Among the Datooga in Tanzania

This item appears on page 59 of the May 2009 issue.

My husband, Colin, and I had a fantastic adventure in Tanzania and Kenya, Jan. 7-Feb. 7, 2008, one that began with a casual invitation from David, a missionary sponsored by our church: “Would you like to come to Africa to visit our mission work?”

David met us in Nairobi, Kenya, and suggested lunch at the Java House, one of a small chain begun by three Californians, featuring wonderful coffee and a menu of sandwiches, salads and desserts (10 locations in Nairobi; phone +254 [20] 4452273, http://nairobi The food was American style and the servers spoke excellent English. Prices ran $5-$7 for sandwiches and $2-$3 for coffee.

That night we dined at a Nairobi institution, the Carnivore Restaurant (Langata Road; phone 605933 7,, dominated by a huge barbecue pit with meats cooked over an open fire. Servers brought chicken, lamb, beef, pork ribs, chicken livers and even alligator and ostrich meat to our table on a huge “spit” and carved it directly onto our plates. Meals averaged $30 each.

(Note: although the Carnivore once served game meat such as hartebeest and zebra, this is now prohibited by Kenyan law. The same company owns the Carnivore Restaurant in Johannesburg, South Africa, which still serves game.)

Leaving Nairobi, there was little traffic on the road to Tanzania, and the border crossing went smoothly. In preparation for entering our first game park, Ngorongoro, we spent the night at the Karatu Lutheran Hostel (phone +2552 72534 230), at $65 per room, including breakfast.

Just as the sun was rising, we were in the park and at the crater rim. Soon afterward, a leopard ran across the road. Then a giraffe appeared, and we felt the first magic of Africa.

Our route took us through Ngorongoro into Serengeti, and in both parks we were overwhelmed with the animal life — antelope of several varieties, baboons, warthogs, Cape buffalo, exotic birds and more. Crossing the road was a migration of zebra, ranging from 10 to 50 animals wide and as far as we could see in either direction. Amazing!

Soon we were in close proximity to a pride of lions lying atop a dirt mound, snoozing the day away. As we traveled on, we came across a pool of hippos, perhaps 30 or 40 — young ones, huge ones and some playfully sliding into the water from the bank. As we continued around a bend, there were elephants, not one but 12 to 15 of all sizes. Everywhere there was animal life.

Leaving Serengeti, we headed to Ndutu, where we witnessed hundreds of thousands of wildebeest migrating. For a time, we stopped the car in their midst and just listened. This annual phenomenon was the reason we went in January, and it was beyond description.

Leaving Ngorongoro, we drove treacherous roads down the side of a mountain and over rocks, creek beds and gravel slopes. Our destination was the village of Olpiro, home of the Datooga people, where David served as a missionary.

We were invited to the confirmation of the chief’s son and the blessing of his new home, built of mud, sticks and stones, with decorative iron window and door frames, a tin roof and a satellite dish that operated on solar power.

In the yard, several men were cleaning and roasting a goat for the upcoming feast. The native honey beer was brewing, but we declined a drink since one ingredient was a laxative root.

Eventually, 100 people gathered for the confirmation ceremony, after which David cut the toiletpaper “ribbon” to open the house, and the feasting began.

Special precautions assured sanitary conditions for our eating. The pastor’s wife brought along plates and utensils that had been sanitized in bleach, and the chief had his “long drop” toilet sanitized for us. It was obvious the tribe was excited to have foreign visitors. They made us feel like dignitaries.

As a stick struck cardboard, dancing began, women chanted and married women jumped straight into the air. We tried to join in but couldn’t match their experience. It was then time for the young men to dance, trying to impress young ladies. There was ritual involved, but we couldn’t grasp it.

The Datooga people welcomed us with smiles and nods. We left the feast knowing this had been a special experience.

The next day we returned to Olpiro for a worship service, arriving at the church before anyone else because the villagers had no clocks and there was no sun out to tell them the time! Eventually, the service began with spirited singing accompanied by a tambourine and clapping.

The offering included eggs, which were auctioned off to the highest bidder, with the proceeds added to the collection. Then I preached a sermon, with translation first into Swahili and then Datooga.

Our time in Africa was filled with wonders. The people, plants, trees, insects, animals and environment constantly allowed for new experiences. We are so grateful to David for inviting us.


Discovery Bay, CA