Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Finding Uchesa

I spent the month of November in East Africa - Uganda, Kenya and ended my trip with 5 days in Tanzania, returning to some favorite spots and checking out some new ones! It was an incredible journey and I'm just finalizing my detailed trip reports now, so stay tuned in January for my complete chronicles in the next Kusini Collection e-news.

Tanzania has always been one of my favorite destinations in Africa - the landscapes are beautiful, the people equally so, it's home to a few of my favorite properties (Mahale Greystoke, Gibb's Farm, Oliver's Camp, Kisima Ngeda...) and the game never disappoints! After spending a 12 days in Kenya I headed South to Arusha, where my friend and mountain guide, Kambona, picked me up and we headed and on to Gibb's Farm. We had a specific plan in mind...more than three years earlier Kambona and I had done an extensive exploratory trip through Tanzania, and, by chance, met a Datoga lady named Uchesa by Lake Eyasi near Kisima Ngeda. It was a very special experience for me and I took some beautiful photos of Uchesa and her family while we were in her village. I promised her that I'd be back, hopefully sooner than later, and I would bring the prints of the photos with me. Kambona and I would head back out to Lake Eyasi and try to find Uchesa. I had my thumbs crossed that she was still living there, that she was alive and well and that we could find her.

After visiting Plantation Lodge and the Bashay Rift Lodge, we fueled up in Karatu. While we were at the petrol station a Datoga man walked up to Kambona and they had a short conversation (Kambona has been a guide in Tanzania for many years and also worked with BBC on documentaries on the Hadzabe in the Lake Eyasi area). When we pulled out of the gas station, I asked Kambona who the Datoga man was; he explained that the guy was an old friend and one of Uchesa's cousins - he assured Kambona that Uchesa was still living in the same village and that we should find her there! We were started our expedition with high expectations, but I wanted to keep my hopes in check...this is Africa, after all!

The road to Lake Eyasi was much better than last time we drove it when we ended up covered head to toe in a fine red the road was graded and graveled and it took about an hour to make it to the Datoga settlement. It's a beautiful drive with the Escarpment in view, green irrigated coffee plantations and dry, dusty villages with wildly waving children. It's Tanzania.

We reached a fork in the road and Kambona said we should turn left. I thought for sure Uchesa's village was just a bit further up on the right, but, always trust the directional instinct of a Maasai! I turned off to the left and not more than a 1/2 mile down the road two women were taking their goats out to graze. I knew immediately that one of the ladies was in the village with Uchesa three years ago (second from the right in the photo at left). I held a photo of her in my hand! As we approached, I slowed down and she looked at Kambona and told him in Swahili that she knew his face for some reason. He smiled and looked at me. I held the photos up and the Datoga lady clapped her hands to her face and started laughing. She couldn't believe it - we had returned after all these years. She told Kambona that Uchesa was returning to the village right now and we should go there and wait for her.

It was a strange feeling pulling back into that village. I'd promised them I would return and there I was. I wondered if she would remember me. I wondered if she would look the same. I wondered if she would care. Kambona was sure that she would.

The ladies of the village welcomed us and we went into the hunt and chatted while we waited for Uchesa. They wanted to know why I was back in Tanzania, how my family was doing and general questions about life in the U.S. Uchesa returned after 5 minutes and I saw her walk into the boma with her goats, and a baby tied on her back. I walked out, photos in hand, to greet her. She looked at my and cocked her head a bit when I approached. I smiled at her and raised the photos...she just stared at them as a huge smile spread across her face. She looked up at me and gave me a big hug, rubbing her warm, fragrant goat skin cape across my face.

Her little boy is the same age as my toddler, almost 2, and just as precocious. Uchesa looked a little older (so did I!), but had that same elegance to her. We talked about our boys and the time that had passed. She was so happy that I brought her the photos. And I was so happy that I did. When stayed and visited for a while and this time when we parted ways and I said, "I'll see you again soon", they knew I meant it! I look forward to seeing Uchesa and her little boy on my next trip to Tanzania.

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