runners in his right hand while he walked barefoot in the mud. His little legs were covered in mud and his purple school sweater was ripped, the left sleeve missing altogether - I wish I had my camera to capture such a beautiful image but it's likely for the best - I'm not even sure what being present to that image provoked but it's just life here sometimes, and thinking back, in that moment I feel that little boy captured so much - mainly acceptance and the will to keep on keeping - but also I think that's only in my head with my perceptual bias' a plenty.
I miss being clean. It's just so dusty here always and now with the mud, everything I own has mud on it. The little things you don't realize until you don't have them, and yet for the record, if I had grown up in this area I would be absolutely fine with it as I'd not know any different so it's important to keep that in mind and not let my Western bias get all up in my thoughts.
I've been thinking a lot about what it is, specifically, that I like here, what it is, specifically, that pulls me in? I want to be able to figure that out so that I can cultivate it back home and feel satisfied with the life I will move on to live when I return to Canada. To be honest the thought of going back home now fills me with confusion, and sadness, but also happiness and potential. It's weird to experience both of those at the same time. It is in Canada where I feel I can conduct my best work and be my best self and yet it is also Canada where I feel the intensity of isolation, of reduced community energy and the pressure to do.
Anyway enough about my brain on fire...let me say a bit about my trek to the Serengeti and then Mwanza - as I just arrived home on Monday night.
The trip started with my arrival the Arusha airport on the 29th of April around noon-ish with an hour to spare, reporting time for the cargo flight I was about to take was 1pm, with departure time being around 2pm. Actually, that was prefaced by a dala dala ride from the city to the airport, wherein the guy told me it was going to be 1,000 to which I responded...Kweli, kwa nini hapana mia nne (why not 400 shillings.......as it always is), everyone on the bus roared with laughter at my broken swahili, but in a nice way and the one gentleman who helped hold my bag asked me about my Swahili and said I could speak good haha... right :P ...anyway the dala man let me know that for sure it was 1,000...so I eventually just gave up and said ok, fine... I will pay that. Then I took a piki to the airport for 1,000 shillings - a quick ride but safer than walking with a big back pack. Anyway, back to the airport.... I still didn't know how I was actually getting there/who I was to meet (besides a name and number, though when I called it it didn't work)....but I knew that it would work out.... it's both due to language but also just lack of detailed planning that things here seem very chaotic and yet, undoubtedly they work out in the end. Eventually the guy I was to meet showed up and it all worked out.
The flight over was very clear - we flew directly atop Oldonyo Lengei and I was reminded of my previous trek up that insanely difficult mountain where I felt I'd almost die - it's funny talking to the locals of the areas about that Mountain though, they are so laisser-faire about it, but it's all what you're used to. We flew over the rift valley and it was unlike anything I'd ever seen - it's hard to believe such majestic beauty exists on this beautiful planet of ours.
The flight was only about an hour, it was just the pilot and co-pilot, me and another consultant. We landed on a private airstrip in the middle of a private piece of land in the Serengeti - never did I think I'd have such an opportunity. My friend was busy showing his guests around still so his friend met me. On the drive up to where the employees stay, we saw an Impala, and a Giraffe - ahh yes, I thought, I was back in the Serengeti. As we drove up and away from the landing strip, the most magnificent view emerged - endless Serengeti, with the sun at a perfect angle.
While I was staying where employees stay, I was able to get a tour of the really fancy lodges that the guests stay in. This company owns 350,000 acres of private Serengeti land and the story goes that the owner was originally a poacher (still is), but realized that all the poaching was disrupting the migration patterns and he wanted to conserve the animals so he made a deal with the government to purchase the land and I believe he now pays royalties each year. I can not even imagine how much that would have cost because the government of Tanzania was making A LOT of money prior from all the fees to poach animals, and then money that would be made into the future - this was, I assume, all taken into account when determining a purchase price - of course my brain goes to thinking about a discounted cash flow analysis and what factors they took into account..I'd really love to look at the analysis that was done.... .
