Where Cash is King
by Kerri Miller
I was broke by the time I made it to the airport in Tanzania last Saturday to fly home. The cash we'd taken with us (and almost no one takes credit cards) had melted faster than the snows on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Sure, there were a few Tusker beers and a carved giraffe's mask to reimburse the company for, but the real reason that we'd ended up with empty wallets is that, as with many third world countries, there's one grim reality for most of the people who live there and a second for the foreigners who come to visit. And the gulf between them is as wide as the Indian Ocean. Looking back, I can think of the precise moment when that realization hit me.
I was standing at the window of our Dar-Es-Salaam hotel watching the shopkeepers across the road doing business in their tiny tin-roofed shacks. The air conditioner was humming in my room and the BBC news was on the television, (Our hotel was listed as medium-priced) but as dusk fell on the city, no lights came on in those small shops across the street. Instead, I watched as, one by one, a single candle was lit in each place and soon all I could see were silhouettes as the evening's commerce continued.
I realized that not one of those shops, little more than tin lean-tos, had electricity or running water ... no way to cool the place under a broiling sun and no way to lock up one's goods at night. Which is why some of the shopkeepers slept on the sidewalk all night.
The second time it hit me was while we were in the Serengeti. The park officials charge $50 per person per night to stay inside the park and they're thinking about doubling the fee. But even though the fees are lower for Tanzanian residents, we were told that they're still out of reach in a country where the average annual income is between $300 and $400.
So, although people travel from all corners of the world, as we did, to marvel at migrating herds of wildebeest and magnificent prides of lions, many of the people who live just a few hundred miles from the Serengeti have never seen it.
Kerri with Masai in Tingatinga. We went to hear Elias, (second from right) a researcher with Savannas Forever, give a first-ever report back to his village. Photo: Craig Packer
The women of the Mgungani women's cooperative outside Tarangire National Park sing and shake their shoulders to show off the beaded necklaces they sell. Photo: Kerri Miller.
Tanzania through headphones
By Sasha Aslanian
We're packing up to leave, having collected 18 gigs worth of audio and photos from our time here. I've got everything backed up in triplicate and will carry a stack of DVDs home on the plane tomorrow. It's at this point on the trip when I get really paranoid about anything happening to my gear. Two weeks of field work are worth far more than the gear itself.
In the past two days we've collected some of our most interesting audio. In the Serengeti, it was so visual with 360 degree panaramas of wildlife. But the animals didn't make much noise. Near Arusha, we just spent a couple of days with the Masai and the Arusha people. I'm sending along audio clips of two wonderful sounds we happened upon:
1) First, the sound of a Masai herd of goats and cattle crossing the road. You hear the calls of the herders, the animals and their bells. We sat quietly in our car long after they were past, listening to the herd move off into the distance.
2) Today, we stopped at a women's cooperative near Tarangire National Park. As we got out of the car, each woman came to shake hands and greet us. When they saw my microphone, they formed a half-circle around me and began singing a call and response song. I was speechless at the end so they sang a second one. Bonus points for anyone who can tell me what they're singing about.
Macalester Grad Defends Accused Rwandan War CriminalBy Kerri Miller
We went sightseeing today in Tanzania...at the Rwanda war crimes trial. For more than a decade, former government officials, military leaders, journalists and even pastors charged with genocide have been facing their accused in United Nations courtrooms here in Arusha, Tanzania and all it takes is a passport to get in to watch.
When we showed up today, the man who is considered to be one of the chief war criminals during the genocide was on trial. He was the president of the Rwanda Assembly back then and reportedly in line to become the president of the country. His defense attorney? Peter Robinson, Macalester class of '75.
During a break in the trial, he told me that he'd come from the east coast to Macalester because Hubert Humphrey was teaching political science there. He practiced criminal law for a while in California and then gave it up to try cases at The Hague. He began defending Joseph Nzirorera in 2003. I asked him if he thought he could win the case. He said, "I have no hope whatsoever that he'll be acquitted." So if he knows he's going to lose this case, what gets him up and into court every morning? He said, "I sometimes wonder that myself. ... Besides, I really like him and I'm a very good fighter for his civil rights and that's very important here."
Up close and personal with Porky. Lion researchers identify individual lions by their whisker spots, torn ears, battle scars and chipped or missing teeth. Photo: Kerri Miller
The Face of a LionBy Kerri Miller
Porky's face is the proverbial picture worth a thousand words. Check out the accompanying photo (I shot this from a Land Rover about five feet away) and you'll see the scars on his nose and around his whiskers and the notches on his ears. Porky's life has been an open book: miles traveled, loves lost and found, cubs sired and raised.
