Sunday, March 10, 2013

Kwaheri Tanzania

For about nine weeks I've waited for this day to come. In about twelve hours I will leave Tanzania behind as my plane departs the Dar airport. I am so excited to be heading back to America and reuniting with my family and friends. However, I'm also surprised about how hard it is to say goodbye to so many amazing people.

Last night, our Kilwa roommates met us in Dar for one last dinner together. The few days apart already felt like too many. For the first time I realized we were no longer 4 strangers from around the world. Over the past couple months we've created a family dynamic, helping each other when needed and laughing together daily. The boys constantly killed bugs and hunted for mice, while us girls kept the house tidy and nagged them to help. The little moments that drove me crazy are in the end the moments that defined us as roommates and friends. Last night after dinner, we faced the dreaded goodbyes. There was an awkward minute of not knowing how to start the inevitable, then the first of the hugs, and with them, the first of the tears. It took about fifteen minutes and a few rounds of hugs and tears for the boys to leave us in the lobby. I truly hope the four of us have a chance to be together again someday, but I am also thankful for modern technology that will give our long distant friendship a chance.

The boys also brought some inspirational news on their visit. After our stay at Sultan's, they went back to our Kilwa house for a night. As their bajaj pulled up to the house, they said kids came running yelling, "Jamie and Morgan are back!" I feel so sorry for their disappointment, because I know I wish we could have one more play date, also. However, I'm so glad to hear they really prize our short time together. Said also said he heard them doing the hokey pokey in our yard, which really touches my heart. I know it's only been nine days, but hearing these stories gives me hope that the village kids will hold onto our memories for a long time. I know I will.

And one final note for anyone that has ever donated clothes to the Goodwill, or any similar organization. Please keep donating! In Africa, you see the benefits of such donations. Most clothes are either second hand or personally made at the tailor. Countries like Tanzania aren't developed enough yet to mass produce clothing for their citizens. Many depend on the clothes we are giving away. One t-shirt we saw on a man was for a Caribbean wedding last summer, so donated clothes can actually travel here fairly quick! Today, as we packed up our hotel room, we gave the maid some clothes and sandals that we no longer wanted to hang on to. She jumped and shouted her appreciation, even started hugging us. The quality of life here is lower, but doesn't need to be ignored by those of us more fortunate.

Well, see you tomorrow, America!!!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Habari za safari?

How was your journey? Well, I can say my safari was worth every penny and all the effort! The lodging and food were beyond our expectations. And of course, the safari itself was the experience of a lifetime!

We arrived at the Mikumi National Park around 2 in the afternoon after a five hour car drive from Dar. The manager gave us the rundown of Vuma Hills, the resort we stayed out. The only rules were 1) no animals in the tent, 2) call if animals are found in the tent, and 3) stay in your tent after 10:30. These rules were a little unnerving but easy enough! We were then showed the bar and restaurant area, and a nearby swimming pool that was under renovations. Actually, an elephant tried using it as a watering hole and collapsed the side of it.

We were showed to our "luxury tent," which lives up to its title very well. Equipped with hardwood floors, western plumbing, and safari decor, this wasn't what I considered to be traditional camping. Our tent had a balcony that looked over the entire park, a breathtaking view. We were then served a delicious lunch of quiche, potato salad, and fruit. Despite stuffing our faces, we still managed to fit in two more elegant meals, complimentary of ours resort. As we sat for dinner, we were served warm bread rolls with butter, a concept we had given up on in Tanzania. We also ate a delicious, but traditional meal of rice with meat and potatoes. Dessert, a lemon sorbet, was the perfect way to end the day on top of the mountain.

The meals were delicious, but obviously we didn't travel five hours to eat. Our package allowed us two game drives throughout the course of our stay. We first went out after lunch, at 4pm. Our vehicle was a massive Land Rover, entirely open. We saw tons of wart hogs, antelope, zebras, giraffes, elephants, and baboons. We visited a hippo pool and watched them swim. Towards the end of our trip, we even saw some resting lions in the distance. We wished to get closer, but the tour guide explained it would only take 15 minutes before not even a shred of clothing would be discoverable. The best part of the evening trip was watching the sunset behind the Tanzanian mountains, an incredible landscape.

