Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My 7.5 Month African Adventure Comes to an End

I’m sitting at a restaurant called giraffe in the Heathrow airport in London, ordering breakfast. It is 8:25 am and I am on my way home. These past few months have been the highlight of my life and I am not exactly ready for it to be over. I still can’t come to grips with the fact that I am no longer in Africa. Why do we love this commercial, materialistic world that we live in so much? Well, the truth is, I don’t.

I am sure that from reading about my experiences, and just from knowing me, you probably know that I have every hope, dream, and desire to move to Ghana after I finish my college education.

Ghana is where my heart is and I can’t deny that to you or myself. But I know how important my education is so I must complete that first. I know that I can’t just move to Ghana without a plan which is why I have local people currently helping me to research various business options. I love the orphanage and will continue to help the community and the children but I know that I too am a human and I will need money to live on and to survive.

Raymond, the director and founder of the orphanage, his family, and I have become very close. Raymond and his brothers are like my brothers now. A few weeks ago, I was asked how many siblings I had. I answered that I had one sister. Raymond was quick to correct me and explained that I have both a brother and a sister. Raymond considers me part of his family and I too consider him part of mine.

Living right next door to Raymond for these past few weeks was an amazing experience. I loved being right there, in the midst of things, with the local people and the children and not escaping to a hotel. It also helped strengthen my relationship with the local community. I could spend more time with them but if I needed a break, I always could just go into my room.

My room had a front room where I kept some toys and markers for the kids who would come over to play and draw. They loved the mini Etch-a-sketches and on the first day that they used them, they taught themselves how to write my name on it. There was a door behind a curtain connecting that front room to my bedroom. When I first arrived, the room only had a bed frame, a light hanging from the ceiling, and a new paint job. With the help of my brothers, we transformed the room. Wisdom installed a ceiling fan, Raymond helped me with the mosquito net and brought in a comfy chair from his house for me to use. The guys helped me buy a mattress and sheets, lay down linoleum carpet, had a window screen and a screen door made, and put up curtains. In addition, I put up some artwork that I had gotten in East Africa. The room is pretty simple but it became my home and I love it.

And when I return to Ghana, my room will still be there, exactly the way I left it besides the fact that Raymond will definitely use some of the room for storage while I am gone.

I have recovered from my mysterious illness and am doing much better now although it is still hard on my stomach when I eat. They did blood tests as the doctor told me it was malaria but of course, I wanted to confirm that. They found that it was not malaria nor typhoid so we don’t know what it was. What I do know though is that I had to take a break from doing anything and lay in bed for a few days, hooked up to an iv.

By Tuesday, I was pretty much all better and joined the two oldest classes at the orphanage on a trip to the waterfalls. Due to the fact that I was still recovering and did not want to get sick again, I choose not to swim in the water although I had fun just watching the children swim.

On Thursday evening, Christmas Eve, celebrations were held in Wegbe. The children were running around outside, throwing fire crackers and other things that light up. Music was blasting and people were happy, yelling out Merry Christmas to me as I walked by. I gave out glow sticks to a bunch of the kids and they loved them. The men were drumming and everyone was in such a joyful mood.

The following morning, we celebrated Christmas at the orphanage. It was such a lovely day and I was so happy to be there to celebrate this holiday with them. All of the children came to school in their best dresses and, I must say, they all looked adorable. They sang and danced to Christmas songs, put on a Christmas play, and enjoyed sodas and a delicious lunch. After lunch, we separated the children into their classes and handed out Christmas presents which Mark had brought from Ireland. The children were supposed to wait until they got home to open the presents as the teachers thought that the children might loose some of the pieces if they opened them at school. But, children will be children, and eventually the suspense got to them and they all started opening their presents. They were so happy. It was such a touching moment to see the kids ripping the wrapping paper, some of them ripping such paper to find a gift inside for the first time in their lives. The girls loved their dolls and bracelets just as much as the boys loved their cars and sunglasses.

Although Christmas Day was a very enjoyable day, it was also my last day with the children. Of course, it was a sad day for me and I cried my eyes out. My brothers tell me that I shouldn’t cry when I leave because we all know that I will be back soon but for some reason, I just can’t control the tears and somehow they magically appear in my eyes.

I spent one more night in Wegbe before leaving for Accra. On Friday evening, we had a celebration, blasted the music from speakers and danced the night away. The children who were there were surprised that I, a white girl was dancing and just stared at me for awhile before I made them dance with me. They think it is amazing anytime I actually do anything on my own. Dina, Raymond’s wife always wanted to sweep my room for me. I told her that even though their brooms are not the same as ours, I could do it. The children, Dina, and my brothers would just watch me as I swept my room and even applauded the fact that I could do it. Even though I am a guest in their community, I am not helpless and I don’t feel right letting other people do everything for me. The other thing that they thought was amazing was the fact that every once in awhile, I would shower at the house, instead of going over to Raymond’s uncle’s house. They have an outdoor shower that you take a bucket shower in and were so impressed that I actually could shower this way. The children would just stare at me as I walked across the compound to the shower with my towel and soap. It was quite funny.

On Saturday, I had to say a final good bye to my community. It was not easy for me nor for some of the children and that just made me cry even more. Raymond’s brothers packed the tro tro and we drove a few hours, past Accra, to Budaburam. Budaburam is a village about 45 minutes outside of the capital city. This village is a refugee camp but is not your typical refugee camp. There are no tents or anything like that because the refugees, the Liberians, have been there for so long that they have built homes. We visited an orphanage in the camp that was started by Raymond’s aunt, Deborah. She has turned her home into a school for 100+ children and houses only two of them because she does not have the space to house more than that. The children as well as the staff at the orphanage were happy to see me and I spent the early afternoon on Sunday and Monday morning playing and interacting with them. The oldest children, who are about seven years old, told me that they were going to come to America with me, but first they needed to paint their skin white and green. The green comes from the fact that on white people, the veins are much more viable than on darker skinned people. I tried to explain this to them but I don’t think they fully understood the concept.

Raymond’s aunt explained to me some of the challenges at the orphanage and told me that just visiting them and spending time with the children meant a lot to them. Deborah informed me that one of their goals is to start a website. I told her that I would try to help her with that task. I am now reaching out to you. I have no clue how to start a website or what starting a website even entails, but if you personally know how to start a website or know someone who can help with this and would be willing to lend their talents, please let me know. This is a simple way to really make a difference at this orphanage and to help people across the world learn about the orphaned children in Budaburam.

We moved from the orphanage to Raymond’s uncle’s house and spent the afternoon there before departing for the airport in the evening. Sammy, Raymond’s nephew who lives at his grandparent’s house was happy that I had returned and even asked to see the photos of his truck that I had taken. Now, let me tell you that Sammy is a four year old boy and these pictures that he was asking to see were from the day I arrived in Ghana, seven and a half months ago. I was so impressed by his memory that I went through my bag to pull out my computer and show him the photos.

I will leave it to you to figure out how the rest of my evening went after departing for the airport.

That’s the end of this trip. Thank you for following my adventures in Africa over the last seven and a half months.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Kenya --> Ghana

On December 5th, at 6:30am, my Riruta Satellite host father, Moses drove Kai and I to the Nairobi Airport. I had my big suitcase, full to the brim with stuff and a duffle bag which I carried on as well as my backpack. Before checking in to my Kenya Airways flight, I had to weigh my bag. I guess this is how they keep people like me whose bags are too heavy out of the way of the check in counters. The man told me that my bag was 8 kilos overweight and I needed to take that weight out and put it into my other bags. Luckily, I had my duffle bag and there was still a bit of room in it – enough to fit 8 kilos worth of stuff.

After I finished the difficult task of rearranging my stuff, I successfully checked in and proceeded to the gate. The flight was a bit longer than I expected – about 5 hours until we landed in Accra, Ghana. I was lucky enough to have a seat in the exit row but unlucky to have the dreaded middle seat. After everyone boarded the plane, we were told that we would have to wait awhile as the technicians tried to fix one of the toilets. I was so tired that I fell asleep during this time and woke up just in time for take off.

We touched down in Ghana a few hours later. The minute I exited the plane, I could feel the sticky heat on my body. It was crazy because we were further from the equator in Ghana than we were in Kenya but it was so much hotter.

I went through passport control and customs without any problem. I usually get stopped in customs and have to open my suitcase but this time, the man asked me who I was staying with in Ghana and I said…”do you want his name?” he said, “him?” and waved me off. It was kinda funny but I was glad to get out of the hot airport as soon as possible.

As I walked out of the airport, I was approached and hugged by Alex, Wisdom, and some other guys who are related to Raymond. I knew them all and was happy to see them. They took my luggage and told me that Raymond was in Wegbe waiting for us.

Four hours later, we arrived in Wegbe. I couldn’t have been happier. Alex saw the smile on my face and said “welcome home.” I said hello to Dina, Raymond’s wife and Anderson, Raymond’s son and went to say hello to some of my friends who live nearby. They spotted me before I even approached them and yelled out at the top of their lungs, “SISTER NICOLE.” They all ran towards me and hugged me and then proceeded to ask where Sister Melissa was. They were not too happy when I told them that she was home in America and that she would not be meeting us in Ghana this month.

I spent my first few nights at Raymond’s uncle’s house which is less than a five minute walk from Raymond’s house. I had decided that I was not going to stay in a hotel this time and had asked Raymond for suggestions regarding where I could stay. He told me that I could stay in one of the rooms in the compound where he lives. We had to get the room set up before I could actually sleep there so we spent the first few days buying a mattress, putting up the mosquito net, installing a ceiling fan, and putting the plastic tile looking floor in place. Since I have moved in, we have also put up a screen door and a screen for the window as well as curtains and a mirror. Godwin, my taxi driver came in to my room a few days ago and told me that it was just as nice, if not nicer than the hotel that I had stayed in all summer. I agree and realize that it is much more sustainable and less expensive than staying in a hotel. Plus, I am right here, with the local people and the kids which is nice and when I need a break, I can just go to my room.

I really like my room and the fact that I can leave it and come back to it when I return to Ghana. It’s like I have my own place now! I am very lucky that Raymond’s uncle lives so close as he has allowed me to go over to his house (which he doesn’t live in as he lives in Accra) and use the flushing, Western style toilet and the running water shower whenever I want. This is very important as the toilet at Raymond’s compound scares me and I just can’t use it. And also because it’s nice to have running water and not have to take a bucket shower.

This first week in Ghana has been so hot that I have been somewhat lazy as it is at times, too uncomfortably hot to do anything. It is especially bad when the electricity goes out and the fans stop turning for hours. Nonetheless, I have been doing a lot, from shopping for stuff for my room to taking tons of fabric to my seamstress, Beatrice for her to sew, to playing with and doing art projects with the children, to taking care of some business at the orphanage.

A few random things that don’t really fit anywhere in particular:

Our student leader, Alex who graduated from L&C in the spring decided that she wanted to acknowledge people who went beyond what was required and did something pretty special. So far, I have acquired three army men – which are what she gives out to acknowledge these actions. I believe that I have the largest collection of army men. My first army man was for coordinating and getting all the photos together from the students to send to our host families in Pemba. My second army man was for making it through a very strenuous hike even though I was having issues with the whole concept of hiking uphill and breathing at the same time. My last army man was to acknowledge the fact that I run the charging of electronics in one of the trucks every time we are on the road. It was nice to have something like this acknowledged because it’s not something that people really thank me for.

Also, Melissa, I thought I should let you know that our student leader said that she thought I was the one on the program with the best sense of fashion. On our last night together as a group, three other students were wearing my clothes. I need to thank you because you have played an integral role in inspiring my fashion sense.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Luxurious EA09 Retreat

Our retreat was short and sweet. On December 3rd, we arrived and checked in to the hotel which took an hour and a half. We were then shown to our rooms, which were mostly triples. As soon as we opened the doors of our rooms, all you could hear throughout the whole hotel were screams. We were not in any way prepared for what we saw. We knew that this was a nice hotel but the rooms were like fully furnished, beautiful apartments equipped with a living room, full kitchen, and two bedrooms. One of the bedrooms had a huge bed, adorned with tons of pillows and was the type of bed that you just want to jump onto. So that’s what we did! I ended up getting that bed which was amazing and was quite a change from the tents that we had been sleeping in for the last few weeks. Each bedroom had its own bathroom with hot water and tons of hotel goodies – shampoo, foot scrub, etc. We seriously felt like we were back in America.

