Posts Tagged ‘Pygmies’

Don’t Look Down! Final Chapter

September 27, 2013

By my second foray into the jungle to meet Pygmy tribes, I had learned a few things.  First, you will notice I’m NOT carrying my purse!
Zaire032I am also wearing a longer skirt. Despite the varying states of undress of the natives, a white woman’s knees would have been considered “enticing” to the tribe we were about to meet.  This route also went deep into the jungle and at one point, we had to cross a river using the fern covered log that served as a bridge.

Zaire033The water below was not the least bit appealing and I did my best to not look down as I crossed.  Once safely on the other side, my pilot/guide said “Sure good thing no one fell in, there are piranhas in that river.”  NOW you tell me!

Zaire034Once again we came to a clearing and found what were now familiar huts.  There was one under construction so I got a chance to see the simple, yet effective design.  Long, thin, flexible branches are collected and all the leaves removed.   One end is sunk deep into the earth then an arch is formed and the other end is also anchored into the ground.  The series of arches create the frame which is then covered with large leaves.

Zaire022Again, the band was very welcoming even though we had to rely on pantomimes and smiles rather than words.  It was apparent that despite how harsh the conditions were for ALL the residents of Zaire, now the Congo, it was especially so for the Pygmy tribes.

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In addition to the natural challenges of living deep in an inhospitable jungle, the Congo war was heating up when I was there.  Within days of my visit to this band of Pygmies, the rebels overran the nearest village and during the course of the next few years, over 70,000 Pygmies fell victim to the violence that still plagues this region.

My pilot/guide/host was monitoring rebel movement via short wave radio and a couple of days after my Pygmy visit he announced, “I think it’s time we leave.”  We packed up, loaded the plane and headed back into Kenya.  There, on my hotel television, I received the news that the country which was Zaire when I arrived a couple of weeks ago had been taken over and was now to be known as the Congo.  The hospital, schools and most of the buildings of the mission station were destroyed.  A doctor and his family walked through the jungle to Uganda to escape.

One of my husband’s nieces has been on the Mercy Ship for the past 2 years and is getting off when it docks on the west coast of the Congo in a few weeks.  My deepest admiration goes to all those who volunteer in this harsh place to try and bring some peace and comfort to the native people so long ravished by disease, poverty and tribal war.

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As I close my eyes to sleep in my comfortable bed, I think back to the time I slept under a mosquito net and the glimpse into a world few ever get to see that I was fortunate enough to have.

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Deep in the Jungle, Part 3

September 20, 2013

Not only did I hike out into the jungle to meet Pygmies with my PURSE, I was also wearing ALL my jewelry – diamond rings, diamond stud earrings – all the classic hallmarks of a rookie traveler which I was at the time!  Fortunately, though they did notice, these items and their value was not relevant in the world in which they live.

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I had brought candy and toys for the children.  They didn’t know to unwrap the candies before popping them into their mouths as they had never had a candy before.  Since we didn’t share a common language, pantomime and lots of smiles aided communication.

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The women quickly took me into their huts to show me what they were cooking for dinner.  I couldn’t imagine a family huddling together in the small area of one of their huts to eat and sleep.  Hardly the spacious living quarters most of us enjoy!

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The men used handcrafted bows and arrows to hunt birds and small animals in the jungle.  Women gathered nuts, fruits and other edible plants to complete their diet.  Being nomadic, the tribe did not plant crops but rather harvested what the jungle provided and then moved on when there was no more food in that area.

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I did say that my jewelry did not go unnoticed.  One of the women gestured to my diamond stud earrings and then proceeded to show me how they pierce their ears and weave plants and flowers together to make ear ornamentation.  She even gifted me with the tools they used to pierce – two porcupine quills which I still have to this day.
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This was the first of two treks made deep into the jungles of Zaire, now the Congo, to meet Pygmy tribes.  Next week I’ll share some photos from the 2nd hike which included crossing a river, a close up look at the huts under construction and more!

A Long Way from Home, Zaire Part 2

September 13, 2013

Once on the ground, the harsh realities of life in Zaire quickly became apparent.  Officials had to be bribed with “gifts” to allow our entry and cameras hidden deep in a compartment under the seat in our plane to keep them from being “taxed” or worse, confiscated.

