The recorded ramblings of an unschooled writer, aspiring biologist, amateur equestrian, ardent bookworm, avid music appreciator, increasingly addicted runner and college student spending the summer in Ely, MN.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Gathering with Sisa...

October 24, 2009

All of us wanifunzi spent the first half of today in company with a group of Hadza, a tribe of hunter gatherers native to the area. Some of the Hadza hunter men, came to camp to collect us and led the whole gang of us to one of the main Hadza camps in the area. We each got to enter a traditional Hadza hut, a small structure created from slender branches and woven grasses, designed to be created quickly and left behind to eventually weather away back into the landscape when its inhabitants leave for greener pastures. There is just enough space inside for its inhabitants to sleep and have a small cooking fire.

The Hadza are a very small statured people, so some of the wazungu (like Kai) could only just stick their heads in and take a look. I felt so tall! It was such a strange feeling – I’m not a short person, really, but five foot four is never really considered tall, at least in any situation I’ve been in previously.

Next, we met up with a group of women to go searching for the roots that are one of the traditional foods of the Hadza. Both of the Rachels, Lydia, Natalie, Elly and I ended up digging with three very welcoming and wonderful Hadza women. Two of them told us only their Swahili names, which were Helena and Mesa, but after talking to Lydia, Rachel R. and I a for a while, the third gave us her Swahili name, Mary and her gina na nyumbani (her name of the home, or Hadza name) which was Sisa.

Under their guidance, we each tried using the sharpened sticks for digging at the roots, though none of us were terribly successful. We all had fun sharing the Hadza and English words for various kinds of plants or parts of the body. I wish I could type out some of them for you, but the Hadza language involves many different clicking noises in addition to vowels and consonants similar to those we are familiar with, so I’m not sure at all how to even begin spelling it!

Then, one of the Hadza men noticed that there were holes in the tree that signified the presence of a type of small, stingerless bee that the Hadza often collect honey from, so he climbed up with his axe and began chopping away at the trunk in order to expose the honeycombs. He handed down pieces to all of us and we each took a bite (some of getting a few of the stingerless ants along with the honey and comb… again, bye bye vegetarianism, haha!)

After that, we went to pick berries with the Hadza women. I’m not sure what they were called, but they were quite tasty – straight off of the bush they tasted a bit like dates, though they took a bit of chewing as the skin was tough and you had to be careful to spit out the four quite sizeable seeds contained in each. Sisa was my group and I’s guide again and even showed us how she can climb right in, on and among the slender branches of the large bushes in order to pick the ripest berries at the top. At one point, her mtoto (child) who she was carrying in a kanga-sling on her back woke up and stared at all of us white people with the largest, most surprised eyes I have ever seen in my life!

Next, we all gathered under some shady trees and tried our hands at making fire the Hadza way, with a fire stick. I couldn’t get the hang of a it, but a few people in the group did and soon we had a big fire going so the Hadza could cook the roots we harvested, simply by dropping them on top of the fire, in among the coals. Uncooked, chewing on the root is a bit like eating sugar cane, very tough and fibrous, but it contains a lot of water (though no sweet taste). After the root is cooked and the outer part of it pared away with a sharp knife, it tastes a bit like a very, very bland and slightly starchier potato.

I really enjoyed spending time with the Hadza. I really love the phrase “live in the moment”, but always have trouble incorporating that into my own way of life. No one does it better than the Hadza. They don’t store things for use in the future – each day they simply harvest and use up what they need, working only as hard as they need to (which is, from a wazungu perspective, very hard indeed). I’ve never met a group of people who seem to truly enjoy one another as much as the Hadza do. Their work was frequently interrupted by laughing, talking and joking. They were teasing our translators, Douglas and Habibu, so very much in a fun and light hearted way.

Though we were definitely a curiosity to them, I didn’t feel like a zoo animal that was being pointed and laughed at, the way I have in many other Swahili speaking situations. I mean, at one point I asked Sisa “Which is the naming of your childrens?”, while pointing to the one child she carried on her back and she simply smiled at me and replied “Monika”, genuinely happy that I was talking to her and not caring that my language left much to be desired.

