Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Saturday, 29 November 2008

A climber shares his observations on Mt. Kilimanjaro

When I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro three months ago, I shared the ordeal (it used to be an ordeal, not anymore) with Le Hu Dyuong, a software engineer from Vietnam. He shares his observations and his photographs of the climb:
Although it does not have the highest elevation, Kilimanjaro is the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, rising from its base to the highest Uhuru Peak at 5,895m (19,340ft) in Africa. Everest and other Himalayan peaks rise from an already high plateau.
The origin of the name "Kilimanjaro" was never satisfactorily explained. One theory, more or less adopted by early European explorers postulates that it comes from ancient Swahili 'Kilima' (hill, little mountain) and 'Njaro' (white, shining). As to why the diminutive word Kilima is used instead of the proper word for mountain 'Mlima' is anybody's guest.

Anyone who has seen Kilimanjaro at sunset or sunrise will tell you that it's a magical experience. As I was admiring the numerous views of 'Kili' during my climb all the

way to the top, I also felt a rather poignant irony: the magnificent scenery unrolling before my eyes, a majestic sight, is only a fraction of its original glory...

Perhaps more than any other sight in Africa, and indeed the world, Kilimanjaro has come to symbolize the tragic fate which many of the wonders of the world have been facing due to the devastating effect of global warming.

When Ernest Hemingway wrote The Snows of Kilimanjaro, he probably could never have imagined that some day, the title of his short story would become obsolete: with the most recent ice cap volume dropping by more than 80 percent, it is estimated that the famous snow dome of Africa's highest peak will disappear between 2015 and 2020!

The consequence is more than aesthetic: the glaciers have been the sources of water for the surrounding plains of cultivation all the way to the swamps at Amboseli National Park in Kenya, famous for its elephants bathing in the swamps.

Mt. Kenya, Africa's second tallest peak which provides water for almost 80 percent of the Kenyan population shares a similar predicament. During my recent climb of both mountains I observed vast tracts of barren rocks exposed by the once glorious glaciers which now exist only in old photographs.

Let us take a short moment of our busy daily lives to reflect on what we can do, no matter how insignificant the action may seem, to preserve the magic of our natural heritage and the beauty of our blue planet for future generations.

- Le, Kilimanjaro 2008

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Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Visitors to Butiama

Students of Chief Ihunyo Secondary School of Busegwe, a village near Butiama, pose near the Mausoleum of Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere (1922 - 1999) during a recent visit to Butiama.

Students from as far away as Kenya frequently visit the village of Butiama, which is also where the Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere Museum (photo below) is located.

The Museum contains exhibits and information on Tanzania's founding president.

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Sunday, 23 November 2008

Letter from Butiama: The modern day "witch"

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011.
Whether you are superstitious or not, witchcraft is unavoidable in most African societies. The village of Butiama is no exception.

Last May* an alleged witch, who I will call Mystio, was expelled from Butiama by villagers who accused him of harbouring and supplying zombies to clients. It is believed that zombies provide labour on farms as well as for some professional occupations.

An employee of the hospital whose colleague, a doctor, died recently says his colleague now runs a dispensary in the mystical world of the deceased. The dispensary is understaffed and the expelled "witch" is the suspected head-hunter.

Mystio had the habit of carrying out normal activity during unusual hours. When most villagers were getting ready for bed he would order masons to resume construction of his house during hours that, coincidentally, those legendary assistants of witches - hyenas and owls - are also said to be particularly active.

It is interesting that one of the masons who for a time also built Mystio's house at night told me there is no better time for construction; at night there are no idlers who tend to slow down the pace of construction by engaging him in conversation. The mason quit after receiving a stern warning from members of the council of elders, abanyikura.
The elders then summoned Mystio and asked him to justify his unusual working hours. He was asked to carry on with construction during the day like everyone else and heeded for a while but later changed his mind and resumed nighttime construction. He received another summons from the elders but not only did he ignore to attend he also threatened to send the group of old men to jail if they persisted. If true, it was a fatal mistake. The council of elders is a powerful traditional institution. You just don't wish them away, let alone threaten them.

Abanyikura are the equivalent of a government. Mystio was treading on dangerous waters. In retaliation, the wanyikura began to apply sanctions. No one was allowed to talk to him. Anyone breaking the sanction was liable to a fine, usually a cow, depending on the circumstances surrounding the breach. The effects of such a sanction in an urban environment is laughable, but in a village, where social interaction is necessary for most activities, social sanctions can be devastating. I was told a shop owner was reprimanded by the elders after he sold telephone recharge vouchers to Mystio.

"He should have just heeded the call by the elders, accepted to pay a fine, and switch back to daytime construction. He would still be around," commented the mason. There would have been no excuse to expel him. He ignored the elders and created fertile ground for the suspicious to campaign for his expulsion.

