Thursday, July 14, 2011

Safari na Kwaheri Afrika (A Journey/Safari, and Goodbye Africa)

So here I am at the end of my Tanzanian adventure. In some ways I feel like I've always been here, and in others it seems to have flown by. I leave tomorrow evening for Amsterdam, then Detroit, then Moline, Illinois, where I will spend a few weeks with the family before heading back to Charleston for RA training. I have loved every day of being here and will miss it and the people I met here immensely. I think I have learned a lot, but it will take some time to see how deeply it goes and where the changes manifest themselves in my life. I do know that every individual has an obligation to be a responsible consumer, because when we buy products from companies that abuse and underpay their workers, we are directly responsible for the oppression of those people. And I do believe that God will hold us responsible for shutting out the suffering in the world that we cause, directly or indirectly, so turning a blind eye is no longer a viable option. I know that I can love people even if I don't seem to have much in common with them, that a common faith can be a great unifier, and that hot showers are manna from heaven.

For our last big hurrah in Tanzania, we set out on a Safari that lasted Wednesday and Thursday and took us to Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater, one of my favorite places on earth. ( Wednesday we spent the day driving through the area surrounding Lake Manyara, getting sunburned and coated in thick red dust, sleepy from our 6 am wake-up but excited. We saw elephants (one strolled right up to our jeep), wildebeasts, monkeys, baboons, various birds, impalas, gazelle, giraffes, hippos, and waterbuffalo. It was great seeing all the animals in their native habitats rather than in the Disney Safari ride at Animal Kingdom, which is going to be extremely lame to me henceforth.

After a sweet boxed lunch picnic and a long, bumpy drive back to our campsite, where we stayed in cozy little rooms, we had dinner and turned in early (after some episodes of Dexter, duh). The next "morning" (read: middle of the night) at 5 a.m. we woke up, had breakfast, wherein I ate 5 pieces of homemade bread with the best butter I've yet tasted, and headed to Ngorongoro, about an hour away. We circled around the top of the crater and then drove down into it, a bit precariously, where we spent a few hours seeing lions sprawled out on the grass, massive herds of zebra and wildebeasts making their way across the crater's basin, warthogs, gazelle, a gigantic elephant, and even an elusive cheetah. It was one of the most beautiful places I have been to so far in my life, and I'm so grateful I got the chance to experience it firsthand. I will miss this place, it's landscapes, hospitality, food, meticulously chaotic cities, and the crisp, cool village air. But I hope I'll come back someday and see more of all the beautiful things that East Africa has to offer.


Isaiah 10:1-3
1 Woe to those who make unjust laws,
   to those who issue oppressive decrees,
2 to deprive the poor of their rights
   and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
   and robbing the fatherless.
3 What will you do on the day of reckoning,
   when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
   Where will you leave your riches?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Imani Moja--One Faith

My church in Fairfield IA, First Lutheran Church, has a sister church near Arusha (about 160 km) called Mamba Lutheran Parish. Every year or two some members of my church come to Tanzania to visit, do some volunteer work, and help out with things at the church, which they helped build. It's really insane that the place I independently decided to study abroad is within travelling distance of the village my church has connections with. Before leaving Iowa, I was given a giant (heavy) duffel bag filled with children's clothes that some ladies in Fairfield sewed for Mamba. I was very blessed to have Ritha, a girl from Mamba who First Lutheran sponsors for college, living here in Arusha, and she agreed to travel with me.

So, on Saturday, I met up with Ritha and got on a Dala Dala (a converted van used as public transport, onto which two dozen people are sometimes smooshed) headed for the bus station. There we boarded a large charter bus headed to Moshi, about 2 and a half hours away. Bus stations in Africa have become markets, with people walking around with large baskets of snacks, drinks, electronics, shaving kits, and more balanced on their heads. They toss things up to the passengers who hand money down. These kinds of unofficial economies are what keeps places like Tanzania thriving. Then we got off at Moshi, caught a smaller bus to somewhere without a name, and took another Dala Dala to Mamba Village. I'm so glad I was with Ritha because I couldn't understand a word people were saying except that they were calling me "mzungu" (white person) and sometimes "chumba" (fiancee). I didn't see any rings though, so I had to politely decline.

We finally arrived at Mamba, which is nestled into a beautiful valley surrounded by massive mountains, and headed to Ritha's house, where she lives with her sweet grandma, great aunt, two sisters, and mom. They fed us a lunch of rice, some kind of meat that I believe was beef, and delicious fresh bananas and avocados. I am pretty sketched out by meat in general and they kept piling it on my plate. I ate all I could and then Ritha's mom said, in Swahili, "The food is very bad? You are not eating much." So I felt terrible and made myself keep eating it because it is an honor to be given meat in a place where it's a rare commodity. I also drank some tea, which I was sure was giving me a bacteria infection because of the water quality, but I am still feeling fine, thankfully. Ritha's family was very kind and welcoming and showed me around the village until the Msuyas (an older couple who came to visit us in Iowa last summer) came to pick me up and take me to their house.

