Saturday, July 10, 2010

"We're in Africa"

We had only paid for an economy ticket on the ferry but the man stamped our ticket with first class which, once we got on we were very happy about. The first class cabin was upstairs and had larger seats than the downstairs one. I had never been on a boat like that in the ocean before and I wasn’t really sure what to expect but someone came around and started handing out barf bags so I didn’t take that as a good sign. I don’t usually get nauseous but we had some really rough waters (we were told that later by the captain) and it was like we were on a really bumpy roller coaster. Rachel was sitting next to a woman that had ridden over to Zanzibar that morning and said it was completely calm waters on the way in and that this was unusual. I took that as a good reason why I wasn’t feeling so hot. It may have also been hearing the noises of people around me throwing up. I never actually thought that I was going to get sick but I kept my eyes closed the entire 2 hours to Dar just making sure that I didn’t get sick. Turns out that the woman Rachel was sitting next to was getting a taxi near to the holiday inn that we were staying at so we all decided to share a taxi after the ferry. Once we docked and were downstairs, we realized that getting our bags was going to be very difficult. It was incredibly crowded and people were pushing and shoving every which way. They had no system in place for people retrieving their bags either so it was just a free for all (all of this information will make sense as to why something stupid happened). So Rachel and I had to carry our 100 lb bags off the ferry and up a few flights of stairs to get to the terminal where the taxis were. I literally thought my arm was going to come off and as lame as it sounds I kept telling myself that I could do it and that I was strong enough to carry these bags (I’m really not). When we finally made it into the taxi and to the holiday inn it was about dark. We exchanged information with the woman we had met and headed on our way.

While Rachel was checking in, the guy behind the counter said that he needed to see her passport and then asked to see mine too. I started looking for it where I always kept it in my purse and couldn’t find it there and then remembered that I had it in my pocket and then it wasn’t there either so I started to freak out inside. I set my things down and started going through my purse and my bags and still no passport. I was convinced that it had fallen out on the ferry or on the dock somewhere and was lost forever. I was sure that it had made it on the ferry because the man checked it while we were on our way but I didn’t recall seeing it after that. When we got up to our room Rachel went into problem solving mode and we got into contact (after much waiting) with the embassy and it was already closed and it was going to be closed the following day because of a national holiday and we were told that even after that it usually takes about 10 days to get a new passport issued to you. During that time you are not allowed to go anywhere or do anything really. So I was facing having to stay in Dar for the next 12 days because of losing my passport. We got on the phone with the people at the airlines to change my ticket and found out that it would be 200 to change the ticket and then another 200 to get it changed for the exact date that I needed it for. At that point, before I had to spend any money, I told Rachel that I wanted to go back to the port and look for myself for my passport. So we got a taxi back to the port and when we got there the captain was eating some ice cream in the lounge and we asked him if anything had been found and he said no, but again, I was going to need to see for myself. So we made our way back to the boat (I am carrying Rachel’s headlamp and flashing it on the ground as we walk, just to check). So we get on the boat and its pitch dark on there and we start to go upstairs and this guy is standing at the top of the stairs holding my passport! I literally started crying right then and was in total shock. I honestly think that is such a God thing because that is unbelievable that my passport fell out of my pocket and that it was still there untouched and he found it. We gave him lots of hugs and some money for finding it and then headed back to the hotel. It was getting late by then and we both really wanted to eat and shower. Neither one of us felt like going anywhere so we ate dinner at rooftop restaurant and watched Holland play and win in the world cup. We both had showers (best showers ever) and packed and got ready for bed because we had to be up at 5am the next morning for our flight at 730 to Johannesburg.

