We drove all day from the Alamana Camp to the Serengeti Camp. In the morning we saw two kinds of antelope: a Coke’s hartebeest and a male impala.
A group of giraffes were walking, and then they galloped past our parked trucks. These 3 photos were taken with a zoom lens at 135 mm, a short telephoto length. See the dust being kicked up in the third picture.
As we neared camp, a herd of elephants walked by. Note that the baby is much smaller than the adult elephants.
Here’s a baby elephant nursing.
Close to sunset, we drove past an alkaline lake with various birds.
We started our third day at Alamana with Maasai culture — a visit to a Maasia boma and a primary school for Maasai. We stopped for lunch under an acacia tree and a bush walk back to camp.
In the evening there was another bush walk, where we saw hyena dung. Hyena dung is white because of the bones that hyenas eat. High in calcium, other animals eat hyena dung to build strong bones quickly.
At the end of the bush walk we hiking up a high kopje, just in time to see our last sunset in Alamana. The fire and champagne were a nice surprise! Thank you, Joan, for the photo. The acacia trees are far below the kopje.
After seeing the boma, we visited the primary school that serves the Maasai village and surrounding area. Operated by the Tanzanian government, a primary school has seven levels, or standards. The school and adjoining clinic are outside the village.
John’s three daughters attend this school. They live at the school and come home on weekends. About half the students are boarders. John is a Maasai Elder, and he knows folk medicine from his father.
In the primary school, classes are conducted in Kiswahili, the national language, and English is taught as a class. Students generally speak their tribal language at home. In secondary school, class is conducted in English. To better prepare for secondary school, one of our safari guides sends his children to a private primary school, where English is used for instruction.
The lead teacher, the administrator for the school, told us about the school and answered questions. American schools use a similar name — our principal is shortened from the original principal teacher. There are two classes per standard.
The lead teacher showed us the dormitories for the boarding students — bunk beds crowded into dimly-lit rooms. Two or three students share a bed, and many beds have slats without mattresses. The school has over a dozen buildings: classrooms, dormitories, and lodging for teachers and the lead teacher. Two buildings have solar panels donated by an American on safari, so those buildings have lights.
Teachers walked with us during the tour. I talked to a 2nd standard teacher from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and commercial hub. His English is excellent. He attended a government college, which requires three years of service upon graduation. The government assigned him to this school outside a Maasai village of 400 and hours away from Arusha, the closest large town. He’d like to go back to school.
We asked if there any sports at the school. No sports. Are there soccer balls (footballs)? No. Looking around, the school is on a hillside so they also don’t have a level area except in front of the classrooms. Then there are thorny issues from the brush surrounding the school. If it’s anything like the brush we see on bush walks, it’s acacia with thorns of 1″ to 3″, depending on the variety. What does the school need most? Solar panels for lights. Only two buildings have solar panels. The teacher’s lodging has no lights.
We visited a 7th standard classroom. The students are between 12 to 16 years old. They sing a song for us. Our lead safari guide proceeds to hand out pencils. He calls up students based on their rank from last year’s standardized test, starting from number one, and passes out pencils to the top-ranked students. Each student knows their ranking, and they apparently are accustomed to their ranking being discussed.
Coming from American schools, this public use of ranking seems harsh. With time, we rationalized the Tanzanian approach. Tanzania is a developing country with scarce resources. They can’t afford to educate everyone through secondary school, so they select the most qualified students. Students going on to secondary school must pass a qualifying test. Students and their families need to know where they stand before that test, so that they’re not totally surprised by the test results. Similarly, students must pass a test to enter college.
We asked how many students are in the class. About 70. Although there are 2-3 students per desk, only about half the students are in class. They dodge school, the teacher observed.
A safari member looked at a textbook and saw facts about growing cotton. Don’t see how growing cotton is relevant to herders who count cattle as wealth. If the Maasai were to take up farming, they would probably start with food they can eat, not a commercial crop like cotton. We saw corn (maize) growing in the village. Maasai eat corn and make a beer from corn.
We donated money to purchase mattresses for the school and gave school supplies to the lead teacher to distribute as he sees fit.
The Alamana camp has operated on a concession from the Maasai for years. Because of this long-term relationship with the Maasai, we were able to visit a boma, the home and corral owned by a Maasai family. The family visited is rotated.
John Maasai drove, and we rode with him. As we entered the Maasai village he pointed to his house up the hill. We stopped at these low-slung huts with goats parading by.
This is our host’s boma. We met our host and his two sons. We all shook hands. Our host is wearing a dark suit. Both sons speak English; they talked and answered questions.
One attends university in Dodoma, Tanzania’s capital; the other a university in Arusha. One son has four brothers and sisters. We asked if their father has more than one wife. Yes, he has five. There are 20 children from the five wives. The boma has 6-8 huts that house our host’s family. With five wives, our host is very well-to-do.
William, dressed in red, shows us the corral first.
The huts are built in the traditional manner, dung plastered over sticks. The dung makes the hut waterproof.
