Happy New Year!!!

‘Dreaming of a snowman on the Antarctic…’
Will it happen next year, around this time?

Just before I exited Dar Es Salaam I made an important decision. Thinking about the coming year, and the new phase of my journey… I decided that this journey (and life in general) is way too short to not go and enjoy any of it! The adventurous period I’m facing might as well kick off in a fun way.
I decided to adopt a new fellow traveler…

This because of a text message in which Sasja (who did the performance pics) tentatively informed me of two little puppies who might be looking for a home…
‘Dar Animal Haven’ had rescued a pregnant dog that was hit by a car. At her arrival with the ‘host-family’ the stray dog delivered the two pups, two young blondes… By now they are two months old.
‘Dar Animal Haven’ (www.daranimalhaven.org) is a member of WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) and looks after the wellbeing of animals in countries like Tanzania.
They work educational courses on schools and in local communities about health and care for both animals as people.
They sterilize stray dogs and cats, they vaccinate against rabies a.o. (a widespread disease around here) and they look for homes for neglected or abused animals. I had heard about them before, and intended to visit…
So cautiously I phoned and made an appointment…
And fell in love.
Next day, I was driving the tractor with a puppy sitting next to me, with her passport and vaccination papers in the back.

Pic of mother and daughter

That little pup started following me around from day one, and somewhere Kos must be walking along… Pretty soon I started calling her Biba, so that’s the name she got (be-bop-a-lu-la, she’s my baby). I constructed a new basket on the mudguard and off we went.

prospect on a few months of mothering…

The first day outside Dar, we camped out in the open.
Just before sunset Biba and me were watching her first herd of cows. ‘Look Biba, your first cows!’ (after all, she’s a city pup, raised in a host family of 7 dogs and 5 children…).

A Masai boy and his dog came to take a look…

Soon Biba fell into deep slumber…

The following morning I woke up on my tractor case and there was this little head resting on my shoulder…
I had to think back to Kosovo, who had never been that affectionate, maybe because he wasn’t taught to.
Some feelings of guilt over Kos’s strict upbringing began to emerge. An upbringing that left me with regrets at times that it was just me having to make dog-related decisions. I wiped away a tear and apologized quietly to dog heaven. Then I vowed totransform feelings of guilt into action. This time, it’ll be different, I decided. This dog can attach itself to me.

Later that afternoon, as I was driving offroad looking for a place to sleep and play, it appeared to me that the area was really quiet, as if it was totally vacant.
So, why aren’t there any people here? Is it because of hyenas and snakes?
At wake-up next morning, we were surrounded by 5 soldiers. ‘Errr coffee?’
Biba and me were being confiscated by the army only three days out from Dar!

Twenty-four hours later we were released. The slogan ‘Tanzania is a hospitable country’ kept ringing in my ears…
It took me a week to figure out why we had been ‘confiscated':
1: I’d been camping next to a large ammunition compound, at a ‘secret location’.
2: They’d been hoping for money. Alas, I’m still too naieve to untangle the complicated etiquette of bribe requests.

Biba experiences all kinds of new stuff these first days, different people, different colours…

School for the deaf in Morogoro..

In Morogoro I visit a school for the deaf, to which I made a promise of visiting, years ago.
All the delay in Dar has caused some dents in my schedule. As such I arrive at the school just after the start of the christmas holidays. There’s only one deaf girl present, in the boarding house. She won’t be joining her family at christmas, because they have severed all ties. A sad reality.
In poor countries, like Tanzania, children that are born handicapped are often seen as a nuisance. It takes attention (and in most cases education and aid) to give these children another chance.
Luckily for Jenifer (as she’s called) she’s being looked after by the school during the holidays, and by mama Latifa (Latifa’s mother) who’s managing and living in the boarding house, together with her daughter…

They let me stay for a few days too. It’s very nice at Mama Lati’s!
Biba and me enjoy the ‘three lady’ company, the jokes and the Ugali and beans…

On monday, we’re visited by a group of deaf children from the neighbourhood (sort of). With the help of master Kingo, the headmaster that translates for me, we talk for hours about dreams and the doing thereof. About my journey, about adventures along the way, about getting things done in a creative and enthousiastic manner. When they write down their dreams, they take their time. It takes the use of the hallway, the playground and several rooms… (as everyone wants as much privacy as possible!).

Later that day they tell me their dreams on camera (nonetheless!). Many of the boys want to work with motorbikes, and one day, own one. The deaf in Tanzania don’t have many rights, and it’s forbidden for deaf people to drive motor vehicles.
(Allthough I only became aware of that later on).

Villages and stalls filled with fresh vegetables, tomatoes, mangos and red onion alongside the road… colourful sights between the greenery, en route to Morogoro…

That afternoon, I teach the boys how to drive the tractor, to the astonishment of the neighbourhood. Each boy only needs about fifteen minutes to master it, which is quite amazing. Never seen that before. And very skillful. Steer, clutch, brake, floor it… after half an hour I get off and watch it from a distance…
The boys are wild, and definitely don’t want to stop. Without realizing it, I’m on a high all day. Mama Lati and Mr. Kingo are very impressed, really happy and quiet… whispering: ‘I knew they could do it!”

