Maasai Family

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Our next stop was a bit scary.  We were visiting a remote Maasai family that had only been visited a couple of times by outsiders.  This is not a tourist stop.  This family is a personal friend of Albert, developed as he worked with the Maasai community in very rural Tanzania.  The “road” to their Boma was not even a 4WD track.  Albert followed a footpath that took us the 10 km off the road into the bush.  We asked him “who made this “road”?”  He said, “I did.”

We parked well away from the Boma and were greeted by a group of about 30 kids and women as we approached.  All were dressed in the traditional Maasai clothing with bright colored fabrics and necklaces.   The father of the family came out to greet Albert and us.  He is a “wealthy man” by comparison with a few hundred cows, many goats, 10 wives and 80 children.

We think we are only the 4th group of westerners they have ever seen. We talked (they speak Ma’a and not even Albert can translate).  CO9C9794

We took photos and shared the images with the audience.  They absolutely loved seeing themselves ontheback of the camera.CO9C9768

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The only challenge with the visit was the flies.  There were thousands and thousands of flies.  They were everywhere – landing on your hands, face, clothing (and camera).  At one point I counted at least 50 flies landed on my camera!  They live every day of their lives with these flies and they just ignore them.  These flies often cause health problems (especially eye problems) as the take moisture from the eyes.  One of Albert’s activities is to bring eye drops to this family.  Albert is a very good hearted man and was loved by this family.

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The oldest mother led the group in a traditional song and dance to celebrate our visit.  Her voice was beautiful (and we caught it on video). Two girls grabbed me and we danced around the group like I was a white guy! Elley caught that on video too :(.  I shared some smarties with the kids.  Many of them just held them in their hands, saving them for later.  One last thought:  where’s the water?  When we ask the men say very matter-of-fact “the mamas walk and get it.”  This society is not very different from the Maasai societies of thousands of years ago.  They are less nomadic and do a little bit of farming (but not much).  Ten wives?  (one is sometimes too much for me (no offense to my wonderful wife))

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On our way back home to Arusha I sang my made up Swahili song “Pole pole, pole pole, pole pole.”  Means “slow, slow, slow, slow, slow, slow.”  I’m working on my Applewood points.

I also started a list of 10 things I will never complain about again:

1)   Speed bumps

2)   Pot holes

3)   3-pronged forks

4)   American flies

5)   Power outages

6)   One wife

7)   Too much rain

8)   Stray cats (American cats)

9)   My life

10)Top ten lists

Life is good

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Migungani preschool

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Our next stop (after the tree lunch where we were visited by a group of 4 Maasai young men out herding their goats), was the Migungani preschool.  I had been looking forward to this visit for quite some time as our friends, the Clowers and Grace Stewart had visited in 2010.  I remembered their shots of Ellen Playing Duck-Duck-Goose in the dirt in front of the school.  Asante Africa Foundation had built the school and the outhouses and supported the community in providing food for theyoungsters.  We are now transitioning the responsibility of sustaining the school to the local community.  This can be very tricky and is being worked by our Tanzania team.

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If you are going to a preschool – prepare to sit on the floor!

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Also this was the coveted opportunity to shake hands with Barack Obama.  One of the little preschoolers was named after the President five years ago.  I’m not sure the little guy has any idea why he is so popular (he’s actually quite shy), but I got my photo op and checked off my “Shake Hands with Obama” item on my bucket list!

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The teachers were very nice but clearly understaffed and undersupplied.  They are working in the best facility I’ve seen so far this far from “civilization.”  We shot some photos and hung around with the kids as they prepared to walk home from school.

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We shared my brother’s Smarties with them (it was my brother’s birthday and I gave his present to the kids instead of him).

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Only one little boy in the class had any paper or pencil.  I’m not sure if he was special but he sure was cute!

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It really was a nice relaxing visit with the friendliest people on earth.

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Lake Manyara National Park

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The third day of our Safari started with a nice breakfast at the Twiga Lodge.  We were early (7am) and the only two people in the restaurant.  The fruit, eggs, tea and service were excellent.  Lake Manyara National Park is the least visited of the three parks in the region so it provides a quiet opportunity to see wildlife in a forested setting.  We were greeted by blue monkey and elephant within the first 100 yards of the park entrance followed by many, many baboon.  We also saw Impala, Giraffe Wildebeest, Zebra, Stork, Ostrich, Pelican, Hammerhead (bird), African Squirrel, Warthog, Crane and Bird Eagle.

