Tanzania – Serengeti rangers burn Maasai villages in Ngorongoro district

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Wardens raze 114 bomas, thousands stranded
BY CHARLES NGEREZA
15th February 2015

More than three thousand residents of Arash, Loosoito and Maaaloni villages in Ngorongoro District have been left homeless after the Serengeti National Park security rangers burned 114 Maasai bomas leaving them without necessary supplies.

Journalists visiting the area yesterday witnessed groups of women and children moaning and showing fear as fully armed park rangers continued burning other bomas in nearby villages.

Narrating the ordeal to the press, traditional elders said burning of their homes is outrageous, irreparable losses in their lives, and the government should intervene immediately to save the situation.

“This is our homeland. Our fathers were placed here after they were evicted from Serengeti in an agreement way back in 1959 between the colonial government and the community during the establishment of the Serengeti National Park. We have lost almost everything…

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Home again

Well, I’m writing this from the comfort of my mum’s kitchen in rainy Devon, how quickly my time in the bush passed!

I wrapped up my data collection with two final interviews with young warriors, at the beginning of my last week in Eluway. They went just fine, thankfully, which was a relief after the trouble I had at the group discussion; it was a much better note to end on than the last week’s events! Then, all that was left was to take photos of the remaining plants on my list of popular ethnoveterinary  medicines, so, naturally, that evening I dropped my camera in my bucket of shower water. Thankfully there was no shortage of rice on hand, so I zipped up the pieces of camera in a bag of rice and postponed my photography for a day. Instead, I accompanied Alex to Arusha to help him pick up the remaining solar supplies on Tuesday. Luckily, my camera was saved, and on Wednesday Samwel and I were busy hiking all over the place in search of those last few medicines. We went to Samwel’s village in Monduli, to where he knew of some specimens, and stopped by to visit his mother while we were there. Samwel’s village was beautiful, far  more lush than ours with fields of corn all over the hills below. Then we journeyed back to Eluway and hiked around the side of the mountains to a village far more remote than ours, where we met one of the school’s guards at his boma, and went in search of the oltarakwai tree, a species of Juniperus. It was a beautiful walk, and I saw a baby antelope which flew out of a bush, and bounded away so quickly that I barely had chance to notice what it was! We also came across some strange rocks which we were covered in holes and troughs. I was told that these strange formations are actually made by goats licking the rocks, which are rich in minerals that the goats need. It was a great way to spend my last day of work, exploring the farther villages, seeing views over the vast plains below, and meeting more people along the way.

On Thursday we had planned to leave by noon, but naturally that didn’t happen. I helped Alex with some final touches to the electrical work, like screwing in light bulbs and tidying up wires, before packing up our little room, but Alex had a few hitches to fix and wasn’t ready to go until after lunch (which was rice, but cooked with potatoes, carrots and fried onions; much more delicious than the usual rice and beans). We said our goodbyes to the remaining staff at the school, although most of them had already left for the holidays. Lutori was especially sentimental and asked us to take his greetings to our families, to call him, and told us a Masai proverb that the mountains can never meet but people can, meaning, I suppose, that we should meet again. We gave solar lamps to Lutori and Sakiri, the night guards who were our friends and helped us to brew the Masai beer, and distributed our pillows, toiletries and some clothes and shoes to various friends. Although Josh wasn’t able to build the new classroom due to the especially rainy April and early May, we left the school with electric lights in all the rooms including the bedrooms and the new library, to which I will be contributing the ethnoveterinary book in the coming months. There are also electrical outlets ready to power up the new computer lab (which is the old library), which will be receiving 15 donated laptops next month. Josh also patched up the many huge cracks in the existing buildings which will hopefully last longer after some much needed maintenance.

In true African style, the journey from the village took far longer than it should have. Already running late, we called to ask for 3 boda bodas to take us and our luggage to Monduli Juu, and they told us they were on their way. Almost an hour later none had shown up, so we called again and found that they were not coming. So three more were ordered and half an hour later two turned up. So, they crammed us on any way with our huge backpacks and I barely managed to stay on over the bumpy track out of the village, as most of my seat was taken up by bags, and I couldn’t really sit! To top off the terrible taxi service, they tried to charge us the price of three because they took our luggage (even though we had come with luggage twice before and never paid extra). After a battle of the wills, they took the standard fare; a small victory I wasn’t going to cede after waiting an hour and a half for them to show up with one less bike than we needed. Thankfully, neither of the daladalas tried to charge us Mzungo (white person) prices for having luggage, but it was seven in the evening before we got to Arusha, and we were supposed to meet with our safari guide to confirm schedules and pay for our safari the next day. Thankfully our guide, Samson, was awesome and came to our hostel to save us going straight back out. It was a tiring day nonetheless, and it was good to sit in the hostel bar with a bottle of Kilimanjaro beer!