The hotel workers came by our rooms to drop off our bags a few minutes later. I asked one of them how much this hotel costs per night. He said, “is there something wrong with the room?” I had to assure him that there was not a thing wrong with the hotel and that it was the nicest hotel I had ever stayed in before he would tell me how much it cost per night.

Dinner was buffet style and was delicious. We sang happy birthday to Peggy and ate cake for dessert before heading back to our rooms to finalize our presentations for the following morning.

After breakfast, we all met in the conference room and gave our presentations about our projects. Us, General Culture students went in the morning, followed by the Biology students in the afternoon. The presentations were quite interesting but it took so long to get through all of them that we started to loose focus by the afternoon.

After the presentations ended, I went to the Maasai Market with a few friends to spend the little bit of Tanzanian money I still had. As I didn’t have a lot, I figured that I should spend it instead of exchanging it and loosing money in the process. The fact that I only had a limited amount of money with me made it so much easier to bargain. The only negative thing was that it took me so many months to realize this. I ended up getting a bracelet for half as much as I had bought a similar one for a few days earlier. At least I have a technique which I can use from now on.

That evening, we had a nice dinner in a different dining room, set up just for us. We all dressed up for this event and enjoyed our last night together as a group. Some people were much more emotional than others but we all know that we will see each other back in Portland.

The following morning, about half of us boarded a bus to Nairobi. The other half of the students decided that they were going to stay in Arusha as they were traveling around the country independently from the program before returning home.

It was a long drive, especially when we hit traffic coming into Nairobi. A majority of the students stayed at a hotel while the rest of us went back to Riruta Satellite to stay with our host families. My host sister, Peris met me in town and took me home. I was so happy to see her and she was just as happy, if not more happy to see me.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Searching for Bush Babies

Wow! It’s December. That’s crazy! It feels like it was just yesterday when I was like, oh my goodness, it’s already August. Our semester abroad is quickly nearing the end and in 4 days…yes, 4 days, I will be back in Ghana! I am just a little excited about that in case you couldn’t tell.

Some of the other students on this program have asked me why I love Ghana so much and how it is different than Kenya or Tanzania. There are differences which I don’t really want to get into right now but the thing is that I love Ghana so much because that is where a bunch of people that I love with all my heart live. It’s not because Ghana is so much prettier or that life is much different there. It is because of the people. And yes, there are nice people here too, but I haven’t made the same kind of connections that I made in Ghana in East Africa (except with my 1st host family in Nairobi who I love and am going to stay with the night before my flight to Ghana).

They are amazing for many reasons but let me just fill you in on something they did for me earlier this week. Before leaving for Africa, my mom gave me my paper ticket from Ghana to Kenya and told me that I needed to keep my boarding pass from that flight so that I could get airline miles. So I did. And I sent it home with my sister, not realizing that my paper ticket from Kenya back to Ghana was attached to it. So I was in Kenya. My ticket was in America. My mother called the airlines and was told that it was no problem; she could scan the ticket and email it to me. So, I printed out the scanned copy of the ticket and stopping worrying about this issue for awhile. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I asked my mom to double check that I would be able to get on my flight with the scanned copy of the ticket. Of course, she was told that I needed my original ticket and that the scanned copy would do me no good. In an effort to get my ticket to me, my mother express mailed the ticket to the travel agent in Nairobi, Kenya.

This was great. My ticket was in Kenya. But there was still a little problem. I was in Arusha, Tanzania, at least 8 hours away from Nairobi and had no way to get my ticket. As I don’t return to Nairobi until the evening of December 4th, and my flight is early in the morning on the 5th, I was a bit worried about how I would actually get my ticket.

Then, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t hurt to ask my host family from Nairobi to arrange to get the ticket for me. They were amazing and a few days later, they had the ticket, safe and sound in their house where it is now waiting for me.

So, no worries, as long as everything goes according to plan, I will have my ticket and will actually be allowed to get on my flight.

Today was a really good day. Last night, I finished my paper which was due today and just had to print out the raw data to attach to my report. After doing this and chatting with my sister online, which makes my day, a bunch of us went to town to go shopping. I had a few last minute things that I wanted to look for before leaving East Africa and I must admit, I was very successful. The thing I was most excited about buying was a piece of artwork of elephants which my sister really wanted to find while she was here but had no luck with. I had been keeping my eyes open for something I thought she would like and today, I finally found it. I must admit, I really like it too so I hope she has somewhere in mind to put it up at home because it is something that I want to be able to see every once in awhile as well!

Tomorrow afternoon, we are leaving the campsite and the village which we have called home for the last few weeks and moving into a very nice hotel for our retreat which isn’t going to be much of a retreat as most of us will only be there for a day before having to leave to catch the bus to Nairobi. So tonight is our last night of camping.

Last night, realizing that our time at the camp was soon coming to an end, I went on a search to find and see at least one bush baby, I was I not having luck finding them in the trees, even though they would call out every once in awhile, I asked one of the night guards for help. We went on a walk behind camp, with big, bright flashlights, looking for bush babies. After half an hour of searching, we returned to camp. They told me that we should look in the morning but due to the fact that I love my sleep, I was not up early enough this morning to see them.

This evening, after dinner, I set out with James, one of our cooks to find a bush baby. Once again, we were unsuccessful but we did find some tree hyrax which have orange eyes and are quite scary looking when they are staring at you from above in a tree.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Going to the Movies in Tanzania

The last few days have been paper writing days as our paper for our Independent Study course is due tomorrow. On November 28th, we gave presentations about our various studies to the Olasiti Village Government. It was nice to be able to share our findings and suggestions with them but the meeting was extremely long as everything we said had to be translated into Swahili. The meeting was supposed to begin at 10am but of course, we were on African time and the meeting did not start until 10:45am and went until 2pm.

Earlier in the week, we decided to take a break from academic work and go to the movies. I hadn’t seen a movie in theatre since at least May but didn’t really feel like I was missing out by not seeing any new movies. One of the girls in our group told us that she had seen Inglorious Bastards back home and loved it and suggested that we go to see that. I knew nothing of this movie nor any other movie that would currently be playing so I didn’t really have an opinion.

I was surprised by the looks of the movie theatre when we pulled into the parking lot. This beautiful place was definitely a place only for mzungus and well off Africans. We bought our tickets, got some popcorn, and went into the theatre.

All of the other students loved the movie but I was not a fan at all. As I am sure you guys back home know, the movie is about the Nazis. But it is meant to be a funny movie about how the Jews get back at the Nazis and Hitler. Yes, the Holocaust is in the past but I do not think that this movie was appropriate at all. The movie, although obviously not true made it seem like the way to get back at the Nazis was to torture them and treat them in horrific ways like they did to the Jews which really bothered me.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! Sorry for not updating this in quite some time…I have been very busy working on assignments for my International Studies course. As soon as the assignments are completed and turned in, I will fill you in on everything that has happened during the past few weeks.

A brief Thanksgiving update: Even though we are far away from America and are working on writing our papers, we are a group of American students and we felt that it was necessary to celebrate Thanksgiving. We got all the supplies and spent Thanksgiving Day cooking, just like we would have back home. We were lucky enough to be able to use a house with a stove and oven in order to carry out this affair. We made mashed potatoes (which were good but not as good as Grandma Gloria’s) and sweet potatoes and green beans and corn and stuffing and appetizers and chicken and apple pies. It was a very fun day and the end result was absolutely delicious. Our make shift Thanksgiving in Tanzania was definitely a success.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Arusha Homestay

Our eight day long home stays are coming to an end today. I think that the theory and idea behind staying with a family in the village that we were doing our projects in was a great idea but it was somewhat limited as about half of the group stayed at the chairman of the village’s house. It was nice to stay with Alex and get to know his family and his lifestyle but it was somewhat odd that we were not more spread out in the greater community as I am sure there were other people in the village who would have loved to host us.

It was interesting however to see how Alex, the chairman of the village played a role/ didn’t play a role in some of the projects. For example, Natalie said that when she went to one of the orphan centers with Alex, the director and other staff people there acted much different than on the day that Natalie and I went there with Zenan. I am not sure if they felt threatened or scared or intimidated by having Alex there but it definitely changed the entire environment and the conversations as well as the information which was exchanged that day.

The home stay was a good experience though as I enjoy home stays and could make comparisons with the other home stays that we have done during our program here in East Africa. This home stay was most like the Riruta Satellite home stay as we were in a somewhat modern home with modern technologies in a somewhat poor and developing village. It was interesting to see the way in which other people in the village were living and struggling to get resources such as water and how easy it was for our family to access those resources. Instead of having to walk to a water tap or well or something, our family had jugs of water delivered to their home. This increases their ability to do work around the house and do other important tasks as they do not need to spend the time or energy carrying jugs of water to and from the water tap. I am not sure if the reason that our family had water delivered and always available was due to the fact that they could afford to pay for it or due to the fact that it was the home of the chairman of the village. I am not exactly sure how much power this gives Alex and what kind of rights he has that other villagers lack.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Not many additional surveys got completed today as I was not feeling well and was too weak to walk around and survey people in the village. Four of the five of us staying with our host family got sick at the same time. We were taken to the hospital and didn’t have anything too serious. It took a few days to recover but then we were back to normal.

I tried to go out and do surveys today but didn’t make it more than about 5 minutes away from the house before having to return home to rest. It was somewhat disappointing in that manner but that is life. However, two people from the village came over to the house today and I took the opportunity to survey them so I made a tiny bit of progress but not as much as I hoped to have made.

As I was not out doing surveys, I spent a lot of time reading some of the research that I had found on the internet. It was very interesting and fascinating to read about various people’s perspectives on the issue of orphans in Africa and more specifically in Tanzania.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Orphans: Independent Study Projects

After splitting from the Biology group, we immediately got started on our Independent Study projects. We were given suggestions and some guidelines but often times, our questions, no matter what they were, were answered by our ‘professor’ saying, “It’s independent.” We had to develop research questions and prepare for interviewing/ surveying people in the village. My research project topic changed multiple times and drove me crazy until earlier this week, I finally settled on a topic that would stick. My research question is: how many households in the village of Olasiti house and support/ care for children that are not biologically theirs? I created a questionnaire and got some help translating it into Swahili. I have been walking around the village with my host sister who is 14 years old and knows English pretty well. We approach people at their homes and my host sister tells them about me and explains what we are doing, why we are doing this research, and answers their questions. Then, they hopefully agree to do the survey and we ask them about 20 questions ranging from demographic questions such as: year born, religion, tribe, etc. to questions more specific to my topic of orphans. We ask how many children the person has and if they have any children living with them that are not their biological children. We then find out why the child(ren) are living in this home and how they are related as extended family culture is big in Africa and relatives will often take in orphans. The survey takes about 10 minutes but we often end up spending more than 10 minutes just explaining our purpose and answering all the questions that the person has about the project, often regarding how it will help them. Being with a group of Americans in Africa for three months was something that I wasn’t really looking forward to very much before our program started. It has been difficult at times as some of the other students haven’t been so understanding and open to African culture and ways of life. Currently, we General Culture students are in home stays in Olasiti, located outside of Arusha. There are five of us in my home stay as we are staying with the Chairman of the village, Alex and his family. I enjoy home stays and don’t mind being the only student in the home stay but others have gotten a bit fed up with that by now so they are really happy that we are grouped together.

The main issue bothering me right now is the fact that spending time with these other students all the time is making them complain vocally at an extreme level. I understand that other students do not enjoy being called ‘mzungu’ when walking down the road and being asked for money and other things but I believe that it is our fault that this happens. Americans make all of these movies and music that display white Americans as rich people, better than other people in this world. Of course Africans who haven’t had the chance to interact with Americans only know what they have seen in the movies. And the children who have only seen white people a handful of times get excited when they see us. Some of the students think that the children should call them by name but they don’t take the time to talk to the children and tell them their names or explain to them that they don’t like being called ‘mzungu.’ It’s funny how they don’t even think about what it is like to be a child here in Africa and to have never seen a white person before but just looks at this through the eyes of someone who thinks they are of higher status.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Maasai Homestay

This evening is our last night on safari. Although it has been awesome to see and learn about so many different cultures, animals, and areas, I am happy to be going back to civilization. We arrived at our last camp to find our tents already pitched and threw our belongings inside of them before heading off for an half hour hike to a waterfall. This ‘hike’ consisted of walking across the river in places and getting pretty wet, making the rocks that we had to walk on pretty slippery. I definitely slipped and fell a few times. One of these times that I fell, was when we were crossing the river. I freaked out because my camera was in my backpack which came down into the water with me. Luckily, my backpack is amazing and even thought I got soaking wet, my camera did not have a drop of water on it!

