My computer died recently and my nephew Steve found a replacement and sent it by way of DHL. Without a computer I would not be able to post my weekly blogs that form my monthly newsletter. I’ve come to enjoy doing this and did not want to give it up.
DHL is an expense but secure way to send a parcel. Often things sent by regular post disappear reroute. On receiving a message that the computer had arrived at the port of Dar-es-Salaam, I spent a week sitting in the DHL office in Arusha before finally getting the computer. Arusha is the big town five hours away that I go for shopping every seven or eight weeks. During that the week, we had diocesan meetings together with the one-week early mass with the bishop to bless the “holy oils”. The rest of the time was spent sitting in the DHL office. The computer had arrived 300 miles South at the Port of Dar-es-Salaam the previous Monday, but the DHL people showed little enthusiasm expediting the parcels’ release from customs. For days I sat in the DHL office making numerous phone calls to Dar-es-Salaam trying to energize people who were mostly not in the office or out for quick three-hour tea breaks. These people were totally unresponsive my pleas for help. Anyway, after four frustrating days I was finally able to talk to the manager of the office in Arusha. He listened to me carefully and said he would immediately take the problem in hand. I was skeptical but went back to sit in my chair in the DHL waiting room that now had my name on it. He came out of his inner sanctum an hour later saying that the package would be on the first plane from Dar to Arusha the following day. I left with a little more hope that I had up to then. The next day, Saturday, I was back in my personal DHL chair bright and early. The manager again emerged to tell me that the box was on the plane and would arrive at the office at 11:00 AM. I went to buy some cooking oil, rice and beans and to have a cup of coffee at nearby shop returning to the office at 11:00. The DHL car arrived from Kilimanjaro airport right on time. I was ecstatic…in moments I would have my new computer in my hands. Ten minutes later the manager came out to tell me they had put the wrong box on the plane. I put aside my temptation to give in to DHL rage and look for a weapon as he promised it would be on the next plane and would arrive in Arusha at 4:00 that afternoon. He told me to be at the office at 3 PM and we would go together to the airport to pick up the box. I was back in the office at 3 and we boarded the DHL van for the hour-long trip to the airport at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. On arriving at the airport we were given tags to pin to our shirts that allowed access to many areas of the airport. It seemed to be overkill to pick up a package but I pinned the badge on to my shirt. Then for the next hour the manager and I went to six different locations on the airport working through the process of getting the package released. Finally, We brought the DHL bag to the car and on opening it and seeing my nephew Steve’s return address on the box I knew that it had finally arrived.
This year the rains have come as never before. Torrential downpours batter the slopes of Ngorongoro mountain and the plains at its’ base where lies Olbalbal. The dry riverbeds that gather the water on the mountain above us and take it out onto the plains are being dug ever deeper, as the torrents carve their paths out to the Serengeti. Many of these riverbeds cross the track that we use to reach the main road, a gravel track that climbs Ngorongoro mountain.
Some twenty years ago I wrote a story about a Maasai house destroyed these tremendous rains. Almost the same thing happened this week to Noonkuta here at Olbalbal. The house was fated to fall from the beginning. Two years ago Noonkuta built her house. Caring for her four children, going for firewood, drawing water here at the tap in front of our house, cooking for the family, and taking care of the small goats and calves made the added burden of building a house a difficult proposition.
Building a Maasai house is a tough job. Lots of trips have to be made to the forest for wood of all kinds. Poles are needed for the frame and are sunk into the ground. Great numbers of light branches must be found and cut for the heavy framework of Maasai house. Then lighter ones must be found for the outer frame. Grass is fastened to these and finally a thick plaster of cow dung will be smeared on the house. The finished house is dry in the rain and warm when it is cold, although a little smoky at times.
The problem was poles; the right ones. Cedar poles are the best ones to use. Every Maasai knows this. The ants don’t eat them and the damp doesn’t rot them. But Noonkuta didn’t have time to go deep into the forest for cedar. Her other daily tasks took up too much time. She settled for soft wood poles and has regretted it ever since. No one else knew. Her friends would have laughed; she never told a soul. Noonkuta had used soft wood poles and her house was destined to fall, its’ chassis, so to speak, eaten by the ants and rotted by the damp.