The weekend was an excellent finale to the two months in Tanzania, as we went on safari to Arusha National park and Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. Samson was very knowledgeable about the plants as well as the game, so, knowing that I am a botanist, he pointed out and informed us about lots of the native plants and their uses too. It was amazing being surrounded by so much wildlife; at one point we could see a lion and lioness, wildebeest, zebras and gazelles, plus some Masai herding their cattle. It seemed so harmonious, watching even predator and prey relaxing alongside each other. We were lucky enough to see one of Ngorongoro’s twenty black rhino, although we needed binoculars to get a good look, plus the black and white Colobus monkey which is reportedly hard to see anywhere in Tanzania but Arusha. It was an excellent weekend in the beauty of Tanzania’a national parks, and I was sad when Sunday came around and it was my last day in Africa.

On my final day, we met up with Kephas in Arusha town, and said our goodbyes to him over tea, after he took us for a brief trip to the craft market to pick up a few souvenirs. Alex and I headed to our favourite Indian restaurant, Mehboob’s, for a final dinner of the most delicious mutton anyone ever cooked, then took a nap before Samson kindly came to take me to the airport at 1am. The long journey home was made worse by the fact that I woke up feeling sick (unfortunately, I think it was from Mehboob’s lamb), and I was sick all the way to Istanbul, where we missed our connection due to rescheduling and had to wait 8 hours.

Anyhow, Josh and I made it home, and Alex is now sunning himself in Zanzibar (not that I’m jealous). It is nice to return to home comforts like hot showers, electric kettles and a fridge full of food, plus my belated birthday cake with elderflower cream and fresh berries! I can’t say I’ll miss rice and beans, but I might try to make Loshoro!

Now the real work begins, as I write my thesis! Next week I’m looking forward to attending the Economic Botany conference in Plymouth, and catching up with coursemates who have returned from fieldwork all over the world. I guess now I should get stuck into turning my qualitative data into quantitative data, which seems to be the only way to analyse it….

Wish me luck 🙂

p.s. a few photos from the last two months to follow!

