A Thousand Words

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Ok brace yourself for the first (and very out of date) round of Photo awesomeness from this trip! The above gallery is of the day Josh’s kids danced for us! What an amazing day!   Advertisements


Wow, it’s really strange and hard to describe the way Nairobi feels the second time around and after being in the bush and Tanzania for 3 weeks. Mombasa was a bit of a shock in itself and Nairobi, off the bus, dead tired, being harrassed by taxi drivers etc. I was not delighted to be here (although looking forward to seeing Hudson again hopefully). But now, after a shower and a nap and having a bit of a baring it feels much slower than it did the first time. It feels more managable, and I’m starting to understand–especially in comparisson with cities in Tanzania–why Josh says it’s ‘just like America’. It’s certainly not ‘just like’ but it is darn well influenced by western ideals and trends. -nods- Hmmm, so much I”ll be thinking about in a quiet space when I get home. Leave on a plane for London late late tonight and looking forward to some great times with some great people! I will miss this place.

Heaven is a Place on Earth

Well, I will be leaving soon and unfortunately I think it’s taken me about two months to get my feet wet, cut my teeth, learn the ropes…or whatever you’d like to say. Still, I believe it just means I’ll be back one day and certainly for longer. I see that there is a lot of opportunity here to be myself and well… Run amok and perhaps get paid for it? 😉 Actually, I’m searching for a bit more meaning that that but, some way somehow I will explore more of the continent.
This morning’s walk from Mkwaja–where I’m based near Saadani National Park in an unfinished hotel with a few wonderful members of staff–was pensive…and rather astounding. Since I’ve started blogging and especially once I’m comfortable in a place mornings get like that I think. I realize as I try desperately to capture with words what my camera certainly cannot, how precious these moments truely are. Images of the sun rising through the clouds over the ocean, pink and orange rays bathing the dhow to Zanzibar in soft morning light as I walk with the sail across the horizon, my feet in the sand, the salty smell of the Indian Ocean; all of this will be just a faded etching which one day even I may not fully appreciate, seeping like the shadow of the tide into the sands of my mind. So, as I wade across the mto–small river–up to my thighs I cherish the lonely pensive walk along the beach and breath deeply the morning air. When was the last time I felt the sun ride against my back and walked with a boat? Never. 🙂

Mkwaja is a small village a bit further south than Pangani and Kikokwe where I’ve been the last three weeks and it hasn’t quite hit the tourist scene. It’s in the travel guide as a potentially convenient night’s stay after a safari at Saadani. Honestly I hope no one ever reads this post and likes it because I like it that way. There are a few lodges not far from the village (like the one to which I walked) but if you’re booked at one there’s no reason to visit Mkwaja since you’ll be well provided for as your fees have ensured. So, the village is sleepy–especially during Ramadan–and relatively muzngu free! By relatively I mean to say, I was certainly the only -cough cough- European (b/c that’s roughly what ‘musungu’ means…according to lonely planet…which is British. Hmm, my sarcasm is seeming a bit irrelevant now) in the village during my three days.

On the first night I arrived I was escorted to the unfinished hotel by a man who is an acquaintance of a friend in Bweni?Pangani. We met him as I was boarding the bus and Matari (friend in Bweni) asked him about accommodation, because before I left for Mkwaja everyone–including locals–was certain there would be no accommodation there. Well, there is a guest house in Mkwaja but I ended up staying with Chambo and Hanifa at the hotel which is being built at the south end of the village. All on my own.  That night, being hungry and uncertain of whether I would be fed, I went into the village to inquire about dinner. It is currently Ramadan and the village is Muslim so there is nowhere to buy food before six. Luckily, it was about seven so there were a couple f places serving delicious an plentiful platters. I walked through the sandy streets as everyone sitting outside on their steps in family groups indulging in their first food f the day welcomed me: ‘karibu’, ‘karibu kasava’. I smiled, said thank you and asked where I could purchase food. I was taken through the dark streets to a small room of the usual mud and palm leaves serving wali (cooked rice), maragwe (beans), a tomato-ish soup, and samaki (fish). I walked in and they didn’t seem to know what to do with me. I was given a seat and then the apparent owner looked at me and said nothing. I asked ‘kuna chakula?’ Everyone in the room laughed, probably because there were two platters of fish in front of my and people eating all around, and I had just asked if there was food. Also, I think in surprise at any Kiswahili at all. So I ate happily my little feast and spent an hour or so in a rather labored conversation with patrons and staff. Haha, and reading that back these words seem a bit too formal because when you are there what it feels like and what it is really is: the people eating and the people cooking. 🙂 That simple. It was a lovely evening. Everyone was charmed by a musungu ‘speaking’ Kiswakili and it was really one of the first times I’d been in a room where no one spoke a word of English.