If you consider that the local variety of a witch is depicted as an extremely fearless and cruel being, roaming the night in search of victims and, more often than not, on the back of a hyena as the preferred mode of transport, I found Mystio to be a very poor specimen. One evening, I was driving back from Musoma and was flagged down by a group of people standing next to a pick up truck. I recognized him among the group and stopped the car. He explained to me they were on their way to Musoma, but after finding large boulders blocking the road on a spot I had passed just before reaching them, they hastily retreated fearing an ambush by armed bandits.

They asked whether I found the boulders on the road. I had not seen any boulders and told them it was likely that after their retreat the "bandits" had probably dispersed fearing that an alarm will be raised.

Some of the passengers found my explanation reassuring and began attempts to persuade the driver to drive through the same spot onward to Musoma. The only person who decided that heading to Musoma was not only potentially risky but highly irresponsible was the alleged witch, and he hitched a ride with me back to Butiama.


Saturday, 15 November 2008

America, in black and white

There was some worry that the election of Senator Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States might elicit a rise in assassination threats against him. That has come to pass, although reports suggest that any US president-elect, regardless of race, usually receives death threats.

Race itself is actually an overrated word that receives more attention than it deserves. Anthropologists say that there is no pure race in the world today. We are all a mixture of two or more of what we call races.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (1998, Vol.9, p.876) :
The designation "race" has been applied to language groups (the Aryan race), national groups (the Scottish race), religious groups (the Jewish race), and the entire species of humans (the human race), but these usages are biologically and scientifically meaningless.
More from Britannica on the the same subject (1998, Vol.18, p.847):
Very few Americans can claim ancestry from fewer than three nations.
Which makes one wonder why some Americans should be so obsessed with race. Having accepted that race is biologically and scientifically meaningless, I use the words "white", "black", and "race" only to simplify comprehension of this post.

Which brings me to the question: why should someone who has a white mother and a black father be categorised as black? A sibling inherits an equal proportion of genes from each parent so why should half-"white" become "black" and not "white"? Apparently it has to do with an old legal definition of races in the United States in the days when racial segregation was officially sanctioned. One drop of "black" blood and someone became black. However after 1967 when the US Supreme Court ruled that the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was unconstitutional the one drop rule became illegal. But it continues to have widespread use in American society, explaining why the media continues to report Obama as the first elected black president.

Race remains a hot issue in the United States, but the election of Obama suggests that demographic shifts are altering how Americans view this divisive question. Obama did not position himself as black but as an American and most of those who voted for him seem to share that view. The US Census Bureau reported blacks accounted for only 12.8 percent of the US population in 2006.

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Saturday, 8 November 2008

The Kilimanjaro Climb on YouTube

Here is my interview in which I answer questions on my experience of my first climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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A friend's friend once asked me, "What is your name?" I said, "Madaraka." And she asked, "Mada-what?" I suspected then that I probably have a very long name.

However, I was surprised to learn there are other worthy contenders.

The longest last name:

The Longest word in a major dictionary:


I believe my friend's friend would have asked, "Wolfeschlegelst-what?"

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

German treasures?

In Tanzania there are several spots, such as this one near Butiama (photo, below), with unexplained marks on rocks. The unconfirmed explanation given by some reveals that the signs were made by German colonialists who were in Tanganyika between 1891 and 1919. The Germans supposedly marked spots where they hid treasures.

The marks near Butiama appear to have been made a long time ago. They consist of two crosses, a few feet apart. A few years ago at a similar spot near this one in a cave some villagers were killed while trying to excavate what they believed to be hidden treasures.

I recall meeting someone in Dar es Salaam more than a decade ago who asked me to finance "an expedition" to Kondoa in central Tanzania to blow up by dynamite another spot with similar marks and believed to contain mineral treasures. I declined the offer.

Influenced by the few alien movies I have seen, I harbour the expectation that underneath these crosses near Butiama there are hidden beacons that will one day guide intergalactic visitors to Butiama. Butiama's residents probably stand a higher chance sighting an unidentified flying object over these marks than of becoming rich from discovering hidden German treasures.

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Saturday, 1 November 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 10 of 10)

After breakfast we took a group photo and began what was for me another difficult descent to Mweka Gate. On the way a group of girls passed us and one said, "I will never do this again." I understood exactly how she felt.

About 200m before reaching the gate we were met by drivers from Zara Tanzania Adventures who had walked up to find out whether we were too tired to walk the remaining part. We declined the offer to take a ride in the car. It would have stained a great adventure.

Allowing the body to gradually get used to lower altitudes as one descends is just as important as allowing the body to adjust to higher altitudes as one ascends. Apparently, the effects of high altitude take a while to wear off. At a souvenir shop at Mweka Gate Le picked up a cap inscribed with the words Hifadhi za Taifa and asked me to translate. I couldn't remember the English translation and turned to the Kilimanjaro National Park officials for help.

"National Parks", one said and I said, "Off course, how could I forget that!" His remark: "That's okay, it's normal. Your brains are still frozen." He gave me a compelling reason to avoid sleeping at the Crater Camp next time.

Now about the title of this blog: I quit smoking the first year I decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro because I was worried smoking would reduce my chance of reaching the peak.

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