Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Check out my brother's blog!

Hey, my brother, Mike, has just started a cool blog as well.


If you prefer blogs that are well-written, updated frequently, and intellectually stimulating, then you should definitely check out his blog.  Otherwise, you can continue to read this blog.  Haha.

Congrats Mike on medical school!  You're going to be a great doctor.

Weekend with the Maasai

Editor’s Note: This journal entry involves blood and killing a goat, so I would not read it if you are squeamish. The weekend referenced is this past weekend.

I just spent the past weekend with the Maasai Tribe in Monduli, Tanzania. I know that I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but again, another incredible experience. This experience was perhaps the most authentic of all that I’ve experienced this summer, and was off the beaten path.

While I was named “Strong Warrior” [Omurani] in Maasai by Matthew the Maasai over the weekend, I could not have done this trip alone. It was organized Holly, and four other ICTR interns traveled to Monduli, rounding our group out at six.

We left Friday immediately from work, and met in downtown Arusha at the Africafe. Most of my friends were going to Zanzibar for a weekend of beach and relaxation, which I would do, but, I have the beach in Miami. One of the goals of traveling to Africa was to immerse myself in true African culture; not just do “cookie-cutter” trips, and man, let me tell you: Mission Accomplished.

So after meeting Matthew the Maasai in downtown Arusha, he hands us a list of Maasai phrases, none of which is similar to Swahili at all. To be honest, I’ve been pretty lucky for the past month, because 90% of the people that I interact with in Arusha, speak English [at least limited] along with their Swahili. This is due in part, because Arusha is the main stopping point for most tourists prior to going on safari or going to Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’ve been spoiled but I’ve tried to learn what I call “Survival Swahili”. “Susha” means “drop off”, “hapana asante” means no thank you, “jambo mambo” means, “hello how are you?”, and I can use all of the words from the Lion King. “Hakuna matata, rafiki.”

However I have no experience with Maasai [the language], so it was much appreciated that Matthew gave us a list, even though I was still ultimately struggling to communicate. Here’s the list [I’ve copied it word for word for you]:

Maasai Salutations.
A. Supai? – How are you? – All genders
B. Ipa or Epa – Fine or I am fine.

A. Keyaa – How
B. Keeya Mbaak? – How are things?

A. Sidai – Good
B. Sidai Naleng - Very Good

A. Supai Papa? – How are you, father?
B. Ipa or Epa

A. Yeyo takwenya – How are you, mama?
B Iko – I am fine. [Men do not say iko.]

A. Supai Ormuran? – How are you (a warrior)?
B. Ipa or Epa.

Other terms:
A. Endito –Girl
B. Omurani – Warrior
C. Papa – Father
D. Ndoye – Girls
E. Irmuran – Warriors
F. Ngakwi – Grandfather
G. Koko – Grandmother

Aomonu – Asking for something
Aomonu engare – Can I have some water?

Endaa – Food
Emoti – Cooking pot
Mbesai – Money [I was thinking I should ask everyone, “Aomonu Mbesai”, from now on.]
Kule – Milk
Ngiring – Meat
Osarge – Blood
Euji – Porridge
Orgali – Stiff porridge
Ormushele – Rice

The other term that wasn’t on the list, that I tried to learn early on was “Ashi” or “Ashid”, which means “thank you” in Maasai. It was important to me to be as thankful/respectful as possible while I was a guest in their village.

After taking a two hour bus ride out of Arusha, we arrived at the village. The first thing that we saw was the schoolhouse, where the younger children were learning school lessons such as Reading, Writing, Math, English, History, etc. The schoolhouse looked very similar to 18th century American schoolhouses: all grades were taught in one room. From what I remember, there was no electricity at the schoolhouse whatsoever.

Past the schoolhouse were the Bomas [huts/ also a term for village in general] where we would be staying for the evening. As we were arriving, the villagers were celebrating a wedding of one of the younger warriors who had just married his first wife. The Maasai are polygamous; men will marry 3, 5, or 7 wives, based upon the number of cattle that they own [which the Maasai consider sacred – understandably so, it serves as a major sources of life for them]. Maasai women will be promised to men when they are as young as 10 years old and will serve a somewhat of a servant role to the first wife until they turn about 15 years old, when they are officially married, and then immediately start their own family. When I stayed in the hut, I was not sure if my hut papa was living with his wife/daughters/son, or just his wives and sons [I’m mostly sure he was living with his wife/daughters/son.] Men will often marry when they are older, and more established.

To describe the location, basically, there’s a central cowpen, where the village congregates, with the bomas situated in a circle around the central cowpen. Additionally, the entire village is fenced off from the outside Savannah [we were specifically right outside of the Lake Manyara area], so that lions and other predators could not come in at night and kill the Maasai cattle. The ground was quite rocky and there was cow poop everywhere. Additionally during the day, flies would swarm the entire area, crawling all over the faces, mouths, eyes of the Maasai, especially the children. I used bug spray on myself, which was only minimally effective, because bug spray only stops mosquitoes from biting, these were just common fruit flies that don’t bite.

Anyway, the Maasai celebrated the wedding, and then we were introduced to our host families for the weekend. I had thought that all three of us male interns would sleep in a hut, and then the three female interns would sleep in a different hut, but in actually, each of us was assigned to a different family. This was somewhat daunting to deal with but I made it home ok. For most of the weekend, we were supposed to refer to the father as “papa”, and the mother as “mama”, however, I learned that the mother’s name was Nazaro, while the father’s name was Otakwe [it was unpronounceable, but this is as I close as I remember/ could pronounce.]

