Sunday, August 29, 2010

Africa Notes 5

Series written by John Zlatnik
July/August 2010

When I think of the past week I see images of long miles on deeply rutted roads and swirling dust… but also the warmth and honest curiosity of village people, and the incredible scenery of Africa. Here when people go on a journey it is called a “safari“– So our safari this week has taken us through a variety of Heifer Project sites - from the cloud forests of Mt. Kilimanjaro where we saw a woman’s dairy cooperative that specialized in cheese production to sell in the city – to camel production by Masai villagers who due to the effects of global warming often experience drought that makes their traditional cattle production difficult – to deep in the banana plantation country where a special variety of stingless bees are producing a honey noted for its sweetness and flavor – to a widow and daughter who received the gift of a cow and who now have passed on a heifer to others, paid the girl’s educational fees through the equivalent of junior college, and provided a much enhanced home in which to live. We have encountered special needs families – those with severely handicapped children to those living with HIV/ AIDS – people with limited time and energy who must still provide for their families and this they can do with the help of the animals they have received from Heifer – to a family that has become financially independent on 1.5 acres – producing quality fish from ponds, goats, chickens, and organically grown vegetables (using wonderfully innovative methods)… This project is labor intensive but very successful both for the family and as a model for the community – to donkeys being given to women to carry water previously moved by balancing a 20 liter jug on shoulders or head, often for several miles … All these family gains started with the help of Heifer. Each initial gift and subsequent “pass on)” require passing on training and a female offspring both to another family and back to the community organization to ensure eventual independence from Heifer. (In some cases, the pass back to the community is in the form of $$ obtained from sale of milk, etc.
The most important impact of this week on us is to see and experience the reality of what a third world life style is really like – a life style experienced by a large proportion of people on our planet… these are people who must feed their families on less than 2$ a day… Such families experience severe protein and vitamin deficiencies that can affect the development and growth of their children. Receiving a livestock animal, instructions on its care, and follow up support can lead to a radical change in the life and educational opportunities for that family. The average number of pass on animals from a Heifer donation is that 6 other families also receive a “pass along” animal.

Along the way we have been hosted in Masai villages, honored with a traditional Masai roasted goat, had opportunities to go into the Masai homes – round “bee hive” bombas made of sticks, straw, and cow dung… We stayed on night in a Masai run “hotel” on the edge of the Great Rift Valley, heard hoots and howls in the night as we slept under our mosquito netting, and woke to sunlight on the face of the Rife Valley Escarpment. We visited Oldavai Gorge where early Australophicus and Homo Habilis were first discovered, and then to top things off we got a day in one of the premier game parks – Ngorongoro crater – where this time of year we saw an amazing variety of African mammals and birds – The crater is an immense caldera with a great complex of roads – We traveled in 6 person vans with removable roofs so that we could stand on the seats and scan for “critters”. No one is permitted to leave the vans during the trip through animal domain. When we saw lions crouching nearby in the tall grass we understood why– We saw good numbers of a wide variety of animals – both the ones you normally identify with Africa and quite a few that were new to us. The grand event of the day was a pride of lions – 2 males and 3 females – that came sauntering right by our parked vehicle – they were on their way to the river. There we watched them drink, stretch, and groom. Wild living lions have a very different manner about them than zoo lions! We spent another half day visited a different protected area where we saw large numbers of giraffes, baboons, African antelopes, elephants, zebras, hippo, wart hogs, and many other specimens too. Pretty exciting for all of us…!

So today we told our project friends good bye as they fly home tonight and we will stay a couple of weeks more in Tanzania … They have been fascinating and knowledgable companions and the time travelling to sites gave us opportunity to talk about a wide range of fascinating topics. They have been an amazing group with which to share this experience. But since we are here and have the time - there are other fascinating projects and activities that we want to experience and learn from. This morning we went with our Heifer project friends to attend the non-denominational English language church in Arusha. It was a friendly mixed group of local Africans, Europeans, Americans, and South Africans… some with farms or medical practice here, some involved with project work, aide programs, or research of different types, and average people of Arusha. It seems that many foreigners have come for a short visit, fall under the spell of Africa, and never return home. We aren’t ready for that – but we do find ourselves talking about how much we would like to return and be involved short term with some of the projects we encounter.