Happy Thanksgiving! Or day after Thanksgiving (whatever I’m close enough). While Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and I’m very sad I missed it (and one of my best friend’s 21st birthday! Argh!), I could not have IMAGINED a better Thanksgiving at my home away from home.
We had the day off, which, after 3 straight days of fieldwork, was VERY welcome. I never rest on our non-program days really, though, so I’m not quite sure why I think they’re going to be refreshing in anyway haha.
We started the morning by going to Gibb’s Farm, a super nice coffee farm and Lodge in the area. It was absolutely STUNNING. So gorgeous. We literally could sit and drink delicious coffee and look out over into the valleys of Ngorongoro Conservation Area. They had absolutely beautiful gardens. We headed down into their coffee plantations and then took a look at their vegetables. They had so many things I miss from home. I was drooling over their strawberry plants (dear mom and dad: please meet me at the airport with a packet of strawberries along with my Chicago style hotdog). They also had RHUBARB. We got to eat a piece and it was delicious. We later convinced them to sell/give us a box for our Thanksgiving dinner. Aw yeah, super convincing!
Afterward we headed to Mto wa Mbu. We hung around in the market and I bought some overpriced Maasai Fabric because I cannot help myself and my bartering skills were a bit off that day. Regardless, I got enough of a fabric that I hadn’t seen since Kenya, so I now had enough to make SUPER AWESOME Maasai fabric pants. Then we bought ice cream from a grocery store and it was just okay but it was cold and vanilla which is all I can really ask for here.
We returned from Mto wa Mbu and I found an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner on my banda door. It had specific instructions to dress nicely, which I knew from the wedding was going to be nearly impossible, so I ran quickly to the tailor and picked up a shirt I had ordered from him before Serengeti. It looks AWESOME. It is made out of Maasai fabric and fits perfectly. I also brought him some pants that were pretty much a mess from the other tailor in town (they ripped the moment I sat down in them. It honestly defeated the purpose of even wearing pants). She is much cheaper than him, but you get what you pay for. He is fixing them for me now and I also am getting another dress made from him. He is the same tailor who made my other Tanzanian dress that I absolutely LOVE so I have no doubt in my mind that he will work his magic. I may need to go (read: will definitely need) to the ATM again just to pay for him to make amazing things out of the rest of my exorbitant amount of fabric.
We had a few more hours before dinner, so I sat outside and did laundry in between shooting an Iraqw bow. It is taking some major restraint to not buy a bow. Luckily I remember that anything I buy, I get to lug around with me to Zanzibar after the program. Not so fun…
Closer to dinner, I helped a bit with the cooking (Well, I mashed potatoes. It counts as helping!). I helped decorate our dining hall, too. It ended up looking absolutely BEAUTIFUL. We rearranged the tables, and used my exorbitant amount of fabric and some curtains to make table clothes. We picked flowers and used them as centerpieces, and then set place cards for every student and staff member. We all met for dinner, making sure every person was seated before we started anything. Everyone was dressed SO nicely. I was thoroughly impressed. Dinner came about 45 minutes late in the end, but I don’t mind waiting. Our center director said some really wonderful words and cut the turkey. We all (staff and students and faculty) went around and said what we were thankful. I, of course, said I was so thankful to have had the chance to meet such an amazing group of people both this time and last time I was in Moyo Hill. I couldn’t imagine better people to share these two experiences with. I also had to make a shout-out to my parents, who not only put up with my globetrotting but also are behind me so much. I couldn’t ask for two more amazingly supportive people encouraging me every step of this journey. Thanks for being awesome, Mom and Dad!
Also, (I think) it was a lot of staff’s first Thanksgiving and I think many that had been to one before with other students were impressed with just HOW much work we put into ours. That’s our group though. We just throw ourselves fully into everything, including holidays. I spent a lot of time talking about Thanksgiving traditions with Ceci, a program assistant and Kiswahili teacher here. She asked me if we danced after Thanksgiving dinner, since there is a lot of dancing after Tanzanian and African holidays. I told her that I danced on Thanksgiving, but us competitive Irish dancers from the Midwest are probably the exception.
After dinner we took a lot of photos, and then a big group photo. Then we had an impromptu dance party. Ceci and Martha and a few other of the girls showed us a dance that seemed eerily similar to the electric slide until we realized it WAS the electric slide. Wish I was kidding. They were the exact same. We then showed them the cha-cha slide…. (it was very middle school dance). We then went and helped with dishes and then went back to our rave in the middle of the dining hall. We broke out the headlamps and used them as strobe lights. We danced late until the night (by which I mean we danced until 10:30 and then got super tired). I was a bit sad to be away from my family and friends in the states on Thanksgiving, but we came together as a family. All in all, a totally amazing day.
Everyone looking super great for Thanksgiving Dinner.
