Arusha

Jeanette wearing giant model bat ears

Some people are really sensitive to noise – Jeannette with simulated bat ears at Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

Here in Tanzania I am reminded of peoples’ different tolerance of noise. Back in Tucson, our close neighborhood has firm rules about noise pollution. No power tools or loud music between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. One new resident complained angrily to the community about a loud rattly power tool being used on a metal roof at dawn – the culprit was a Gila woodpecker, who had found this to be a much more effective territorial display than drumming on a dead tree!

In our gardens, leafblowers are banned. However, we dispose of our tree prunings on site with a rather noisy chipper that converts them into mulch. Recently I was running it late in the evening and next day we received a complaint from a neighbor about 300 yards away. We worked it out amicably, that I wouldn’t chip after dark. So there are layers of noise prevention – mutually accepted constraints, policing by neighbors, and if that fails, policing by the police.

In the suburb of Arusha where we’ve been staying (picture), it’s a different story. Moshono Juu is about as densely populated as our Tucson suburb, but people are either more tolerant, less organized or both. A lot of the noise is due to religion, particularly evangelical preachers. They get behind a powerful amplifier and pour hellfire on the whole neighborhood. Last night it woke us up about 2:30 a.m. An insane bellowing in Kiswahili, the same phrases repeated over and over, definitely channeling a god of hate and vengeance rather than love. I wondered what sleepless cult attended this harangue. Would they be stoked on drugs or booze to endure such cacophony? And would our PC friend Dave call it “entitlement” if I, a mzungu (paleface), were to walk into an African village and demand a good night’s sleep? But then, what if other neighbors also wanted to sleep, yet didn’t dare make a fuss? This must be a powerful cult indeed. Would a wild-eyed enraged congregation fall on me with rocks and cudgels for interrupting their religious ecstasy?

Eventually, insomnia and curiosity won. I took a big maglite that could double as a club, and slipped out into the moonlight into unscripted territory. The gravel road down the hill was treacherous, like walking on ball bearings. The demonic sound grew ever louder. Half a mile away, its source was a low barn of poles and tarps with a tin roof. A simple church. Easy to burn down – but I had no matches. A long white power cable connected it to a nearby hut – easy to cut, if only I had a panga. OK, I get cranky when sleep-deprived; those are last resorts. Let’s first assess the strength of the enemy and try a polite request. The doors were shut so I peered through a window opening and was amazed. The benches were empty! There was a makeshift altar and a table full of sound equipment. Taped hymns were playing, and a lone young man in a shabby Tshirt was pacing to and fro, yelling into his microphone. I leaned in through the window and he turned down the sound and came over. He looked sheepish.

“Please can you make less noise?” I asked. “It’s 4 a.m. and we can’t sleep!”

“Where you from?”he asked.

“Up the hill. It doesn’t matter. Can’t you let us sleep?”

I wished him goodnight and left him leaning on the sill, his head bowed, perhaps seeking divine inspiration. All was quiet as I trudged up the hill. Then a short final outburst, slightly less loud, barely enough to blister paint or singe nearby trees, and he was done for the night. It was nearly 5 a.m.

Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro viewed from Arusha, Tanzania

Mt Meru (L) and Kilimanjaro (R) viewed from Moivaro near Arusha. Click for bigger view.

I’m looking at two huge dormant volcanoes that grew out of the stretched and splitting rift valley floor. This is the view from above the house where I’m staying with friends just outside Arusha  – known as the safari capital of Tanzania. Mt. Meru rises steeply above the city and Mt Kilmanjaro dominates the land 50 miles to the east.

These two mighty mountains impress me with their majesty and moods. We get to see them frequently because the international airport was built halfway between them in order to avoid their massive effect on wind and weather. We got to know these two while writing guidebooks about them for Tanzania National Parks  years ago. In addition to their uplifting views and challenging climbs they shared secrets too, their shy wildlife like bushbucks and plume-tailed colobus monkeys, their forests, canyons, ponds, streams and falls of butterflies as well as water.

Jeannette gazes at Mt Meru from a house near Arusha

Mt Meru looms in the distance with “parasitic cones” in the foreground.

I’m especially fond of Mt. Meru, a blown out cone (similar to Mt. St. Helens) almost 15,000 ft high and very steep. You can just make out the torn side at the right of the mountain in the picture. Mt. Kilimanjaro is more bulky and going bald in the warming climate, its ice cap melting. Kili is Africa’s highest and the world’s highest free-standing mountain at 19,340 feet above sea level. Kili is actually composed of three cones –  broad-shouldered Shira, the eroded peak of Mawenzi and indented top of Kibo with its crater and ice-fields.

I’m not a lover of hikes in high cold places. However, the plant and animal life on these rift valley mountains is abundant and extremely attractive. Here are some pictures to give you glimpses of life on the mountains.

Jeannette stands among Giant Senecio trees on Kilimanjaro

I’m in a Giant Senecio grove on Shira Plateau, Kilimanjaro

A red balsam flower found only on Kilimanjaro

A red balsam flower, Impatiens kilimanjari, endemic to the forests of Kilimanjaro

A Black-and-white Colobus monkey rests in a tree in Arusha National Park

A Black-and-white Colobus monkey rests in a tree in Arusha National Park