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Settling In

Posted by: | January 28, 2013 | No Comment |

For just over a month now I have become reacquainted to a world with shower heads, porcelain toilets, food diversity, and, perhaps least exciting, cold weather.  This is not to say that I never encountered any of these commodities while in Africa, but they were definitely not a standard thing as they are here.

Another example? Water at restaurants.  Every time I go out now I find the waiter leaving a pitcher after giving up on returning every two minutes to refill my drink.

In many ways it is great to be back. I missed friends, family and many other qualities about the United States. In other ways, I will always remember and miss parts of my experience. Everything I did was completely unique and I am happy to have the stories to share.

As I run into people I have not seen in six months, the constant question is, “How was Africa?” Talk about a loaded question! Where do I start, with learning to hunt, or living in a mud house? Eating exotic animals or drinking goat blood? The culture or the wildlife? There are so many components to my experience it makes a brief conversation about it quite a challenge at times.

One question I have received consistently, however, is whether I felt unsafe in Africa. I usually refer to the corruption in police at road blocks and a few other incidents. Yet in all of these, a minimal (in American dollars) bribe would have sent me safely on my way.

Yet back in Corvallis is where I feel more in danger. With shootings across the U.S. and a new state making the news every day, this American turmoil is frightening. Beyond that, I received a few “timely warnings” about shady people in Corvallis before returning, and in the last two weeks there have been two attempted sexual assaults near our college campus. It is chaos like this that frightens me more than when I had spears thrown at my vehicle or snuck onto a ferry under the alias of “Hussein Yahya” while abroad.

With all of the advantages that come from being in a “developed” nation, there are some areas of society where we do not appear to be as far ahead as we would like to think.

For now I will return to the world of structured lectures and struggling to sit still for 50-80 minutes depending on the class. In Corvallis I have my friends here, and as far as safety is concerned there are police that do not change allegiance pending the highest bidder.

Corvallis is a great place, but I definitely miss watching the setting sun disappear under the baobab trees.

under: In Transit

Seeing the Sea

Posted by: | December 16, 2012 | 3 Comments |

At 8:30 a.m. our group of six former SIT students now on vacation depart in a rickety wooden sailboat with a carved mast from a tree. Other tourists quickly flock to the boat and we find ourselves among interesting company such as a German who worked as a chef for the Olympics in B.C. Canada, and a man who lived in American as a boxer. Due to the winds, the sailboat forsakes the sail and uses a large motor on the back to lead us around the tip of the island through picturesque turquoise green water to a small marine reserve called Mnemba where we are going snorkeling for the day. Along the way, we see a pod of dolphins swimming off the starboard side of the boat.

When we reach the coastline of Pemba, a small private island next to Zanzibar, hints of the fish diversity are evident immediately. Through the clear waters we can see the reef formations but can’t yet make out the animals themselves. Our group gears up with mask, fins, and snorkel and jump in, only to be immediately stunned by more fish species than I can count even with my Fisheries classes, and so many types of coral the seascape resembles that of “Finding Nemo. “

I am instantly overwhelmed by seeing fish again after six months of only experiencing wildlife. Overeager, I leave the group and go shooting off on my own to find everything I possibly can. I find a huge congregation of long, thin fish huddled on the bottom, schools of black and white striped fish part ways as I move through the water just barely avoiding my goggles, and I see a large green and blue fish that appears to be eating either the sand or coral and can be found by listening for the scraping sound it makes while it eats. The science major in me can’t wait to identify all of these animals upon returning.

The best part of all came as the majority of people had already loaded up the boat again in preparation for lunch. Shannon, one of my friends that I came with, points underwater and reveals an octopus about 18 inches in diameter. Octopuses are definitely my favorite sea creature, but despite having the Giant Pacific species off of my own coast, I have never seen one in the wild. We spend a good 30 minutes watching this octopus as it moves along the sea floor in a clandestine manner, changing color in an instant and changing texture to match its surrounding whether rock or coral. Even so small, still so amazing.

