and the countdown begins

So I have not updated my blog in quite a while, pole sana (sorry). The days at Moyo Hill are dwindling down, and I have been filling my days with Directed Research work. For my DR project I conducted interviews and plant transect walks to find out if the Maasai eat any wild food plants. Current literature states that the Maasai eat a diet of solely pastoral foods (meat, milk, and blood). I now know that this is false, and they have a wealth of indigenous knowledge when it comes to wild food plants. Over my week of interviews, I traveled to 5 different villages, accompanied by two translators (one conversant in Swahili, the other in the Maasai language called Maa). We walked boma to boma (essentially Maasai households) asking elders, women, herders, and children about what kinds of wild foods they ate. Each demography held different knowledge, which I found quite interesting. Elders knew the most about wild food, and had a general knowledge of all plant foods (except vegetables). The women are the only ones allowed to collect and prepare vegetables. The women loved to talk about food, and they would lead me around their boma pointing out plants and allowing me to try them. The children knew the most about wild fruits, as they are often outside of the boma herding their livestock far from home. The children were particularly amused with my presence, and would giggle as soon as they saw me. They don’t see many foreigners in these rural villages. Anyways, I would spend hours talking to the Maasai, taking notes on the wild foods, the use (thirst, soup, gum, fruit, vegetable, meals, ect.), who consumed, when these plants were available, ect. I also asked them about their opinions of wild foods compared to modern, cultivated crops. To my surprise, they all preferred the taste and nutrition of wild foods, as they did not trust the chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) used on modern foods. The only issue with wild foods is availability, as most (excluding roots/bark used for soup) are seasonally available…mostly during the wet season.

After interviews, I joined up with a Maasai elder, a wonderful man named Lozaro. I spent two days with him as well as my two translators. The first day we walked to Lake Manyara. I conducted transects, so I would mark of a 20 x 20 meter plot and write down the Maa name for every single plant within the area. I also noted if each plant was consumed as food. It was a tiring day to say the least. I had 17 transects from start to finish. The next day we trekked up a mountain, using the same method. I was pretty grumpy, and we were all exhausted, but the views from the top were well worth it. My Maasai elder also kept me entertained, he taught me some songs and found a lot of amusement of teaching me how to pronounce words in Maa. In return, I taught him some English, which he was grateful for. The trek to the top was steep, but the views were amazing.

The next week was spent analyzing my data. I can’t say it was a very fun week. I had over 160 plants, all recorded in their Maa name. Imagine data about plants called engaisiijoii, irmang’wai, olchani onyokie, oltimigomi, emborokwai ekop, ect. Okay so I had this list, now I had to try to find the scientific name of each of these plants based on the few pictures/ observations I had. This was a huge struggle, and many frustrations arose. It took many days, but eventually I was able to get the scientific name of over 100 of these species. As you can probably imagine, there is very little current literature about Maasai plant foods (which is why this research is so important- hopefully will be published sometime this year!). After I made my beautiful list of scientific name, family, maa name, recipe, and all that fun info, it was time for me to start working on results. I made tables and tables about the most used plants, who used what, all that fun stuff. It was exhausting. Actually, I still am not done! The rough draft is due on Friday, and after a month of working on this paper I am so sick of it, not going to lie- but that is science for you. I have 28 pages currently about Maasai food use, it is so much information.

To keep sane over the past few weeks, running has been extremely important for me. It is time I get to myself, outside of Moyo Hill. I love the adventure, each new run is a new experience. I try to take new routes, and they are always on tiny side roads and dirt paths which lead to the most incredible views. My school is basically on a mountain, so every run ends up being extremely hilly, but I love the sights I get to see. Every time I run, I have a bunch of children running and screaming wzungi (white person) as every adult says pole (I’m sorry). Tanzanians don’t exercise for fun, so they feel really bad when they see us work out, I always get a chuckle out of that.

Anyways, back to my runs. I get myself into the funniest situations, as I am sharing these roads with dogs, cattle, mule, sheep, goats, chicken, and excited children. I have been charged by a bull, I have had to wait five minutes for a herd of goat and sheep to pass the road, and I have had to help children carry water buckets up hills on their bicycles. It is always exciting. This week, I have ventured across the main road where I have explored more beautiful side roads. The rolling hills are so lush due to the rainy season. It is spectacular, I would definitely go stir-crazy if I was stuck here in camp all the time.

I leave Tanzania in 11 days. I am going to miss this country so much, but I am also so ready to go home. I have many things I am just so excited for. The first of which is a bath. I am just so gross here, I am not going to lie. My body is perpetually covered in dust. I am so excited to bathe with a magazine and actually shave my legs (first time in 3 months). I am looking forward to sleeping without a mosquito net. It has been like seven months that I have had to deal with these things. Yes, they are extremely useful and probably have prevented me from contracting some diseases, but more often then not little critters end up getting trapped INSIDE the net. I have no idea how this happens, but I have awoken to spiders inches from my face, the buzzing of mosquitos inside my ear, and latest, was a freaking banana slug. Yes, a slug, inside my mosquito net. If you know me, I can deal with spiders, and even the snake I found under by bed, but when it comes to slugs/worms I freak out. It was not a fun day in my banda (dorm room) when that slug found its way into my bed…

I am also just so excited for food. My diet here consists of oatmeal, bananas, lots of peanut butter, white bread, rice, lentils, and beans (all of which are bathed in oil and medium-fat spread (Tanzanias version of butter). I have never been so excited for salads and fresh fruit in my life. I am going to make so many smoothie bowls and salads when I am home, I literally have dreams about it. I am also excited to blend in. I stick out like a sore thumb here, and at first I could tolerate the attention, but now it is overwhelming. Overall, I have learned so much from this program, and I am so proud of myself for going outside of my comfort zone and try new things. Even though I have learned that I am not nearly as passionate about Wildlife Management as I am about Marine Biology, I have had so much fun expanding my knowledge. I never even knew what the Maasai were before this trip, not to mention anything about Tanzania. Some of my fellow classmates here work at zoos and knew so much about the flora and fauna native to Africa. I am over here with no knowledge of plants, not to mention plants in Africa, also not to mention plants in Africa and their Maa name, doing research and writing a 30+ page research paper about it. I am so out of my element, and although that can be scary, it is showing me that I am able to accomplish so much more than I ever believed.

I am going to miss Tanzania so much, and a part of my heart will always reside right here in Africa. I am going to miss my daily encounters with cattle, sheep, and goats. I am going to miss the simplicity of life. I am going to miss the smiles and excitement that the children radiate when they see me. I will also miss the wildlife- elephants, lions, leopards, impala. So many animals, many of which I previously knew nothing about. I will miss my friends I have made. Goodbyes are always bittersweet, but after being away for so long, I am ready to return home. Okay- so maybe not home, but back to the familiar. To my family and friends, to familiar food, to familiar places. It is going to be weird to go home to an empty house- to move all my belongings across the Pacific to Hawaii. But it also brings promise to my future, new beginnings, and a life to look forward to. I love Hawaii, it feels like home, and it is where I belong, and I couldn’t be more excited to start a new chapter of my life there.

Maasai child showing me a wild papaya fruit
Maasai child showing me a wild papaya fruit
my maasai elder pointing out his boma
my maasai elder pointing out his boma
on top of the world
on top of the world

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