"you are free"

So we decided to get a ride to Stonetown with the couple that we had gone swimming with the dolphins with since they were also going there for the day. We were staying at Hotel Kiponda, which is right in the heart of Stonetown. Though the main part of the town is so small that everywhere is really in the heart. It was a really neat and ‘old world’ sort of town. Most of the roads through the town are too small to have cars on so its either walking, biking, or scooter as a means of transportation. When we got there we dropped off the couple at Africa House (a tourist attraction there) and we kept going towards our hotel so we could check in. We met a man there that knew our driver and offered to give us a tour of the town. We hadn’t really anticipated doing any tours, mostly because we didn’t want to pay for it, but he said it would be 15,000 for a few hours of a tour which was less than $15 so we thought it was a good deal and we knew pretty much nothing of the history of the town. We were really hungry for lunch though and so we dropped our bags off and our guide, Alli, took us to a local place to eat. I know I have mentioned before how much I enjoy food but I think I had the best meal of my life at this lunch place. They have dishes called biriani and you can get vegetable, chicken, or beef. I just got the vegetables and it was so tasty! I have decided that my absolute favorite food is Indian food. I say that knowing that many other countries also use the same names and they taste pretty much the same but for sake of most people knowing the kind of food I’m talking about I will leave it to Indian. From there we started our tour of the town. Given the name, it is pretty obvious to say that most all the buildings are made out of stone. Also, the town is known for their intricate wood doors on many of the buildings. The square shaped doors are from Arabic influence while the round doors are from Indian influence. We walked around for pretty much the entire day with our guides (we had 2 of them). We went to the spice market (where I bought Ash some spices) and we also saw the meat and fish markets (that were so smelly and gross). We also went to see the old slave market site and the Anglican church that was built right next to it. We wanted to watch the sunset and the best place for that was the bar on the roof of the Africa House so we went up there and had a drink and relaxed and watched took lots of pictures of the sunset. Then we went and ate dinner and walked around for a bit afterwards. We were both so tired from getting up so early for the dolphins that we went to bed shortly after. The following day we got up and ate breakfast on the rooftop of our hotel. Then we went and met our guides for day 2 of our touring. We went to the ferry and bought our tickets to Dar for later that day and then we went off on our tour. We went and saw the House of Wonders, the old fort, Tippu Tip’s house, the Mercury house, and the old British Consulate. Ater all that walking around we stopped for lunch and our guides left us for a few hours when they were going to come back and help us with our bags to the ferry. Rachel and I decided that we would walk around by ourselves and try to find the antique store that we went to the day before. All we had was the street name of where the store was located but no store name or street number. That is completely reminiscent of all places in Stone Town. After MUCH walking in circles we did finally find the place and were able to do some more shopping (not that we needed to). After that we tried to find our way back to the hotel to get our bags and we pretty much got incredibly lost and had to ask someone to tell us the way, except that since there are no streets and there are no turns that make sense we ended up having to get someone to show us the way. It was a fun day nonetheless and if we had more time it would have been nice to just walk around lost for a while. We made it back to the hotel and had our guides help us with our incredibly heavy bags (I think they were probably 50 lbs. each, and we had 2 each. We said our good-byes (this part of the trip was full of nothing but good-byes) and we waited to board the ferry.

"Prepare to swim"

post swimming with dolphins--so happy!

So we got to the airport and since it was a small flight and they don’t allow as much weight per passenger we had to pay about $70 for our bags. The flight was short and easy and the water looked beautiful from the air. Someone from the hotel picked us up from the airport so we had a pretty easy transition from the airport to the east side of the island. It was immediately apparent the shift in the religion of choice for the locals. Tanzania is more than 90% Christian while Zanzibar is about 96% Muslim. So most of the people we saw on the way to the hotel was either wearing the full cover or just covering their head. Once we got into our hotel and to our room we were floored. Our room was awesome, and more than I was expecting honestly. I feel that with those sort of things you never really know what you are getting. Neither one of us was expecting what we saw on the beach either. It was a short walk from the hotel to the beach and it was like a postcard. I had literally never seen such a beautiful beach before in my life. It was just like the pictures described, clear blue water and the fishing boats just anchored all over the ocean. We immediately put our stuff down and started taking pictures. It was incredible! Our hotel was all open air and had a restaurant and was named the best bar in Zanzibar. It also worked out perfectly that they have a party every Friday night and we were there on a Friday. We ate in the restaurant and hung out in the bar for the rest of the night. We met some people from Norway who had also just gotten in that day and I always wonder why people are there and what they do so I am always interested to talk to people and see what they are doing in their lives to be there as well. We were extremely tired from the long day, though we did manage to stay up until like 2am. The party was still going on at that point and the music was so loud that it was vibrating our walls when we went to bed. Thankfully, shortly after 230 the power went out and the party fizzled out so it wasn’t loud for too long.