Anyway, there are three lodges at this specific site and I was able to get a tour of two of the three. The first one is the most expensive and it is on one of the hills in the Serengeti so it overlooks such amazing vistas which my words cannot do justice. As you stand at the edge, the view goes on and on, and it's absolutely stunning. The hotel is nice too but of course, I prefer the nature part of it. Actually, by "the hotel is nice" i mean, insanely fancy and it's a bit over the top to be honest but I guess some people like that kind of thing. It just boggles my mind the displacement of wealth in our world, I did a calculation and for 1 set of guests to stay one night at this hotel, (and not even the most expensive cottage, indeed it was the cheaper one of all versions), it would pay for our entire payroll as an organization here, for one month. Pretty insane.....
I got to see many more animals, highlights being a few herds of Elephants (Tembo) with some babies, Giraffe's (Twiga), Zebras, Warthogs (Pumba) - with their little tail up as they run, hehe so cute,monkeys, baboons, birds, a mom Cheetah (Duma) with her three cubs, and both male and female Lions (Simba), and some cubs too though the cubs of both lions and cheetah's were pretty big - they grow fast! I guess when I say highlights, I mean all - I can't even say one is better than the other - it never gets old to see these animals in their natural habitat - so cool.
We were lucky enough to camp one night at the permanent tented camp lodge. When we arrived after a late afternoon game drive, it was already dark and the sky was littered with glistening stars, including the Milky Way. I've certainly been seeing some great stars what with living more in the country, but wow the stars in the middle of the Serengeti are hard to beat. There was a fire pit going when we arrived so we sat by it, had some beers, and some good chats. I could have stayed there forever - tilting my head only slightly revealed such a majestic starry night. There is something so calming, meaningful, and potential inducing, about looking up and seeing all of that.
After that we had a meal made for us and then there was a party for Labour Day as it was a public holiday so we drove a ways, through the Serengeti, to go to where the party was happening. It was cool, a lot of the works came, some good music played, and we danced - felt like I was at a club in the city but better since everyone was so friendly, and many familiar faces of the great staff I had met since I arrived.
Somewhat oddly one of my favourite parts of the trip was being able to run on a treadmill. It's funny because back home I MUCH prefer to run outside but here I had not had a good, mud-free, yelling free run so it was absolutely beautiful. It was hard though because as I enjoyed it, I couldn't help but think about how after it was done, I would not be able to get on one, or do a good run, for 10 months or so.... it makes me incredibly sad just thinking about it . I really need to get it together and develop a strategy around how I can get the same effect but maybe not via running, especially during these wintery rains.
I just checked and the weather says it's about 21 degrees celcius in Arusha, which I'm assuming it's a bit hotter right in the city so maybe it's 18 or so here? But man it sure does feel colder.....the humidity and breeze, coupled with the rains make for a damp and cold situation.
Back to the trip, time flew and it was time to head out, I was definitely going to miss the morning breakfasts in the communal area, by the beautiful window seat overlooking the Serengeti.
We were going to bus to Mwanza early Saturday morning, but we found out a plane was leaving later that day, so we stuck around and caught a flight
to Mwanza which drastically decreased our travel time - and we got in an extra game drive, and saw a male lion and some cubs - two I think. They had their eyes on the Pumba somewhat off in the distance. Thinking we may see the lion catch its prey in action, we waited idly by, but after a while the lions lost interest as the Pumbas sensed the danger and took their precautions.
Mwanza is a beautiful city, very coastal-esque. Lake Victoria is so incredibly massive - I had heard it was massive but flying overhead really allows you to see how big it truly is, and whilst on the ground, it certainly feels like you're by the ocean, which was bittersweet as it made me miss Vancouver in all its glory. There are many many rocks, cliffs, and hills in Mwanza, with the houses built right into the rocks so it's a beautiful sight to see. The city seemed more lively in a way but also we noticed it was more expensive, food-wise anyway, even though we had been told that it was cheaper than Arusha, it seemed to be quite the opposite.
We stayed in a hotel that was 40,000 shillings per night and it was right downtown Mwanza. We went out for some samaki (fish), and took piki piki's to get there - the drive of mine actually had a helmet to wear which I was not used to, but it's just as well, as we rode on busier roads. As we rode to where we were going to eat dinner, the sun was in the process of setting, and as we drove down the street the lake was to my left and it looked absolutely beautiful. It was a warm, peaceful night and part of me thought "Wow, maybe I should have came to Mwanza instead!" The piki was 3,000 shillings (we both rode on our own), which seemed a reasonable price. We shared a plate of dinner as it was quite pricey, 13,000 shillings for one plate- sounded like we entered a Mzungu restaurant, but a lot of locals around so whose to say.