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The “roads” were mud tracks through the fields and the market serving the area did not inspire holiday shopping.

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In order to visit the Pygmy tribes, we had to first obtain permission from the local Chief.  Even though the Pygmies are not part of his tribe, he is responsible for everyone in his region, including the nomadic Pygmies.  Our visit with the Chief was interesting, one of his only questions was “Do you have a camera?”  We hesitantly admitted yes not knowing what would come next.  We were surprised when he asked us to take a picture of him with his wives, children, brother and security chief.  With that we had his blessing for our visit.

Local Chief with Family

Local Chief with Family

Zaire020Now the Pygmies do not live on a street or in a neighborhood.  They live deep in the jungle and we had a local missionary who, armed with a machete to clear a footpath, led the way to their current camp.  He also shared some of the edible plants and fruits we found along the way.

Zaire028The trail was thick with vegetation and the ground, slick red mud.  Even with a walking stick, climbing up some of the hills was challenging.  Coming down was just as difficult and I ended up being the only member of our group who was NOT covered head to heel with mud from sliding down one of these paths.  My socks were definitely beyond saving though!

Zaire021After about an hour hiking, we came to a small clearing with several huts made from bent branches and leaves.  At first we didn’t see anyone, but upon seeing our missionary guide, suddenly dozens of what appeared to be children came running out of their jungle hiding places.   The adults were not much larger than the adolescent children but interestingly, the babies and younger children did not appear smaller than their western counterparts.  It seemed the dwarf stature became obvious about the time of puberty.

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Yes, I’m the travel novice with a PURSE out in the middle of the jungle!
Next week I’ll share more of our visit, let you see inside the huts and more!

Bling, Bling, Ding Ding!

July 27, 2012

I’ve done some dumb things in my lifetime.  Usually out of ignorance.  I’ve also been very lucky that none of them turned out bad, though they clearly could have.  But I’ve learned and am here to share some of my “errors in judgement” so you won’t take the same unnecessary risks.

The first time I went to Africa I was in Zaire.  Yes, it was Zaire when I arrived – it was the Congo when I left.  There was a revolution while I was in country and I was only there a couple of weeks!

In an effort to “travel light” I just wore 1 pair of earrings the entire trip.  That would have made sense if they were the plain gold studs my ears were originally pierced with.  NOT!    I wore my 1 carat per ear diamond studs.  I also wore my actual wedding ring which is obvious in this picture even if it wasn’t the focus of the shot.

It didn’t occur to me that this might not have been a good idea until I was in the jungle with a Pygmy tribe.  In an entirely pantomimed conversations (we shared no other common language) one of the women admired my earrings then showed me the earrings they wove from vines.  I’m pretty sure she had no idea of the value of what she admired and am grateful I left the jungle with both the earrings and my earlobes!

I learned my lesson and invested in a plain gold band for future travel to third world destinations as you can see in this photo from the Amazon.

On my most recent international trip, we were on a luxury cruise line so of course, I didn’t want to go to dinner every night in a plain gold band but I also wasn’t comfortable going ashore in my “real” wedding ring set which certainly qualifies as “bling”.

Fortunately, impressive costume jewelry is widely available at low cost and is a fashion statement.  At the Nordstrom Rack I purchased several costume pieces including the Princess cut ring in the upper left of the photo which I wore as my “wedding ring”.  The other cocktail rings were for my right hand and coordinated with my evening outfits.

Total cost for ALL 5 PIECES…$75.00!!!!

When leaving the ship, I only wore my fake wedding ring.   At a couple of the stops, I didn’t even wear that – why look like a “target” even if what they would get was glass?

If you are traveling, particularly to poor or crime-ridden areas, consider investing in inexpensive jewelry to wear in place of your actual wedding ring or  the family piece you typically wear.  Even if your usual “bling” isn’t part of the Crown Jewels, it probably has sentimental value and it would put a damper on your vacation if it were lost or stolen.  Plus there is a safety issue to consider as well.

Sure, you could just leave all your good jewelry at home but if you are accustomed to wearing something as I am, you feel “naked” and cause yourself a few starts when you periodically notice it’s missing before you remember you intentionally left it behind.   Even my husband trades his ruby and diamond wedding band for a plain gold one when situations warrant.

We all love our bling, but no need to be a “ding ding”!


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