The following day and actually our whole time there we pretty much just relaxed and laid out on the beach and got some sun. We got up one morning and watched the sun rise, and that was really beautiful because it was right over the ocean. We did a mini photoshoot on the beach our last night there which pretty much looked like a honeymoon album because it was all just pictures of one of us. It was fun though. We met a couple that was there from San Francisco who are teachers and we enjoyed talking to them and sharing stories. The following morning we decided to get up and go to swim with dolphins with the couple. My only knowledge of ever going to swim with dolphins was at Sea World and involved shallow water and just petting dolphins. i never did that but I was just aware of it. We left at 6am and drove to another place on the island and when we got out I realized that we certainly were not going to be standing in water with dolphins. We got a snorkel and flippers and a mask and got in a small dhow that I’m surprised even had a motor and we started out. We had also brought our cameras and wallets and didn’t realize that we would not be able to set anything on the bottom of the boat because it was wet/filling with water that the driver was using a bucket to remove. I won’t even pretend that I wasn’t incredibly scared and I definitely voiced my fears to Rachel, who was not interested in hearing them. I will say though that it helps me to voice my concerns and work through them. That being said I was thinking the whole time while we were driving away from land that I could still swim to land if I needed to (like the boat sinking). We got pretty far out and there was a group of about 4-6 boats that were all looking for dolphins and we spotted them and the driver of the boat says, “prepare to swim.” I don’t know what he was thinking but that’s the last thing I was preparing to do. I still had my bathing suit cover up on and I certainly was not ready to be jumping into the ocean. Apparently the way it works is all these boats look for the dolphins to come up and then all drive over to where they are and everyone in the boat jumps out and “swims with the dolphins” as they are just going about their business. The couple that we were with were scared as well so at least no one in the boat was really “prepared” for this. Rachel decides that she is going to jump in with them first and I held onto her bag that had our stuff in it. She said it was fun but decided not to use her flippers after that because they inhibited her. I was incredibly scared but decided that I was not going to have come all the way to Africa and come all the way out onto this boat to just sit in there and not go ‘swim with the dolphins’. So the next time I saw them on the side of the boat I jumped in with no flippers and not even using my snorkel. I only saw 3 or 4 of them under the water because they were already moving ahead but it was still very cool. I got back in the boat and the driver asked if anyone else was going to get in the water because if not then we were going to go back. The woman of the couple said that she wanted to get in so we kept following them. I decided to get in with her that time as well and when I looked under water there were probably 15 dolphins just swimming under me and I can safely say that is by far one of the coolest experiences of my life. I had never really seen a dolphin up close before and even though that was probably 15 feet away I could still see them clearly and just swimming in the wild. It was incredible. I was so glad that we went and that both of us got in the water and got the most out of the experience. It was really scary but as some people know about me, I am all about facing my fears and doing things that I didn’t think I would so I was beyond pleased. After that we did decide to go ahead back to shore and then back to the hotel. We were checking out that day to head to Stonetown on the other side of the island.

"Peace up, A-town down"

car ride-safety first!
our farewell dinner!
Our sweet babies
contemplating putting him in the suitcase

So we got back to the house around 6pm from the safari and we were incredibly dirty (you wouldn’t think so given that we sat in a car for 3 days but I have never been so gross in my whole life). So we both showered and went ahead and packed because we were leaving so early the next day and didn’t want to have to do it in the morning. There was also a new volunteer there from Florida who was going to join us on our outing in Arusha. We were going to eat at the Blue Herron (finally). I don’t know that it was ever expressed but we had tried 4 times before to eat there (supposedly the best Italian food in Arusha) but it had been closed every time. Ilse has bad luck when it comes to places being open when she wants to go. So in typical fashion it was closed when we got there. Almas picked us up and it was Rachel, me, Ilse, Tanya, Renate, and Shea going with us so we rode with 2 people in the front seat and 4 in the back. Not exactly safe riding but it’s not like we ever wore seatbelts anyway. Don’t get me wrong either, I am as safety conscious as the next person but seatbelts are hard to come by in Tanzania apparently. Anyway, so we decided instead to go to Pepe’s (happens to also be Italian food) and randomly it has an Indian menu as well so I had some really awesome chicken masala. It was quite a lovely dinner and Almas stayed and ate with us. From there we went to Via Via for our last ‘night out’. It was already really crowded when we got there and on Thursday nights they have a live band and then after the band they have a dj that plays outside with this dance floor at the bottom of an amphitheater. Yes, it was as strange as it sounds. Rachel and Shea were pretty tired so they decided to get a taxi home early (1130pm) but given that it was the last night there I was completely up for staying out later. Once the dj started outside that’s where everyone was congregated and Ilse met up with a Dutch guy that she had met before and so Tanya, Renate, and I were pretty much on the dance floor for the next 3 hours. Things don’t close very early so we stayed until 330am when we were all exhausted and there were still a pretty good number of people there after we left. Almas drove us home and I think we all went to bed around 4am.