Lion Project researchers, who have been on the job in the Serengeti since the late '60s, know he was born into the Plains Pride in December of 1998. They know who his parents were, who his girlfriends were and how many cubs he's fathered. They also know that one day soon when they go out to find Porky (known in the research records as PN70) he'll have vanished. Male lions hit their prime at age 7 or 8 and it's all down hill after that.
The biographies of ten generations of Serengeti lions have been written and they've revealed fascinating answers to questions about why lions live in prides, what happens when a feisty young male lion is ready to run his own pride (it isn't pretty) and why the females prefer mates with dark Fabio-like manes.
But that's not all. Someday, the Serengeti lions may answer pressing questions about global climate change: how will lions and elephants and antelope fare if and when the temperature rises and the rains come late? What happens if the woodlands and savannas they prefer change?
Porky won't be around to help determine those answers but his grand-cubs will.
19 elephants, mostly mothers and calves, cross the road in front of us.
Prisoners in ParadiseBy Sasha Aslanian
"We're prisoners in paradise," says lion researcher Patrik Jigsved. Every day, Jigsved drives a Land Rover through the Serengeti, visiting prides of lions. The Lion House where he lives is part of a small colony of research houses in the park. But it's not like a neighborhood. People don't walk around. They drive Land Rovers. It makes me think of being in Antarctica or the moon.
"This place belongs to the animals," Jigsved shrugs. And, of course, that's how it should be.
Kerri told you about the elephants we surprised with the flashlight. A lioness walked through the front yard this morning and checked out an empty tent. The day before, there were so many little baboon heads popping up in the long grass that it looked like a scene out of "Planet of the Apes."
One listener asked if she should cancel her Safari because we were blogging about man-eating lions. That's outside the park. And rare. But part of what's really interesting here is that there are no fences. Animals can move freely from the parks through the countryside.
In the Serengeti, tourists and researchers stay inside vehicles. Patrik Jigsved's running route is basically doing laps to the outhouse and back. It's odd to be surrounded by all this stunning scenery and not be able to hike around. Nonetheless, as I moved within my small range around Lion House, I felt the thrill of being loose...like the animals.
One of the Serengeti lions who quickly made us forget about the rustic bathroom situation back at the Lion House.
The Long Walk to the Loo
by Kerri Miller
It's a mere 53 paces from The Lion House (lion research center) to the outdoor latrine but last night...our first night in the Serengeti, it felt like a mile.
First there were the warnings about the bats: They live in the loo and when startled, have actually tickled visitors in unmentionable places as they've flown up and out. Then there were the warnings about the buffalo: If you encounter one, turn and run for your life, even if it means scrambling up an acacia tree. They're mean and aggressive and will chase down unwitting trespassers.
But no one said anything about watching out for elephants. Until last night. I stepped out on the porch, flashlight in hand, ready to make the trek up to the latrine, when Craig Packer said in a too-casual voice, "Shine that flashlight over there for a second."
When I did, the beam lit up two huge glowing eyes and a massive head and body behind them. Two elephants, also notorious for being ill-tempered, were foraging around the house for an evening meal. So we got out the sound equipment and approached ever so carefully to record the sound of an elephant supper. And that's why in spite of the bats and the buffalo and the bathroom complications, the Serengeti is so bewitching.
African Jamfest Meets Political Caucus
By Sasha Aslanian
We're now in Arusha, the gateway to the Serengeti and hub of Safari tourism. Looking back at our six nights in Dar, the highlight for me was an outdoor concert by Papa Wemba, a famous singer from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The bill included a bunch of Tanzanian bands with lots of introductions in Swahili. The crowd was sparse, perhaps due to the 10,000 Tsh price (about $8.00 or 5 taxi rides). The crowd was quite mellow, munching on refreshments and visiting with each other. As each song ended, hardly anyone applauded. But they must have been tracking what was going on on stage because during one song, they all took out what looked like Homer Hankies and waved them back and forth above their heads. Then they tucked them away.
After several great bands, much gyrating of hips by dancers on stage and intriguing costume changes, it was announced that Papa Wemba had arrived at the Holiday Inn a few blocks away. To fill the time, the MC began doing shout-outs to various ambassadors and politicians in the house, including the Minister of Tourism and Natural Resources. They stood up and waved from their bigshot tent near the stage.