At this point, we presented the gift of tea, specifically chai bora to each of our host families. For the weekend, we also brought candy, a soccer ball, and blankets. We retired for the evening to the bomas, where Nazaro made one of the best chai tea lattes that I’ve probably ever had. Specifically, it was made with whole cow milk, so that’s probably why it tasted pretty well. Additionally for dinner, she made Orgali, which I believe is the same as ugali, the staple dish of Tanzanians, basically which is a giant rice-like dough. Ugali usually tastes like paste, but the orgali that she made was fairly good, and she gave me a mixture of a tomato/onion like broth to dip the orgali, which made it a pretty good dinner.

During dinner, it became immediately apparent that there would be difficulty in communicating between Otakwe/Nazaro and myself. They spoke no English [they knew “cow” and “milk”, which they pronounced “millek”], and I spoke no Maasai. It was like this episode [“Darmok” for my fellow Trekkies] from Star Trek The Next Generation, when Picard gets stranded on a planet with this other alien and the universal translator can’t translate. Over the course of the whole weekend, I tried to use body language to communicate, and sometimes it would work. Before I learned “thank you”, I would bow; when I was full I would rub my belly, and when I was going to sleep, I would make a sleeping motion.

Anyway, after dinner, I basically went to sleep on one of the beds, which was basically cowskin stretched over wooden logs. To be honest, the ground may have been more comfortable, but I don’t know.

The next morning, I woke up, and was again served Chai, as well as Euji, which basically tastes like oatmeal/cream of wheat. I was served Chai at literally every meal, and they served us Euji for breakfast and lunch everyday. Euji was good the first time [tastes like oatmeal/cream of wheat. Mom, I’m so glad you made me oatmeal as a kid because you helped prepare me for euji], but I was sick of Euji/Chai by Sunday.

After breakfast, Otakwe and I went out and counted cows [well, I mostly watched, while he counted. Cows = wealth/ bartering chip, so it’s important that you haven’t lost any cows!] Then, we met with Matthew, who speaks perfect English [it was great to communicate in my own language again], and he said “When you are in Maasai village, you must wear Maasai clothes.” So we went to another empty boma, and we stripped down to just underwear, and then put on the Maasai clothes. Basically, Maasai wear just three long sheets, positioned to cover up the whole body. We look somewhat like what the shepards look like in Christmas plays. Anyway Maasai clothing is brilliant, because it protects you from cold weather when it is cold in the morning/night, as well is light enough to stay cool in hot weather.

After we changed/took pictures, Otakwe and Matthew took us to one of the cattle to retrieve some blood from the cattle’s neck. Typically, the Maasai make blood milk, which is high in protein, and an infinitely renewable source of life; however, this time we just drank cow blood. The cow does not die from the process, because the Maasai patch up the wound with dirt/cow dung. They also do not use the same cow for blood each time, giving each of the cows plenty of time to heal. Otakwe shot an arrow into the cow’s neck, and then Matthew used a gourd to collect the blood. They then invited us to each taste and drink the cow’s blood. Because I didn’t want to be rude, and I wanted to sample the culture, I agreed.

Cow blood is delicious. I hope I don’t ruin Campbell’s Tomato Soup for you, but cow blood tastes like a saltier version of Campbell’s. After everyone had tried the cow blood, then Otakwe and Matthew brought the gourd to the boma of a woman who had recently given birth which supposedly helps brings strength to the weak.

After the cow blood experience, they asked us if anyone wanted to be “marked”. Two of the more well-known physical features of the Maasai is that they have long holes in their earlobes for earrings, as well as permanent circle marks on their cheeks. I did not get “marked” [due to liking things the way they are, and fear of tetanus/other diseases], but Holly wanted to get marked, and so the Maasai marked/branded both of her arms permanently with two circles on each arm. We were also told that around 17 years, Maasai boys are circumcised in a ceremony in which they cannot flinch at all; otherwise, it shows dishonor. Holly was very brave and did not flinch. Holly said it wasn’t that bad, but even I have my limits.

After our cow blood / Holly’s branding experience, we went on a morning walk through the Savannah. During our walk, we saw giraffes approximately 100 meters in the distance, as well as gazelles. We tried to get closer to the giraffes, but when they saw us, they fled. I used to think that giraffes were slow creatures, but they can run quite quickly. We went to the lake where the Maasai bring their cattle as well as get their own water. The lake was pretty, but it was obvious that it was quite polluted. Additionally, it was a 3-4 mile walk from the village, so I can imagine it is difficult to transport water back and forth. Our Maasai guide also showed us the treebark which supposedly mitigates some of the effects of the unclean drinking water. Fortunately, for the weekend, we had brought clean drinking water for everyone, which we eventually left with the village.

After our walk, we came back, had euji lunch, and had some downtime. We brought out the soccer ball and played with the children, who love soccer. They kicked the ball all over the village, and often, the imuran would stop what they were doing and would join in. After soccer one of the Maasai decided to show us how to throw spears. Granted, we used sticks, because they/we were afraid we would hurt ourselves, but we practiced with a can. The Maasai omurani could hit the can 10 out of 10 times, when I couldn’t even hit it once.

Also during the afternoon, a small dirt devil tore through the Maasai village and literally tore a little bit of thatch roofing off my host family’s boma. It was so fast that I couldn’t get a picture, but it’s the first time I’ve seen that happen. I was literally ten feet away from the very small tornado. It was somewhat bizarre.


After this, Matthew [who had gone into town during the morning] had brought back a live goat which he said was going to be our dinner. Around 5pm, we went approximately 400 – 500 meters outside of the village to prepare for our goat barbeque. They didn’t want to kill the goat in the village, because the smell of blood from the goat might attract lions, which you do not want in the village. [“Lions: Great to look at from a car.”]

At this time, Matthew asked us if any of us wanted to help kill the goat. I volunteered. No one else did.