The next morning 7am came very early. I showered and worked on getting all the pictures that I wanted from Ilse’s computer and visa versa. Almas had also made her a mix cd of all the songs that we always listened to in the car rides between Usa and Arusha so I got a copy of that as well. It was our special “Africa mix”. While I was doing that Rachel was downstairs taking some more pictures of the kids and she brought Happy upstairs to hang out with us before we left. I went downstairs and got Selemani and brought him upstairs as well. We took pictures and I gave him some food but before we knew it, it was time to go. We had someone from ADRA coming to take us to the airport. I had said that I wasn’t going to cry but as soon as I got downstairs and had to put Selemani in his chair to eat I was already getting teary eyed. Lazaro was sitting right next to him and I said bye to him and said that I was going on the airplane and not coming back for a while and he was like airplane? Ok bye. Then I told him to be sweet to Selemani and to make sure he was ok, then Lazaro looked at Sele and said “Sele, tell Kimba bye.” So at that point I pretty much lost it and started crying. I still had to say bye to all my other babies so I made it through all but Amina because she was sitting across the room. I also gave Rhoda a hug and we both started crying, and she doesn’t even speak English and we have never actually had a conversation but it was still so sweet and she was probably the nicest nanny to me the whole time. At that point Rachel and I were both pretty much bawling and had to leave the room. We said goodbye to the laundry lady and to Ellie (another volunteer), and then we went to gather our things to put in the car. Renate and Ilse helped us with our bags to the car and we were both pretty much still crying at that point. It’s really hard saying goodbye to people and I will certainly admit that I am not good at it. I have never had to say goodbye to people essentially for forever as far as I know. We both were pretty much silent on the way to the airport besides some small talk with the driver. On to Zanzibar we went…

Friday, July 9, 2010

"I slept like a hippo in a pool"

picture taking
our awesome land cruiser
dinner time
humble abode
view from the campsite

We left for safari on Tuesday morning. Our guide Bonaface ‘bonny’ came to pick us up at the home and we headed towards Arusha. We had to go pick up our supplies and our cook, Jacob, in Arusha. We headed to Tarangire National Park first which is about 70 miles from Arusha. It was a pretty drive with lots of Maasai sightings on the way. We dropped Jacob off at a stop that headed towards Lake Manyara so that he could go ahead to the campsite and start our dinner.

Tarangire was really pretty and upon entering the park we saw wildebeests and zebras running across the road in front of us so we got some great pictures of them crossing the road. Apparently this is the most popular time of the year for safaris because it is the migration period of most animals in the parks. We learned that they are very often together because the zebras have good eyesight so they can tell if a predator is coming and the wildebeest provide more protection since the zebra have no defenses. We also saw some elephants really close up when we were driving by Tarangire River. There were baby elephants that the larger ones were surrounding to provide protection. We stopped for lunch at the picnic site on this cliff where we could see down to the Tarangire River and see the elephants again.

After a full day of the game drive we made our way towards Lake Manyara, where the campsite was that we stayed at. We really had no clue what to expect with it and were pleasantly surprised. It was a permanent tented campsite and our tent had 2 twin beds in there so we didn’t have to sleep on the ground in sleeping bags. It had bathrooms with running hot and cold water so we could have showered if we brought anything to do that with. Our cook, Jacob, must have thought that he was feeding 12 people because the amount of food that he brought us unreal! He didn’t speak very good English either so we couldn’t adequately express how much we liked what he had prepared so the fact that we didn’t eat everything made him think that we didn’t like it. We both pretty much had a major meltdown on the top of a mountain in a campsite that night. It was the first time that we had really had the time to sit and think about where we were and what we were doing and being able to do. It was and is still so hard to comprehend what an amazing experience we have been able to have here. It’s also just so seemingly unfair that we get the opportunities that we have just because we are from America and truly Rachel and I are rich in their eyes. At the same time though, I am so happy to be from a country that has enabled me to have the opportunity to go to Tanzania.