Yesterday it happened. The rain had come in torrents all morning. The ground was soft and the plaster of cow dung was water logged and heavy. No one was inside at the time. All the women and girls were under a nearby tree giving some sick baby goats “pills of two colors”, our local name for tetracycline. There was a heavy squishy rending sound and all turned to see. Down came the house of Noonkuta in a pulpy mushy mound with the soft wood poles exposed for all to see.
The women and girls laughed till sunset. Noonkuta laughed with them after her initial tears of dismay and frustration. They even made up a song about her, about the foolish girl who built her house of termite food and watched it fall on a rainy day.
The car of the Head Teacher collided with a motorcycle here this week. Two of our local young men were on the bike on the way to a Maasai village and the car was coming the other way. The two on the bike were run over by the wheels of the car. Legs were broken and the passenger on the bike has internal injuries. Word has come that the doctors have amputated a leg of the passenger. Both are at Salien Hospital in Arusha and the bike is a write off.
There are a good number of bikes here in Olbalbal now. There must be six or seven. They are used mostly as taxies to ferry people around and out to the Maasai villages. Since the Chinese bikes are very cheap, running a taxi service can be a lucrative business. Of course none of the motorcycle drivers have driving licenses and, as elsewhere, the rules of the road don’t seem to apply to motorbikes. Up to now the police have ignored the whole situation, lack of licenses and the way the bikes pay little attention to road rules. Now, in the last couple of days since the accident, there is talking of banning the bikes in the Conservation Area of Ngorongoro.
In our main town of Arusha here in Northern Tanzania, there are many thousands of motorcycles and very serious accidents on a daily basis. One can buy one of the Chinese bikes for the equivalent of about $800 thousands of people seem to be able to come up with that money. There, as is true here in Olbalbal, the boys and young men driving them do not have driving licenses and the rules of the road don’t seem to apply. These “taxi” bikes weaving in and out of traffic regularly carry women with infants and small children and there are frequently horrendous accidents. Hardly a day goes by in Arusha without the funeral of a bike taxi driver and his unfortunate passengers. Yes, often there are two passengers perched precariously on the bike behind the driver, enabling the driver to earn a double fare. The funeral processions include long lines of bikes following the hearse to mourn their fellow biker. Soon it will be the turn of one of these biker mourners together with his passenger(s) to go under the wheels of a car.
When the date of graduation of Naish’enkai from Secondary school was announced I was excited. It has been a long and sometimes frustrating project to support her education through primary school and finally for the four years of high school. She has not been a top student by any means and often found herself hanging on by a thread because of poor exam results. Naish’enkai herself has always been strong in her determination to stay in school. I always encouraged her and continued to support her efforts because, even if she was not able to go on for a professional career, her education would be prove invaluable for a life as a traditional Maasai wife and mother. Her understanding of math and fluency in the national language would enable her to deal as an equal at the trading centers frequented by Maasai people to fulfill their needs. As it turned out, she did not do well academically but she graduated and it was clearly one of the happiest days of her life.
The graduation itself took place at her school, Mbarwai Secondary School. I made the one-hour and a half trip to the school near Endulen with my gift of an umbrella and a cell phone. We arrived at the appointed hour and met the glowing Naish’enkai lined up with her classmates to receive her diploma. The ceremonies began four hours late. We all waited in the hot sun for the important guests to arrive. They were clearly in no hurry to get there and the ceremonies only got going late in the afternoon. Getting an important job in government or Conservation seems to cause people to become totally insensitive to the ordinary people. Many older people, parents of the graduates, had walked many miles to attend the celebration. They now would be walking most of the way home in the dark, a dangerous thing to do in our country populated by Cape buffalo and elephants.
Naish’enkai finally received her diploma and our enthusiastic congratulations. We too traveled back to Olbalbal in the dark.