There were so many cats around - they liked the fish!- and I liked that After we were finished eating our fish (we got a bbq one and you get the whole fish - so it's up to you to pull the bones out etc), we didn't eat the head, and so I was picking at it to give to this cute little cat who was eating it right up...somewhat violated picking the brains of this fish and it felt a bit violent but seemed better than to waste it. The place then had some live music so we stayed to watch it.....a number of people on stage but our favourite was a man with a D&G shirt on. He had such a cute little dance and as he sang he would put his left hand up to his left ear, in a cupped fashion - not sure if it was to get extra feedback from the monitors or what but it was quite the site to see - without exception, he'd do it every time - I got a little video of it going down.
The next day we met up with Bablo's friend and he had a car so that was good because he drove us to these nice hotels right on the water so we could have a look. They were pretty far away from the bus station though and since we were to be leaving at 6am the next morning, we decided to stay closer in town, the hotel we stayed at the last night was only 20,000 shillings, and right by the bus station. An added bonus (depending on how you look at it), was that the light bulb in the bedroom (1 of 2) and in the bathroom, had been replaced by a multi-coloured flashing bulb - which made using the washroom interesting, especially at 5am when half asleep and getting ready to leave.
We spent our last night at the pub next to the hotel, watching a football match on TV, and listening to some more live music. We got Ugali, nyama choma (bbq meat), and chips for dinner - actually we ate that in the room because we got distracted by this awesome TV program on BBC called "African Voices" and it was all about the organization Twaweza which made me stoked that I was seeing some "yes we can" empowerment type of action over here in East Africa. I definitely suggest checking them out. There was also a clip about painful, traditional breast ironing which was happening in Cameroon. They take these big rocks, heat them up and then use them to, as the name says, iron young girls breasts are they are entering into puberty.
Ugh, the things that women have to be subjected to all around the world - it disgusts me. They claimed they did it to prevent unwanted attention from males. Heaven forbid we teach our boys, as they are growing up, to respect woman - what a concept! I guess though more information is getting around now and so this traditional practice is slowly decreasing in numbers, so that part is good.
I woke up at 5:15, quickly changed out of my pj's, zipped my bag up, went to the bathroom, and headed out the door. I looked at my water bottle longingly but I had vowed to not take a sip for fear of having to pee while on the 12 hour bus ride with limited to no stops!
Later on the bus I realized it had been the proverbial calm before the storm. As we left the hotel and set foot outside, it was still dark, of course, but it was also intensely silent, except for some crickets and other night creatures. Then, appropriately timed, was the Muslim prayer on loud speaker. It was really odd walking, just the two of us, down a street, where previously, a few hours ago, there had been many people, now no-one, with nothing but the loud speaker sound of the early morning prayer - I felt like I was in a movie. A few moments later we were at the bus station and there were people everywhere, hustling and bustling, people trying to find their bus, people trying to sell tickets, everyone yelling every which way - utter chaos, or so it seems, I'm really not sure how it can be so organized. We found our bus, put our bags on and took a seat. We got to sit right behind the driver so we had a big view out in front of us.
The bus ride was interesting. I was so dehydrated but I decided it was better to feel extremely parched than to have to pee - that has got to be the worst feeling, especially when the bus is bumping all over the place. That, and....I had started reading a book Bablo lent me called Desert Flower - The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad by Waris Dirie (great book by the way and I highly recommend it, and very important to learn more about female genital mutilation and how horrible it truly is and how it absolutely needs to stop), and in it she spoke of not having water for days and how dehydrated she, and her animals would become and Bablo too, told me of his growing up years and how he'd have to go a few days without water at times and I thought - wow have I been so privileged... so yes, not drinking a lot of water whilst on a 12 hour bus ride - I could do that....I reminded myself a few times during the ride "your body has enough water in it, it is going to be okay!"....certainly my body is accustomed to having a lot of water, all the time.
All in all it was a great trip and I'm really glad I was able to partake in it. I'm now back "home", in Sinoni, back to doing the books for FWS. I am going to be helping out more with some of the Permaculture projects and their implementation as we have lost our Perm volunteer.
Until next time..... as my head remains a flurry of thoughts.