There are many holidays here in Tanzania, and it is impossible to keep track of all of them. Most the time, I’m not sure that anyone here knows what each specific holiday is observing, either, but it’s quite clear that it will be observed, meaning that the majority of staff will have the day off. As much as we would love to see patients today, it is really not our choice at all as that would require at least some of the FAME staff to be working with us and that would mean overtime for them, not to mention that they would not be with their families.
For Fien’s flight this evening, she would need to leave the FAME campus around 10 am to be sure to make it to the airport on time, and we had pre-arranged a car to pick her up and bring her there. In typical Fien style, she made absolutely certain that all her financial obligations were taken care of prior to her departure and then it, it was just a matter of saying all the goodbyes. She had met with all the translators and clinicians yesterday who she had worked with over the last three weeks and had developed close attachments to. That’s what happens here as everyone is so warm and friendly.
With no clinic or morning report to attend today, everyone was able to get just a few more minutes of sleep before heading out for planned activities. The residents had decided that they would hike up to the elephant caves, a trail that begins at the boundary of the conservation area next door to Gibb’s Farm and, with the protection of a ranger, ascends further up the crater rim to an area that is frequented by elephants, though not in the manner that you might imagine. Elephants require several minerals in their diet that can only be obtained by scraping and digging holes in the soil with their tusks and then consuming what is dug up. Driving up to the crater rim, there are obvious signs of where the elephants have been scrapping the soil slopes that border the road. The elephant caves happen to be a site where they have found it easy to scrape up the soil and have essentially created large caves in doing so. On rare occasions, one can find a herd of elephants at the caves, but most often, there are no elephants in sight, and only the caves to explore.
Departing for the caves is from a ranger station that sits adjacent to the Gibb’s Farm property and is within the conservation area. There are rangers there to guide hikers and the rangers are armed as the hiking will be through the conservation area with its full menagerie of animals including Cape buffalo and leopards, and, of course, elephants, all of whom would be more than happy to cause trouble if given a reason. I had planned to go hiking with them, though in the end, led them down to the brick quarry and on to the Tloma village road as it was an easy walk from there up to Gibb’s and next door to the start of the elephant cave hike.
The brick quarry next to FAME is one of the larger ones in the region and is where many of the bricks used in Tloma Village and Karatu are made. The heavy clay is dug and laid out to cut in the form of bricks which are then stacked, leaving small spaces between the bricks, into very large structures about ten-by-ten-by-ten feet with one or two triangular fire boxes in the bottom of the stack. The outside of the bricks is then covered with mud and/or dung which is allowed to dry before they are ready to fire. Wood logs are then placed into the fire boxes and the stack is ready to be fired. Once cooled, the fired bricks are ready to use for construction. To be honest, who owns the quarry and who does the brick forming and firing is beyond me, though I know that you must buy bricks that you plan to use, so there must be some business aspect of the entire process. Never having had a need to purchase bricks here, though, I really am not certain how that process takes place.
I walked back up to FAME once I dropped the group off on the other side of the quarry and set out to doing the work I had planned. I did ask them to let me know when they arrived at the ranger station as I wasn’t sure how I’d explain having lost a group of residents to Ray Price, their program director, or, more importantly, who would fill in for them back in Philadelphia. Luckily, I heard from them at the appropriate time that they had made it and were about to begin their hike up to the elephant caves. In addition to the hike that they were about to take, there is a much more adventuresome hike that leaves from Gibb’s Farm in the morning and ascends all the way to the crater rim before returning by vehicle to Karatu. That is an entire day’s journey, whereas the elephant caves take only a few hours.
Once they were back from their hike, they texted me that they were ready to be picked up at the ranger station and I was on my way. As I pulled into the small parking lot at the ranger station to find the three intrepid hikers perched on log, the very first thing I heard from them was, “hey Rubes, do you happen to have a credit card with you?” In an attempt to thwart theft or embezzlement at the various parks and government installations, cash can no longer be taken, and it is only credit cards or paid online advance reservations. I guess had I wished to have some quiet time alone at the house, I could have said “no,” in which case there would have been a reasonable chance that the rangers would have taken them to the police station, though, in the end, I would very likely have had to bail them out and that may have been complicated.
They ran my credit card to pay for the three of them at which point they were released to my custody, and we were on our way home in short order. After a quick stop in town for some lunch items as we would be heading into the crater the following day, we drove back to FAME and took advantage of my favorite lunch, rice, and beans. Their plan for the afternoon was to head over to the Highview Hotel for a swim as we’re allowed to use their pool as volunteers. I remained at home once again to work, though did head to Frank and Susan’s at sunset to visit with them as well as Annie Birch and Mama India, both of whom were visiting for the evening. Darkness fell quite quickly and by the time I arrived home, the others had returned from Highview, and it was decided that we’d head over to the Lilac to order dinner but return home as it would take an hour to make, and they would deliver it for us. We would be heading to the crater early in the morning and everyone was excited for that.