So many ups and downs in the span of a few short days! While meetings with Tanzania Mennonites and seeing where Mom grew up were amazing, attempting (and only sometimes succeeding) to enter Tanzania wildlife parks has been a huge headache. We learned, the hard way of course, that you can't enter Serengeti National Park in a non-Tanzanian vehicle. (We hired a van and driver in Nairobi.) Turns out our Kenyan driver would have to maintain a year-round Tanzanian tourism permit which is extremely expensive and would only occasionally be useful to him. (Frustratingly, no one at the park entrance was able to tell us that. They finally got around to informing us that we had to get the permit in Arusha and they're not open Sundays anyway.) So we had no other choice but to drive around the park, which is more than twice the distance as driving through. We finally made it to Karatu after nearly 17 hours on roads that were sometimes paved, but often not. So much brown snot...
We did get into Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, but only after returning to town to get cash from an ATM. (Despite the agreeing information of multiple guidebooks, you can NOT pay your $400-plus park entrance fee with a credit card. Cash only.) And once in, we saw amazing animals, including 5 lions, elephants, zebras, flamingos and many more. It almost made us forget how difficult it was to get in in the first place! ;)
On the flip side, visiting places my mom lived as a child was even cooler than anticipated (and I've been looking forward to this for a long time.) My grandparents worked for the Mennonite church in western Tanzania for more than 30 years and my mother was born in Musoma and lived in Tanzania until the age of 15. One of the main reasons for our trip was to visit her old home areas, places she hadn't seen for nearly 30 years, and places we had only known in stories. Over four days, we visited the hospital in Shirati where my mom's four brothers were born and where my step-grandmother worked fashioning prosthetic legs for leprosy patients, schools my grandfather helped found and administrate, the boarding school my mom attended as a child at Nyarero, the house she lived in between the ages of 7 and 15 in Bumangi, and various other related landmarks in and around Musoma, Shirati, Nyarero, Bukiroba, and Bumangi. Without fail, we were met with a welcoming committee that once included an entire Mennonite congregation and a youth choir, and other times just kind-hearted people who made time to walk with us and point out places of interest. In Bumangi, our welcome included gifts from the congregation, a meal, and a beautiful concert by the youth choir that I wanted to never end. After eating, they called each member of the family forward and a group of ululating women surrounded each of us in turn and wrapped us in African cloth. Phil even got a chicken! I'm still not sure why, but they gave him a chicken. (We later traded it for two watermelons in Musoma, which we enjoyed eating more than chicken anyway.)
We were touched by how many people still remembered my grandparents and how richly we were welcomed and honored as their descendents. This will certainly remain the highlight of our time in Tanzania. Tomorrow we go to Amani Nature Reserve and see where Phil does his research. Hopefully also will get to go looking for chameleons!