Now we’re back to fieldwork. I guess I could talk about that. It’s SO SO SO much fun. I literally spend all day alternating between smiling and just like TOTAL GRIN, even more so than I do usually here. I think that says a lot considering that my Maasai name means “Ever smiling.” Since my project is mostly focusing on human-wildlife conflicts and a lot of the wildlife part (aka crop destruction events) has already been quantified, I’m left conducting the human part. I had a small, kind of disappointing realization that I really won’t get to spend any more time in East African protected areas looking at animals (this time around. Not in general because I know I will be back), I could not have really asked for a better study area or community to do this study in. I get to tromp around in people’s banana fields and ask them questions and the most randomly ridiculous things ever happen. Three days ago a dude asked us if we wanted to see a tortoise. Next thing we know, he shows up with his a random Leopard Tortoise. We wanted to give it a cucumber but John (That was the tortoise’s name, John) wasn’t really having anything of it. He actually walked away from the cucumber slice we left out for him! Rude.
I also get asked a lot of totally random questions, which is fair considering I’m intruding in most people’s home to ask them random questions about their farm. Most of the questions I get are “Are you Chinese?” Apparently most Tanzanians think I look Asian. When I tell them I’m not, they say no. It’s not that they don’t believe me, it’s that they flat out claim that what I am saying I am speaking untruths. I’ve gotten this on MULTIPLE occasions from many different people. I really don’t understand it. I was also asked what tribe I was today. I said I didn’t have one, but the woman objected to that fact as well, so finally we settled on “Irish.” That seems like an acceptable tribe.
Since then I have been handed a large variety of live animals quite randomly. One woman, who didn’t know her age and wasn’t very interested in the questions I had about her farm and insisted that absolutely no wildlife except for rogue human beings were eating her crops disappeared into her house mid-way through the questionnaire and returned holding a guinea pig. Yeah. No clue why. She handed it to me so I just spent the rest of the interview with a guinea pig in my lap. Then she started asking my translator questions and she asked him what his work was and if he was married. He’s not, so she started giving him SO much flack. She gave him a lecture on how he needed to find a real job (she didn’t think his cushy office job doing finances for a tour company was good enough and she wanted him to start a farm) and a wife. She said that she would pay my dowry so he could marry me, but I would have to come work for her to pay her off. That didn’t seem like quite the best deal I’ve gotten so far (some dude climbing a mango tree said he would give me 10 acres of land. Now that seemed useful.)
Speaking of translators, I only need him about half the time though! I’m really impressed with my ability to comprehend more complicated Kiswahili, even if my formulation skills aren’t totally there. I try and ask all the questions in Kiswahili and almost all of the time for the simpler questions, I can pick up on the answer. More complicated ones still need a bit of work, but to be fair, I only started really learning this language about 2 months ago. Ebra is a nice guy, but he ALWAYS ALWAYS gets a post-lunch energy slump, so all of our interviews conducted from 1-3 PM I’m pretty much on my own because he is passed out under the closest tree sleeping mostly. I don’t know if I’ve actually gotten any better at Kiswahili, but I am certainly a bit more confident in speaking even if I still do make mistakes. Today’s gem was “Unalima mbogo ekari ngapi?” when I meant to say mboga. Mboga=vegetables, mbogo=buffalo. Bit of a difference. Ebra was such a great sport today though when we were walking through the rice paddies and I was perched pretty precariously on the raised bit of dry dirt HOPING AND PRAYING that I would not fall into the mud. I was bound and determined not to fall into the mud. I was also bound and determined not to get stuck in the mud. I think I deserve an award for the amount of times I’ve gotten stuck in mud on foot. It’s kind of impressive. But yes, I SOMEHOW despite tromping all around East Africa, had managed to make it more than two months without getting stuck. At all! Zip! Until today that is.
So during fieldwork, I basically have to hop over river after river after irrigation channel after river. I have to balance beam across the sketchiest bridges ever (aka pieces of wood just lain across river or 8 inch concrete platforms over 13 foot drops) and do all of it in a SKIRT because of societal norms in my study area. I really am a pro at hopping over rivers now in a skirt. So, today I walked into the rice paddies, totally fearless and confident that I could get my 12 interviews done today and not have to wash my socks when I got home. That’s not what was in store. I walked out of the rice paddies with my legs covered in mud and with a translator who was very insistent that I let him hold the GPS and our data sheets. He tried to make me feel less embarrassed about getting stuck in the mud. The funny bit was, that I wasn’t really embarrassed at all. I was actually cracking up the whole time I got stuck (both times I got stuck actually). He was really confused until I explained that this was fairly normal for me. I’m just usually not in a skirt. Then he helped me pull my shoe out of the mud. Afterwards, we made the kilometer trek back to the meeting point. I was met with lot’s of “Pole”’s (“Sympathies”) and a few well-said “Nzuri sana!” (Very nice!) . Then we played a card game with my research partner and her guide while we waited for our ride.
I also forgot that I was “Student of the Day” and was supposed to give a presentation after dinner (I remembered during dinner). So, I googled facts about guinea fowl and read them out loud. Then I Irish danced for everyone in true day-after-Thanksgiving tradition. It was an incredibly cohesive presentation.