Sunday, March 28, 2010

Finally! Episode 25 is live!

It's been a long 3 weeks, but at last there is a new episode of Dreaming of Deliverance up for your listening enjoyment!

Thanks so much for you patience!

A small photo appetizer!

I uploaded my Africa pictures--all 2000 of them! It's going to take a while to sort through them all and figure out which ones I want to keep and share, but here's one to whet your appetite. It's a black faced monkey. They are very cute and this one was part of a group that we watched playing and foraging for a long time. They are extremely entertaining! They do have a surprising physical feature (well, the males do) that isn't visible in this picture. Think sky blue Easter eggs, and you'll get the idea. Once I finish going through the pictures I'll show you what I mean.

More soon!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Meeting the Maasai

It probably won't surprise you to learn that I was not looking forward to the visit to the Maasai village. Part of that was not knowing what to expect, and part of it was the photo issue I mentioned in earlier entries. It just seemed to me that either they have a spiritual problem with having their photo taken, or they don't. If they don't, why make an issue of it? And if they do, does receiving money really counter-act a spiritual objection?

But I was more uncomfortable about the idea than opposed to it, so when the time came I climbed out of the Land Rover along with the rest of my group to meet the son of the chief. He was dressed traditionally, smiled welcomely, and spoke excellent English. He told us to take all the pictures we wanted--actually we were told that over and over again, and I did end up taking some. Then he led us into the interior of the village.

Okay, here's where I have to go on a little digression. It wasn't really a "village"--it was smaller than that--a group of huts and a cattle pen all belonging to one family. Since one man can have many wives, it ends up being a substantial group of people, but it's not technically called a village. I'd remembered the term being something like "boda", and after spending 30 minutes googling to try to find it, all I could come up with was "enkang" from this link: The Destiny of the Maasai. But the link also says that the Maasai don't have villages, and according to the people we met, they do. They even pointed out their village in a nearby valley. So now I don't know what to think! (Edited to add: The term I couldn't remember is "boma". Thanks, Peggy!)

The huts were surrounded by a wooden fence and arranged in a circle with the cattle pen in the center. After we went inside the fence, a group of Maasai began singing and dancing to welcome us. A couple of people from our group joined them. It was all interesting, but a little awkward and even the Maasai didn't seem completely into the whole thing.

Once the dance was finished, the chief's son told us to divide into groups of two and a Maasai would guide us around. My roommate and I paired up and were met by our guide "Kennedy (I'm guessing that's not his only name). Like the cheif's son, Kennedy spoke great English. In fact most of the young men of the village seemed to speak and understand English (but not the women.)

The tour consisted of Kennedy leading us around the village while the rest of the Maasai, hung back and watched us with serious expressions on their faces. First he showed us a hut being built--a stick frame half-covered by a cow manure mixture that had hardened into the hut's sides. He also took us inside one of the finished huts. It was very dark and very smoky from the small fire that smoldered constantly within. Kennedy told us to take a picture, so I did, but I had no idea what I was shooting since I couldn't really see anything. Then he led us out again, and the tour was basically over.

No one said anything to us, but it became pretty clear that the next thing for us to do was browse around looking at all of the jewelry and other Maasai-made items that had been draped over the fence of the cattle pen. I'm not much of a shopper under the best of circumstances, and didn't really know where to start. My roommate was interested in buying a spear, so she asked Kennedy questions about them, while I circled around the cattle pen trying to find something for my kids.

Before long I'd chosen a beaded bracelet for my daughter, and a necklace with a carved bone pendant for my son (he'd wanted a lion's tooth, and this sort of looked like one), and once I'd paid, I was more than ready to leave. I'm not sure why I was so uncomfortable there and I'm a little ashamed at my reaction. Maybe it's because I'm usually pretty in-tune with what's going on with people--I spend a lot of energy reading others' attitudes and body language. With people so different from me, it was hard to get a handle on what was going on with them. Also, I'm basically an introvert and so trying to interact with people I didn't know much about was difficult. But whatever the reason, I didn't want to linger so I left the huts to wait by the car while the rest of the group finished up with their tours and shopping.

