I am alive! So sorry about the lapse in blogging. I sometimes get into this rut where I get busy and don’t write about anything for a week or two, then get stressed out because I haven’t written anything, and the longer I don’t write anything the more stressed out I get because I feel like I have to write something REALLY profound and brilliant since I’ve made everyone wait so long for the next blog to appear and then when I finally write the blog I feel compelled to preface it with this really long run-on sentence explaining why it’s taken so long for me to write this blog because of how stressed I got about the idea of writing it, etc etc etc. Get the picture? 🙂
Two weeks ago, the IJM intern/fellow group took a quick trip to Tanzania to visit some dear friends of ours, the Lorenzens. Jim and Esther Lorenzen are people after my own heart. They’ve lived a thousand places all across the world, and make it always their aim to keep their home open to anyone who wants to visit. When they lived in Kampala for four years, they pseudo-adopted the IJM intern group, having them over every week for a delicious home-cooked meal.
So when Jim’s work took them to Tanzania in January, we all mourned our dreadful loss, and promised to take them up on their invitation to visit their new home in Arusha, TZ. Ever since I was ten years old and my globetrotting great-uncle sent me a postcard from the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, I’ve wanted to visit the area. Apart from Kilimanjaro, I didn’t realize know what else was in Tanzania… was I in for the surprise of my life!
Tanzania, in short, was breathtakingly beautiful. I had to bite my tongue for the number of times I wanted to exclaim “OH MY GOSH THIS LOOKS SO MUCH LIKE PAPUA NEW GUINEA!” (That got sort of old for my traveling companions). We remained within a 100-mile radius of Mt. Kilimanjaro, but the diversity of landscapes was really amazing.
The first night we stayed at a small backpackers hotel at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, eager to see the mountain the next morning.. I only saw the mountain for about five minutes before it became shrouded in clouds. (To answer the questions I know you are dying to ask – Yes, it was beautiful. No, we did not climb the mountain. Yes, we wanted to climb it. But it would have been a 6-day trek costing $1000— which my East-Africa-on-a-shoestring budget definitely couldn’t handle).
So instead of hiking Kili, we wandered around the surrounding villages, taking in the scenery. Due to its proximity to the mountain, the surrounding countryside stayed in a perpetual rainy, growing season, so the lush vegetation was gorgeous, and perfect for growing crops like bananas, coffee, cassava, etc.
Everything was butterflies and waterfalls, until we were tricked into captivity by a seemingly innocuous cultural tourism program and held against our wills by a maniac mountain man in an underground cavern.
I’m not joking.
Stuck 20 feet underground for over an hour, we sat open-mouthed and aghast as our profuse guide regaled us with violent wild-eyed stories of village invaders being trapped and dismembered by his ancestral tribal warriors of old.
Here’s how the story went… In the 19th century, the mountain villages of the Chagga people were constantly invaded in times of drought by marauding Maasai warriors from the plains, where water and food were in short supply. So the Chaggas built a complex series of underground caverns beneath their villages. In times of invasion, the women and children, and even cows and chickens, could be stored safely underground while the Chagga warriors waiting in ambush tunnels to attack the invaders. They even had a natural disposal system, where the dismembered bodies of invaders were taken to a certain tunnel and released in an underground river to be washed away downstream.
Yessirree, we got an in-depth look (no pun intended, really) into the lives of the Chaggas circa 1850.
And then I got a fit of the giggles… hysterical, uncontrollable, tear-inducing giggles. I will argue to my dying day that it was the potent combination of a significant lack of oxygen coupled with a somewhat paralyzing case of claustrophobia that led me to such undignified behavior. But the truth of the matter is that the absurdity of our situation – stuck underground with a chatterbox guide who had told the same macabre stories on repeat for 45 minutes now – was too much for me to bear. I literally could not control myself.
Head hunched over on my knees, shoulders shaking to high heaven, I prayed that my laughter wouldn’t offend our illustrious guide too much, and thus be killed and dismembered just like the ancient invaders. Thankfully, my hysterics had just the effect I desired. Our guide assured me “You must control yourself. These stories are very sad, and very scary. Even men cry when they hear them. But you must do it privately.” To which I replied, with all the gravity of voice I could muster, “Yes, these are hard stories to hear. I think maybe I need to go outside now.” Finally out in the wide open, I had to excuse myself to the restroom to shake off the remaining hysterics. It was quite the adventure.
More adventures from Maasai land coming in TZ Part 2 (to be posted tomorrow, I promise!)