Monthly Archives: January 2013

10hrs, 45655m Mt. Meru ‘Challenges’

I am now set my self into routine life once again; wake up early make breakfast cycle to CRC offices work in the desk for full day. Desk work include, writing letters, call consulates and embassies, plan routes, plan calendars, go through students applications, interviews, just  few to mention. In between weeks its few talks for schools to share part of achievement of Chile to Kili and it odds.

Since I’m not very accustomed with this sedimentary life I try my best in to get out in the weekends. Thanks to my friend Erik Rowberg for borrowing his road bike so I can cycle with club in the wednesdays.

In this weekend I took off alone to hike the nearest peak of Mt. Meru 4 565m (14,977ft). There were some fun challenge in the begin of my mission, the rangers try to stop me to enter because I was using motor bike but at the same time there were some locals go through when I ask why? They said that I’m a tourist! Second they don’t believe that I have Visa card to pay with. After paying and go through all these fun challenges still the service was quite unacceptable. As I took hike up this scenic volcanic mountain alone just accompanied with the rhythm of creation, peace, calmness of nature, I think about how human can destroy his life.

I explain this when I come back home home for a break, it conflict and challenge for most of us African. I know it not wise to pass this blame to any one but the quesqueces  of culture dismantle destroyed self respect and worthiness leave them without ethics, values and morals. The rangers have stereotype though that only western are the one who can use the park, though there have been talk of promote domestic tourism but mind set and economy barrier will still be big hindrance.

Back to the mountain on sunday, I wake up in the morning to find out my bike is gone. In the street where I have been living with my family since I was 17 years old there lots of iddl young guys. Their situation can be explain in the several ways but most it luck of willing to take on the challenge, learn and adopt new way of living. My dad grew up here in the mad house with only education to allow him to write and read in Ki-swahili but he work hard determined to change the situation, he passed on this example, spirit and motivation to me. Some how being success material or mental in the pull of un success it another challenge. Things doesn’t work well in the neighborhood but moving prove to be not ease, changing this situation of unwillingness and luck of motivation sound like life investment.

Mathari Wangari a Kenya environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize ambassador explain this well on his book ‘The challenge for Africa’ A dedication for Africans and friends of Africa.

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Village to Village Hike in the Usambara Mountains

At the age of 18, I took my first long bus trip 600 km from the northeast highlands of Tanzania to the coast. Without enough money I couldn’t afford a seat, but for a village boy being on the bus traveling to an unknown place, all I could feel was adrenaline from the adventure. Every single kilometer was breathtaking for me. The Pare and Usambara mountains have a slight valley division in between them that became my geographical highlight for the trip. These green mountains, which I later came to learn, are known as ‘Arch Mountains,’ a chain of mountains that start from Taita on the Kenyan side and wander across Tanzania from Pare, Usambara, Uluguru, Udzungwa and give way to lake Nyasa/Malawi. It is said that they are older than the world-famous Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya, comprising of endemic species which are still being discovered.

 

I have had a few chances to visit these mountains and it is an adventure to go to these mountains by bus, but I find that the people who are living there are still, to some extent, hiking up and down the mountain and through the valleys, rivers and forest. So what I thought was extreme adventure to hike Mt. Klili or Meru is just daily life for these folks.

 

Four days before the end of 2012, the chance to hike the Usambara mountains materialized. With two other friends, we set off from Arusha. About a four hour bus ride took us to a place called Same. Same is a small town in the foothills of the Pare mountains. Our original destination was Mnazi in the foothill of both Pare and Usambara mountains. We had planned to take a bus to Same and then drive behind the mountains into Mkomazi valley. We thought that would reward us with the opportunity to observe the wildlife while traveling along the boundary of Mkomazi National Park. Unfortunately there was no bus till evening hours so we didn’t get to Mnazi.

 

The challenge of traveling this way is dealing with the tiresome local processes. The bus ride itself is an adventure which requires lots of patience and flexibility. Getting the right and reliable information is difficult because there is always a bunch of middlemen who want to overcharge you for tickets. First they claimed that the bus would take us to our destination in Mnazi, but after paying another guy came in to say that the bus would not reach there but instead somewhere close. One of the strangest things I have come across is the way people have lost the value of being honest. The middleman overcharged us and I knew this because I asked the fellow passenger how much he paid and he wouldn’t tell me. I think he was scared by the threat of the middleman who was cooperating with those working for the bus. This was the same for the bus that serviced the small towns and villages. The middleman squeezed passengers together to seat six where there are supposed to be five.  I thought about this situation since people pay more than enough, but the irony is that while their own people steal from them and treat them harshly, they also transport them with little safety. The system which is used here is the same that was used in colonial times. Those who have little knowledge and sense of ownership threaten the people. Centuries of a system that breaks the collectiveness of the community has very visible results today. It is frustrating to see how people have a lack of courage, confidence, dignity, respect and self-worth. Lack of necessities and insecurity keeps this vengeance cycle.           

