Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gombe Stream National Park II

After our relaxing evening on the beach swimming in Lake Tanganyika and enjoying the baboon’s company, we woke up the next morning to do our one day of chimpanzee tracking. Our guide named Isaya was wonderful – full of knowledge, information and the ability to recognize all of the chimpanzees by name. There are trails in which you walk on until you get closer to where the chimps are located. Once the guide has located the chimps through the help of a chimp tracker and researchers, tourists go off trail and bush whack through the forest to see the chimpanzees up close. That’s one of the cool things we encountered was witnessing the researchers: Tanzanians and foreigners sitting on the ground, keeping track of certain things the chimps are doing. There was only one other group of three tourists in the forest that day besides Jon and I.

At first, I was slightly disappointed. We found chimpanzees including one of the alpha males but they were all high up in trees eating their breakfast. It was cool seeing them but they were so high up, they really only looked like any other monkey. I really wanted to see them on the ground. My interest rose when the alpha male made a calling sound to his group of chimps. He makes a loud sound and then a chorus of responses go back to him from all those who follow his lead. It was scary at first, but I relaxed once our guide explained this call was simply asking his group “hey, are you all okay?” and the other chimps make a call saying “yes, we’re all okay!”.  We watched these chimps for a while – many of the other chimps went to see the alpha male and to greet him and say hello.


Chimpanzee eating breakfast


Chimpanzee playing in the tree

Finally, after one hour of elusive chimpanzees eating breakfast and swinging through trees, one of the males came closer to the ground. Jon and I stood face to face with him and then as he got drunk (according to our guide, they eat a certain fruit that makes them drunk), he came down to the ground to relax. That’s when I started to get really excited – this chimp was so close to us and now on the ground!


Then we struck our luck, the chimpanzees kept coming to the ground. They all gathered together under a tree and we got to observe them for nearly an hour. All the guides and researchers kept commenting on how unbelievable it was that there were so many chimpanzees together in one spot. We were informed that just two days prior to our trek, the tourists only saw two chimpanzees total up in the air. Right before us were about 10 –20 chimpanzees uncaring that we were all observing them. The females groomed, the babies chased each other, the teenagers climbed trees, the males even mated for us. They fought, they played. They were indifferent to our presence. They walked past us…if I put my hand out, I would have been able to pet them as they walked on by. They continued to group and relax after their breakfast.


Some things I learned about the chimps is that the chimps that are in their mid-teen years begin to get black skin. Chimpanzees with white faces are generally under 14 years old. The oldest chimp in this park is around 54 years old. They are named based on their family. So, for example, there is one whole family whose names all begin with Gs. All the chimps in this park are familiar with humans since there are so many researchers all the time. Despite this fact, they are still wild animals and there is still a considerable risk to chimp tracking. We experienced a moment of this that will forever remain in my mind. Jon and I were quietly observing the chimps, as were all the researchers when the group of chimps panicked. They started running towards us and all around us. Jon and I were instructed in such a situation to slowly back up towards a tree and then grab onto the tree. Chimps sometimes will grab humans and try to take them away (they are stronger than man by 3x). So, if you are holding onto a tree, you can hold on (for dear life). The guide quickly told Jon and I to continue backing up towards him and put me between him and Jon. We slowly made our way up a hill. When we turned around, the chimps were still moving around, screaming and pretty much had circled us. It was scary, but we remained still and no harm was done. We observed them from the hill, let them calm down and left the group of chimps behind as we continued on our hike for the day… (more follows)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Gombe Stream National Park

The main reason that Jon and I trekked all the way out west was specifically to go to Gombe Stream National Park (NP). This NP is by far one of the most infrequently visited NPs in Tanzania by tourists, yet easily the best one I have visited. To be honest, I can’t imagine more tourism given the nature of the park and maybe that’s why it is so difficult and expensive to visit. Jon and I decided to go the route of public transportation. I mean, it’s not like we really decided so much as we couldn’t afford hiring a private boat to get there. That’s one of the unique features of this park is that you must arrive by boat. So, we got onto a “lake taxi” – basically a dalla dalla boat. We counted approximately 120 people in this wooden boat filled not only with humans but also cargo. IMG_6215

The lake taxi from shore


a shot of the lake taxi from inside it.

