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.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Off to the Coast

As I fell asleep last night after only writing a little in my blog, I will work on continuing to write this week. Today, we are heading to the beach for the day and tomorrow we are heading back to the mainland of Tanzania. We will not have internet access for about a week as we will be snorkeling in the Indian Ocean so I will have a lot to update you on next time I am by a computer.

Let me apologize in advance because I have a feeling that there are grammatical and other mistakes in this blog post, like there have been in my other posts but I have no time to reread it and make those corrections.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Reflection Paper #5

Continuity and Change
Final Reflection: Reflection #5

As a Western foreigner, I notice the adaptation of Western goods, ideas, and technology in Africa which have obviously brought much change to the African continent. This change, though gradual has had lasting effects in modern day African society. This can be witnessed on the streets, in the shops and buildings which line the roadside, and in the schools. While many of the Islamic and African people admit that the West is better and stronger technologically and materially, they also acknowledge the fact that the West lacks values that are strong in Africa.

As the Islamic Arabs came across the Indian Ocean to East Africa to trade goods, they interacted with indigenous Africans and intermarried with them. The intermarriage of Arabs with Africans brought about change that is evident today and will continue to last for generations. It is through such encounters of people that change has been brought about throughout the African continent. However, not all of the encounters throughout Africa have not resulted in positive outcomes. Many of these encounters have resulted in wars and other conflicts and have resulted in a loss of freedom.

Especially here in Zanzibar, it is evident that tourism brings in a huge profit and affects the local people. Tourists bring not only money but also culture when they travel. While sometimes subtle, differences in cultural practices, religion, and ideas open up things to the locals as they become aware of and educated about these differences. In addition, the ideas that foreigners bring with them can easily be transferred to the local people and as a result can increase their job opportunities.

My host family in Riruta Satellite had never interacted with or hosted a foreigner before I arrived at their house. By having me in their house for a week, I definitely changed their perception of Americans and left them questioning some of my cultural habits and practices. It was amazing how much I took out of this home stay and how much they took out of it as well. These are things that cannot be learned from books or movies but rather require first hand experiences and interactions.

In addition, relationships, whether friendships or romantic relationships, between people of different backgrounds can easily develop between tourists and local people. I can attest to this as I have many friends, contacts, and even a boyfriend in Ghana. While staying with host families in Riruta Satellite and Tumbe, I made more friends that I will keep in contact with even when I return home to America. Having the opportunity to interact with and have a lasting relationship with an American obviously opens people up to new ideas and ways of thinking but also opens them up to the possibility of visiting or even moving to America.

In the rural village of Tumbe and even somewhat in Riruta Satellite, the family structure and roles of each member were very specific. The mother was expected to raise the children, cook the food, clean the house, and look after the family as a whole. In Riruta Satellite, my host mother was an atypical wife and mother. She did not have the opportunity to continue her education after completing secondary school due to the fact that she was pregnant. Currently, she attends beauty school which means that she leaves the house early in the morning and returns late at night. As a result, her two young children are raised and cared for by a girl who provides house help. However, my host fathers in both Tumbe and Riruta Satellite fit the role of the stereotypical African father and husband. The males are responsible for working and making money so that they can provide for the family. For this reason and due to the fact that they are not very comfortable in the house, I rarely saw my host fathers and did not interact with them much.

My host parents in both Riruta Satellite and Tumbe grew up in a culture with traditional values which affects the way that they view and deal with modernization. While they have cell phones and enjoy some of the technological advances, they did not grow up with these material objects. On the contrary, my host siblings are growing up in a generation that is highly influenced and affected by modernization. My host brothers in Tumbe enjoyed playing video games on their game system while my host sisters in Riruta Satellite spent much of their time sitting in front of the television. This affects their outlook on life and the way they interact with others. As a result of spending so much time in front of the television, these children are loosing part of their traditional culture and the values that their parents were raised with. The television, Internet, and other technologies also expose people to violence and other unfamiliar practices and customs. These are changes that occur gradually, over time, across generations.

