Tanzania Fall 2019

Hamjambo everyone, my name is Annie Vatcher. I am a junior at St. Lawrence University. I am an environmental studies major and public health minor. I am a member of the women’s lacrosse team back in Canton, New York but taking a semester to experience something completely different studying abroad in Kenya. I have thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in some of the cultures that make up Eastern Africa throughout the past six weeks. 

Last week we hopped the border over to Tanzania. After six hours on the bus, our first stop was in Arusha where we got dropped off and met our three amazing Dorobo tour guides. Hope, Kisana, and Simon greeted us and we all introduced ourselves. After a quick lunch and cleanup we split into three of their land cruisers and drove another four hours to our first campground. Honestly, after leaving Arusha I never knew exactly where we were within Tanzania. The change in landscape was breathtaking. We all had our heads and cameras hanging out the window as we cruised through Tanzanian villages nestled at the base of huge lush mountains. Kids lined the streets waving at the mzungus flying by. I immediately felt a special connection to this place and the joy that was so present among all of the people.

On the second day we arrived at the first Hadzabe village. The Hadza are one of the remaining hunter gatherer ethnic groups in East Africa. Within the first two days we met many of the Hadza. Through Simon, Kisana, and Hope we were able to ask them questions regarding their way of life spanning from education to childbirth to their smoking habits. We visited their houses that were beautifully made by the Hadza women with sticks and grass. We quickly found that gathering food with the women is very hard work. They took off with us trailing behind to observe and assist them foraging and digging for tubers which are a key part of their diet. We learned how to find them, extract them from the ground, build a fire without matches or a lighter, and how to cook them. We also got honey from the trees and ate berries from the bushes. Altogether we learned that it’s not easy depending entirely on the land for food, but it’s possible.

After a twelve mile walk through the Yaeda Valley we arrived at the second Hadzabe village where we focused more on the hunting side of their lifestyle. This was personally my favorite part of the component. We got to make our own arrows (with lots of assistance), and use the Hadza’s bows to practice shooting (also with lots of assistance). It was much harder than the Hadza make it look. Considering they have been using bows and arrows to hunt since they were seven years old, they make it look so effortless. Meanwhile we could barely pull the bow back and when we could the arrow would more often than not, shoot straight into the ground three feet in front of us. Either way, shooting with the Hadza was certainly a highlight of our trip. We even got to go out  hunting with them at the crack of dawn. I was fortunate enough to experience a successful killing of a dik-dik. Again, I was simply in awe of how skilled they were. With complete ease they skinned  I thoroughly enjoyed shadowing them and getting a small glimpse of what their day to day life looks like.

Every moment spent in Hadza land was a learning opportunity. Whether it was following them on their hunting adventures or asking them questions one on one. We were all struck and inspired by the Hadza lifestyle. They take their life one day at a time and don’t put much thought or worry into the future. They live so simply and happily, it certainly led me to reflect on the complexities that exist in our lives. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we now have a special appreciation and yearning to preserve their culture through the modernizing world around them. 

Hey Gang! My name’s Aidan Cunningham and I am a current Junior at SLU studying History, Government, and Philosophy. Our experience over the previous six weeks has been not only enjoyable, but providing of cultural experiences necessary to gain a more complete world view. Our trip to last week was no different.

Our 7 hour journey began early Saturday morning, and despite the undeniably hectic nature of our rush to pack the bus the mood soon calmed as the majority of us slept until our stop at the border. We were in East Africa for about a month, Tanzania added another layer to our understanding of the region. Our first drive with the Safari guides clearly illuminated the differences between Kenya and this nation; our highway cut through arid land pastoralists led their livestock through and we got more than a few waves from children strolling alongside.

Upon our arrival at Camp 1 the Haadza who greeted us began answering our barrage of questions regarding their way of life. While the Haadza are an incredibly individualistic culture they are for the most part semi nomadic hunter-gatherers who rely on natural bounty of the area for sustenance. Furthermore, they were incredibly proud to tell us how their way of life was sustainable, consistently pointing to the fact that the last Famine in Tanzania wiped out many of their non-Hadzaa neighbors but they were left unscathed. 

The following morning we embarked on a hike to their village just a few kilometers away. The climate of this area was incredibly arid -almost Grand Canyon like- but the early timing of this journey helped us beat the heavy afternoon heat. Several dozen haadza greeted us in the village with the men quietly observing from a nearby slope and the others leading us to separate dwellings for more Q and A’s. The woman in my house explained how the house was constructed primarily of dry grass and sticks, but was only utilized for sleep if it was raining. Primarily the Haadza sleep outside. She found it laughable when our conversation turned to the topic of dating and relationships, and told us the  nature of these intercations were equitable in power and normally moved to matrimony quite quickly. Before the sun’s heat was at its most oppressive we hiked back to our camp.

Day two’s primary task was arrow making, and while many of us attempted to follow the directions of the hunters, the sturdiest of our arrows came from those who were assisted most heavily by our hosts. The day finished with music and an energetic dance with our hosts. The following morning we packed up camp and hiked about twenty kilometers across the valley. The walk in the desert heat was somewhat taxing, however we arrived on the other side of the valley in one piece before night fell. The following activity was undoubtedly my favorite segment of the trip as the Haadza were brave enough to let twenty dehydrated mzungus practiced archery with their own bows. The bows varied in resistance; some had only fifty pounds of draw weight while others surpassed eighty. Most of our shots ended up in the dirt in front of our target, and some barely even made it out of the bow, however nothing on this trip was more satisfying than putting a handcrafted arrow through the target twenty meters away. We were unfortunately unable to utilize our newly developed skills in the field as the Haadza probably understood none of us would eat if they left the hunting up to us.

Our time with the Haadza was perhaps the most enjoyable week of our already amazing trip, and the perceived  simplicity of the Haadza lifestyle most definitely struck a  chord with many of us. On the final night they explained to us how they don’t worry about the future, and simply do what they believe is right to make the most out of every moment. It’s quite easy for one to create an emotional response that glorifies or idealizes their way of life, but in the words of the owner of Dorobo “it’s important not to idealize their way of life but instead simply appreciate it.” While some may have disagreed with his words, I found his assertion to be incredibly accurate when applied to our trip as a whole. We can’t go through every cultural interaction on this  making immediate decisions on the validity of a specific way of life. Instead we must find the inherent value in each and make sure we do our best to undertand why it is worth preserving. 

See you all in December!