Why did I chose to try to kill the goat? I’ve never killed anything in my life [with the exception of insects]. I eat meat, and I’ve always enjoyed eating meat, but I have never really connected the fact that I’ve eaten a hamburger with the fact that I’ve killed an animal in the process in order to do that. Granted, I didn’t plunge the knife in the cow’s throat, but I’m the beneficiary of the spoils of the cow’s death, and without meat-eaters such as myself, the cow would not die. I respect vegans/vegetarians’s choice to abstain from meat; but I like to eat meat, and my ancestors have eaten meat, and I’m consciously will choose to continue to eat meat. I think everyone should be free to make their own choice in this matter. However, the reason why I volunteered is that I want to appreciate what actually happens, when I chose to eat meat, and I want to appreciate the sacrifice that goes into every hot dog, hamburger or steak. I don’t think I’ll look at meat the same again.

So after it seemed an eternity of waiting [one minute real time], Matthew said it was time to kill the goat, gave me the knife, and showed me the vein on the goat’s neck to cut. Three other Maasai held down the goat, so that it wouldn’t move. So I tried to cut the goat’s throat, but I could not pierce the skin. I swear that knife wasn’t sharp enough, but Matthew said it was. Anyway, Matthew got down next to me, and he guided my hand with the force on the goat’s throat, killing it. So, I did not kill the goat myself; I did it with Matthew’s help.

After we killed the goat, it is Maasai custom to immediately drink the neck blood of the goat from a bowl. Unlike cow blood, this was disgusting, especially because the goat’s raw neck fat mixed into the blood. I literally only took a sip of this blood to just show respect.

Then, the Maasai showed us how to skin the goat, which I and the other male interns helped skin. Women are not even supposed to watch the sacrifice of the goat [which the female interns did], but they definitely cannot help with the preparation of the meat.

After we helped skin the goat, the Maasai took over and removed body parts from the goat. One thing that I admire about the Maasai is how they literally waste almost nothing. I asked Matthew what they do not use, and he said that they do not use/eat the tongue or eyes, but that’s it.

The other Maasai cooked the meat, and they shared with us. According to custom, the person who cuts the meat eats first. So, since I cut the neck, I drank the goat neck blood first, and since another Maasai was cutting the cooked meat, he ate first. I ate goat leg, goat heart, goat liver, and goat ribs. The best part of the goat is the goat heart which tastes similar to lobster. It was actually pretty good.

It was at this time that Matthew began to refer to me as “strong warrior” for being willing to try to kill the goat. I take this name with honor, but I do not think I will ever kill another animal with my own hand again. Additionally, I do not condone/support anyone killing animal for sport; we killed this goat for food. The goat would have died as a result of me, whether I had killed it myself or just eaten from it afterwards.

After dinner, we went to bed. During the night, I felt mice running through the bed, which truthfully was somewhat disconcerting, however, such is life for the Maasai. I took approximately six half-hour naps over the course of the night because I couldn’t get comfortable.

On Sunday, we began the same routine that we did on Saturday. Sunday was somewhat a short day, but the Maasai children and woman perform a song and dance that involved jumping with us. Jumping in Maasai culture is an important custom, and people are valued for how high that they can jump. After giving our host families and children more gifts, we said “Ashid” and departed back to Arusha.

Final Thoughts
This was an incredible cultural experience, nearly like an experience out of a National Geographic magazine. I think most importantly I saw the best and the essence of humanity in the simplicity that is the Maasai. They didn’t speak my language, didn’t have the same things that I had, and yet, still welcomed me into their home and fed me for a weekend. I also appreciated their fascination with little things such as my flashlight or my watch. I’ve never paid that much attention or cared that much for these items, but for someone who doesn’t regularly see these items, I can understand how they are interesting now. I also want to note that these people are not inferior intellectually; Nazaro and Otakwe both interacted very intelligently with me and others, and could read and write. In fact, I think they had an easier time communicating with me; than I had communicating with them. While I was not physically branded [unlike Holly], I think this trip left a permanent indent on me that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Maasai Children in Ceremonial Garments [for wedding]

Masaai Celebrating as part of the Wedding.

Me and one of the sons, right outside our Boma.

Nazaro, my Boma's mama [the taller one], and some other children.  I can't tell if the girl on the left is Otakwe/Nazaro's child, or Otakwe's second wife.

Matthew and Me outside of my Boma

It's hard to see from this picture, but my house papa, Otakwe is shooting the cow in the neck with a bow and arrow.  Again, the cow doesn't die from the process, it's like giving blood. 

Maasai Weekend: $150
Drinking Cow Blood from a Gourd: Priceless.

Near the lake where the Maasai get their water from.  The little specks are cows in the distance.

Another picture of the lake where the cows/Maasai get their water from.  Note the cow poop on the ground, which I believe heavily pollutes this water.

School next to the village.  All grades learn in one room.

My boma, post dust-devil.  Note how the thatching on the roof is missing.

This is right before I killed the goat.  I did not put any pictures of me actually killing the goat, hakuna matata.

After I cut the goat's neck, I had the honor of drinking the goat's blood first.

The "room" in the Boma where I slept.

I am a giant to these people.

Otakwe, my house papa, and I.  Otakwe looks scary but he's actually quite friendly.

Me, jumping with the Maasai in our "goodbye ceremony". The Maasai are laughing because I have absolutely no rhythm whatsoever.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Great Serengeti Adventure

Editor’s Note: I sincerely apologize again for not updating my blog faster. I’m a horrible blogger. But give me a small break, I’m in Africa. If I blogged all day, then I wouldn’t have adventures and then it would be some vicious cycle of me telling you about what I ate for dinner. I will continue to try to update the blog at a more frequent pace. Most importantly, none of these entries, nor can any stories I tell can truly explain what has happened over the summer. To know Africa, you really have to go experience it yourself!