When we arrived at the waterfall, we stripped down to our bathing suits and ventured into the water. It was hot outside and we were all pretty sweaty so the water felt so nice. The waterfall was coming down quite hard so we couldn’t go right under the main part of it but we were able to go under other parts of it. After being in the water for awhile, it started to rain. We started to think about how much more difficult this would make the walk back because the rocks would be even more slippery. We hurried out of the water because we were informed that it might flash flood and walked back to camp.

As I am typing tonight, I have little, annoying insects flying around on my screen. I must tell you that I cannot wait to be in a place where there are no biting flies (tse tse flies) and million other biting and stinging creatures. I currently have a bunch of flea bites on my ankles which itch like crazy. Apparently they are from our most recent home stay with the Maasai.

The Maasai home stay was an experience different than anything I could have ever imagined. It is one thing to see pictures of the Maaai and to read about their lifestyle and such but it is another thing to actually be there, living with them, doing the things that they do on a day to day basis. The gender roles in the Maasai family are very clearly defined. The mother stays at home, cares for the children, fetches water and firewood, builds and cares for the house, and cooks. The father on the other hand is responsible for herding and caring for the livestock.

It is amazing how much responsibility the children have as well. One of my host brothers, about 11 years old went out with us to collect firewood and helped with preparing food and cleaning around the house. The children are also responsible for caring for their younger siblings and helping their elderly relatives. It was amazing to see the respect that the children have for people that are older than they are. I couldn’t go anywhere without hearing shikamoo or greeting someone else in that manner. This respect towards the elderly is definitely something that we are lacking in America.

Our host mothers arrived on the morning of November 3rd. Us students we each given a walking stick which we held along with our belongings as all of the host mothers sang together for us. In return, we sang Row, Row, Row Your Boat in rounds. All of us students were lined up and the mothers, all decked out in their Maasai jewelry and kangas with their shaved heads were maybe 50 feet away in a line facing us. In order to decide our home stay assignments, the mothers walked towards us and grabbed onto the student closest to her. Before this occurred, I had no clue that our home stay assignments were going to be random. It was awesome though cause I think everyone had a good experience and the staff didn’t have to go through and pair us up or anything.

We started walking, following the mothers, not knowing where or how far we would be walking. Some of the mothers, including my mother spoke Swahili and the rest spoke only spoke Maasai. We had been given a sheet with important Maasai words but those of us with mothers who spoke Swahili were able to better communicate with each other. As we walked, the mothers jingled as they wear a ton of jewelry…all the time! My host mother took one of her many necklaces off and put it around my neck.

As my host mother and a number of the other mothers lived quite far away, we were picked up by Habibu, our driver after walking for some time. As it was a pick up truck, we all jumped into the back of the truck and smashed together, standing up for the ride. It was quite frightening at times as the road wasn’t great and we would hit potholes or be on a slant which made it feel like the whole truck was going to fall over on its side.

We were dropped off and walked towards our ‘boma.’ As we approached, I saw some children come outside and stand there, just staring at me with huge smiles on their faces. I was happy to have host siblings and would later learn that I actually had seven host siblings. The youngest child, Naomi was about a year old and the children ranged in age to about 16 years old. I greeted the children in the traditional way, by placing a hand on the child’s head and saying ‘supa.’

The boma was made of cow dung mixed with water and mud and was quite dark inside. There was no electricity but there was a fire which provided a bit of light. My bed was a cow hide on top of some sticks. I was happy to have my sleeping bag as I had some major issues sleeping. And every time I moved to try to get more comfortable, which was pretty much impossible, the bed squeaked. The work was physically tiring and at the end of the day I was so tired which helped until I woke up in pain in the middle of the night due to the way I was sleeping.

I was lucky to be sleeping in the room furthest from the fire as other students who had beds in the room with the fire complained about the smoke. The smoke still bothered me, especially when I was helping to prepare meals. It got so bad at points that I had to walk outside and get some fresh air as my eyes were watering uncontrollably. On my second day in the home stay, I had my translator explain to my host mother that when I started crying, it was just because of the smoke from the fire and not because I was actually crying. She totally understood and actually told me at times that I should go outside when she started to see that my eyes were beginning to water up.

After arriving at the boma, Mama and I sorted through uncooked rice and picked out pebbles and even a piece of glass! This is an activity that I did at least once a day, depending on what we were eating that day. It is a tedious but necessary activity as I would hate to bite down on a rock or something worse. Mama, ready to cook the rice, blew on the fire to get it started up again. She told me to try so I did. The children laughed at me as I was not as good at it as their mother or even them.

While Mama was cooking dinner, I went outside with some of the children and attempted to help milk the goats. I didn’t realize how difficult it was and on this first attempt, I made no progress. The milk was brought into the house and added to the chai which we drank while waiting for dinner. Dinner was delicious and consisted of a rice, potato, tomato stew.

That evening, before heading off to bed, one of the translators stopped by to make sure everything was okay and to help with any translations. It was so nice to have the translators come by every day as it helped me express things to my family that I couldn’t express through hand signals or in Swahili. In addition, having the translator there allowed my host mother to feel more comfortable asking me questions about my family back home and life in America.

I was exhausted by the time I got in bed at 9:50pm but unfortunately this did not make it any easier for me to actually sleep as I woke up every few hours during the night.

Here is a piece of what I wrote in my journal on November 5th, during my home stay. “Mama is sitting next to me chewing on something that sounds like gum but isn’t. Every so often, she slurps it and then continues chewing. Naomi starts crying, signaling that she is awake from her nap. Mama carries her back outside in her orange in green dress which makes her look somewhat like a pumpkin. She also brings out Naomi’s bowl of rice and feeds Naomi as she chomps away on her gum like stuff. She calls Kokoyoi, one of her daughters to bring some water. She obeys and sits with us for a minute before mama orders her to do something else. Naomi stares at me, tears in her eyes still and her face covered in food. It’s nice outside today. Yesterday, the sun was so strong that I felt like I was burning even when I was in the shade. It looks like it is going to rain soon – the clouds are dark and grey and the sun is hidden behind them.

Mama drinks water, her jewelry causes her to jingle. She is adorned with beads – from her ears to her neck, wrists, and ankles. Her ears are gauged as are almost all the women’s ears and a majority of the men’s. Even Bibi, grandma, who is at least 50 years old has her ears gauged. Mama drops the spoon she was feeding Naomi with in the dirt. She tries to pour porridge into Naomi’s mouth but just makes a mess. She picks up the spoon and rinses it with the water remaining in her cup. I look up and we smile at each other. She continues chomping away as the wind picks up and the clothes hanging to dry start blowing in the wind. ‘Zach,’ she says and points in the directing from which Zach and his host mother are walking from. His mama is dressed in red and green cloths and of course, is adorned with beads. She jingles as she walks as does Zach as he has beads around his neck and across his chest.”

Later that same day: “It is evening now and although it is still light outside, it is raining. The rain is much needed here as the drought has really affected the Maasai. When we were driving here and even when just walking around, one sees dead cows all over the place. On the drive here, we saw Maasai men sitting and their cattle laying down next to them. The cattle looked dead to me but we were told that the cattle were not yet dead but rather, their owners were waiting for them to hopefully get up enough energy to stand up and walk.

I am listening to the rain hit our tin roof and Mama talking to some relatives. They are preparing dinner by the fire. I would be helping but every time I have gone in to help, I start crying uncontrollably. I am not crying because I am sad but rather because the smoke makes my eyes water a ton.”

On November 8th, we will briefly stop at Lake Natron before spending the entire day traveling back to Arusha. We will have one free day before our last portion of the program begins. At this point, the Biology group will be splitting from the General Culture group. Those of us in the General Culture group will be staying right outside of Arusha in Olasiti and doing our Independent Study projects. I will be working on the issue of orphans and researching, observing, and suggesting ideas about how to improve this issue. Other students are doing their projects on: water, family planning, and other important issues that effect Olasiti (and most other African villages). The Biology group will be traveling more – going back to the coast to do some marine studies and back to safari for awhile. During our last few days of the program, we will all come back together for a retreat in Arusha, where we will also be responsible for presenting about our Independent Study projects.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Hadza Camp, Ngorogoro Crater, Halloween, and more

On October 24th, after eating lunch, we hiked up the mountain which wasn’t too bad. We were so happy when we reached the top and saw blue tents in the distance, meaning that our camp was getting very close. The safari staff had set up our tents for us as they knew we would be tired when we arrived from this long journey.

During our time at the previous Hadza camp, we learned about the roles of the men and women. Today, we spent the day with the Hadza women and began the morning by visiting their homes which are very small and cozy. It is weird walking into a home that is about the size of my bathroom back home and realizing that this is the amount of room these people have to live in. Its amazing how materially obsessed we are in America and how these people can live with so little and be so happy and content with it. I wonder how they feel when we arrive with our huge cameras and other things that these people do not use or possibly even know of.

We gathered tubers with the women, digging in order to find these roots which were later cooked for us to eat. I must admit that I did not like them at all as they kinda tasted like uncooked potatoes. In order to get to the area where we dug for the tubers, we had to walk for a good 30 minutes and then in order to actually dig for the tubers, the women were doing a lot of physical work. And those women with babies carried them and kept them on their backs the entire time. It is amazing how much physical work they do. We have technologies to do this type of stuff for us back home or we hire other people to do this type of work but these people do this on a daily basis in order to survive. This is normal for them.

We all gathered around as they opened a bee hive and tasted the honey inside which was pretty good. I only ate a small piece because unlike the other students, I didn’t want to eat a piece with bugs in it. The Hadza then taught some of the students how to make fire before we headed back to camp.

We had the rest of the day for free time but there were activities that we could choose to participate in. A group of us sat with some Hadza women and did some beading. I made an anklet and then one of the Hadza women made me two more – unfortunately one has already broken but I am still wearing the other two. A majority of the students made arrows but I decided not to do that because:

a. I had no clue how I would get it home and did not want to have to carry it around
b. I just didn’t really want to make an arrow

But I definitely heard the students ‘wows’ and clapping when someone succeeded at shooting their arrow at the target.

This day was a very hot one and the sun was beating down on us. I put on sunscreen five times on this particular day and guess what…I still got sun burnt. Aloe Vera definitely became my best friend for the next few days!

That evening, we sat around the campfire and the Hadza sang for us. We decided on a few songs and sang to them in return. It must have been hilarious listening to the 30 of us singing rounds of ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ and ‘This Land is Your Land’ but we managed to pull it off.

At this camp, we had class and presentations on top of a mountain and watched the beautiful sunsets. Some people opted to sleep up on the mountain but I felt safer in my tent and didn’t want to freeze or get attacked by animals or insects during the night.

On October 27th, we traveled through the Yaeda Valley (this time in safari trucks) to Dofa campsite near the entrance of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. We camped in what seemed like the backyard of a mansion. From our campsite, we could see a road – a real one that was paved and everything. It was such a change from the other places that we had camped at so far. This mansion backyard had amazing, hot showers which we definitely took advantage of. That evening, those of us in the General Culture group gave presentations about our findings from the hunt with the Hadza. We had to estimate the abundance of the animals that we had seen or had seen any evidence of (tracks or dung) during our hunt. This was an interesting assignment as all of us students knew that our estimates were not accurate at all especially since we probably did not see as many animals due to our noise and scent.

The following day, we got into five Safari Land rovers, smaller than our Safari trucks and drove to Ngorogoro Crater. Our driver, Kevin was very nice and enjoyed driving us around and watching our expressions when we saw animals. When we arrived at the crater, there was a group of people shooting a music video. I inquired about this and learned that they were shooting a gospel music video. It was neat to watch these Tanzanians all dressed up dancing in the rain. We entered the park but couldn’t see much for awhile due to the heavy fog.

The crater is a touristy area which is described as a gigantic zoo. It is however a World Heritage Site and is considered by many people to be the Eighth Wonder of the World. This crater claims to be home to about 25,000 animals throughout the year while the Ngorongoro Conservation Area as a whole claims to be home to more than 2.5 million animals depending on the season and used to be home to many Maasai and their cattle before they were kicked out. Within the Ngorongo highlands, there are nine volcanoes, one of which is still active. The ash and dust from the eruptions of these volcanoes has been carried by the winds to form the fertile soils of the Serengeti plains.