As I often do when I have a little time to myself, I decided to read. So I leaned against one of the Land Rovers and pulled out my Kindle. After a few minutes, the chief's son came up to me and asked me what I was doing. So I showed him the Kindle and the screen with my list of books. The one he zeroed in on was, of all things, the dictionary. The dictionary is one of my favorite Kindle features and I told him about how easy it is to look up words as I read them. He asked me to look up his name, so I did (it wasn't in there), then he left and I returned to my reading.

A couple of minutes later a group of 5 or so young Maasai men came up to me. One of them was holding a small piece of paper that was covered with cramped writing in blue ball-point pen. He told me that he'd been keeping a list of English words and wondered if I would look them up for him in my dictionary.

Now here's when everything changed for me and all my awkwardness and discomfort evaporated. I love words. I love talking about words. It didn't matter that we came from such different places, we had words in common.

But talk about a strange experience! Standing outside on a sunny day near Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, reading my electronic book, then talking about words with a group of young Maasai men in tribal dress! That's not something that happens every day!

Are you curious about the words they wanted me to look up? I was certainly surprised by them. Here are the ones I can remember:

tailor made

Not exactly what you'd expect. Where did the list come from? I don't know. If I had to guess I'd say they were words they'd come across while learning English. They certainly spoke it well, and clearly were also learning to read and write English. But I loved how much they wanted to understand. I often substitute teach at the local high school and these young Maasai were around the same age as the kids I sub. I can't imagine American teenagers being so eager to expand their vocabulary that they'd carry around a list of words they didn't know, and then approach a foreign, almost 40-year-old woman and ask her to help them learn. But these guys did just that.

We had to leave before I was able to look up everything on their list, but they were very appreciative and it certainly put the whole encounter in a new light for me and gave me lots to think about.

You expect to visit people who live without all the modern conveniences we take for granted and either think, "Wow, I'm so thankful for what I have," or maybe, "Gee, I wish I could live more simply." After visiting the Maasai, I am thankful for all I have. If I had to list everything in my life that I probably don't appreciate enough, I never would have considered the dictionary, but it really is a gift. When I want to know the meaning of a word, I just look it up: online, on my Kindle, or even using my old-fashioned, hard-bound American Heritage Collegiate Dictionary. Those young Maasai men didn't have any of those options. And the fact that they were so interested in learning the meanings of words--interested enough for the chief's son to know about it and bring them to me so they could take advantage of my Kindle and its dictionary, absolutely fascinates me. It was one of those rare moments in life that is both surprising and incredibly touching. I still smile to think about it.

I'm so glad I was able to connect with those Maasai young men over words, and I'm very impressed with their desire to learn and the way they took the initiative to find out what they wanted to know. I hadn't been very enthusiastic about visiting the Maasai, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip to Tanzania.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Home Again

Hello, everyone!

After 30.5 hours of flying, airport time, and driving I arrived home again last night. It is great to be back with my kids and husband, but I can't help feeling somewhat wistful that my Tanzanian adventure is over. It couldn't have been better (with the exception of the migraine at the beginning, of course), and I would do it again in a second! My head is spinning with the memories of everything I experienced.

Soon I will start going through the 2000+ pictures I took throughout the 11 days, and then I will be able to share some of those images with you (no where near 2000, I promise!).

And very soon, later today I hope, I will write a detailed description of my encounter with the Maasai.

But right now, I need to respond to an oh-so-familiar request: "I'm hungry".

It's been over two weeks--I hope I still remember how to make breakfast!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Making Connections

I have even less time this morning than usual, so I'm going to make this brief. We leave in 48 minutes for our last day on safari. We stayed near Lake Manyara last night and saw lots more great animals. My favorites were the black-faced monkeys. They are so cute and a group of them, including several babies, played, foraged, etc. so close to where we were parked watching them. Once again I probably took way too many pictures, but it's hard to stop photographing so many great moments!

But the highlight by far was the trip to the Maasai village. I'm not going to say much about it right now because I just don't have enough time to adequately describe what happened, but I ended up making a connection with some people with such a different life from the one I lead, and it was quite an incredible feeling. It didn't happen during the official tour, but afterward. Nice tease, huh? I will tell you all about it soon, I promise!