Elley and I set up a makeshift studio in the Land Rover and filmed an interview with Albert for his website.  (We think this might be of more value than a tip – he might get both).  Albert is the perfect guide:  knowledgeable, responsible, friendly, good English, (did I mention friendly?), highest integrity, and just an all around great guy.  I could not recommend him more highly for a real hands-on safari.  He can arrange for and guide you through any level Safari you are interested in from bare bones to the highest luxury options (not sure why you would need the white table cloth in Africa.  I’ve had many great meals at the medium budget level.)

We left the park about 1pm headed for two more things we wanted to do:  a local preschool and another very primitive/isolated Maasai family visit.  When we asked Albert where we planned to eat our box lunches he said, “There’s a tree down the road.”  We laughed our asses off – the answer was perfect!

I’m constantly reminded of life back home.  I miss my friends, family (and even coworkers).  Luckily, every time Albert shifts gears in the Land Rover, the clutch or gear shift makes a noise just exactly like the goats screaming in the Taylor Swift video spoof of her song “Trouble.”  I think of the kids back home at our Friday night dinners and smile every time we change gears.  (and I can’t get that Taylor Swift song out of my head).Image

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Ngorongoro Crater

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I was awakened at 5am with the distant sounds of prayer from the local Mosque and my neighbor’s stereo playing “Saturday Night Fever” just a bit too loud for 5am in Africa.  East Africa is an interesting contrast in cultures where Christians, Muslims and others seem to live together in relative harmony.  Life is struggle enough.

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We’re met at 7:30 by our Safari guide and really good friend Albert.  We drive up the hill to the famous Ngorongoro Crater.  Ngorongoro is an ancient volcano (now caldera) with a few hundred square km central plain completely surrounded by 600m high rim.  A giant Crater Lake.  Entrance fees are expensive ($60 per person + $200 for the vehicle – per day) but tourists come from all over the world to see this.  We also saw a bus full of local school kids on a field trip.  We ascend into the fog that covers the rim.  The road is dirt but well traveled and not as bad as we have seen the past week.

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As we descend, overlooking the Olduvai Gorge to the west, we make a quick stop to “Check the tires”  (code for pee along side the road).  Before I was done…we were approached by a group of 10 Maasai herdsmen who were working both their herd and the tourist that might stop along the way and pay a small fee for a picture.  There were a very friendly group with a few things to sell, great jumping ability and big smiles.  Everywhere we go, the African people are friendly, polite and happy to be alive.

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As we descend into the crater the fog disappears and in front of us is a great plain filled with animals as far as you can see.  Within 5 minutes we spot Wildebeest, Zebra, Warthog, Thompson Gazelle, Cape Buffalo, Jackel, Ostrich, Elephant, and Hartebeast.  It is amazing to see the diversity of species all in one place.  We spent the day traveling the dirt roads and looking for Hippo, Rhino, Lion and any other new species we could find.  The weather was perfect and the conditions were awesome.

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We stopped for lunch at the Hippo pool and we had a chance to watch them swim in the hippo pool.  There were about 10 hippos with ears and eyes above the water at any given time.  More people are killed by Hippos in africa than any other animal.  Unlike the Cape Buffalo (2nd leading killer) Hippos are big, smart and mean (Cape Buffalo are just big and mean).

After lunch we were back on the dirt roads looking for a good lion on the hunt.  We spotted a collection of Safari vehicles on a remote rode and knew they were up to something…there in the distance was a Rhino.  There are reportedly only 5 rhinos in Ngorongoro and something line 10 in all of Tanzania.  Ahead were a couple of female lions sleeping and then finally as the day was getting ready to end we chanced upon a pride of female lions with one on the hunt.  She seemed to be stalking a warthog but many other animals were watching including a trio of hyenas ready to battle for any carcass that might be in the future.  After a half hour of can and pig games we had to get going (just as the light was becoming golden).  It’s too bad the park gate closes at 6pm and it’s more than an hour drive to the gate.

