Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

Noloholo, Day 12: Bewilderment

The morning begins cold, all of us with our wraps and fleeces, shivering in the program office. Really it isn’t so cold at all; but Tanzania makes you a lover of the sunshine and warmth. You become, in my dad’s words “wimpy.”

Andrew is sick after the goat two days ago. I pounded two doxycycline at the first hint of my own upset stomach, but Andrew valiantly tries to fight if off. Christy takes him some crackers this morning; I check on him just before lunch. We’ve only been here a few days, but we feel incomplete with one man down.

It’s nice to have a full morning in the office and I get a lot of work done. The upper bathrooms are closed now (the ones with the flush toilets) because clean water is so scarce. But down by the staff camp where the washing and cleaning occurs, dirty water gets dumped onto the earth. Yellow butterflies, barely as big as a finger joint, but bright as daffodils, flicker like fire along the edges of the dampness. In a clump of dry grasses along the road, a single cherry-size fruit hangs suspended. And as always, I am accompanied by the bright chatter of birdsong.

After his trusty Land Rover breaks down in the dusty traverse between Nairobi and Lake Natron, Peter Matthiessen gazes back at his bad luck and ponders if it did not come from “the pursuit of some fleeing sense of Africa, seeking to fix in time the timeless, to memorize the immemorial, instead of moving gently, in awareness.” And although his travels took him all over east Africa, and his reflections recall an Africa that once-was, I cannot help but compare my own descriptions to his. Neither of us knowing the language to speak to those around us. Both of us having only words of English. So, too, do I compare my time here to travel in the US, in Spain, to travel in China, where I felt I could just begin to grasp the sense of a place because I knew the language. You cannot claim here that English is the universal language, for here a village man will see me and shout, ‘Hello! How are you! What is your name! I am fine thank you! Good bye!” in one breath of air, and then sweep by my bewilderment, having fully displayed his communication tools.

In the afternoon we go to the village for another women’s group meeting, but one of the members of this group, Mama Helena has just gotten news that her daughter-in-law has died in Arusha after being rushed there for reasons of illness. Instead of going to the meeting, we drive to Helena’s home. The men sit in a circle of chairs under a tree outside; in the house, the women have gathered and sit emptily on the sofas and beds. Kelly and I offer our condolences, “Pole sana, Mama” and they grasp our hands and say thank you. Beyond that, my words fail, and all I can do is look at their sadness and think how terrible it is to lose a Maasai woman (who was educated and therefore especially rare), and at my very same age.

My own self-pity from yesterday has fallen away completely by the time night comes. We are all dampened by the pallor of death so near to the door. The sun sets gloriously this evening, wrapped in gauzy veils of smoke from TANAPA's controlled burns along the Tarangire park border. The blackness of night comes quickly; the fires flare like lava flow in a distant ring before they climb the mountain and are extinguished by the night. We pray the wind doesn't shift and drive the fire across road that is the park boundary. Our staff cheerfully goes to dig the fire break around Noloholo, their headlamps shimmer like cold stars. For a long time I cannot sleep, but simply watch the far-away flames as they leap and quiver.

From Arusha & Noloholo, Tanzania
Tags: conservation, travel - tanzania
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