I think making connections is so important not only in real life, but in storytelling as well. I wrote something here about my experiences as a first-timer to Tanzania that all fit together really well. I don't mean to brag, other writers I know can relate--sometimes what you are doing all connects perfectly and it's so exciting when it does.
That's something else, however, that I'll have to tell you more about in a future entry, because we leave in 1/2 an hour for Tarangire National Park ( and I still need to grab some breakfast.

More soon!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Go warthogs!

I'm up early this morning. I haven't been sleeping very well on this trip. I think it's because I always have so much swirling around in my head, from all I've seen, and it's keeping me awake. Also, we aren't getting a lot of exercise. Since we're spending our days driving and you can't go out for a run, say, once you get to the lodge. At pretty much every place we've stayed there is the potential to see animals right on the hotel grounds. After dark you're supposed to have someone from the hotel escort you to your room in case you meet anything threatening. But I'm not super tired, so I'm not worrying about it.

Yesterday, was my favorite day here so far--and that's saying a lot. This Ngorongoro Caldera (look, one r! I'm getting it!) is absolutely incredible. We are lucky, apparently. Doug and Nancy Van Howd, who are leading our group, have been here many times over the past 12 years and they say they've never seen it so lush and green. So it has that going for it, in addition to all of the wildlife.

As we descended we saw an elephant family. There were maybe 30 of them and they were foraging among those trees I told you about yesterday--the ones that had been knocked down. Behind them was a mountain with clouds breaking over the top. In front of them, right near the road, was a huge male elephant with one broken tusk. I could watch elephants all day. They are simply fascinating, the way they move and the way they relate to each other. It was a fantastic spot for a photo and I took lots. And boy is it something to have this immense animal so close! The guide said to be very quiet and not to make any sudden movements because sometimes an elephant will charge the car! We were very obedient, and he didn't seem to be bothered by us, just kept pulling grass with his trunk and putting it in his mouth.

We got to see so much, yesterday, there's no time to tell you everything. (I'm already 1/2-way through my computer time.) It rained some in the morning and instead of ruining the excursion it made it better because the animals were much more active. One of my favorite moments was watching a zebra scratch himself against this rock that was right near the road. He scratched his belly and his neck and the side of his head--getting into lots of uncomfortable-looking positions in order to reach everything. After a little while he was done and moved on and no more than a minute later a warthog comes over to the same rock and starts scratching himself! It was awesome! The rest of the day we kept noticing these rocks with bare dirt rings around them, clearly used by the animals as "scratching rocks". We never would have noticed if we hadn't seen them in action!

The warthogs are so cool! Later in the day we were stopped near a herd of zebra and wildebeest and a warthog family with a couple of adults and about 7 piglets. At one point a hyena appeared and started freaking all the animals out. We were worried too after seeing hyenas chomp down on that baby wildebeest carcass yesterday. And everywhere the hyena went, the animals broke and ran, giving it lots of space. With one exception. The warthogs! I took a great picture of a mama warthog, all her babies behind here, facing down the hyena. It was so impressive! The hyena was completely intimidated and ended up backing off. Go warthogs! (Although I realize hyenas have their place and are part of the ecosystem here, yadda, yadda, yadda. Still, I can't help rooting for their prey!)

We also saw some adorable golden jackal cubs, a mound of elephant poop covered with fluttering yellow and white butterflies, and the highlight, a rhino! I added many, many pictures to my almost filled-up 8 gig memory card! There are two safari days left and I have 500+ pictures remaining. I'm going to have to ration myself!

Today we are off to Manara (sp?). And we are going to a Maasai village on the way. I haven't decided yet about taking their picture...

More soon!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Best Caldera Ever!

Okay, so it's the only caldera I've ever experienced but Ngorongoro Crater _is_ spectacular!

It took us a few hours to drive here. We could see the mountain off in the distance, however. A caldera is like a crater, but bigger. ( This one is a huge bowl. The rim, where we are staying is at 7800 feet in elevation, while the floor is closer to 6000. The edges of Ngorongoro are forested and they remind me of Costa Rica more than anything I've seen here in Tanzania yet. There are vines and lots of vegetation. Although in some places elephants have knocked the trees over and what's left are just thin, twisted trunks. I thought there had been a fire a few years ago to leave them like that. But no. Our guide explained that mother elephants knock the trees over so their babies can reach the tops.

