Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Someway, Baby, Its A Part Of Me, Apart From Me

I’m not quite sure how to write an ending to an experience I don’t think has fully ended for me yet. Sitting here at the desk in my room, listening to music with a mug of coffee in my hand, wearing clean clothes, the sounds of dala-dalas no longer screaming in my ears, is surreal. Sure, it’s great to be home. I honestly didn’t even realize how much I missed my family, until I saw my parents, camera in hand, welcoming me in the arrivals hall in the airport. But an eleven hour flight, a three hour layover in Amsterdam, and another seven and a half hour flight, didn’t even give me close to enough time to wrap up some of the thoughts that are still rushing through my head. That’s why I will start this post a few weeks back, during my last days of being abroad, and then move to this first week back in the United States.
As I knew they would, my last few weeks in Tanzania flew by. Buying final gifts for family and friends, finishing up my independent study paper, climbing Mount Meru (Africa’s fourth tallest mountain) , getting sick, and taking in all that I could of such a beautiful country made those last weeks seem like only a few days. First of all, mount Meru. What an absolutely amazing experience. Climbing above the clouds to over 12,000 feet, a height I had only ever reached in an airplane is something I will never forget. A three day climb, surrounded by the good friends I had made on this trip was a perfect way to start saying goodbye. Overall, Meru is two days up and one day down. The first day is short, hiking to the first base camp and resting all afternoon, the second day is similar in the morning, but with a hike to little Meru (3,801 m) that afternoon. Then we woke up at one am to begin our hike to the summit, however ten minutes into our hike, either the altitude or food poisoning, not quite sure which, upset my stomach. I have to say, no offence mom and dad, I have never had someone hold my hair as well as my guide. Unfortunately, about 5/8ths of the way to the summit, I had gotten too sick to continue climbing, and was sent back to camp.
View of Arusha from Little Meru

Left to Right: Chloe, Jenny, Abby, Emma, Zoe

Myself (left) and Tess (right)

To stop talking about illness, two days after climbing Meru, I gave my presentation on Coral Reef Fishes (yes that is the plural of fish, no I didn’t know that before I started this project). As I stated before, I studied the diversity of coral reef fishes in the outer reefs off the coast of Ushongo Mtoni, a tiny fishing village on the coast of Tanzania.To my surprise, I collected significant data suggesting that the inner reefs of Ushongo Mtoni are far more damaged than the outer reefs. The inner reefs yield a lower diversity of coral reef fish than the outer reef suggesting that the inner reefs have been over-fished and damaged to a point where many fish species are no longer found there. Health indicating species such as snappers, and large food fish such as parrotfish, are no longer found on the inner reef, and their numbers are decreasing on the outer reef. I also found a significant difference between the diversity and the abundance of coral reef fish at dynamite destroyed sites than undisturbed sites, which I had expected in my hypothesis. This data provides evidence supporting the idea that the fishermen in this area are slowly destroying the coral reefs. They are destroying a natural resource that they need to maintain their lifestyles, and in turn they are destroying the opportunity the coral reef provides them. Many scientists believe that these reefs, covering one percent of the ocean, and housing 18 percent of the world’s fish species, will cease to exist if these practices continue. As unfortunate as that is, my presentation went well, and hopefully the fishermen who I had spoken with will pass down this information to their children, and those fishing on the Ushongo Mtoni reef will begin to think about what their destructive methods are actually doing to the reef.
After my presentation, I spent most of my time buying gifts for friends and family and creating final memories of my time in Tanzania. Making friends on our Dala-Dala, talking to the mama who made us chapatti every morning, and watching the “supermoon” rise above the mosque across the street are memories I will never forget. One of my fondest memories from my last week, was spending my very last night in Tanzania on the roof of Meru Inn overlooking the city of Arusha, two mountains, and a moon and stars that could take your breath away. We did “superlatives” for each student, and I was awarded “Best in a crisis, Most likely to save your life, and Best at math”. There were quite a few accidents on our trip, two incidents where students needed stitches, and by some strange occurance I was there for both of them. First, there was an incident with a jackfruit (aka finessi) on the roof in the middle of the semester, and one of my friends was cut with a knife, and had to be taken to the hospital. Then there was an incident where one of my friends fell on the pavement, could see her bone, went into shock and had to be taken to the hospital for stitches. So I guess I understand where the Best in a crisis superlative came from…
Last Night on the Roof