The next morning I woke up in my four poster bed to a private beach, people picking coconuts for me to drink, two meals a day and a toilet! It doesn’t get much nicer than that. Oh, well it does because I also got to see the work of some of the tradesmen working on the buildings and understand a little more about why things are constructed the way they are in Tanzania.(Ah, this remind me of Laura and her cob house project I’ll absolutely have to write about that in a bit. I promise that this trip will have a summary post!) As well as dance a bout and giggle with Hanifa who took amazing care of me and helped me with my Kiswahili and is an amazing, fun person! So it was heavenly.

After a little investigation (it is absolutely invaluable to have a locoal SIM in East Africa and relatively inexpensive. If you go, just do it.) And some slightly confusing conversation with Chambo we walked down to the lodge to arrange a safari, The only one I would do on the trip. This brings us back to that morning walk, quite literally the subtle pastel highlight to of the excursion. 🙂
Now, I’m here in Mombasa about to head to yet another beach and leaving tomorrow to London. Thus ends a magnificent journey. Wish me luck on the tail end of things and I’ll be seein’ you in all the old familiar places fairly soon!

What I Love Most About Rivers…

That’s all folks! I’m off from Kikokwe to Saadani (cross your fingers for me) today. It’s been about three weeks here and I don’t think I’ve blogged once. I don’t know where to start or what to say. I feel like the learning that has occurred on this part of my trip is going to come upon my return after a little marination. The people at Aurora are wonderful. At the same time I have mixed feeling about the venture. It’s been a theme on the trip to feel rather…sour about European ventures in East Africa. In Tanzania at least I feel like the people here are a little more involved with such things but I still have my doubts about the intentions or lack thereof on the part of foreigners and expats. The farm however, is great and has a wonderful vision. Betha and Petra are working on community projects as well and it employs and works with many local villagers. I’ve learned quite a bit about permaculture and also natural medicines which has been very exciting for me and I think the experience has given me more of a drive and less fear to start working with herbal remedies and health enhancers at home. I hope that I’ve also left a bit for them in my being there. I hate to think that I’ve learned so much and taken away such a lovely experience without leaving some piece of myself and some positivity there with them. I’ve enjoyed running around with Sulemon and Safiri (two of the staff at the farm who have been particularly friendly) and thwarting advances from uh… several Tanzanians. Their efforts are quite genuine and flattering and unfortunately in vein. Haha, so here is the story for this post:

I spent one day in Tanga searching for the caves and sulfur springs. I was escorted by a friend of a friend of… a friend. Lol, which seems to be the way things have been working out for me. He was very nice and we got along well. When we arrived at the caves it was MUCH more expensive than my guide told me it would be and I decided to pass on it. Rather Shorti rigged us a little mini tour with one of the groups that had already seen the major section of the cave. I was delighted to see anything of the caves and even more delighted to stand by as the guide described the ceiling formations as follows (this is not an exaggeration):

‘If you look here you will see two circles, these you can also call are the testicles of a male. Then coming from the testicles also is a long line you can see is the penis…’

Here’s me looking around incredulously for the reactions of others who nod pensively in affirmation. I give a knowing look to Shorti.

‘Then from the penis you can see sperm dripping down the wall, you see there,’ he says shining his light on the wall. ‘And if you look down then you see also the ovaries and a woman her vagina.’

Here’s me, trying very hard not to burst with laughter at how seriously everyone seems to be taking this. It is a message from God I am told.


So, after this little adventure we headed to the sulfur springs which lies a little was north of the river in Tanga. We ran into some friends (other travelers from the US and UK, all students and in a dalla together) and decided to try and catch them to get a ride back. So, we ran. It was spectacular actually. I was chasing Shorti–he’s short but darn fast–along a narrow path by the river. I breathed deeply and savored every breath of cool air, the hot sun beating my neck and feeling great. I’ve never felt so nice running. The river passed on my left a grove of coconut trees on my right and a tiny Tana…nian pulling me along. Gorgeous! We arrived at the place where we found a dhow to take us across the river. Amazing, these tiny boats just carved out of the trunk of a tree, probably avocado or Mango. It was like riding a log across the river… well it was in fact riding a log across the river. So we jumped off on the other side and continued our run. We met our friends and asked if we could go back with them. They said it would be alright and we ran to visit the sulfur water. It is a small spring, white and smelling of spoiled eggs! bleh! Very cool. On our journey back we caught a glimpse of a baby crocodile living in the water from the spring!