The following morning, at 6:30am we all met again for our second safari. We visited all the same animals, catching some amazing shots! The animals are definitely more lively in the morning. The most amazing (and terrifying) part of our morning excursion was finding the lionesses. Our tour guide spotted a couple in the distance as we rode along the trail. Him and the driver exchanged a few grief Swahili sentences, and then looked at us. They proposed we get our cameras ready and we were going to quick drive off trail, which is forbidden, and get up close to the lionesses. Well, when they said close,
I hadn't expected to get within six feet of them! Even more frightening was learning that female lions are actually the hungers, and at that moment they were thought to be observing the land for prey. Talk about an adrenaline rush!

At 8:30 we returned to Vuma Hills, greeted by yet another wonderful meal. We are yogurt with granola, cereal and milk (a rarity in Africa, sausage, bacon, beans, fruit, and eggs cooked to order. We ate until we could hardly sit up! Not just to be pigs, but also out of strategy. We had another long day of traveling ahead of us!

Anyone who is ever offered the opportunity to go on a safari should absolutely take it! I've always loved the zoo, but it's a different experience all together observing the animals in their natural habitat.

Some facts I've learned over the past couple days:

1. Baby baboons hide by clinging to their mother's belly.

2. Zebras' stripes are like fingerprints, unique to each zebra.

3. Zebras and wildebeest are actually considered "friends."

4. Wildebeest can prolong giving birth until its considered safe, and then all pregnant females will give birth together.

5. Giraffes are about six feet tall when they are born.

6. Giraffes can sleep standing up or laying down, but their necks have to be up either way because of high blood pressure.

7. A male lion sleeps 18 hours a day, while
the female hunts and trains the cubs.

8. The color of a lion's mane tells his she; the darker it is, the older he is.

9. Antelope are polygamous; one male can have 30 to 40 female partners.

10. Jackels (dog like creatures) are scavengers, not hunters. They will eat from carcasses that others have killed.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

On our own

Well, the bus did indeed pick us up yesterday morning. It was a 6 hour ride from Kilwa to Dar. The ride was an incredibly bumpy, off road experience at times, due to road work. However, despite all the thrashing, I somehow managed to sleep most of the way. Later, I was told you could hear my head slamming into the window all throughout the bus. Today, I have a little sore spot, but it's worth sleeping through that miserable trip.

Once we arrived in Dar, our assistant field director met us at the bus station and transported us to a nearby hotel. She dropped us off with a quick goodbye and a slight "glad to have you out of my hair" attitude. So at that point, we were on our own. At first, we all felt a little overwhelmed by the chaos of an African city, but we've managed quite nicely. After a short rest, we found a small Indian cafe where we got some fried rice and curry. We then found a nearby supermarket, where we actually found some ice cream to enjoy! We also picked up some yogurt and granola for dinner.

Now, it's a bit past 8 in the morning and five of us girls are waiting in the hotel lobby. On our own, we arranged a private car to pick us up and drive us the three hours to Mikumi National Park. There, we have booked a one night stay and two safari game drives.

The feeling of being of overwhelmed has subsided a bit, and has been replaced by excitement. While we still have two more days to find our own way in Dar es Salaam, we feel accomplished for what we've managed so far!

Simba, here I come!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On the move... Hopefully.

It's currently 5:08 am in Tanzania and still dark enough to be the middle of the night. Five of us girls are posted by the side of the road with all of our luggage, hoping to be picked up by the bus heading to Dar. It's a trip that is more than dreaded, considering our experience with it last time, and this time could be worse.

Tanzanian transportation is unreliable at best, even more so when there's bad weather. Over the weekend we were hopeful because it hadn't rained all week. Well, we certainly jinxed ourselves with Murphy's Law. For the past few days it has rained quite often, even all throughout last night. This means most buses will get stuck in mud or possibly break down all together. The rain could delay our trip by a few hours or could be postponed into the night.

Even now, we can see the lightening in the distance, setting a bad omen for the day.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pitching Tents

Friday evening we bumped along the only road in Kilwa Masoko on the way to Sultani's Place. The four of us were quiet, after hard goodbyes with our students. However, we were excited to kick back in our air conditioned bungalows and throw on some cable TV. Well, this soon turned out to be wishful thinking.

