Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Kuja Nyumbani: Coming Home To Tanzania: Part 1: Departures and Arrivals


The last day and a half is a jumbled blur. I know I left Oshkosh, Wisconsin at 10:00 on the 5th of January, 2014. I know I arrived at O'hare International Airport in Chicago, IL on the 5th and flew out around 17:00. After that it's a bit hazy. I know I watched a lot of movies on the plane to Amsterdam and that I arrived in Amsterdam on the 6th but I'm not sure what time. It was early in the morning according to Central time. I called Sarah, my wife, once I figured out how to get the WIFI to work in the airport. She helps me work it out; I think it was around 8:00 when we landed in Amsterdam. It was around 3:00 in Oshkosh.

There is a total of 21 people in our group. I am tagging along with this team of 17 students from the Department of Psychology at UW Oshkosh lead by Dr. Jim Koch and Dawn and Dave Detloff, also from UWO. The purpose of the trip is to travel to Tanzania, learn about the culture and people, and conduct animal observations at five national parks to study behavior. In an unexpected coincidence, I am interested in the same plan; focusing on horned bovids, I am curious to see if variation in horn morphology is consistent with fighting style. With this information, I can elaborate my current research on injury frequency and distribution in horned bovids and make comparisons with injuries in ornithischian dinosaurs. I am also interested in looking at predator/prey interactions and relationships for research comparisons with the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, as well as starting some experimental taphonomy studies based on bones and carcasses in the various parks. Finally, I am interested in talking with someone about getting the ball rolling to start doing field work in the Tendaguru formation of southern Tanzania.

As we board the flight to Kilimanjaro, I still have no clear idea what time it is. My watch is set to home time, but I'm not sure if the date is correct, or whether it is in the morning or afternoon. I'm sure a majority of this confusion is just due to a lack of rest. The flight is roughly seven hours.  I have dozed for a total of about 20 minutes in the last day and a half. After a 15 hour series of flights and tremendous jet lag, we landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport.


21:00 local time. I've been up...too long. We depart the plane on to the tarmac and I am instantly hit with a blast of warm air and a sweet and slightly bitter smell in the air. As I walk across the tarmac in the dimly lit airport I can see the faint outline of palm trees and jungle. I enter into the entrance of the customs area at Arusha Airport. I wait in line and get my visa stamped by a woman dressed in a black sweater and military fatigues. Despite the ridiculously expensive vaccines I was told I had to have, she doesn't even ask to see my paperwork showing my yellow fever vaccination; I am holding it in my hand.

I am passed through the visa station and claim my bag from the carousel. There is no customs table. I gather with the group and after everyone has had their visa stamped we exit the airport to a dark jungle and welcomed by cab drivers.

Two men stand their waiting to greet us. One is dressed in a military tan shirt and pants and wears a black beret. He is small and slender, wide cheekbones pushing through a tight face. The other wears a poorly fitted button up white shirt and baggy tan pants around his large belly. His face is smiling. He informs us that he is from MWEKA and introduces the driver. The large man is Joshua Moshi.

We exit the airport arrival terminal and are led to the vehicle that will be transporting us to the College of African Wildlife Management (MWEKA).

The vehicle is a huge monstrous safari vehicle with the tarps rolled up, opening the sides to the cool Tanzanian evening. We load up our luggage, pile in, and the driver and his companion hit the road - with me standing on the back of a safari truck surrounded by luggage. I pull my balaclava up around my face as the dust from the road surrounds us as we start the hour-long drive to MWEKA near Moshi. We pass by people on motorcycles at break-neck speeds, villagers walk on the side of the road with bundles of sticks tied and balanced on their heads. In the darkness of the night, the stars are small but countless beacons guiding our way down the road, the wind blowing in my face and the smell of new flowers to tease my nostrils. I feel like an excited dog with his head out of the window as we speed down the dark road towards our destination.


We arrive at MWEKA on a rough road composed of large volcanic boulders and cobbles and pull up to a dimly lit mess hall. There are two young women waiting for us with a dinner prepared. We are also introduced to a young man with a younger face and a sharp smile. He introduces himself as John, a new Tutoring Assistant at MWEKA and the liaison to our group during our trip. As students excitedly begin attempting their newly learned Swahili, John corrects them with a laugh and a smile. "Say 'Jambo'...it means 'hello'...say 'mambo'...it means 'how are you'...say 'poa'...it means 'I'm good'...say 'asante'...it means 'thank you'. This is our first introduction to our new Tanzanian friends; they find a harmless humor in hearing foreigners butcher their language, but love it even more that we are willing to try.

At the entrance to the cafeteria is bucket of warm water and a bottle of hand soap. Everyone lines us to take their turns washing their hands; a habit that begins every meal. As we stand in line, a young man walks past, fist-bumping all the students. He is about 23 years old, stocky, and strong. He warmly smiles at everyone he fist-bumps, working down the line saying "Karibu, Big Small...Karibu, Big Small."

The Choo: Pronounced to rhyme with "low"
though you'd think it would be "poo"...
We are served a small buffet of barbecued chicken, rice, and stewed vegetables. Despite the numerous meals and snacks supplied by the airlines during our lengthy flight, the warm meal at our destination is very welcomed by all and a heartfelt "asante sana" is offered, and a "karibu" is said in reply. The flavors are excellent; a mild spice with a savory smoky flavor.

After dinner, we load back in to the safari vehicle and are driven across the road to our dormitory. The building is a small, 4-bedroom bungalow with an old fireplace in the front room. Security bars are fastened to the windows and locks are on all of the doors. Jim and I take a room together while the students break off in to groups and settle in to their beds. I am exhausted, excited, and slightly overwhelmed. I get my bags unfolded and start to settle in.

Part of settling in also included my first experience with a Tanzanian toilet (choo). Interesting. I lay in my bunk and try to do some reading, but the last 36 hours finally take their toll, and I drift off into a deep and sudden sleep. Tomorrow I will wake up to my first vision of Tanzania and an entirely different world.

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