On the way out we picked up a lone park ranger with an AK-47 and gave him a lift.  He was on the lookout for poachers looking for Rhino or Elephant tusks.  No Leopard or Cheetah but an Awesome day!  We were the last one out the gate – only 5 minutes after the gate “closes.”  Albert was nervous – I was proud.

I napped on the way down the mountain and awoke just as we passed a free Wifi café.  (Free if you buy a round of beers for $6 – $6 total – deal!)  For dinner that night I ate my first goat.  Not my last but not my favorite either.

Ellen Tarwater had asked me how Elley and Heward were tolerating me.  I said “what?” (knowing exactly what she was asking).  It turns out that Elley is a special education teacher in California specializing in autism…she gets me…

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Arusha – easy day

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Today had all the signs of an easy day on “vacation.”  We conducted several staff interviews on the back patio of the hotel.  Heward has taught me a lot about lighting and now I’m the Key grip (whatever that is).  After the interviews we got back in the car to film three more scenes in Arusha.  We need to reshoot a girl working a roadside stand Arusha and then two bar scenes – one a dive bar and the other in the bar of our hotel.

Albert had identified a neighbor girl who was just the right age.  We went to Albert’s house in the back streets of Arusha, picked up the girl and then drove the neighborhood looking for a stand that looked right.  We found a very small fruit & vegetable stand that looked perfect.  We stopped the car, got out and negotiated the use of the set for our movie.  We bought several bunches of bananas from a nearby stand and hung them up in our set.  Our actress looked perfect and as we set up, we were drawing a crowd.  The whole process (to film the 10 sec clip) took about an hour with lighting, sound and camera setups on the dirt streets of Arusha.  We passed out the bananas to the local kids as we loaded up the car and headed back to Albert’s house.

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Albert’s home sits on a hillside in the back alleys of Arusha.  Modest and well kept by Arusha standards.  We talked to his family for a bit, shot some photos of his 2 year old daughter and headed back to the car.  The view of Mt Meru from his front entrance was stunning (except for the cell tower built right in his line of sight.)  It’s interesting in Africa…no plumbing, episotic  power, no air conditioning, no land lines but cell coverage everywhere we have been…and I left my cell at home.

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We made our way to the Asante Africa Foundation offices in Arusha and found a local dive bar behind the business across the street.  It was outdoors with a dirt floor, plastic chairs and plastic tables with the coca-cola label on the rim.  We ordered beers for the local actor and extras (and as such we were quite popular).  As we shot we drew a big crowd to watch Heward in action.

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Heward was like a big-time movie producer putting $1.25 down for each extra (and buying them a beer).  It was just way cool the way we were treated in what might look like a very rough part of town.  Everyone was smiling and laughing and having a great time.  When we finished we grabbed our local actor and headed for the hotel for one last shot.

After setting up we asked the very beautiful head waitress at the Pepeone hotel to sit at the table and join the actors for the shoot.  She had no idea, until later, that she was going to be in our movie.  Sometimes the language barrier is helpful.  Her acting was perfect because she had no idea she was in the movie.

It was an easy day – ending at 9:30 pm.  Overnight I skyped with my family and friends at our weekly Friday Night Dinner party in Livermore.  I do miss my FND.  I’ll be home soon and I’ll miss the people of Tanzania.

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Nkwamakuu (“Qua Makoo”) Primary School at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro

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Today started like every other in Africa so far.  I’m awakened in the middle of the night typing this blog partially because I can’t sleep and partly because the emotional tugs to the kids are so strong. We gathered for breakfast (fruit, sausage, eggs and toast) and review the plan for the day and laugh about the events yesterday.  We’re right on schedule for our work and “Africa time” where things take two or three times as long as you think is not getting in our way.

The talk of the morning is about Benson and the potential paths his future might take.  Without education and opportunities he’ll grow up like any other teenager and adult in the region.  He’ll have a wife and kids of his own.  He’ll scrape together some kind of a living and his family will sell something from their roadside stand – just like everyone else.  He’ll hit up the occasional tourist on the main road and they might be impressed with his English.  His standard of living will be way below the US poverty line but, even though he is at the top of the Bell curve here, he’ll just be ok.  He’ll be no threat to anyone nor will he have any lasting impact on his community.  He’ll be an opportunity lost.  With some help he may be that pilot he dreams of. I’m not sure what the Secret Service thinks of our ideas for flying Barak Obama.  If they don’t like it – it was Heward’s idea.)

