Today is a mini-landmark day. I’ve now been here at Noloholo for more days than I have left. The heavy dew of every morning has set the acacias into yellow blossom, frothy tufts casting their perfume over me. I have a little over five weeks remaining, barely more than a month. As the morning clouds clear into afternoon’s hazy blue sky, I think about what I’ve learned so far. Community-based conservation is not an easy thing, but APW does it extremely well; they are here all the time, and I believe that Laly strives to maintain her integrity as a scientist even as she works for the good of both wildlife and the community. That may sound like propaganda, but in fact it is the work of a very good woman on a very difficult issue in a challenging place. Her solutions come from the community, are based in traditional practices, and strike at the source of conflict rather than the symptoms of it.
My view on conservation-based development projects will forever be shaped by APW, and I am grateful to Stuart for insisting that I come here this summer.
I have too, a yet-unresolved view of what Western aid and development means for countries like Tanzania, and for communities like the Maasai. I understand completely the necessity for wildlife conservation, but have not entirely accepted that idea that we can practice conservation in East Africa in the way that German and British colonization made it, without significantly changing the culture of people who have been living here for hundreds of years. This is what Neumann’s book first wondered, and I do not believe we have resolved his questions in the 14 years since its widely-cited publication.
One last unresolved challenge has been that of understanding what an environmentally-friendly business really means here on the Maasai Steppe. I've barely begun to research this issue, and as time runs short, I am not sure that this goal will be completed this summer.
Today I begin reading some of Tanzania’s policies and laws related to wildlife and land use. I hope that this background will help me to understand better some of the nuances of the challenges we face.
In the last month I’ve lost most of my fitness (what little I had, anyway). Andrew and I attempt to run with Kelly; I am terribly winded and quit after just one loop around Noloholo. Andrew lasts another half-loop before he, too, quits. We’ll try again today. I console myself with going down to visit with the Hadza. Alagu offers to marry me. He says he’ll pay a bride price of a baboon, some honey, and an eland. He then gives me a bow and arrow to take back to my father as a gift. He is 100% serious about the offer, and I have to get Neo to decline it. I ask instead if they will teach me to make a bow and arrow myself. We will begin tomorrow. I need to find a knife to carve with; perhaps Tuma will lend me one if I can figure out how to ask for it in Swahili.
My midpoint progress with Swahili is satisfactory. I’ve begun to form simple phrases on my own, although it will take longer for the complexities of the grammar to take hold. I’ve memorized around 400 words, but my recall of them is quite slow, which makes me sound absurd when I speak. I’ve enlisted the help of Neo and Dennis by constantly asking them, “how do you say…” They have been very patient with me, and so I continue to learn. My time in the village, but especially at the cultural celebrations, has given me a glimpse of the Maasai in their day-to-day lives, and in the moments that are most full of joy.
Fearless, continuous trying, I think, is the way to go – in Swahili, and for the rest of this summer.