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The Cost of Bad Trip Planning


Nyamera
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Getting There

 

I had been to Kenya five times and ever since my third trip I’ve been writing trip reports on Internet forums detailing my game sightings on the way to Arlanda airport in my father’s car. I should stop this as the only thing I saw this night before Midsummer Night was 19 roedeer and various dead badgers.

 

My purpose for this trip was to visit Tanzania to have a look at what was going on in Loliondo, to see some incredible wildlife at a reasonable price, but above all to find a way to stay in Kenya forever. I hadn’t really had any time for proper trip planning, but thought that staying in East Africa for a full month would give me ample time to do everything I needed to do.

 

I remember making several observations on the plane that I decided to share with other travellers. Now I can’t remember what these observations were and it’s a very unpleasant feeling of being old. I would never reveal my age on the Internet but, even though I had just stopped sucking my mother’s milk, I did watch Armstrong’s small step in the middle of the night. Besides being old, I was getting decidedly rotund and this was yet another trip without being as slim as I should be. My seat neighbour was a Zambian who had been to Norway to do a course. I was too sleepy to talk with him. What I do remember is a message to the passengers shortly before landing in Nairobi. The names of a few passengers that were requested to go to the baggage counter for information were read out and as my name was among them I became very worried for my bag. The flight from Stockholm had been a little late, but I had still had to wait before boarding the plane to Nairobi.

 

I went straight to the passport and visa counters without queues behind the prayer rooms. For some reason I spent a few minutes in the line for travellers with visas until I remembered that I should be in the line to get a visa - where I would have been the first in line. I had half expected to get screened for swine flu as I had been screened for SARS the first time I arrived in Kenya, but it didn’t happen. I paid the discounted 2009 visa fee of $25 and was photographed by a little round camera, which I didn’t like at all as I wasn’t there to see or be seen by Big Brother.

 

At the baggage counter I was informed that my bag was still in Amsterdam and asked to fill out a form describing it. The man behind the counter assured me that the bag would arrive on the early morning flight, but I didn’t get anything written saying this. The form I had to fill out looked like nobody knew where the bag was.

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Nairobi

 

Nelson at the Terminal Hotel had sent me a text message saying that he would pick me up at the airport. In Kenya that doesn’t necessary mean he’d be there personally, but I was looking for the usual taxi driver, Alex, who wasn’t there. A young man, who presented himself as Ronald, held a sign with my name though. He said that bags are delayed very frequently, but that they always turn up. It had been raining in Nairobi, but in other parts of the country the drought was very, very bad. A tree along the road was full of egrets like big white flowers and then, closer to town, I looked up at some sleeping marabou storks, as I always do.

 

At the Terminal the price for a single room was up at 1,600 Ksh per night. Still very reasonable if you’re staying for a night or two before a safari and have a job with a western salary waiting for you at home, but I needed to start checking out the hotels in the River Road area after returning from Tanzania.

 

After sleeping on the plane for a whole day I was still very sleepy, so I showered and went to bed. Fortunately I had all essential cosmetics in mini-versions in my hand luggage. Lost luggage had been one of my worst nightmares, but it felt quite manageable.

 

It was Midsummer Night, but that was irrelevant in Kenya.

 

I had a change of clothes, but in the morning, as I hadn’t got dirty or sweated on the plane, I put on the same clothes as the previous day and started waiting for my bag. For the first time in my life I voluntarily had a cooked breakfast – toast and omelette (!) – I don’t know why. I told reception where I would be in case my bag arrived during breakfast, but then I was told that it wouldn’t arrive until midday or maybe the following days, “they always say that the luggage will arrive early in the morning”. Now I started to get really worried.

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I needed a Kenyan phone and my friend Nelson had one that he could sell me. I said I would prefer one from a shop, with a manual, but was told that I was a mzungu and he a Kenyan, and I suppose that meant that he knew best. I didn’t feel like spending any time looking for a phone, so I bought the one I’d been offered. It was 2,700 Ksh for the phone, 100 Ksh for a new Zain SIM card and 100 Ksh for the charger. When I had a phone I called the baggage counter and was told that my bag was on its way.

 

The bag arrived in a taxi at midday, totally wrapped in plastic film. An outer pocket had been opened at the airport in Amsterdam or Nairobi and my red torch was gone! I was upset as torches are important to me and some New Zealanders had stolen a small blue torch from me in Naivasha the previous year. A small pot that had previously contained some cosmetics, but that I’d filled with shoe cream was gone as well and I hoped that the thief would put shoe cream on his/her face.

 

I went to check my email and found some bad news from my friend N in Tanzania. He was going to do research in Loliondo, but the organization he was working for had very suddenly decided to send him to Morogoro instead. N suspected a certain politician was behind the change. Now I’d be clueless about what to do in Loliondo! Though I had decided to go there even before I knew Navaya would be going.

 

I wanted to have lunch with Nelson at the Delamere Terrace at the Norfolk Hotel. Nelson protested that it wasn’t a place where normal people could go, but finally he agreed to accompany me. I said that I had never been there, which was true, and that I didn’t dare to go on my own, which was not entirely true. It wasn’t among the most expensive Nairobi restaurants and in Sweden it would have been moderately priced, not a big deal, though I almost never eat at any restaurant in Sweden, but Nelson kept complaining asking the waiter, “isn’t this a place where only ministers eat?” I had some vegetable pasta that was ok and Nelson had a chicken curry that was mzungu food, “mixing too many things”. On the way back to the Terminal a marabou sailed over Harry Thuku Road and I was reminded that I was at the right place. We passed Jamii Shuttles were I got a ticket for Arusha for the following morning. It was 1,200 Ksh and Nelson arranged for me to be picked up at the Terminal even though it was just some 100 metres away from the shuttle stop, and dropped off at the hotel in Arusha.

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In the afternoon I went to get some money from an ATM next to Nakumatt Lifestyle supermarket, just opposite the Terminal. There I met a Zimbabwean refugee who had no money to feed his family. He asked me to give him a bag of rice and when I wanted to know the price he insisted that I should accompany him into the supermarket. I didn’t want to, but he refused to accept cash. Once inside he grabbed two bags of rice, two bags of sugar and a big pot of cooking fat. I suppose it was cleverly thought out, as I would not have given him that much money.