Celebrations in Masailand

I am now at the beginning of my last week in Masailand! I can’t say I’ll be sad to leave behind the rice and beans, or the cold bucket showers, but I will miss the peace of this village, and the friends we have made here.
The last week was pretty busy. Samwel and I organised two group discussions, one for the men and one for the women, to discuss which plants to put in our Masai veterinary medicine book. We bought meat and milk, and offered lunch and tea to the participants in exchange for their time. Unfortunately, a few warriors showed up who weren’t actually invited, and started demanding money in exchange for their thoughts. Thankfully, the elders defended me, but some of the warriors took food and then left during the discussion. Still, 8 men remained to the end, and we didn’t have any trouble with the women, which was a relief!
Transcribing took hours; we spent a whole day transcribing each group discussion (with a few much needed breaks)! So that was most of the week gone. On Friday we went out to the forest to photograph plants for the book. Samwel brought along a hoe so that we could photograph the roots, which are often the part used here for medicine. We took care not to damage them, and covered them back over after taking pictures. We asked a young child where to find one of the plants, osendu, and he knew just where to look, and took us there. It’s amazing how many of the plants are known and used here. Almost anything I point to, Samwel can name it and tell me the use, and the forest really is a pharmacy!
On Friday night our beer was ready, so we went to Lutori’s boma to sample it, before bringing it to the school in a bucket and a big old oil container. Another friend from the school joined us, already a little merry, having come from a circumcision, and he thought it was great that we had made Masai beer for the party. He told us that sometimes other people come and they don’t want to use the Masai things. Even Chagga (another tribe from Kilimanjaro), he told us, come and they don’t want to try the Masai things. So he was happy that we are eating the food and drinking the drink of the Masai during our stay.
And then it was my birthday, in a village where many people don’t even know their age! We bought a goat (which we named Barbecue for obvious reasons), and Alex slaughtered it while I went to the market for chilli sauce, and pop for those who didn’t want beer. Apparently, Lutori ate the kidneys raw straight from the carcass while they were gutting it, then drank the blood from the bucket. And nothing went to waste. The liver and some other organs where used to make a soup for lunch, the legs and ribs were roasted on the fire, one of the students who had come back for the celebration savoured the testicles, and I was told the penis was somewhere in amongst one of the plates of meat. Finally the tripe, plus something I didn’t recognise, went into the pot for dinner on Sunday. The hide disappeared pretty quickly to some one’s boma for some use, and the bones were cracked so that the marrow could be sucked out. Barbecue went a long way!
In the late afternoon people began to show up, and we drank beer and played cards until everyone that we were expecting had arrived. Then the meat was devoured! The only other woman at the party was the cook, and the Masai men expect the women to serve them, so I barely even sat down to eat! I took a jug of water and soap around for people to wash their hands before and after eating, and poured beers throughout the night. If some one’s cup emptied, they handed it to me. Despite being the server at my own birthday though, I had a great time. As it was my party, I had to welcome everybody, and explain why we had meat and beer . I told them that we were celebrating because in my country, we have a party each year on the day that we were born, and that on this day 26 years ago, I was born. Kephas started a round of ‘Happy birthday’ followed by Masai songs that are used for other celebrations, adapted for the purpose (not that I understood the words). Everyone got up to dance, which was quite a sight; about 15 Masai all jumping in the staff room to their throaty singing! We took a video, so I will post a clip once I have a decent internet connection next week!
Kephas has adopted me as his daughter, and was encouraging Alex to marry me (in Masai culture the prospective husband has to pay the girl’s father in cows)! We talked about paying for women with cows, and the men explained that you should pay at least ten cows, but if you love her you can pay twenty. One of the guests, who has an English wife, was asked “How many cows did you pay for her?”. He told us he paid thirty cows, and we asked “Well, where are they now, did you send cows to England?!” He told us “No, they are in my field”. We all had quite a laugh at that.
As I have been here for a while, and was celebrating with Masai friends, they decided to give me a Masai name. They discussed for a while, and asked what my English name means (white wave), then decided on Nembura (not at all sure of the spelling), or Neema in Swahili, which means Grace. We ran into one of the guys in town the next day and he greeted me by my Masai name.
I have no idea what time we partied until, but we got through 20 litres of beer, and I wasn’t the only one suffering in the morning! After sleeping in until ten (which is super late here), I dragged myself to a cold bucket shower and then made the hour and half journey to Monduli town, just to eat a chip omelette, which is the closest thing to an English breakfast within 200km.
After eating, and getting some fruit and veg from the market, we met with Samwel. He took us to a tree called osokonoi, which is used by some people locally for medicine. Naturally, it grows in an area far from here, but one of Sam’s uncles has one which was planted in their garden by previous generations, so that they could use it’s medicine without travelling so far. It was a large specimen, and luckily for me it had both fruits and flowers. It was nice to take the motorcycle taxis to Sam’s uncle’s village, which was very beautiful, set on the road into the mountains.
And so today our last week here begins! We leave for the city on Wednesday or Thursday to fit in a quick safari in Arusha National Park before Josh and I return to the UK and Alex embarks on a trip up Kilimanjaro and further African travels! I’ll probably be home by the next time I blog, so expect photos finally, and maybe a video!

Last week was the last week of school, which threw a big wrench into my work, as my interpreter had to write reports for his classes. I spent hours on my own, going through vernacular names in books and papers, to identify the Latin names of the species that people are using for animal medicines. We did get a more exciting day in on Friday though, when we interviewed two more women in the village, took some pictures of medicinal plants and got our microbrewery set up!

One of the students, Korduni, came out around the village with Samwel and I, to look for the medicinal plants that people have been telling me about. I discovered that there are two types of katani (sisal); one that is used for medicine and one that is used for fibre. Samwel told me that the white one is for medicine and the green one is for fibre; they are both green to me, but one is paler. We found a few of the trees and got some pictures of the different parts. We also found evidence of recent bark harvesting for medicine, so we were able to take pictures of the inside bark as well. It seems that some of the harvesting may not be sustainable, especially when the bark is used. One orkiloriti tree, used to make a medicinal tea, had been ringed all the way to my shoulder height, and was dead. An orelai tree had panels removed all around the trunk, two very recent, the other two probably no more than a year old. We also came across an orng’oswa, the sap of which is chewed like bubblegum and also used in medicines, that had been tapped multiple times recently and had holes all over the trunk. Perhaps I will suggest a project about the practises of wild harvesting of medicinal plants in Eluwai, for a Kent Master’s student next year!