WOW. Three weeks ago, I went on perhaps the greatest trip of my lifetime. The two second summary of the trip was, was that five other ICTR interns and I went to Serengeti National Park and the Ngorogoro Conservation Area, [affectionately known as the Crater] from June 18 - 20. I enjoyed every second of the trip and I will probably talk about the trip for months, but here are some of the main highlights.

Friday – Welcome to the Serengeti

We booked our adventure through Soko Adventures, because we new interns had heard from the leaving interns that this company was a) legitimate, yet b) reasonably priced. Our group assembled around 8 AM in the morning in downtown Arusha, and met our guide/drive, Mohammed, and our cook, Safe. I immediately liked both of them, especially Mohammed, because he had a deep laugh and reminded me of an African version of my dad.

We left Arusha for about a five hour drive. While the drive was not an American five hours away [I believe Mohammed said it was 350km], it took longer because we drove on bumpy roads, 45 degree uphill and downhill climbs, as well as congestion in the road, often animals such as goats/zebras. Our first thing of interest that we saw along the trip was two freshly killed Zebra roadkills.

We thought this was crazy, because we’ve all seen roadkill before in the states, however, we’ve never seen exotic roadkill. This experience got even crazier when a Maasai woman literally walked up to the Zebra roadkills and cut off a leg to bring home for lunch. We found out from Mohammed that hunting Zebra is illegal; however, because there are so many Zebra that run into cars [or cars that run into Zebra, if you side with the Zebra], it is actually legal to eat the meat from Zebra roadkill. He said that it tastes like cow [I don’t know if Mohammed was talking from personal experience.]

A side note, three days later on our return home, we passed the scene of the Zebra roadkill. It was literally scoured clean, except for the head and the skeleton. It was a tragedy that the zebras were killed accidentally; however, the Maasai made sure that this death would not be wasted. I really admire this.

On the way to the Serengeti, we got our first glimpse of the typical safari excursions by making a brief stop overlooking Lake Manyara National Park. By choosing a three-day safari, we had skipped an actual tour of Lake Manyara, which would have occurred on the fourth day, but the previous safari interns said that this was unnecessary. I think I agree, but the view of Lake Manyara was breathtaking.

We then arrived at Ngorogoro Conservation Area, “The Crater”, as we travelled along the rim to the Serengeti, which is located below. From the rim, Ngorogoro looks like the Garden of Eden. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful sites that I’ve ever seen in my life, and no picture can justify it.

I apologize for religious interjection into this blog; but after viewing a site like Ngorogoro, there’s no way that this place [or many others on Earth] were created by random chance. God is a great artist.

To give you more background, Ngorogoro Crater is actually the remnants of a collapsed super volcano. According to Lonely Planet, there are areas around Ngorogoro that still have active volcano activity from time. Regardless, the pictures I took do not do Ngorogoro justice. Neither does my pathetic attempt at trying to explain it.

While we circled around the Crater rim to get to the Serengeti, Mohammed said “I’ve changed my mind, we need to turn around and go have lunch.” He then reverses the car about 100 meters and we go to a site where zebras are grazing while overlooking the crater. Our group ate lunch on Friday literally five feet from zebras [alive zebras, at that.] I can’t describe it; other than it was crazy and I loved it. Lunch was good too, but I don’t really remember/care what it was.

Later in the afternoon, we finally arrived at the Serengeti. The Serengeti is basically one giant, flat plain that goes on forever. It is like a much drier Everglades, if you’ve ever been there.

In terms of animal highlights for the day, we got to literally see cheetahs five feet away from our safari car. Most of the animals in the Serengeti are incredibly lazy, especially because it’s hot all of the time, and basically the cheetahs are no exception to the rule. I also saw my first giraffes and we also ran into an elephant crossing in the middle of the road on the way to our campsite.

One of the things of the Serengeti that people don’t really think about is that the animals are not every five feet away from each other, like they are at the zoo. We would literally drive miles, stop, and see two cheetahs or a giraffe or an elephant, and then drive 10-15 more miles.

Finally, we arrived at our campsite around sunset. We had an excellent dinner of pasta, wine, and soup, and then headed off to sleep. At campsite, we literally had to put all of our stuff in our tents, otherwise, the hyenas would attempt to destroy our stuff. Later as we were going to the safari car the next morning, Mohammed said, “Did you hear the lions/hyenas last night?”

Supposedly lions were sleeping on rocks above our campsite [It looked like “Pride Rock” from the Lion King] , as well as hyenas were roaming through the camp at night. I didn’t hear them, because I slept like a rock the first night. As Mohammed told us, when you see the hyena’s eyes staring at you; you might as well pray instead of run, because it doesn’t make a difference. Haha. I promise I didn’t die everyone! Actually, my roommates will be finishing this blog for me.

Saturday – Main Serengeti Day and Back to Ngorogoro

Saturday was the main day of our safari into the Serengeti. Mohammed woke us all up at 6:00 AM in the morning, because animals are most active in the morning, when its cooler out. One of the first things that we saw in the morning was a herd of elephants eating breakfast. Literally our car drove up right next to them, and we got great pictures of a baby elephant as well. Mohammed was so patient, and he would stop and wait as long as we wanted to take pictures, observe, etc.

Later in the morning, we saw a group of three or four lionesses marching along the road, looking for prey. One thing that I learned over this trip is that male lions are the “deadbeats” of the animal kingdom; they lie around all day while lionesses do all of the hunting. After the lionesses kill the animal, then the male lions will fight each other over the dead carcass. They are basically scavengers. Therefore, we did not see any male lions on Saturday, because they were sleeping, but we saw lionesses everywhere.

One of the unique animals that we saw on Saturday was the leopard. Hanna, who had been to Africa before, had never seen a leopard from the times that she had gone on safari previously, and she really wanted to see one. They are incredibly difficult to spot, unlike cheetahs and lions, because leopards literally spend most of their day hiding in trees. Fortunately, Mohammed used the safari radio and found out that there was a leopard approximately 15 miles out of our designated route. Mohammed drove us to see the leopard, and it was incredible to see the animal literally five feet away. We also saw some unrecognizable carcass that the leopard had dragged up into the tree, as a snack for later. I think it was a zebra, but I’m not sure.