Mayday Parade down the main street in Arusha
Anyway, saying goodbye to such a beautiful country was more challenging than I expected. Saying goodbye to my new family, the 27 students I didn't know until four months ago, was emotional. Though I know I will see them again, we all went through this journey together and formed an unbreakable bond with one another that I will never forget. We laughed, cried, were angry, resentful, we struggled through hard times, and supported eachother throuhout our journey. All twenty eight of us went through changes together that brought us closer and turned us into a family. It’s hard to explain. I would love to be able to put into words, this experience I had in Tanzania. I want to share it with the rest of my loved ones, and stories and pictures just don’t cover everything, but hopefully they give some insight.
Here’s a moment I had with my home stay brother, Godbless that I will never forget: We were walking to the tailor one afternoon, and talking about how America is different than Tanzania. He had told me his ambitions to travel to New York, and to become an accountant. As we were talking our converstation stalled often, because Godbless greeted each person we passed and stopped to ask how they were and how their families were. Once we had arrived at the tailor, I asked whether he knew individually each person he greeted along the way. He said “no, I don’t need to know them to say hello”. What an idea. When I told him that this doesn’t happen often in America, he was floored. “That seems unfriendly, a way to be lonely” he replied.
Here are some things I’m going to miss about Tanzania: 
  • Pace of Life
  • Being able to see miles and miles off in the distance, without a single man-made structure in sight
  • Banana trees
  • The great weather (heli ya hewa nzuri) 
  • Saying hello to everyone
  • Chapatti 
  • A night sky that rivals a planetarium.
Things I’ve been enjoying since returning home:
  • Family
  • American cuisine
  • Internet
  • Phone access
  • A real mattress and pillow
  • A real shower
Arrival at Logan International, from left: Emma, Tess, Eliza, Sophie, Maureen, Danielle
Coming home from a trip like this is harder than I had expected. I heard from friends who had travelled abroad that coming home to a different style and pace of life is challenging and often frustrating, but I didn’t really believe all they had to say. But in all honesty, now I find myself a little na├»ve in not heeding my friend’s warnings. It is a struggle, and not only because everything is fast paced in America, not only because the nutrition and health practices are so different. It’s a combination of so many different factors harassing my unpreparedness. I didn’t expect to miss Tanzania so much now that it is so far away. I didn’t expect to become so overwhelmed by American lifestyle that I wouldn’t even be able to go into a store with my sister and mother. I think over time, I will adjust back into the swing of things, but always with Tanzania in the back of my mind.
In the end, think of the brightest object in the night sky, the one thing that belongs to no one and everyone, the moon. No matter if I’m in Tanzania or America, in the Serengeti, in my Massai homestay, lying on a cowhide outside of my stick and mud Boma, on top of Mount Meru, or on the roof of my hotel, with work friends lying under the stars in the summer, with family at the drive in movies, or walking back from the library some winter night, the same moon and the same stars are always there. No matter where I am, this experience will always be a part of me. I will carry the lessons I've learned these past months everywhere I go and I will always remember when Tanzania was my home.

Thanks for the memories

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dad I'm big but we're smaller than small

Well, I'm back in Arusha, completely finished with my ISP data collection period. I can't even tell you how strange it is to think that I am almost completely done with my study abroad experience. I have taken and learned so much from Tanzania as a country and a people, and I am so grateful for the experiences I have had while abroad. Now, I am a mere five more pages of my paper, a PowerPoint, a mountain, and less than two weeks away from returning home to Massachusetts. It seems almost unbelievable that I have been here since January, but I am honestly excited to return home to see my family and friends!