At the Msuyas', we had dinner and then everyone who stays in their house gathered around the living room table and we prayed, read the Bible, and sang familiar hymns in Swahili. It was so great to sing the same songs I grew up with in church in another language. The whole theme of this trip was seeing firsthand that God is everywhere and is a God of all people, regardless of language, geography, culture, or personal circumstances. This is one of the things that I've always known, but visiting Mamba made me know it firsthand, from experience. The next morning we went to Mamba Lutheran Parish for Church and it was one of the greatest things I've ever done. The church is beautiful, and I got to sit in on Sunday School, where the kids yelled out answers to their teachers' questions in happy unison. What really drove the connection to my church and family home to me was seeing the quilted banner that several ladies from my church made for Mamba hanging on the wall of the church. The banner has a photograph of Mamba, a photograph of First Lutheran, and reads, "Imani Moja- One Faith". I got a little teary seeing Fairfield in the middle of Africa, and seeing the global Christian community firsthand. This is what Christianity is supposed to be about--people from all over the world loving each other and helping each other however they can, regardless of any external factors that tell them they are different. I loved the African church music the choir sang, and hearing the familiar hymns sung in beautiful Swahili. I gave the dresses to the parish and had to awkwardly say a few words on behalf of the church in Fairfield. Afterwards Ritha and I headed out, and her mom gave me two beautiful Kangas (pieces of wax printed Tanzanian fabric)--one for me, and one for my mother. All in all it was a wonderful experience and I'm so glad I got to worship with people I have little in common with except Jesus. The people of Tanzania are so warm and hospitable, and it was great seeing life from a village perspective since we've been living in the city.

Lala Salama! (Sleep Well)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Last Week: A Review

First, a brief overview of the past week:

Sunday: Went on a camel ride! For three hours. We had some really nice Masaai guides who made us sack lunches and my camel was really well behaved. Unfortunately sitting on a camel for three hours does things to a person that are difficult to put into words. All I can say is, if you are a male, photoshop yourself into an existing camel picture or something. It was definitely a cool experience to have though. Also Sunday: Writing research paper.

Monday: Research papers due. Taylor Batch's 21st Birthday! We went to the best Indian restaurant I have ever experienced, called Big Bite, and then hung out at the house with two really cool Belgians. Then we had an adventure because it got too late and no taxis were working and one of the guys needed to get home to take some medicine, so we stayed up until 5 am trying to get someone to come pick them up. Class the next day was great, as you might imagine.

Tuesday: Sleep catch up, watched some Dexter (ADDICTING), chilled.

Wednesday: Wrote my take-home final exam for class. Went to Cradle of Love Orphanage and played with some adorable and sticky children! Tom the Belgian's last night in Tanzania--ate at Khan's Barbeque, which was amazing, and then went to a local bar and danced goofily.

Thursday: Went to my first Bollywood movie, which was hilarious and long. Then came back to the house and watched "Easy A" with the roomies.

Friday: Everyone else went camping, and I hung out with Ruben-- we went to lunch at a little hole in the wall place and I tried Samosas for the first time, which was a fantastic experience. Then hung out by a beautiful hotel pool and played chess at the house (I WON). Then I met Ritha, the girl who my church in Iowa sponsors for university and who was escorting me to Mamba Village the next day. We went to her dorm and I got to meet all of her sweet friends and have dinner with them.

Saturday: Ritha informed me we would be leaving at 8 am, so I woke up at 7. 8:15 AM, text Ritha that I'm ready and she says, "Great, I'll be there around 10). Learn that African time is not the same as American time. I think I will break this into two chunks to make people feel like they are reading less.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"God Bless the Panther"

Last Thursday, we travelled about an hour out of Arusha, past some beautiful scenery and incredibly resourceful villages, to visit Peter Oneil, a former member of the Black Panther party in the 60s who fled to Tanzania after getting arrested for possession of a firearm without a license 40 years ago. He has lived outside of Arusha every since and is doing a lot of great things for the community. He's a bit of a local celebrity, and is friendly and warm with impressive dreadlocks and a love for the 20 little kids he and his wife are fostering in their compound. They have partnered with people in the local community to build homes, water projects, and music and art studios aimed at empowering women. Peter's current dream is to refurb an old van and take the orphans to play in the ocean--how sweet is that? When we arrived they had prepared the most delicious lunch we have had here: most importantly, there was SALAD. I didn't think I would miss being able to eat fresh vegetables this much (it's generally  unwise to eat them here because the water used to wash them isn't clean enough for weak Western stomachs). After that Peter talked to us about his life in the Panther Party and in Tanzania, and then we got a tour of the facilities. It was a great time and everyone there was very kind.

