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Journey to the Hadzabe

Alright, it's only been two years, time to blog about the Hadza project. This entry will just be Part I, the journey there, since it took ten days from arrival in Nairobi to get to where the Hadza were!

To review, since it has been a very very long time, the Hadza are hunter gatherers in central Tanzania. It was actually in response to a plea for aid for them that I created this whole organization. Fundraising was able to drum up about $60 from individuals and $300 each from two beekeeping clubs and the Mission Viejo Rotary club. This didn't cover my costs so it can't be said I'm making myself rich doing this or about to start a lucrative career in fundraising.

Also, sadly, my phone was stolen in Nairobi at the very end of the project and most of my pictures were lost with it so I don't have many pictures of the project.

Picture of the road in Tanzania, actually from an earlier trip and probably a bit further south

Arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, on October 5th, 2015. There's an international airport closer, by Mount Kiliminjaro, but Nairobi isn't far and was definitely the cheapest point of arrival in the area. Four days later (being 11 hours time difference from California I took a few days to get acclimated to the almost completely reversed hours) I took a local bus from Nairobi south, across the Kenya/Tanzania border to Arusha, a trip of maybe eight hours.

My contact for this project had been "Dr Kone" (pronounced "cone-ey" I believe), who I had been told was a "regional commissioner." I vaguely pictured this meant he was a local government functionary with a basement office in charge of looking after marginalized people in the region. I had called him every few months leading up to this. Arriving in Arusha I was told he was busy dealing with something but in a few days he'd be able to drive me from Arusha to Singida. So I had a few more days to kill idling about in Arusha. Nervous that I might not be able to get to the Hadza if Dr Kone didn't come through, I was glad I actually had no less than three fallback projects I was prepared to do if this fell through entirely.

On Day 7 since my arrival in East Africa though, Dr Kone called to say he was ready to go back to Singida and I should come to the hotel in the center of town where he was. It seemed silly to me for me to get a taxi to go to someone who had a car so I politely but rather insistently suggested he come get me and was able to talk him into it. When he finally arrived in a glossy landcruiser with government plates and a uniformed driver, the hotel manager's eyes about bugged out. Dr Kone himself turned out to be a rather tall man with grey hair and a kindly face. As we drove down to Singida (another eight hours or so), he serenely read the newspaper, quietly exuding gravitas. The moment we crossed the border into Singida state the driver pulled over and placed a flag on the pole on the hood of the car. When we arrived in Singida an entire squad of smartly uniformed soldiers in red berets stood rigidly in salute as we came into Dr Kone's compound. By now it was clear to me that he wasn't merely a lowly government functionary in a basement office!

I didn't have internet so I asked a friend to google who the heck Parseko V Kone is. They found this article. Basically his title, "regional commissioner," means he's the governor of the province. The province of Singida has a population of 1.3 million. I was dumbfounded that I've been casually corresponding with such an important person all this time!! And, while I like to think I treat everyone with respect, I found myself mortified that I might have inadvertently not shown the high level of respect due to such an important personage ... certainly I wouldn't have made him come pick ME up if I had known!!

But I think the fact that in the face of my obvious obliviousness, that he didn't find some way of slipping in a hint that he's very very important, that he did come pick me up without complaining, speaks to what a kind humble man he is. Also, to quote from the above linked article:

"He once walked across the African plains over 300 kilometers (186 miles) to see is bride-to-be; then he walked back home; then he did it again. That’s like walking from Wichita to Kansas City, or Kansas City to Des Moines, or Baltimore to New York City. Back and forth: twice. Before he could marry her, he had to kill a lion with a spear because that was expected of a Maasai warrior."

And its him actually who had taken up the cause of the Hadza people. It's sort of his job of course but beyond his official duties he had spent his own money to build them a school and had put the word out for a beekeeper that eventually got my attention.

The bush school

The next day, Day 8, I met with him in the regional capitol building, where amidst the ants-nest of scurrying bureaucrats there could be no doubt that he was a governor with the whole apparatus of state government answering to him. He was just swearing in a new "district commissioner" (mayor / county supervisor? executive for a district) for the area the Hadza are in that afternoon and he said I could get a ride in with the new district commissioner.

I had also been joined at this point by my interpreter, my friend Neema whom I had met the year before. So Neema, the new district commissioner, and a government driver took another government landcruiser for several hours up dirt roads to the dusty little local government building in a remote village. There I met with the local government development officers, and then they drove Neema and I to the nearby village of Mkalama where there was a "local hotel." This hotel was very rudimentary, I think my room just had a mattress on the floor and concrete walls, but hey the door locked, there was running (but not heated) water, and a honeybee colony in the roof, which seemed like a good omen.

There were some shops (of the type that are barely kiosks) in this village so Neema and I bought the food we'd need for a week among hunter gatherers -- since it had to be something that wouldn't spoil without refridgeration and there wasn't exactly a wide selection of the latest camp food in this village we pretty much just got a lot of spaghetti and beans and were thoroughly tired of both after a week! We were also told that while there was a vacant house, we'd need to bring our own mattresses, so we bought some small cheap mattresses to lug across the countryside.

Day 9 the local government guys came back and drove us a few hours through the rugged landscape... and at one point we got a flat tire! No trip deep into the African hinterlands is complete without a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. And the lugnuts were jammed on so hard we couldn't get the tire off until a passing truck stopped and its crew lent a hand with a much bigger lug wrench. Finally we arrived as far as the land-cruiser could go, at a remote bush school -- a cluster of buildings surrounded by sparse acacia trees (the picture above is of one of its buildings). There were a few habitations nearby but I think most of the kids boarded there. Neema and I stayed the night in a vacant staff cottage.

Day 10: At first light we set off hiking for the Hadza. We had with us two Hadza who had come out to meet us and guide us in, one was a shortish older man, the chairman of the hadza community we were to visit, and a younger man who carried a bow and arrows. Both were dressed in what appeared to be salvation army clothes. On the hike we were also accompanied by half a dozen young students of the school who had been voluntold to help carry our things.

Our journey took us winding through scrubby thorn forest. We passed many Maasai kraals, clusters of huts surrounded by a piled up barrier of thorn branches to keep the livestock in or out, and often around them saw traditionally dressed maasai in their colorful robes and bracelets and collars.

Yeah we had to bring in mattresses too!

Finally we arrived at the Hadza village. It was spread out, so that most family dwellings were just out of sight of one another, about a a hundred meters apart, hidden by the thorn and acacia trees. Nearly every family had one rough brick "house," that could more accurately be described as looking like a crude shed, and one or two wigwam-style huts which they seemed to prefer. I suspect people had taught them to make brick houses because it's "more modern," but the huts are actually nicer in the stifling African heat as the breeze blows through them. Neema and I were put up in the more substantial little house that had been built for a doctor who has not yet arrived. No sooner had we put our stuff down inside and sat down to rest a moment than I heard a strange noise, looked outside, and a rather large whirlwind of dust came spinning out of the thorn trees and steered right into our house. Did no damage of course but it was just kind of a weird thing.

And here we were, among the Hadza! The government guys had said they'd come get us in a week (which, knowing how undependable the government in remote parts of Africa can be, I was not without a little trepidation that that would never return to extract us). Until then, here we were! (will aim to continue with another blog post next month)

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