But I'm getting ahead of myself! On our drive here we saw more of the migration. It was incredible because we kept driving and driving and the wildebeest and zebra were constantly there. I know I have way too many wildebeest pictures, but it's just so interesting seeing them especially when a big line of them charges across the road in front of you and keeps coming and coming. You have to wait for a break before you can drive across!

We also saw the Maasai people for the first time, out walking, carrying firewood, and tending their goats and cattle. Wow! I've seen pictures of them before, but like everything else here, it doesn't compare to seeing them "live" so to speak. They wear colorful draped clothing, have these amazing earrings and live in huts set in circles surrounded by a thorny branched barrier (anyone who watched Survivor Africa probably remembers what that barrier looks like). I don't think I'm going to take any pictures of them, however. Most Maasai don't want their pictures taken and apparently there are some who will let you if you pay them, but it still feels somewhat wrong to me. I'm not sure why.

The descent into the crater was phenomenal. The best way I can describe it is bands of color. The lighter green of the grass, the darker green of the marsh, a swath of pink flamingos, silver shining water, the dark sides of the crater, and the blue sky filled with huge white puffy clouds. And once you're in the crater (I keep typing "crater", but I mean "caldera" I'm rushing with this once again so I'm not going to go back and fix it!) the animals come up to the car much closer than they have in the other places we've visited. They are used to the cars here, and don't perceive them as a threat. It's a very isolated protected place so there isn't much movement of animals from inside to outside and vice-versa. I was able to take a ostrich picture and did see a few rhino off in the distance, but didn't take any photos because they just would have been white blobs. We are hoping to see them clearer today.

Highlights of Ngorongoro so far include watching a pack of hyenas tear into a baby wildebeest carcass. We didn't see the actual kill, but another car from our group did and said it was quite a traumatic site. We also saw a huge group of vultures tear into a buffalo carcass. (I guess if the last blog entry theme was romance, this one is carcasses!) We also saw lots of crowned cranes, which are stunning (, hippos, zebra, lions, a huge male elephant, and lots of birds. They are so much fun to watch, and the setting, those bands of color, make for some beautiful pictures.

I have to dash since I'm almost out of computer time and I want to get some breakfast before another day here. Yay! Another day here!

Thanks so much for the comments. I'm glad you're enjoying reading about it all! :o)

More soon.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

One mass, thousands of individuals

Hello from Nbutu Safari Lodge in the southern Serengeti! There is so much to report, but again I must keep this short because I don't have a lot of computer time.

I have been in the Serengeti for a week now, and have taken well over 1000 pictures! I wish I could show a few to you here. But connections are slow. It reminds me of when I had dial-up! Once I'm home, I'll upload some of the highlights.

Right now 'the migration' is passing near Nbutu--thousands of wildebeest and zebras moving across the plains. It is an overwhelming site! Yesterday I also had the privilege to see a male lion in his prime striding along looking all tough and 'don't mess with me'. There were also two female lions guarding cubs and he didn't see them, but they sure saw him and were on full alert until he passed out of sight. He was their alpha male, but since their cubs were so young (we didn't see these cubs, but I have seen some from another pride--SO cute!) they try to stay away from him until the cubs are old enough to go along with the pride.

We also saw hyenas mating! It's quite different from the lion encounter from the other day. They have very different styles. Perhaps I'll go into more detail about it later. I did get some photos of it (feeling a little creepy to be taking pictures of such a private moment ;o) but they might be too graphic for the blog!

At the end of the day we saw some cheetahs hiding in the grass. Wow, are they ever gorgeous and sleek. I'd hoped to see them take off and chase something, but nothing was around for them to hunt. Also, our guide told us that in this group of four there were three brothers all wooing one female, so their minds were not really on hunting. (Boy, there sure seems to be a romantic theme to this blog entry, doesn't there!)