This had to have been one of my favorite moments of the trip. Since then I’ve also attempted to extract oil from palm nuts, which we discovered is not particularly forthcoming if it is not in fact an oil palm–native to West Africa… Not here.

Yesterday, I spent the morning with Matari (a friend of Alma’s–a friend of mine from Aurora) and saw an entire family of Hippos near his home town. It was spectacular they make wonderful noises and are HUGE!

Ah, now I am running out of time and I’ll have to catch a bus in a bit. SO, I’m off for another adventure. Wish me luck and love to all of you!


Heffalumps and Woozles…

Oh man! What a first day on the farm. I’ve arrived at Aurora, a mzungu run permaculture paradise on a remote parcel of land on the northern Tanzanian coast. After the first day I can tell I’m going to love it here! After three weeks of constant travel and everywhere from quiet to bustling villages and cities, it’s nice to know I’ll be settling here a while.

I’ve officially traded matatus/daladalas, hawkers, and smog for feet/bicycles, bugs, and stars! And the first thing I’ve heard plenty about are bugs and other pests (including wild pig!). I got the grand tour of the compound and its surrounding from Simon, the guy of the couple who run the shala (farm) team. It’s really quite exciting. It’s a little strange how it got started–by a mzungo who has lived and operated in Tanzania for about 28 years–but the vision is wonderful. It’s a lead by example (not preaching–although they do run workshops from the compound) venture in implementing traditional and new wave permaculture practices to maintain viable agricultural land and culture in the region. First impressions are quite good.

As for those heffalumps and woozles, well actually they’re weavles. They live in the maize! My first project today after my tour was to collect weavle infested cobs and feed them to the chickens. Yum, yum, eat up chickies! Good for them, bad for corn. So that was a tiring but necessary gig. And not only that but at lunch I was privy to all the pest problems currently plaguing the ever propagating region: wild boar who trample and eat the corn and fight the dogs; black mombas and puff adders that pop up here and there menacingly; malaria carrying mosquitoes; angry dogs. While my current experience remains confined to mosquitoes and weavles I both relish and dread the encounters to come. (Um, warm anti-venom anyone?)

Next week, while Beth–one of the team shala leaders–is gone, we–myself and the other volunteer Julie–will be starting to plant up the medicinal herb garden! I’m very excited to learn a ton about medicinal herbs–both native and imported–and get darn dirty! 8)

But, tonight was an extraordinary night. Being Saturday (a good day to arrive my friends), it was a half day. At 12:30 we stopped for lunch and had the rest of the day off. I ate and went for a swim on our private little white sand beach surrounded by mangroves (yes, you read right, MANGROVES!!). Then, I joined Julie into town for market. Totally adorable town right on the coast: small, endearing, peaceful. We had cold drinks and juicy fruit treats…um actual fruit. You can buy an orange and they’ll skin it and cut it for you. You eat the orange right out of the rind and drink the juice. (I think there’s a pig on site…pause…false alarm.) When we returned we went into the village to investigate the pumping music–in a mud hut village, exactly how and where from? Hehe. We discovered a bouncing party children and elderly dancing, so awesome! All the kids stood around and watched the wazungu dance a bit. I had a great time getting the little ones to copy me, and trying to copy them. I love the way that Kenyans and Tanzanians dance! So free, so much movement and energy, nothing like the constrained and nervous swayings of young apprehensive Americans. Parties here are really about fun, even if your celebrating the removal of the foreskin of young men. Oh yeah… It was a circumcision celebration! "Alright boys, line up, lie down, get up…dance!" Cheza! Way too much fun.

Then! I met a guy named Augostino with whom I fumbled around in Swahili with for a bit until he told me his family was from Mozambiqu. I asked if he spoke french–donk, in Mozambique they speak portuguese reminded Julie, so I asked if he would understand Italiana and to my surprise he answered in perfect Italian! Turns out they speak Italian all over Zanzibar where he spent several years. We spent quite a while chatting. Upon my return Julie and I (she’s Belgian) spoke French and now I’m off to read the "Simplified Swahili" book. So it’s been a great first day, can’t wait to see what else awaits me. 🙂

Cheers and ciao a tutti!

