Second week already. My time in Tanzania has made me reflect about a lot of commodities that I have in the US. For instance, I have had no problem adapting to unpaved roads, limited accessibility to pharmacies, grocery stores, snacks, multiethnic food, equipped medical facilities, and others. However, I still have trouble accepting dusty paths, an abundance of biting flies or lack of public sanitation.
People are very nice. I have learned some Swahili to communicate with the villagers and the staff in the SFS campus. I’ve learned that Africa has its own time beside their time zones. The people of Africa take their sweet time for everything. For example, it took 1 hour for 5 crepes at a restaurant. I was the only customer in a while… I think that it could be stressful in some cases, but for the most part, it has not been inconvenient for me. It teaches you to truly “pole pole”, to slow down and live the moment.
In addition, they take a long time to greet. They shake hands while talking and introducing each other, this could go for a couple of minutes. Minutes, not seconds. I appreciate it, though! When I meet elders or professors that may have difficulty expressing their thoughts in English, I can understand them nonetheless by their expressions and their gestures while holding their hands.
On the other hand, I had my first free day this week. I went for a hike and could enjoy nature outside of a safari truck. It was refreshing. Then I got to walk around Mto wa Mbu. I talked with the people directly and got to know the town without a guide.
Finally, I relaxed in a lodge, went to the pool and tanned. It was interesting to compare and contrast the safari and the town experience.
I suggest tourist to get out their comfort zone and get to experience the people and villages around the parks they pay to see. The people have made my experience of the country 1000% better.
I had a lot of fun in the safaris this week. One the field trip was in Tarangire National Park. We practiced sample techniques and surveying of the population of African elephants. It was exciting to see so many, especially because their numbers are overall decimating due to poaching.
I was very excited that I got to observe some female differences in shape and behavior of the Asian elephants I worked with in previous years as an intern at the Buttonwood Park Zoo. We got to have a close encounter with them on another field trip to the Manyara Ranch.
There was a juvenile bull that stopped in front of us, smelled us and continued, but I got nervous because it was waiving his ears to show annoyance. I’m glad he lost interest in us and moved on because if he would have pushed us, we would have fallen about 40 m into a ravine. Yup, fun times. I’ve never seen myself above other humans, animals or plants, but that moment was a good reminder about how small humans and our creations are compared to what is natural, to what surrounds our technology and civilization.
This week we also learned about reptile sampling techniques. We got to survey a transect near a river, but only found some agamas and a tree gecko. However, it was interesting to see evidence of land use near the river when there is a 60 m buffer that prohibits use of land for pastoralism, farming, etc.
I think that it’s too early for me to give a diagnosis or criticism about it because I understand that the villagers and tribes depend on water resources and land to survive. In addition, their major problem is wildlife-human conflict, rather than buffer zones. However, water is scarce in the dry seasons, so only by guaranteeing good use all human, cattle and wildlife can have access to it.
Finally, we learn about poaching control in national and game parks in Tanzania. It is hard to face the fact that the origin of poaching is the demand for animal products that comes from our countries. Tanzania’s problem is poverty. However, if there is a buyer from United States or China, there will be a family fed in Tanzania by poaching. It was discussed a lot about how the education of the new generations regarding the planet’s natural resources will change poaching, but I think that countries are not targeting their illegal trade as a major issue and are allowing underground commerce to abuse of the poverty levels in less developed countries.