 

Then I went for a walk down to the Nakumatt Downtown supermarket that was destroyed in a fire in January. It was completely gone and now cars were parked on the site. It had been a nice older building and in 2003 and 2004, before Nakumatt Lifestyle was built, I spent a lot of time there pretending that I was living in Kenya. Over 40 people were killed in the fire and the doors were locked to prevent anyone from running off without paying.

 

I went to bed early and I think I just had some passion juice and fruit salad at Java House.

 

In the morning I was picked up at 7.30 by a Jamii bus and taken to another bus 100 metres away. Besides door to door service, Jamii Shuttle have a “flight number” and give the passengers bottled water with their own label. I got my own two seats as the window seat was over a wheel, but I choose to sit there anyway. A couple of passengers were picked up at the airport and some others from the roadside after the airport. One of them was Peter who sat down on my empty seat. He was from Tanzania, but working for the UN in Laos, he told me showing some kind of UN passport and I almost expected a wild business proposal. He wasn’t really allowed to take the shuttle, but there was a problem with the flight. I needed to get a good look at what could be found along the Nairobi–Arusha road, but decided that it would be more useful to practise talking some Swahili, or rather to practise talking to a Tanzanian in any language. My communication skills aren’t that great. For some reason, Peter thought I was absolutely wonderful, but he looked very married and didn’t know that much about wildlife. Just like many Tanzanians after him, he told me how nice, friendly and polite they were compared to Kenyans. People would ask me for money, but no Tanzanian would ever steal from me. At first the road was good, but then it became really bad. To me this isn’t a problem as long as the windows are kept closed during dusty stretches, which they weren’t. Some white people found it wonderful to have their faces sand-blastered in the wind. Perhaps it is an effective anti-age treatment. Peter discovered that my lap was completely covered in sand, which made me decide to ask someone about the limits for personal space in Tanzania. As I’m a sleepy person I fell asleep and spent most of the trip in that state. There was a short stop at a curio shop before Namanga and a long queuing break in the heat at Namanga. Big Brother had put up his little round cameras to photograph you both exiting Kenya and entering Tanzania. I wonder how he got the contract.

 

The drought was bad, especially in the Longido area that was like a desert. The maize was dead and the cows were skinny. The only wildlife I saw when awake and looking out of the window was a couple of zebras and a lone Thomson gazelle. They used to be such cute creatures. How did they come to represent ruthless hypocrisy?

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Arusha

 

Approaching Arusha the surroundings became significantly greener and the maize stood high and strong. We arrived at the shuttle stop around 3 pm and Peter wanted to know when and how he could see me. I gave him my business card and said that he could send an email, which he never did.

 

After everyone had got off, the shuttle continued to the Hotel Flamingo where I had booked a room that was 20,000 Tsh including breakfast – a much better deal than the Terminal. The hotel was very clean and the staff almost entirely female. I’m against showering more than once a day, but I had to get the sand off my body and after that I needed to find an ATM, since I didn’t have any Tanzanian shillings. The receptionist told me the way to a Barclay’s ATM and I got out and was unable to find it. I returned to the hotel and one of the staff followed me to the ATM and left. The ATM wouldn’t give me any money so I continued walking and soon I had no idea how to return to the Flamingo. It was a Sunday, but there were people everywhere greeting me and wanting to know my travel plans. All had “groups leaving for safari”, but I said I already had plans and then they planned for my return to Arusha. Then there were people wanting to sell me batiks with animals in front of Mount Kilimanjaro. I wasn’t interested in batiks at all, but when I left Arusha I had three Kilimanjaro batiks in my already far too heavy bag. The first one I bought from John who showed me the way to an NBC ATM where I could get some Tanzanian shillings and found me a man who sold road maps of Arusha. Apart from being completely lost, I needed to get my calculator out all the time to see if prices were reasonable. Everything seemed extremely expensive compared to when you’re using Kenyan shillings. I checked my email at a restaurant called McMoody’s and then I returned to the Flamingo to pay for my room.

 

At the Flamingo I met a tour guide who told me he always avoided going to Kenya. It was a dangerous place and Kenyans were cruel. They even told tourists that Kilimanjaro was in Kenya. I had dinner at a good and inexpensive restaurant called Minna and in the morning I was awaken by a very loud muezzin.

 

I went for a walk trying to improve my extremely bad sense of orientation. Suddenly a Thomson Safaris Land Rover appeared out of nowhere, stopped and the driver went into a bank. My blood froze to ice, but then I thought that this driver probably was completely innocent and maybe even unaware of anything going on in Loliondo.

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N – a Tanzanian who knows when to stop being polite - had emailed me about meeting his friend M and I’d contacted him on my phone having some communication problems. I don’t know if my phone is bad, if it’s my hearing or if I have a problem with accents – other people’s and mine. Anyway, M came to the Flamingo so that I could give him some books and films that N needed for a project. He said that N was very disappointed at not being able to go to Loliondo that he knew like his home. Then he took me to the Loliondo bus office (Chiliamwanga Trans). The bus departed Arusha at 6.30 and as I’m a sleepy person I wanted to spend a night in Mto wa Mbu and catch the Loliondo bus from there a little bit later. It was no problem, but it would be best to make a booking in Arusha next day. Then we were off in a mat… daladala to the Cultural Heritage Centre – a big expensive curio shop where president Clinton once spent an hour and 15 minutes after having spent 45 minutes talking to some African leaders at the International Conference Centre. I’m not sure I remember the minutes correctly. Then we continued to the headquarters of TANAPA (Tanzania National Parks) where M told me that N had made a study showing that the headquarters are situated on stolen Maasai land. It’s a lovely spot with permanent water and spiritual significance, where building should not have been permitted. Back in town we had lunch at McMoody’s where the pizza was really good. Then we took a daladala to have a look at Thomson Safaris’ headquarters. It was quite a walk from where the daladala stopped. On the way we met a lot of people that had been to a funeral. You could see that as all the women were wearing kangas, M told me. The TS compound was big and fenced. There was a Nature Discovery (part of Thomson Safaris) sign at one gate, but no sign saying Thomson Safaris. We got some photos and I stepped on a thorn. As the big Swahili language papers wont publish anything, nobody in Arusha knows anything about what Thomson Safaris are doing in Loliondo. They are known as very desirable to work for, not because they pay that much, but because of the tips and commissions (Cultural Heritage etc.) that you get from their wealthy American clients. Apart from time, M spent money on this boring tourist refusing to let me pay anything. I have to admit that it’s something that has never happened to me in Kenya. He was quite an exquisite person and I’ll have to think of some way to reciprocate.