Jenifer and Latifa..

At night, when I want to start working on an article for the site, I enter the house with my laptop under my arm. Pretty soon jenifer peeks through the doorway of my room. So I decide to show her how to work on the computer. Wheeeee, there she goes!

Deaf children might be unable to hear, but they see and understand (…tempted to say ‘listen’) so much more! Better than anybody… enthousiasm is converted instantly into daring to do, using both hands…
These experiences are exact indicators to the reason I wanted to come here: If you offer deaf children a language to communicate with, if you treat them seriously, you hand them the chance to become a ‘whole’ member of a community. It’s fairly simple, a basic right. But in poor countries initiatives like these are very valuable.
I was glad to hear that one of the boys will get a chance to become an apprentice in his brothers’ garage. After school one needs places like these. Mr Kingo also works hard for these opportunities…

As I’m saying goodbye after a few days, there’s a knot in my stomach. The people i got to know are heart-warmingly beautiful, and sign language (and mime) are a lot easier to learn for me than Swahili…

Because landmines stink and rats smell really well!
www.herorat.org / www.apopo.org

I’m not leaving Morogoro yet.
I’ve heard of another project that made my jaw drop, and that deserves all possible attention (and sponsors!!!)

Somewhere close to Morogoro University there’s a place where rats are being trained (and taken care of!) for two special purposes…

I drive my tractor into a big field. Somewhere in the middle my appointment should be waiting. After a short handshake this man explains to me that right now, I’m in the biggest, most concentrated mine field in the world! Mmmyes. Glad we cleared that up, then!

Around us, people are busy training rats. The men walk on narrow paths along staked out pieces of land, the rats scurry over the marked plots, on a leash… (rats are too lightweight to detonate mines). Whenever the rats smell explosives, they start scratching their tummies, after which the trainers make a clicking signal with some sort of device, and the rat comes back to get rewarded with a snack.

A special project in a politically tranquil country in Africa, close to the borders of Angola and Mozambique, countries strewn with mines… which nobody cleans up (even though they want to). I can’t help thinking: apparently there’s money enough for weapons, but not for their removal. How odd!
It’s amazing to hear that this project has won worldwide prizes, but is struggling to find sponsors…

So, to everyone with new years’ resolutions:
Adopt a rat!

Rats that can smell TB…
‘Back on the road..’

From the same people who came up with the mine project, a group of Belgian researchers (Antwerp University) and Tanzanian researchers (Sokoine University of Agriculture), a second special project:
Rats that can detect TB!
A different sort of rat is being trained to detect TB from human saliva samples in a fast and efficient way.
As with the mines, the rats are many times faster at detecting TB, than any other technology (One rat can test 240 saliva samples in one hour!). Furthermore, rats are cheap, so what else do you need?

Apopo’s purpose is to add to peace and development efforts using new technologies. On a continent like Africa, where TB takes a lot of lives (also of the AIDS infected), where hundreds of people die on a daily basis because of wars that have already ended, projects like these are a great solution.

& efficient!

The Apopo people can do many more things with their rats. The conversations I had with these people were full of energy and decisiveness. There’s much more to be expected.(rats that sniff for survivors in crashed buildings, sniffer dogs for drugs or weapons on borders…). I really like to make a plea for this great and special initiative (yes, part of my t-shirt sales will go to these projects). But why wait?You can help out today, towards health and safety. Adopt a rat!

And so I move on. On my way to a place to celebrate christmas, together with a young, blonde dog in the basket.

Just outside the village of Iringa, a car draws to a halt right before me. It’s Biba’s host-family, on their way to their ‘christmas-location’. The kids jump out of the car, ready to pet Biba, Mother Peggy informs after my wellbeing. We decide that they’ll take Biba along up front to the ‘Old Farmhouse camp’ on the other side of Iringa.
That night I share dinner with the family.

On the first day of christmas, just as I’m starting to get lonely, I’m being invited by Nicky, the Old Farmhouse’s owner. At night I’m sitting by an African christmas tree, in an ancient house with a fire place. And guess what?
Santa Claus left me a present under the tree. A delicious piece of soap (I’m quite filthy after all this bush camping) and aroma candles made by Neema Crafts in Iringa…

How beautiful, this world and it’s people.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any christmas pictures. But I’ll never forget the hospitable people who shared their feast with me!

Sometimes it’s hot, really hot, But on the other hand, at least once a day rain pours down!
Finally, a piece of plastic to seal the tent with…

Biba learns how to set up the tent, snail wants to play too…

More on bush camping next time. The lack of communication. And bush visits… A visitor who brought a valuable piece of plastic whit which I could waterproof my tent. But that was the least of what was brought…

to be continued!

For now, it’s back into the bush!!!

merry christmas!

happy new year!!!

original post: 2008-01-05