 

We squeezed together with others who also have little option and we got to Kihurio the village in the valley dividing Pare and Usamabra mountains. Between here and our destination is about 30 kilometers of shrub plains. The only option of transportation was motorcycle or sand/stone truck. We hop in the truck with me sitting on the top absorbing the clear blue sky to the horizon of undulating mountains above lush green bushes. The road is bumpy and sandy with acacia branches overhanging . On the way we pick up villagers who walk 12 to 15 km from the mountains to the market in the plains or farms . These people are not used to the vehicle. Before we get to Mnazi strong winds break from the mountains, fifteen minutes later warm rain washes out the dust.

 

Mnazi is on the foothill of Usambara mountains named after the coconut plant which stands tall and proud into rice paddies. We had coconut rice with beans in the street stalls served by a quite happy mama. At night it was less hot and humid after the rain. Frogs, crickets, bats and mosquitos sing us into a deep sleep before we are awoken by the muezzin arguing that ‘Allah is Great’ so everyone should wake up to praise him.

 

After a breakfast of strong tea and chapatti, we set off to tackle the mountain in front of us. The day before we asked for information and a route, which I had previously assumed existed. Locals claimed that to get to Lushoto, the town in the middle of mountains, by foot will be very difficult. It is the light rain season so the river may be flooded, and secondly, it is steep and the path to it too complicated. The good thing here was that the information varied: some was encouraging, while some was discouraging. The hike started like any other kind of hike on a tropical mountain, from savannah vegetation changing to more dense mountain forest.  There are a few indigenous trees remaining, but locals are desperate for fire wood, charcoal and fertile land for farming. Farming is done without any precautions, farmers are farming in the steep slope of the mountain without contours which means all the fertile soil it washed down when rain comes, or is blown by wind in the dry season. 

 

The panoramic view grew more stunning as we hiked higher and higher. There are still plenty of birds. Diversity of other wildlife has gone with population growth and only remain in the small forest reserve.  On the way we encounter several villagers most with catapults/sling-shots for hunting birds. One of them, who I interviewed, claimed to have killed 100 birds so far.

 

The hike was so exciting that although you feel your physical limitations your mind is arguing to push a little bit more. The environment is so calm with only the noise of the water in the river, birds and roosters. The true, humble and genuine characters of the people, which is expressed through greetings, welcomeness and smiles, was overwhelming and emotional but inspiring.  At midday in the village of Mbaramo we were given a warm welcome though we were total strangers. A big plate of rice, Saladin and vegetables was made for us. Locals look upon us as young heroes who leave the comfort of the city to embrace their life, which is considered as primitive and backwards even by their young folks, who have abandoned all and disappeared into the urban world. This also happened again in the other village where we overnighted. My friend was offered a bed while I pitched my tent in the back yard.

 

The pressing issues for me in these villages were:

 

Environment degradation, which is due to the lack of knowledge and requirements such as the need of energy. A certain percentage of forest and indigenous vegetation still exists and this is the natural ecology which has sustained life here for centuries. Farming and other activities still rely highly on nature. There are so many wild fruits. At some points I saw that locals do little to attend to some of their crops such as Banana. They seem to leave nature to take care. There is no alternative energy so trees are disappearing. Farming into the steep slope without contour in some places is just lack of knowledge, while in other places it is just irresponsible and avoidance of hard work.  The existence of natural forest and other natural vegetation is due to huge respect which these people have for nature.  Despite the fact that missionaries and other religious agents have been converting these people to their Gods and condemning local beliefs, there is still remnants of local belief. In the riverine forest, in the overhanging rocks and cliffs and deep into forest there are shrines. The shrines are sacred places for these people. These places are out into nature, which indicates the respect of the nature. It is known that when locals lost this value for their environment it was the beginning of environment degradation. I found other examples of this in the communities of native Americans.

 

The other pressing fact was the labour division. I’m not sure if most of man live in the towns, but often you will see women and children working in the farms and carrying or collecting firewood. At one point, I saw this man sitting down with who I assume to be his wife collecting firewood, even though I know it is culturally normal to make a joke and be harsh to the man who sits down. I told the woman that she should have amazing love for her husband because she is working and he sits. It is quite a scary sight watching two kids, who look like sister and brother of 6-8 years, carrying huge bundles of wood. They looked tired and felt the pain of the load.