The lake taxi takes approximately 3 hours from nearby Kigoma to the NP. It’s only about 15 miles.  Gombe is Tanzania’s smallest National Park, but to me, the most interesting as it’s where Jane Goodall began her research of chimpanzees way back in 1960. Even today, the research of these chimpanzees are still continuing. We went to Gombe specifically to go chimpanzee tracking. In fact, we came all this way from our village just to see chimpanzees.

The first afternoon we arrived, we again enjoyed a beautiful, secluded beach on Lake Tanganyika. Only this time, we were greeted with the local baboons. They played, fought, and groomed each other while we relaxed on the beach.


Sunday, July 15, 2012


Kigoma, a Tanzanian town set alongside Lake Tanganyika is pretty much like any other Tanzanian town. It has one main paved road with stores, guesthouses, and little restaurants lined up and down the main road. There’s nothing terribly special about this town except for the lakeside setting. Jon and I heeded the advice of Lonely Planet and set out to find private beaches where you pay admission to use their coves. We managed to get there by public transportation (dalla dalla), walked through a small village where we were screamed at and asked for money from everyone and then we finally entered the private beach resort. While it was too expensive for us to actually stay there; we both felt the costly admission (about $3-$4 USD) was definitely worth it. Jon and I went to this private beach setting twice while there. We swam in the calm water, walked on the sandy beach, and relaxed under their bandas sipping on azam juice boxes and eating fresh fruit.


Thursday, July 12, 2012


Peace Corps has three goals when invited to bring volunteers to a specific country. One goal is to provide services so that the citizens of the host country (in my case, Tanzania) are able to meet their needs of trained citizens. So, my teaching here is to help Tanzanians be better trained as to improve Tanzania. Another reason is to be a liaison between Americans and Tanzania. For example, when I write about Tanzania on this blog or in a letter or on the phone, etc., I am most likely providing insight into Tanzanian culture for you. Maybe you never heard of Tanzania before me coming here, maybe you had a preconceived belief about this country or even continent and through my blog you now understand Tanzania much better. Lastly, the other goal then is just the opposite – it’s for me to be an ambassador of the USA while here in Tanzania. You know, grassroots internationalization and all that. I provide the villagers, students, and teachers with an opportunity to learn about Americans and to directly teach about American values. A lot of people take their jobs to provide trained citizens most seriously. As a teacher, it’s hard to gauge your impact. However, after my trip to Kigoma, I think I can seriously say that Peace Corp’s impact on Tanzania is greater than I would normally have suspected.  Most of the western part of Tanzania does not have any Peace Corps volunteers. It was very noticeable for me that the Tanzanians in the western part were so surprised not only to see me, but that I live here and speak some Swahili. In Njombe, Tanzanians are so accustomed to seeing foreigners. Rarely do I get blatantly ripped off for being white or do people talk about me assuming I don’t speak Swahili nor do I have adults point and say mzungu! (white person). In the west, I was constantly asked for money, constantly labeled as “white person” (I mean which I am, but can you imagine pointing at a different person in America and saying “Asian!” or “Black person!?”).  Actually, this bothers a lot of volunteers here. It doesn’t bother me as much (probably because in Japan I was always labeled as “alien!”), but it got really annoying after weeks of it. In Njombr, I can brush it off…especially when children say it (how do they know any better?), or I tell people not to call me white person, but to call me mama or sister like they would call their Tanzanian women. But, after a while in Kigoma…I wanted to say shut up! So, I can happily say now that I really feel like Peace Corps is making a large difference working as a grassroots internationalization organization where volunteers are commonly placed. Sometimes it’s fun feeling like Britney Spears with everyone watching, pointing, and talking about. But, I think it’s greater when people accept me as their friend or neighbor even though I’m very different from them (and want to know why I am the way I am!).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wild, wild west