That night at the campsite there were a bunch of young people who were from different places and here for different reasons. As Rachel and I sat and watched soccer with everyone else around us talking we had this strange feeling that all this stuff was going on around us and that we were like invisible. We had no interest in talking to people and really just wanted to go to bed. I think it was really weird to be without the kids for the first time in 30 something days and it was the beginning of our separation from them. One thing I loved doing was looking out at the stars. Seeing a million stars always makes me think of how big and great God is. I’ve always been fascinated with stars and especially since I don’t get to see them that much in Atlanta and certainly not as many. We were concerned at first about being able to sleep outside but we were both so tired that it was no problem at all.

The following day we went to Ngorongoro Crater National Park. We were supposed to leave pretty early because it was going to be the longest drive and the longest day because there was so much to see. When we got to the rim of the crater we realized how cold it was! It was also super foggy, we couldn’t even see when cars were driving towards us, and it was crazy! We saw a lot of Maasai herding their cattle or goats on the way. We also learned that they are allowed to bring the herds into the crater during the day to graze (which I don’t know why you would want to do that when there is essentially every predator there). They have to take them out of the crater at the end of the day though. As the clouds and fog began to lift when we got to the bottom of the crater we saw our first cheetah. It was just laying about 150 feet off the road and thankfully our guide is awesome and can spot animals from a far because there is no way I would have been able to see it due to the fur matching the grass. I can safely say that being down there it was the prettiest place I have ever been. The combination of the different ecosystems; the forest, the grassland, the lakes, the streams, the lush, and the bare. It was incredible. It was also deceptively large. You could always see the entire outside edge of the crater and it looked like you could be there in a minute when actually it was so large.

We went to the hippo pool and saw a baby hippo as well. It was so funny looking! I don’t think I have ever actually seen a hippo as an adult. I probably saw one as a child in the zoo but not in a long time. They are funny animals, they just lay in the water and sometimes they would roll over and they would use the bathroom in the pools as well.

Biggest news of the whole trip to the crater was that we finally saw lions, which was my whole reason for wanting to go on safari in the first place. I LOVE lions! They are the most fascinating animals to me. They are beautiful and look so sweet but are essentially the greatest predator in the crater. We only saw females, because likely the males were all being lazy and hiding in the bush somewhere. That was ok though, as long as I saw a lion. They were just stunning!

The place we ate lunch at by another hippo pool was beautiful as well. It was on this hill and we were forced to eat in the car because apparently there were these birds that would steal your food and unless we were willing to fight for it then it was best that we ate in the car.

After we ate lunch we saw 2 more lions lying in the grass watching an entire herd of zebra and wildebeest. It was crazy how close we were to them and how they were essentially just doing what they always do. After that we saw some water buffalo and another cheetah. During the day we also saw a hyena, gazelles, monkeys, and lots of different birds.

That night at the campsite we had another delicious dinner prepared by Jacob, and had possibly the funniest night at the dinner table ever. We had decided that since we felt bad about the night before that we would eat every single bit of food that he prepared for us. Since we both seemed to not like everything we would trade for eating entire plates of food. Rachel was very tired of eating carrots and I had no desire to eat rice so we decided that I would eat all the carrots and she was going to eat all the rice. I don’t think I have ever been more full in my entire life. We both stuffed ourselves so full of food! There was also the hilarity of the largest bug we have ever seen flying around and being a suicide bomber towards our table. After gorging ourselves on so much food and from the long day we decided to go to bed early so we would be bright and cheerful for our last day of the safari.

