We have so many surprises in life. Unfortunately, it is rare for me to get a picture of it – such as the swans on one of our lakes mating! Another resident here, a wily older man from Germany, took a series of pictures of the swans’ mating ritual – before, during, and after – close-up! I’m not that clever, I guess. So at first I was hard pressed to think of photos I had taken that representsurprise, which is the topic of Lens-Artists’ photo challenge this week. I noticed several participants had freaky nature photos, which I don’t.
Still, nature often does provide more subtle surprises. I call this photo “Hostas with a hostage” – because they’ve completely surrounded a flower pot!
Every day that I go to our community garden, I take a look at others’ gardens and sometimes take photos. I took the “before” picture as an example for my daughter how to plant marigolds around your garden to protect it from squirrels, etc. I took the photo ion early June.
Then a few days ago, I noticed how fast it grew – it doesn’t look like the same garden!
Is this normal? I don’t know, but we have had a good balance of sunny and rainy weather this month. Nature always surprises me. When I went to the nursery to buy plants in mid-May, I saw this unusual flower – it looks like it is wearing a bonnet!
A safari always brings surprises – you never know what you are going to see and every safari is different. On our Tanzanian safari, I had almost given up seeing a leopard closer up than this:
Then, on our last day in Serengeti National Park, we were bumping along a dusty road when suddenly our driver turned around and sped back to the spot where we’d seen the leopard in a tree. He’d been notified that there were “spots below” (code for leopard on the ground). The leopard had gotten up from her nap and came down the tree, where she looked around at all the tourists gawking at her.
Seeing no danger, (all the humans were “contained”), she then leisurely ambled past all the safari trucks, including ours.
Another big surprise we had in Tanzania was seeing groups of boys alongside the road, who were undergoing a monthlong puberty ritual. Our guide told us this was very unusual to see, since the Maasai only undergo this ritual every three years – the boys are aged about 12-15.
Surprises come in many forms. Sometimes you can be driving along a country road, as we were, in north central Iowa, when we came across “Pinkie.”
And I love coming across unusual sights walking around the city of Chicago.
Speaking of Iowa, our biggest surprise on our 4-day trip there happened when we checked into our hotel in Mason City for the night. The concierge asked us if we wanted to see the band American English in concert that night. The tickets were free and American English is the best Beatles tribute band in the country. They were to play at the Surf Ballroom, a famous concert venue in Clear Lake, Iowa (about 20 miles from Mason City), known for the event “the day the music died” when Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and “The Big Bopper” Richardson played their last concert before being killed in a plane crash.
So we said, “Why not?” and spent a completely unexpected evening in a crowded theatre where people were dancing in the aisles and singing along. It was great!
This is the photo for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge Pick a Topic #3. She suggests: Public transportation, bus, RV, trees, bird, whale, tent, grass, bridge, water, white, green, window, or come up with your own topic.
Our last day in Tanzania was spent in transit. We had a nice breakfast at Ang’ata Camp and bid farewell to the staff. A group photo was taken, while the drivers packed the vehicles with our luggage.
We were headed toward the Serengeti NP Visitors’ Center and the airport, where we would catch a flight back to Arusha (one hour flight vs 9 hours by car!).
Along the way, once again on the dirt roads in the park, we saw more animals:
Lovebirds in an acacia tree
Male cheetah – he’s filled his belly so he’s not hunting now!Lots of impalas, including this beautiful maleTopi and zebraVervet monkey in an acacia tree
The tree the monkey was in was full of puffy white seeds or blooms.
Time allowed for us to observe another hippo pond. There were two males either fighting, or play fighting.
We arrived at the Visitors’ Center with a little time to look around. The Visitors’ Center is built around a kopje (rocky outcrop), so that we saw hyraxes very close up (not only in the rocks – they ran along all the paths and sunned themselves on a deck). From there, we also had a view of the Serengeti Plain beyond.
I spotted this colorful lizard basking on a sunny patch of rock.
There was a collection of animal bones, which David (our guide) identified for us.There were also metal sculptures of a lion and a dung beetle.
The airport was practically next door to the Visitors’ Center and this is where we parted company with some members of our group who were staying in Africa and visiting other places. We saw the plane the rest of us would be returning to Arusha on – an 18-seater!
The pilot greeted David warmly – old acquaintances, apparently. When she boarded after we were all strapped in, she warned us to expect a bumpy ride, as it was very windy that day. I had been nervous about this flight, so this news didn’t calm me down!
In fact, though, the ride was unexpectedly smooth and we were able to look down at the places we had traversed – the landscapes were beautiful!
Arriving in Arusha, we were taken to the Kibo Palace Hotel, where we were assigned day
rooms – this was a luxurious hotel, unlike the accommodations we had been used to! Our safari lodgings had better views though! Even so, we were greeted the same way as we had at each accommodation: People saying, Karibu! (welcome) to us, giving us hot towels to refresh ourselves and small glasses of fruit juice.
We had a three course luncheon on the patio of the hotel’s restaurant. Service was not fast – which was not expected, but I was getting antsy: I was anxious to take a shower and have time to spend at the craft market as we had been promised.