I’ve Been Through the Desert…

Right, so I don’t know where to start with this. It’s been a few days and quite a lot has happened. One highlight of the last few days, surprisingly enough, was my 20 hour travel day between Ogongo (the site of my final PCV visitation) and Arusha, Tanzania.

It started out haphazardly enough. I had a meal with Kelly (the last PCV I visited, more details to come), said goodbye, and fumbled off to find a shuttle to Nairobi. I got thrown around a bit on possibilities for Nairobi, but ended up finding a shuttle to Kissi then to transfer for Nairobi. It left promptly, but ended up being THE slowest shuttle I took my entire two weeks in Kenya, with stops about every five minutes and packing itself to the brim at every chance. Then we arrived at a T and turned away from Kissi toward Migori and I began to get worried. We pulled into a small stage and I was shouted at and hustled from one to another, then I understood I’d been misled. At any rate I would get to Kissi. Not quickly.

Arriving in Kissi I started having the experience so many had described to me–which I think I had thus far avoided in being with friends and guides most of my time: hawkers asking me to marry them (although certainly I also had proposals in Komotobo), everyone referring to and addressing me as ‘mzungu’, people touching me without my permission, people asking me to bring my sister and friends to Kenya for them and their friends. -squinty eyes- eh? In some of the smaller villages at least woman are certainly seen as property. Kiisi however, is not small. It is beautifully situated along the side of some beautiful mountains. As the shuttle finally filled (about an hour and half after buying my orange, sitting down, being hassled, proposed to, preached at) and began to climb the hill through and out of Kiisi I began to have that feeling I always get when I’m travelling alone. That anxious, inquisitive liberation.

I couldn’t have asked for better travel after that. While I’ve stationed from one or two popular tourist destination with proximity to parks etc. I haven’t found the guts to shell out hundreds of USD for a safari, but on this trip we rounded the Mara. And not only that we crossed over the Rift Valley on the back into Nairobi as well. But that’s the short version. As we left Kiissi (which clearly I cannot remember the proper spelling for), I drank in the stunning landscape of the climb letting the blankets of farms and scattered wilderness soak in. It began to ran as we departed the valley and I relished the sweet scent of rain as well. This was about an hour of my journey: rain, green foliage, and actually a pleasant conversationalist. I was seated comfortably (for once, and I suppose relatively so) in the front of the matatu/shuttle and loving every minute. I shared biscuits with my front seat companion and driver. As the sun went down I first thought to sleep but couldn’t commit such a crime as we came through a small city north of the Mara! The rain had left us by now to play on either side of the highway and deep within the park. As we drove–quite quickly–just outside the perimiter of the park I watched Masai on their way in or out of town walking along the road against the backdrop of roaring storms. Dark clouds on either side of us periodically opening up with flashes of electric light momentarily illuminationg the picturesque landscape of the mara. Unbelievable. It basically felt like taking a bus ride across the cover of a travel guide.

But this didn’t end it either! After my long wait in Nairobi which I spent conversing and learning (just a bit of) Swahili, I joined a late night bus to Arusha. On this bus I would have the pleasure of, well…sleep, followed by a beautiful view of the semi-arid desert region inhabited largely by Masai and Kuria and spotted with reliably constructed and again quite picturesque mud huts. As the sun rose over the desert I could see Mount Meru standing ahead! The colours of a desert morning filled the bus and I remained happily intoxicated by the site until my arrival in Arusha.

Now, at the moment of completing this blog post, on my mobile en route to Tanga (and already seeing sisal plantations) it has been about four days since that drive. I’ve yet to fill in on my time with Kelly–a wonderful PCV and host–with whom I was very lost and yet in high spirits all the same, my meeting of another lonely traveller and taking up with her to see Arusha and visit Moshi, Marangu, and Kilimanjaro. I suppose all that is to come. Now I am looking forward to the start of my volunteer project outside Pangani and have been reading up on all the fun I am going to have there! Thanks for reading.

P.S. Daddy, that song lyric (incomplete) is for you. What’s it from?

I’ma on my way…


A three course meal on a bus:

-One mango bought at the market yesterday and sliced up by a hawker at a stop.
-two surprisingly vegetarian samosas. (Yes!) Through the bus window.
-One pack of chocolate-ish biscuits obtained on board.

All for the equivalent of about 2 USD. Yum. Here I come Tanga!