After a few quiet hours at camp, the Hadza men tried to teach us how to shoot their bows. I tried a couple of times and though I couldn’t draw the bow back enough (it takes about 80 pounds worth of force to do that) to shoot the arrow far enough to hit the target Douglas had made out of a cardboard box (and which Mwalimu Ken had helpfully labeled with an “A” on the bullseye, a “B” on the next ring and so forth…), I was able to shoot it in a straight line, so I was pretty happy about that.

During the archery practice, it became apparent that the Hadza men definitely have a favorite among the L+C wanifunzi. Kai has spent many hours with them trying to make fire and fashioning arrows and given that he finally succeeded, the men have taken to calling him “Moto” (“Fire”). Though the rest of us took turns with bows and arrows, Kai never seemed to run short of arrows as his pals kept supplying them along with cheerful chants of “Moto! Moto! Moto!” as he shot, towering above all of his new friends by several feet.

Because it was getting close to sunset, Zach, Anton, Lydia, Beto, Claire and I snuck off to climb up a big rock formation we’d noticed close behind camp to get a better view of the sky. It was a fun little adventure – in order to get up to the highest point on the rock we actually had to climb up a very oddly shaped little tree and then make an awkward sort of scramble.

The sunset was the most beautiful I have ever seen – we had a 360 degree view of the entire Yaida Valley and there was a slight breeze. We ended up being late for class and missing most of Jazz’s termite presentation (for which I felt very bad about), but it was so worth it. Despite the fact that I’ll feel guilty and like a terrible person for being late when I knew going in to our adventure that it would be the likely result, I’m still glad I went.

I spend so much time being unsatisfied with myself and the way I’m handling everything - be it school or work or making friends or life in general, that I forget to be like the Hadza and live for the moment. During the sunset, surrounded by friends, but just sitting silently and watching the spectacular light show unfold in the distance, I had an entire half and hour where I was just so entranced and full of joy that I really was living in the moment. It was an incredible feeling – one I’ve had several times here in Tanzania – and that feeling of inner peace and contentment is something I hope to bring home with me.

The camp fire too was another one of those live for the moment times. Though I’ve been feeling really sick to my stomach and been trying to fight off dehydration due to various intestinal troubles (just started Cipro yesterday - a three day course of antibiotics that will most likely knock out whatever is causing the troubles) and really just wanted to go to sleep, I held out and stayed up, hoping the Hadza would sing again.

They did, beginning with a song about a child crying in the rain. We sang too – “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” (in a three part round, haha) and then they sang back and we continued swapping songs and dances for quite a while. The Hadza performed many songs about different plants and animals and we sang “Haukuna Matata” (which they loved, given that the “No problems/worries!” is in language they speak), “God Bless America”, “Here Comes The Sun”, “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and “Amazing Grace”. Then Rachel Y. got out her wood flute and played for the Hadza – this confused and delighted them. They were quite amazed at what the “China” could do! (Rachel’s father is from Taiwan and many people here have difficulty understanding that she is as “Wamerika” as any of the blonde and blue eyed members of the group) Some of them even tried the flute, though most were quite puzzled by it.

For a dance song, we did the “Macerena”, though not a one of us knew the words!

Then Betto stood up and announced that he knew a very famous song and we should all join in as we would certainly know the chorus! He then cut loose with some Brazilian samba song that none of the rest of us knew and valiantly samba-ed his way around the fire, while both Hadza and Wamerika laughed and clapped.

The highlight of the evening for me though, was when I somehow talked/pleaded/begged/bullied/convinced Zach into singing the Blitzen Trapper song “Furr” with me for the Hadza. “Furr” is one of my very favorite songs and though it isn’t really a traditional folk song, it sounds very much like one. Our rendition was hardly perfect, but even though Zach and I have totally different singing styles, it seemed to be well received and I had a great time. Though the Hadza couldn’t understand the lyrics, I felt better signing something to them that has a story that means something to me, instead of a silly song that a bunch of just happen to know.

I wish you had all been here to sing around the campfire with me!

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