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I’d been told that at night the bridge before the clock tower roundabout was a very dangerous place, so after dark I went there to have a look without seeing anything dangerous. I think the biggest danger in Arusha is the holes in the pavements. They are almost literally abysmal. The clock tower, by the way, is an old Arusha landmark that had recently been equipped with screens showing wildlife films. Now the street hawkers have some entertainment. I don’t know who else would be watching films at a roundabout.

 

The following day I felt I had to phone Wasso Hospital Resthouse. I’d sent them two emails without any reply and I wanted to be sure I’d get a room even though N had said it wasn’t a very busy place. I didn’t get much wiser by the phone call, but thought I heard that a single would be 19,000 Tsh and that there would be a lot of people on Saturday. I would arrive in Wasso on Thursday.

 

I went to the Loliondo bus office where I wrote my name on the number of a seat that looked good. I’d pay in Mto wa Mbu. Then I went for a walk to Shoprite – a big supermarket out westwards on Sokoine Road. There I bought a red torch and some batteries, and then I went to a Zain office to receive advice about my phone. There they put a sticker on it describing how I should top up the credit and check the balance, as it was not done the same way as if it would have been a Tanzanian phone.

 

Now when I had another torch I went to the old Boma that was military and administrative headquarters during the German colonization of Tanganyika and houses the National History Museum of Arusha. On the way there Elia, who did all kinds of tours, found and followed me. The museum was a bit small. There were mostly some bits and pieces about the evolution of mankind and some other species, and then there was an interesting insect exhibition with information about cockroaches, mosquitoes and the like. After the insects I entered another room with heads of stuffed animals on the walls. The heads looked very fresh and not dusty at all. I looked around and saw a man working on a zebra. I was actually in the workshop of a taxidermist and could almost hear the soundtrack of Hitchcock’s Psycho. I got out quickly and into another building where the history of the Boma was exhibited. My conclusion is: don’t get colonized by the Germans – or more exactly – don’t get colonized by anyone! Elia was waiting outside and there was yet another museum building with exhibits of stuffed birds and mammals, but the door was locked. Elia went to fetch a museum employee who had to go and get the keys. After waiting for some 20 minutes I climbed through the window and tried to learn some birds. There weren’t too many. To add to the horrors of the museum there was an exhibition about the situation of albinos in Tanzania. I could eventually walk out through the door without being asked how I got in. Elia was still around so I went on a short botanical walk with him and he was quite good at plants, though maybe I’m not the right person to judge that.

 

Right next to the museum is the Viavia restaurant – a quite touristy but very pleasant place. For lunch I had a spicy Indian vegetarian dish the name of which I don’t remember. At the table next to me was a rasta tour guide with a sad client that was leaving Tanzania in the evening. When the client left to do something, the guide asked me about my plans. It so happened that he too was going to Mto wa Mbu the following day, for some business at Panorama Campsite, and he suggested we go together. I wanted an en-suite room and, Renson, as was his name, said he’d check if one was available at Panorama.

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On the way back to the hotel I checked my email at a place where two Hare Krishna monks were checking theirs. I must have stared since one of them asked if I’d seen guys dressed like them before. I said that I hadn’t in real life, but that I knew the song. The monk told me that they’d been travelling in Africa for years (don’t remember how many) and that thousands of Africans had become vegetarians! Then he very generously gave me two books that I have not yet read, and after that he said that a small donation, like 10,000 Tsh, would be much appreciated. I didn’t find that sum small at all, but gave it to him anyway as it probably covered the cost of the books (booklets really) and a bit more, so now I’ve made a donation to a religious sect. “At least they aren’t destructive”, I thought at the moment, but since then I’ve googled.

 

In the evening I got lost in the streets of Arusha. When I returned to the Flamingo, M, who had finished work, was waiting for me and there was a power cut. He offered to accompany me to Mto was Mbu. He wouldn’t be able to work due to the power cut anyway, but I said that I already had company (I would have preferred M though …) and that the power cut wouldn’t last into the following day – and it didn’t.

 

I was ready before 8.30 - the time Renson had said he’d come to the Flamingo so that we could walk to the bus station together and catch the 9 am bus. A man in the street was insisting on helping me with my bag and at 8.45, when Renson appeared, I’d started considering going on my own. The only thing Renson was carrying was a big brown envelope. Though he had a vest with multiple pockets where he could have carried a toothbrush. I didn’t ask. We took one handle each of my monster bag (22 kg at Arlanda airport) and soon we were at the bus station that wasn’t far away at all. A drunk became a bit violent wanting to carry my bag, but he soon left. My bag was heaved up on the roof of the 9 o’clock bus that left at 10, like in Kenya. I think that happens with all buses where you don’t reserve seats. I felt anti-social, wanting to be on my own, learning the landscape instead of talking to Renson, and as usual I was having trouble staying awake. The road was sensationally good.

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Mto wa Mbu

 

Mto wa Mbu is a very green little town with baobabs and a tropical feel. There were lots of curio shops, but not that many tourists. As soon as we got off the bus, Renson saw a fellow rasta who showed us the way to the New Sunlight Lodge. I asked about Panorama Campsite, but Renson said that they didn’t have en-suite rooms. The Sunlight had rooms around a courtyard and a cybercafe in the front along the street. The “lodge” looked new and very clean. An en-suite room was 20,000 Tsh. Renson said that we could share if I found it expensive, but I didn’t find it that expensive. He said he’d get his own room for 10,000 Tsh and when I asked about his business meetings at Panorama he said he was going there at 10 next morning. Like so many times before I had a guide that I didn’t really want or need. Though as at one time I had found it a good idea to have someone to help me with my bag, I paid for Renson’s room as well. It also crossed my mind that I didn’t want to look like a middle aged lady hanging around with rastas in their 20s, but that was what I was.

 

Mto wa Mbu means “mosquito river”, but I hadn’t expected there would be a reason for this. After just a few minutes in my room I discovered that my legs were full of mosquito bites. This made me remember that it was Wednesday and that I should take my Lariam pill.