Such technological changes allow people to become more knowledgeable and opens them to things that they previously were not exposed to. As they are exposed to televisions, computers, and cell phones, they are becoming more powerful as well. Computers and cell phones allow people who are thousands of miles away from each other to communicate. In addition, people can acquire goods and contacts from the Internet. As consumerism through the Internet becomes more prevalent in African countries, the local sellers are disadvantaged. Services and goods that one can find on the Internet for inexpensive prices means that local people are no longer supplying these goods and services. On the other hand, this opens the rural people to something that they previously did not have and allows them to participate in opportunities that are available to people in the Western world.

Education in rural areas is another important aspect of globalization. My host parents in both Riruta Satellite and Tumbe were very supportive and encouraged their children to do well in school and succeed. Education provides a gateway to success while enabling people and providing them with a way out of poverty. In addition, well educated people are more likely to obtain good, stable jobs and secure their employment. The money that a person in a rural society earns allows him/ her to become independent from the elders.

During my stay in Tumbe, the educational gap between males and females became evident to me. The most significant part of this gap appeared to be the fact that the male youth could communicate in English very well while the female youth could not. Over time, it became apparent to me that this was the case because while education is vital to both males and females, males are more commonly encouraged to continue their education. Females on the other hand are an important asset in the home and as a result are more likely to stop attending school or drop out of school when they are needed to help in the house.

However, I have noticed at the schools in Riruta Satellite and in Zanzibar, there is an equal opportunity for both males and females to get an education. The opportunity for women to continue their education is available but due to unforeseen circumstances, it is not always possible for women to take advantage of that opportunity. In President Obama’s speech in Egypt, he stated the fact that when women are well educated, the country is more likely to become prosperous. This is something that has been realized over time as the female is the one who educates her children. In addition, the female is an important part of society and can contribute more to the society if she is well educated.

Our female guest who came to talk to us about her experiences at the State University of Zanzibar spoke about her desire to continue her education in the medical field. She is one of many females who are working to change the role of women in African society. She explained to us that she would not marry a man who would not allow her to pursue her dreams and continue working while raising a family. She refuses to follow the stereotypical role of women in rural societies, where she would be expected to stay at home to take care of the house and the family while her husband provided for her.

It is obvious that change throughout the African continent has not occurred overnight. The changes which have taken place and continue to take place in Africa are gradual changes that occur over generations. This movement forward requires understanding and respect between the people of Africa and with the people of the world. In addition, this change has been possible and will only continue to be possible through the freedom of choice. Although we, as outsiders may believe that the Africans, especially Islamic Africans are still not entirely free, we must realize that they choose to dress in a certain way in an effort to respect their religious traditions. While the people in Mombasa, Tumbe, and Zanzibar have appreciated the way we dress in an effort to respect their religious practices, they look at us and worry that we don’t have a religion.

In America, when walking down the street, I must admit that I have never looked beyond an Islamic person’s dress. It is unfortunate that I feel like a lot of people in America react in a similar way to Islamic people. I have never stopped to get to know them or worked on breaking down the religious and traditional barriers that separates us. My experiences in Kenya and Tanzania have definitely opened my eyes and have made me more receptive to learn about their religious practices and have encouraged me to get to know Islamic people. Although we have misperceptions and stereotypes about Islam and the Islamic people, the violent Islamic people make up only a very small percentage of Islamic people throughout the world. Even though they have a different religion and read a different Holy Book than I do, that does not make them any less important. They are people too, people that need to be treated with respect and understanding.

The creation of Islamic terrorist groups has changed the perception of Islamic people throughout the world. Although I knew that not all Islamic people participated in violence, I was hesitant to interact with these foreign people. Although circumstances have changed, it is important to continue treating these people as people because they deserve the respect and justice that we expect from them.

While many changes have taken place over hundreds of years in African society, there are important characteristics that have continued to remain essential to the African way of life. In the rural village of Riruta Satellite, although modernization is arising, the people continue to hold on to and cherish their tribal affiliations. In Tumbe and many other villages and towns on the East African coast, it is evident that the people treasure and hold on to their religious identities. These identities are important aspects of their cultures and help keep the people grounded even as they accept other changes. These identities hold the families and communities together and are very significant parts of their East African identities.