Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship
Into the Bush
April 3, 2008
We drive across a red dirt road in Maasailand, eyes scanning the landscape for signs of wildlife as the dark clouds close in behind us. As we pull up the side of a low hill, we approach a small building constructed with stone and a thatch roof that was not visible from the road until we were practically upon it. From the front seat Laly jokingly exclaims “Look, someone has built a boma here!” Buddy laughs. The boma is his creation, built as an office for Laly. It just so happens that this is no ordinary boma.
Bomas are traditional low huts constructed by the Maasai tribe as living quarters. They are constructed from sticks topped with layers of branches and then plastered with a mix of mud and manure. Women traditionally construct the boma themselves, using what is available to them, in accordance with tradition. They have a low flat roof of the same materials and often lack windows, with smoke, light and air sneaking in and out from the spiral entry. The wife sleeps in here with the kids and the smaller animals and cooks with charcoal as well. I had the opportunity to enter one, and it was not an experience that I am eager to repeat. But Laly and Buddy have taken this local building concept and modified it to fit their needs. Their boma has a high ceiling with a layer of tin for rainwater collection under the insulating layers of thatch, which also prevents the shining tin from being visible from the hills across the way. It also has glass windows for light and ventilation and linear sides, creating a more functional space. This one is constructed with stones extracted from the surrounding hills that are laid by a local mason using a mortar composed largely of the earth from abandoned termite mounds, which have a distinct adhesive quality from the saliva of termites. Some other bomas, which will be used as staff and visiting student housing, are actually built by the Maasai women of the village, but with the same modifications of waterproofing, windows, a door, and higher ceilings under thatch roofing.
Laly Lichtenfeld and Buddy Trout are the directors of the nonprofit called the People & Pedators Fund, which deals with growth and conservation issues that arise between communities bordering wildlife areas and the animals who inhabit those areas. They are currently building a field center in Maasailand near Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania, and work closely with the Maasai villages of the region, particularly their neighbors in Loibor Serrit. The center will serve as the PPF Headquarters, educational center for village programs, research center for visiting students and home for Laly and Buddy. They also have conservation and education programs in Selous National Park in southern Tanzania.
The dedication Laly and Buddy have to the local community, the wildlife population and sustainable principles is inspiring. They asked me to come out to give some assistance on the design for their new buildings and to generate some renderings of the future buildings that they could present to friends and donors. Buddy—trained in carpentry supplemented with some hands on building experience—has been working with local stone masons, builders and even some Maasai women to create durable structures inspired by local architecture and using local materials, though enhanced with technological and physical advances. I was in awe of the way that he thinks and works, planning everything in his head and creating almost no drawings, but still communicating and executing very successful buildings. We had some wonderful discussions on design, rainwater collection, alternative energy, local materials and I was able to leave them with their requested drawings. I look forward to returning some day to see the buildings complete and witness the impact they will have on the local communities.
After having my meeting in Dar with Heifer International, I was interested to see some of the villages where its programs were actually being implemented. Dr. Alson Lyimo, a veterinarian for Heifer, kindly took me with him on his tour out to some villages to check on people preparing to receive livestock. Before we left from Arusha, we stopped in to visit Anna and Joseph Masoud, one of Heifer’s early livestock recipients in the area and one of their great success stories. Anna and Joseph have gone from having almost nothing to a successful farm with several goats, cows, tilapia pond, an organic farm and even a small business of selling provisions to their neighbors. Joseph, another skilled builder, has been able to expand their home and they have money to send all of their children to school. From there, we headed out to some villages around Mount Harang. The landscape is amazing and I was stunned at how simply people are living there. All of the homes were of mud and sticks, sometimes baked as bricks, and sometimes with a tin roof, depending on the relative wealth of the owners. You could tell that the livestock investments they were about to receive would have an incredible impact. People were very proud to share the progress they were making and the sense of community between the farmers reflected the success Heifer has had implementing its development principles.
In Moshi, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to tag along with some visiting architects for the new Tuna Haki Centre for Child Development, an orphanage and theater project for a local organization working with a troop of orphans being trained in acrobatics and sent to school by a Tanzanian couple. Scott Fifer discovered the group when he came over from the United States as a volunteer for Cross Cultural Solutions. He was so impressed with the dedication and sacrifice of the couple that he went back to the US and began a nonprofit to assist them. Tuna Haki is now working with a team of volunteer architects to design new facilities that will give the kids a safe place to live and a venue to perform and raise money for school fees, while promoting sustainable design practices. They are trying to use local and reclaimed materials, solar and wind energy, rainwater harvesting, alternative sanitation systems and grow some of their own food with the kids, to name a few. It was an invaluable experience to get to witness some of the cross-cultural challenges, vast differences in perception and priorities, and overall process of working as a foreign architect in another country.
Today I leave for a month in Mozambique, working with Habitat for Humanity researching housing transformation and modernization from indigenous structures in local communities. All of my new Brazilian friends will be happy to hear that I am going to attempt to learn some Portugese during the month! From there I will be off to China, which may be the last stop of the fellowship. Words cannot explain the generosity that I have received from all of my hosts and new friends in Tanzania, and I will look forward to having many reasons to return some day. Thank you all for your kindness and support!