The women I interviewed were two wives of the same man, who works in Nairobi as an airport security guard, but still keeps cows and goats at home. During the first interview, in the second wife’s boma, I heard tapping and scuffling behind me, and looked down to see two one-day old goat kids which had been sleeping under the bed! She let me pet them after the interview, although she clearly thought I was slightly strange. When we left she just grabbed them by their necks and shoved them back under the bed; you won’t find a petting zoo in Masailand! The grandmother came by and offered us tea, which I had to take outside of the boma because it got so smoky in there as soon as she got a fire going to boil water and milk. I have been told that there is a one-man charity working in the area to install chimneys in the bomas, and I think it’s a great thing. I’ve noticed many elders coughing terribly.

Shortly after we got back to the school, two of Lutori’s young sons showed up with a donkey, which we loaded up with 20 litres of water, 4kg of sugar and 4kg of honey. We then proceeded in the fading light to Lutori’s boma by the big hill, where we are brewing our beer. The beer needs to be warm and the school has no heating so it gets cold up here in the mornings and evenings. The beer that we are making is brewed for special occasions like weddings and circumcisions, not usually birthdays as the Masai don’t keep track of their age! As we neared the boma one of the kids, who was only about 9 years old, started crying. We asked what was wrong and Samwel told me “He is saying ‘Dad, why are you making this beer? Are you going to circumcise us? Circumcise the others, not me!'” We couldn’t help but laugh, poor kid. We gave him a spoonful of honey before we left, and he had ceased crying.

The process of starting the brewing was not too long but was very hands on! We poured about 15 litres of the water into a huge bucket, which was placed on top of a pile of dry cow dung to keep it warm, and put the rest into a large pot. Then we added all the sugar, followed by the honey, and mixed it with our hands. The honey had to be broken up as it was very chunky and full of wax. Lutori’s brother and I washed up and got our arms in to break up the lumps with our fingers. After about 20 minutes we had a more even consistency, and we added it to the huge bucket. After pouring in the honey and sugar mix, we added 15 dried osukuroi (an aloe species) roots to the bucket, followed by some embers from the fire. Lutori and his brother picked up the embers with their bare hands, without so much as flinching. Finally, with some ash from the fire, Lutori drew markings on the bucket to ward off evil, and the lid went on. We will filter it on Wednesday, and on Friday we will bring it to the school.

There was a tiny puppy in the boma, which Alex passed to me once my hands were free. Though I had washed them, the puppy must have still smelled all the honey on my hands, because it licked them all over and sucked my fingers. Then it went to sleep in the palm of my hand. Before leaving we drank hot milk and tea, then walked home under the millions of stars that are visible here in the bush.

The birthday party is happening on Saturday and has become somewhat of an event. Kephas, the indigenous knowledge teacher, is asking some Masai to come to sing and dance, and we are buying a goat for African BBQ. I have been told that I have to get Masai robes, and dress in traditional style as well. It’s certainly going to be a memorable birthday!

In about an hour, 10 warriors and elders are coming here to take part in a group discussion about medicinal plants used for livestock. The purpose is to collect detailed information on uses, dosage and preparation, in order to make a booklet for the school. This will aid in teaching the indigenous knowledge program, which the school offers alongside the national curriculum. So, I must make sure that the room is ready, and have a final briefing with Samwel about his role as interpreter and co-moderator! I’ve never led a group discussion before so I am a little nervous, but as long as no one turns up drunk, it should be fine!

I hope you’ve got a comfy seat and a cup of tea….

The last week has been rather busy and exciting, so I hope you have some spare time and a cup of tea in your hand for this post! I did some interesting interviews, made several trips to town and failed in an attempt at cooking in the school kitchen! I will begin with my work, as this is supposed to be a blog about ethnobotany! I apologise in advance for a lack of proof reading, it’s taken me so long to write this one and I need to get on with some work!