After our morning/early afternoon safari, we went back to base camp, packed up our gear, had lunch, and then travelled back to the rim of the Ngorogoro Crater, where we arrived there around 5:30pm or so. The rim of the Ngorogoro Crater is approximately 2,000 meters above sea level [1/3 of the height of Mt. Kilimanjaro for comparison], so needless to say, it was incredibly cold, especially that night. I had trouble sleeping, because even though I came prepared with sweaters/jackets/long pants, etc, no matter what you did, you could not get completely warm. It was a good wake-up call for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro later in July, in that I need to buy even more warm clothes [such as sweatpants] before I make the trek.

While I slept that night, I also swear I heard something breathing next to my tent. I was told later that there were warthogs running around, but I don’t know. I was very quiet that night, and understandably chose to not go to the bathroom.

Sunday – Rhino Hunt, Completion of the Quest for the Big Five and Return to Arusha.

What is the “Big Five”? It is a quest of many safari goers to see these five specific animals when one goes to Africa, and supposedly, you haven’t done a safari until you saw all five animals. Specifically, the Big Five are Lions, Leopards, Buffalo, Elephant, and Rhino. Not only did we see the Big Five, but we saw the Big Five up close.

I actually think that the Big Five is a little stupid, and instead it should be the Significant Seven, the seven animals you must see on safari to have completed the experience: Lions, Cheetahs, Leopards, Rhino, Giraffe, Zebra, Hippos, and Elephant, which we saw all of these animals [Buffaloes are stupid. Sorry, but you can see those in America. And if you want to see them play football poorly, all you have to do is go to New York. Heyo! Apologies to Jordan. Haha.]

Of these animals, I would rank them from easiest to most difficult to see:

1. Zebras
2. Buffaloes
3. Hippos
4. Giraffes
5. Cheetahs
6. Lionesses
7. Leopards / Male Lions
8. Black Rhino

As of Sunday, we had seen all of these animals with the exception of the male lion and the black rhino. Fortunately, we saw both of these animals on Sunday. Almost immediately into our trek into the crater, we saw two male lions drinking near a water source. I didn’t get great pictures because of my camera’s poor zoom, but fortunately, my friend Laura shared her pictures, one of which is just spectacular. Although deadbeats, male lions are one of the most magnificent animals of the animal kingdom. Such beautiful creatures.

Finding the Rhino was supremely more difficult. Ngorogoro Crater is 8,300 square kilometers, and in the crater, there are only 22 black rhinos left, due to the number of rhinos that have been killed in the past due to the [now illegal] ivory trade. Mohammed, however, knew we really wanted to see a rhino; and he was truly determined to find us a rhino.

Initially, he said it would be too difficult to get to the rhino, because the rhinos were drinking from Lake Magadt, which is an unreachable lake by road in the middle of the crater [you’re not supposed to go off the road or the safari driver can get fined/fired]. He would hand us his binoculars and say, “see that speck in the distance, it’s a rhino.” While we could barely make out the horns with the binoculars, we weren’t satisfied, because we had seen all of the other animals up close, and for all we know, it could have been Safe, our cook, in a rhino costume. Then again, we never conclusively proved that it wasn’t Safe later, either. [I’m here all night, everyone.]

Regardless, after several hours of searching for the elusive rhino, we had nearly given up, and were on our way home out of the crater, when Mohammed got a call over the radio that there was a way to get closer to the rhinos on Lake Magadt, because they had moved to the other side of the lake. We were happy, because at least we could make out the rhino with our own eyes, but then the incredible happened.

Literally one of the rhinos began walking our way to the road on which we were on, immediately towards our safari car. By this time, the other safari vehicles in the area had realized that we had gotten an awesome spot, and literally 20 safari vehicles showed up.

When the rhino got approximately 40-50 meters away from our car/road, we could sense that it was getting tense, and I swear, I literally saw it stomp its front hoof, a sign that it was preparing to charge if necessary. Mohammed understandably became concerned, and we immediately moved our vehicle out of the rhino’s direct path, so that it could cross the road. Unfortunately, when we moved from our spot, not all of the other safari cars were as courteous, and then we lost our perfect spot. The rhino finally crossed the road and then walked off into the distance.

Summary of the experience:

This trip was incredible, one of the top ten moments of my life. I’ll remember this trip forever. I really don’t think this blog entry did it justice, because you have to see it for yourself. My safari mates were phenomenal people, and we’ve become even closer since the trip.

Brook, Hanna and Erin are even climbing Kilimanjaro with me at the end of the month, so I’m excited to have another adventure together, because they are such cool people. Everyone got a long really well, even without showers for three days.

I’m never been an environmentalist, but at the end of the experience, it was somewhat sad to go back to civilization, because after seeing all of this natural beauty, I really think that we’re all desecrating the Earth. Of course we need electricity, houses, buildings, etc., but do our cars need to pollute so much when there are cleaner possibilities. Realizing that there are only 22 rhinos left in Ngorogoro is incredibly sad, and if we don’t continue to try to fix these problems, they’ll go extinct while we’re still alive.

I particularly enjoyed the whole experience, because it was incredibly quiet for long parts of the safari. I had the opportunity to reflect on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’ve going, and I’ve realized that I’m incredibly fortunate. Heck, with my luck, it’s like winning the lottery everyday. With a great family, fiancé, friends, education, really why should I complain about anything? What don’t I have? I’ve sweated the small stuff my whole life; and while I’m still occasionally getting aggravated over here, I’m trying to recognize that things are pretty damn good. I need to be more appreciative of what I’ve been given, and less concerned with what I don’t have.