Dale and I, along with two others from our group, walked to the market, about six blocks away. We had a very successful shopping trip! I bought a skirt, a “dashiki” shirt, pants with an elephant print, and another pair of shorter pants. We also bought Tanzanian coffee and souvenirs for our kids.
The market was large, with a labyrinth of alleys lined with shops. At each one, whether we went in – or even showed interest – or not, the vendors called out to us, “Lady, please come in! We have just what you are looking for!” Some of them were more aggressive than others, and I felt bad having to say no to any of them! But actually, many of the shops had similar merchandise, so once I’d bought something, I didn’t want to buy more of the same thing. The vendors would observe what we’d bought at the shop next door and immediately hold up a similar item from their shop, waving it at us and imploring us to come in and buy something at their shop, too! We were always polite and smiled, as David had reminded us to be; sometimes we’d stop and chat with this or that vendor. I noticed sewing machines at several of the shops that sold women’s clothing. When I was looking at a pair of pants that was gathered at the ankles, I expressed that I didn’t really want that style. Immediately, the vendor would offer to take out the elastic and before I could refuse, she was hard at work removing stitches!
Back in the hotel room, we both took showers and charged our phones and tablets. We logged into the hotel’s WiFi to update our friends back home on our travels, posting photos on Facebook.
Although I took several pictures in Arusha, I lost them all when I lost my phone! Late in the afternoon, a driver was hired to take us to Kilimanjaro Airport, an hour’s drive away. One other couple from our group was with us, because they were taking the same flight to Amsterdam, where we would part company. We had a quick dinner/snack with them in the airport, and they rushed off to the waiting area, even though they had more than two hours before the flight was due to board! Dale wanted to follow them, so I grabbed the food I had just been served “to go”, gathered up my camera bag, mini purse, and backpack and followed him.
It was an overnight flight and I didn’t notice until we were about to arrive in Amsterdam that my phone was missing. We searched the whole area around our seats and the flight attendants did an additional search as they were cleaning up, but it was not found!
in Amsterdam we had a long layover, so I went online on my tablet. There was an email from Sprint to confirm that I had changed my password on Feb. 13 in Tanzania, which of course I had not done! I called Sprint and had the phone blocked so that whoever picked it up would not be able to access my data. Theft of cellphones is rampant in Tanzania, but I don’t think it was stolen – I think in my rush to leave the restaurant at the airport, I left it behind or it fell out of my purse and someone picked it up.
Usually Google uploads my photos automatically so they can be accessed anywhere, but for some reason, it had not done that the entire time I was in Tanzania. So I lost a lot of photos. Fortunately, my best photos were on my camera and I was also able to retrieve the ones I had posted on Facebook.
I bear no ill will toward Tanzania or the Tanzanian people due to the loss of my cellphone (and my Fitbit, as I noticed later also). I LOVED my time there and would gladly go back. In fact, I’ve already done research on other safaris in Tanzania and other countries in southern Africa!
Safaris get into your soul. Seeing all those animals in the wild and getting close up photographs of them was amazing. Taking the time to observe animal behaviors in their natural environment. Admiring the beauty of the land. Appreciating the welcoming friendliness of the Tanzanian people.
I don’t think I can go to a zoo again for a long, long time.
Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge theme this week is happy.
This Maasai man is happy he got the fire started.
My grand-niece Sylvia is happy eating ice cream!
The baby elephant is happy nursing.
My friend Marcia is happy playing her viola at Christmas.
This mother cheetah and her cub are happy playing.
My grand-nephew Joshua is happy because he loves his new suit!
In the afternoon, six of us visited a Maasai village where tourists are welcome, the Irkeepus Cultural Boma. This community makes money from tourists: $20 to take any photos you want and be shown around, encouragement to buy their crafts, and donations for their school.
The village, or “boma” (compound) consists of one large extended family: the chief, his 15 wives and about 70 children and grandchildren. A total of 86 people live there. Each wife has her own house. The children are welcome in any house and treat all the wives as their “mothers.” Maybe the relationship is more like aunts. Our guide, probably the best English speaker there, was the son of wife #4. He led the tour: first there was a dance we were all invited to join in on – the women adorned us with necklaces – which consisted of everyone standing in a row holding hands, bending our knees and moving our feet to the beat of the song, which we tried to sing with them – it was repetitive. Every so often one of the men would jump high into the air – impressive!
The second demonstration was to show us how they make fire. Their first attempt at this was not successful so they had to start again. The first step is to rub a stick against a stone with depressions in it until it sparks. Then they put dried grass on it and finally breathe on it very slowly and gently (pole-pole*) to coax the fire out.
Our guide’s (and everyone’s in the village) native language is Maasai, which is oral – not written. In school he learned to read and write in Swahili (his second language) and English (his third language). After he finished high school, he returned to the village.