The crater is the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world. It measures 19.2 km in diameter, 610m in depth, and 304 square kilometers in area. The crater floor has permanent water which supports the large resident population of wildlife. Besides the grazing land, the crater also has swamps and forests which allow hippo, elephants, waterbuck, reedbuck, bushbuck, baboons, and vervet monkeys to live there. The crater is a dynamic and constantly changing ecosystem, home to animals such as wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, buffalo, eland, warthog, dikdik, jackals, lions, leopards, cheetah, serval cats, and hyenas.

We saw two different prides of lions in the crater. One pride walked between our safaris vehicles – which was so amazing. They were so close and we could hear them roaring and growling. It was the most amazing thing ever! We followed them as they went to drink water and watched as one of them fought with a buffalo. In addition, we saw a lioness with one of her children elsewhere in the crater protecting a buffalo that they had killed. They were calmly sitting there as we took pictures and watched them. Its amazing how used to cars the animals in National Parks have become. They are not scared of cars one bit and actually have been known to lie under cars and get some shade causing the driver to be unable to move the vehicle.

This crater is part of the yearly migration of hundreds and thousands of plains animals (wildebeest and zebra). They travel through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, into the Serengeti, the Maasai Mara (in Kenya), and then back into Ngorongoro.

That afternoon, we sped out of the crater in order to get to our campsite on the rim of the crater by 6pm. I did some laundry with freezing cold water which made my hands burn and was interrupted by a very close elephant spotting. The elephant was seriously maybe 200 feet away. It was just hanging out, drinking water from the campsite. Other tourists who had stayed in this campsite for a few nights said that this elephant comes to the campsite every evening to drink water. In addition, during our campfire that evening, we had some zebra come pretty close and visit us.

On Thursday, October 29th, we traveled from Ngorongoro Crater to the Serengeti Plains. As there has been a drought here in East Africa and everything is so dry we didn’t see many animals besides a few gazelles and vultures on the plains. The plains were exactly as they sound – very plain! They are extensive, flat grasslands, but due to the drought, there was not much grassland, rather it was more like short dead grass. Before crossing the plains, we stopped at Oldupai Gorge where the archeologists, Mary and Louis Leakey discovered the earliest hominid remains from 1.8 million years ago. Oldupai was first made famous in 1911 by a man looking for butterflies. Much to his surprise, he found elephant bones instead. In 1928, Dr Leakey visited the Berlin Museum where he saw remains of the fossils and bones found in the gorge. The Leakeys made their way out to Oldupai and spent 29 years doing archeological research. Among their findings were a 1.75 million year old hominid skeleton and a 1.5 million year old human erectus skeleton. In 1978, after her husband’s death, Mary found hominid footprints which had been preserved in volcanic rock 3.6 million years ago and were exposed due to weathering. These footprints were still intact due to the volcanic rocks and ash that hardened on top of the prints. The ash, rain, mud, and other weathering and natural occurrences created five geological layers in the gorge. The first layer (bottom most layer) is made of grey sediment and is rich for early hominid fossil remains from 1.8 million years ago. The second layer is 1.5 million years old and is where human erectus was found. The third layer is about 800,000 years old but due to drought and dryness, nothing is known about this layer. The fourth layer is 400,000 years old and is where human erectus was found. The final layer, the fifth layer is 100,000 years old and is where human sapien was found.

Mary has since passed away but every year, between June and September, research groups come to conduct archeological studies in the gorge. The research occurs during this time due to weather conditions and also because summer is the time when students are out of school and free to come and do research.

After stopping for lunch on the plains, we continued driving and came across some shifting sands. These are triangular shaped mounds on the plains which have accumulated ash from the nearby volcanoes and must have some kind of magnetic energy in them that holds them together.

As the drought is significantly affecting life here in East Africa, we had to change our next campsite plans so that we would not be staying in an area with tons of dead cattle. We stayed at our campsite in Soitorgoss for four nights – the first time in awhile that we have stayed in one place for a significant amount of time and didn’t have to pack up after only a night or two. While in Soitorgoss, there was not much planned for us to do which was amazing! It’s difficult for me to have everything planned out for me. I like to decide when to do things and not have to rely on other people planning things for me and dictating when and where I will go somewhere, but I guess that is part of a program like this one. Before arriving at the campsite, we stopped at a manyatta, which is a traditional Maasai age-set event in which the young Maasai men become warriors. As they were still setting up the event, we just waved and smiled to the children and basically all the rest of the community as they all surrounded our two trucks to see all the white foreigners.

We set up camp, which has become somewhat natural now (but something I will not miss by any means) and got ready for dinner as we arrived just before the sun was setting. Our time in Soitorgoss was mostly free time in order to study and catch up on the readings we were supposed to be doing throughout our safari which we were never really given much time to actually do. I had done a number of the readings but definitely spent a lot of time, actually until the night before the test catching up on all the readings. In case you were wondering, I did in fact eventually finish all of them. I really wish that we would have had more time at our other camp sites to do the readings as a lot of them were really interesting and would have been of benefit to read while we were in a specific area/ with specific people.

On Halloween, we spent most of the day studying for our final the following day. In the late afternoon, we celebrated Halloween by dressing up in costumes. About half of the group had decided to dress up as other people on the program and had drawn names out a hat for that. They surprised me in their ability to mock and dress as each other. Those of us who did not partake in that dressed up as: a superb starling (a bird here in East Africa), a Kool Aid man, and a cheetah (me). Of course, a number of people didn’t dress up as we had a lot of work to do but I decided that I needed an hour break and I think it was much needed and worth it.

On the morning of November 1st, we took our biology final. This means that the General Culture group is now done with our biology course and has one International Studies course left to complete during the last three weeks of our program.

I just keep thinking back to the Lion King. I never realized how much of that movie was really based on things that we have seen and experienced here in East Africa. I can’t wait to watch this so called children’s movie from a different perspective.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lions, Elephants, Giraffes, Zebra, Antelope, Leopard Part 1

Written on October 26th, 2009 as well as on other random days when I managed to find some free time.

This morning, the only reason that I have some free time and can work on my blog is because the two other girls in my hunting group were not feeling well so we came back to camp early. I was not too disappointed about returning to camp early because we had spent more than two hours walking around silently, looking for animals, following tracks, and identifying various animal dung. The Hadza hunters that we were with had shot at some dik dik (a small antelope), a large bird of some sort, and a cat but had missed all of the shots. The Hadza, the hunter gathers of the area that we are in rely on hunting for their meat and use a bow and arrow. Going out and hunting animals this morning made me realize how difficult of a task this actually is.

We returned to camp and I did some reading before the other groups returned with their hunters a few hours later. The next group back, a group of General Culture students returned excited. They had no dead animals with them but quickly informed us that the Hadza that they had gone with had shot a giraffe with a poisonous arrow. They were all so excited but as I sat there listening, I was just sad. Sad that we had spent so much time learning about these animals and watching them and now there was a dead one. This afternoon, after lunch pretty much everyone except for me is going to see the giraffe and bring it back to camp. I had absolutely no interest in going with them and felt like if I went and saw the dead giraffe, it would just make me cry. But, they will be returning with the giraffe so I might end up crying anyways.

Good news! The giraffe was not killed by the poison arrow. Apparently the giraffe bled so much that she bled out the poison from the arrow. The group of all the students except about 4 of us went on a search to find the dead giraffe. From what I was told afterwards, they went on a two hour giraffe chase, running after the giraffe for a majority of the time and trying to shoot it again but missing. Eventually they returned disappointed as they had not succeeded in bringing back a giraffe for dinner but had to return because it was getting late and would be getting dark soon.

So, during our free days in Arusha, before safari began, I worked a lot on my blog (which is why it was 15 pages long) but also explored the town. On October 12th, about 10 of us students got up early and went to the Arusha International Conference Center (AICC). This conference center is run by the United Nations and is where the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is taking place. We had to go through security and turn in our passports in order to receive a visitor’s pass. This pass gave us access to pretty much everywhere but we had no clue where to go. We walked into a building and were directed to the elevator, told to get off on the 2nd floor as the person we asked thought that there was a trial in session there. We didn’t have luck on the 2nd floor and were then instructed to try the 4th floor. We found a trial that hadn’t started for the day yet, put our bags on the shelves, and then walked into the area where people could come and sit to watch the trial.

In order to protect the witness that was being questioned while we were there, he was blocked by a curtain. This witness was referred to as ANAJ in an additional attempt to protect him. Besides that, we could see everything else through soundproof glass. We each received a headset through which we could hear what was going on in the court. When the judges were talking to each other and didn’t want the audience or other people in the court to hear what they were saying, they could turn off their microphone. The court came to order and for quite some time, they tried to figure out technical issues such as the fact that the witness had a doctors appointment on Friday and that they needed to make sure that the trial would not be in session during that time and so on. Then, finally, they started questioning the witness. This was obviously not the first day that the witness had been questioned and the defense lawyer spent a lot of time trying to get at minute details which were apparently important to his case.

The trial took place in English but due to the fact that the witness did not speak English, there was a translator who translated everything for him. The defense lawyer, who was British, would ask a question in English. The translator would translate the question for the witness and then the witness would respond to the question in his native language. Finally, the translator would translate the witness’s response to English. We heard all of this through our headsets. The whole thing with translating made things difficult, as at one point, there was a discrepancy which was due to the quality of the translation.

The defense lawyer asked many questions referring back to the events in Rwanda back in 1993, at the time of the genocide. The witness explained that although he was a Hutu, due to the fact that his wife was a Tutsi, he was attacked and injured. The questioning continued for awhile and both the defense lawyer and witness were becoming fed up and annoyed with each other as was evident by the tone of voice. After maybe an hour and a half or so, the court went into a closed session which meant that we had to leave. We were told that we could come back in awhile so we walked around and found a place to buy some chapatti and other snacks. When we returned to the court room, we were told that the court was still in a closed session and that it would probably be another hour before we would be able to come back in. As we didn’t want to wait around for an hour, we decided to head back to our hotel.

Before we set out to Arusha, our guide had told us that there was a circus called Mama Africa going on and that during the week, the tickets were buy one, get one free. Of course, we were all interested and planned to go on Monday night as we were all being picked up on Tuesday afternoon. I walked with a group of students to dinner and then to the place where the circus was supposed to be. We could see the circus tent and some lights but it was very quiet. As the ‘mother’ of the group, I went to investigate and asked some people if the circus was happening that night. I was told that no, the circus was not happening that night. As some of the students wanted to double check that the circus really wasn’t happening, we asked some other people and were told that the circus was not happening that night due to an outside performance.

We were all disappointed as we were excited about the circus but whatever, maybe we can try to go again when we are back in Arusha in a few weeks. I led the group back to our hotel as one of the other girls commented on the fact that I was like the mother duck with all of her ducklings following her. This is because I am usually the leader and take care of all sorts of things such as checks at restaurants, etc.

After our free days in Arusha, we returned to Olasiti, the village in which our guides live. The tour company that Lewis & Clark uses was established by three brothers who were raised in Tanzania and have lived their lives here but are American citizens. Two of the brothers were with us while we were at the coast doing the snorkeling and the other is now with us on safari. They all live in Olasiti with their wives and have children, most of whom are away in college. We spent two nights in tents in their ‘backyard.’ During this time, we walked around the village as a group and visited some of the places that might be of assistance to us General Culture students when we do our Independent Study projects during the last three weeks of our program. Some of the activities from this day included meeting local village government leaders as well as traditional leaders, visiting an herbalist, primary school, and orphan center, and learning about an organic gardening project.

All of the places we visited were interesting in their own ways. Of course, my favorite stop of the day was the orphan center. Now, this was not a typical orphanage, not even like Christ Orphanage. The orphan center is one of the places where I will be conducting my research as my topic is ‘orphans.’ Other topics for Independent Study projects include water, family planning, etc.

So, safari thus far has had its ups and downs. My tent mate, Peggy and I have become pro at setting up and taking down our tent. It took a few times to get this down but we can now do it without any help and in a timely fashion.

On October 15th, we departed from Olasiti and traveled to Oldonyo Sambu, a community wilderness area adjacent to Tarangire National Park. We camped there for two nights, beginning the safari part of our course. We went on walks where our guides taught us how to tell the difference between various animals, their dung, tracks, and habitats. We used our binoculars not only to view game out in the distance, but also to view birds (which I have decided that I do not particularly enjoy).

