Wednesday, September 11, 2013

July 26: Ruaha Hilltop Lodge

(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)

Coming back up to speed on Friday, we work a half day - Meggie and I spend from about 8:30 to about 12:30 working on the septic.

I see why those who go to do this work keep going back. With gestures and a couple words in each language, we make great progress - almost three corners complete by lunchtime! And I don't need to be a mason. I can be an attentive pair of helping hands and that is totally enough. And rather than repeat the words that "I care, I want to help" instead here the people know that our Western money bought the bricks, the mortar, and clearly we care - we're here helping put it all together. This septic may be the only good thing I take away from the entire trip - well, that and if I don't get sick, I can leave two courses of antibiotics and an honest course of Cipro could save a life here that would otherwise be over. That medicine cabinet on our tour was bleak.

A side note and a few pictures from septic day with Meggie... all the schoolchildren run out during recess to watch the ladies working in the pit, it is hilarious and mesmerizing to them. 

I like Moses here, on the right with his hands on his hips - in his same outfit, we're on day five - telling them to keep back. 

The kids (boys) also, on these cold mornings, dig in the ash pile for coals to warm their hands.

They find things to burn, and thing to ignite from smolder to flame. Then they throw them like toys. Meggie is having a heart attack at this, Ms. Safety Officer.

And this young man found a pen to burn. Smells wonderful. 

The ask pile's intended use - one on each side of the latrine - is to carry ashes into the toilet, and scatter them after you do your business, to cut down on the smell and attempt a little composting. I did not see anyone do this. 

So after lunch, we journey back to Iringa via hired coach (Jeep with no shocks, no AC, windows that may or may not roll down, which is good, or not, depending on the dust, and a sweet driver Joseph who speaks no English other than "Photo?" It is nearly two hours to Iringa Town - for a hilarious meeting with Mr A., the lodge owner who I've emailed with from Oregon to set up this one-day safari. The story of Mr. A can only be told in person; ask me about it! 

And on to Ruaha National Park. Tarmac roads till they give out for more gravel, and again past the place where electrification ends - another 2 hours past Iringa. For the first time when we drive through a small village, I hear the children cry, "Mzungu! Pipi! Pipi!" White person! Candy! Candy! which is not new. But what is... "Give me money! Money!" We all pretend not to hear it and wave back, smiling, as Joseph speeds us on by, laughing himself. Uncomfortably? Or in ignorance?

I struggled with posting about this; the entire weekend excursion cost $400 per person. But I feel, and felt, guilty that we let ourselves leave Pommern - and that we let ourselves have this tourist experience when the majority of the trip was funded by generous friends, family, coworkers, neighbors. However, to be true to this trip journal experience, to the national park we went, at a cost of $400 each outside the funds we raised - and in a much-needed gentle nod from the universe, we were a group of five (that's the most efficient way to price a safari, it turns out). And the gentle nod was that the three women from the Denver area, to whom Meggie and I have grown closer and closer this week, were the ones to commit to to going with us many months ago - and our little Fearsome (Fearless?) Fivesome was ready for a couple nights on a smaller scale of intimacy than with the full group of volunteers.

First things first at Ruaha: our wine is fantastic. Four of us share one bottle and it's perfect. And our little unelectrified safari camp dinner is lovely, no refrigeration needed! But the conversation between the five of us kindred spirits is even better. It warms me. (Good thing too because there are little solar hot water heaters here in each little twin-bed lodge - but - oh - don't get excited - Meggie and my heater is broken! No hot showers for us in Ruaha.)

I am the only one who feels I may be doing actual harm and can't even see any good from the joyful children's faces. I only see colonial, imperial reverence for white faces - I only see them touching us as a mzungu totem, not making or seeking to make any human connection. Although, to be fair and as Leslie reminds me, Meggie's Zumba class may be the lone exception to that feeling I have about the kids - the joy of dance IS so pure, and the involving of everyone through a class and choreographed format, is admittedly worth a whole lotta bad. 

Sunset from the deck at Ruaha Hilltop Lodge; that's the largest national park in Tanzania there, and the second largest in Africa behind the famous Kruger National Park. Tomorrow - to the park!

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