Yesterday we went on a Camel safari, which was a lot of fun, but rather painful. I forgot to put on sunscreen the one day it was actually necessary and got very burned. We were on the camels for about 3 hours, so I got to be kind of a camel riding expert by the end of it. We were led by 4 Masaai guides who were very cool guys and made us sack lunches for our trip: meat, chapati (delicious flatbread), a hardboiled egg, and mango juice. So cute. We didn't end up seeing any animals other than a few dikdik (tiny deer), but we had a good time regardless.

Our class is located near the International Criminal Tribute for Rwanda, a court that seeks to hold people responsible for the genocide in 1994 accountable. Earlier in the week we had two women who are defense lawyers for some of the people being accused of genocide come speak with us and it was extremely interesting. At first we were all pretty skeptical that they could have anything useful to say, which demonstrates that innocent until proven guilty is definitely and ideal rather than a fact. But they were very down to earth and hearing them talk about how they are faced with challenges that the prosecution doesn't have to deal with made me realize that the international justice system has a long way to go. Then on Friday we had the opportunity to watch the court decision and sentencing on one of the most important court cases relating to Rwanda yet. It was the first trial of a woman by an international body on a genocide case. It was a really surreal experience watching these people who were being accused of committing the most heinous crimes against humanity--there faces were very blank, even as the verdicts were read that they would spend the rest of their lives in prison. As much as I am glad that these people are being held accountable, it was upsetting to witness. It just made me realize further how broken people are and how much we need God to fix us. We may not all have committed genocidal acts, but we are all guilty nonetheless. Seeing suffering here has reinforced to me the importance of having a savior who doesn't hold our mistakes against us.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (or so I've heard)

Hi everyone! Today I make myself write about my Saturday adventures so my mom doesn't have to feel the disappointment of discovering that there is nothing new on this blog.

So on Saturday morning, at the crack of 7:45, me, Cassie, Kendall, Taylor, Rikkilee, Alex, and Robert piled into a van that our friends and tour guides, Baracka and Tosh, rented for us. We headed off for a day of hiking around the base of Kilimanjaro, Africa's largest mountain. We had been learning about government corruption in our class on Human Rights & Capacity Building, but we got to see police corruption in action when we got pulled over by a cop for seemingly no reason at all. Our driver got out and talked to the guy and tried to slip him a few shilling notes. The cop refused and I thought, "this must be one of the good ones". But it turns out that our driver just wasn't coughing up enough cash. So after he got a few more notes the officer took it and let us go. We were all pretty astounded to have seen that kind of blatant bribery firsthand. I know this is the reality for millions of Africans and we have heard about it so many times before, but actually seeing it made me realize how stark the contrast is between the U.S. and Tanzanian law enforcement systems. I know there is some police corruption in America, but on the whole I feel that I can trust police officers in the States to help me, not extort me.

After that we got back on the road and made it about half way before we were driving through a village and a motorcyclist cut in front of us with no warning. Our driver tried to get out of his path but couldn't, and we ended up hitting him. It was a really horrible moment--we all looked back to see if he would get up or not. He easily could have died, but he got up and ended up being completely fine. It was a really sobering experience. We waited for quite awhile while our driver and the motorcyclist (who was a pretty young kid--probably about our age) and the people in the village discussed who should pay for the damage to our van. Eventually it was decided that we would stop on the way back and get the money from him, which none of us believed was going to happen for a second. He ended up coming to give us the money though, which shows another difference between the States and East Africa. People here know everyone in their village, so if you are at fault for something you will be held accountable for it, because you can't just leave town. We eventually made it to Kili, hiked to a beautiful waterfall (partly in bare feet, which was fun), and then got the opportunity to visit a little museum depicting the tools and living quarters of the Chaga people, who, it turns out, kept their cows in their houses to keep the Masai warriors from stealing them. We then drank some local beverage, a kind of grainy, rather unpalatable alcohol, and got to go down into a cave where the Chaga would hide from the Masai in times of conflict. We then headed over to the place where those brave souls trying to scale Kilimanjaro start, but it was so overcast that we couldn't see the mountain at all--it was completely invisible. That was a bit of a disappointment, but overall I feel like we had a genuine African experience and saw some beautiful scenery.