 

Renson and I went for a walk, had roasted maize for lunch and I visited an ATM, knowing that there would not be any ATMs in Loliondo, but the Tanzanian shillings made me feel richer than I really was. Then we had a look at the Chiliamwanga Trans ticket office that was in a restaurant/bar. Renson suggested taking the daladala to the Lake Manyara viewpoint, something that wouldn’t have occurred to me when staying just one night, so maybe having a guide wasn’t that bad.

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The view was splendid and I looked at tiny giraffes, buffaloes and elephants while feeling a strong urge to be down there with them. Tour company vehicles with tourists carrying binoculars kept coming and going. It didn’t look like the industry was in such a bad state. Panorama Campsite was nearby so we went there walking in the frying sun. Panorama had a view as well, and a big thatched restaurant, ablution blocks and a banda without bathroom. It’s a nice place to stay for someone with a vehicle and without a need for an en-suite bathroom. Renson was given a bag of onions from Lake Eyasi. Onions are very expensive in Arusha, he said. After visiting Panorama we had to wait over an hour for a daladala and I was seriously starting to consider walking back to town. It was a bit far though and the sun was scorching.

 

Eventually a daladala appeared and we returned to town. While I was powdering my nose Renson had showered and was now wearing a towel and his multipocket vest. He thought we’d stay at the Sunlight, but I wanted to get out and have a look at Mto wa Mbu, which I could have had on my own, but Renson put on his clothes again and accompanied me. It was too dark to see anything, but there were people everywhere. We went to the restaurant/ticket office to have dinner, but there was no vegetarian food. Renson said he too had been a vegetarian for years. He just hadn’t felt like eating meat. Then we went to another place where we had rice with a bean stew and tomato sauce served on multi-compartment trays and eaten with a spoon. A small bowl with a fruit salad was included in the very low price. Suddenly a river of people like when exiting a big cinema arrived at a site at the opposite side of the road. Maybe it wasn’t that dark since we saw them, or maybe it was because there were vehicle lights. Renson went to ask what was happening and found out that a father had cut the legs of a child molester with a panga (machete).

 

Next morning we had tea and chapati at the ticket office restaurant and then the Loliondo bus arrived hooting a little melody. The passengers alighted for a ten-minute tea break and I got on the bus. I was glad that there were no bags on the roof, but not so happy when I discovered that the luggage compartment was full and my bag was put in the aisle together with many other bags and far from my seat. I had to climb over bags to get to the seat. Then there was a vertical steel bar right at the entrance to my seat and as I was too fat to pass it I had to climb into the seat. Renson checked my bag to see that it was properly closed. I told him that there weren’t any thieves in Tanzania, but apparently that wasn’t entirely true.

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The Road to Loliondo

 

Plastic bags of sliced bread were dangling from the ceiling. The bus was so full that I only had a view to one side and more people kept getting on. There was a short stop in Karatu and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of spending the night there instead. I would have got some more sleep. The bus started ascending towards the Ngorongoro crater rim and the surroundings became very green. Everybody had to get off at the park gate and both a ranger and the bus driver reminded me that I would have to pay at the next gate. I had hoped that I somehow would be able to escape the Ngorongoro Conservation Area park fee. Some baboons were hanging around and a ranger stood at the bus door checking everyone entering. One man showed a tattered driver’s licence from the 70s (it looked like) and another one just showed his long ears. I returned to my seat, but I would have stayed at the front of the bus if I’d known how close the next gate was. There were some sighs from other passengers – and maybe from me - when I climbed over them and off the bus to fork out $50 for just passing the crater rim. I asked the cashier if I’d still have to pay if I closed my eyes, but there was no way of escaping the payment. At least I was sitting at the right side for getting a couple of good glimpses of the crater floor deep, deep down and very alluring. There were some zebras next to the road, but nobody on the bus took any notice of them. The buffaloes were more interesting. Somewhere after the crater the sensationally good road changed to something resembling another country (Kenya) or maybe another planet. Soon the land became radically dryer, almost desert like. The bus stopped and Oldupai was mentioned. We were at the “Cradle of Mankind”, but I couldn’t bring myself to climb out of the bus for a toilet and kiosk stop. I suspected that there wouldn’t be any time for a museum visit or walk down the gorge. I hadn’t brought any food, but the girl next to me had shared some biscuits while I shared some sugar-free xylitol mints. She didn’t get off either.

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The Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti used to be grazing land for wildlife and cattle on a seasonal basis until 1959 when the colonial government under pressure from international conservation evicted the Maasai from the Serengeti. The order to vacate the Serengeti came in 1954, but probably due to the Mau Mau war in Kenya the British started to negotiate and it was decided that the Maasai should move east to Ngorongoro where their interests would be paramount. This treaty was broken and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area authority reserves the right to decide where the Maasai can graze their cattle and to evict or relocate families that they don’t consider original inhabitants of the area. There has been a big growth in human population since the 60s, but the number of cattle has not increased. At the same time the NCA authority has strict regulations limiting food cultivation. In 1975 families living inside the crater were chased out and eviction threats have been a constant over the years. The NCA authority unashamedly prioritises the interest of investors in the tourism industry over the interest of indigenous people. Some extreme examples of hunting and photographic tourism investors getting away with anything are also found in Loliondo Division that’s part of the Ngorongoro District of Arusha Region.

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In May 2008 an article link was posted on the Internet forum Safaritalk. There were clashes between the Maasai of Soit Sambu in Loliondo Division and a Boston based tour operator called Thomson Safaris together with the local police. I remembered the name Loliondo from similar stories that I’d got fragmented information about and then forgotten. This time I was personally addressed by defenders of the tour company and tragic events led to a slightly better than usual news flow – and – first very slowly – I got more and more involved. This is what I know by now: In 1984 some leaders gave the then state owned Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL) 10,000 acres called Sukenya Farm to be used for barley cultivation, totally free of charge. TBL had requested 100,000 acres, which was denied. Due to the importance of this grazing land with good water sources, and to the history of rampant land grabbing there was strong opposition also to giving away the 10,000 acres, but some leaders didn’t want the state to have a negative view of them. However, TBL never used the whole of this land and a few years later they had already left because of the opposition and of conditions that were too dry for barley cultivation. TBL tried to sell the land, but interested buyers became less interested when they understood that there was a conflict and that they wouldn’t be buying from the real owner. The whole of the land reverted to grazing.

