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Life at Camp

I realized that I hadn’t done a post about everyday life here yet and I figured there is no time like the present! We live in bandas (small houses/cabins) each named after an animal and separated into a left and right side. I live in tembo (elephant) right with three other students. It’s tight quarters with lots of surprises. We usually have a couple of extra visitors in our room. We have a banda gecko that we spot every couple of days and always a ton of crickets. The crickets here are HUGE. They are also super loud and often disturb our classes. Right now we are in the midst of the rainy season and tembo right has a slug infestation. They are everywhere! It’s impossible to stop them from getting in so we are all kind of used to it now. But I found one on my raincoat inside my backpack the other day and it was pretty unpleasant.

 

Anyways, every morning we have breakfast at 7:30am. We have rotating cook crews that help make breakfast and clean up after dinner every day. So if I’m lucky then I won’t be on cook crew, because then I would need to be in the kitchen at 6:30am, and I’m so not a morning person. Breakfast usually consists of: toast, eggs, beans, oatmeal, fruit and these Tanzanian crepe things. I try to get more creative with my breakfast and add tabasco to my eggs, chocolate syrup to my crepe, and maple syrup to my oatmeal. The food can get pretty boring after a while so we are all always trying to add new flavors to it.

 

After breakfast we usually have class from 8am to noon. All 42 of us have class at the same time in the same room. My usual class size at Whitman is around 10 people so this was a big change. The classes are all lecture based and I really miss having discussions so I’m definitely looking forward to that at school again. After class we have lunch, usually something like pasta, beans, some veggies, and potatoes. Again pretty bland stuff. One time one of our professors (who eat meals with us because they also live at camp with us) brought out some sriracha that he had been hiding and I couldn’t help it and stole a bit for my rice. It was so amazing!!

After lunch we have a couple of hours free. I usually either walk to the tailor downtown to get some cool clothes made. I get fabric for around $10 and then can get something like pants made just for me for $5 so it’s definitely a good investment. I’ve probably spent most of my money on clothes and food on this trip and I’m really happy about it! I also like to walk to my host family’s house. We recently had day-long homestays with a local family in the area, I’ll write about that in my next post.

 

When I visit my host family I help them out with house chores (from cooking, doing laundry, to sorting beans), and try to practice some Swahili. I’m really bad at the language and SFS doesn’t put a lot of effort into teaching it to us so our conversations are usually just lots of hand gestures but we still have a great time!

 

After our break we have class until the late afternoon and then the rest of the day is our own. After afternoon classes we like to play pickup soccer with the staff and some locals. We also have a volleyball net at camp and we recently had a tournament. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate sports, nevertheless I joined a team and oddly enough we won! As a reward one of our professors gave us all free soda from the little shop we have here at camp called the duka. The soda here comes in glass bottles and they have at least four different flavors of fanta (my favorites are the pineapple, and passionfruit flavors).

 

We have a lot of free time until dinner every night which is at 7pm. After we eat there is a presentation called KARP, which stands for: kiswahili, announcements, reflection, and presentation. One student leads it each night and they ask reflection questions like rose, bud, thorn? Or what has been your most challenging experience here? And then they do a presentation on a topic of their choosing. I did mine of Environmental Humanities and Thoreau, because nearly everyone here is a science major and has no idea what either of those two things are. It’s really cool to hear about everyone’s backgrounds and stories.

 

After dinner if we don’t have a big day the next day we will have a movie night on the porch. We all arrange ourselves in front of a big wall where we project a movie. We had a Harry Potter marathon over a couple of days where we watched a movie every night. It’s a nice way to fight homesickness and the staff here had never seen it and got really into it. One of the drivers quotes Snape all the time now, when he sees us reading he will say “turn to page 394,” and stuff like that.
We all go to bed pretty early here, because we are usually exhausted, but every day holds something new and exciting even if it is a mellow day at camp. Life here is pretty hard to explain and there are things that are normal here that would be strange anywhere else. There are always birds, bugs, and mice everywhere on camp, the power is usually out, and I haven’t read the news in far too long, but I love it here!

