Maaha Zainab, my 20-year-old is visiting from Orlando; it’s her second visit to Tanzania after a gap of some ten years. She takes on to the country like a thirsty bee to elephant dung in the dry season, when water is sparse and elephant dung offers abundant moisture. These bees then go on to pollinate the wildflowers and we eventually eat their honey. So, if you sometimes feel the honey you are eating has a robust earthy taste, know it probably comes from Selous National Park in Tanzania. Made from the moisture of a robust bull dumping an average of one hundred kilos of poop a day. Imagine.
Maaha Zainab has no shortage of adventure the time she is here. We take a ferry to Zanzibar where she immediately bonds with the orphan girls at Sakina Girls Home and both the girls and she have an emotional time saying goodbye. That very night, at two in the morning, sleeping under the canopy of a mosquito net at The Swahili House hotel in Stone Town, Zanzibar I smell something odd. Then I hear the crackle of tinder and I see tips of dancing orange flames when I open my eyes. I think I rip the mosquito net in my hurry to get to the window. An eerie and surreal sight lies in front of my eyes. About seven buildings are ablaze, the nearest one just across the hotel we are put up at. The only space separating us is a narrow lane Zanzibar is so famous for. For a moment, I freeze, not thinking. Am I hallucinating? Just as fast, I snap out of it and scream at Maaha Zainab to move fasta-fasta. I grab our passports and money and we flee down to safety. What saves The Swahili House hotel is the change in wind direction. The firemen trying to douse the inferno are pathetically equipped for the daunting task. There is no water pressure, since the source of the water comes from the main road, many winding alleyways and lanes away. So, the residents take to buckets and bath-scoops to try and douse the fire; it’s like spitting into an abyss of hell, the good that does. We get the all-clear after six. I wake up every half-hour to see the much tamer flames still licking the air. The fire began when someone frying muhoogo (cassava) chips dozed off. Seventy families are displaced; miraculously, there are no casualties.
A hop on a teeny-weeny aircraft to Pemba and we witness the finishing touches to a CAI-sponsored four-classroom extension and 250 desks gifted to a poor village school by donors. Another air-hop brings us to Tanga and then a car ride to Lushoto, where CAI will shortly refurbish an awfully inadequate school for 360 children who walk an hour to and from school, sit on dirt floors, poop in toilets that’ll collapse any day now and huddle together for warmth in the chills of Usambara mountains.
Both Maaha Zainab and I have visited the Northern Circuit of Ngorongoro, Manyara, and Serengeti ago. This time, I opt for a mini safari, two nights, three days, to the Southern Circuit of Selous National Park (now Nyerere National Park). It’s the off-season so I won’t have to sell a kidney to pay for it. It is slow going out of Dar es Salaam, now the seventh-largest city in Africa. Once clear of it, the driver, Hassan turns around, grins, and tells us to brace for an African massage. We find out what he means soon enough, as the tar-top road gives way to the rugged African red-dirt roads. It is the dry season so the road is baked and jagged. Our entire bodies rattle violently; we cannot talk, sit straight, eat, nap, or think straight; I get an instant headache. It is the roads of Afghanistan all over again, except it is all green here and we speed ten times faster.
We reach the park after five hours of rattling torture. The resort is set up as a modern Masai Kraal, with all amenities, except the power goes out at 11 PM. We take a boat safari after a brief rest and get close to hippos. They angrily warn us to keep away; a solitary crocodile tail us. The sunset I witness on the Rufiji river is the most dazzling I have seen in my life. Back at the resort, we are escorted to and from the dining hall by an armed Masai, for wild animals can venture in. It is not uncommon to have lions, leopards and elephants come into the resort enclosure looking for water. But we encounter wild boars only.
We are off to our safari early the next day and are rewarded by the sighting of elephants, giraffes, impalas, wildebeest, and zebras almost immediately. Lions are elusive until later in the day. There are two of them, both seemingly well fed and in a deep slumber under a tree, with not a care in the world. They are not interested in a daughter/father/guide gaping at them. Why, they don’t even open an eye to peek at us. Bummer.
Our ancient Toyota Land Cruiser develops a flat in a picturesque setting, with giraffes feeding off young green trees. A bit nervous, we leave the safety of our vehicle as the giraffes’ stop to stare at us. The jack to lift the vehicle does not work. The pressure on our bladders is retched up. I’m shameless, when I got to go, I go. Poor Maaha Zainab prefers to be uncomfortable until there is a decent place. Hassan tries to call for help, but there is no cellular signal. Eventually, four vehicles full of Russian tourists drive up and their guides get together to replace the flat tire. Except the spare has no air. There is another spare. That too has no air. What are the odds? So, Hassan has to drive thirty minutes with the flat tire to a ‘repair’ center. He leaves us in the care of some men harvesting palm thatches for roofs and drives off, telling me he’ll be back in ten minutes. Then adds African ten minutes, grins, and limps the car away. He returns two hours later. We have the men and plenty of baboons and eerie jungle noises for company.
The last day of the safari is the most interesting. We meet Deedee, an almost naked bushman. Deedee’s father was a poacher, but Deedee is now the opposite, for he got the opportunity to graduate from the University of Dar es salaam. He is a fascinating man and is full of wonderful facts and fables about the forest, and is not short of theatrics. He has a lot of data on poop, about the elephant, and how a hippopotamus, whose head is so heavy it cannot see where it’s going, will splatter poop everywhere so it can trace its return to the river by the scent of its own feces. Not savory subjects but interesting subjects nevertheless, no? The guys take us deep into the bush, calling on monkeys, who return his call, and eat termites, and cradles a live poisonous spider that can put a human to sleep for three days if bitten.
As a kid, Deedee and his friends developed a novel way of getting rid of teachers the government sent to educate the Bushmen. They are free-roaming people, and their education comes from the forest, not the confinement of structured education in a classroom. So, Deedee and his pals would make a paste out of a nasty prickly plant that would drive anybody insane with itching if injected. Deedee and his friends would creep up to the teacher as he rested in an open hut and shoot the treated concoction as a dart with a blow-tube made from bamboo. The teacher would think he was bitten by an insect and resume resting until the ‘poison’ took hold. Mamma mia, the poor teacher would eventually break into a dance of agony, scratching himself silly all the way back to civilization.
Nice pictures here if interested.
The views and opinions expressed in this Blog are entirely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of Comfort Aid International or her Trustees.