Ooooh the Many Social Dimensions

Hello, hello!

Things are very well in Tanzania!

Of significant importance over the past two weeks has been cultural tourism. We have had the opportunity to spend time with the Maasai, Hidzabe and Toga tribes through cultural experiences.

To give you an overview:

Cultural tourism is a way for local tribes to gain empowerment and agency in a world where globalization, colonization and the tourist industry have failed them in many ways. Do to colonial actions and post colonial policies, land was taken from indigenous people and exploited in an irreparable way. Today, though conserved land seems good to us, it is land that was taken from tribes and their livestock. They did this despite the fact that it was not the local people that exploited the land, but westerners. Today, it means that traditional pastoralists, such as the Maasai, compete for grass with wildlife and conservationists.

Connected to this, tourists tend to breed a sense of resentment among local people due to the fact that they care so much the wildlife; it is the local people who face the costs of conservation efforts and the wildlife themselves while the westerners get to benefit and have fun. Additionally, tourists often act in a racist way towards communities, impeding on their space and taking unauthorized pictures in an effort to depict a primitive, savage lifestyle.

Also important is the fact that the culture is being lost as globalization leads to higher rates education as well as new jobs and opportunities outside of traditional cultural practices. Though this is obviously a positive affect of globalization, we cannot negate the importance of preserving culture, while also advocating for human rights.

Cultural tourism means that tribes have the opportunity to preserve and promote their culture in a way that they feel good about. It allows them to directly benefit economically through tourism by giving tourists a memorable experience and by selling them their handmade products. However, does this really go as well as planned????

During our time with the Maasai, my mind was definitely 100% opened and I felt that I had gained invaluable context. Unfortunately, our leader, Paolo, said my reaction to the experience as a student varied a lot from most tourists. He said he feels put on display by many tourists and is frustrated that they do want to learn or listen; they are stuck in their beliefs. They show up, watch dancing (which wouldn’t have occurred without them there), take pictures of their homes and outfits, and then leave. Paolo said he is still grateful because his community earns money through their visit, but he said it is disappointing.

On one hand, the experience is promoting the Maasai culture. Without it, people would have to turn elsewhere for jobs. However, if their day to day activities are being affected due to the experience, and people are not even open to their culture… how much is the culture actually being perpetuated?

Another instance. The Hadzabe are the last hunter gatherer tribe in Tanzania, and were some of the most open and welcoming people I have ever met, despite significant language barriers. However, unlike in the Maasai experience, they did not speak any English, and our tour guide was not even from their tribe. We were told that money paid will go towards supplementing their food during the wet season when hunting is difficult, and when food insecurity is an issue; however, I also learned that the income often goes to alcohol which disrupts their traditional lifestyle. On one hand, I learned so much about people, their ability to work with the environment and about a lifestyle I never could have imagined. I paid them and bought two souveneirs. That said, I have some questions: Given that they do not speak English and that our tour guide was not from the tribe, is this something the Hadzabe wanted or was it forced on them as a way to make money? And do they benefit as much as I benefited?

I have so much more to write about in terms of sociocultural norms and how they interrelate with the economy and ecology. Unfortunately (or fortunately) my van leaves for the Serengeti in 20 minutes, so it will all have to wait until we return home!

First and foremost: my beautiful home!
The Maasai boma leader, Paolo; thanks for showing us your home and culture!
Post throwing a spear and hitting the fake lion! GO TEAM
Using cow dung to fix houses!
Part of the cow blood ceremony… cows play a very large role in their economy and drinking the blood is a way to demonstrate and gain strength

Some spear throwing with the Maasai!

Rubbing some more dung!!

From the Hadzabe cultural boma!

Also from the Hadzabe cultural boma!! Making FIRE!

Wrapping things up with a picture of Maria, my homestay sister 🙂
And finally some hungera Barack Obama fabric!!


When Basic Rights are Privileges

I write having just camped outside Tarangire National Park for five days!!

A few highlights of the past week and a half:

We traveled to Selela, a villlage about an hour and a half away from our home base. There we learned about their land use plan set up by the community with an NGO. Quick overview: NGOs help the community gather $10,000, that money goes towards paying professionals for their recommendations about the most sustainable use of land.
The main source of conflict in Selela is between farmers, pastoralists and the wildlife as they compete for land. The land use plan broke up the land in a fair and sustainable way, and now the community meets regularly to discuss how to improve it.

I did leave Selela feeling disheartened. Though there were water sources, overall, water remains a precious resource, and clean water is not accessible at all. This is undoubtedly an injustice and is 100% dis-empowering the community. Not only is typhoid spreading through dirty water, but economically and environmentally, locals are not able to maximize the farmland or pastoral land that they have… hence why they continue cutting down forest land because it’s all about quantity instead of quality.

Questions I’m going to research more about: is there a sustainable way to fix the water crisis? What kind of research is being done about water? And is there some kind of project I can be involved in to learn more about it?

Aside from Selela, we also spent time at a primary school and a tree nursery! Both super cool places and both examples of local level empowerment! The tree nursery is in place due to the deforestation that is taken place in the past 40 years to allow for land cultivation. People in Tanzania were economically dis-empowered during colonization, and farming allowed for a way forward post-independence. That said, farming is now backfiring as over-cultivation has led to intense land erosion and poor soil quality. Now land is not nearly as productive, the ecosystem has been destructed and wood and water have become very precious and inaccessible resources.

In terms of the school, I was wary upon first going because I was skeptical that it might enable the white savior complex. I was very pleasantly surprised though! Quick overview: The primary school currently provides an education to 1000 students, and accepts any student who shows up and wants an education. Sponsors in Europe and the US are able to donate $1,500 to cover a students educational and Heath fees for their whole educational career! My favorite part of the school is the fact that students do not need a sponsor to receive an education; aka they don’t need a savior. Though the school was dependent on Western funds to begin with, it is now run by locals and empowering students to be leaders within their own communities… super cool stuff! That said, proper education continues to be a poignant issue throughout Tanzania, which is something I am having a very difficult time coming to terms with.

I continue to wrestle with the brutal reality of how education, water and energy are scarce to so many local community members; however, on a more positive note, I look forward to learning about effective policies and community driven NGOs that are shaping a better future.

I attached lots of pictures below (including safari pics)!! Enjoy!!!!

Planted some trees!
My friend, Hance from town! :))))))))
There are no words to describe what seeing this many elephants in real life feels life
Uhhhhhhhhh fam, there’s a monkey trying to steal your ice cream
Making some cabbage at my home stay!
Our super cute garden; home made!
When studying human-wildlife conflicts
Homestay family!
Seeing a lion this close genuinely left me in shock!
More lion friends!
Quick break from safari!
Afternoon out at the local club!!!!!!!
Picture this: all you can buffet for $15 with all fresh, locally grown food…. this picture was taken before eating 8 plates of food 😉
Paskalina and Hance!!!! After Church and breakfast 🙂
When studying human-wildlife conflicts part 2