Bees, Chilies, and Elephants

Here in SFS Tanzania we usually have a pretty packed schedule. We are usually either in class, camping in the National Parks, conducting interviews, or doing various exercises for our classes. But every once in awhile we have the opportunity to help out with some local projects in the area. One project that I have been able to work on is an implementation of research done last semester. The research project was about building different types of fences around privately-owned farms near a National Park to deter elephants from raiding their crops.

 

There were two types of fences being built on two fields next to each other in order to see what the difference was between the two. One fence was a chili-powder fence. This was the fence I worked on on our first community service day. We had to carry up all of our materials to the top of a hill where the corn fields were. First we dug holes for the fence posts, then we strung twine between them, after that we had to crush up a lot of chilli peppers into a powder, and then we dipped rags and cloth into really sticky black oil which then got a nice coating of the powdered chilies, finally we tied the spicy rags to the twine and hoped that it worked. It was really messy work and many clothes got ruined by the oil. My job was to crush the chilies in the biggest mortar and pestle I’ve ever seen. I was lucky to have the help of a few young girls who lived on the farm and were much better than I was at using the mortar and pestle. We took turns crushing up the chilies, the girls were very patient with me as I tried to learn the proper technique to using such oversized tools. It was so much harder than it looked! And once we got the peppers a little bit crushed there was suddenly a lot of spicy powder in the air. We all started to cough and our eyes began to water. It was a lot of pain to go through to put together a fence. The other SFS student who was crushing chilies with me came up with a new name for us, the spice girls, after that day because we both suffered some unfortunate incidents with the chilies. Like, the fact that we got blisters from the pestle and then got chili powder in them. Oh well!

 

The other fence being built, that I helped with the next community service day, was a beehive fence. The setup was pretty much the same- poles with wire between them. But this time we hung up homemade beehives (empty ones) between them. This fence had a lot less injuries but a lot of people got some nasty cuts from the metal on the hives as they carried it up the hill. But after another long day of work and confusion because of language barriers we got the second round of fences put up. The farmers told us they put things in the hives to attract bees and now they had to wait to see if the bees would come to them.

 

Over the next few months the fences will hopefully deter elephants from eating these farmers’ crops. But if not they will need to find another, possibly more expensive solution. It is extremely difficult for farmers to deal with elephants here in rural Tanzania, and they receive little to no support from the government and other agencies.

 

Another problem that we encountered while doing our community service was the fact that voluntourism is very popular in this area. And while it may seem like it is helping the people in the area, many locals are often frustrated at the lack of long-term assistance and support. Even us, we only help out occasionally with these fences, but once we leave the farmers will be on their own again. Just food for thought if anyone is thinking about traveling somewhere to do short term volunteer work. Until next time!

Ask a Poacher

We had a really interesting guest lecture today. We drove out to one of the local towns, Karatu, and had a question and answer session with two men who hunt bushmeat illegally and agreed to meet with us so we could learn. We asked every question that would could think of from inflammatory to sympathetic. Here are some of the things we learned:

They hunt mostly zebra, impala, and other gazelles. They go to the edge local National Parks at night and because no park in Tanzania has fences they are able to kill what they need, harvest the meat and get away. They then sell the meat in the markets. It is a good way to make money because bushmeat is cheaper than beef and it is popular culturally so it is in high demand, with very little loss.

On the other side they don’t enjoy doing it and expressed multiple times that if they were able to work doing something else, or were able to get a loan they would start their own businesses and stop hunting bushmeat.

There are lots of instances like this where we are challenged to consider situations and perspectives we would never have to confront in the United States. For example we have quickly learned how controversial elephants are in this area. We have spent multiple days conducting interviews with local farmers asking them about wildlife conflict in the area. The main issue they all seemed to have was elephants. Their migration route between two protected areas has been completely overtaken by agriculture as Tanzania underwent a food crisis recently. As a result the elephants come through people’s farms, eat their crops, and injure and kill livestock and even humans. I spoke to one man whose neighbor was killed by an elephant last year and he expressed how much the man’s family was struggling now because they had been promised compensation and help from the government and National Parks but never received it.

This program has forced me to reconsider my thoughts and opinions on many issues. Once you meet the people who are actually dealing with the problems of poverty and wildlife conflict it is hard to place the needs of the environment above the needs of the local people. I’ve learned that there needs to be a more holistic approach to solving these issues that helps the people as well as the environment.