Special Invitation

The final Friday in Zion camp the students presented their project ideas as well as their preliminary findings to members of the community. Preparation for this meeting began on Monday when I visited the administrative offices at Tarangire one final time in order to print off invitations. Luckily for me, no one there seems to be following my blog since they were unexpectedly accommodating and actually printed off 30 invitations for us while simultaneously introducing a new phrase never before heard in this country “no charge”. That night, it rained the hardest in camp that it had since we arrived. Water made its way into everyone’s tent, although some ended up worse off than others. Peter, one of the translators, spent half the night sleeping in the pavilion after the floor of his tent was covered with half an inch of water. Ours fared much better but a number of our possessions were damp by morning, including my manila folder full of the invitations. Thankfully, none of the print had run- so I set the letters out on my luggage to dry as much as possible. Peter had insisted that we put the invitations in addressed envelopes, so we drove into town to buy some envelopes and then stopped at my favorite roadside bar, the Tarangire Stopover, to address and stuff them. Peter remembered all of the people who had been invited to the field presentations last year, so he supervised the entire process, with Titus, my graduate assistant, and Liven, one of our drivers, addressing and sealing the envelopes and me sitting by sipping Bitter Lemon (my favorite soft drink in Tanzania) since neither my handwriting or grasp of Swahili names was up to the task.

After the envelopes were ready, we drove around the three neighboring villages delivering them: Olasiti, in which camp is located; Otukae, where much of our archeological work has been performed; and Minjungu, the village where the schools that we have been doing volunteer work at are located. This, understandably, took a good while. As we were delivering one of the last of our letters, most of our group walked by us headed down the Arusha-Dodoma road in the direction of Minjingu. We had previously decided to climb Minjuingu Hill together to watch the sunset, when I saw them the rest of the group had already walked 45 minutes from camp in order to do so- I fell in at the end of the line and joined them for the last 15 minutes of the walk. The view from the top was amazing- on our left was the setting sun, while Lake Manyara lay directly in front of us, while a huge storm had begun brewing on our right. We kept oscillating between watching the sunset and watching the approach of the storm, which had a pillar of light in its middle which contained a rainbow, while dark clouds and rain stretched across the horizon as far as the eye could see. We watched until the storm was almost upon us, and then we retreated to the safety of our vehicles, which had arrived to pick us up by that time. We rushed back to camp in order to close up our tent flaps and to avoid a repeat of the previous night’s flood.

By Thursday we were engaged in some serious soda negotiations. We wanted to provide pop for our guests at the presentations but I was not thrilled that Zion charged twice the price for soft drinks as any other area establishment. While I was not one to squabble about buying individual bottles for 1000 Tsh (60 cents), the price increase really added up when you were ordering four cases of the stuff. Titus informed me that he had been told that it was a camp regulation that wazungu be charged 1000 Tsh for soda (pause a moment to imagine an establishment in America that unabashedly stated that foreigners would be charged double the normal price for services there). I informed him that more than half of those present at the meeting would be Tanzanians and that, if necessary, us wazungu could ask one of them for a bottle after they had opened their pop. We finally settled on 700 Tsh per bottle as a fairer price.

I woke up early as usual on the designated day and helped clean up the pavilion in preparation for the presentations. Chaca had suggested that we write a starting time on the invitations that was a full two hours before we actually wanted to start, estimating that most people would run approximately that late. We had therefore advertised a starting time of 7 am. Over breakfast we took bets on when the very first invited person would arrive. While most guessed 8 or after, I went with an optimistic ten to the hour. Sure enough, a representative of the Minjingu phosphorous mine arrived at 7:35, closest to my guess. The setup for the meeting was just as disorganized and haphazard as we have come to expect in Tanzania. While I had envisioned that we would leave our tables set up for people to sit around, our staff soon tore all of them down. While I had moved the crates of pop nearby the table of food, our staff soon stacked them together in the corner. Since I admittedly had no experience running meetings in Tanzania, I decided to defer to my Tanzanian colleagues in most matters. “Shouldn’t we take the plastic wrap off of the food and let people have some while they wait?” I would ask. Nope. “Should we start pretty soon? The first guy to get here has almost been waiting an hour”. Not yet. As Titus was counting the number of people present, having already decided that we should have 17 out of the 30 invitees in order to have a quorum, the chief of Olasiti showed up, putting all talk of quorums to rest and allowing us to begin the meeting immediately.

