An Election, Blankets for Babies and Ngorongoro Crater…
The elections have been weighing heavily on everyone’s minds here, both Tanzanians and ex-pats alike. The ruling party has been in power since their independence and concern over the legitimacy of this election remains quite high. Driving to the airport on Friday night there was a huge gathering for the opposition in Usa River as Northern Tanzania and specifically Arusha district is one of their strongholds. We have been receiving email alerts over the last weeks to steer well clear of any political gatherings both before and after the election as the announcement of the official results from the Sunday, October 25, election will be on Friday, October 30.
To be honest, though, it has been fascinating and exciting to be here during the elections and to date everything has been very peaceful. There is still talk of services being disrupted after the election, such as telephone and power, but that remains to be seen.
I awakened on Saturday morning to another wonderful breakfast with Pendo and her family. I had to spend the night in Arusha as the drive to Karatu at night is very dangerous and is never undertaken except for emergencies. I drove back with Pauline and Joyce, both of whom took the opportunity to hitch a ride with us on Friday and spend time with friends before returning to Karatu with me on Saturday morning. The drive was again the same beautiful regions of the Great Rift Valley that I mentioned earlier and it was a gorgeous day to boot. We arrived back to FAME by noon to find the clinic as quiet as I’ve ever seen it. It was the day before the election and everyone was remaining very cautious not to mention the fact that no one wanted to stray to far from home and possibly miss the opportunity to vote the next day.
The low volume did give us the opportunity to give out baby blankets to the new moms in the maternity ward, though. I had been given fourteen beautiful knitted baby blankets by Mildred Staten of Philadelphia who along with her friends knit blankets for newborn babies and mothers in the Philly area. It was such a generous gift and we brought them here in one of our checked duffels (actually Cara brought them with her) along with EEG supplies and other things for FAME. There had been two C-sections the night before (one of which Ali had the opportunity to fully document with photographs that are amazing) along with another baby that had been born in the last several days. The mothers loved the blankets and we wrapped each of their babies in the blanket and had them held.
We also gave a blanket to the little Maasai premie who is still fighting with the strongest of wills. He remains under one kilo and is not out the woods by any means. His father came into the nursery while we were there and thanked us for the gift. Being born at 26 weeks would be a challenge anywhere in the world, but is exponentially harder here considering all of the challenges and hurdles of life in general in East Africa. The little Maasai looks so very fragile, but we are repeatedly reminded that he will grow up to be a “warrior” one day.
Sunday was election day, of course, and we were heading the Crater knowing that it would be peaceful since the animals are, for the most part, apolitical. Leaving FAME at 6am we passed a polling place burdened with a long line already despite not opening for at least an hour. It was clear that all citizens in this region had plans to take advantage of their right to cast a vote for either the current incumbent party or the opposition party. Again, it will be days before the results are known or announced so there will be at least another week of some unrest and then who knows what will happen. Regardless of the outcome, the hope by all is for a peaceful continuation or transition. Time will tell whether this will be the case.
The Ngorongoro Crater is always a magical experience. It is a huge caldera 2000 feet deep and about ten miles in diameter that contains it’s own ecosystems. Most of the animals there do not migrate and it is home to a growing population of black rhino that was at one point endangered. It is the most fun for me to drive in as I’ve gotten to know the roads well having done it several times before and it has easy landmarks with which to guide by. It was a beautiful day, though quite windy, which means that the rhino stay in the low trees as they rely on hearing for defense (even though the adults have no predators there) and won’t stray onto the crater floor without their main sense of detecting danger.
It was also extremely dry in the crater, drier than I had seen before, and the animals were mostly gathered in the wetland areas. We were mainly looking for lions, though, and we found a few before lunch that looked initially like they were possibly hunting. After watching them for half an hour, though, they finally settled down to relax and we were hungry so it was off to the lunch area which is a beautiful lake with hippos and lots of birds.
Later, after driving around the crater and not finding any other lions we went back to see what the others we had seen were doing. The whole pride was now visible – there were at least eight females, one baby and the male. The two females were still active and seemed to be challenging some Cape Buffalo, not a typical behavior for so few lions and the big bull buffalo finally made it known to them that he was not happy being stalked by charging them and making sure they knew he was serious. We left the crater without our prize of seeing rhino that day, but knowing we’d be back again another day when it was less windy and hopefully not as dry.