On October 17th, we drove a little ways to Mount Sambu. We started the hike up the mountain which looked so much easier than it actually was. I had a difficult time with the hike on the way up the mountain as the altitude made it difficult for me to breathe. At one point, we encountered a cave – to get across this cave, we literally had to spread our legs and put one foot on each side of the cave and move our feet forward to get across. I was a bit scared (okay, rather, really scared) about this cave crossing. After a lot of hiking, we finally arrived at the top of the mountain. It was so rewarding to finally have reached the top! The view was amazing and we took the opportunity to eat some snacks and relax a bit.

The hike down was a bit scary as the mountain was pretty steep and my legs were shaking all the way down. I had to shuffle my feet so that I did not roll over or give in to my wobbly legs.

Later that night, we sat around the campfire, listening to some Maasai and asking them questions. All of the Maasai men who we were talking with agreed that they wanted to open bank accounts and save money as they are realizing that due to the drought, they will not always be able to rely on cattle for their survival. After asking them many questions about their lifestyles, they asked us some questions. Their questions all focused on how cattle are cared for, where they live, and how they are herded in America. They didn’t understand why we did not each own cows at home as cows represent wealth in the Maasai society.

As we were so close to Tarangire National Park, of course we had to go there next! I was excited as our time at the park would actually be two days of game animal viewing. Ken, our professor from Lewis & Clark who is our program leader told us to keep our eyes open for leopards in the trees as the last group that he led got to view leopards in this park. I definitely had my eyes open the entire time, scanning the trees for possible leopards and being pretty much unsuccessful.

A little story about luck. So we are driving along, seeing lots of awesome animals in their habitats and all of the sudden, Lisa, Ken’s wife tells the driver to stop and go back because she saw a jackal. Up until this point, we had not seen any jackals so it was kinda exciting. Of course, not as exciting as a leopard or something though. The jackal was barking loudly and looking up a tree which prompted our guide to look up the tree and realize that there was a leopard in the tree which of course was what the jackal was barking at. It was pretty amazing and the only reason we found that leopard was out of pure luck.

On our first day of game driving, we also saw lions…yes, plural, not just one or two but more like five or six of them. They were so cute! One was sleeping under a tree, not at all bothering by us all staring at him and photographing him; another was in a tree just relaxing. We witnessed another lion run across the road and jump up into the tree to join his friend/ brother. We were all convinced that one of the lions up in the tree would jump because of the way they kept scanning the ground and due to his actions but we did not end up witnessing that happen. In addition, we saw elephants, giraffes, a variety of antelopes, vervet monkeys, baboons, warthogs, hyena, hyrax, and of course lots of different birds. We were able to watch and photograph these animals up close which was amazing but made it somewhat disappointing when we later saw them at further distances.

Tarangire National Park prides itself on having more elephants per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world. This park was a famous hunting group before becoming a national park in the 1970s. Tarangire is filled with baobab trees and in their brochure, it says that the legend about these trees is that “the baobab once angered God. It was thrown to the earth and planted upside down.” These trees are very popular throughout East Africa and live for hundreds – thousands of years.

We had lunch at a picnic site in the park before continuing on with our animal viewing. We stopped at the luxury hotel in the park where work was done on our trucks as they were having issues running. This gave us a great opportunity to see the amazing view of the park from the balcony. We hung out and I took photos of other students and the huge dust storm which we could see moving across the park. It started pouring so I went inside to protect my camera but could still watch all the crazy things that the other students were doing outside.

That night, we camped at a public campsite in the park that had flush toilets and showers! Now this is pretty exciting when you are on safari and only have pit toilets and irregular bag showers. We hand washed our laundry with a monkey hanging around not too far away and apparently had lions and other animals within a distance of our campsite as people (including our professor) claimed to hear the lions roaring during the night. Our laundry pretty much covered the entire campsite – there were laundry lines with clothes hanging on them everywhere you turned as well as random clothes on branches of trees and bushes.

On our second day in the park, we were on more of a mission rather than just game viewing. We split up into groups of four for an animal count on a 10 km transect in the park. The groups of four then broke up into two pairs with a pair on each side of the truck. Each group of four was responsible for counting certain species during our drive which lasted a little more than half an hour. We first did a test transect for 5 km but we did not see many animals out at this time. As a result, the professors decided to add to the species we were responsible for counting. For example, my group was originally just responsible for counting elephants and giraffes but due to the fact that between the pairs on each side of the truck, we only saw a handful of animals, they decided that we would also include zebra in our 10km count. After all of the data was collected, our assignment was explained to us in detail. We were to share our data with the rest of the General Culture students and write a lab report about our findings. This lab report was a bit more challenging than a lab report at school would have been for a few reasons:

1) We were out in the wilderness, in tents. It was cold outside and therefore cold in the tents.
2) We did not have access to computers or other technologies which make research easier.
3) Because we did not have access to computers, we had to handwrite the lab reports and couldn’t just edit our drafts easily like we do on computers.
4) They kept us busy all day and tired us out, not leaving us much time to actually do the assigned work.

Eventually, they extended the due date as we made it clear that it was impossible to get it done on time in addition to participate in all the other required activities. It was not easy to get the teachers to realize this and resulted in many breakdowns by us General Culture students because we were feeling extremely stressed. However, after they realized that they were overloading us, they gave us some time to get the assignment done which allowed us to get a huge weight off our chests and actively participate in the other activities.

On October 20th, we exited the game park which was obvious as the scenery suddenly changed. Immediately outside of the park boundary, there were Maasai bomas (houses) and no wild animals. It was amazing how quickly things changed from the national park environment to the village environment.

We stopped in a village to fill up the gas tanks of our two large trucks. This little stop took quite awhile as they had to use containers to fill up the tanks as there was no gas pump. This provided us with some time to interact with local people which we hadn’t really done during the last week except for with our safari staff. I was so happy to be in the village as it reminded me of my village in Ghana. I walked around a bit and then interacted with a bunch of children. Eventually, my camera came out and all the children were engaged, posing and begging me to take their picture.

After a long stop, we left the village and traveled to the Nou Forest, through the Rift Valley. We had to drive up a steep mountain. During part of the drive, we had a dog running in front of us, leading us up the mountain, having to stop and wait for us at points because our truck was a lot slower than the dog. The sides of our safari truck started hitting tons of trees, bushes, and other plants on the sides. This meant that this stuff was all hitting us as well. It was quite a drive and I was covered with all sorts of beautiful flowers, leaves, thorns, sticks, and other random plant material which made me so itchy. As soon as we arrived at camp, before even pitching our tents, I stripped off my clothes and wrapped a kanga around me. It was very cold but I couldn’t put my jacket back on because I had worn it on the truck and it was making me so itchy.

We set up our tents in the dark and piled on clothing as this camp was super cold. It was definitely the coldest place I have been in while in Africa thus far. Yes, Melissa, it was much colder than even Kenya was when we arrived from Ghana and were freezing cold for days.

During the time in the Nou Forest, we put up mist nets to catch birds to study. I wasn’t a huge fan of this as when birds were caught in the net, they were brought back to camp and held even when they were making sounds which obviously meant that they were scared and wanted to get away and attempting to loosen themselves from the person handling them (our professor, Ken). In addition, the bird was held until a bunch of pictures were taken of the bird (keep in mind that at this time, it was dark outside so the flash was required). I did not take any photos of the birds as I didn’t think it was appropriate and thought it would add to the fear of the birds.

Other than looking at the birds which were caught in the mist nets, we had a free day. While most of the students went to a nearby open area to play capture the flag, I stayed at camp and finished preparing and practicing my elephant presentation. Each of us General Culture students had picked a topic at the beginning of safari to research and present on as part of our Biology class. I chose elephants because I love them but don’t really know much about them except for the fact that they are huge animals, grey in color with a trunk.

As it was so cold, we were all sitting close to the camp fire and I was standing on one side, presenting my findings about elephants. Here are some selected facts about elephants taken from my 10 minute presentation notes:

• Tusks weight about 134 pounds each for males (bulls) and about 42 pounds each for females (cows)
• Elephants have unique tears and holes in their ears which helps researchers tell them apart
• Elephants have padded feet for silent movement
• Elephant’s trunk = no bones, 300 pounds of hair, skin, connective tissue, fat, blood, lymph vessels, and networks of muscles and nerves
• A big elephant feeds from the ground to 20 feet high, higher than a giraffe can reach
• Adults consume about 330 pounds of food per day
• When in search of food, especially when food is scarce, elephants will push over trees, strip the bark from trees, and stomp around, transforming the woodland into open savannah and providing grazing habitat for dozens of grassland species (We witnessed during safari tons of trees that had been stripped of their bark and had been knocked over because the elephants had difficulty finding any other food during the drought)
• Baby elephants weigh about 256 pounds at birth and can walk within an hour after birth
• Matriarchal society: Herd’s welfare depends on the matriarch’s leadership as she sets the herd’s direction and pace
• During a life time, an elephant has 6 sets of cheek teeth – 2 upper and 2 lower – that move into place as the previous set wears out – They go to the swamp as last set of teeth wears in search of soft food and usually die there
• Elephants can make low pitched rumbling calls, too low for humans to hear that can be heard by other elephants up to 5 miles away. These calls travel through the earth and are picked up on the skin of the elephant’s feet and trunk
• There are 15 different types of rumbling sounds
• Poaching epidemic: In the early 20th century, there were 5-10 million elephants throughout Africa. By the last 1970s, 1.3 million, by the early 1990s, 350,000-500,000
• Elephant tusks = underground currency, by the 1970s, elephants were no longer seen as an animal but rather as a walking fortune, worth more than a dozen years of honest toil
• 1970s = sold elephant tusks at $100 + per pound
• Is selling ivory encouraging illegal practices or allowing poor countries to raise money to ‘help with the conservation of elephants?’

I did well on my presentation (100%) even though I was crying part of the time due to the fact that the smoke from the fire was severely irritating my eyes. I was happy with my grade as I put a lot of dedication and effort into my research and in preparing my presentation.

On October 22nd, we hiked a few hours to a waterfall. It was a long hike but not a difficult one as we were generally either hiking downhill or on a flat area. I was not excited for the hike back though as I knew that we would be hiking uphill, something my body does not like at all. It was so cold outside and for this reason; I had no interest in changing into my swimsuit to go swimming in super cold water. However, most of the other students stripped off their clothing, put on their bathing suits, and hopped into the water.

Like on the hike to the waterfall, I was close to the front on the hike back to camp. But that didn’t last too long as I started having lots of difficulty breathing pretty soon after leaving the waterfall. I moved to the back of the line and frequently took stops with our guides who always wanted to stop and look at birds. It was a long hike back and I was so happy when we finally arrived back at camp. My chest continued to pain me for the rest of the day even though we didn’t do any physical activities after the hike.

At this campsite, we saw a number of beautifully colored chameleons. We had been warned that during the drive to the forest, we might have chameleons fall onto us but luckily that didn’t happen. Although they are cool creatures, I know that I would have freaked out if one had landed on me unexpectedly.

The following day, we walked into an Iraqw village and saw the one remaining traditional Iraqw house. It was basically dug into the ground and had a bump over it – for protection and insulation, I assume. From this village, we traveled to a Hadza camp where we would spend the next few days. The Hadza camp was the first opportunity in quite awhile that we could shower. Now think about how much you take showers for granted at home and know that you can take one at any time and that there will always be water flowing from the showerhead. Now, imagine that you are in East Africa where there is currently a drought and you are with 30 other people who all want to shower and you have a few bags of water for showers. Yea, that is pretty much how it worked on safari. There were times when the camp staff had to go get more drinking water and water was to be used sparingly meaning that we couldn’t shower or do laundry for days at a time.

I think the longest I went was 4 days without a shower which was not really fun cause we would do hikes and get all sweaty but couldn’t shower. Wet-wipes became our new best friends. But even when I went four days without showering, I don’t think myself or the other students smelled too bad. This made me think about some of the people at Lewis & Clark who are hippies and decide not to shower for long periods of time. If you walk past them, you get a whiff of their horrid stench – if we didn’t smell much after four days, I wonder how long these hippies go without showering.

