Saturday, May 17, 2014

Kwaherini Wageni

It's hard to believe it's already May 17, that tomorrow we will be heading to Dar es Salaam, and that on Tuesday I will be back in the states. Now that I think about it, it's weird that four months seems like a whirlwind trip. It's been an incredible time, and I feel very blessed to have had a home to miss and this program to look forward to, and now to have a home to look forward to and this program to miss.
"What's this crazy mzungu doing?" -Eliza
As some of you know, part of the program was a field research component in Mufindi District with the Foxes NGO. The NGO has five sectors: education, health, orphans and vulnerable children, environmental, and community, and serves 16 villages in the area. The village that we lived and worked in was called Igoda Village, and it is also home to the Igoda Children's Village, a series of houses which accommodate ten children and one "house mama" per home. One of these houses is informally known as "the baby house" because it is home to eight precious little ones. My job with the NGO was as an "early childhood therapeutic assistant", which meant that I provided one-on-one care to Eliza, an eighteen-month-old little girl who suffered from malnutrition and failure-to-thrive as an infant and is now the fattest baby in the baby house but still in need of extra attention to meet some of her development objectives. Every day from 7:30 to 12 I was in the baby house playing and doing exercises with her (she is working on improving her leg strength) or some days I picked her up in the morning and took her back to the volunteer house where I was staying.
Some of her favorite things are playing peek-a-boo by pulling a hat over her face, practicing her standing, and singing. Some areas she's working to improve are moving independently, expressing emotion, and the aforementioned leg strength. This job wasn't really up my alley in terms of gaining experience that is applicable to my future career, and at first, to be honest, I found it boring. But seeing Eliza improve over the time I was there was incredible. One of my mini-goals for Eliza to accomplish while I was there was to clap her hands all by herself, because she likes to hold onto other people's hands and clap them together but won't clap independently--or, I should say, she didn't until the last day that I worked with her. It was great to be able to see that!

When I wasn't looking after Eliza, I was working on the quite hefty assignments from my University of Iringa professors or on my own research for Justin's Field Research course. My research was on self-efficacy and self-esteem in two villages, one which was served by the NGO and the other which wasn't. The data collection was intense, because even though the data was collected via survey, the surveys had to be administered orally because of concerns about the area's high illiteracy rate. Bw. Paulo was awesome during this phase, translating the questionnaire into Swahili and accompanying me on the interviews to help translate and avoid cultural misunderstandings. Libe, an employee of the NGO, also came with me on some of the interviews and was very helpful as well.
Research in rural areas is difficult for several reasons. Rural roads make it difficult to get around, and patchy or non-existent (mostly the latter in my case) internet and phone service makes literature reviews and communication difficult. At the same time, much of the Tanzanian population lives in rural areas (not to mention those living in rural areas worldwide) which makes research in these areas essential for making these populations statistically visible. And, geeky person that I am, I really enjoyed doing the research that I was interested in and having so much support from the NGO and from Justin and Paulo.

And now that I've pretty much told you about what I was doing over there, I'm just going to take a moment to talk, with the aid of pictures, about how gorgeous Mufindi is. I can talk about the rolling green hills with the mist rolling over them every morning, the glittering spider-webs (with about a thousand giant spiders on them), and the bright flowers. I can also talk about how we were there during the rainiest of rainy seasons and how the dress I wore on Easter still has the mud stain (despite washing) it acquired when I slipped in the sticky clay while walking to the festivities (but I won't.)