The doorway is less than five feet tall so everyone has to bend down to enter. As you enter the hut, there’s a storage area straight ahead. You have turn twice down a dark hallway to enter the main room, and we have trouble seeing until our eyes adjust to the dim light. See the small window in the photo above. The room has only three small windows like that. The interior photos required flash.
In the photo below, William is kneeling; his mother, grandmother, and wife are sitting on a bed. The ceiling is so low that William can’t stand up inside. See how the ceiling has been blackened by smoke.
In the middle of the room is a firepit with a smoldering fire. There’s a pan of milk next to the firepit. Milk is a large part of the Maasai diet. This is February, Tanzania’s summer, so the weather is warm. With little ventilation, you wonder about inhaling smoke, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide. But there were no flies inside. There were a lot of flies outside.
We sat on a second bed on the other side of the firepit. William’s son is sleeping on this bed, which feels like leather stretched on a frame. There are four generations here. William’s wife is wearing beautiful Maasai beaded earrings and necklaces.
Outside the hut the women posed for pictures.
Other huts and members of our host’s family. The woman in the blue cape is holding a tiny baby goat.
The traditional Maasai livelihood is to raise cattle and goats. They count wealth in cattle, paying for wives with cattle. When the local grass is exhausted, they move on to greener pastures. The nomadic culture doesn’t mesh well with farming and formal education, which requires living in the same place for the school year.
Maasai cattle raising is reaching its limits. Parts of Tanzania look arid, like the American southwest. Sometimes there isn’t enough water for all the cattle. The government encourages the Maasai to sell their cattle, but they resist parting with their wealth.
Some Maasai, like our host, embrace education. But we see many school-aged Maasai boys herding cattle and goats. Bridging cultures can be very hard.
After the game drive to the hippo pool, our guides told us that the local Maasai were holding a ceremony that evening. The camp asked the Maasai if our safari members could attend, including women. The Maasai ceremony is normally for males only. That evening we were told that we could attend!
We drove to a distant kopje and were led into a broad cave formed by a granite overhang. The top and back of the cave are blackened by many fires. The cave is surrounded by thorny branches, with a large thorny branch for the door.
Four Maasai adults greeted us. John spoke, and our guide Felix translated. John is dressed in blue, and Felix is in green. John is a Maasai elder and a camp employee. Lucas, who guarded us on bush walks, is the second Maasai from the right. Here’s what I recall, but there are probably errors and gaps in my understanding.
In the Maasai culture, males pass through several levels as they progress from boy to elder. Training is required to progress to the next level. The Maasai hold the training in this cave. A ceremony marks successful passage to the next level.
Boys are being trained to go to the next level, which I believe is morani or warrior. The boys were here in the afternoon, but they aren’t here now. Boys pay goats as tuition for the training. One goat for every two days of training.
The Maasai roasted a goat for us.
The Maasai eat communally, with each person sharing each cut of meat. They start by offering honored guests the best part — the liver. They invited every one to take part, telling us we could pass.
I wanted to try the goat, but I don’t like liver, eating it only when there’s nothing else and then smothering it in ketchup. I took a piece of liver and managed to eat it in several bits, hopefully with a smile on my face. After the liver, they served a foreleg, a hindleg, and ribs. The rest of the goat was very good!
They prepared a red soup. If they explained what was in the soup, I missed it. Then they served the soup. I had read that the Maasai diet consists primarily of blood and milk, with meat for special occasions.
I took a cup of soup. It was watery and a little bitter. Hopefully the red is from tree bark and not blood.
Last year ten of us had a dish called bo ssam at a New York restaurant called Momofuku Ssam Bar. Bo ssam is a roasted pork shoulder with a salt/sugar glaze. A Korean-inspired dish, you shred the pork at the table, wrap the pork in lettuce, and put toppings on it. It was delicious and more than ten people could eat.
We decided to try bo ssam at home. David Chang, owner and chef of Momofuku, wrote a Momofuku cook book, which we borrowed from the library.
We followed the recipe, with two changes. First, the recipe calls for 1/4 cup sherry vinegar. We had trouble finding sherry vinegar, so we substituted with a combination of white vinegar and balsamic vinegar. Second, the recipe calls for roasting the pork for six hours, basting every hour. Instead we used a large covered pot that automatically bastes the meat. From experience with other dishes, moist cooking with the pot reduces the cooking time, so we cooked an 8-pound shoulder roast for 3 3/4 hours.
The meat turned out fine. Here’s the meal as served.
The pork shoulder pulled away from the bone during roasting, and it has an attractive sugar glaze. We use tongs to shred and serve the pork. The butter lettuce is ready for wrapping the pork and sauces. Sauces in the foreground are a chile oil, pureed kim chee, and a ginger-scallion sauce. Fleur de sel is available, but the pork is salty enough. In the background are kim chee and pickled cucumber and turnip.
The meal was tasty without being too overpowering. And we don’t eat Korean food that often.
As a note to cooks, we used a French pot, called a cocotte, for the bo ssam. We first saw cocottes two years ago in Paris, at a restaurant called Les Cocottes. Like Les Cocottes, we use a Staub cocotte, a very heavy cast iron-enameled, covered casserole, with a black interior (doesn’t show discoloration through use) and spikes on the lid to automatically baste during cooking.