After a night in the Hadza village, we broke down camp and put our bags in the trucks. However, this time, we did not get on the trucks and drive to our next campsite. Instead, we walked. And walked. And walked. And walked. We walked across the Mbulu highlands and into the Yaeda Valley through the dried up Lake Eyasi Basin. This long walk was about 10 miles long but honestly wasn’t too bad at all. We had to be quiet as we were with Hadza guides who wanted to take advantage of the ability to hunt animals during this walk. It is obvious that our scent and noise must have made their attempt at hunting a million times harder but they tried anyways. They shot at some impala but did not hit the impala. Towards the end of the walk, at the base of a mountain which we had to climb up to get to camp, we took a little break. There was a Hadza village at this spot with a few bomas scatted near eachother. Besides the open land, animals, and these few bomas, there was nothing else out here. We took the opportunity to eat lunch and I got my dose of children as I got to hold and play with a baby. Everyone on this program knows that I love children and knew that when I got up after eating my lunch, I was heading over to play with the baby.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Life is Precious

This afternoon, while taking a break from blog writing, I went to the Internet café to send some emails. One of the many emails that I sent was to Mark, the guy who initiated the new site project for Christ Orphanage. I wrote to him to get an update of the orphanage and got a response back from him almost immediately with some very sad news. A week or so before I arrived in Ghana in May, one of the youngest boys at the orphanage passed away. Now, only a few months later, I received news that another one of the children at the orphanage passed away about two weeks ago. This young boy had a mental disability but was starting to excel in school and in his social life. He was a sweet boy who loved when I gave him attention or tickled him. According to Mark’s email, this boy fell sick with malaria and was taken to the hospital where he was prescribed malaria medication. His grandmother who cared for him decided that in order to speed up his recovery, she would give him more medication than he was actually prescribed to take. The following morning, her grandson passed away.

Events like this make me realize just how precious life truly is. It is so sad that these young children and millions of other children around the world who die at a young age are unable to live out the lives that they have ahead of them.

Today marks our last day as part of civilization for the next three weeks as we are leaving for three weeks on safari. I am not exactly sure what to expect but am not too excited to be camping for the next three weeks of my life with no connection to the outside world. This means that I will not have internet access for at least three weeks. I will update you when I get back from this adventure!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Catching Up (With a Super Long Post)

So since I have so much to catch up on, I am going to try to keep it all in chronological order. Since I have been so busy with school and traveling and stuff, I have to go back a few weeks to fully update you.

What feels like a long time ago, I had to say good bye to my Riruta Satellite host family. The night before I was to leave my host family, we all were sitting around together in the family room. I thanked my family for their hospitality and gave them each a gift. I had brought some of the gifts from home and had bought others at the supermarket, Nakumatt which is somewhat like a Target but not as cool. They all loved their gifts, especially the jewelry I gave to my host mother and sisters which my mom back home had made. In addition to the individual gifts, I gave my host family a photo album with about 40 pictures that I had printed from my stay with them. They loved it and looked through it many times before I even left. I was not expecting anything from my host family so I was quite surprised when my host mother told me that they had some gifts for me as well. They gave me a necklace as well as a jewelry box, a wooden giraffe, and a carved mother and child statue. Even though the gifts were quite heavy, I was very thankful and was sad to be leaving them in the morning.

That night, like every other night, I went to brush my teeth. My host family thought it was weird that I brushed my teeth twice a day but my little sister, Stephanie loved it and joined me every time I went to brush my teeth. Whenever she heard me brushing my teeth, she would run into the kitchen, grab her toothbrush, and join me. It was seriously the cutest thing ever.

The next morning, I worked a bit on my paper for my history class and went on a walk with my sisters to deliver photos to a mother and baby that I had become friends with in town. They were not at the mother’s shop so I decided to hold on to the photos and try to deliver them again before I left Riruta for good. We returned home and hung out there until 1pm when we left for the Riruta Satellite goodbye lunch. My sisters and mother got all dressed up and we walked over to the house where I had been attending school for the last week. Our head Swahili teacher, Rose had told us that the lunch would start at 1pm, mzungu time, not African time so I made sure that my family and I were actually on time. My host mother wasn’t too fond of this as she said that we should arrive around 2pm instead of 1pm. Of course we were one of the first families to arrive and waited around for a good hour before a majority of the families actually arrived. My host father had to work that morning so he came over around 2pm and joined us for lunch. It was frustrating to have to wait for other people to show up for so long but eventually we were allowed to eat the feast that had been prepared for us. After a few hours of sitting around and talking, we left and walked home.

On the walk home, the mother who I wanted to deliver the photos to was at her shop. We stopped by and she told me how happy she was to have the photos. As it was the last time I would see her and her 2 month old baby, Ashley, I wanted to hold Ashley one last time. Of course she was asleep but that didn’t stop her mother from telling me that I should go get the baby. She was behind the shop counter, asleep in a cardboard box. This was somewhat sad but at the same time was better than some of the other places that I have seen babies sleeping in Africa. After saying my good byes, I returned home for the last time and put my bags into the car. My host family then drove me back to the Methodist Guest House where they had picked me up about a week earlier. I truly enjoyed my time with my host family and was so grateful that they welcomed me into their home and were so kind to me. Although it was sad to leave them, I know that they are the kind of people that I will stay in contact with. In fact, I have already communicated much with my host aunt (who I just call my sister because she is 21 and more like a sister) via Facebook since I left Nairobi.

All 23 of us students arrived back at the Methodist Guest House at various times that afternoon/ evening and spent the night there. Being in the hotel, with all of our bags allowed us to reorganize our stuff and pack a duffle bag for our next adventure.

The following morning, we checked out of the guest house and boarded a big orange bus to Mombasa. The trip to Mombasa was an eight hour trip on mostly a good road. And now that I have gone back and checked my last blog update, I realize that I already told you a little about this journey. On this long bus ride, which I spent chatting with David Sperling, our history professor, we saw many animals including giraffes, monkeys, elephants, zebras, and camels. It was exciting when one of us would shout out that we could see an animal and David was impressed when I spotted an animal before the others.

After the long ride, other students apologized to me for having to sit with David for the entire trip but I actually really enjoyed our conversations. He gave me ideas and names of organizations that I should look into as I told him that I had wanted to do the Peace Corps but no longer wanted to as I wanted to continue doing work in Ghana and it was very unlikely that I would actually get placed there. The only part of our conversation that I did not enjoy was when David decided to test me on my Swahili. David is an American man who has lived in Kenya for so long that he is fluent in Swahili. As a result, I was a bit nervous having a conversation with him in Swahili but he told me that he was impressed with my Swahili after only 2 weeks.

By the time that we arrived in Mombasa (which is on the Kenyan coast) that evening, we were informed that it was the end of Ramadan. Our hosts in Mombasa took us to a Swahili restaurant for dinner and then we all went to the end of Ramadan festival. There were so many people at the festival and many rides and much food. We walked around awkwardly for about an hour before heading back to our hotel for the night.

The following morning, we were taken shopping by our local hosts. As Mombasa is 99% Islamic, we had to go out and buy traditional Islamic clothing to respect their culture. The boys went with our male host as us females went with our female host. We first went into a kanga shop where I decided to purchase a two piece kanga – a piece for your head and upper body which is worn over a shirt and a piece that is worn as a skirt. The kangas here are very pretty and have sayings on them in Swahili. I have worn one piece of my kanga, as a skirt but also bought a bui bui which I preferred to wear while in Mombasa. A bui bui is a long dress which basically covers all of your skin and is worn with a head scarf. Our bui buis were black and had different designs on them – mine had some rhinestone flowers on the top center and some on the sleeves. Of course, Mombasa is a very hot part of the country which made it very nice to be walking around completely covered up all the time.

The locals were impressed with our dress and treated us differently when we dressed in our bui buis. Upon leaving the shop where we purchased the bui buis, people stopped us on the streets and others chatted with us from their car windows. They complemented our dress and asked us if we were Islamic. We were no longer seen as tourists when we walked around town and were not hassled by any of the store owners or other people on the streets.

The boys who had purchased the male equivalent of bui buis were also treated in a different fashion. At a governmental event that we attended that morning, the boys were photographed and their photo was published in the national newspaper the following day. Our group of females was photographed as well but unlike the boys, we did not make it into the newspaper.

On one of the first days in Mombasa, David took a group of us for a mini tour of the town. He showed us the market, bank, exchange bureau and internet cafés. On our mini tour, we stopped at the bank to take some money out of the ATMs. The first student to use the ATM was very confused by the exchange rate and didn’t understand that she could type in a smaller amount than the amounts listed for withdrawal. As a result, she took out the equivalent of about $300 USD which was way more than she wanted. Unfortunately this also happened to another participant on our program that missed the warning about this.

One evening, we dressed in our traditional clothing and tennis shoes/ other closed toe shoes and dined at the Mombasa Club, of which David Sperling is a member. The club rules are that you must wear closed toe shoes so we looked awfully funny but obeyed the rules. This club, located on the ocean front is exclusive and very difficult to become a member of. We dined outside at a few decorated round tables overlooking the Indian Ocean. The dinner was delicious and included lime juice which I was not a huge fan of but others truly enjoyed.

While in Mombasa, we also visited the Cultural Center of Swahili which our local hosts, Ahmed and his wife actually started. At this cultural center, Ahmed taught us about the forms of Swahili poetry as he is a Swahili poet, and according to David, probably the best Swahili poet in the world. He explained to us that there are 13 different forms of Swahili poetry and went into detail and described the three simplest forms as well as the role of poetry in Swahili culture. The Swahili poetry forms varied in the rhyme pattern, stanza length, and reason – some for explaining a place or riddle and others for other purposes. After describing all of this to us, Ahmed read us some of his poetry and his wife who is an award winning Swahili poetry reader read/ sang some of his poems.

As the cultural center is adjacent to Fort Jesus, we walked around the fort but did not opt to go inside as admission was a bit expensive. We rather opted to spend our stipend on shopping excursions.

Ahmed also took us to his mosque and showed us how they do the traditional washing before prayer. Ahmed explained to us that women are not as likely to come to mosque but if they do, they must pray in the back as the women are less likely to get distracted from the men as the men are to get distracted from the women. Some mosques, like orthodox temples have separate areas for the women to pray that are sectioned off from the men’s area.

Ahmed showed us the way that he prays and chanted some of the prayers for us to hear. As Mombasa is 99% Islamic, there are lots of beautiful mosques and the call to prayer which occurs five times a day (and which I think is really pretty to listen to) can be heard from a number of mosques throughout the day, starting early before the sun rises until evening.

After our stay in Mombasa, we boarded a bus, ready for another full day of travels. After driving not too far, we had to all get out of the bus and board a ferry which took us across a large body of water. We had to wait for the next ferry to take our bus across as the ferry that we were on did not have room for the bus. Other people who were in busses or other vehicles did not have to get out of their cars to go on the ferry but the officer who was instructing us on what to do wanted to show us who was boss and made us all get out of the bus. During this trip, we also crossed the border from Kenya to Tanzania. Once we were out of Kenya, we had to drive for awhile before arriving at the Tanzanian border which confused me because I was not sure if that land between the two border points was part of Kenya or part of Tanzania. About half of the students in our group already had Tanzanian visas and the rest of us had to buy visas there at $100 each. At the border crossing, we were harassed by guys trying to change our Kenyan shillings into Tanzanian shillings even though there are signs every where that say that such activity is illegal.

We stopped for a quick lunch – we literally had five minutes to find food and get back on the bus which meant that we all had nuts, chips, and soda or juice for lunch. The bus then took us to the Tanga Airport which is the smallest airport I have ever been in. This makes sense as the plane that we took was the smallest plane I have ever flown in. As we arrived at the airport about 2 hours before our plane was to depart, we sat around outside and waited. Some of the boys played soccer while others of us worked on our essays which were due in a few days.

After sitting around for a long time, we finally went into the airport which consisted of a small little waiting room and a desk with a very old scale and a little bit of counter room which served as the check in counter. We had to put our bags on this counter as the guy weighed our bags which had a 15 kilogram (30 pound) limit. Our teacher had separated us into two groups – my group had 13 people and the other group had 11 people. The thirteen of us in my group were to go on the first plane and the 11 others plus two other passengers were to go on the second plane. As the planes can only hold 13 people each and there were only two flights, we had to send three other people from our group (our leader’s wife and daughter and our student leader) a day earlier.

We were taken through security which consisted of us opening our bags and then the staff performing a wand body check (or whatever you call the metal detector wand type thing that they use when you set off the metal detector at real airports). This process was quite funny especially in comparison to all the security features that we are used to any and everywhere else.

