Thursday, March 29, 2012

Visit to a Maasai Village

We got there early, in the Maasai Mara, to make a visit to a village.  This is one way the people there make a little money, money they spend on things like their own well for clean drinking water.  They have also built and staffed a school for their children.

Many of the adults met us outside the brush "walls" of the village to sing us a welcome song.  It really was very moving.

They are beautiful, these Maasai.  They dress in red, in many patterns, and they adorn themselves in beaded jewelry that the women make.  They are very talented and their jewelry is beautiful.

The white necklaces with the shiny bits dangling are, I believe, marriage necklaces---a Maasai wedding 'ring.'

This gentleman showed us how he can start a fire by turning a stick from the top to the bottom, rotating the stick very quickly, to create a spark.  He caught the spark in some fluffy plant material and carefully blew on it to produce a flame.  From that point to a true fire was a matter of a few seconds (for him!).  I  have tried to start a fire that very same way, way back in my Girl Scouting days.  It can be done, but it takes a lot of work!  You  have to be patient and careful and it takes much moving of your hands down the rotating stick, over and over, to get that spark.  This man made it look like child's play, which it was to him.  I remember how hard it was, how long it took me and I was impressed.  He liked that.

These are the homes of the villagers.  They are very dark inside, with a small hearth.  I don't think the villagers spend much time inside, except to cook and sleep, but the house I visited was very tidy and organized but extremely small.  I realize that Americans live in huge houses, for the most part, by the standards of most of the rest of the world, but these homes were truly tiny and it was hard to imagine how a whole family could sleep inside.

At night, the Maasai herd their cattle inside the brush walls of the village, to protect them from predators.  The thorn bushes used are very spiky and sharp, and quite high, but occasionally a lion will leap the wall to attack the cattle inside.

Here is a sampling of the amazing beaded jewelry and one small dish that was for sale in the village. That's another way each family makes some much needed cash.  I love their beaded work so much!

The Maasai count cattle as their wealth.  They believe that all the cattle in the world belong to them.  I'm not quite sure how this works, there being cattle almost everywhere, but that is their belief.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Things that Fly in Africa

Well, okay, these weaver's nests don't fly.  But the weaver birds do.

I really hate to admit this, having just returned from my Africa trip and having had the pleasure of having a professor along who is a birder, a professional birder, who knew what was what, and who was who and he would kindly tell you---if you asked.   And I asked.  And immediately forgot!  It was, truly, like my brain was made of Swiss cheese and I just could not keep the name of any of these beautiful birds straight.

Yes.  Yes, I know.  I do know this is an ostrich.  I don't know where exactly I thought one would find an ostrich in the wild, but the fact that they have a big presence in Kenya and Tanzania never crossed my mind.  (The one made of Swiss cheese.)

I do remember these, above, are some sort of Egyptian geese.

This little plump cutie?  Nary a clue.  I'd rather you just thought me dull and stupid rather than a faker who just threw out likely sounding names when I truly wasn't sure.  And, who knows, I have probably identified some of these incorrectly.  For which, if I have, I am really sorry.  I am just not a bird name rememberer.

This big one was a hawk.  I think.  A Harrier hawk?

This is a superb starling.  That is one I remember.  I mean, honestly, who could forget the  name of such a glorious bird?

 This magnificent hunter, a ????, was so lovely in flight.

Don't know.  Don't remember, but they were iridescent and beautiful!

Remember this one?  Splendid starling....

This is a yellow bird and...

....these are storks!  Flew all the way from Europe to winter in the warmth of Africa.
Hmmmm....we saw quite a few of these guys.  Can't remember....mating display....remember that from the big red splotch on its breast....reminded me of a frigate bird, the ones I saw in the Galapagos...but it's not a frigate bird.  I don't know!  I don't remember.  But I do remember how impressed with his coloring and I do remember I was at Lake Manyara.

To all you birders out there, forgive me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


We were very lucky while on safari as we saw hippos several times, twice in places where we could overlook them from safety outside of the safari vehicles.  Hippos are among the most dangerous animals in Africa.  They are notoriously grumpy and ill-tempered and they can and do kill people.  What I found most surprising is that they are very fast and can outrun a man.  

They look like they would be slow and easy to escape, but this is not so.  They are especially dangerous in water, if, say,  you are floating by in your flimsy little canoe.  They can easily over-turn a boat.  They are big, too.  Much bigger than I'd expected.

