Muda Mrefu

Luca and Sofia

To bring you up to date since I last posted…in a nutshell: Sofia is two, and so much fun. We have had a baby boy, Luca, who is four months old, Samantha and I are always tired, and despite her exhaustion she is willing to let me try to climb Kilimanjaro. I will be leaving Wednesday and mungu akipenda, if God wills it, i will be coming back on Sunday.

I am a lucky man, this much I know.


November 23, 2009 Posted by | Baba Sofia | Leave a comment

Trevor’s last term in Standard 7.

Trevor is Rose’s 13 year old son.  Rose is the lady who has taken care of Sofia since Samantha went back to work after her maternity leave.  We have been able to get to know Trevor quite well.  He is a very sweet boy, extremely bright, and like all the Tanzanian children that we have met, has a deep sense of respect for his elders.

The school system in Tanzania works in a way that for us might seem very counter-intuitive.  A family will pay for their child’s education (if they want the child in school) until the child reaches Standard 7.  Relatively speaking, this can be very expensive for an average Tanzanian to send their child to school. At the end of Standard 7 all of the children take an exam.  The most successful candidates are then offered places in the government schools that are much cheaper than any other schools.  So the more successful you are, the cheaper it gets.  The more you struggle,  the more it will cost your family to stay in school.

Trevor in about to start his last term in Standard 7. He goes to a good school here in Arusha, and is doing very well. Samantha and I, along with some members of our family, have payed for his Standard 7 year so far.  We are quite willing and excited to do it again, but so many people wrote to me about Noel’s windows saying that they never got a chance to contribute, that I thought we should try again.  So here we are.  We need to raise the fees for Trevor’s last term in Standard 7.  At the end of the year I am sure that he will do very well in his exams, and then Rose will be on easy street as far as school fees go.

So we need to raise is $300.  I would suggest that a $10 donation is great.  If you want to give more, give more.  If you want to give less, give less.  Once we have the money I will post again and let you know.  I have another great project in mind anyway, so watch out for that as well.  Thanks for helping out.

(This button is for Noel’s windows, but it works!)

Trevor, Rose and SofiaTrevor, Rose and Sofia

May 5, 2009 Posted by | Arusha | Leave a comment

Take a seat for this…

So we went to the coast for Easter with our friends Mike and Lisa, and had a great time.  Mike is the guy I mentioned in the last post, and he is a serious naturalist. When you walk through the bush with him he stops at every blade of grass to explain what is going on in the small ecosystem that you are walking through.  Anyway, at the beach he told me about his friend Hans who is a true entomologist, the kind that has written books etc.  So Mike sent Hans a picture of the mantid at school.  Hans answered as follows:

This is in fact an “incredibly safi” mantid. Unfortunately, it is not a new species, rather the nymph of Pseudocreobotra Wahlbergi. Because of their camouflage mastery, these insects are often overlooked. They even manage to change color like a chameleon. I have personally observed their transition from yellow-greens to purplish. The adult of this species is featured on plate 70 in my book. In a dorsal view you could see their characteristic target-like eye spot which helps them deter potential small bird predators. You can see this eyespot even on the as yet underdeveloped wing in Marcello’s nymph.

This critter belongs to a group called “flower mantids”, whose specialty is to perch on flowers motionless for hours, waiting for prey. Some close relatives actually resemble orchids in shape and color and thus favor those flowers for their devious intents.

Quite a number of other mantids employ camouflage as a means of survival in a hostile world. For example, some resemble bark, others burned grass, still others dead leaves (see Fig. 9-13 in my book). One of the rarest and most spectacular of mantids in Tanzania is the devil’s mantis Idolomantis diabolica, which I, unfortunately, never managed to see in nature.

I hope this helps. And remember “there is always one more bug”.


After our two week holiday I went back to school.  The heavy rains have started, and I was pretty certain that the mantis would not be there any more. I was  sad but not surprised to see that in fact the mantis was no longer there on its familiar sprig of lavender.  I told Mike that it had gone away, grieved a little, and I moved on in life.  Later in the week I went back to Lee Beth’s garden, and started looking around the other plants.  I got to the lemongrass plant, and below is what I saw.  I could not believe my eyes!  I called Mike immediately.  Lee Beth must be laughing.


April 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Mantis Again!

I went back the next day and got another shot. We are going away for 2 weeks.  Will it still be there when we get back?  Stay tuned.

The mantis, again.

The mantis, again.