The community has 40 heads of cattle, as well as goats and sheep. A man’s wealth is measure by how many cattle he has and David thinks the chief has more than 40. Bride price starts at 4 head of cattle and can go higher. They use their animals for meat, milk and milk products (such as yogurt and to a lesser extent, cheese). They also drink goat’s and sheep’s milk. That’s about all they eat except for fruit they can get from local trees.
The huts are round with a curved entrance, a bit like the beginning of a spiral, because, we were told, it keeps the wind from getting in – the wind is strong at this high altitude on the crater rim. The man showing Dale and I the house told us to be careful when entering because the inner wall of the entrance had been freshly plastered with cow dung! They have to do this about every 3 months to replace the dung that has dried – they strip this off and apply fresh dung (and there were several cow pies in the yard outside the compound!). The dry dung they strip off is then used for fuel.
Inside there’s a fire pit for cooking and keeping warm but no vent in the ceiling, as I would expect, having seen several types of Native American houses. He pointed out a tiny vent hole in a bedroom wall. Still, the smoke hung in the air. The guide said the smoke is good for getting rid of insects. Apparently the fire is extinguished when the family goes to bed. The smoke fills the hut only when no one is there. It clears out the bugs so the family can sleep.
The hut was very small and dark – we had to use cellphone flashlights. There are two bedrooms side by side, used primarily for sleeping. They lay soft branches and leaves on the floor and cover it with a cow hide. Some other small rags were in one of the rooms – to use as pillows, perhaps? Or a blanket for a young child.
Most activities are conducted outside, which is why they don’t need much inside their house. The boys love to play soccer in the yard. Girls help their mothers make crafts with beads and wire.
Children of both sexes attend school. The elementary school is an adobe structure outside the compound walls.
20 children from the village and 20 from a neighboring village attend school here. The community is proud of its school, which they built themselves, funded with donations from visitors. Although they value education, when the boys get a little older they are allowed to get out of school to herd the cattle if they want to.
The one-room school has rows of benches with table surfaces attached as desks. There were many adults and children inside; the adults were having a village meeting. We met a couple of the teachers, who greeted us warmly, especially when we told them we had also been teachers.
On the back wall were the children’s drawings of animals, each one labeled with its Swahili name. on one wall was an ABC chart using syllables, like we teach Spanish to primary kids! The blackboard in the front had a lot written on it. At a desk in the corner sat an administrator and a secretary, both men from the village. They were there because of the meeting.
A group of small children clustered together at desks behind two teachers. They were shy until I held up my hand for a “high 5” and they all knew what it was – is high-5 universal? They extended their little palms for me to high-5 them. (I found out the Maasai handshake is actually a version of this – you touch the palm of the other person but don’t grasp their hand.) Then I did a fist bump and the kids all know that too and wanted to “fist bump” with me! That’s how I broke the ice with them. Then they all sang two songs, the second a version of the ABC song – halfway through it diverts into some other words, perhaps the Swahili alphabet.
As we were leaving, I extended a fist bump to one of the teachers, telling him we had learned it from our president (meaning Obama, who was familiar to them). One of our group members reminded me he wasn’t our president anymore. I replied, “I know, but I wish he were.”
The people had adorned a fenced-in area with all their craft items. I liked the little animals made with beads and wire and decided to buy a lion since we had seen many lions today. I had the lion in my hand when I was at the school. I showed it to the children and said, “A lion, see?” Then I made a roaring sound, which made them laugh.
Perhaps $35 was too much to pay, and I could have bargained, but I didn’t. These people needed the money – their life was hard and they worked hard from a young age. There was a donation box at the school, so Dale put all his leftover euro coins in it!
I have read that 85% of Tanzanians are poor and I’m sure that is true for the Maasai who live traditionally. Yet financial poverty is not total poverty: their possessions are few but they have their cultural traditions and when they look out at the countryside where they live – that vast country of green, gentle hills and huge sky, where one can admire giraffes, zebras, or gazelles that pass by, they can be sure that, in fact, in some ways their life is very rich. The beauty of nature is all around them, they live in harmony with it, they are surrounded by loved ones, and are comfortable in their traditions.
Money, of course, is necessary also – to buy materials to build schools, to send their children to high school, and to buy supplemental food products, among other things. It’s unavoidable – so if we could help by putting money into their community to help them buy what they need, I’m glad for it.
*pole-pole: Swahili word meaning “slowly-slowly” but with the connotation of “gently” or “carefully” as well.
TanZanians…are Maasai, Chaga, and many other tribes. They are proud of their ethnic identities but are first and foremost Tanzanians.
Zebras are often seen migrating with wildebeest. The zebras remember the route and the wildebeest can smell water.
Of course, among the most popular residents of Ngorongoro Crater or the Serengeti plain are the big cats. Lions are often seen taking a nap (catching Zzzz’s).
Zinj archaeological site is part of Oldupai (aka Olduvai) Gorge, where the first fossil remains of ancient hominids were found. At Zinj, you can look down and find rocks with fossils embedded in them very easily. This is where Mary Leakey found the most ancient of man’s ancestors, “zinjanthropus,” or Australopithecus boisei.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts about our trip to Tanzania!