 

After many years, in 2006 TBL, now a private company, announced that they were putting the land up for sale. This naturally caused uproar among Soit Sambu residents. Eventually Thomson Safaris were presented as the new owners. They were creating their own private wilderness for their clients and started working together with the notoriously corrupt and violent police to keep people and cattle out. There were allegations of beatings, arrests, “fines” and confiscation of cattle. Thomson Safaris donated at least one vehicle to the police.

 

It’s said that traditional leader, Shangai ole Putaa, spoke out against this deal on president Kikwete’s visit to Ngorongoro District in March 2007. In November the same year he was killed by the police that say they had to shoot him because he was hiding weapons that had been used in an armed robbery and tried to escape when he was going to show them the hiding place. This explanation sounds ridiculous to people who knew Shangai ole Putaa.

 

In April 2008 there was a clash between Maasai youths taking their animals to water and Thomson Safari guards aided by the police. Lesinko ole Nanyoi got seriously injured by a shot in the jaw and both the guards and the police denied responsibility for this shooting.

 

A New Zealand-born photojournalist – Trent Keegan – came to investigate the conflict. He sent emails to his friends about being visited my Thomson guards and the police. Shortly after this he was assassinated in Nairobi.

 

Some weeks after the murder Trent Keegan’s friend, volunteer worker Brian MacCormaic who at the time was working as a teacher in the area went to a meeting in Wasso with the owners of Thomson Safaris – Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland- trying to clear things out. There was an atmosphere of hostility against him and when he tried to leave the meeting a Thomson vehicle full with armed policemen sped into to compound to arrest him. On his blog Brian MacCormaic wonders why Trent’s laptop and camera were stolen, but not his money or Visa card? How come the District Commissioner in Loliondo had personal files from Trent’s (and Brian’s) laptop, given to him by Thomson’s local manager? And, why no authorities in any country seem interested in investigating this?

 

Thomson Safaris have excellent relations to the Tanzanian government the owners having posed in a photograph with the president and received no less than three awards from the Tanzania Tourist Board, the latest one a conservation award for their “community project” at Enashiva Nature Refuge, which is how they have renamed Sukenya Farm. At a press conference in Arusha on 23 July 2008 government officials were competing in absolving both Thomson guards and the police from the shooting of Lesinko ole Nanyoi. Did he shoot himself? A commission appointed by the prime minister has concluded that Thomson Safaris is the legal occupant of the land.

 

In February 2009 a British journalist and a photographer went to Loliondo to investigate. I’ve got first hand information that they were, “thrown out of the province for asking too many questions of the wrong people” and third hand information that Thomson Safaris’ local manager contacted the Ngorongoro District Commissioner who sent his men to arrest them and take them to Karatu alleging that they didn’t have the right permits. I’m still waiting for their articles to be published.

 

In march 2009 the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination sent a letter to the Tanzanian Government requesting information about this situation, but I don’t know if they have received a reply. They also requested some interim measures – like allowing grazing and watering, suspending commercial development, ensuring physical security and investigating brutality and criminality - to be put in place, which has not happened.

 

The Arusha Times have published as “news” several press releases written by Thomson staff and for months, after initially having published various articles, it was impossible to publish any information about the conflict in this newspaper. Then something that could be a positive change happened: in March there was a new District Commissioner and in early July there was a very carefully worded article saying that the District Council was requesting the president to trim down Thomson’s area due to “impending” conflict. Though I read about this after my visit to Loliondo.

 

Thomson Safaris version is that they got “their” land in a legal and transparent process, that they’ve never been involved in violence of any kind and that only a minority with selfish interests in Soit Sambu are against them.

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Then there was a long stretch of dust, nothing that could be called a road and surprisingly many zebras. There were also Thomson and Grant’s gazelles, and ostriches. I think I saw some topis in the distance around a somewhat greener patch of land. The “game viewing” was definitely better than from the Nairobi – Arusha shuttle. Some Maasai got off the bus in the middle of the grey dusty desert without any distinguishing features. Closer to the end of the journey the environment became a bit greener and for a while there was a good number of trees and giraffes.

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Wasso, Loliondo

 

The little melody was played repeatedly upon arrival in Wasso. The bus stopped in a dusty square surrounded by low buildings and when most people had alighted, I dragged my monster bag off the bus with some help. A young man with a wheelbarrow - or maybe not exactly that as it had two wheels – offered to take my bag to the Hospital Resthouse for 1000 Tsh which sounded a bit too cheap. He was so fast that I almost had to run to keep up with him. The Resthouse was some distance away, maybe a kilometre or so – and the maize we passed did not look good at all. The hospital compound had a new and organised feel to it and the resthouse looked almost up-market. I took a while before I found out who was working at the resthouse and then I was asked if I’d come for “the inauguration”. What inauguration? I was shown a room in a big two-bedroom suite. I had booked a single room, but there were no single rooms. Some people had arrived at the same time as I and there were discussions in Swahili that I couldn’t follow AT ALL. I really need to start studying seriously. I can write emails in Swahili with the help of a dictionary, but I understand VERY little of what people say. Unlike in Kenya, in Tanzania many people actually started by addressing me in Swahili and many knew very little English. Angelina, a voluptuous and very outgoing woman who was working with AIDS prevention and spoke excellent English presented herself and her male colleague as Christians and asked if I would like to have nyama choma with them in the evening. I’m just as Christian as I’m a carnivore, but she wanted to share a room with me anyway. Room sharing is up there on my list of fears together with lost luggage, but in Loliondo it didn’t feel too bad, especially not sharing with someone big. I said I was a tourist who had come to Wasso to see a friend, but that my friend had been sent to Morogoro instead.

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The aids preventers were going to a bar that was “the only place where you could be in the evening” and asked if I wanted to join them. This bar was within walking distance, but we took their white air-conditioned Landcruiser. Apart from Angelina and her colleague Enrro (I understood it was “Andrew” when I saw his business card) there was their driver Elia, I think, and some other people. They talked in Swahili and I never quite understood who was there and what they were talking about, but Angelina translated a bit.

