Monday, February 10, 2014

Kuja Nyumbani: Coming Home to Tanzania: Part II: First Sights


Beautiful flowering bush near our dorm.
If any readers can identify this please comment!
I am awake. My body is functioning on both central and Tanzanian time. While I am tired and trying to sleep at 4:00, my circadian rhythm is telling me it is 19:00 and not time for rest. After about 20 minutes I doze off again, only to be awakened from a deep sleep at 7:00.

I arise from my bunk and change clothes, heading to the bath house to brush my teeth and splash water on my face. As I exit the room I realize this is the first my eyes have laid upon Tanzania in the daylight.

I walk outside and find myself surrounded by a beautifully manicured lawn dotted by bushes exploding with color; reds, oranges, yellows, and massive trees that twist and turn to form an image of nature that is familiar from books, but I soon realize that books cannot begin to describe the sights that I am seeing. They have an existence all on their own. I look up above the tree line and the horizon meets the sky with a great and awesome mountain; Mount Kilimanjaro. The snow-covered peaks and valleys of the volcano contrast sharply with the sea-blue sky.
Flame Creeper (Pyrostegia venusta) outside
our dormitory.

Kilimanjaro is massive, the largest mountain in all of Africa. It dominates the skyline from my perspective at MWEKA. As small wisps of clouds are beginning to form halfway up the slopes, I realize the sheer size of the volcano, and how high its summit truly is.

John arrives at 7:00 to see that everyone is awake and moving and invites us to breakfast at the dining hall. Some of the girls in the group exchange a playful banter and with John, who is being intentionally vague and telling them "I must now take you all somewhere. To get there you need to follow me. So follow me, and we will go somewhere" he says with a wink, illustrating his joy in playing innocent jokes.

Breakfast consists of lots of fried foods. Sweet sandwiches of bread, sugar, and honey (not wholly dissimilar to French toast), a donut-like pastry with onion and lentils, and samosas; a crispy-fried triangle pastry filled with seasoned ground beef and onion reminiscent somehow to an eggroll. Finally, a red hot-like frankfurter is added to the plate, causing the students to wonder why we are having hot dogs for breakfast.

College of African Wildlife Management, Moshi, Tanzania,
on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
On a side table, the cooks have laid out freshly sliced oranges and mango, instant coffee, and a fresh mango juice. The mango juice is a hit with the students, who are pleased to find it is served with every meal.
Overall, the food is very tasty and filling. As students finish their plates, John chides them about eating more.

"You have not eaten any fruit yet." John explains to one slightly confused student.

"Um...No, not yet."

"You must eat more. There is nothing on your plate." John responds.

Starting the day off right...
Other students laugh and nervously giggle as John continues to tease them too. I lean across the table and quietly remind them that the local customs are quite different; if you clean your plate, it is viewed that you were not given enough food to eat. Realizing this, they begin to leave a few crumbs left on each plate.
After eating breakfast, John discusses the itinerary for the day with us. We will be touring the campus, meeting students and faculty, and then heading in to Moshi to visit a market later in the afternoon.
Our first morning in Africa has been a beautiful eye-opening experience. Learning new customs can often be challenging. However, with friendly hosts such as these, the challenge is a welcome one.


People are busy all around me. Students and staff of MWEKA are preparing for safaris for their class programs, organizing tents, piling up mattresses, airing sleeping bags. After breakfast, John leads us toward the main part of the MWEKA campus and to a small classroom. We take a seat and are introduced to one of the lecturers at MWEKA, Dr. Omory Chambegga. Chambegga is in his late 40's. Chambegga introduces himself and we all go around the room and do the same. He then explains the history of the College of African Wildlife Management.

Dr. Julius Nyerere,
First President of
Until the 1960's, most of Africa was controlled by European colonialism. This also included wildlife management. When colonialism ended and many African nations became independent, a need for national wildlife management was needed. In 1961, Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, delivered a speech at a symposium on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in Arusha. This speech, which was later dubbed the Arusha Manifesto, emphasized the importance of wildlife conservation in East Africa:

"The survival of our wildlife is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa. These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are not only important as a source of wonder and inspiration but are an integral part of our natural resources and our future livelihood and well-being. 

In accepting the trusteeship of our wildlife we solemnly declare that we will do everything in our power to make sure that our children's grand-children will be able to enjoy this rich and precious inheritance.

The conservation of wildlife and wild places calls for special knowledge, trained manpower, and money, as we look to other nations to co-operate with us in this important task - the success or failure of which not only affects the continent of Africa but the rest of the world as well."

Representatives and conservationists from Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania all collaborated on the development of an educational model for wildlife management, the management of national parks, wildlife maintenance, and game reserves. By 1963, the College of African Wildlife Management (locally known as MWEKA) was founded and welcomed its first 25 students.

The college sits on the southern flanks of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the buildings of what used to be a German nursing school. Students at MWEKA learn about wildlife management, wildlife tourism, and hunting. The programs for these concepts consist of six months to three years of schooling and hands-on experience and students receive a certificate, diploma, or degree depending on their individual program.

College of African Wildlife Management entrance.
While hunting in the United States is a popular sport and well-regulated by individual states, the western view of big-game hunting in Africa is a negative one. Images of white westerners proudly standing over a killed elephant in Africa will commonly cause outrage among animal rights groups and Internet forums. However, just as hunting in the USA is part of wildlife management, so is large game hunting in Africa. It is also a major source of income for national parks to maintain their preserves. The students at MWEKA are learning to be rangers, wardens, safari guides, and hunting guides. They are learning the behavior and overall ecology of their natural wildlife to ensure that only fully-grown adult male animals are hunted. This is very important for the survivorship of wildlife units. A population of Impala, for example, may have a higher proportion of males to females. This is problematic for the herd; there are only so many females that can produce offspring among a larger number of males, who are extremely competitive in this situation. However, if the proportion is inverted and the herd is dominated by females, then the male competition is decreased and more offspring will be produced. While natural carnivores participate in this process, today commercial hunting - under strict maintenance and management by parks and reserves - plays a key role.

After a thorough discussion of the history of the school, we thank Dr. Chambegga for his time and we move on with a tour of the facilities, including some unexpected sights in the biology lab…

For more information on the College of African Wildlife Management, visit:

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' means 'hello'...say 'mambo' means 'how are you'...say 'poa' means 'I'm good'...say 'asante' 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.