We pulled into the resort's drive, noticing big tents being constructed on the lawn. We were curious, but not overly concerned since the tents didn't have anything to do with us.. Or so we thought. As our field director greeted us, she quickly threw in the words, "Go ahead and put your bags near a tent," and walk off. Uhhh, what!!! And so our dreams of isolated relaxation were thrashed. Instead of cooling off in my personal bungalow, I lugged my suitcase over to a tent, which I had to share with five other girls. Rather than having a running water shower and western toilet, I'd be using a Tanzanian outhouse.

Fortunately, we've gotten used to making the best of such surprises, so the first night wasn't so bad. We were all exhausted after a long day, and stuffed from a delicious Sultani meal. The six of us easily dozed off in the dark tent.

The deep sleep helped prepare our group for the long day that awaited on us on Saturday. Like our mid conference weekend, we had meetings throughout the entire day. After breakfast, we attended our conferences in a small, stuffy kindergarten building. Normally, we work in a different space, but Sultani needed it for another event. Throughout the day, we participated in lectures, group work, and questionnaires. We met with the District Commissioner of Kilwa who applauded our group and announced that after a successful first year, they will be welcoming back our orientation course next year.

The day was concluded with an end of service party at Sultani's nearby beach resort, Kumbilio. International volunteers, Tanzanian volunteers, local teachers, and some administration had the chance to let loose after a stressful 7 weeks. There was drinking, eating, and some dancing. We learned Tanzanian line dances and I even watched our District Officer break it down to Chris Brown! Afterwards, some of us traveled to Masoko by Night, the local nightclub. Obviously, we didn't expect much, but more so just wanted to go for the experience.

Eventually, we drifted back to our resort, almost too tired to care about another night in a tent. However, a little surprise upon our arrival quickly changed this passive attitude. A grande wedding was being held in the venue where we normally have our conferences, which happens to be right outside our tents. The DJ speakers were set up so close, I could feel my bed vibrate. Wedding guests flooded our outhouse, while we all yearned to shower and get ready for bed. Needless to say, we didn't achieve the easy rest we had the night before.

Luckily, and finally, Sunday was the day we could move into the bungalows. We were still met with the surprise that we would have to share the room, but it was better than staying another night in the tents. Now we have the space and mental capacity for all of the post-program work we need to complete over the next few days.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Moving Day

Well Friday was the big day, the beginning of the end of this amazing journey. I am thrilled to be one step closer to my flight home to America, but the tone of the day was mostly bittersweet.

In the morning, we went to school for our typical Friday half day. My one student, Juma, actually wrote a farewell song for Said and me. He sang it in front of all of form one, but not before he taught students the best to drum on their desks. While I couldn't understand most of the lyrics, I was heart-warmed by his sincere gesture. The school day concluded with a short speech from our headmaster and one of the local teachers, thanking the volunteers (Said and me) for the efforts over these past 7 weeks. I will miss these friends very much!

After school, it was a mad dash to get totally packed up. We had about two hours until our car came, and we still needed to eat lunch. The nice thing about living a life of simplicity is that it makes packing quite easy. Anything extra that we didn't care to keep (clothes, shoes, containers, a hamper, a lawn chair, etc) we gave to Dada, our cook. She's recently married and has a few kids, so she appreciated the gifts.

Finally, just minutes before the car was supposed to pull up, some students came over for another goodbye. First, two of my best girls came by. I gave them a pair of never worn sandals and my very worn watch. The girls loved both presents and gifted me back with some yummy kashata. Then, one of our young boy students stopped by, as well. At first, he seemed angry, he wouldn't speak, even when we tried starting a conversation with him. As the car pulled up, he continued to sit silent and stone faced on our couch. We packed up the car, we're ready to get in, and Athumani still sat unmoving. I thought maybe he was goofily protesting, but I was unfortunately wrong. We peeked back in the house, only to find our student fighting back tears. I tried to give him a hug, but it only made the tears break through and run down his face.

I felt so sad for the little boy sitting on our couch. He was obviously stone faced as a means of trying to fight his tears. Again, if made me thing of Tanzanian's gender laws. Athumani, a small, upset boy, wouldn't even let himself give hugs, because society tells him he shouldn't show emotions. I felt so sorry leaving him on our couch, but the journey had to be continued.

We were all a bit downhearted to leave our students and our friends. However, the stay at Sultani's had us excited for real showers and some refreshing air conditioning. Well, that expectation was a bit misconstrued, but, for another post....