On Tuesday I interviewed the mother of one of the form 3 students. I have decided that I like interviewing women the most; they like to host, so I always get maize-based snacks! On the other hand, it’s hard to get women on their own, and I have to keep asking other mamas and children not to help the interviewee with her freelist! When I interviewed some teenage girls the other day it was especially hard, as there was group of toddlers laughing and staring at me, and a few kokos (grandmothers) trying to get their two cents in. The women are always friendly and kind to me, but they usually ask if I have babies and laugh when I say that I don’t (I’m a spinster). The girls I interviewed were sixteen and seventeen, both married, and one had her first baby which she nursed while talking to me. To me they looked so young to be wives and mothers but to them I was so strange! They both told me that they don’t treat the animals often, usually just the goat kids, but they both knew local medicines for the larger animals as well. After my nice, friendly interview with the mama on Tuesday, I got back to the school to find four warriors who had come to do interviews too. I was thinking ‘Wow, what a productive morning’, until I realised that they had stopped by the local ‘bar’ on their way, and were in varying stages of intoxication. The first was OK, but I thought something seemed strange with the second two I interviewed; they didn’t have half as much to say as most of the warriors I had interviewed previously, and we were getting through the interviews remarkably fast. Then the last one was so drunk he just kept repeating the same words over and over and was yelling instead of talking. It was pretty awkward when I realised the problem, but I proceeded with the interview as best I could, as I couldn’t really think of a polite way to say ‘Thanks for coming but you’re pretty useless right now’. The worst was to come. Usually I give people a kilo of sugar as a gift to thank them for their time; these guys wanted gongo instead. Gongo is the local brew of wheat and bananas which smells like paint stripper and seems to be drunk mostly by alcoholics. I haven’t given money for any other interviews and no one has asked before; usually people are very happy to get sugar (people put insane amounts of sugar in their tea here), but don’t actually ask for anything at all. And I wasn’t keen on getting these guys more drunk so that they could fall asleep in a bush on their way home later. On the other hand, I didn’t want any trouble. Thankfully, my interpreter talked the most sober one around to taking sugar for their families instead of gongo, and that one convinced his friends to accept the sugar without hard feelings. We parted amicably, but I don’t think I’ll ask them to help with my research again!

Speaking of local brews, I was talking to the indigenous knowledge teacher, Kephas, about a beer I had heard of that is brewed in the homesteads using honey, alovera (both local medicines), and sugar. I wanted to try some, but it isn’t on sale, and is usually only brewed and drank for special occasions such as weddings. Kephas asked one of the Maasai guards, Sakiri, if he could knew any one that had any at the moment. He told us that his daughter was married last week and if he’d known earlier he would have brought us some! This, we thought, was a crying shame, but he did offer a solution; give him 50,000 shillings for 4 kg of honey and he would make us some! Well, my birthday is coming up so we decided to take him up on the offer. The next day he showed up with at last 4kg of raw honey, with the combs and dead bees still in there. In a few days we will go and harvest some alovera, and Sakiri will teach us how to brew Maasai beer! We will have about ten litres for my birthday, so I guess we will be having a good party! I am excited to see the process, as well as to sample this medicinal beer! It’s nothing to do with ethnoveterinary medicine, but it will be an interesting ethnobotanical learning experience!

And while I’m on the topic of ethnobotanical expereinces, I had rather a bad experience with a medicinal tree the other day! Our staff cook was taken to hospital over a week ago and is still recuperating from stomach troubles, so the teachers have been taking turns to help the other cooks with our staff meals. On Thursday, it was my interpreter Samwel’s turn, and he told me that he can’t cook. He asked if I could cook rice and I told him ‘yes, I know many ways to cook rice’, so the next thing I knew, I was in the smoky kitchen, cooking in a huge pot over a wood fire. I was doing OK and was about to get the beans on, when I started feeling a bit dizzy. I stepped outside for some air and almost immediately started to black out. I managed to sit down on a rock with my head in my hands before fainting completely, but the dizziness didn’t pass and I vomited the two cups of uji (porridge) I had enjoyed less than an hour earlier. Samwel took water for me which didn’t stay down either, but thankfully I managed to get to my room and lie down before passing out completely. After some rest, a wash, and a change of clothes to get rid of the stench of smoke, I felt OK again. Everyone was very confused at what I could have eaten to make me sick so suddenly, and some people decided that I must have eaten a rotten carrot (I did not). Then I talked to Kephas and I told him it wasn’t my stomach, it was my head. He asked what wood we had been burning and I told him we had burnt logs from one of the medicinal trees. Apparently you can inhale this smoke to cure a head ache, but it is also used as a perfume (I get a bit queasy after 5 minutes in LUSH! so this started to make some sense). Kephas is sure that we must have been burning something poisonous as well, but I think I just inhaled a poisonous amount of medicinal/perfume smoke! It was unpleasant, but the only lasting effect was that I am now banned from the kitchen, and I can’t say I’m sad about that!