These past few weeks on the Tanzanian coast have been beyond anything I have ever imagined. Tsunami warning, jellyfish stings, and the roof of the land rover closing on my finger couldn't change the wonderful time I had in Ushongo. Not only are the villagers welcoming, the reefs beautiful, and the fisherman talkative, but everyone in the town was so helpful with everything that we needed throughout the week. Every afternoon when I would walk through town, on my way to my Mama's house to get lunch, other Mama's would yell "Mambo Emma, Habari?", and all were honestly curious how my day was going. Every time we sat down to talk with someone they always had questions for us, and were more than willing to answer the questions we had for them. Especially, Mama's in the village were interested in why we didn't have children yet, or even husbands, and some of the Baba's were even willing to help us with the latter... I played soccer with the village children, played catch with one of the hotel staff's young boy, and taught a school of 200 children why it is important to conserve their reefs. This experience has been unlike anything I have ever had before.
Everyday, my friend Maureen and I would wake up around six and get ready to head out to the reefs while the sun rose above the ocean. We walked over to the village, which was only about twenty feet away from our tents, and sat with the fisherman before they went out on the sea. They would always ask us how our evenings had gone, watch us with amazement as we braided our hair (many women on the coast have shaved heads or cornrows), and bring their young children out to play in the morning. At around seven, the fisherman had prepared the boat, and myself, Maureen, and three fisherman would load into a little wooden boat and prepare for an hour to an hour and a half ride across the Indian ocean to the outer reefs.

Disclaimer: this next section is about to have many movie references.
So you know the point in Pirates of the Caribbean where Jack Sparrow is walking across a sand island and looks around him, and can't see anything but ocean? If you don't, just imagine. That is pretty much exactly where Maureen and I spent our days after we finished collecting data. So once we had reached the island, after our long boat ride, we were "marooned", left on the island to do our data as the fisherman anchored the boat a little ways out, and swam in all different directions to spear fish for the day. The reefs are absolutely amazing. The live coral is everything you could imagine and more. There were bright colored polyps, vibrant individual fish, and massive schools of fish that you could pretty much swim with. However, surrounding these areas were large areas of destroyed dynamite. Many parts of the reef I studied at have been destroyed by dynamite fishing, and are now large plots of coral rubble and sand. Unfortunately, though dynamite fishing is illegal, in many third-world countries it is extremely difficult for regulation, and villagers embracing the lack of enforcement are still using these destructive methods.

Anyway, I really enjoyed almost every day I spent on the reef. The only day I didn't enjoy was the day Maureen and I call "attack of the jellys". Here comes the other movie reference. You've most likely seen Finding Nemo. You know the scene where Dory and Marlin are swimming over the trench when the should have been swimming through it? Well, there wasn't a trench, but that scene is one-hundred percent accurate in terms of the jellyfish practically appearing out of thin air. I looked down at one point to record my data (Step 1: Laminate paper twice, Step 2: Scratch the surface of the paper with sandpaper, Step 3: use a pencil and you can now write underwater!!) and when I looked up, i was surrounded by massive jellyfish. These jellyfish weren't the tiny thumb sized ones that you can easily push away, but rather they were about eight inches wide, with tentacles about a foot long each. And they had surrounded me. Not the best situation when you're trying to record fish on the coral reef, so that day we pretty much just sat on the island until the fisherman were ready to return to shore.

Well, I'm off to climb Mt. Meru tomorrow!!
Be back in three days!
Ushongo, Mtoni

At the school - right after our talk on conservation

Our fisherman, and the boat we went out on every day

Left to Right: Leah (Studying trash) , Jenny (Studying tourism) , Myself (Studying fish) , Eliza (Studying mangroves) , Drew (Studying sexuality) , Maureen (Studying Corals) , Mia (Studying Crabs) , Zoey (studying turtles)

Fish Market

The fisherman I went out to sea with every day

My favorite little boy in the village!

