While Dan and Marin were waking in Tarangire with plans to meet us at FAME later in the day, the rest of my group was still in Arusha with me, waking for their first of many mornings in Tanzania. It had again rained all night, though not as heavy as the night before. Still, there was a heaviness to the air as a result until mid-morning when suddenly, the temperature dropped as did the humidity and it became lovely and cool outside. Today we would be heading to FAME, our final destination and soon to be home for the next month for most of us. I slept well, under the mosquito netting, of course, and was up and ready by 7 am as there were still a few last minute things to take care of on Turtle and would need to be finished by late morning as I had hoped to depart by then. We have an expression here which is “TIA,” something that has a far different meaning to most neurologists as this stands for “transient ischemic attack” in our world, but here it stands for “this is Africa.” The latter meaning is more than self-explanatory as it represents much of the essence of time here; that it takes on a different level of importance to time than in the west. Things get done, of course, but not necessarily tied to a schedule as we are in the west. We speak of projects in relation to when they will be completed rather than when they will be completed.
Given that Turtle was still in need of a few last minute repairs, I was pretty certain that we would, once again, be delayed in our departure from Arusha. Given that this situation has been a recurring theme, along with my knowledge of “Africa time,” it would seem reasonable for you to ask why would I even challenge myself with making such plans? Well, in reality, I have no intention that we will be keeping to our schedule other than to know that things will likely happen in any day…hopefully. So, Turtle drove off in the morning with someone for the necessary additional fixes, that also included getting a snorkel, now a necessity given the heavy rains of late, and would hopefully return in time for us to leave for Karatu and FAME.
Exhausted from all their travels, everyone awakened at different times throughout the morning and enjoyed coffee and Pendo’s wonderful cardamom tea until breakfast was served around 10 am. The meal consisted of eggs, pancakes, delicious potatoes fried with onions and peppers (Amisha’s fav), and large plates of fresh watermelon, sweet bananas and pineapple, and was, of course, well enjoyed by all. We had little to do all morning, other than play with the children or enjoy a short nap for those who hadn’t had enough slumber the night before. Thankfully, Carrie and Molly seemed to pull the greatest weight when it came to the babysitting chores as that has never been one of my major skill sets and especially not while waiting for the return of my vehicle so that we could get out journey under way.
Leonard had gone over to his sister’s home for the day as the entire family was still in morning for his other sister who had passed away from Cancer the day before my arrival. Funerals here are a multiday affair in which the entire extended family, as well as friends, come together to meet at someplace for to exchange thoughts and to discuss particulars such as who will now take over that person’s responsibilities. It is also a time for those who may have been owed something by the departed , to show up and make any claims necessary. I had gone to Leonard’s mother’s funeral several years on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, where the entire family had already spent two days eating and drinking together and reminiscing They had even built a temporary structure to house many of the people there during this time. I spent the entire final day there greeting everyone and, of course, eating and then attending the final meeting where there were many speeches from those who had known her during her life. Despite the fact that all of her children were fully grown with families of their own, much of the discussion would focus on who would be responsible for their care in the future. A far cry from the discussions that are had at our funerals. Leonard’s sister was much younger, or course, and these discussions regarding her children would therefore become much more significant.
Turtle finally arrived back home and we were able to get all of bags packed into the boot and the back seats so there was still enough room for everyone to have a seat. Turtle fits 9 passengers comfortably, or 11 in a pinch using soda crates as seats set in the aisle. Leonard’s family had been waiting to see me at their gathering and, because over the years I have become part of it myself, I had no intention of leaving town before visiting them to pay my respects and greet each of them in doing so. The family gathering was being held at one of Leonard’s other sister’s houses in the village of Sakina outside of Arusha. This is an area quite familiar to me as Leonard and Pendo had lived there for a number of years prior to moving to Njiro. I have fond memories of this area as this is where I first became familiar with Tanzania and it’s wonderful culture. I still remember every little dirt alleyway and turn necessary to reach their first house that they had later turned into a day care center and could probably still find it in a pinch if I tried to do so. We turned off the main highway and then took a narrow path that hugged the east side of a narrow creek that was down in a gulley below. Several turns were quite tight and, given that this was their first ride in a Land Rover, I’m sure that everyone was quickly questioning the decision that had made to join me on this adventure. Thankfully, we didn’t end up in the bottom of a ravine nor did we drag down the clotheslines that we just barely cleared as we drove below them each time, though a few residents sitting in front of their houses did have to move as we drove through some of the skinnier sections of the road.
When we arrived, I went in and greeted everyone, many of who I had never met before, but they all knew me through Leonard and Pendo and I was honored to be there and share at least this short moment with them. Unfortunately, it was impossible for us to remain there much longer as we still had our drive to FAME for which we would need at least 2-3 hours given the possible weather we’d encounter. The rest of the group was also asked to come in and say hi to Leonard’s family which was also very nice that they were able to experience such an event as it is not often that visitors are invited to such an affair. We eventually all said our goodbyes and I navigated the Land Rover back through the tiny alley ways, under the clothes lines and next to the ravine. We were eventually back on the main road and heading north on the Nairobi road before turning onto the new bypass that connects it with the road to Karatu and the Serengeti heading to the southwest.
Once on the open road, it was pretty much of a straight shot to Karatu, other than the frequent slow truck or dala dala (the local vans that travel between towns and are packed with travelers). The trip was dry through to Makuyuni , the junction where you head straight on to Tarangire National Park, or turn right towards Lake Manyara and the Serengeti. The drive from Makuyuni takes us across the Great Rift Valley where the views of Lake Manyara and the escarpment are spectacular. With the recent rains, the lake is very full and there are areas along the shore that are normally dry are now quite flooded such that I’m sure the game drives must be quite challenging there. We travel through Mto wa Mbu (mosquito river) which sits at the mouth of the lake with rice patties throughout, quite likely creating a perfect condition for these pesky insects. Passing by the park entrance there are tons of storks nesting in the trees and baboons alongside the road.
The escarpment is about 2000 feet in elevation, all told, and the views from the top of Lake Manyara and the Rift Valley before are magnificent and go on forever. The Great Rift Valley, which cuts across East Africa is a geologic formation that holds tremendous historic importance as it is the birthplace of man, and especially here in Tanzania, where Olduvai (or Oldupai) Gorge was made famous by Mary and Louis Leaky for finding oldest man here back in the 1950’s. This region is truly the Mecca for all anthropologists and it has always been special to me from my late childhood as my heroes then were individuals like Heinrich Schliemann who had discovered Mycenae and Troy. I guess you can say that I was pretty much of a nerd.
Rising from the escarpment to Karatu is an amazing drive, especially now with lushness of the recent rains making the hillsides everywhere a green as one could imagine. We could see rain and thunderheads moving our way and even though we encountered some downpours on the way, by the time we reached Karatu and FAME, it was incredibly bright and sunny. It is always special to arrive back home at FAME for me, but even more so this trip as it is my twentieth volunteering trip here not including my very first trip when I “discovered” this miraculous place. FAME has grown so much over the ten years that I have been coming, but it has not lost that initial character that had attracted me in the beginning. There are many who have worked here the entire time I’ve been coming and they continue to grow, now serving nearly 30,000 patients a year. It is our hope that FAME will continue to grow and provide quality healthcare to this region of Tanzania and that our partnership that has been so successful over these years will continue to prosper as it has in the past.