Lion Cubs in the Serengeti.

Maasai in the Serengeti coming from a "Meeting"

Male Lion in Ngorogoro Crater

Wildebeest up close in Ngorogoro Crater

Eating Lunch with the Zebras


Giraffe Roadblock

Elephant in the Serengeti

Me, riding in the Safari Car in Ngorogoro Crater


Leopard in Tree

Our group right outside of Ngorogoro Crater [2000 meters below] with a Maasai.

Zebras in Ngorogoro Crater

Zebras crossing the road.

Ostrich in the middle of the road.

Rhino in the Distance of Ngorogoro Crater


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

U.S. v. England – Instant Recap

We had an awesome experience three nights ago at the Greek Club in Arusha, where most of the interns from the ICTR came to watch the United States v. England game. One of the great things of the ICTR is that people are from all over the world; literally, there are people from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Tanzania, Kenya, Germany, Australia, France, and Canada. I’m sure I’ll meet people from more countries, but these are the people that I’ve met thus far.

At the Greek Club, the crowd was 50/50 American/English. The Brits were definitely more dressed up than we were, wearing their face paint and their English soccer [I refuse to call it football] shirts. However, while we failed in uniform, we made up in vocals.

At the very beginning of the game, the English supporters were far louder than we were. They were led by my friend Ben, who is from London. However, not many people know this, but I, too, can be incredibly loud at sporting events if needed. It is one of the few talents that I have. USA!

Therefore, I started leading the American contingent at the club in our cheers against the Brits:

Here are some of the chants that I and others [my friends Cam, Max, Brook, and Jeff] led:
1. USA! USA! USA! [classic]
2. World War II, World War II, World War II! [my personal favorite]
3. Yes we can! Yes we can! [Brook’s favorite chant]
4. Quack! Quack! Quack! [From the Mighty Ducks movies, which we thought was hilarious]
5. A tie is a win! A tie is a win! [My second favorite chant, but this chant caused a lot of debate among the interns of whether we were insulting America.]
6. 1776! 1776! [Didn’t really catch on]

Also throughout the game, we also sang the full versions to the following songs:
1. I’m proud to be an American.
2. The Star Spangled Banner
3. This land is my land.
4. My country tis of thee. – In response to the British national anthem. The music is the same to both songs.

One interesting note was that most of the Canadians and the Tanzanians rooted for England. Most Canadians chose to root for England, because they are under the Commonwealth which makes sense; but we Americans still noted that they were traitors to North America. I spoke with a couple of the Tanzanians, who said that they rooted for England, because they liked the English Premier League [one guy was wearing a Manchester United jersey]. I found this interesting, because England was particularly oppressive to Tanzania prior to Tanzania’s independence.

Anyway, we all had a great time, and after the game, the Brits and Americans shook hands. I told Ben and others that I would root for England in any game during the World Cup except against the U.S. [if we met again]; and they told us that they would root for the U.S., likewise. I’m starting to like this World Cup thing.

The Road to Arusha, Part Deux

First, apologies for not updating the blog sooner. I’ve been incredibly busy in Africa, trying to settle in [which I think I am a lot more settled in, now, than I was before.]

Anyway, where we left off in the road to Arusha was Nairobi. Jana and I finally met in Nairobi, and we left the next morning to take a small bus to Arusha. I had braced for this bus trip, as many people had warned me that it 1) dusty, 2) bumpy, and 3) hot. However, it really wasn’t that bad, and I got to see a lot more of the natural beauty of Kenya and Tanzania. The trip was approximately six hour long, because Kenyan roads are horrible.

Here's a picture of the shuttle that we rode to Nairobi.  Not too bad, actually.

Along the way, I saw Masai villages and many Masai people, who are the indigenous people of Tanzania and Kenya. I think their culture is incredibly interesting, and I’ve enjoyed meeting many Masai villagers in Arusha. I love how other Tanzanians/Kenyans interact with the Masai; it is not strange but very common to see Masai in their native garb walking down the street in Arusha. In America, we expect people of other ethnicities to assimilate into the “American culture”, and lose their own cultural identity, which I am starting to believe is terrible. You would never see a Native American walking down the streets of Miami in native garb; or if they did, I think people would privately ridicule them. Tanzanians are a lot of things, but they seem to be much more culturally accepting than Americans.

Here's a picture of some Masai and others along the road.

Masai Spears - Don't leave home without one.

Kenyan/Tanzanian Border

Hills/Small Mountains along the Way

A small mountain in the distance, and a Masai along the road.

The picture on my laptop background

Finally, we made it to Arusha, where Jana and I then finally went to the ICTR, where we met Suzanne, who helped me get the ICTR internship in the first place. Suzanne then took us to her home, where we crashed for about the first four days of our trip. Suzanne’s house was wonderful, and we stayed in the guest house. Suzanne lives near downtown Arusha along with her adopted son, Amari, who is Masai.

Furthermore, the food at Suzanne’s house was amazing; and I’ve never eaten better since being in Africa. My favorite was Damaria’s [Suzanne’s cook’s] Carrot-Ginger Soup, and also by her pea soup. Furthermore, for the first time in my life, I have started drinking her coffee occasionally, as fresh Tanzanian coffee is actually quite good.

Jana and my guest house at Suzanne's place

Suzanne's Home

While we are on the subject of house assistants, it is a way of life for people to have house help in Africa. Most UN lawyers have a cook, someone to clean clothes/house, as well an escari [the Masai guard who is the house’s security]. For our apartment where I live now, we have a house assistant [Miriam] who cleans the apartment and washes all of our clothes, twice a week for 60,000 Tanzanian’s shillings a month [approximately $40 US per month]. Additionally, our apartment complex has three escari at anytime.

