Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

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Journey to the Hadza

   Continuing from where I left off, where I was sort of stranded in Arusha, Northern Tanzania, for a few days and feeling a little annoyed at my contact, "Dr K," who "worked with the Hadza people in some capacity," as I put it last time.

Day 7: Sunday, October 11th - I called Dr K at the appointed time. He asked if I could come to the New Arusha Hotel, which is in the center of town and where I'd stayed last year. I fancied it didn't quite make sense for me to get a taxi and hussle my stuff into a taxi to take me to someone who has a car so I urged him to come to Mvuli hotel, which he seemed a bit reluctant to do and didn't know where it was (no one seemed to), so I put him on with the hotel manager to explain directions.

   When Dr K arrived it was in a rather nice SUV. The hotel manager's eyes bugged out a little bit as she remarked "those are government plates, is he with the government?" to which I could only say "maybe?" Dr K himself was an older man with grey hair and a kindly face. He was accompanied by a driver in a grey-green suit that almost looked like a uniform. Dr K read the newspaper as we drove on down to Singida, which took a few hours. The moment we crossed into the Singida region (province/state), we pulled over not even a full cars-length past the sign and the driver hopped out and attached a Tanzanian flag to a pole on front of the vehicle. Dr K said we'd drop him off at his house first and then the driver would take me to a hotel. His house, as it happened, was large, on a hill, surrounded by a wall that left ample room inside, and most strikingly, had an entire squad of smartly dressed soldiers in red berets who stood at salute as the car came through the gate. The moment Dr K was out of the car the driver whipped off the flag, as if it were an admiral's pennant.

   After all this I was feeling like this guy was a little bit more important than I'd expected him to be. Not having ready access to the internet I had to ask a friend to google him for me. Turns out that my contact, whom I'd been griping about, whom I had vaguely imagined to be some civil servant in a basement office tasked with responsibility for underdeveloped communities or something, is none other than Dr Parseko V Kone, GOVERNOR ("regional commissioner") of the Singida region. He is the head of government of an administrative area encompassing 1.3 million people. Also he's killed a lion with a spear.

   Needless to say, I was absolutely shocked by this revelation. I had had no idea. I always treat people with respect, I've remarked before about how I like to learn the names of the hotel doormen and ask them about their kids -- but suddenly I was questioning whether I had always treated this man with the respect due to a governor -- which no matter how egalitarian your principals are one certainly must be respectful of someone with so much responsibility. And I was feeling pretty mortified by the sure conviction that I probably had not -- in all my phone conversation sure there was nothing deficient of respect I could think of, but only this morning I had insisted he come pick me up at my hotel. This really had me squirming in recollection. I had insisted a governor come pick me up rather than I go to him! If I had known I wouldn't have hesitated to take a taxi right to whereever he wanted me to be!! I think it's a real testament to how humble this man is that he just took it in stride.

   The hotel the driver took me to happened to be one of the ones we'd stayed at on the three day "technical excursion" after the beekeeping conference last year. I hadn't realized it was in Singida. I thought it was kind of funny to come all this way to the center of Tanzania to find, oh, I've already been here. There's a big lake next to Singida, I'm told there's two actually but I've never seen the second one. But this hotel is right on the lake shore which is nice, and the wind comes over the lake and kind of quietly howls against the side of the hotel which is picturesque in an audible sort of way.
   I remember being unimpressed with the food in the hotel restaurant last year and it was the same this time. I tried ordering the pepper steak but they said it would take 45 minutes (for some reason?!), so I tried ordering the spaghetti but they said they were out, so I ordered the chicken but it ended up being the rubbery hard to get off the bone sort of chicken typical of Africa and I didn't enjoy it very much, and it STILL took an hour for them to prepare.
   A week later when we were back, I tried to account for this by phoning my order down an hour before I wanted to eat it, they said they'd call when it was ready, and it wasn't ready when I called an hour later, and when I called an hour and a half after ordering tehy said it was, and I came down to the restaurant to wait another 15 minutes ... to finally be delivered a pepper steak that appeared to have already lost what heat it once had. It's problems like this that are really frustrating, this isn't a lack of resources or development problem, this is some kind of gross incompetence!

   Also I was joined, in Arusha before leaving there actually, by my friend Neema, who would accompany me as translator. She had been the receptionist/housekeeper of the guesthouse I had stayed in in Moshi last year, and was not currently employed.