 

Aids prevention in Loliondo was difficult because the Maasai were uneducated, thought they couldn’t get aids and were very suspicious of people, thinking that all outsiders wanted to steal their land. It was even difficult to find someone who spoke good enough Swahili. From what was said at this bar and later, the general feeling seemed to be that the Maasai were a living walking disaster and had to be saved from themselves. It’s easy to see why Thomson Safaris would have thought that nobody - except some local Maasai that you could control with the brutal police – would care when they bought land from someone who wasn’t the owner to make their own private wilderness. I mentioned that my friend was researching land conflicts, but nobody seemed interested and Andrew rolled his eyes asking, “Conflicts with the Maasai?” I could have rolled my eyes at aids preventers that thought prostitution was a joke, but I was trying to keep both my eyes and my ears wide open and focused. Angelina translated some of Andrew’s jokes. I didn’t understand what was so funny with the one about the DC’s driver at the “sex providers’” place but one really bad taste joke involving Maasai sex life was slightly funny.

 

Suddenly a Land Rover with the Tommie logo appeared, stopped at a kiosk where the driver got off for a few seconds and then speeded away towards Loliondo “Town” with a cloud of dust after it. I was glad I had arrived at the same time as the aids preventers. Now it would look like I was one of them.

 

I had a Stoney, but Angelina thought that I should have a glass of the wine from Dodoma that she was drinking. It wasn’t bad if you thought of it as a grape liqueur.

 

PCB – the Prevention of Corruption Bureau – was another joke. Andrew narrated how the local PCB had followed them on their way to Wasso. The PCB were so scared of getting killed when passing through the forest that they tried to keep up with the Landcruiser in their little Suzuki. Maybe the laughs were just to soften something very unpleasant.

 

Angelina told me that she’d decided to share the room with me because I reminded her of the girl in the Elton John video “Nikita”. I could only remember that she looked very Sovietic. I had hardly said a word during the evening and suspected that Angelina regretted getting so interested in me.

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The kitchen and dining building at the resthouse was round with a high ceiling. The place was run by women with Trifonia as the boss. None of them spoke much English. Besides the aids preventors there were two Dutch girls who had been in Wasso for five weeks and were staying for five more. They were studying to become medical doctors. The girls said that the hospital was very good, above their expectations, but that nobody ever knew what was happening and that they’d been told there would be single rooms, which they’d discovered were still being built. Also there was no hot water and one of the girls thought that the climate was too cold.

 

All the time I felt very awkward and out of place at the resthouse. I couldn’t tell anyone exactly why I was there, as anyone could be on the phone with the DC any time, and all other guests had some good reason to be there.

 

Angelina got a bucket of hot water from the charcoal stove in the kitchen and after showering she fetched another one for me. The shower looked very advanced with multiple showerheads, but there was only a trickle of water. Angelina spent a long time finding out how the shower worked and then I kept her awake doing the same and struggling with my hair.

 

Since I need a lot of time to become presentable in the morning I got up at five so that Angelina wouldn’t have to wait for the bathroom. She got up after nine, so I could have slept a bit more. An American guy who was working as a volunteer told us that Michael Jackson had died in a heart attack at the young age of 50, but I had no idea that he was that old. I followed Angelina and Andrew to the office where there was Internet access. You were expected to have your own laptop, but I could borrow one that was used for courses. I sent emails without even thinking about googling Michael Jackson, and I didn’t like having people behind my back.

 

Angelina and Andrew were going to Digodigo where a care and prevention centre would be inaugurated the following day. They asked if I wanted to come and see the place and I was interested. First they were having a short meeting. I waited for almost an hour and then I sent Angelina an sms saying that I was going for a walk in Wasso. I asked a woman selling fruit if there were daladalas to Soit Sambu and I think she said that they stopped right where she was, which was very positive news as my friend had said that I’d need a private vehicle. Suddenly a safari vehicle with three rows of seats of young Tanzanian looking men approached from the Loliondo direction and continued through Wasso main street and away. The licence plate said, “Dubai”, which made me think I’d seen an Otterlo Business Corporation vehicle.

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I first heard of the OBC in 2005 and the information then was from articles from 2002. Unlike in Kenya, hunting is legal in Tanzania and the OBC – a company made up so that UAE royalty (from Abu Dhabi, I’ve read) would have their own private playground- got the Loliondo Game Controlled Area hunting block from the government allegedly using very corrupt methods and without consulting the local communities in any way. What they got in 1992 should have been a time limited permit to hunt, but the permit has been renewed since then and they’ve built permanent structures close to important water sources and an airstrip with direct flights to the UAE. The reports from 2002 talked about how they broke every hunting law and mistreated people “tresspassing “ on “their” land. I lost track of the OBC, but had recently seen some mentions about their maize donations to starving people and help to anti-poaching units. I would have thought that they’d changed if it weren’t because these mentions were in the newspaper that publishes PR writings from “investors” as “news”. After leaving Loliondo I’d understand why there had been “news” about the OBC.

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My phone told me that the delivery of the message to Angelina had failed and I thought it would be best to return to the hospital where the aids preventers now were ready to leave for Digodigo. It was a longer journey than I’d thought, some 45 minutes, and the vehicle was full of people. We’d bought drinks in Wasso and when Andrew had finished his beer, he through the can out of the window! I almost said a Swedish swearword, but Angelina told him off in Swahili. I didn’t say anything.

 

Digodigo is mostly populated by the agriculturalist Sonjo and looked very green. Getting out of the air-conditioned Landcruiser felt like arriving on the East African coast. I’d say that the climate difference between Wasso and Digodigo was greater than between Nairobi and Mombasa, since Wasso is drier than Nairobi. Angelina showed me the dispensary that had been upgraded with an aids care and prevention centre. Then she had to talk to some people and I didn’t know what to do. The Dutch medical students were there and asked me if I wanted to join them for a walk. It was too hot, but I wanted to have a look around. The village wasn’t big and we went for a very short walk around it. Everything was green and there were irrigation ditches. A lot of people had come for the inauguration that would take place the following day. We had sodas and chipsi mayai (chips in egg) at a bar where the girls talked Swahili with a guy at the table next to us. It was a basic conversation and I understood every word, but they were so much better than I at talking. They’d done a Swahili course in Holland and were younger and more intelligent than I, but I used to be good at languages and now I realised that I wasn't good at anything and felt quite depressed.