For lunch our group goes to a nearby beach where the snorkeling company has prepared fruit, rice, and freshly caught tuna for us to eat under a small thatch shelter. Sitting there at lunch looking out over the water that resembled that of a motivational poster begging a caption of “Tranquility” or something similar, I am sure that the ocean will always be my home. This last six months was an experiment for me. I have always worked with marine issues, but wanted to experience the wildlife side of science before I entered a career field. While I definitely enjoyed seeing lions and elephants and learning all about their ecologies, nothing in the last six months quite took my breath away like floating on the surface and watching the tropical fish interact while filling their many intricate ocean niches.

under: Tanzania

Going to Zanzibar

Posted by: | December 14, 2012 | No Comment |

My study abroad program has officially ended, which means that it is now time for a week of relaxation.

At 6 a.m. we departed the bus station in Arusha for the last time on a bus called “Shabco” (while the name leaves something to be desired, it got the job done). Valerie, Nick, and I spent eleven and a half hours in travel passing through new terrain, the Usambara mountains, and abandoned sisal plantations from the German days of colonization. At 5:30 p.m., we reached the coastal city of Dar es Salaam.

Valerie’s old college roommate, Mary, picked us up at the bus station and we entered the city that is easily three times the size of Arusha, although they are the two largest cities. Mary, who has been studying in Dar for the last four months, said that it is the 4th fastest growing city in the world.

The three of us settled into rooms at a local hostel, and made our way to an Indian restaurant where Mary’s study abroad group through CIE was having a dinner. The search for the restaurant proved to be quite a challenge as we wandered around trying to find any hint of this back-alley food joint. At one point I had a very cool cultural moment.

We ran into an Indian family and wanted to ask for directions. However he didn’t speak English and I definitely didn’t speak his language. Instead, we spoke in Swahili for him to give us directions. This trip has definitely made me feel embarrassed how Americans learn so few languages yet I am able to converse with people from all over the world who are speaking their 3rd or 4th language.

The next morning we went to the ferry office in Dar and bought tickets to go to Zanzibar that day. While we waited to board the ferry, I received my first glance of the Indian Ocean, and it didn’t disappoint. With the shades of turquoise and light blue, it is definitely reminiscent of photos.

By the afternoon we reached Zanzibar. We also discovered that a lot of tension still exists between the mainland and their island counterpart. Zanzibar operates as an independent nation in many ways and even has custom forms when you arrive. One person told me that if the opposition party wins the next election, Zanzibar will once again be its own country.

As local African music played, a cab driver drove us to the north end of the island to a hotel called Kendwa Rocks where we are staying in little rooms right on the beach of the Indian Ocean with ships anchored right of the coast and where we can jump in the water at any time to cool off.

I have three days here to enjoy, and I have no doubt that this will be the perfect end to my six month journey in Africa.

under: Tanzania

Back in the City

Posted by: | December 11, 2012 | No Comment |

For the last two or so weeks I have been back in Arusha, Tanzania’s second largest city, staying at a backpackers hostel and finishing my 32 page compilation paper on my research. When I first arrived, I was dreading the extent of our stay thinking that I would have nothing to do, but surprisingly I’ve found myself with less time and more things that I want to do.

Amidst working on my paper and our student presentations (4 a day) I have gone out with friends, watched two movies in the local theater (Argo which had a great story; and Wreck It Ralph which was incredibly original and well done), and more. It’s been pretty great, but this morning I woke up with the bittersweet realization that it is the last official day of the program.

Tomorrow I depart for an all-day bus ride to Dar es Salaam and from there I’m going with friends from the program to Zanzibar for some vacation time full of snorkeling and white sand beaches. Admittedly, part of me wants to simply forsake the hassle of long bus rides and crammed daladalas with all of my stuff to get to and from Zanzibar, but I’m sure in a few days I will completely retract that statement.

I’m almost back, and I’m starting to wonder about culture shock. As conceited as it sounds, I don’t feel like I will have any. I’m sure I will quickly retract that statement as well. I wonder what little things will stand out to me as weird after spending six months between two African countries and having new experiences ranging from eating zebra liver to living in a Maasai boma.