The welcome sign for Ushongo, made out of an old boat

Friday, April 6, 2012

We Walk the Plank with Our Eyes Wide Open

Good evening and almost Happy Easter!
Can you believe I'm beginning ISP already? Tomorrow morning I'm off to the coast of Tanzania, to a small town called Ushongo to study Samaki (fish). I do sincerely apologize for not posting about the Serengeti in the past couple days, but I promise when I return from Ushongo, I will have the longest post you won't even want to read it.
As for this week, I just completed finals week, in which I had to write a ten page paper about something that has impacted me while in Tanzania. The paper topic was called "does it work" and we had to take our "it", and write about whether it works for Tanzania or not. I chose to write about hope and its effect within Tanzania. Here is a brief glimpse at my paper for those of you who are interested in the idea of whether "hope works" or not:

Re-reading one of my favorite books My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult during this three month period in Tanzania, I came across a passage about Greek mythology that made me consider why it is a customary human trait to hope. “Zeus created the first woman-Pandora-and gave her a gift, a box she was forbidden to open. Pandora's curiosity got the best of her, and one day she opened that box. Out came plagues and misery and mischief. She managed to shut the lid tight before hope escaped. It's the only weapon we have left to fight the others." Reading this passage, I instantly asked myself the question what is hope? What is hope to me, and how does it compare to others definitions? Even in a small computer dictionary, the word hope is defined in five different ways. Definitions for hope range from “a confident feeling that something desirable is likely to happen” to “something someone thinks will bring success or relief”. Hope is even defined sometimes as a “feeling of trust“. Notice however that all of these definitions of hope rely on a single word: probable. Hope is not something that you wish for, that you know may never be obtainable. Hopes are framed around ideas that people believe likely to come to fruition.
In their lifetime everyone has hopes. Different hopes though, as some may hope their children will grow up successfully, others hope they will earn copious amounts of money. Whether a child hopes for her dad to bring home cookies from work, or even a young man having high hopes that he will play in the NBA someday, everyone experiences this desire or serious yearning for something that may or may not ever happen. My experience in Tanzania has taught me that hope is both a tangible and yet unquantifiable and vague notion. Talking with both young and old Tanzanians, dala-dala drivers, street vendors, mama’s, school children, and even American students, I have finally discovered that hope is an idea so commonplace and so universal, that it is a point of unity for almost all humans on this Earth. People of all different ages, poor and wealthy, educated and uneducated all have the commonality that they have hope for something. Whether they wear this hope on their sleeves or bury it in the deepest chambers of their heart, I believe all humans have the unrestricted fundamental capacity to dream, expect, wish, aspire, anticipate, and overall, hope. So does hoping work? With the millions of people on this planet running around with their hopes and dreams, vying for what they somewhat desperately want to happen, the question begs to be asked. does it work? When you hope for something so strongly, how does it effect how you live? And what happens when hope is lost, when all desire and drive has deserted someone?

You know, I had this idea because Baba Jack told a rather shocking story about a woman who knocked on his door one evening. He calmly told us about how she pointed to her children and asked in the only way she could, if he, a well-to-do white man would feed her children for the evening. After making sure her children were properly fed, and not touching a bit of food herself, we were told that she stripped of her clothes and laid on the floor as an thank you for helping her children. This is an moment in which I believe you see the hopes of a desperate woman slowly sliding away. Her last thread of hope lying in her desire to save her children in the only way she sees possible. And as we were told, even when covered up by Baba Jack, the set of her eyes did not change, as she put her clothes on, took her children and left the house. It is even reasonable to believe that she had lost all hope in humanity as well, not caring whether she had been used for sex or not, as all she cared for was keeping her children alive. This story really made me question whether or not I knew what hopelessness truly felt like, and made me realize truly how lucky I am to be blessed with such an amazing group of family and friends.