This will be my last post from this trip, but I look forward to telling you more when I get back. There's so much to say about the past few months that I will have to do my best not to annoy everyone. The best thing about it has been the people. I have loved getting to know my fellow students and professors, and spending time with my dadas here (even if they don't want to talk about the nature of the self). From our last "daladala" ride to our last trip to Hasty Tasty (an Iringa restaurant that lives up to it's name, especially the "tasty" part), I have started to realize how much I will miss being a part of this program. Before starting the program, my brother, mom, and I were talking about the importance of being invested in whatever you do without looking backwards or forwards too much--in essence, "being where you are." To express this we said "home is where your self is," and although I have often thought about home while I was here, I think that everyone did a good job of bringing their selves along on the journey and investing in the people they came into contact with. As we leave this program, it will not be a struggle to reconcile "being where we are" with bringing our memories with us. Like our memories of our homes, the memories we have made over the past few months have become a part of our selves. And so, my sisters, I am using the topic you have avoided all this time to finish my writings about this trip, but I hope you know what I mean.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Open Water, Open Sky

Well, it's been a while since my last post due to a lack of stable internet in certain rural areas, and I'm dreadfully behind. For now, since you have read about the "fake spring break," it's time to tell you about the real one. For the weeks preceding spring break, my fellow CIEE students and I were discussing what to do, and from the beginning I was an advocate of spending the week on Pemba SCUBA diving. In the end, that ended up being the only option in the running that didn't involve spending over half of the break just travelling, so Pemba it was for Emily, Renee, and I (I also like to think that my persuasive Powerpoint presentation had something to do with the decision). We started out on March 28 by heading to Dar es Salaam by bus, and when we got there we indulged in some delicious Japanese food followed by a delicacy we wouldn't have expected in our wildest dreams--frozen yogurt. We stayed at the YMCA that night, and in the morning we boarded the ferry to Unguja (also known as mainland Zanzibar or just Zanzibar, although technically Zanzibar is made up of Unguja and Pemba islands) and finally to Pemba. The ferry to Pemba was hot and miserable, taking six hours to reach Pemba. But it was worth it when we arrived at Swahili Divers and ate our first meal there. After an endless supply of rice and beans, we had soup, fresh seafood, and even a little dessert every lunch and dinner.
The next day, we began our diving courses with our instructor, Beltran. Emily and Renee were doing their open-water certification and I was doing the advanced open-water certification, which meant that for the first three days we did separate dives, but for the last two we were together. The NAUI advanced open-water course consists of a deep dive, a drift dive, a low-visibility dive, a peak-performance bouyancy dive, and a night dive. However, there is no night diving on Pemba because of the remoteness of the location, so this was not included in my course. I won't bore you with the details of the technical dives (though if you want me to feel free to ask) but will say that on our first dive we saw clams as big as children and nudibranchs that looked like neon stickers on the corals. When we weren't diving, we were relaxing by the sea and reading almost constantly.
On Wednesday, it was my birthday and Emily, Renee and I got to do our dives together. It was on one of those dives that we saw a sea turtle, but on the next day's dive that we were most reminded of the East Australian Current scene in "Finding Nemo." Although this dive wasn't supposed to be the drift dive required for the advanced open-water course, the current was incredibly strong. So we floated along, trying to kick efficiently and not to run into each other, and Renee and Emily gained an experience they weren't really supposed to have but, like many of the experiences that we didn't expect to be given this semester, they handled it with grace. In that current as well as in other experiences, I have felt like Marlin in the aforementioned "Finding Nemo" scene, amazed at other people's (or in Marlin's case, turtles') calm handling. But as I have always(?) said, studying abroad is like finding your son--you can't give up even when there are sharks (they might turn out to be nice people sort of). Before I get too caught up in this analogy, let me get back to the actual dive. It was a challenge beyond the natural challenge of the drift (and beyond the philosophical connections to "Finding Nemo") for my right foot because it had been stung by a sea urchin as we were walking to the boat. I have been stung by an urchin before, but that was a small one and it stung my fingers. This time, I freaked out a lot more than the first time and probably a lot more than I should have. While I was on the boat complaining and waiting for Beltran, another more experienced diver was further worrying me by discussing possible infections. When Beltran got to the boat and learned the news, his reaction was immediately reassuring and embarassing considering my whining. "A sea urchin? Oh, come on, that's like nothing!" Their spines are made of keratin, the same material as humans' hair and nails, so they will disolve once in the skin. The remedy for their sting is to break up the spines so that they will disolve faster by--to my dismay at the time--pounding the skin with a dive weight. I wasn't up to doing this to my own sad foot, but Renee was quick to oblige. I ignored her excitement and rendered up my foot. Actually, it worked like a charm and no infection ensued (although sadly for Renee and Emily I was the only person who did not get an infected bug bite or blister on my foot, but those are their stories to tell or not tell). 
On Friday, we officially gained our new certifications and headed back to Dar es Salaam (this time by plane, but 24 hours after our last dive), and on Saturday we headed back to Iringa so that on Sunday, we could set out for our fieldwork component in Mufindi. But that's another story for another day. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Fake Spring Break