We got underway at 9:30 am, 90 minutes late by American standards but 30 minutes early by Tanzanian ones. The first 30 minutes consisted of introductions, first of the ACM, UDSM, and Nyayo Discovery staff, and then of everyone who had come to the meeting, mostly local and regional government representatives, Maasai elders representing different neighboring areas, along with a teacher and two students from Otukae Primary School. By 10, we were ready for the students to make their presentations- a brief introduction of themselves in Swahili followed by a description of their project in English, the latter of which would then be translated in Swahili by one of our translators. The students were grouped according to their field of interest: archeology first, then anthropology, with biology bringing up the rear. We had left the biology talks for last in case anyone arrived late from the National Park or from one of the two research groups which were housed in the park- they never did show- maybe they have been reading my blog after all. Here are the students in the order that they presented, along with their topic of study:
Shaye & Hani- How the preferential handedness of Stone Age toolmakers is evident in stone tools, as well as how the presence of obsidian provides evidence of early trade with prehistoric peoples in what is now Kenya.
Abby- How Maasai that have converted to Christianity are perceived by more traditional Maasai
Zoe- Attitudes toward the exclusive use of English in secondary schools, as well of the exclusive use of Swahili in primary schools, both of which prohibit the use of Maa.
Liz- Childbearing practices in the Maasai
Nidal- How parasitic worm infections are diagnosed and treated in this area of Tanzania
Brennan- If the concept of “flow” applies to happiness and contentment in the Maasai
Chelsea- Maasai attitudes towards tourism in the area
Siri- Reoccurring themes present in creation stories of the Maasai
Karen- The effects of the current drought on pastoral practices of the Maasai
Carla- Levels of aggression in ants that inhabit Acacia trees separated by differing distances
Jen- Does vigilance toward predators in zebra herds differ when they are closer to a water source?
Zach- Water purity changes in the Tarangire River associated with the proximity to tourist traffic
Dave & Erin- Whether the angle and direction of a tall, thin termite mounds change with their location (given completely in Swahili by Erin)
Colleen- The effect on Acacia seed germination of passing through the digestive systems of either elephants or impala
After the presentations started, it finally became apparent to me why we had sequestered the food and drink. The Nyayo staff walked around and passed it out throughout the presentations- no one got up to get their own like every meeting I had been to in the U.S. By 10 am, the presentations had come to an end and we opened up the floor to questions. I was pleased when the 40 minutes of insightful questions and well thought out answers that followed demonstrated that the audience seemed to had gotten the gist of the students’ work. The final 20 minutes of the meeting consisted of representatives from the three villages involved wishing our students well and then me thanking everyone for coming as well as for allowing us to conduct our research in their community. The meeting was concluded at 11 am- everyone involved declared it to be a success. Thanks again Olasiti, Otukae, and Minjingu!

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2 Responses to Special Invitation

  1. Karen Chism says:

    Hi James,

    It sounds like a successful research semester in Tanzania. As I was reading, I wondered whether the audience would understand. The length of the question period answered my question.
    We are headed to Dar on 12 December for a month, and I am wondering if you will still be there. I am guessing that the presentation was the culmination of your time there and that you may return for the holidays. If you are there, we would love to see you and your group of students.

  2. Mom says:

    Sounds like you all did a great job. I’m impressed with the variety of topics your students presented!! And Erin did hers in Swahili – that is especially impressive! I can’t wait to see Brennan. Since we haven’t had a blog or facebook works from him, he probably has hours and hours of experiences and thoughts for us. We are eagerly awaiting your return home. Love, Mom

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