Sorry to get sappy on you, but I thought I'd make my last post for a while make you think.
What are your hopes? and I'd love to know your thoughts on the question "does hope work?"
until then,
Gone Swimming,

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Red Runs Through My Veins

Its finals week! We’re back in Arusha after our two week long safari, and I’ve got so much to say from the trip that I’m planning to write multiple blog posts this week. Starting with this post, an introduction into Maasai lifestyle through the lens of my camera. For three days this week, starting early morning on March 25th to the morning of March 28th, I lived in a Maasai boma on the shores of Lake Natron in Ngaresero, pretty much the heart of Maasai land. The area was beautiful with the Mountain of God rising in the south, and flamingoes constantly flying overhead, and the time I spent with my homestay family was simply incredible. Our task during homestay was to live and experience Maasai lifestyles and take as many photographs as we could. In return for our families hosting us, they have asked for a photo album of the pictures we take during our stay. But for those of you that don’t know much about the Maasai, let me give you a brief introduction before I describe my experience.
The Maasai historically do not originate in Tanzania. From the period of 0 to 1500 A.D. the Massaians began to emerge from regions around the Nile river and move south towards Kenya. Then, around 1700 A.D. they began to expand to Tanzania. Now the Maasai land encompasses a large region of Northern Tanzania and part of southern Kenya. As Maasai culture is polygamous, the men are expected to have many wives, simply in order to care for their cattle. Cattle are some of the most important and most valuable possessions to a Maasai, and they are extremely expensive in the Maasai community. Maasai believe power within the community is determined by those who successfully own and graze the highest number of cattle, thus it is understandable that one cow is worth over 600,000 Shillings, or equivalent to nine goats.
Maasai age sets and dynamics are also very interesting. One of the important sayings in Maasai lifestyle is “Mejool emurt elukunya” or “the neck will never overtake the head”. This basically means that the oldest men in the Maasai culture will always be the most respected, most revered, and most looked up to in the community. Maasai loiboni are respected because they have experienced almost an entire lifetime, learned from their past and are able to guide the younger men and women the most successfully through their younger years. Men in the Maasai culture follow a very specific age hierarchy, beginning with young boys, moving to warriors, junior warriors followed by senior warriors, elders, and finally loiboni. Women follow a similar schematic, starting with girls, young wives, middle aged, and elder women.
Men become junior warriors once they are circumcised. Circumcision periods switch on and off every seven years. Thus, men in the right age group during a circumcision period will be circumcised and become junior warriors. At this time they begin flirting with the younger girls, and begin looking for wives for when they become senior warriors. Junior warriors learn traditional dances and songs in order to perform for the young girls. The warriors who jump the highest, throw their spears the furthest, and perform physical feats the most successfully will be the top of the class and most likely to have a larger number of wives, and become more success in the community.
Women are married at very young ages and begin having children almost as soon as they can first conceive. As young girls, they are constantly courting and being courted by the young warriors. Once they reach maturation, women are circumcised and enter the young wives stage. Once they are married, they will build their homes with mud and sticks that they will collect, and begin to have children and care for their husbands cattle.