March 30, 2009 Posted by | Wadudu | 1 Comment



At school there is a small medicinal garden that a colleague of ours, LeeBeth,  planted a couple of years ago.  A few weeks ago I was with another colleague of mine, Carlos the Jackal, when he leaned over to a lavender plant in that garden and went to touch a flower.  The Jackal loves flowers. He leaped back with surprise when the flower turned its head and looked at him.  Once Carlos had regained his composure we began to investigate the “flower” in earnest.  It was (is) the most beautiful spiky purple praying mantis, or that is my very amateur ID so far.  Almost a month has passed, and the mantis is still on the same sprig of lavender! In this time he or she has not moved more than 3 inches!  It is definitely alive, as it turns its head and stretches out whenever I go for a close look.  Today I took pictures.  Tomorrow I will take more.

I zoomed into the picture, and the details are truly amazing.  The mantis (nickname Mickey) has lime green and purple bands around its legs, and on its back it has a perfect swirl of purple.  I called our friend Mike over to look at it, and he was completely transfixed.  Completely.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Wadudu | 4 Comments

Il progresso non s’arresta…

It is no mystery, or certainly should not be if you are reading this, that technology is changing the ways we live, the world is becoming smaller every day, etc. etc. etc. This phonomenon has been around since the beginning of travel, I imagine. In a more tangible example, my great-grandfather came to Tanzania (Tanganyika at the time) in 1898 and things were very different, of course. He was a self fashioned trader, illiterate, but nonetheless very successful. He had set up his trade center and lived in Marangu, just below the thick jungle on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro. From there he took goods from the interior (ivory and skins) to the coast, where he would sell and trade them for goods to bring back to the interior, such as cloths, beads, copper wire etc. Yes, he was part of what we now call the beginning of the end.



Nonno Guiglio used to write to his wife, who was safely esconced in Massa Lombarda near Bologna, whenever he could find his friend the Greek hotel owner at the coast. He would dictate a letter to the Hotel man, insert a money order, and a few short months later Nonina would recieve the news. I don’t know if he was charged a scribing fee or not. One year Nonno was involved in a terrible ambush, his caravan having stumbled into a pair of warring tribes. His business partner and most of his men were slaughtered. He escaped by disappearing deep into the bush and laying low for a time. News trickled back to the coast (and to the Italian “cunsul”) that Mongardi had met the same grizzly end that his men had met.

Meanwhile, Nonno Giuglio made his way back to Marangu and started work on getting the business going again. It took him a couple of years before he was able to get back to the coast at a time when the Greek Hotelier was there as well. And so it two long years before Nonno Guiglio managed to write a letter home. In Massa, Nonina had learned from the colonial office that  he her husband been killed in an ambush, and had been in mourning for two years. We’re talking wo years of old school Italian mourning. The real thing.


In long ago 2003 I was in the bush, huddled in my tent with a determined rain drumming against the canvas  right beside my head.  I was listening and thinking about long ago Africa, when there came a soft chirping sound from my pocket.  I took out my phone, and was able to speak to my future wife.  Right then.  Clear as a bell. She was on a public phone (remember them?) on Christopher Street, in a similar rainstorm.  It was like magic.

December 15, 2008 Posted by | Zamani | 2 Comments

Election night (6:00 a.m. on November 5th for Sofia and us)

November 20, 2008 Posted by | Baba Sofia | 1 Comment

Our Plans Ahead

The school term is winding up, only four weeks until our Christmas break, and Sam and I are plotting our road trip down to Malawi.  Sam was in Malawi for two years, in the Peace Corps, and we have always wanted to travel through Tanzania and down into Malawi.  Sofia is quite happy in her car seat, but that is no guarantee that she will be thrilled at the prospect of a two week rumble through Tanzania.  I am certain that she will let us know how she feels in due course.

Our plan is to leave Arusha as soon as school gets out, and to head down the road towards Dar Es Salaam, turning left towards the coast towards Pangani (just south of Tanga).  We will stay on the beach for a few days (over Christmas) and then start our trip in earnest.  We have not nailed down any details yet, but we would like to travel from Pangani down to Morogoro, on to Iringa, through Mbeya, and then down into Malawi.  We have several friends who have done this trip, and they all have given us ideas that we are trying to fit in.

How far into Malawi we get depends on time and energy (Sofia’s, primarily).  Sam lived in the very South, and Malawi is a long country, so it will be difficult to reach Cholo.  

More news as we refine our plan.

November 19, 2008 Posted by | tunaenda safari, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Our saw-toothed cactus finally flowers!

After almost 2 years this succulent began to flower. At night the flowers open right up and are so beautiful.

October 27, 2008 Posted by | Arusha | Leave a comment

A Wedding in Ilboru


These weddings blare by our gate every week end, sometimes four or five each day!

October 26, 2008 Posted by | Arusha | Leave a comment