For now I’m going to go enjoy the sun and look forward to seeing all of my friends and family when I return in less than two weeks!

under: Tanzania

Photos from my Research

Posted by: | November 29, 2012 | No Comment |

1. The hedgehog I found in the guest house room I was staying in. Apparently it is good luck and means my “cows will have many calves.”
2. Emmanuel worked at a curio shop and became my best friend while staying in the village of Olasiti.
3. One of the groups of women I interviewed called Mgungani. They are all Maasai women and they spend the day making beaded jewelry to sell.
4. On the left, in the Batman beanie, is my translator named Stiger.

under: Tanzania

Living the Local Life

Posted by: | November 22, 2012 | No Comment |

Lightning struck in the distance as if the flash on God’s camera as he took photos of the Great Rift Valley wall while Emmanuel and I went to get cow leg soup for dinner. While it sounds a bit strange to Western ears, it wasn’t half bad. They make the broth from the cooked cow leg and they serve you part of the leg on the side to pick at as you eat. I will admit however, that a lot of it was tendon and muscle and I found myself telling him that it was great, but I was just way too full to eat any more…

The last two weeks have found me in a small village called Olasiti as the only white person for miles. The village is near the gate of Tarangire National Park and white tourists do drive through but they are sheltered in safari cars like tanks and usually avoid the local scene. I have been researching the effects of a business class that the park hosted for three small “income generating program (IGP)” groups in the surrounding villages to increase their business skills. In the future the park hopes to provide loans to these businesses as well. The IGP groups are typically composed of women and are created by community members forming together around an activity that generates income. For my three study sites, one is Maasai women who make beaded jewelry, one is a group of women who make woven baskets and mats from grasses, and the last is both men and women and focuses on agriculture and beekeeping.  While the data isn’t finished, I will say that I have been pleasantly surprised with the awareness of conservation from everyone interviewed and their feeling of being stakeholders in the park rather than just villages outside of it.

A man named Stiger was my translator for the project and we had quite an adventure getting to all of the villages. Stiger is fluent in English, has a university degree from Kenya, and works with the local Cultural Tourism program. The first two villages were easy enough to get to once you waited for buses or cars, but the third, called Qash, was a different story. The trip required three modes of transport and about three hours of travel. In one method the car was well overcapacity as is custom in Tanzania and a Maasai women next to me felt inclined to stroke my arm hair the entire ride. Something so normal to me like arm hair is such a foreign concept here.

When in Olasiti I spend a lot of my time with Emmanuel who works at a local curio shop and speaks English pretty well. I realize that my two closest friends are both English speakers, but I’ve been practicing Swahili a bit too. It’s definitely easier this way, though, rather than always giving people that blank look with a smile as I only understand a few words of their sentence.

Now I’m in the process of writing my research, which I hope to use for my UHC Thesis at OSU. While in the guest house room writing yesterday, I heard a ton of commotion and realized a wild hedgehog had somehow made its way into my room and had been hiding underneath my bed. When I took it outside to show people the “wageni” (visitor) in my room, I was told it was good luck in local culture to find one inside.

In less than a month I will be back on American soil. After over five months, there are many things I’m incredibly excited about, but first I have to finish my research and then a relaxing week on the white sand beaches of Zanzibar with some friends from the program. Not a bad deal.

under: Tanzania

Maasai Photos

Posted by: | November 8, 2012 | 1 Comment |
under: Tanzania

Immersion in Maasai

Posted by: | November 8, 2012 | No Comment |

Growing up, I remember going to the zoo with my aunt and going to the African section. At one viewing platform they had a “traditional” African hut made of stick and simulated mud and inside you could lay on the bed made from wood slats. As a child this hut captured my imagination every year that I went and I always said that someday I would visit a real one.

Last week I spent 4 days living with the Maasai in the hut of my dreams on the shores of Lake Natron and at the base of Tanzania’s only active volcano: Oldoinyo Lengai, or the Mountain of God.