I don’t know when the cook, Gemma, will be well enough to come back, she is recuperating at an aunt’s house in Monduli town now. We hadn’t heard much about her condition since she was taken to the hospital, but we discovered her whereabouts when Alex and I were in town the other day buying exercise books for the students. We passed a house with lots of children outside, and as usual they all started shouting ‘Good morning! Good morning!’. However, the chant seemed to change to ‘Jennie, Jennie’, and I looked at Alex in confusion. I asked him ‘does it sound like they are saying Jennie to you?’, and he looked just as confused as I was, and agreed with me. Then I looked back and realised that one of the children was Maureeny, the cooks daughter who used to play in my room all the time and share my food! I went over to give her a hug but she ran inside so I left before anyone thought I was a kidnapper or something! It turned out that it was Gemma’s aunt’s house where they are staying for now, and we saw Gemma briefly as we walked by later. She looked a little weak but told us she was well. I hope that she and Maureeny will be back before we leave, I miss the troublesome little toddler!

We went to town a few times this week, and we had some interesting dala dala rides. They always pack these minivans so full that you marvel at how many people can fit in there, and then while you ponder this achievement they stop to pick up a couple more passengers! Well, one day last week, we were those extras, running and waving for it to stop (you can wait an hour before the next one will fill up). Sure enough they managed to squeeze us both in, with me sharing the driver’s seat! It meant he had to rest his arm on my thigh for most of the time to control the gears, and that my shoulder was squeezed under his armpit; it was probably the cosiest dala dala ride I’ve had so far! The way back was equally snug; I counted 15 (12 of whom were large men), plus a baby. That’s in a seven seater car. They must make good money from these ‘buses’ at 1000 shillings a person, at least by Tanzanian standards.

On the second leg of our return journey (the walk from the village of Monduli Juu to our village, Eluwai), we saw the whole troop of monkeys, including tiny babies. It was Alex’s first monkey sighting so we watched them for a while, until we realised that it was almost getting dark. We also saw a fox, which was small with huge ears and ran so fast that I thought it was a hare at first glance! So, it was a good week for wildlife!

The down side was that we ran out of water in our rain tanks, and people were having to bring water all the way from the dam, which is not only a half hours walk away but is also very muddy. There was a small amount of rain water left in one tank for drinking, but not enough for cooking and washing. Alex and I bought a 5 litre bottle of mineral water to guarantee our safe drinking water supply, but washing was tricky in a bucket of mud! Thankfully, the school had a truck drive up with a big tank of safe water, which replenished our supply after just a day or two of dirty showers! I just hope we get rain again soon, we are heading in to the dry season and it hasn’t rained for a couple of weeks now. It must be expensive to get a truck to bring water all the way out here.

We spent the weekend in Arusha finding solar supplies, so that Alex and Josh can get power to the boy’s dorm, what will be the computer lab (there are 14 donated laptops arriving in July), and the newly built library. It was nice to visit the city again, I feel more comfortable there now that I know phrases such as ‘I don’t need anything’ and ‘I am a student, I have no money’! We met a guy who was studying archaeology and had been living in Kenya for a few months. He told us that he had set a goal to eat three new animals in Africa, and had accomplished it with a barbeque skewer on his first day! I haven’t eaten any strange animals, just a lot of sour milk, rice and ugale!

We had to get a car to drive us back to Eluwai with the new solar panels and a lot of thick cables, and I have no idea how this low rider taxi made it down the ‘road’ to the village intact. Usually only motor cycles and four-by-fours travel that road, and the suspension on this little car did not sound happy! But we made it and now Alex is installing new electrical systems that will bring a lot more power to where it most needed.

