Editor’s note: This is the last post from Samantha from the field. Her year living alone in the bush of Tanzania is over, and she is returning to the U.S. to begin the work of making sense of the data that she collected studying the habitat of chimpanzees. Thank you Samantha for your faithful and regular peek into life in the field!
One of the “perks” of doing fieldwork in a foreign country is getting to meet a lot of new people—a combination of both locals and foreigners. In the eleven months that I have been here in Tanzania, I have spoken with people from Tanzania, Burundi, Congo, England, Canada, France, Norway, Spain, Germany, Scotland, the Netherlands, South Africa, and even some fellow Americans. I have met other students (at the undergraduate and graduate level), biologists, primatologists, limnologists, conservationists, political refugees, missionaries, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, pilots, doctors, teachers, businessmen, tourists, and of course, the families and neighbors of my field assistants.
When I first arrived in Tanzania, Saidi and Abdallah (a taxi driver and former Ugalla Primate Project (UPP) field assistant, respectively) greeted me. Even though I had not known them before this encounter, I was treated as an old friend, and they were very helpful in getting me around Dar es Salaam and then on to Kigoma. In Kigoma, I was fortunate to meet Dr. Anthony Collins, who has been an invaluable source of support and guidance. Not long after, I met with other Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) employees, including John Kerkering, an American volunteer working on GIS. During that time I also met Simon Milledge (representative of the Norwegian embassy for JGI’s REDD program) and his wife Jean. We all spent a lovely weekend together at Gombe, making my first trip there that much more memorable.
Since that time, I have had the opportunity to return to Gombe four more times! Three times have been with Dr. Don Johanson and National Geographic Expeditions groups; each group was unique and provided the chance to speak with people outside of the anthropology world, but who nonetheless had extensive knowledge about the subject. It was extremely refreshing and informative to gain their perspectives on my work and chat with them about their work. It was also during one of these trips that I first met with the current director of chimpanzee research at Gombe, Dr. Deus Mjungu. We talked about some of the similarities and differences between Gombe and Issa (my fieldsite) and about the importance of involving the local people in conservation efforts.
The fourth trip to Gombe was the result of a last minute invitation to join, for the day, a group called Project Opel Earth. This group of about 25 young adults was traveling to Tanzania, Antarctica, Mexico, and Panama to visit, learn more about, and take part in conservation projects occurring in these areas. The participants were from all across Europe and were thus able to provide insight into how different European countries viewed conservation problems across the globe.
Project Opel Earth had decided to begin their trip in Tanzania so that they could meet with Dr. Jane Goodall who was in town to premiere her new movie, “Jane’s Journey.” I had heard her speak a few times before, but hadn’t gotten to actually meet her, so when Dr. Collins said he would introduce me, I very gratefully and enthusiastically said yes. I ended up getting to spend quite a bit of time with Dr. Jane, which was a dream come true for me. She is such an inspiring person, and I consider myself very lucky for having the chance to spend time with her. We talked about researching chimpanzees, the importance of having a supportive family, some of JGI’s conservation and outreach programs, and a bit about her hectic schedule traveling over 300 days out of each year.
The work that she and the other JGI staff do is incredible, and it is great to be able to see the results of their efforts firsthand. One example is a project created to encourage more sustainable use of trees for firewood by using stoves made from packed soil; these stoves require only a few small pieces of wood to maintain a hot cooking fire as compared to an open wood fire, which requires a lot of large pieces of wood. I was able to sit in on a meeting regarding the introduction of this project to the village of Uvinza. It was interesting to learn what the local people thought about the destruction of their habitat and uplifting to hear that they were very willing to take part in this project so that they could help conserve the environment. This project, and other JGI initiatives, demonstrates that it is important to work with the local people and present them with alternatives, instead of just telling them to stop living how they have been for generations.
My interactions with the local people, especially my field assistants and their families, have been the most enriching and eye-opening. It really changes your perspective on things to see large families living in two-room mud and stick houses, children who are underfed or malnourished and running around in ragged clothing, boys as young as 7 or 8 peddling food to make money for their families, girls as young as 7 or 8 carrying around their younger siblings while their parents work, and those people who cannot work and have therefore resigned themselves to a life of begging. Despite these hardships, people here seem happy, and are genuinely friendly and loving towards one another, with the whole village acting as one big family. It’s a kindness that people in many other countries would do well to adopt.
It is a very humbling experience to spend time in a third-world country; an experience that I feel more people (especially those from the western world) should have. Fortunately, there are many people who have already had this experience and have been motivated to help improve standards of living and take part in efforts to conserve the environment. I am very grateful for having had the chance to meet many of these people and for being able to make connections with people around the globe. I cannot wait to see who I meet the next time I travel!