So, with a little cultural background, here’s how my experience went. My mother Saumbai, and sister Anna dressed me in robes while I was practically still in the doorstep. I had imagined the loose Maasai robes to be cool and comfortable, but once the polyester skirt had been tied around my waist, all my previous beliefs were out the window. Wearing six layers in 90 degree heat without a tree in sight for shade is not the most comfortable environment I’ve ever experienced. My first day, we arrived home at around noon, and sat inside for a good portion of the day. It was too hot to begin any physical activity and we simply enjoyed each others company until the evening fell. My sister, is fifteen years old, and about to enter her phase as a young wife. Thus, as the sun began to set, we made our way over to a Maasai tradition called "the Esoto". The Esoto is a meeting between the young warriors and the girls at which the warriors jump, chant, and sing, in order to impress the young girls or their soon to be wives. The girls in return dance and sing as well. This was some of the most impressive dancing I have ever attempted, and I’ve found I certainly do not have the “moves like the maasai”.
We headed home, and slept, pretty restlessly on a bed of sticks. I found myself tossing and turning throughout the night in order to find a comfortable position, and by the end was even wishing for my college dorm room mattress. But waking up to watch the sun rise over the mountain of god was more than worth it. Our second morning we left the house early after having rice for breakfast, and collected firewood for about two hours. With machete in hand, we cut through branches and tied them up with two thin pieces of leather. Then, get this, we carried all the wood we had collected on our heads. I walked side by side with my sister for about a half an hour with a bundle of wood balancing precariously on top of my head. But because of this my poise, I believe, has greatly improved. We spent the rest of the day beading, and I continued to take photographs of the children running around the boma during the day.
Just a quick fact: There are two definitions for a boma in maasai culture. A boma is both the individual house built by the women in the village, and the entire home unit surrounded by a fence. Interesting right?
Anyway, we spent our last day taking pictures of the cows, of my mama, my sister, and beading two new anklets. Our last day was incredibly hot and we really couldn’t do too much physical activity without dehydrating almost immediately. But early in the morning we did take an hour hike to an amazing waterfall! Ill post a picture below! On that note, while we were beading one of the elder males in my boma had what we believed to be a heart attack. He was carried out of his home and laid on the ground. Within the first few seconds of chaos, almost every single woman in the area was running out of the house towards the sick man. It was absolutely incredible to see how close knit the women in a boma truly are.
Once the man had recovered, in the early evening, the women in the boma took the students staying nearby, including myself, and taught us some of the dances that they traditionally do during their courting rituals. I took many pictures, and even some videos because I am absolutely positive I wont remember the dances when I return to America, and I would like to teach friends and family some of what I learned!!

Overall, I am still trying to wrap my mind around my homestay, and my feelings towards the Maasai culture. It is a culture unlike anything I have ever experienced before, so different from my own, but so strong in its own way. The beliefs and the values of the Maasai people are so varied and so new to me that I think its going to take some time to sort through the confusion that is currently wracking my brain. But as I work through the static I’ll be sure to keep you updated on how I’m feeling!
I’ll post soon about the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, so keep checking! for now, here are some photographs from my homestay!

My mom - Saumbai

Learning some Maasai dances


My mom, cooking Ugali!

Looking at my Boma from the campsite

In the meantime keep wandering. You never know when something is going to grab hold of you and pull you completely into something new, unimaginable, and entirely unexplored.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sun in the Sky