         I thought it was sort of weird that our spring break for this program was in February, but I decided just to go with it. But after my dad had made plans (and bought plane tickets) to come visit me during the break, which was set for February 24-28, I learned that when February and March both begin on a Saturday, it can result in some mistakes in course calendars. Indeed, the break was supposed to be March 24-28, but it was too late to change our plans, so, throwing caution to the wind (not really; I was super upset about missing classes), I left the university behind and flew to Dar es Salaam, where I met Dad, and the next day to the Serengeti via Arusha. We met our guide, Fidelis, and started out. The Serengeti is rich with wildlife—in our first two days, we saw four leopards, one of which wasn’t far away.
This family of elephants was taking turns rolling around in two small mud puddles, and when the adolescents and adults tried to sleep, this one-to-two-year-old calf was impatient for them to wake up.

On the 24th, we came across the scattered members of a pride of lions, gathered in small groups a few meters away from one another. This group had just finished eating, and there were two others behind them (lower-ranking members of the pride) who were still having their lunch.

While we were still enjoying the great view of these lions, we were surprised that Fidelis drove away and we wondered what could be better than this sighting. We soon found out, when we were the only car in the area and five feet away from a male and two female lions. One pair decided that while only one car was nearby was a good time to mate, though they probably didn’t think I was going to talk about it on my blog. How embarrassing.

            As amazing as the Serengeti is, it isn’t always crawling with fantastic animals. Actually, it was such a great time for us for the same reason as it was for the predators—it was time for the migration. Every year, thousands upon thousands of zebra and wildebeest travel in small groups, large groups, and alone to find better grazing areas. Both species are traveling with their young, as the wildebeest are in their calving season and the zebras have given birth a few months ago. In the words of Fidelis, “Where the end of your sight is, that is the end of the animals.”

And while our sight was able to catch thousands of zebras and wildebeests, it took Fidelis’ sight to catch the cheetah. She was lying in the grass, stalking slowly, just feet at a time, toward a group of zebras and Grant’s gazelles. Patiently we waited, and patiently she stalked, getting closer and closer to her prey until finally she felt confident that she could catch something. She passed by the gazelles, though, which were closer to her, and went for a zebra foal. She was fast, but not fast enough. Dejected, she plopped down in the grass—though cheetahs are the fastest land animal, reaching speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour, they are sprinters, not distance runners. She would have to wait at least 30 minutes before trying again.

The migration doesn’t take place only in the Serengeti, and we crossed with the herds into the Ngorongoro region. And the migration doesn’t take place only on land, either. These wildebeests had to cross a wide lake with their young, who jumped with anticipation as they prepared to cross or with triumph as they emerged from the water.

In the Ngorongoro region, we had another fantastic cheetah sighting, this time of a mother relaxing with her cub, a one-year-old male who was very playful despite being almost full-grown. He wasn’t content to let his mother sleep but tapped her with his hind legs and swatted her head with his tail, all of which she ignored. There are several ways to tell cheetahs and leopards apart, including the cheetah’s round versus the leopard’s rosette spots, the cheetah’s slimmer, more shoulder-heavy build, and the distinct “tear marks” on the cheetah’s face. Also, cheetahs can’t climb trees. But this guy didn’t know that yet, and he decided to give it a go.