The thirteen of us then boarded our tiny plane. Seriously, I was so scared! I knew that it would be a small plane but I never imagined that it would be this small. The plane was so small and compact that one of the students even got to sit in the front with the pilot. I did not opt for this seat as I thought that if the plane was to crash, I would rather be in the back where I couldn’t see what was happening and probably had a better chance of surviving. Luckily, I did not have to test this theory.

During the 22 minute flight, I took a bunch of photos from the window. It was pretty awesome as the plane didn’t really get very high so we could totally see everything on the ground and the reefs in the ocean which we flew over. Landing was the part that I was most nervous about and was a bit bumpy but I guess that is somewhat expected on a small plane.

After landing, we walked off the plane and entered a totally empty airport. Our luggage was brought in and placed on a conveyor belt type thing which was lacking a conveyor belt. We spent the hour that we had to wait for the rest of our group playing Hearts which has become our group’s favorite card game.

We were finally joined by the rest of our group and had a bus waiting outside the airport, ready to take us to a guest house in Wete, where we would spend our first night in Tanzania. We arrived at the guest house around 6pm, just in time to watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean. I was the first person up on the rooftop, watching the sunset while taking photos. While up on the rooftop watching the sun set, we watched as hundreds of bats flew over us. It was beautiful to watch the bats flying past the moon in the evening sky.

We then met as a group as David wanted to brief us on our second home stays. David left Mombasa a day before us and had arrived in Pemba early to meet with the village elders and finalize the plans for the home stays. This home stay would be much different from the Riruta Satellite home stay as we would be in a much more rural village on the island of Pemba. Unlike our first home stays, where all but one of the families were Christian, all the host families on Pemba were Islamic. As the home stays in Pemba had only been done once before and had been a success, David told us that over a hundred families wanted to host us. As there were only 23 students and about 4 students were quite sick, only about 20% of the families that wanted to host a student were able to. This home stay was only a two and a half day home stay but unlike our first home stays, we would not attend class but rather hang out in the village with our families and learn about village life. In addition, we had been warned that our host families in Pemba would probably not speak much English and there was a possibility that the only way we would be able to communicate with them was through Swahili. After only two weeks of Swahili classes, this was a bit nerve racking.

That evening, some of us attended another Ramadan festival. In the Islamic religion, the fasting of Ramadan continues for 6 days after Ramadan ends so the celebrations continued for those six extra days. Personally, I think it is just an excuse to continue partying. I wasn’t super excited about attending another Ramadan festival as the first one was not too much fun but the electricity was out and there wasn’t really anything else to do that evening.

The walk to and from the festival was the most interesting as I spent the whole time chatting with one of the guys who worked at the guesthouse and offered to walk us to the festival. He explained to me how Pemba operates on two lines of electricity – the old line and the new line and how only one line was supplied electricity at a time resulting in many blackouts. We also discussed Tanzanian politics or rather he talked to me about it because I knew nothing of Tanzanian politics. While at the festival, we got somewhat bored and went to buy some sugarcane which we shared with the rest of the group. I fell in love with sugarcane last summer in Ghana because the night guard at CCS would bring it to me quite often but many of the other students who went to the festival had never tried sugar cane before. Some of them loved it and others just hated it.

We pulled up to the village of Tumbe the following afternoon in two dolla dollas which have pick up truck fronts and have two benches of wooden seats in the pick up part of the truck with an aisle down the middle. There were barefoot children standing outside, waiting for our arrival. David had told us that the families were very excited to host us and probably spent the whole day waiting for our arrival. Being in the village made me so happy as it reminded me a lot of Wegbe, the village I stayed in while in Ghana. The only difference here was the fact that I couldn’t communicate much with most of the people (which is somewhat an issue in Wegbe) and I had to walk around completely covered up and sweating hot.

Since Tumbe is an extremely Muslim village we were dressed in our traditional clothing which we had to wear during the entirety of our two and a half day stay. We were shown to a courtyard where we sat down and waited to hear who our host siblings were. The host siblings were standing around, waiting to take us home and show us off to everyone in the village. My host sister picked me up and we walked home, exchanging a few words in Swahili. She kept talking too fast for me to understand what she was saying and when I asked her to repeat it again slowly, she repeated it at exactly the same speed. I would later learn that this would be a common occurrence when trying to communicate with the people of Tumbe.

When we arrived at the house, my sister took off her shoes so I did the same. We entered the house and she showed me the room I would be staying in. There was a Queen sized bed, some cupboards, and windows and a bunch of empty space. My host sister, who had a very difficult name that I could never remember, introduced me to another sister, who also had a very difficult name. I don’t think they could remember my name either as they always just called me ‘friend.’ Both girls were probably about the same age as me. My host sisters made me show them my clothing that I had brought with me which consisted of a kanga, a skirt which went to my knees but was too short to wear at all during my stay in Tumbe, a pair of capris, and a few shirts. They pulled out the kanga and tied it tightly around my head. I had been proud of myself in Mombasa for finally figuring out how to properly tie the headscarf so that it wouldn’t fall off but they wanted to be certain that there was no potential for my headscarf to fall off.

I met some other people who I assumed were part of the family but am still not really sure if they were part of the family or just neighbors and friends. I took out my Swahili dictionary to help me communicate and they loved it. They took the book and looked at it, trying to learn English words. My host father arrived and introduced himself. He told me that he wanted me to come and see his office, which ended up being right across the road from the house. He was one of the two chiefs of the village and showed me the chart on which the voting for the chiefs was tallied up on. He decided that it was important to teach me the body parts in Swahili as I did not know any of them. After he wrote down the words for arm, leg, each of the fingers, nose, mouth, etc, we moved on to food. I knew most of the food words but he added in some strange and unfamiliar new words that he told me I should learn before I left.

After our Swahili lesson, he took me back across the road to meet one of his sons who instantly decided that he wanted to marry me. This son, like his father spoke English pretty well. He asked me questions about America and then told me that we should go on a walk to the farm. A group of about 5 of us walked down the dirt road to the farm. One of the young men climbed up a coconut tree and threw down a couple of coconuts for us to open. The other guys cut the coconuts and gave me the coconut milk/ water to drink. I am not a huge fan of coconuts but drank some before handing it off to one of the guys to finish off the milk and eat the coconut meat.

We then walked back to the house and I was served a late lunch of rice and vegetables as David made sure that my family had understood that I did not eat meat or fish. I spent the afternoon playing with some of the children. My youngest host brother who was about 12 years old took me across the road and showed me his school. They were excited when I took out my camera and posed for a ton of pictures.

That evening, another one of my host brothers arrived and told me that he wanted to take me on a walk through the village. I agreed and we chatted as he told me how he wanted to marry me as well. I am very used to this by now and know how to handle these conversations and the harassment about marriage but many of the other female students on my program who did not know how to handle such situations were not happy about this. This is something that came out in our discussions about the home stays after the home stays had ended.

We walked around the village and my host brother took me to meet his grandparents and some other family members. We ran into some of the other mzungu (white people) and my host brother introduced himself and talked to each and every one of them. Eventually, we returned home and I ate dinner on a mat outside with my host father and his two wives. Like in Ghana, meals are eating outside and with your hands. I was glad that I was already familiar with this as many of the other students were not and some of them didn’t even know that it was not appropriate to use their left hand while eating until after the home stay ended.

I went to bed somewhat early that evening and slept on the far side of the bed as I assumed that one of my sisters would be sharing the bed with me. When I awoke in the morning, I was the only one in the bed and was confused as to where my sisters slept. However, I did not want to burden myself with having this conversation with them in Swahili.

The way I was awoken that morning was quite funny as one of my sisters woke me up at 6am and told me to go to the bathroom. After I obeyed this, she told me to go back to sleep. The reasoning behind this puzzled me and continues to puzzle me – I guess some things are just not understood across cultures.

After awakening a bit later, my sisters instructed me to dress in my bui bui and once again tied the headscarf around my head very tightly, making sure that none of my hair was showing. We were to meet all of the other students at the secondary school at 8am mzungu time that morning. Of course my brother and I were on time and as a result had to wait two hours before everyone else arrived. I don’t really mind dealing with African time when I know that things will run on African time but it really annoys me when they say that it is going to start on American time and then it actually starts on African time.

We walked around the secondary school and looked into the classrooms which were arranged around an outdoor compound in the center. The classrooms have no doors and are just open to the outside which I can imagine must be difficult when one class needs quiet in order to take an exam or something. When the others finally arrived, we were all seated in a classroom and were addressed by the school’s headmaster. There was basically no reason for this meeting except for the fact that we took a pretty cute group picture.

We returned home and I spent the rest of the morning playing with Zachariah, a baby who I had fallen in love with. During the few days with my host family, I also held a tiny 3 month old baby who was the smallest, most frail baby I had even seen. It saddened me that this tiny baby was obviously very premature or sick and was suffering. It was something that I still cannot get off my mind.

After lunch, my host sisters took me to the beach which was very nice. As we were all in our bui buis, we couldn’t really go into the water and I didn’t know how far I could pull up my bui bui to get my legs wet. Both on the way to the beach and on the way back, we visited some of my sisters’ friends and greeted the elderly with the greeting used to greet elders which basically translates to ‘I bow at your feet.’ On this walk, we were joined by many children who laughed when I attempted to speak to them in Swahili and got a huge kick out of me saying ‘bata bata bata’ which means ‘duck duck duck.’

After our visit to the beach, I decided to take a shower. I entered the bathroom and was immediately surrounded by a million mosquitoes. I immediately came out and tried to communicate with my sister about the issue in the bathroom. She did not understand the word mosquito so I had to take her into the bathroom and show her all the mosquitoes that were flying around everywhere. She got a cloth and swatted the mosquitoes out and thought that the situation was a bit funny. During the rest of my time there, I would occasionally hear her talking to other people about this mosquito issue and explaining to them that I was afraid to go into the bathroom with so many mosquitoes due to the possibility of getting malaria (again).

On my last night with my host family, one of my sisters did henna on my arms and legs. We had gone to buy the henna earlier that day but my sister decided that she wanted to do it at home. I didn’t realize how long of a process henna was until it was midnight and my sister was just getting started on my feet. She did the henna on the floor in the bedroom which I stayed in. There were 10 or so other women in the room as well as well as some children watching me get the henna.

Let me explain this a little further, now this was no ordinary henna where you get a flower or something small on your arm or something. This was intense henna. My sister started with my hands and did the backs of my hands as well as the palms and my arms, about halfway up to my elbows. After doing the outlines in black, another woman put the brown henna inside all of the flower petals and in other various places. I think that the best way to describe it would be like coloring in the designs. As one of my sisters was doing the henna, the other one started doing my hair. She made five big braids which luckily came out easily because I was not a fan of them at all.

By the time that my sister started the henna on my feet, I was so tired. She instructed me to lie on the bed as she sat at the end of the bed and worked on my feet. This in itself took an additional hour and a half. So, basically the whole process of henna took 6 hours. It was insane! And I saw so many other women in the village who had so much more henna than I did at the time that my sister finished. I could not even imagine how long it must have taken them.

As the henna process went on until 1:30am, some of the women and children who were watching fell asleep on my bed. My sisters kicked everyone off the bed so I could go to bed and everyone else slept on a mattress on the floor. It was kinda weird as there was a whole other side of the bed but I didn’t want them to think that I was ungrateful for the hospitality so I slept on the far side again, leaving room for one of my sisters to possibly sleep on the bed even though I didn’t expect them to actually sleep there.

That night, the bed got super dirty as the henna dried and rubbed off in my sleep which is normal but very messy. In the morning, my sister told me to go to the bathroom and followed me there. I was a bit confused but then she turned on the shower and washed off my hands and feet, scrubbing off the remainder of the dried henna, leaving behind the henna designs on my skin and the gorgeous orange nails that she had given me by painting the brown henna on them. I did not realize at the time that it would take a few months until the orange nails completely disappeared as I would have to wait until my nails fully grew out for the orange-ness to go away.

The next morning, I was served breakfast and then my siblings and I walked to the house where they had picked me up a few days earlier. We said our good byes and boarded a bus for about a half hour ride to the ferry dock. The bus backed into a parking space on the boardwalk and freaked all of us out as we were scared that we were going to back up too much and fall right into the ocean. Luckily, there was a huge concrete ball our bus hit and which stopped us from actually falling into the ocean.