It seems almost impossible that we’re already in the middle of March, halfway through my journey in Tanzania. So much has happened in the past few weeks that I want to fill you in on. Last week I bid farewell to my home-stay family after a long mid-terms week. We spent the week writing papers and taking a Swahili exam. We had to write a paper about one globalization issue in the town of Bangata, and I chose globalization and its influence on children in the town. My paper centered on media influence, influence by American students in the town, parents, and the relatively new education system in Tanzania at the time. I mentioned strongly how my three year old sister Sarah, would run into the room and rap to American music, singing lyrics that even I would have trepidation to sing aloud. Surprisingly I did very well on my Swahili midterm and was able to discuss with my teachers what my plans were for the next week and what I would be studying for my independent study. At the end of the week after our exams and papers had been completed, our teachers and SIT staff threw a small party for us, where we had to perform short Swahili skits for our families entertainment. I really enjoyed the party, and my mom made me a traditional Swahili dress to wear! Ill attach pictures at the end of the post so you can all see my dress!
After our party we returned home to spend our last night with our families. We took photographs, exchanged pictures, and laughed about the little mistakes that I made throughout the course of our three week stay. That night I helped my mom make chipati and lentils for dinner, my absolute favorite Tanzanian dish. Chipati is sort of like a Tanzanian pancake, made of flour, eggs, sugar, and oil. It is particularly impressive to watch Tanzanian women cook because they do not use any type of measuring equipment, and rarely use any utensils or hotplates. It would shock me every time my mama stuck her hand in the pot of boiling water in order to flip the chipati or check if the pasta had finished cooking. But I’ve learned the basics of making a lot of different types of Tanzanian food, and I can’t wait to bring them home and share it with all of you!
Anyway, on Saturday, my father, brothers, and sister all walked me down to the stop where the cars were waiting to drive us back to town. My sister asked if I would return later that evening and my brother wouldn’t say goodbye. He told me that he wanted to see me again before I left Tanzania and I order to be sure of that, he wasn’t going to say goodbye until then. It was hard to say goodbye to my family but we exchanged our information so I know we will be keeping in touch throughout the next couple of years.
That Sunday, myself and eight other students, woke up around five thirty to begin our long expedition to the coast for our independent study research week. The unfortunate eight hour bus ride left us cranky and sore, and the two hour dala-dala ride didn’t offer any relaxation, but it was worth it when we arrived in the little town of Ushongo! We all experienced a sudden surge of energy when we set up our tents on the beach right in front of the bright blue Indian ocean! We stayed at a hotel called Drifters, complete with two guard dogs, crabs that crawl on your tent at night, and an adorable kitten that we took the liberty to name chumvi. (Swahili for salt)
My independent study project focuses on the diversity of coral reef fish in the outer reef system in Ushongo. In April, I will be going out into the ocean with another student every day, and we will be spending around six hours a day collecting transect data on fish and coral health. We have made a deal with one of the town fisherman, who will be bringing us into the ocean each day. This way, we will also be able to buy fresh fish off for dinner straight off the boat!
We returned last night, and we’re off to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater tomorrow for Safari and right after we will begin our second home-stay with a Massai family. Ill be off the internet for about two weeks, so expect another long update then!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Like No Ones Watching You

Happy leap day everyone! Today in school, my classmates and I were thinking back to where we were on leap day four years ago. I was a junior in high school. I cannot even believe how quickly four years passes. And how many things have changed in such a short period of time. I can guarantee you that during my junior year at Longmeadow High School, I didn’t have any expectations of traveling to Africa to study wildlife conservation and political ecology during college. Well, I once again would like to apologize for the lack of updates you‘ve been given recently. The internet is particularly unreliable in the city, and while in our home stays we only have internet once a week. Last Wednesday, I was looking forward to telling you all about my family, the Eluidi household, but an unpredicted storm knocked most of the internet capabilities out for the day. Thus two weeks will be condensed into this post.

To get you started, my classmates and I arrived in the village of Bangata, Tanzania on Sunday morning, February 19. Here are a few small facts about my new home, Bangata. It is a small community on the outward slopes of one of Tanzania’s famous mountains, Mount Meru. The village is bordered by the Kichakare River in the East, the Songata River in the west (which I cross every day), and in the north by the protected forests of Mount Meru. All roads from Arusha to Bangata are bumpy dirt roads, that take almost as long to drive up as they do to walk. The level of poverty is relatively high, where as many families still live without power, or even easy access to fresh water. Some families have to walk over a mile to reach a water source, fill their buckets, and return to their homes in order to get water. These first couple days have really made me realize how especially lucky I am to have easy access to an important resource such as clean water.

Pulling into the school driveway was nerve wracking. My heart started hammering, seeing all of our new family members sitting outside of the school welcoming us to our new home. Diving into such a diverse culture is unlike anything I had expected. Though my family has been beyond welcoming, I still have to work hard to adjust to the cultural differences I am facing. My family is composed of my mama (mother), Mary, my Baba (father), Godson, my two Kaka (brothers), Godbless and Abraham, and my two Dada (sisters), Rose and Sarah. Godbless is the eldest, eighteen, Abraham following at fifteen, then Rose at ten, and Sarah is the youngest, only three years old.