The Maasai people are National Geographic photo favorites with their colorful robes, or shukahs, which were ironically brought with British colonialism post World War I. Very traditional. Stereotypes run rampant about the Maasai only eating meat and drinking blood, but like many things this is a fallacy. For the most part they eat traditional Tanzanian foods such as rice, beans, and ugali (a maize based food that looks like mashed potatoes but you ball up in your hand to eat with other foods). Only on special occasions do they drink blood. However, our student group was a special enough occasion to warrant killing a goat and we were all able to drink the blood and eat a bite of the raw kidney as is Maasai tradition. None of us got sick from the experience, and all of us have one more story to tell.

The house itself, or boma, is composed of sticks, cow dung, and a thatched roof. It is essentially a one room circle with a fire in the middle and a wooden slat bed. I also discovered that these bomas are all purpose. When my family would cook the heat and smoke would turn the room into a sauna and beads of sweat would be dripping off my body. My brother and mama would look on worried and insist I take a shower after each meal. This consisted of them filling a bucket with some water, and leaving the room while I showered right there in the hut.

Thankfully warm nights permitted us to sleep outside rather than inside the furnace of a house  crawling with who-knows-which species of bugs. Instead we slept under a mosquito net outside on top of a dried cow hide and woke every morning as the sunrise came over the Great Rift Valley wall and illuminated our village.

The Maasai did not want homestay gifts, but rather pictures. All of our cameras were quickly confiscated by family members who madly snapped photos of everything both near and far. This process became so exhaustive as they wanted photos of goats, cows, and people that at one point I hid the battery and said the camera was dead. Please know this is after I had 445 photos on my camera.

Our group has 24 students and each one of us had a completely different experience. Some of us were with warriors, or maroni, some of us were with mamas, and some siblings. Yet overall the Maasai people are very simple—and I use that word both cautiously and accurately. Wealth is measured in the number of cows a family has, the mamas spend their days cooking and beading in the shade of trees when the sun gets too hot, and the elders have meetings and join the women under the trees to rest.

After our homestay we spent time at a campsite to finish that part of our program. At night we were all sitting out and drops of rain began to fall. Being an Oregonian, I eagerly embraced the moisture and didn’t plan on moving despite being in shorts and a t-shirt. Yet within five minutes a torrential downpour had commenced, lightning and thunder commanded the sky, tents were getting soaked, people were dripping, and our small wooden shelter meeting place was not quite enough to keep us dry.

The rainy season has officially begun in Tanzania. Now it is time to prepare for a month of independent research and I have learned that the rains are a stronger player than I could have imagined.

under: Tanzania

Three photos from the Serengeti. There are some many amazing animals, but these have to be three of my favorites.





under: Tanzania

Seeing the Serengeti

Posted by: | November 7, 2012 | No Comment |

Last spring I bought a Macbook Pro that came with OS Lion. The stock background photo was an epic photo of a male lion that I ended up leaving there with the idea that in Africa I would take a similar photo to replace it with.

In the Serengeti, I was able to take a photo just like that. That is in addition to seeing hundreds of amazing animals in one of the most incredible ecosystems on earth. The Serengeti is home to the “Great Migration,” which is the largest animal movement on earth with over one million wildebeest as well as gazelle and zebra. I think it is fair to say that most of us as students came to Tanzania most excited about safaris in the Serengeti, and it is also fair to say it did not disappoint. With lots of lions, herds of elephants by the road, giraffes walking by our car, hyenas in our campsite at night, and, best of all, two cheetahs that were walking along the road and we were able to follow for a solid twenty minutes, this was the essence of my original idea of Africa. Thankfully that idea has expanded and become more realistic, but seeing these creatures still holds a special place in my heart.

On the last night I sat outside with a friend watching lightning strike in the distance over the Serengeti. As it moved closer, we could hear thunder warning us to take cover. But at that time all the students that had been out of their tents came rushing back and said that there is a lion outside of the bathroom and we need to go in our tents for the night.

There are no fences at the campsites, only unique experiences.

under: Tanzania

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