A bull hippo will control a stretch of river and he and his harem (females and babies) will all congregate together in the water during the day.  They sunburn easily, so you'll find them in mud holes or mostly submerged in rivers.

The hippos leave the river (or lake or mangrove) in the evening and graze on grass at night.  They do not graze in herds as they are solitary diners.

If there is a smellier herd of animals, I don't know what they could be....nor do I want to be down wind of them.  This large group of hippos truly stank!

They certainly seem to enjoy their naps.

Do you remember the ballet dancing hippos in Walt Disney's Fantasia?  They were much cuter in that film than they are in reality.  Smelly, aggressive and territorial, they just aren't terribly attractive animals.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Birthday Stunner

My DH floored me today.  For my birthday he gifted me these beautiful earrings, these amazingly beautiful earrings.  He knows I'm a "pearl girl" and he surprised me (boy howdy, did he ever!!!) with these magnificent earrings.  Which, by the way, are too fine for me....

And then he gave me my real gift, the special hold-to-your-heart-and-cherish-always gift.  He said, mostly sincerely, "You are a pearl beyond price."

And, you know what Dear Reader?  I pretty much believed he meant it.  Mostly.  Bless his heart.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


 Oh, my, but we did see a whole lot of giraffes while on safari.  In fact, we saw giraffes right in Nairobi, at the Giraffe Center.  We also saw giraffes on our drive from the Nairobi airport to our hotel.  There is a national park in Nairobi!  It's the only city in the world with a national park attached.  (Unless I was ill informed....)

Nonie getting ready to feed a giraffe at the Giraffe Center, Nairobi
We saw mostly G. c. tippelskirchi, known as Maasai giraffes, which are found in Kenya and Tanzania.  We also saw some G. c. reticulata, which are commonly called reticulated giraffe.  To be honest, I couldn't tell one subspecies from another!

I think giraffe hide patterns are beautiful.  The shading is subtle but elegant.  Why don't you see more (faux!) giraffe hide designs in fashion and home furnishings?

Giraffes can not ever lie down.  If they do, they die.  It has to do with blood flow and neck length and heart pressure.  It causes a brain hemorrhage.  They do kneel down, to sleep or eat from short shrubs, but they never lie down.  This does make a rather rude introduction to the world for new born giraffes as they fall about four feet to the ground.

Giraffes are beautiful just standing still, but to see one galloping through the tall grass is stunning.  They are both elegant and graceful, and gangly and odd, all at the same time.

I have become very fond of giraffes.  They are intriguing and interesting and they have beautiful eyes.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Elephants and a Tale of Billy the Bully

Everywhere we went in the Kenya and Tanzania reserves and parks we were lucky enough to see elephants.  We saw single males off by themselves and we saw big groups of females with their offspring.

An elephant in the wild is truly magnificent.  They are graceful, surprisingly so, and quiet.  They can be very expressive.  By watching an elephant's ears you can judge their mood.  (Reminded me of how I could always tell my cat's mood by his ears....same thing with elephants, especially if you are an experienced elephant observer.)

Many elephant herds move back and forth long distances each day.  In the Ngorongoro the herds of females and young would spend the day down in the crater, near the watering holes and the long, tasty grass and then return to the hillsides in the evenings.  Back and forth, each day.

The female elephants will often put themselves between a safari vehicle and their young, protecting them from the interlopers.  This is the same behavior they use with any threat, real or perceived, to their babies.

And this brings us to the tale of Billy the Bully, a young male elephant who adores playing, bullying and beating up his long-suffering older sister......

Billy was first spotted as he chased this older juvenile female into and out of a stand of shrubs.  Crashing and running, they "galloped" around and around, in and out of the shrubs.  Billy was always the aggressor.

When he caught up to his sister, he'd poke her in the back end with his tusks and head butt her bottom.

Then he would smack her repeatedly with is truck.  He'd smack her side and then smack her ears.    She would be making an effort to avoid him, but she never turned on him or used her larger size to put an end to this bullying behavior.

Billy finally ended up just pulling her tail.  Our driver was trying to tell us that he was just holding onto her tail to "follow" along, but he was truly pulling on it.  It was just another way to be a bully!

He was really good at being the obnoxious little brother.