        Ngorongoro region is also home to Oldupai Gorge, which is often mistakenly called “Olduvai Gorge.” Oldupai is a Maasai word for a specific type of plant found in the area, but the gorge is an archeological site where the first remains of Australopithecus Boisei were discovered by Mary Leakey in 1959.

            While the gorge is an important site for the discovery of past peoples and animals, the equally famous Ngorongoro Crater is alive with creatures of the present. Maasai men and women lead their cattle over the green grasses and zebras, wildebeest, elephants, lions, crowned cranes, hyenas, ostriches, and several other species graze and play in an Eden-like harmony if the predators aren’t hungry.

        On the 26th, Dad and I made our way to Lake Manyara national park. It’s a much more low-key setting than the Serengeti or Ngorongoro, but we had a special reason to be there—it is one of the closest accessible areas to Kiteto, where my sponsor child, Sarah, lives. On the 27th, I left Lake Manyara with Elisante Daniel, a Compassion International representative, and our driver, Bw. Patrick. I use the word “close” loosely when I describe the distance between Lake Manyara and Kiteto. It took us about eight hours to get there, and we got one flat tire and got stuck in the sand once on our way. When we got to Kiteto, though, the journey was well worth it. I met with three Compassion representatives, and with her pastor, from whom I (along with the other sponsors) had received letters with updates about what’s going on in the community. As I was talking to these lovely individuals and waiting for Sarah to come with two representatives who were picking her up from her house, I wondered what her reaction would be and whether my visit would be boring or inconvenient for her. But when I saw her, she was smiling and ran to hug me. I visited her house, and her family and neighbors were very welcoming too. We spent the time exchanging gifts, playing games, and talking (with Elisante translating at times and at other times with me trying my best with my limited Swahili). The visit was amazing, but just as amazing have been the past three years being Sarah’s sponsor and communicating with her through letters. If you want to, you can check out the organization through which I sponsor Sarah at

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Secret Students

While my peers back in South Carolina were out of school because of the ice storms, I was enjoying the warm, tropical climate of Iringa; but our fates must have been intertwined, because I was also barred from classes. For me, it was because we had tourist visas to enter the country with the idea that once we entered, we would obtain student visas or resident permits with the help of our program. The process is slow, especially if you're not in a big city like Dar, and we weren't technically allowed to be taking classes with tourist visas, so we had to stay out of the classroom for a couple of days . . . and this, of course, turned into a week. We started our classes again today. Fortunately, during that week we were still able to have our Swahili class with Bw. Paulo, since he is with CIEE and not the university. And when we weren't learning Swahili, since we did have tourist visas, we became tourists.
Bw. Paulo took us to Kalenga, where the skull of Chief Mkwawa has its final resting-place. In the same room are displayed some replicas of traditional Hehe spears, shields, and cooking utensils.

 After leaving Kalenga, we headed to Isimila, a stone-age site boasting incredible pillars made of eroded sandstone. We were able to see the pillars from above, and then to hike in the bottom, which is a seasonal riverbed. It was an incredible hike, but I feel like the best thing to do for you now is to leave you here with some extra-large photos.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Iringa Town

Well, it’s the end of our first week of classes and I am sitting with the other students in my program at our favorite haunt in Iringa: Neema Café. The café offers great food and a quirky, modern atmosphere and it is a nice respite from the loud dorm life and monotonous rice and beans. Below the café is Neema Craft, where beautiful notebooks, blankets, clothing, jewelry, and décor are sold. But the best feature of Neema is that both the café and the craft shop are non-profit organizations which offer job training and employment to disabled individuals.

As for the university, my classes have been very interesting so far, though we just started on Tuesday. The campus is small but beautiful, with stone pathways and gorgeous mountain views. The climate is perfect; the air is cool and fresh, and the flowering trees are in bloom.