"Hey! We need an interview with that guy," I said to Craig Packer. "Think I can just go up to him?" I was wearing a plaid bug repellant shirt and hiking boots, but public radio reporters are sometimes mistaken for homeless people back home (OK, this happened one time at the capitol) so I didn't care. Packer shook his head vigorously back and forth. I'm still kind of sorry I didn't because all our interview requests to people up and down the Minister's chain of command didn't do any good either.
By this time, the Minister was up on stage. Suits threatened to swallow the whole event with speechmaking and I began to despair that I would ever hear Papa Wemba on a balmy night in Dar es Salaam.
Finally, after what felt like the 10th ballot, Papa Wemba took the stage. Young fans raced toward him holding up their cell phones to take p ictures. He began singing a song called "Missing You" and the mood of the place soared. After a few songs, a man in a fancy suit, perhaps the impresario walked out and began piling dollar bills into Papa Wemba's hands. Even fans were trying to give him money.
The next day we asked our fixer, Japhet, about the concert. How come no one applauded? What was with the piles of cash? Why all the political speeches? It was a singularly African night. Transcendent and baffling at the same time. "Oh!" Japhet smiled. "Papa Wemba. I wish I could have been with you. People give cash to show appreciation."
Cash please. The applause can wait.
Kerri Miller in Mkuranga in the lion research Land Rover.
Our fixer, Japhet Sanga, pictured here at a cafe in Dar es Salaam, spent time in Minnesota as a fellow with the World Press Institute in 1999. He likes to tell us "you betcha."
By Kerri Miller
Everyone should have their own fixer. Someone to run interference with your boss, someone to wrangle with petty bureaucrats and to smooth out the rough edges of daily life. Most reporters hire fixers when they're working in foreign countries...the NPR crews in Iraq use them....but our fixer here in Tanzania is in a class all his own.
Japhet Sanga is a reporter with an investigative newspaper in Dar Es Salaam but in between editing and breaking some of the muckraking stories that appear on the front page of his paper every day, he's had a full time job saving our hides since we arrived. He's tamed the byzantine bureaucracy of the Tanzanian Information Service to secure press passes for us (no interviews with anyone without them!) He's suggested great sources for our documentary. And a few days ago he cut a call to his mother short when he sent out yet another SOS. Low-level government tyrants were denying us permission to work in their district.
He grew up in a small village on the shores of Lake Victoria with parents who were very poor but determined that he get an education. He told us yesterday that he still remembers seeing his first plane flying overhead and his mother's warning, "Only educated people are allowed to fly on planes."
Since then, Japhet has been on many planes...to many places: Germany,Senegal, Minnesota. And when his mother leaves her village in western Tanzania to visit him, she doesn't take the two-day train to Dar Es Salaam. She boards an airplane.
Village south of Dar-Es-Salaam where two fatal lion attacks occurred this year
By Kerri Miller
There's not much there. A narrow clearing off the highway. A small cinderblock house. A dirt yard where the kids chase each other around. And a dusty path that disappears into the brush. That's the path the village trackers took last March when they pursued a lion that had snatched a child and vanished. They never found it but the Tanzanian lion researcher we were with told us that retaliation has become more common: poisoned meat laid out to attract lions, lions shot and killed on sight.
The attacks have hardened the hearts of many of the people who live in rural Tanzania and caused serious conflict between conservationists and farmers. The lion researcher we were traveling with explained, "This is the last frontier where animals live in the wild" but no one is sure if Tanzania will find the right balance before the animals disappear.
"A lot of Simbas"
by Sasha Aslanian
Just 68 kilometers south of Dar es Salaam is a village where two children have been eaten by lions this year. Mkuranga doesn't look like a lion hideout. It's densely wooded, thick with palm trees and underbrush--nothing like the vast, open plains of the Serengeti you remember from the lion episodes on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.
As we drove through the village on our way to meet with government officials, our driver said quietly, "A lot of Simbas here." (Swahili for "lion")
The lions don't just hunt at night. As early as 3:00 in the afternoon, people need to be wary. As we drove out of town, a steady stream of people walked the roads. Young girls walked alone carrying water.
On the drive back to Dar as our taxi broke down and night closed in, I realized the through-line of the day was fear.
Fear of lion attacks among these villagers.
Fear of bureaucracy. My big, honking microphone is not welcome without express permission and lots of supporting documentation.
Fear of car trouble at night. For the driver, having the source of his livelihood break down must have been terrible. But he seemed more concerned about our safety, asking us to stay inside as he tinkered under the hood. Finally he gave up and called for help, whisking us into another cab home. "That was a real Tanzanian," Craig Packer told us. Hospitality trumps fear.
The fish market in Dar es Salaam.