While on the subject of apartments, I selected a three-bedroom apartment located on Fire Road for $650 U.S. dollars per month. I saw many apartments/houses [some of which I refer to as “death houses”, because these houses seemed to be in far away/dangerous to access], but my apartment is by far the safest, closest to the ICTR and downtown. I have three roommates: Angela from Columbia Law, Anit from Harvard Law, and Heather from Vanderbilt Law. I sleep on the couch [with a much cheaper rent!]/ share the master bedroom with Anit. While I sometimes feel inferior to these students from higher-ranked law schools, I definitely make sure to represent the “U” as much as possible to their chagrin.

In Arusha, there really aren’t addresses to apartments, so my apartment is specifically called Yellow House on Fire Road. If you want to mail someone in Arusha, they need to have a P.O. box.

In terms of the monetary conversion rate, 1400-1500 Tanzanian shillings [tsh] equals one dollar. This makes things incredibly cheap in Tanzanian. For example, a very NICE meal out will cost you approximately 5,000tsh – 10,000tsh [the most I’ve paid for a meal], which is $3.50 - $7 U.S dollars. Furthermore, we Yellow Housers, take cabs frequently, which cost anywhere from 1,000 – 5,000tsh depending on distance. If you want to take a Dalla Dalla here, which are these fast little bus-like vans, they cost 300 tsh, which is literally pennies. I got a haircut for 6000 tsh, which I think $4 should be the American cost for buzz cuts.

If there was one phrase you could only learn in Tanzania, I would advise that you learn “Hapana asante” which means “no thank you”. In downtown Arusha, there are several street vendors who run up to you, Mzungu [which literally means “one who is lost” – somewhat a “white” slur] to sell you artwork, jewelry, bad safaris, Tanzanite, and on one occasion, someone tried to sell me a prostitute [I said no, Beth]. And I’m not talking about being harassed to buy stuff in back alleys, these street vendors come up to you in the center of town [Arusha clock tower], where you must go to buy groceries or get to work. In the first week, I tried to be polite to the vendors, but I learned that you cannot stop while they try to sell you something. The vendors are not dangerous, but they are trying to make a living and will sell money at Mzungu [expensive] prices to do it.

Other good phrases to know are “Jambo Mambo”, which means “Hello, how are you?”, as well as “Pole”, which means “sorry”. I found it funny that the Lion King basically ripped off a lot of Swahili phrases for the characters in the movie. “Rafiki” = “friend”, “Simba” = “Lion”, “Mufasa” = “father”, and “Hakuna matata” really does mean “no worries”. Thanks Mom and Dad for letting me watch this movie 1,000 times as a kid, my Swahili is much better. Haha. Now, if only the Little Mermaid could teach people how to swim.

In regards to safety, in Africa, you have to take your security very seriously. Arusha is no Nairobi [crazy], but people do get robbed in Arusha. One female intern at our program has already been robbed, and I hope this doesn’t sound sexist or racist, but white women in Africa are far more likely to be robbed than others.

Here are the safety precautions that I have taken: 1) I never travel alone – even in daylight. Basically, Anit, Angela, Heather, and I go everywhere together. 2) I’ve removed my ATM card / credit card from my wallet, and I have them locked up; and I only carry up to 40,000 – 50,000 tsh on me at anytime. Most of the time, people who do get robbed here are alone, and the robbers don’t necessarily want to kill you; they just want your money. So, basically I’ll just hand my wallet over if someone wants to rob me. 3) Finally, you have to be alert at all times, and learn where not to go to. There’s a bridge by Suzanne’s house where interns have notoriously been robbed, and we all avoid that area like the plague.

I don’t really want to talk too much about my work at the ICTR, because I prefer to lean on the side of confidentiality, but I think the internship is incredible. My bosses, Nus [British] and Sophie [French] are also wonderful people, and have been really easy to work for. I also have met and I really like the judges that I am working for.

So, what’s happening from here? I’ve decided that I’m going to take two major trips over the summer. My roommates and I are going to the Serengeti for four nights of camping through a reputable tour company approximately two weeks or so from now [we haven’t decided on the exact dates]. Then, on July 22nd, Anit, Brook, myself, and other interns are going to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro over six days through the Machame route, which is going to be very scenic. I will definitely have some great pictures from these trips.

By the way, I have a Tanzanian cell phone number. We haven’t been able to do this through Skype thus far, but if you figure out a way how to call me cheap, its +255 0685250333. Supposedly incoming calls are free to me, it just costs me money to call others. Everything is prepaid here.

Regardless, I hope everyone is doing well back in America. I do miss America, and I can’t wait to come back in August to DC, and then Miami. I’ll try to update more frequently as I have things to write.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

UM Law Article

This is a great article on the front page of the University of Miami School of Law website on what I'm doing in Africa this summer, as well as other UM law students are doing.


Part 1 of the Beginning of the Great African Adventure

Hello everyone,
First, I apologize for not updating this blog since leaving America. 1) I have always had difficulty updating blogs, but 2) my internet connection has been horrible in Arusha, so I feel like I have a legitimate excuse.

For one, I am well, safe, sound and secured, but a little tired. The jet lag has still not been cured yet, as I am in this trend of going to bed around 9pm and waking up at 4am. Fortunately, I’m feeling a lot better today. Additionally, I’ve already lost one belt notch since I got here, so I’m guessing I’ve lost 5 pounds or so from eating far less than I did in America.
So again, polé [sorry in Swahili], but here’s a run-down of the adventure thus far.

So, Beth dropped me off at the airport at 5 AM on Tuesday, May 26th, with only one hour of sleep due to packing/applying for a scholarship the night before. It was great to see her for two weeks between law school and this trip, but it was incredibly difficult to leave her for 3 months. Beth, in addition to being my fiancé, is also my best friend, and my confidante, so everyday I miss her a bit.

