Thursday, January 14, 2010

Longido, Tanzania Part One

Over the Christmas break we flew to Northern Tanzania where we met my parents for a safari in 3 of the national parks: Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. We flew to Arusha and had a few days to explore prior to meeting the parental unit.

Arusha is known for its "touts,": guys who chase you around trying to sell their safari or tourism program/scam, or what have you. In Uganda, people are so friendly and will often stop you on the street just to say hello so we were not prepared for the line of 15 guys walking behind us, all trying to get us to go with their tour operator. We thought the first guy was just being friendly--then he became the self-appointed ring leader and when we asked for some space he tried to push everyone back, only to come right back at us with offers of tours, hotels, etc. Eventually, we had to duck into a restaurant in order to figure out what to do for two days. We decided to visit Longido, a Maasai village 20 km from the Kenyan border, in the region of Kilimanjaro. That night we had an amazing dinner at a carborator and spare parts shop by day/halal bbq joint by night called Khans where we got awesome grilled chicken and beef and tons of unique salads, naan, fries. The place is a local landmark where people stop, get take-out and eat it leaning on the hood of their car, and its moto has become "chicken on the bonnet" (car hood in british english). Very yumm...

The following day we got to Longido after a 2 hour ride in a dala dala (the Tanzanian word for matatu, the minibus taxis). We got a little view of Kilimanjaro through the morning clouds on our way and great views of Mt. Meru, Kili's little brother. We got off the bad road (being VERY slowly repaired by a Chinese company) in Longido, a tiny Maasai village. The Maasai people are Nilotic herders from the North, who have been migrating southward from the Sudan for the last 1000 years. They are cattle people and live in Northern Tanzania and Southern Kenya and are famous for being fierce warriors and militant traditionalists. They are the people you saw in books when you learned about Africa in elementary school who have big holes in their ears with beaded jewelry and piercings and wear red tartan-pattern cloth wrapped around themselves and pretty much subside on milk, meat and cow's blood. Really, people have cell phones, but are otherwise living the same way as they did 100 or even 1000 years ago. They are polygamous, their kids are the family's goat and cattle herders and they average 10-12 kids per wife. The boys are ritually circumcised in their mid-teens, having to go the anesthesia-free ritual without as much as twitching a muscle or blinking, and are then sent off for 7 years to the bush to mature and prove their fierceness. Rumor has it they used to have to kill a lion. During their time away, as they prove their manhood, they let their hair grow long and then it is shaved off ceremoniously upon their return and their heads are dyed red. The women get circumcised too, but they don't have to go off into the bush afterwards. Mostly they become some guy's property (or wife) and start having babies. Longido is the real deal, they have some tourists coming in once in a while, but they have not changed their lives to make it a better show.

We hiked Mt Longido with a more modern Maasai guide named Moses and a guard/ranger named Lemengue who spent the hike scaring the buffalo away so that we did not come upon them unexpectedly, chewing snuff and collecting roots from the forest to make medicines. He hiked in sandals made from tires. Our guide did it in black dress shoes. We had running shoes and found it a pretty steep, challenging climb (they don't believe in switch backs). We saw elephant and buffalo dung and even a dead buffalo. We tried for views of Kili from the summit, but it was too cloudy,instead and we saw the plains of Kenya from the top.

The next day we went on a tour of the village with our guide again. We hiked to some caves where the Maasai men go when they are sick. They form a group of about 9-12 and each bring a cow and hang out for 3 months slaughtering and eating cows and drinking traditional medicines, all of which somehow induce diarrhea or vomiting, until they are better (maybe). If you don't get better (and die) then you are left outside, covered in goats blood and cow hide, for the hyenas to eat you. In more modern times the Maasai hire non-Maasai to bury their dead, but they do not handle them themselves.

After the caves we went to a Boma, a traditional family living unit for all the wives and extended family of a Maasai man. They are circular, fenced-in areas with circular huts made from cow dung and logs with thatched roofs. Each wife is responsible for building her own hut and her kids live with her, while the husband lives with the newest wife-although he can visit when he likes. The Boma surrounds a central pen for cows and goats. We got to go inside one of the huts and hang out with some of the wives, who made us chai (tea with milk and sugar) on the fire that is always burning inside the hut...makes for very smoky air all the time as there is no ventilation except for a few tiny holes cut out of the dung walls of the hut to see whether friend or foe may be approaching the Boma. Rusha made friends with some of the ladies and they gave her some clothes and jewelery to wear for a picture. Lots of very cute kids, many women and livestock. It was really cool to be so intimate with these people.

We then spent some time at the weekly cattle market. Cows are a sign of wealth and are not really eaten because they are so valuable. They are traded, used for medicine, dowry, or status, but for food the Maasai eat goat. There is a lot of potential wealth among the Maasai: each cow is worth several hundred dollars, but the Maasai choose to live a simple, material-free life. The goats at market are butchered and smoked on sticks around a fire and each part of the goat is designated for different people according to their age and status.

Our day was cut short by rain but not before we met an Israeli woman who has been living in Southern Kenya for 25 years and has adopted 8 Maasai children and is an expert in African history and culture. She speaks not only fluent Swahili, but fluent Maasai as well and was very interesting to talk with and helped us get a nice lunch at a local cafe. We headed back to Arusha to meet up with the parents and got our first glimpse of wildlife on the way (3 giraffes crossing the road!) through the windows of a way-overstuffed dala dala, whose driver insisted on driving on the wrong side of the road the entire time, despite the fact that it was dark and most people don't use lights.

See the link below for the full picture spread...

http://picasaweb.google.com/guylevpt/LongidoMountainAndMaasaiVillage#

2 comments:

  1. That sounds wild! Trip sounds amazing so far.

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