We made a quick stop at Orkolili to rerecord a sound bite from our science teacher from the night before.  While Heward and Elley re-recorded the bit in our makeshift sound studio (a remarkable replica of a Land Rover), I wandered the school looking for Mama Mcha and her teachers to shoot some portraits/candids of them in action.  Well the action was less than “action” as we must have reached the school during a teacher break.  I found one very good teacher working the blackboard and teaching the students how to conjugate English verbs.  I was impressed and could have learned something if I had stuck around.  I found two other classrooms full of students but no teacher.  Much to my surprise, the kids were all studying quietly without the spitballs, folded paper footballs and iphone texting you might see in the US.  I’m glad I didn’t have any spare paper to teach them how to fold that football and play US table football with it.  I could have brought their entire discipline system to its knees.

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The next stop was the Nkwamakuu primary school on the way to Mt. Kilimanjaro.  We made our way down the banana-tree-lined dirt road and came upon a “picturesque” but primitive primary school with the Tanzanian flag flying high in the incredible African sky.  On the outside wall of the school was a giant hand painted Asante Africa Foundation logo.  Asante Africa Foundation had built a building for Teachers lodging and latrine facilities.  The extreme shortage of classroom space for the 300+ kids had forced the school to repurpose the Teacher lodging building into a two room, makeshift classroom.  In the smaller of the two rooms (smaller than the size of my bathroom at home) were 10 desks each sitting 4 or 5 students (shoulder to shoulder).

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No supplies and yet – well behaved and all participating.  I watched the kids standing in line for their food.  The lunch-time meal was porridge and beans yet they all stood in line and not a drop was wasted (except that small fraction that stuck to their hands – soon to be transferred to mine.)  These school lunches are the only food some of these kids get some days.  The food is one real incentive to keep the little ones coming to school.

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Next up: Someone had a stroke of brilliance!  Heward needed to film a couple of interviews with the staff and a student and needed it quiet.  They cleared the school and sent 300 primary kids out to sit in the dirt under the tree and “be quiet.”  We called it the Timeout Hill.  They had little or no supervision so I went out under the tree and sat in the dirt with 200 kids (and my camera).  The “quiet” part of the experience lasted about an hour.  I wandered through the crowd taking candid pictures (and sharing) without the normal hustle and bustle of the students all posing and laughing at their picture on the back of the camera.  I must have shaken 2000 hands (from 200 kids).  We all started counting (in english) as a group.  They could all count together up to twenty.  Then we started counting backwards.  10, 9 ,8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 “Blastoff”.  They didn’t understand until we did it again and when we hit zero I threw a mock rocket (a corn husk) high in the air.  Some things are just simple…

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I pulled a couple of them off to the side and took more personal “portraits.”  I love those shots of kids sitting on the grass where the camera is as close to the ground as I can get it (leaving the foreground out of focus).  Well – try that in Africa where “grass” doesn’t exist.   The kids were just wonderful.  Great smiles, great eyes and warm hearts completely offset the dirty hands.

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We then found 6 older students (10-12 years old) and filmed a chalkboard scene for our project.  You’re going to have to watch the “movie” when it comes out.  Heward, Ellie and I make a great team.  Fun was had by all.

It was truly a wonderful visit – I was absolutely filthy when we were done – and I quietly cried when I got in the car to leave.  They have so little to work with and yet – these kids are no less deserving of opportunity than anyone.

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Nkwamakuu students got an excellent demonstration of the worm (as performed by Heward Jue). They also saw a real class act with superb creative skills and leadership talent. Asante Africa Foundation is proud to have Heward on Our Board. I’m proud to call him my friend.

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Our Tanzanian Asante Africa team is working with the community to build an additional classroom.  The community has already laid the foundation and the blocks are on site ready to build.  I had unknowingly used the foundation and blocks as props for my portrait studio during the timeout.  Mt. Kilimanjaro was the backdrop.  We just need to get them some resources (money) to finish the project.  A small investment will make a big difference for these kids.

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We had missed lunch again…(I wonder what African lunches taste like…) and we were starving.  We stopped at a local dive bar and ordered beer and African food.  Not the best but – who the hell cares about food?  It was a great day!

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