 

Cinnamon and Ginger are the only cash crops in most villages. Forest products, such as timber, are another way of making quick money. One man has broken the cycle and planted 2,000 trees which he will harvest within 7 to 10 years. He gave us a tour to his farm which seems to make quick changes compared to the other places without trees. There is potential for agricultural farming: coffee, banana, timber, potatoes and existing ginger and cinnamon. This can be done in sustainable ways to protect the fragile ecology, which has lots of benefit especially beyond this mountain region.

 

The challenge is for government and civil society to assist these people with knowledge, awareness, tools, infrastructure and marketing. These are the goals of Millennia Development Goals (2000-2015), it is very sad to see that few achievements have been reached so far, especially goal number 8; ‘Ensure Environment Sustainability’.

 

Our village to village trek, with very little modern remnant brought us at Lushoto town, the town in the middle of the Usambara mountains. From here we took bus back to Arusha.                                                           

 

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Reconnecting

“The only thing we really have is now. Widen our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
                                                                                             Albert Einstein

We all belong somewhere, where we consider to be home. Our culture, tradition and languages diversity are very important are the same to biodiversity.

Since I returned home for a break, I had to re-experience life here. Due to my new knowledge and perspective, I have different viewpoint. Since I have realized that my personal journey for searching for whom  I’m It Doesn’t end there, but the the journey continues as I continue to find the reasons and connection to things and environment.

I thought the cultural ties would be the strongest and most significant after experiencing different cultures and understanding them at a basic level, but I think in general we are all moving towards a global village where your culture remains to be something of certain importance as life leads those who are willing to its complexity. Back in my village I see how culture brought my folks a long way but for my generation it is something of less importance. During the colonial together with religions deny this important aspect  In other words, to day we are trying to combine the  remnant and adopted to form new cultures as we move on.

I discovered that the simple things such as smells, sounds, language, certain way of life, sights of places are the things which have been the most haunting. I am not sure if it is because it’s the ‘mother culture’ or because of my deep roots, but the things I have found out is; they bring out strongly appealing feelings.

Back into the wild…
A twenty minutes cycle from my house leaves me out of fast growing urban life. Here, it is not so much deep in the wild, but people still live among a balance with other living things.  Birds are in abundance and the density is still high because they are beneath other living things. To successfully birding, I have to be in their respective  areas early as sunrise. I start my old routine in the foothills of Mount Meru. In the mixed crop fields, riverine forests, patches of bushes and river dams for water distribution, there is striking variation of birds species.

In the calm and calming forests, there are birds chatting and their calls are quite audible. A Tropical Boubou female calls to communicate with a male in the deep echo melodies which has about six variations. This kind of call gives this bird nickname of ‘bottle bird’. Other fascinating musical bird is the Robin-Chat. This bird is like an orchestra with several melodies in perfect tune and sometimes can even imitate calls from other birds. At the top of tall trees are Cuckoos, Orioles, Eagles, Drongos, and Hornbills–all contributing their unique calls to the symphony.

The most amazing thing is the variation of colors on these small, but unique creatures. Tropical Boubou with its shining white and and black patching against green or dry bush is quite a sight for this secretive bird.  Most of musical birds have a variation of color. I am starting to wonder what the connection is between color and music? But also there are other birds like the Saddle Billed Stork, which is very colorful, but not musical.  

In the dams I spent time sitting down trying to fit in this world watching and counting how many minutes Grabes spend under water before coming up again. Cormorants organize themselves into group for more effective fishing. Solitary Heron have to be patient to wait for unlucky fish of other invertebrate. Humerkops are restless, but giant Kingfisher is noisy and interrupts the calmness. Kingfishers rest on the branches overhang in the river after their morning fishing.

Three to four hours of walking and birding I end up with fifty species, this event isn’t only birds. There is deep, persistent call, almost like metal scratching, from a Cicadas. Before it gets to the point of annoying my brain gets used to it. It is the rainy season and flowers are blooming and producing an amazingly fragment smell.

I also had chance to go deep into parks, it rain season now most herbivores enjoy green pastures likewise predators. Wildebeest after caving now they’re all over Serengeti and Ngorongoro ecosystem eating up to save energy for their annual trek.

This is an invaluable resource, natural bounty and open lab for diversity and ecosystem is threatened with our daily activities eg. Lake Manyara which is more than half of lake Manyara National park is sedimenting due to the soil erosion caused by farming, also the salinity cause by increasing warm weather and luck of natural balance all threaten existence of this ecosystem.

Happy New Year to you all, thank you for all your support and follow-up. And most recently, thanks to TailWinds Magazine for the nice article:
(http://issuu.com/tailwindsweb/docs/tailwindswebnov-dec-2012). 

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