Ok, so recounting pills a gazillions times might seem a tad over the top, but I am guessing there are plenty of people with epilepsy that do the exact same thing. My reason: If I don’t have my medication I will have seizures. And I prefer my life seizure-free. It’s that simple.
A Trip to Tanzania
When I say it’s simple, I mean for the majority of my travels. When packing for a trip to Tanzania, finding the local pharmacy on Google maps is daunting. But it doesn’t matter if you find a pharmacy because they wouldn’t have your medication anyways!
What’s even scarier than my medications not being available in the country is that some people believe epilepsy is a curse. Thankfully those old world beliefs don’t exist in large cities and tourist areas, so I wouldn’t have to worry about someone believing I was cursed, unless I wandered off to hang out with some bushman, right? But doesn’t wandering off into the middle of nowhere to hang out with bushman sound really fun? It does to me! And thankfully my husband loved the idea too!
Getting to know the Hadzabe Tribe
The Hadzabe tribe is one of the last hunter-gathers tribes in Africa. Their population is estimated at 1,500 people or less. They have stayed true to their tribal traditions of the men hunting and the woman picking berries, but with farming and tourism growing they have less and less land to roam. There have been multiple attempts to find a permanent settlement for the Hadzabe tribe but they have resisted the modern way of life – until recently.
We traveled on a bumpy road in a 4×4 south through the Serengeti and through the central rift valley to reach Lake Eyasi, where the Hadzabe Tribe can be found. An overnight in the area is necessary because of the remote location and to give the tour guide an afternoon to locate the tribe. We stayed at Lake Eyasi Safrai Lodge, which was built in hopes to increase tourism, but there was not one other guest staying in the hotel- not one! It was a bit creepy being the only tourists but I suppose that’s part of the experience!
We woke up before dawn the next morning to go join the Hadzabe tribe on their morning hunt. A hunt, OMG, what am I doing!? I had no idea to expect but part of me was praying I didn’t witness the murder of a poor little animal. I know it is survival but the sight of blood makes me dizzy and knocks me to my knees. Arriving to the camp I felt like I was on a movie set.
Related article: Epilepsy isn’t my only story
Invited on the hunt
There were men wearing animal hides, sitting around a smoky fire with bows and arrows strapped across their backs. It was an intimidating scene and my flight response was saying, “This is the type of place people disappear; never to be found!” After awkwardly standing around observing the setting (trying not to look scared out of my mind!) the men around the fire asked us to join them. Although words were spoken (actually words were clicked), I had no idea what message they were trying to convey.
Eventually our local tour guide chimed in saying they wanted help making the fire, and not with matches, but with bow drills. I attempted rubbing the two sticks together as I had seen in survivor movies (FYI, it doesn’t work!) and just wore my hands out and got a few scoffs from the men. Within 30 seconds other men had created little embers that caught fire. It was amazing! Once the fire was a proper bonfire, they started their morning rituals. This involved smoking cannabis, giggling, and singing. Then we were off!
We ran into the bush with bows and arrows on our backs. The hunters were light on their feet and quick, very different from my thunderous steps that were most likely scaring the animals away. The 3 men I followed were communicating via clicks and hand movements. There were sudden stops followed by sprints and the occasional stop to study animal tracks. We didn’t catch anything but instead found was a dik dik antelope that had been shot the previous evening but escaped the hunters.
The men were pleased to find the antelope, as the likelihood of them catching something with me in my squeaky loafers was not in their favor. What they did next blew my mind! One man skinned and cleaned the dik dik (in less than 5 minutes!) while another man started a fire from donkey dung and leaves found on the ground. Within 10 minutes there was cooked meat for us all to try! So, the donkey dung thing… It was cool but as I watched this young fellow shred donkey dung into kindling with his hands, I couldn’t help to think about our initial handshake when I arrived. Then those donkey dung hands passed me a piece of meat, which I ate!
Maureen goes Katniss Everdeen
After our snack, which was quite tasty, we went back to the camp. At this point, all fear and apprehension that had existed when I first arrived was gone. We were all smiling and laughing together like old friends. And after jokes about our lack of hunting skills, they wanted to show us how to use a bow and arrow for fun. And when I say “us”, I mean they wanted to show my husband. Five men huddled around him to teach him the ways. They placed his hands in the right places, tilted his bow, showed him how far back he should bring his arm before letting go, all while clicking at him with what I am sure were words of encouragement. They were handing him arrow after arrow, encouraging him to try again. All backs were turned to me. Me being me, I grabbed a bow and arrow and butted my way in because I wanted to learn to shoot as well. When I came forward the men looked at be bewildered and turned away giggling. I mean LOTS of giggling. I imagine females didn’t typically participate in the fun. This, of course, just added to my determination.
I lined up for my shot with the help from the one boy I had followed on the hunt. He showed me the finger placement and how to hold the bow. I hit the target on my first try! I know it is hard to believe but! It is 100% true! I seriously felt like a badass wonder woman (breaking the glass ceiling of archery for hunter women all over the world!) as all eyes widened in surprise at me. I wasn’t modest and celebrated my success with a big grin and demanding high fives. Even from those donkey dung hands! Unfortunately, I missed every shot after. I guess beginners luck is a real thing!
Back to the future
We said our goodbyes with handshakes and pictures together. They invited us to stay but having dik dik blood on my Patagonia, thorns poking my feet through my loafers, and a hole in my leggings, I was definitely time to go.
The Hadzabe have started to welcome tourists to learn about their way of life. Although catering to tourists seems counterintuitive to their culture, it is actually the best chance for their tribe to survive and maintain its traditions. If you find yourself in Tanzania, take the time to visit.
Very important note: Believing epilepsy is a curse is not just an African belief. All around the world there are people that subscribe to those theories. This includes North America and Europe.
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Jessica brings a unique perspective to this leading epilepsy blog as she was diagnosed with epilepsy as a teen. She also brings 20+ years experience in marketing.