Till next time!


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Peanut Butter and a Visit to the Orphanage

Trying to keep up with this thing is a lot of work! I am going to try to be more dilligent about it though; this trip should be documented well, so be gone, laziness.

On Friday we had no class because half of our group flew to Zanzibar for the weekend to bask in the sun on the beach, but the rest of us stayed and decided to do some hiking and sight-seeing more locally. Friday we took a van to the outskirts of Arusha and visited three ladies who make peanut butter as a potential volunteer opportunity. They were so sweet and welcoming and gave us lots of roasted peanuts to munch on. They sort all the peanuts by hand, roast them in one small oven (they have electricity 4 times a week), and then grind them and make them into the freshest, most delicious smelling peanut butter I've ever encountered. I hope to go back and help out and buy some to bring home to the states.

Then we went to an orphanage called the Cradle of Love Baby Home. It was so awesome to be there even for the short time that we were. It is run by a Christian lady who has adopted several children and has some of her own who help out as well. She was so loving and expressive to the little kids there, and runs the orphanage very efficiently. We got to take a tour of the facilities and talk to some of the kids; it was great. They have 45-50 orphans (and children whose parents are not fit to care for them) all under the age of 3. We went and saw the infants in their cribs, and were told that one baby girl, Rehema, was found in a pit latrine--in a toilet--and when they found her they had to pick the maggots out of her ears and nose. Rehema at Cradle of Love Baby Home in Arusha Tanzania Africa run by Davona Church It is so devastating to hear things like that. It makes me sick to think about what humanity is capable of. But knowing that there are also people like Davona, the woman who runs the orphanage, and the other ladies who work there should give us some cause for hope. They're able to love on these kids while they are with them and give them vital attention at such a vulnerable time. All of us who visited were really affected by what we saw and hope to volunteer a couple of times a week, taking the Dala Dala (public transport vans) from our house to the site, about 20 minutes away.

Tomorrow, how we went to hike Africa's largest mountain and couldn't find it.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

A visit to the Market

Today we went to our first day of class at the museum. Our teacher is a really nice guy, and very smart. He got his Master’s at Northwestern and is now getting his PhD at the London School of Economics. The class is going to be mostly discussion-based, and although we were all thinking we were going to have to pay really close attention to the readings, it was pretty free-form, so I’m hoping a quick skim of them will suffice. Then we went and ate lunch at a great little place called Milk and Honey that serves Tanzanian food—I got chicken curry with rice & veggies and it was delicious. I expected to have stomach problems here and have a tough time adjusting to the food, but it’s really good and I haven’t had any issues so far. Then we walked around awhile and I talked to Robert, a student participating in the program from Uganda, about the differences between our respective cultures. I think I’ve learned the most from talking to East Africans here—the people in Tanzania are great, even if they’re trying to sell you something. I love that such a huge part of the culture here is greeting people you encounter on the street. There is a typical call and response that usually consists of one person saying “Mambo” and the other saying “Poa”. It basically means, “how are you?” and “cool”. You can also respond “fresh,” which I find humorous. Then we went to the Masaai Market, which is the touristy marketplace where you can buy all kinds of souvenirs. I got a pair of leather beaded sandals and a wooden sign that says “Karibu” or “welcome” to put over my door. I am going to try to get mostly stuff that I can use around the house or decorate with, so I’ll be able to see it often. I’m hoping to find some pretty beaded jewelry too though—the Masaai are famous for their beadwork, and the number of huge beaded necklaces a Masaai woman wears indicates her age group. Then we went to the real market, led by Mary, a participant in my program and an Arusha native. I’m really glad she was there to guide us because we would have been hopelessly lost. The colors and sounds of the market were really overwhelming; everyone selling things from fresh fruits and vegetables to huge, dead fish, to beautiful fabrics. Everywhere we went people would yell, “mzungi!” meaning, “white person!” to try to get us to come check out their stuff. I’m sure you could get much better prices in the actual market but I was a bit beleaguered by all the things demanding my attention. I took a few pictures but vendors sometimes don’t appreciate being photographed, and people swipe your cameras, so I had to be careful. Then we headed back to the house where we found a bird trapped inside! Emily, one of the other girls on the trip, picked it up and carried it outside in a towel. It was pretty amazing. I’m finding myself to be a total wimp when faced with wildlife (mostly bugs) in the house. I also just discovered that we have a banana tree out our window and an avocado tree in the backyard! We have made it our mission to learn how to make fresh guacamole, Mmm. That’s all for now, hope everyone is enjoying their summers!
Kaa salama (stay well)

Oh yeah, and we saw this chameleon just chilling out on our way to lunch!