For our two week vacation that we had, we planned to visit the west of Tanzania. The west feels like the wild, wild west for us because it takes us so long to get there. Also, there aren’t any Peace Corps volunteers that way and so we really needed to rely on the very outdated Lonely Planet guide.
Using this map above of Tanzania, you can see Njombe nearby where Jon and I work. We went to Kigoma in the western part of Tanzania. Although it appears that it’s just a straight shot northwest of Njombe, the unfortunate part is there is not a  road that goes that way. What this means is we needed to take a 12 hour bus ride to Morogoro (not on map, but basically where you can see the word Rufiji). I will admit to you now the thing that I hate the most about Tanzania: buses. There is no such thing as a good bus, at best you might get a bus that is bearable to travel in. Why do I hate buses so badly? Well, at a later date, you might find my in-progress list of 101 reasons why I hate Tanzanian buses. I currently have 40 reasons listed.
Anyway, so 12 hours later, we get to Morogoro which is a familiar city for us because that’s where we did our training. The goodluck Gods just weren’t with me that day. Jon and I tried two guesthouses and they were booked. At this point it was dark and a good 25 minute walk to the main road. We decided to stay in the worst guesthouse I have ever stayed in here in Tanzania. For a whopping $2.50 USD per night, I guess I can’t expect much.
The next day when we were supposed to catch our bus to Kahama – a city that is about another 13-14 hours away, we were finally informed of the bad news. After waiting at the bus stand for nearly 4 hours, the bus company told us our bus was in an accident and it would not be coming that day. Awesome. So, we had to spend another night in Morogoro at not as gross of a guesthouse but a very loud one.
The next morning, we caught our bus around 10:00am and arrived to Kahama at 11:00 p.m. We found a nice but loud guesthouse around midnight to sleep in for only 5 hours until we caught our next bus to Kigoma at 6:00 a.m. This bus was terrible on many accounts, but got even worse when it broke down 2 hours before Kigoma. After an hour of trying to fix this problem, the bus people determined it was irreparable.  We caught another bus going our way, 3 buses after trying to punch down Tanzanians to get on a bus. Finally, at about 7:30pm, we got to our guesthouse and arrived to Kigoma. Check later for posts about why we tortured ourselves to get out west.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tanzanian pregnancy

There are many things here that are very different from American culture. One experience I had involves handling a Tanzanian pregnancy. During one of our last days of training back in August, we were informed that Tanzanians don’t talk about their pregnancies, so you should never congratulate the pregnant woman on it or discuss it. The reasoning behind this is that many pregnancies don’t make it through and many babies are stillborn. Tanzanian women do not get excited about their pregnancy because the chance of their baby being born healthy is slim. Way back in October or November I had a brief conversation with my neighbor and she hinted that she might be pregnant. I was surprised that she told me given what I was told in training and just addressed the question in hand that involved her possibly being pregnant. After a few months she was sure enough showing her pregnancy. As she was showing and she already addressed it with me to begin with, one day I asked her a question about her pregnancy. She was horrified and I felt terrible. She must have forgotten that she mentioned she might be pregnant to me. She asked if other teachers were talking about her, which I said no they aren’t and I said don’t worry, Jonathan doesn’t see it. She was relieved and that was that. Months went by and I kept waiting for her baby to come. After a while, I started to think that she might be having twins. During what seemed to be her last month of pregnancy, she started addressing that she is too big and her clothes don’t fit anymore. Then, one day, she just left. We saw her and she said goodbye but she did not tell us that she was going to have birth. Eventually, her husband came over and told us that she is staying with his family until she gives birth and then will return to his home. This was the first time he addressed that he would be having a baby to us. Then, for a week I left to do my training in Dar es Salaam. When I returned, I asked him how is his wife? He said she is at home and very fine. He didn’t mention if there was a baby and I didn’t want to ask because what if it was a stillborn. After a few days of not seeing his wife or a baby, I asked another teacher. She informed me there is a baby and I could go over to see him. They had a healthy baby boy and they  named him David since it is a Christian name.  It is customary for people to come greet mama and baby and bring gifts: good, money, clothes.  Usually, the mama and baby do not leave home for 40 days to ensure the baby remains healthy.  Mama is at home on maternity leave until October and I go visit every few days. He sleeps a lot and was born with a full head of hair. Today was his baptism and so we took some picture of him.


my Tanzanian nephew


Mama and David


The Baptism party


Baby David