This past week we had our homestay visits. We were separated into pairs and then each pair was assigned a Mama to spend the day with. With the way our camp is situated in town we are able to walk out of the gates and down the road a little way to the nearby homes. The family that I visited for the day was just down the road from our camp at Mama Regina’s. We arrived early in the morning just after breakfast and stayed until later that evening, spending about eight hours with our families. Everyone’s experience was different, but we all got to enjoy the opportunity to feel accepted into the community and not like a mzungu (white person) tourist.
Mama Regina was very sweet and welcoming. Shortly after arriving we helped the daughter Tina (20 years old) with making tea for us and the family. Tina spoke English fairly well and could carry out a conversation with us. Making tea was a lot more involved than making tea the way we are used to in the United States. We first boiled the water over a wood fire and then added in loose tea leaves and a TON of sugar. Apparently people like their sugar here in Tanzania because the tea I was drinking was basically just sugar water. It was really good though! After we had tea with the family it was time to start making lunch. We started cooking lunch around 10 am and didn’t finish until around 1 pm. I had never spent that much time cooking lunch before so it was definitely a different experience. We had to chop veggies, cook rice, and prep some leaves for the different dishes. The style of cooking here in Tanzania is quite different than in the United States. For one, they use a ton of oil and they use it to cook with everything. Salt is very popular in mass quantities as well. To make the rice, for instance, Tina poured in about a third of a bottle of oil and just had about an inch or two of water topped with a good handful of salt.
One of the more interesting dishes we made was with the leaves from a cucumber plant. Cucumber leaves are pretty prickly so when Mama Regina had brought out the bowl with them in it I was quite confused on how were were supposed to eat them. Mama Regina showed us how you are supposed to peel the stems to get the strings out of the leaves and then fold the leaves up. There were also other various leaves from what seemed to be a tree, included in the bowl that would go into the mixture. In the end the leaves were cooked down in a pot and it tasted somewhat similar to cooked spinach. Cooking lunch took most of the day and involved a lot of sitting on a wooden stool near the wood fire. Once we were done, the rest of the day was pretty laid back. We all rested on the couch after lunch and I drew some pictures with the youngest daughter, Patricia, who is nine. She was so adorable and once she saw us bring out our cameras she wanted to take pictures of everything. My homestay was a wonderful experience. I got to see how the locals here in Rhotia live and now I have a family to go back and visit. They were so welcoming, and I know it would be the same way if I decide to visit again. I am sure drinking tea and relaxing on the couch will always be involved.
Tomorrow we will be leaving for Serengeti National Park where we will stay for the next four days. Everyone here at camp is beyond excited! We will finally be able to see the big cats we have been longing for. Camping in the Serengeti is going to be the most amazing experience ever. Not only will be able to see wildlife during the day but there are no fences around our camp so the wildlife is free to roam around us. This is super exciting and slightly intimidating at the same time because there is always the possibility of any big cats, elephants, hyenas, or even just baboons wandering into our space during the night. Fortunately, we will have guards to protect us if there is any real danger.
To ready ourselves for the journey, today was spent going over logistics of packing and what to expect while we are away. We will be bringing a large truck to haul all of the camp gear, food, water, and our bags so the staff was prepping that this afternoon. As far as packing for us students we will need to bring the basics along with our field guides and academic supplies for the field activities we will be carrying out. One of our field assignments deals with bird watching and documenting the different species we see as well as what their distribution is. The information that we will be gathering will actually be transferred back to the national park for them to use and inform tourists where they could possibly see these different species.
We will be stepping out of our comfort zones, and some of the hazards that we could encounter include large mammals, snakes, and tons of insects, but we are prepared. Getting this opportunity to camp in the Serengeti and experience the wildlife in such a natural habitat is completely worth some discomfort in my eyes.