All in all it was an exciting and successful week. I have done most of my interviews now (except the ones I need to discount because of the drunkeness), so now I can start focussing more on field botany, and preparing the booklet which I am making for the school to document the local veterinary medicines. With a bit of luck the new library will be finished and well-lit by the time my book makes it on to the shelves! That’s team work 🙂

This past week was my last to work with the students, as they have exams in the coming week. I decided to expand my sample size by doing the freelists and questionnaires with form four. I had a really great response rate from them so I have a good set of data to work with, in terms of identifying the factors related to ethnoveterinary knowledge among secondary students. I also did an interview with a Koko (grandmother) in the village, at her homestead. I helped her to pick the corns from the cobs, and watched her sort all the different beans while we talked. We were surrounded by chickens and their chicks trying to get a bite so I had to be vigilant about not dropping any kernels! It was so relaxing, sitting in the sunshine, surrounded by green hills, picking corns and watching the goats play. Koko fed us delicious, sweet corn and my favourite drink, loshoro (the milk with corns in); I have to say it was the best loshoro I’ve had so far. Koko was only the second woman that I’ve interviewed, and like the first, she was very knowledgeable about animal medicines. I need to interview more women in the coming weeks to eliminate my gender bias, and to confirm whether or not the level of knowledge amongst elder women is equal to men’s.

In other news, Alex arrived on Thursday night! I went to pick him up from Kilimanjaro airport, and his plane was delayed by two hours. Since the internet at the hostel wasn’t working I hadn’t been able to check the flight timetables, so I panicked when his plane hadn’t arrived, and there wasn’t one scheduled for the time I had expected; I thought I had gotten the wrong day! Thankfully, my taxi driver, Amani, told me “Jennie, this is Tanzania, don’t worry. He will come sometime from now.” Sure enough, two hours and many mosquito bites later, he finally arrived. After two hours sleep we decided to head back to the bush on Friday and spend the weekend here. I showed Alex around the school and the village, and this week he will assess what needs to be done to fix the solar power system. It was great to stay in Arusha for the night though. I had the longest hot shower of my life, and went out with fellow ethnobotanist, Lucie, for Indian food (they do great Indian food here), before heading to Kili. It’s interesting that the city has become a respite to me now; at first I found it stressful, what with all the street sellers hassling me to buy batik paintings and Australian style bush hats with “Tanzania” written on them. At this point it’s good to get different food, tea without sugar, and hot showers! I’m officially over rice and beans. Forever. I never want to eat it again in my life. I’m still loving the ugale though and I’ve stocked up on biscuits and bananas to get me through!

We shared our Turkish Delight the other day, which we bought when we stopped over in Istanbul. I was really surprised that no one was very interested in it! The toddler just looked at it like she had no idea what to do with it, then gave it back. Even after I bit half and gave her the rest she wasn’t at all interested; I gave her a banana instead and she was much happier. I’m learning as much about my own culture as I am about Maasai culture!

On Saturday I took Alex to the market and bought him his first loshoro; he wasn’t quite as keen as I am on the drink, but then he only just arrived. I told him, give it a month and you’ll crave loshoro! We walked through the village and up into the hills to see the beautiful views of the mountains and lakes. He is very happy to be in Africa, and it’s fun to have someone to show around my new home! I’ve no wildlife sightings to report in the last week, although I heard the hyenas howling one night. I also saw an insane number of baby goats yesterday; I don’t even understand how there were so many given the number of nannies. I’m hoping Alex will get to see the monkeys when we walk to town on Thursday to buy exercise books for the form four students.

So, that’s my weekly news from the bush. I can’t believe I’m one month in, half way! Time flies when you’re having fun! I must get ready to interview some warriors now. Until next week x

The last week has been rather uneventful I

The last week has been rather uneventful I am afraid, although last week was especially great so it’s hard to follow that! It rained a lot on Monday and Tuesday, turning the village paths in to rivers of mud, but the sun came back for the end of the week and we had a pleasant weekend. It’s exam week next week, so all of the teachers have been busy preparing exams, and I have been helping to type them all up. None of the computers here are working currently so my laptop and typing skills are hot commodities; I will be as happy as the students when all the exams are finished! Fixing computers will definitely be high up on the list of jobs for our electrician, Alex, when he gets here this weekend.

I made a trip to the town, Monduli Chini, on Thursday to print off some questionnaires to give to the students, and to restock on bags of sugar, which are my thank you gifts to the participants in my research. We met up with Grosper, the headmaster of the school, and we ate some meat with hot chili sauce and exchanged news. Grosper is studying at university at the moment so we don’t see him too much, but he always knows what’s going on and calls to check how Josh and I doing. He is a friendly, happy man and it was nice to see him over lunch. I’m off to Arusha this weekend to get Alex from Kilimanjaro and bring him to the school, so we talked a little about his arrival and the work he will do on the school’s solar systems. I’ll also be meeting with fellow ethnobotanists Lucie and Musa while I’m in the city, to talk about the plant medicines of which I have been learning. Musa is a Masai warrior from Eluwai so he knows a lot about the local plants here, and Lucie did her Master’s project last year on Masai medicine, so it will be great to share ideas and talk about my research with them. I’m not going to lie, I’m also looking forward to Fifi’s cafe and their delicious, obscenely over-priced (by Tanzanian standards) milkshakes!