But, anyway, I could write an entire book about my admiration and love for Beth, but you probably don’t care about that [unless you are Beth], so I’ll continue to write about my adventure to Africa.

I got on the Delta flight to New York, which was a horrible flight on a cramped flight. Also, JFK Airport is a horrible airport [sorry New Yorkers, but any airport, where you have to leave the terminal and go through security AGAIN to go somewhere is ridiculous.] Even O’Hare is a better airport.

However, everything got better once I got onto Emirates.

For one, Emirates’s international jets had plenty of legroom, even for tall [6’2’’ or 6’1’’, depends on the day, I’m having] people like myself. Also, each seat had its own television, which had actually really current movies on it. I saw Invictus [great movie which put me in the mood to go to Africa], Avatar [not bad, but highly overrated], and something else that was apparently so memorable that I’ve already forgotten what it was. I think the third movie was good. I don’t know.

Also, I think my favorite two things about Emirates were the meals, which were a fresh Arab/Indian mix [I have also become slightly addicted to curry over the past few months], as well as that everything was in English as well as Arabic. From being in Africa and Dubai, I have become somewhat fascinated with Arabic culture. It has some incredibly beautiful elements to it. I will definitely fly Emirates again; it was the best airline that I was ever on. If you ever have to travel anywhere internationally, check if you can fly Emirates, it was definitely worth it.

Dubai was phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. Basically, Dubai is America with an Arabic twist. I honestly think I saw more skyscrapers in Dubai than I saw in New York; but, it literally seemed at times that Dubai just assigned three people to a skyscraper. What I have found from my international travels thus far is that most people speak at least broken English, so it was relatively easy to maneuver about the city. I thought the exchange of dollar to dirham was fair, and it was a buck or two for the most part to travel around the city.

I am actually proud of myself, because I made sure to see the major things in the city. I only had a 7 hour layover in the city, so I had to use my time as effectively as possible. If you ever have only a few hours in Dubai, I highly recommend using the Dubai Metro, as you will be able to see most of the city quickly. First, I went and saw the Burj Khalifa, which is currently the tallest skyscraper in the world. I almost went up in it, but I was more impressed with how humanity could build something so tall. I then saw the Dubai Mall, which was literally at the same metro stop, which looked like an incredibly modern mall.

Truthfully, the only thing that really disappointed me about Dubai was the amount of American influence over the city. I saw a T.G.I.Fridays as well as a Chili’s [I’m embarrassed that this is how people probably think of us abroad], while I was there as well as multiple Burger Kings, etc. I wanted my first real foreign experience abroad, to be distinctly “foreign”, but it felt strangely like America.

The last thing that I saw that I was in Dubai was the Palm Tree Island, which is a huge man-made island, right off of the coast of Dubai. You can only really see the outline of the island from different parts, which looked cool. Dubai is also making a set of man-made islands, which will look like the world, but these islands are still a couple of years away from being open to the public.

Another thing I actually somewhat liked was the presence of the military everywhere. While the civil libertarian side of me screams “NO! BAD!”, I got to be honest, I felt really safe in Dubai. It makes sense why their crime rate is so much lower than the U.S. The military officers were very polite as I asked them questions of how to maneuver around their city.

The only thing that I did not see in Dubai was Ski Dubai. I saw it from the outside at the Mall of Emirates, but it would have been interesting to see from the inside. Anyway, I’ve never gone skiing in my life, so it really would have lost its purpose on me, as well as it leaves me something to do the next time I’m in Dubai.

Here are some pictures of Dubai [Captions Below]
This is a view of a part of downtown from the Metro.

This is the view of the Burj Khalifa from ground level.

A picture of one of Palm Tree Island's Fronds.

What Palm Tree Island would look like from the air.

Dubai's Airport feels like a palace.

Dubai does not need a Coldstone Creamery.  Then again, neither does the United States [nor me specifically!].

I then got back on Emirates and headed to Nairobi. Let me tell my initial entrance into Nairobi was quite a culture shock, as I got in around 7:30 pm that night. First, you have to realize that Kenya, Tanzania, etc. is in winter, so it gets dark outside around 6:30pm – 7:00pm at night [it’s also very cold at night]. Additionally, I was supposed to meet up with a friend that I met on facebook, Jana, but unfortunately, we got our signals crossed, so I was alone at the airport. I found a cab driver who took me directly to my hotel, the Kwheza Bed and Breakfast, which was located right outside of Nairobi, but it was a very safe/secure hotel, which had GREAT internet [I was able to skype call my Dad and Beth], and a GREAT view of the city.  Jana and I finally met up later that evening.

I found out from locals after I left Nairobi, that Nairobi is probably one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I’ve heard that there have been a lot of carjackings there, and fortunately, I was only there for a little while. Jana, who had worked in Nairobi for two months before, said that she really loved the city, and said that its bad reputation was overrated.

The thing that I disliked the most about Nairobi was the smog, and the general dirtiness. I was corresponding with my friend Henry, and I really blame foreign companies from coming into Nairobi and operating their manufacturing industry, not to the higher anti-pollution standards [still, way too low] imposed in America. Especially from traveling through the African countryside, Africa has great natural beauty, but I think foreign companies like America are destroying it.

Well, I will end my description of part one of the journey, here, leaving you with a couple of cliffhangers.

Did I ever make it to Arusha? Did I ever start work at the ICTR? Did I ever find housing? Did my stuff make it with me? What does Harvard, Columbia and the U now have in common?

[For potentially worried family members/significant other, the answer to all of the questions above is yes. Sorry to ruin the surprise for everyone else, but then again, everyone knows I secretly hate surprises.]

Talk to you all soon. I miss you all, but I am well.

A picture of Nairobi from my hotel.

Khweza Hotel

Asante sana! Heri, mate!