 

When back at the dispensary I couldn’t see Angelina anywhere, so I sat down in the shade with some women from Wasso Hospital. It was too hot to do anything. After I while a man said that Angelina was in a house behind the dispensary and when I got there I discovered Angelina, Andrew and a young man who was something important in Ngorongoro District health care writing on their laptops. The woman who lived in the house had prepared a lot of food for lunch and I had some chips and salad. After a long time Angelina got out to talk to people and I followed, first talking to a drunken grandmother who had walked a long way for the party and was a good dancer, and then looking at Angelina talking to a gang of youngsters down in the village. Another aids preventer said that it was much easier to get women to have a test, as all African men were promiscuous and didn’t want to know. The grandmother got tested and was HIV negative. If I remember correctly, more than a thousand tests had been made and the HIV rate was significantly lower than in other parts of Tanzania.

 

It was getting dark, but Angelina and Andrew couldn’t leave before the plaque was up. Some children where competing in making the highest pile of plastic chairs to sit on. When the plaques were in place with their little curtains to be unveiled, some wooden poles for holding up the shade for the VIP guests had to be moved into another position. Nothing of this would be properly done without Andrew supervising it … When we finally left it was completely dark.

 

An aardwolf, looking like a miniature hyena and living dangerously, crossed the road right in front of us. It survived, but a hare was less lucky. Angelina thought the driver was driving too fast and she was obviously right. Then another hare jumped onto the road when a vehicle also on the way to the hospital was right behind us. We stopped to let the other vehicle pass and to check what had happened to the hare. It looked like it was a lucky hare as it was nowhere to be found. There were some comments about how tasty it would have been. I didn’t find that funny at all. Apart from the aardwolf and hares there were some zebras on the road, and they were Angelina’s friends.

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At dinner back at the hospital resthouse the young man who was important in the Ngorongoro health administration talked about the health problems in the district and among them was “malnutrition in children due to the Maasai culture”. As usual I couldn’t think of what to ask until hours later, but I should have asked if poverty caused by land alienation wasn’t a better explanation than “culture”. This man also said that he didn’t even know what tribe Angelina was, and that not knowing this would be unthinkable in Kenya. This may be true as all Kenyans tell me what tribe they are and that they are better looking than other tribes.

 

Angelina had asked me if I wanted to come to the inauguration in Digodigo. I had thought it could be interesting, but now I really didn’t want to spend another day there. When I understood that they would leave for Moshi without returning to Wasso that settled things. I was not ready to leave.

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Next morning I was up early again and Angelina was up early as well (but not as early as I) and in a hurry. We said goodbye and I was welcome to Moshi.

 

After breakfast I went to the office to check my email, but it was closed. At sat down to wait in the plastic armchair outside the office. Two hospital workers arrived. They told me – or that’s what I thought at least - that the office opened at nine and then they wanted to know who I was, which I think I managed to tell them in Swahili. One of them had an excellent idea of getting married: I could come and go (back to my country) and we could buy a car and a tractor. It would be so nice. After a while I understood that the office didn’t open on Saturdays, so I left. Some women showed me the way to where I could check the Internet. It was where some European doctors lived. They were running around looking for things and getting ready to go to Digodigo and they lent me a computer.

 

I walked to Wasso Main Street to see if there was any transport to Soit Sambu, but there wasn’t. The only daladala for the day had left at eight. A man who spoke English said he could phone for a vehicle that would be 100,000 Tsh. Tanzanian shillings make you feel rich and I had discovered that I’d withdrawn too little money in Mto was Mbu. I asked if I could pay in dollars, that I had brought as I’d thought that you needed them for park fees, but he said that nobody wanted dollars, as you couldn’t exchange them anywhere. Then he stopped some drivers to ask if they were going to Soit, but it didn’t seem like a popular place to go. After a long while a daladala appeared and the turnboy said that they were going to Soit and that I should hop on, which I did. Then the driver went to a kiosk where it looked like he’d be staying, while the turnboy started asking people if they were going to Soit, which it didn’t seem like anybody had planned. After a while the turnboy returned with the message that they would go to Soit for 30,000 Tsh, and I agreed. Another young man got on the daladala and we drove off in the opposite direction to what I’d been told was the road to Soit, but I supposed that he daladala crew knew what they were doing. The turnboy and the other young man talked in Maa with each other and in Swahili with the driver and neither of them knew much English. We turned to the right where Wasso airstrip is and continued towards Soit. It was a nice drive, almost like a game drive, and there were lots of zebras and gazelles. When we came to a little river, that must have been Pololet, the daladala crew got off to check if it was passable, which it was. I wonder what they do when there’s not a severe drought. A while after crossing the river we came across ten or so young women on their way to Soit and we gave them a lift, which gave the daladala an animated atmosphere with lots of talk, laughter and clinking jewellery.

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Over an hour after leaving Wasso we arrived in Soit where there was a bustling market and a big bus waiting to return to Wasso after the market had finished. I alighted and started to look around the market hoping to find someone I could talk to. I bought a rope and some seeds that made you able to walk long distances without getting tired (I think). I also looked at some torches and at a panga that was 2,000 Tsh – this was a basic panga, others were more expensive. Everyone that started talking to me in English turned out to be a trader from Kenya. The sun was scorching and there was an annoying wind, but I decided not to wear my sunglasses.