I interviewed two brothers last week, one who sells Masai medicine for a living, and one who declared his occupation to be animal keeping. They had both been to ronjo, which is the name of the journey to find fresh pastures when the climate is too dry; young boys must leave home for months or even years sometimes to keep the animals healthy. During ronjo is when both brothers learnt much of what they know about tending to sick livestock, and some of the other participants including students have talked to me of ronjo too. Interestingly, the younger brother, whose livelihood depends on his animals, knew a lot more about the local medicines than his entrepreneurial brother, which goes well toward my hypothesis that experience is so important in this kind of knowledge. I have heard that those who sell medicines often do not consult on how to use them, they just sell the products. Anyhow, the mitishamba (Masai medicine) vendor is a useful contact for me. I may buy those medicines that are harder to find, so I can include pictures in the book of Masai ethnoveterinary medicines that I’m going to produce for the school.

I had expected that the students at the school would know less about how to treat livestock than their unschooled peers, but about half of them seem to know quite a lot, and it seems that many of the boys are responsible for taking care of their families’ livestock when they are not in school. I hope to discern what the reasons are for the variation in knowledge that I have uncovered among the students, by using the questionnaire to find out more about their backgrounds. I have asked the students to tell me information such as their parents’ occupations and what animals they keep, and whether they live in the villages or the town. I also asked them if they think that it is important to learn the local medicines for livestock, and why. I am looking forward to reading their responses to that when Samwel and I get to translating them this week! It is clear to me that schooling is certainly not the most important factor in whether young people learn about animal medicines, so I will continue to try to understand the other factors involved. On my way to market yesterday I was talking to an ex-student of the school who we ran into on the way. I talked to him about my project and we discussed the reasons why many people are buying chemotherapeutic medicines for their livestock nowadays. It was nice to talk freely with him without the format of a semi-structured interview. We ran into one of the elders that I interviewed in the first week as well, and he welcomed us to return again if we want to talk more; I think I will definitely ask him to take part in my focus group in the final week. Unfortunately, the students have exams next week and then they will go home for the holiday, so I must finish my interviews with them this week, then I will focus on interviewing more people from the village. I am excited to go out to collect and photograph the plants soon as well, now that I am building up a good list of what plants are important to people in livestock care here. It will be good to get some field botany in after all this anthropological work! I know some of the common plants already, and many of them are human medicines as well. I can even recognise some of the diseases in the livestock now (and I do often stop to watch baby goats)!

I saw the monkeys again on my way back from market on Saturday, and I had my camera this time! I was able to get very close without bothering them, and I got some good pictures of one of the males up in a tree. In other wildlife news, I saw hyenas the other night, and there were buffalo and elephants in the next village, Mairete, last Sunday. Fortunately we didn’t run into them on our way back from town, it seems that elephants are the most feared of the wild animals around here. Hyenas, I have been told, will only attack if you fear them, and people can scare them off by running at them. I certainly did fear them, but thankfully I was in good hands; the student with me held my hand and he told me “Don’t worry! You are with me, and I am a warrior”. I did feel surprisingly safe in the care of this young boy, and he enjoyed laughing at me when I jumped at the sight of cow’s eyes in the dark!

Apart from large game and scary carnivores, there are so many butterflies here! When were walking to town the other day they were sitting all along the side of the path and when we walked by and disturbed them they flew all around us. It was quite magical! There were yellow ones, white ones, black ones and some tiny purple ones, all fluttering around like something from a Disney movie! Less magical are the moths and flies that hover around my face when I wear my head lamp at night; I have learnt the hard way not to open my mouth too wide 🙂

So, another week in Masailand has passed and I’m learning lots about Masai culture in general as well as the ethnobotany! It’s going so fast! I am excited for Alex’s arrival and a weekend in Arusha, not least because the mission house has hot showers! Lucie and I have also planned to go for Indian food on Thursday night which will be a mouth watering change from rice/ugale and beans. It will be interesting making the journey back on the public ‘buses’ without an escort. There are no timetables or destination signs, just find the right one and squeeze yourself in… I’m sure it will be an adventure!

Safi sana x