I learn a lot from Laly on the way up about the Masai, the nature we are seeing, and her life as the head of African People and Wildlife Fund. I’m sure there will be much to write about in the weeks to come. But first, I saw my first wildlife today: wildebeest, zebra, and even giraffe. They are migrating back toward Tarangire now, and they ramble or trot or scatter across and alongside the road. By the time we saw them it was past sunset, with only the light of the moon and the Land Cruiser’s headlights to spot them by. Still, they were a wonderful sight, as were the all-new birds we saw: drongo, spotted eagle owl, bright blue starlings (name?), African pied wagtails and the rust-capped Cordon Bleu. I also saw my first real baobab (bay-oh-bab) tree, and Laly tells us that they are likely more than a thousand years old in this area. They are hollow on the inside, housing bees among other things, and they stand wide-girthed and majestic on the slopes of the Maasai Steppe.
Speaking of the Steppe, that is exactly what it is. From Arusha, you see it as a low mountain ridge, with then materializes in humps and lumps as a raised plateau. Here at Noloholo, my GPS tells me I am about 4300 feet above sea level. The road just out of Arusha is relatively smooth, but once we turn off the “main road” it turns into ruts and holes . In addition to the red clay soil is a thicker, darker soil called black cotton, and in the wet season it sucks vehicles down or causes them to hang by their midsections. We jiggle around a little, but the ride is not so bad (thanks to the new car we’re in) and before long we’re winding through the town of Loibor Siret and up a path barely wide enough for the vehicle and finally onto the hill where Noloholo sits.
As I mentioned, it is dark here already, and so after the staff speedily unload our bags into the dorms for us, we go into the conference center, wolf down dinner and then just sit. The dorms are very clean and very new, they smell like the wooden door frames and the hard clay floors. Christy, Andrew and I each have our own room (that’s 3 more beds than any of us needs) with our own turquoise-sheeted, fleece-blanketed beds. Tomorrow we’ll work out whether or not we want to pitch tents or stay in the dorms. It’s so peaceful out here, I’m thinking I might want to tent out despite the warnings about snakes and buffalo wandering through camp.
While I type, a big engine comes rumbling up to the dorm’s door – it is a shipment of 200 rolls of chain link fence. This is Laly and Buddy’s crowning achievement, the fence that will make a “living wall” boma (cattle enclosure) for the nearby villages. This keeps the cattle safe at night, zeroing the rate of cattle consumed by lions, and therefore also completely eliminating the number of lions killed by angry herdsmen.
I can’t believe I’m finally here, away from Arusha, and home and everything that is familiar. The onlysounds here are crickets, little frogs, the distant alarm yip of a jackal on a kill. The morning will show me where I truly am. My heart feels on edge, as if this sweet breeze-worn evening should not be mine. I ought to be doing something else – studying, working, anything but sitting on this twin-sized bed wondering what comes next. But this is what there is here, and I desperately hope I can calm my mind enough to drink it for what it is.
**As a note, my entries may be delayed by a day going forward - I will be writing the in the evening and posting them the following evening, so that I don't have to spend too much time in the elements with my laptop as I type away!