Day 8: Monday, October 12th - Dr Kone had told me to come by his office (the regional headquarters) at 8am, so I hopped to it and got a taxi there. There of course they were like "who are you here to see? Oh Dr Kone, do you have an appointment?" I had to wait in his ante-room for about half an hour while he finished breakfast and then I was ushered into his large office, where he sat in a suit behind a large desk with flags on it. I did my best to make up for any possible omissions the day before by being ingratiatingly polite. We talked a little about the plans. He had to swear in a new district commissioner (mayor / county supervisor?) for the district the Hadza were in that very morning, and then he would have the district commissioner take me down there. But first he called in the regional immigration officer, a woman who came in in a police-like uniform, and explained what I would be doing and asked her if I needed any special permit or what, and it was agreed that I would go with her to the immigration office for some paperwork and then come back. Interesting to see how she, deferential and almost meek in Dr Kone's office, walks into the immigration building where she herself is lord paramount and herself has a big office in the corner of the third floor where she can summon assistants who again themselves are probably important people in the region. She was very friendly though and I opened up about how I had had no idea Dr Kone was as important as he is and we all had a good laugh. She wanted a letter from the organization I was with, which, since I run Bee Aid International entirely myself, I wrote myself an introduction letter, noting pointedly that I was here at the "invitation and encouragement of Dr P V Kone," and they stamped "approved" and photocopied it. I hadn't anticipated any problems with the government but now if anyone tried to hassle me in the region I was armed with an officially stamped letter citing the governor as well as the business card of the regional immigration chief.

   Returned to Dr Kone's office, he told me he would go swear in the district commissioner and then he had another meeting and i should return at 11. Walked back to the hotel as it wasn't really particularly far, had breakfast/lunch since I hadn't eaten yet, it took an hour for my food to come as usual, and then Neema and I were back at the government headquarters with our bags at 11. Newly minted district commissioner arrived about half an hour later, and we were off! Neema and I and the district commissioner and a driver. We drove for several hours out on a road that wasn't paved but it was pretty well maintained, until we finally arrived at Mkalama, the district headquarters. There we had to sign in to the guestbooks of the District commissioner and Assistant District Commissioner (which btw I had to sign the books of Dr Kone and the immigration officer as well, they're really into signing visitor-logs). Briefly ran into the outgoing District Commissioner, who was being transferred to Arusha. Then we were introduced to the district development officer and assistant development officer (the guys who I suppose hold the position I had whimsically imagined Dr Kone to have!) and was told they would take us out the Hadza, or at least out to see what we would need and return here tonight and go back the next day.
   So then we were off again! Another two hours or so, down a more rural dirt road and finally turned off this road and drove for awhile on no sort of road at all, but sort of a rough cattle track, until I was surprised to find a number of nice square buildings suddenly appear through the scrub, connected to eachother by well kept little paths. It turns out this was the rural ("bush") school of Munguli (founded 1960something) where kids from all around board, including some from the Hadza. We were shown a little vacant house we could stay in but it had no bed so we added "mattress" to our shopping list. Then we returned to Mkalama for the night.
   Stayed in a "guest-house" there which is what they call local hotels I guess. They act like muzungus ("westerners" / "white people") could hardly be expected to stay in one, and had even offered to drive me the three/four hours back to the nearest "real" hotel in Singida, but the guest houses aren't that bad. This one was a typical design of a number of small rooms opening onto a small courtyard. Most of the rooms don't have their own bathroom and I wouldn't be surprised if they just have a mattress on a floor but what more do you need. The room we were assigned was one of the two "self contained" rooms with attached bathroom (no western style toilet though, and no hot water), but there was a bed and the door locked.

Day 9: Tuesday, October 13th - in the morning I realized there was a honeybee colony in the roof of the guest-house directly above our room. I took this as a good omen. We did some shopping, got enough spaghetti noodles and beans to hopefully last us a week, as well as a flat of water bottles and a mattress. Then we were off to Munguli! Got a flat tire on the way, a must for any true African adventure.
   Arriving there we occupied the little house, and one of the teachers invited us over to dinner, a number (all?) of the teachers seemed to live in two or three little houses built around a courtyard. I was also introduced to my first Hadza:
   Two Hadza had journeyed in to meet us. "The chairman," was a short man who appeared to have a gold watch dangling loosely from his wrist. Him and his companion were wearing worn western style clothes that appeared to have been given to a thrift store at some point. Noteably though, his companion was sporting a bow and had several arrows. I was told the next morning they would guide us to the Hadza encampment which was several hours walk from this location.
   The two district development officers left us shortly after introducing us to the Hadza, with a promise to come pick us up in about a week (Sunday), and I remember one of them said "good luck" in a manner I felt was distinctly sarcastic like "you'll need it!" And with that my only way out drove off into the acacias with a cloud of dust!