Today we are moving on to Ngorongoro Crater which is supposed to be absolutely spectacular. It's hard to imagine anything topping what I've seen so far, so I'm intrigued. I'm hoping to see a rhino and some ostriches up close. We've seen the ostriches from a distance, but I haven't gotten any good photos of them yet.

So all is not only well, it's fantastic! I feel great and while I miss my family and friends tremendously, I'm SO glad to be having this incredible experience!

More soon!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Better still!

No time to write an in-depth update. And we're moving on tomorrow, so I'm not sure what the internet facilities will be like at the next place, or when I can next write a good long entry, but I wanted to let you know three things real quick:

1) Thanks so much for the emails! I love hearing from you all. Peggy, I do have Afrin and I will definitely use it before my flights home. And Craig, I also have Vicodin and it does help--I'm glad to have a 2nd medical opinion about that! Mom, Dad, Marlene, Christina, Claire, Lizette: thanks SO much for your sweet emails. I wish I had time to respond individually, but I'm in the hotel's office b/c the other computers weren't working and the phone keeps ringing and they're super nice about me being here but I know I'm in their way so I need to wrap this up.

2) I'm feeling 100 percent now! Yahoo! What a difference!


3) We saw SO many great things today. Again no time to fully explain, but I'll share one small tidbit...

Lions mating.

More soon. :o)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


3/9/10 1:00 pm

I've been wracking my brain trying to think of a positive spin to put on this blog entry. I didn't want to have it full of complaints. It seemed so spoiled and ungrateful of me to have anything negative to say--seeing as how I'm on this incredible trip to Africa. But as of one hour ago it seemed like I'd either have to lie to you or whine about the truth. I was having trouble stretching my imagination to find good things to report.

Not that there's been anything externally wrong--the other people in my group are warm and friendly. My roommate is terrific! She is clearly going to be super easy to live with and I like her a lot. The flights have all been smooth--no lost luggage--everything has been on schedule and gone according to plan. But I have felt like complete crap (sorry Mom and Kara, there's just no other word for it) since about 30 minutes after taking off from San Francisco.

It just stinks! My body is not cooperating with the stresses of travel--and that's putting it mildly. I've been getting over a cold and not long after the first flight left the ground the sinus cavity over my left eye felt like an egg that a giant hand was trying to crush into shards and goo. I couldn't do anything but close my eyes with my hand across my forehead and moan internally.

It hurt so much I couldn't eat and I barely slept the whole 11-hour flight. I took some sudafed, which eventually helped some, but as is typical for me, any head pain whatever the source, tends to morph into a migraine. And three days later, the migraine is still with me.

But I didn't want to tell you this! I wanted it all to be different. So many people have been so excited for me--it sucks that this is what I had to share.

I won't go into great detail about the rest of my trip to the Serengeti. To summarize: the flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro greatly tested my pain-coping skills. And I spent the 90-minute bush plane ride from Kilimanjaro to this tiny airstrip in the western Serengeti with my head leaning against the side of the plane, trying not to hurl.

Zebras and antelope scattered from our path as we touched down and the rest of the group was marveling at it all. I saw the animals out of the half-closed lid of the one eye I allowed myself to open and tried not to cry. I didn't want to feel so miserable here. I didn't want to have to tell you all of this.

So why am I telling you now? Why didn't I gloss over it or make up a fictitious account so I wouldn't sound so gloomy and pathetic? Is it because I'm all better now and can look back on it and laugh? Well, no. Unfortunately the migraine is lingering. (Although I really think it's on it's way out now, and thank god--no more flights for 10 days!)

I'm telling you about what really happened because it all has a happy ending. What I've been seeing and experiencing in the past 90 minutes has totally obliterated everything that came before. Bye bye negativity!

It's green and warm and breezy. Scott, it reminds me of Santa Rosa in the wet season. Peace. Pura Vida.

And the animals! Just on the 20-minute drive from the air strip to Kira Wira Tent Lodge, where we are staying we've seen:

cape buffalo
wart hogs
a fish eagle

That was just during the commute! We weren't even trying! It's a cliche for sure, but it is absolutely magical here. Thank you all who have made it possible!