 

Then a young man wearing modern clothes asked me in excellent English if I was staying at Buffalo Camp. I had never heard of that camp, but it was 19 kilometres away in the opposite direction to Wasso. The young man – let’s call him “J” – lived in a neighbouring village and was on holidays from studying human resources in Nairobi. I asked him if not Thomson Safaris had a camp nearby as well, and he asked me if they were hiring people again. I was told that I must have passed “Thomson’s” land on my way to Soit. It was where there was a big bridge, but I hadn’t seen a big bridge. J liked Thomson Safaris and wanted to work for them. “There are clashes and people here hate them, but that’s because they’re un-educated and only care about cattle. I want them to succeed. When they succeed 50 percent will love them and 50 percent will hate them”, he said and I noted that their admirer contradicted Thomson Safaris who say that only a “minority with selfish interests” are against them. J told me that the police were “nice guys” and had shot “that guy” (Lesinko) in “self-defence”. I didn’t ask him about Shangai ole Putaa. J said that if I was doing research he could find me some people to interview, “we can’t just talk to these guys” (people in the street). I said that I was just a tourist and that a friend in Arusha had mentioned the Thomson conflict. J invited me to some tea and “two-cake” (I think it was called). He was paying since he was a “rich boy”. “Don’t mind these guys”, he said about people in the bar. I felt deeply frustrated by not being there on my own. In such a small bar I would possibly have been able to talk even in Maa. J asked me what part of the States I was from and I reminded him that I’d told him that I was from Sweden. I think J was collecting Americans; he had a big wad of American business cards from people who were “supporting” him. Then he said I had to tell him what I was looking for. If I was looking for land to buy, he could find me a shamba. His father was the “chief” of the village. Now I really wanted to get rid of J, but I didn’t know how to do it. We left the bar and J mentioned that I pronounced the r:s “like our friends from Dubai”. I asked him if he had many friends from Dubai and the answer was, ”yeah, I’m on the phone with the king every day”.

 

J and I walked down to where there was a cattle market and I made the mistake of asking if it was ok to photograph the cows. J asked me to lend him the camera and then he wanted to know how to use the LCD screen. “They’ve seen the camera, let’s go”, he then said. I replied that I would like to stay and asked him to return the camera. J said that we really should leave and here’s where I maybe could have got rid of him, but I wasn’t brave enough - and thought people were angry. On the way up to the main street J asked me if I was married an how old I was, “32?”. I replied that I was x years old and J looked at me and said, “Yes, you are x. My mother is x.” So, this young man who seemed ready to sell his grandmother to anyone actually had some limits to what kind of business he would get into. Back at the market J wanted me to say hello to some policemen who were standing in the middle of the village with long firearms on their backs. Now, not without help from my own incompetence and passivity, he had made me into a land grabber, paparazzo, police-friend – and an old lady with the accent of a UAE hunter/land grabber. It really was time to leave and I saw that “my” daladala was filling up. J wanted me to say hello to his sister who had a shop and then he told me that all his money was in dollars and asked if I could buy him a T-shirt, which I did. Someone greeted J in Swahili and he told me, looking pleased, that many people don’t think he’s Maasai and that’s because he’s spent a lot of time with foreigners and other tribes. He wanted to take the bus with me to Karatu to show me the Crater, but I said I could take the bus on my own. I got on the daladala, J asked the turnboy to give me a receipt (!) and I said that I knew the guys and that they were running an exemplary daladala service. I got a seat in the middle of the back row. The back door was opened to put something under the seat and J was there. He reminded me that he’d bought me tea and taken photos for me, and as I hadn’t had time to buy him lunch – it was past lunchtime – I could give him 10,000 Tsh very carefully so that the other passengers wouldn’t see, and that’s what I did, but maybe not so carefully. Now J couldn’t have any other impression than that he’d guided a tourist.

 

The daladala was packed and I was on the lookout for a big bridge, which I never saw. The other passengers weren’t particularly interested in me and many covered their faces because of the dust, I suppose. My plan was to get up early next morning and take the daladala to Soit hoping that J wouldn’t be there on a Sunday.

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At the hospital people were back from Digodigo. I was presented to the secretary as, “your guest”. Maybe I had booked a room after all. When asked where I’d been I told the staff that I’d been to Soit and was returning the next morning. They wanted to know how I was going there as there were no buses except on market days. A vehicle and driver would be expensive. I asked how much, but they didn’t seem to know. Now I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea how to find a vehicle - and a driver that I could trust. The secretary wanted me to come to her house at the staff quarters, so I followed her there. She had a lot to say and said it in some kind of mix of Swahili an English that I had problems keeping up with. She had lived with her in-laws when her husband was studying to become a doctor, but when her father in law died, the situation became unbearable, as her mother and sister in law hated her even though she’d had a double wedding together with the sister in law to whom she had also given away her oldest daughter! The secretary then found the job in Wasso hoping that her husband would come to work there as well, but the mother in law told her son he’d have to choose between his mother and his wife – and he chose mummy. Now the secretary needed money to finish her studies and get a good job … It was an upsetting story, but I was feeling more upset about my own bad trip planning.

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This evening I also met N and M - I’ll not use their full names as they (only N really) later committed fraud against the Ngorongoro Conservation Area authority. They were doing some kind of health related studies in Dar es Salaam and had come to Loliondo with a guide/friend and were going to see someone in Soit and spend the night in a boma. I said that I too wanted to go to Soit, but then it occurred to me that if they dropped me off somewhere there I wouldn’t know how to return to Wasso.

 

Next morning I didn’t go to the office to check my email, as I knew it would be closed anyway. Instead I wanted to hear about N and M’s final plan and therefore I hung around the resthouse for a while until Helena told me that they had left. I realised that I was losing my time in Wasso. Maybe I could get on a bus to somewhere close to Serengeti NP and contact some camp that would pick me up, but I was told that there was only one way out and that was returning the way I’d come. I decided to go to Loliondo Town to book a ticket for Karatu.

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Up on the main road I had to wait for over an hour, seriously considering walking to Loliondo that’s only 7 kilometres away, before a daladala appeared. Halfway to Loliondo, the daladala stopped next to a Maasai women’s choir singing about, and apparently praising, the ruling party – CCM. When they’d finished singing, the women got on the daladala, where they started singing again, and soon we were in Loliondo Town that had a bigger police station, but otherwise wasn’t much more metropolitan than Wasso. There was a “women’s convention” in town, I was told, and I thought I’d maybe have a look after booking my ticket. It was sunny and windy and as my eyes were sore since Soit, I had to wear my sunglasses. Maybe that’s the reason a child of some 2 years of age started crying when he saw me. His father tried to tell him that I was just a mzungu, but that didn’t help. There was no bus for the following day – Monday – so I wrote my name and phone number at a good looking seat number at the Chiliamwanga booking office that was on the counter of a shop. Then I had a Stoney at a bar where a Kenyan – they are everywhere – wanted to know where I came from. The Kenyan had to leave and a little boy wanted me to take a photo of him on top of a pile of plastic chairs. I don’t know if he had been in Digodigo or if piles of plastic chair is something children like everywhere.

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