This ferry ride was my first experience on a boat here in East Africa and let me tell you, I was not a fan. At all. I had my barf bag close at hand but luckily didn’t actually need to use it although I sure felt like I needed to at multiple occasions. About two hours later, we arrived in Zanzibar. We packed into another bus and drove to our hotel, the Garden Lodge in Stone Town. This coastal town is also highly Islamic but due to the fact that Zanzibar is so touristy, our professors decided that in Zanzibar we did not need to dress in our traditional clothing. Instead, they let us be tourists for a change. As a result, we dealt with many shop owners and other people hassling us to buy their products or come into their stores. As almost all of us girls had henna on our legs and arms, we were questioned many times as henna is often a sign that you have either recently been married or have attended a wedding. This is the main thing that separated us from the rest of the tourists in Zanzibar. The touristy portion of this part of the trip did not end there.

For one of our first meals in Zanzibar, we all dined at a restaurant on the beach which prided themselves on serving pizza and gelato. Everyone was in heaven. I didn’t even miss pizza and rather just ordered pizza. But I gotta admit, the gelato was mighty tasty. And we returned to this restaurant two more times for free meals that week.

During our afternoon classes which occurred on the rooftop of our hotel, we could hear the call to prayer. Often times we would have to stop conversation as it was too loud to talk over. These afternoon sessions were either group meetings or featured a speaker. My favorite speaker was a lady named Beth. Our professor, David had met Beth by chance on his flight to Pemba just a few days earlier. Beth is an American lady who is probably about 50-60 years old and now works for Millennium Village Projects. She was a very inspirational speaker and is working on a village project in a village on the island of Pemba, close to the village we stayed in for two and a half days.

Beth told us how she became involved with Millennium Village Projects and how luck had so much to do with it. She had no education in anything relating to her current work but met a guy named Jeffrey Sax one day when he moved in next door to her. Jeffrey Sax started the Millennium Village Promise program and convinced Beth to jump aboard on the project. She has been working for him ever since even though the name of the organization has changed over time.

It was amazing to hear how much of a role luck played in Beth’s story. It was luck that she met Jeffrey Sax, just as it was luck that our professor met Beth and asked her to come speak to our group. This reminded me much of the way in which I became involved with and ended up at Christ Orphanage. It was all through luck. Honestly, it was all luck that I ended up in Ghana in the first place. The program that I volunteered with had a program to the African countries of Tanzania and Ghana. I wanted to be home for my sister’s high school graduation and the program in Ghana had a trip leaving the US the following day. I arrived in Ghana not knowing how much this experience would change my life.

I was very lucky that I was placed at Christ Orphanage. A majority of the volunteers through CCS work in education – either at schools or orphanages -- and for some reason they placed me at Christ Orphanage. The best things that could have ever happened to me occurred that summer and the children at the orphanage and Raymond, the founder of the orphanage truly changed my life forever.

In her discussion with us, Beth stressed the fact that when you are looking for something, especially if you are specific about what you are looking, luck will play a role and help you. I didn’t really know what I wanted but I sure am happy with the results.

Another one of our meetings was to discuss the Pemba home stays as many people were not happy with them. Many of the girls felt uncomfortable with the way that they were treated by their host families, especially their host brothers. This meeting was a good chance for all of us to get everything off our minds about the home stay and to share ideas with our professors for the next year’s program. As the Pemba home stays the year before went so well, they had not expected that our group would have so many issues.

While in Zanzibar, we had a fair amount of free time which was nice and allowed us to relax/ work on the three essays that we had due that week. In addition, we had our Swahili oral exam while in Zanaibar. The end of our time in Zanzibar marked the finish of our Swahili class and one of our International Studies classes.

As a group, we visited the Sultan’s Palace/ Museum which was somewhat interesting as we had learned about the sultan in our history course. In addition, we visited the site of the former Slave Market. It was somewhat similar to the Slave Castles on the coast of Ghana which I have visited.

During our time in Zanzibar, I became responsible for collecting photos from all the students to send to our host families in Pemba. This meant that everyone had to put their photos on my computer and pick out a few that they wanted printed. I made a folder for each student and kept the photos organized so I could organize them after they were printed. On our last night in Pemba, I received the printed photos which looked amazing and labeled them so that the families in Pemba would know which ones were for them. This required a bit of work on my part and the nagging of the students to bring their memory cards to my room and decide on the photos they wanted to send. I was happy that the families would get these pictures though because I know that a lot of the students on our trip will go home and never send any photos to their host family. The people in Pemba are very rural and I am sure that they will treasure the photos that we sent them forever.

In Zanzibar, we also visited a madrasa school – a mostly Islamic school. This school went from primary to secondary so there were students of all ages at the school. It was a very well organized school which was evident when we toured the classrooms and met some of the students. They were excited to have us at their school and were very welcoming.

We spent another one of our days in Zanzibar visiting the Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park which is home to a beautiful forest, many monkeys, and a mangrove forest. The monkeys were so cute but not quite as cute as the monkeys at the monkey sanctuary in Ghana. We couldn’t feed these monkeys either but they got very close and let us take lots of cute photos of them. The photos were even cuter by the fact that many of the mother monkeys were holding onto their babies. One of the babies was very active and was practically performing for us and posing for our cameras. After taking hundreds of photos of the monkeys, we went over to the mangrove forest where we were able to walk across the mangroves which are coastal trees that grow in tropical/ subtropical areas.

In addition, we visited a family owned and operated spice farm. The spice farm was awesome as I didn’t realize where so many of the spices that we use in our foods everyday actually grew. The vanilla, cardamom, nutmeg, and other spices smelled so good. The cinnamon was seriously the most amazing thing though. The cinnamon tree bark tasted just like cinnamon and the root of the tree, believe it or not is the source of Vicks vapor rub. And trust me, it smelled just like the Vics that we buy at the market. We also were shown and got to smell coco, coffee, star fruit, cloves, black pepper, curry, ginger, iodine, passion fruit, henna (body paint), and chili peppers. Some of the students decided to try the chili peppers and ended up crying their eyes out.

From Zanzibar, we traveled north to a beautiful beach resort called White Sands. We spent the day relaxing on the beach, laying in hammocks, and swimming in the beautiful, clear ocean. I spent a few hours laying on one of the hammocks, writing in my journal, and watching the ocean. I loved the fact that while I was lying in the hammock, I could hear the group of guys next to us talking in Hebrew. There were four Israeli men and two Israeli women – probably in their mid 20s. It made me realize how much Swahili has made me forget Hebrew. I was trying to think of basic words in Hebrew but all that kept coming to my mind was Swahili. I guess my foreign language part of my brain cannot hold very much but I already knew this.

After a lovely day on the beach, we woke up early and boarded two small boats that picked us up right on the beach where we had been swimming the previous day and took us to Pemba Abwe. This boat ride might sound like fun to most people but as I have been feeling quite motion sick here in East Africa, I was not looking forward to the boat trip at all. I got some Dramamine from another student which made me so tired but I couldn’t fall asleep on the wooden benches lining the sides of the boat because I felt so sick. The Bodine that my mother had sent here to help me with motion sickness which has no side effects at all did not help me at all on the boat and car rides, which is why I had to resort to the Dramamine this time around. After about two hours, I was so incredibly tired and got up and laid down in the middle of the boat, on the ground with the bags. I was finally able to fall asleep and slept for the last two hours of the trip.

When we finally arrived in Pemba Abwe, I was so relieved. That afternoon, after being reunited with our big bags that we had left behind for the last two weeks, we got settled in our bondas.

We quickly changed into our swimsuits and set out to practice snorkeling as the biology snorkeling aspect of our trip was to start the following morning. I was one of the few people who had never been snorkeling before and to be honest with you, I was a bit nervous. Lisa Clifton, our professor’s wife helped me find a snorkel and mask that fit me and some fins. I guess we picked out a good pair of fins because a ton of other people’s fins ended up giving them blisters but mine were perfect and didn’t hurt at all nor leave any blisters. Lisa took me into the ocean and helped me get comfortable with breathing in the snorkel. I was not a fan of this at all that first day but by the second day, I became a pro. When we were practicing in the ocean, we mostly stayed in shallow water where I could stand but I was a bit scared about the next week when we would be snorkeling in deeper water.

That evening was very tough for me as I felt sick and still felt like I was on the boat and I was rocking. This was a feeling that stayed with me the entire week and didn’t go away until a few hours after finally leaving the coast. As a result, I went to sleep relatively early every night as the nauseous feeling made me feel too horrible to actually do anything.

On the first real day of snorkeling, we ate breakfast at 7am and boarded the boats by 8am. I did not want to be exhausted all day so I didn’t take any medicine before the boat ride. By this time, I had started getting used to feeling sick when traveling so I just worked my way through the pain. The boat ride took about 30-40 minutes and stopped near the protected reef, Maziwe, where we spent most of our snorkeling time. Lisa went out into the water with me that morning and showed me all the cool things that are possible to see when you go snorkeling. I never before really realized how many beautiful animals and plants lived under the ocean’s surface. Honestly, I was a bit grossed out by the ocean before this trip and was extremely scared to swim with fish.

As I was still a bit nervous about the whole snorkeling thing, Lisa suggested that I wear a life jacket. I loved this idea and actually wore the life jacket during snorkeling the entire week. This meant that I could not swim deep like some of the other people but I didn’t care because I felt so much more comfortable and safe this way.

The first day of snorkeling was a day to explore the ocean and look at all the animals, coral, algae, etc. We snorkeled for about 2 hours that day before returning to the boats to go back to Pemba Abwe. After eating lunch that afternoon, I was so exhausted from all the snorkeling that I took a nice, relaxing nap.

While we were snorkeling that first day, we were told to think about what most interested us on the reef as we were going to be split up into groups to do research later that day. As I wanted to use the life jacket all week, I was restricted as to which groups I could be a part of. This was the case because some of the groups, like Lobsters and Octopus required the researchers to dive under the water to gather data. As a result, I got placed in one of the two Benthic Communities groups. Benthic means bottom dwellers and basically meant that we were collecting data on the corals, both hard and soft, algae, sand, and rubble. I was in a group with two other girls and we started to practice our strategy of collecting data the following day.

Our strategy to determine the amount of coral, sand, rubble, etc. was to use a quadrate which was a meter squared and was made out of PVC pipes. We would throw the quadrate in various directions, swim over to the quadrate, estimate the amounts of the various things that were inside the quadrate, record our observations, and then do it all again. It was pretty simple and did not require me to dive under water at any point.

We collected data for two and a half days. One and a half days of data collection was spent at the protected reef, Maziwe, and the other day of data collection was spent at an unprotected reef, Fungazinga. After collecting all this data, we had to average it all out and come to some kind of conclusion. We had to present our findings to our group, as well as to some of the local community members, including a dive team. This data that we collected had never been collected before and hopefully will help the community. It is hoped that in the future East Africa study abroad programs, the students will continue to collect data in the same way so that at some point in the future, there will be data on these reefs over an extended period of time.

During our week of snorkeling, the weather was amazing and the water was in the 80s. Luckily, I was thinking and had brought a swimming shirt and capris to wear over my bathing suit and wore them every day. Others on my program didn’t really think about the sun and got quite some painful sun burns over the week. On our last day of snorkeling, the weather changed a bit and the water got very choppy. On our way back to Pemba Abwe from the reef, our boat was rocking back and forth way more than it previously had. I was so scared and was sure that we would tip over and fall into the water. Seriously, I was probably the most scared I had ever been in my life. It was hot out and the sun was beating down on us as we had to remove the tarp that provided shade on the boat due to all the wind. I was so scared that we were going to tip over that I was just holding on to my life jacket the entire time. I didn’t want to take the risk of letting go of my life jacket to get my sunscreen and apply it so I didn’t. As a result, I ended up getting a bit burnt that last day.

After fighting with the waves and the wind for awhile, we turned off the motor and put up the sail. This meant that our 30-40 minute boat ride turned into more like a two hour very rocky boat ride. I was too scared during this ride to feel sea sick which was pointed out by my professor. However, I explained to him that I would much rather be sea sick than be so scared out of my mind and convinced that we were going to tip over. The guy steering the boat as well as many of the other students thought I was hilarious as I was definitely the most scared about this experience. Luckily, my professor had used his entire camera battery taking underwater photos and only was able to get one of me freaking out on the boat ride.

I had figured out exactly what I would do if the boat were to tip over and was prepared for the worst to happen. Luckily, I did not have to test out the strategy that I developed in my head. I had never been so relieved to arrive back at Pemba Abwe as I was that afternoon.