3:00 pm

Right now I'm sitting on my tent's private veranda with the Serengeti spread out before me in a carpet of various shades of green. All is quiet except for the birds and insects. The sky arches blue overhead; the clouds drift by hugely serene and puffy white.

I miss you all and I wish the trip down here hadn't hurt so much but I don't think I'm going to need to complain anymore. Despite everything that's happened, my expectations of what this trip would be like are exceeded. Greatly exceeded. Blown to bits, really. Thanks to the Serengeti. Talk about positivity!

I'm so glad to be here.

More soon.

Sunday, March 07, 2010


Did I spell that right? I've no idea. I'm super tired. The flight here from San Francisco was smooth and uneventful (yay!) but I didn't sleep much. The pressure changes on the flight were awful. I came down with a sinus headache that turned into a migraine. Yay, me. Typical, unfortunately, and I don't let them stop me but I'm sure hoping it'll be gone tomorrow.

We're here in Amsterdam until tomorrow morning, so we did some sightseeing including the Van Gogh museum, which was beautiful but kind of depressing. He was clearly such a troubled person, and so amazingly talented.

It's cool here and clear and very different from anyplace else I've been. And tomorrow will be more different still--Kilimanjaro!

The safari starts Tuesday. I can't wait! :o)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Up early

I woke up at three AM this morning. Early. But maybe not too early. 3 AM is noon in Amsterdam, where I'll be this time tomorrow. So I'm already starting to adjust. Really, when you think about it, I slept in!

Some of the group are going to meet up this morning and we'll all drive to San Francisco together. Our flight leaves at 3:30. I'm not looking forward to saying goodbye to my husband and kids. Two weeks feels like a long time right now.

But I am so excited to have this opportunity! I keep trying to imagine what it's going to be like in Tanzania and I just can't picture it. This site helps! There's a web cam and everything!

Serengeti National Park

My next entry should be from the plane! :o)

P.S. I'm hoping episode 24 of Dreaming of Deliverance will be live today. For those listening, I want to let you know that it's a longer episode--maybe my longest yet. So much for keeping the length consistent! There wasn't a great place to cut it, though, and since it will be awhile before I'll be able to do episode 25, I'm hoping it'll be enough to tide you over. A new element is introduced in the story this week, and let's just say in a way I'm relieved to be skipping town for awhile!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Email blog posts?

This is a test, not of the emergency broadcast system, but of the "Renee wants to be able to blog from Africa using email" system.

I'm not in Africa--yet.

I'm still home using my trusty home computer. But I'm hoping to be able to write up what's happening on my trip while I'm gone, and post it here, for anyone interested. The lodges I'm visiting are supposed to have internet access available. Isn't that crazy? Internet capability in the middle of the Serengeti!

So I'm emailing this post so I can see if it'll work.

And if anyone is wondering about episode 24 of Dreaming of Deliverance...

It might not make it up until Saturday. I'm so sorry. It's a combination of me running around going nuts trying to get ready for this last minute trip, and a few technical issues with podiobooks (Evo is out of town) and Libsyn (the server that podiobooks uses).

Please accept my sincere apologies. I've always tried really hard to get the episodes out weekly, and I think I've done pretty well, so far. But there's no team of people here making it happen, it's all me, and sometimes I can't get everything done that I want to get done.

Okay, now to hit send and see if this makes it to my blog! I'm such a dork, but I find this all very exciting!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Even more rushed than usual!

There's so much I want to tell you! I have a new promo for Dreaming of Deliverance, put together by Kenn Crawford, and it's a huge improvement over my original promo. I can't wait to share it with you. Also, I just reviewed Michele Bekemeyer's podcast novel, Trapping A Duchess, which is terrific. I'd love to explain why, but no time. You can see my review, however, here.

Why am I so rushed? Several reasons: I am subbing for a 1st/2nd grade class this morning and then I have to finish editing episode 24 of Dreaming of Deliverance. Oh there's also the trivial matter that I need to get ready for a little jaunt to Tanzania!

Yes, really! I'll be there a week from today!

I leave on Saturday and will be gone for two weeks. This all came up last minute but it's such a great opportunity, I can't turn it down. I've always wanted to go on safari!

So there's lots to say and I'll write more before I go, but for now I have to dash!