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 caf├ęs. 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.

No comments: