The longer title of this post reads – “Out and about in Tanzania: the wanderings and musings of a volcanologist on an international development fieldtrip”. Why is a volcanologist on a human geography fieldtrip you may ask... The short answer is the desire for a more well-rounded look at international development issues which may include environmental concerns and that someone was needed on the ground to help with this. As ever, the longer answer is much more complicated and boring. So, here I am, sitting on the porch of my room (with a nice king size bed), being bitten mercilessly by every insect which passes. Apparently, all my super strength bug repellent does is attract more of the creepy crawly critters.
This is my first experience of Africa, and wow, it doesn’t disappoint: happy smiling children shouting and waving (check), bus stuck in the mud with locals pouring out from everywhere to help (check), some of the friendliest happiest people I have ever met (check), encounters with completely safe animals like scorpions (check), other interesting critters like the praying mantis (check), lots of Arsenal/Chelsea/Man Utd fans (check), and see one of the most iconic volcanoes on the African continent in Kilimanjaro (check). Still lots more to come I am sure, with a safari tagged on to the end.
Unfortunately, this is not a completely social trip (I am working, honest!) so there have been work items to fill up my time, teaching students to look at the properties of water and soil has been a focus. But, as I mentioned this is a predominantly human geography fieldtrip so I have been exposed to and accompanied students whilst conducting interviews, which means I actually have to speak to and interact with people (breaks out in cold sweat), something which is completely foreign to me and my volcanic gases. Surprisingly, I have actually really enjoyed this and found this a really valuable personal experience. After a crash course on interviewing prior to leaving, I have done my best to provide feedback to students “in the field”. A very different experience to my usual hiking up a mountain, instead wandering round villages looking for locals to speak to with the help of guides. Note to self, if a local is irritably chopping a machete against a pole, don’t ask for an interview. The whole trip has really opened up my eyes to international development issues and got me thinking about its successes, failures, and the extent to which it benefits locals.
One of the more memorable moments was during an interview with someone who has worked in the Kilimanjaro national park, but who was now retired. They were one of the friendliest and knowledgeable people I have met, but not conducive to a good interview (yes, I now know some of the key factors, I wonder, am I a jack-of-all-trades or a master-of-none?), which was aimed at soliciting information at tourism. Classic rambling answers and interruptions from randomers, we even gained some great advice on marriage, growing vegetables, and metaphors on stages of life! I was most disappointed that I was labelled as “midday” and all the students “sunrise”.
Today is the end of the research stage, so things slow down for me slightly. A visit to nearby Moshi tomorrow. I am not sure whether I should be horrified or not, but someone actually told me “we will make a good human geographer of you yet”. Perhaps I need to climb a mountain soon and do some science, I wonder if there is one nearby…