In the dorms, where I share a room with three Tanzanian students, things are somewhat less peaceful, but there is a feeling of community and excitement. When we arrived, our roommates came to greet us and walk us to our rooms, and they have been very welcoming ever since and are always ready to help, especially when it comes to teaching us the proper way of doing everyday things. Unfortunately, I am often very confused about what is going on as the other girls carry on enthused conversations in Kiswahili, often embarrassed when I can’t answer a simple greeting, and often hurt when I hear the word “mzungu” (or, “white person”) scattered throughout their speech and wonder what they are saying about me. Nevertheless, as I have begun to get to know my roommates, I think I am becoming less of an alien in their eyes, and their speech has started to be directed to me more often than about me. Still, I stand out quite a bit on campus, so I haven’t wanted to look like a tourist by taking photos of the classrooms, campus buildings, and living arrangements. When the students have their semester break and we are still in classes, since the semesters are on a different schedule here, I will show you around.
For now, I’ll end here at Neema’s, in the heart of tiny, lush Iringa town. If you'd like, you can join me virtually by checking out their website at: 

Friday, January 31, 2014

Bagamoyo and the Bustling Abode of Peace

Well, it's the last day of January and I can't believe we're leaving tomorrow for Iringa. It's been a whirlwind trip to Dar es Salaam, and although I've enjoyed all the excursions we've been on, I'm getting excited about classes beginning on Monday. 
Yesterday, Bw. Paulo took us to Bagamoyo, a historic town on the coast where we viewed some ancient buildings and some remnants from German East Africa.
The origins of the Kaole Ruins, including the mosque and graves shown in this picture, are somewhat disputed, with some scholars believing them to be a Persian settlement, while others suggest that they may have been built by a Swahili people-group. 

 Our tour guide, Noel, showed us a well which, despite being near the ocean, contains fresh water. For this reason, the water is believed to be holy, and some people still draw the water to wash themselves using the bucket and pitcher shown in the photo.

The Holy Ghost Mission was built in 1872 by the Holy Ghost Fathers. We were fortunate to have come during Mass, because, even though this meant we didn't enter the sanctuary to avoid disturbing those attending, we could hear the beautiful singing from inside. 

Tropical huts at the Bagamoyo Beach Resort
 Today, we returned to Dar es Salaam where we made sure our mobile internet modems were equipped with data plans, drove through city center, and went to the mall. The traffic in the city is congested, and the music from the Xanadu Club across the street from our hotel is usually driving a persistent beat into our room. Yes, Dar es Salaam is continually alive.
I will end this post after just a word of all there is to tell, and then I will give you a word or two about Iringa with its cooler climate, university courses, and surely countless other features that we have yet to catch wind of.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Geek in Dar es Salaam

            Hello, my friends, and hamjambo? from Tanzania.
Although I’m not in Mozambique these days, I decided to continue this blog rather than begin a new one. After all, I’m still as much of a geek as ever, so why complicate things? Anyway, this time I am in Tanzania for a semester-long study abroad program, which is located in Iringa and Mufindi.
This week, we are going through an orientation in Dar es Salaam, one of Tanzania’s most important economic centers. There are only a few students in the program—four, including myself, so we will probably become like a little family (or mortal enemies). This week we met our program director, Jenny, and we began our Kiswahili lessons with Bwana (Mr.) Paulo. Our activities have included a trip to the lovely Mbudya Island Marine Reserve, where we enjoyed some delicious fresh grilled blackfish and dazzling views.

Today, Bw. Paulo took us to the city, including a trip to the National Museum.

We also visited the village museum, which was set up like a village of traditional houses typical of several of the many different tribes living in Tanzania.
We were even graced with some traditional Makonde dances.

I’ll leave you with those images from my first few days in Tanzania for now. I hope you have a great week, and I'll "see" you soon!