The final day of the safari was Lake Manyara National Park. It is famous for tree climbing lions (though we didn’t see any). It was a great park for seeing the animals closer than in the crater. We saw lots of giraffes, elephants, hippos, gazelles, baboons, impalas, dik dik’s, and monkeys. We did see 2 lions that wanted to go after baby giraffes and there was a standoff of sorts that we did get to see. The lions were behind the bush and there were 2 huge male giraffes that were standing directly facing the lions and essentially they were having a staring contest. The 2 baby giraffes that they were interested in were being protected by their mothers in a semi-circle a little further away. As soon as the lion got up and began walking in the direction of the baby giraffes, the large males began walking towards the lion. Nothing actually happened but it was really awesome to be so close to this showdown of sorts between the animals, especially animals that I never see.

After we left the park we headed back to the home. It was the last night that we were going to have in the home because we left the next morning to go to Zanzibar.

Rwanda Tribunal

So on Monday I was supposed to work in the nursery from 12-5 but I got my shift changed to the 8-12 shift so that I could go to Arusha and go to the criminal tribunal trials at the UN. I actually worked in the house from 8-12 because Rachel wanted to work in the nursery one last time and I much prefer the bigger kids.

Since Rachel was working all day I ended up going by myself. I rode the dala dala by myself for the first time and thankfully it wasn’t very crowded and I got a good seat and could see outside. I arrived there and all you have to do is give your passport and get a visitors badge and you’re good to go. When I got in there they had just finished the lunch break and were starting back up. Admittedly I don’t know that much about what happened and why besides a general knowledge. There was a witness being questioned by the defense. The witness was actually a colonel (bagasaur) who had already been tried and found guilty. The man who was actually on trial wasn’t even in the room but there was a lawyer for him as well as a lawyer for the witness. Thankfully I was sitting next to a woman from Sweden who has been living in Rwanda for the last few months and working at the Swedish embassy in kangali so she was able to tell me what was going on and who this guy was. It was really interesting and I am definitely glad that I went even though most of what was going on was lost on me. It would have definitely been more interesting for someone who followed it closely.

They finished a little before 5pm and I was going to meet Ilse at the Greek club because Holland was playing that night in the world cup and of course we had to go support. Rachel came and met us there after work and Almas came and met us as well to watch the game. Ilse and I stayed and watched the game after Holland won. It was a nice way to spend the night before going on safari!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Things to look forward to...

Rahma, Anya, Lazaro, Bahati before bed

I did my last 6 days working with the kids and now I just get to see them when I want to. Rachel is doing 8-5 for today and tomorrow, and then we leave on Tuesday for safari!!

We have gotten so much accomplished in the last week. We went from no safari, no place to stay in Zanzibar, no flight to getting all of them done. We went to Arusha on Thursday and had breakfast at Africafe. We had been wanting to have their breakfast because Rachel really wanted to have pancakes but they stop serving it at 11 and we are usually there later so we went early that day and have a really great breakfast. We also booked our flight to Zanzibar and paid for our safari. We leave for safari Tuesday morning at 8am and are going to Lake Manyara, Tarangire National Park, and Ngorongoro Crater. I am unbelievably excited! We had no plans to do a safari when we got here but everyone says it’s an absolute must, and everyone that we have talked to that has just recently been has seen all the big five. I am not a fan of zoo’s and I am so excited about seeing the animals in their habitat and getting to experience something that I didn’t think I would be able to do until I was much older.

We get back on Thursday night and spend the night at the home and then leave at 9am on Friday morning to go to the Kili airport and fly to Zanzibar. It’s about an hour and a half flight and as soon as we get there we are getting picked up and taken to our hotel on the other side of the island.

I have been researching a lot for places to stay in Zanzibar and we now have a place to stay in Paje, which is on the east coast and about an hour drive from Stone Town. We are staying there for 3 nights on the beach and it looks absolutely amazing. All the pictures I see from Zanzibar are breathtaking. Following that, we spend one day and night in Stone Town. We have a lot we want to do there and it’s a walking city (given that almost all streets are too narrow for cars). We will likely be very tired at the end. We leave from there and take the ferry to Dar and spend one night there because we leave so early the next morning to begin our trek back to the states! We are really excited about our route home too because we get to have a layover in Jo’burg and we really want to try and see something, though we don’t know what. Pretty much every minute of our time until we return home is filled with something and it is all really fun things but it’s so surreal how fast the time here has flown.