   A truck with loudspeakers on it arrived from one of the political parties and made a short campaign speech shortly after we arrived.

   That evening there was a soccer game nearby between teachers (all of whom looked barely 20) and locals. It was well attended with spectators from all the local community. Teachers won.

   That night after Neema and I realized the door to our house only locked from the outside, at her suggestion we moved the table in front of the door (it opened inward) and thus barricaded it zombie-proof style.

Day 10: Wednesday, October 14th - We got up at first light to start our trek. To help carry the luggage four young boys from the school were recruited and we proceeded like a little line of ants, luggage and mattress being carried on heads. It took several hours winding through acacia, thorn trees, and scrub. We passed several family compounds of square mud-and-stick buildings surrounded by a big circular barrier of piled up thorn branches (mainly to keep livestock in and safe at night), and saw many people dressed in the traditional maasai manner, including some women with the classic big brass disks around their necks -- for the first time I was seeing people that looked right out of national geographic (other than the ones that dress that way at tourist hotspots to better bilk money out of tourists).

[as of this writing, November 11th, my phone was just stolen and with it among other things my rough log of days happenings. After this its just up to my shoddy memory]

   We arrived in the Hadza village of ??? (see above ): ) and were shown to a little house that had been built for a doctor who hasn't arrived yet. The doors didn't lock so we continued to barricade them at night and I felt obliged to carry all my valuables on me at all times.
   Once we'd put our things in the house we walked to the village chairman's "house" just a hundred yards are so away. This village was quite different than the villages in Guinea, in this case it consisted of a smattering of family dwellings all about a hundred or two hundred yards apart, just out of site of eachother through the scrub. The family dwellings almost all consisted of one rough rectangular brick structure that would qualify as a "crude shed" in the western world as well as one or more wigwam like huts. I got the impressions the huts were the traditional mode of housing and still preferred because the breeze blows right through them during the day for a cooling effect, and the rectangular buildings were the work of efforts to "modernize" them and did have the advantages of better shelter from the rain. I'd post some illustrative pictures but well, see above.
   Anyway at the village chairman's place we were welcomed into the wigwam and given baobab juice, created before our eyes by mixing baobab seeds (a rock hard seed with a white chalky covering the is edible) with water and sugar by hand (ie his wife was churning it with her hand, but who's got time to be squeamish about germs hey). I actually rather liked the baobab juice.
   We returned after that to our little house to rest and then the weirdest thing happened. I heard the winds suddenly become very strong and looked outside to see a very large whirlwind (nearly the width of our house and clearly forming a tornado shaped cone of dust up high into the sky) heading straight for our house, hit us, and continue on the other side. It fortunately wasn't strong enough to do any actual damage. Weird though!!

   And that's the journey to the Hadza. I'll make a separate post about the actual work there.


[skipping ahead again a bunch]

Day appx 40: Tuesday, November 10th (today)- Sorry for so few updates, I've been busy! Have barely opened my computer. Anyway, as I mentioned, yesterday, which was my last day in Nairobi, while leaving downtown for the last time, I was successfully pickpocketed for the first time in my life. I'm always extremely careful, and if I have to be in crowded conditions always have my hands in my pockets on my wallet and phone. Unfortunately in this case I had my hands full with a big bag. I probably wouldn't have even tried but I was with a local friend who got on the bus before me and was afraid of being separated. I actually felt my wallet being lifted, a feeling which still gives me the chills. But it was already too late there was no determining who had gotten it. I could have taken a taxi that night and wish I had but I was being too cheap I guess, trying not to be a "rich muzungu" who takes the taxi all over the place. What bothers me the most isn't the loss of they physical phone but the pictures on it, which I unfortunately hadn't bothered to back up on to my computer all month, as well as the rough log without which it will be much harder for me to include interesting minor details in my blog. My memory is really notoriously bad, and without the photos and rough log I really feel like a large part of the past month has been stolen from me.
   Fortunately this did happen on my last night so I don't have to survive for days in Africa w out money or phone. And my friend Grace whom I was with showed that heartmelting African generosity by actually loaning me her rent money, $40 of the $50 she had to her name at the time, so I could get to the airport and eat today. I felt bad accepting it but I'll be able to western union her back the money and more as soon as I get back to the states.

Tags: africa, agdev, grace, misfortune, neema, tanzania, travel, travelogues

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