I immediately fell into the well-oiled routine of my new family. In the morning, we eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast. There’s chai (tea) and always hot water. I leave the house at 7:15 and say goodbye to Mama who has never failed to be milking the cows as I walk out the door. Rosy, leaves before me for primary school, as does Abraham, for secondary school. Sarah, is usually up and by this time, trying to get me to play with her. As Godbless has completed secondary school, every day he is out searching for college early in the morning. I believe he was accepted yesterday into a college as well! My mother and father were excitedly talking over an official looking document that he had brought to the dinner table.

After our morning chai and bread, I meet a student, Danielle, who lives nearby, and we walk/hike to class together. The walk or I guess you could call it more of a slide, to school is interesting... Especially when it has rained the night before. Our morning walk to school is pretty much a mud pathway down the side of a mountain, jumping from rock to rock through the Songota River, and then hiking back up a steep mud trail on the other side. We’ve gotten lost three times; all of which we took a wrong turn and ended up on a completely different, far more complicated, hike home. One of our “getting lost adventures“ took us across two streams, before George and Lenny (to all you Of Mice and Men fans, I‘m not kidding) , two helpful Tanzanian’s walked us all the way back to our rightful homes. Other than getting lost I’ve slipped a few times on the path, and fell in the river once… Poise has never been my forte.

So back to my family. My Mama works around the house all day, and my father is a guide on Kilimanjaro and Meru hikes. She milks the cows, sweeps the floor, does the laundry, and cooks every day. She is one of the hardest working women I’ve met. My father just got back home from hiking with two Swedish hikers on Kilimanjaro two days ago.

Rosy, my 10 year old sister is the sweetest little girl. She speaks English pretty well for such a young age, and is constantly pointing to things and helping me learn Swahili vocabulary. A couple nights ago she helped me with my Swahili homework, and in return I helped her with her math. She was working on multiplication of double digit numbers and was having trouble with the methodology. Even with the language barrier I was able to communicate the correct way to multiply to her, and she really began to understand how to do the problems better. Ever since she’s been writing down problems, doing them out, and making me check if she has the correct answer or not. This connection I’ve made with her is one of the most rewarding relations that I’ve had on this trip so far.

Sarah on the other hand is a piece of work, always drawing on my homework and knocking on my door when I’m trying to sleep. But she is adorable and when I’m not trying to work, very fun to play and run around with.

So, Today I’m in Arusha buying some gifts to give my family when I leave in 10 days. I’ve gotten my mom candle sticks, oven mitts, and soap, for my father a wallet and a hat, my brothers hats, playing cards, and a soccer ball, for my sisters play-doh, colored pencils, crayons, a necklace for rosy, and a stuffed animal for Sarah. I’m also making them an American meal tonight: Mac and Cheese, hot dogs, and cucumber salad. It should be interesting, I also have mangoes and cookies for desert. Later we stopped at the market place with our Swahili teachers, in order to practice our marketplace vocabulary. I am in one of the groups making fruit salad for tomorrow, and I had to barter for these little bananas the locals call “ndizi sukari” or sugar bananas. I got the price down from 2000 Tanzanian shillings to 1000 Tanzanian shillings which is less than a dollar for about 14 bananas.

School has been going well, we have class every morning from eight to around one, with a short break in between for tea. Yes, “tea time” is very big in Tanzania. Then in the afternoons we either have our political ecology lectures or a discussion with a focal group made up of citizens living around Bangata. Last Thursday we talked about how they believed development was effecting their community and the way they lived. We talked about corruption, education, and lack of infrastructure with increasing aid. Many of the mothers and fathers in my focal group focused on the fact that though many more young Tanzanians are going to school, less money is being given to help build bathrooms, or bring running water to the school. They complain that the government promises better roads, but they never see the money, or the labor necessary to accomplish this goal. In this respect I have found it very interesting to think about global aid through the eyes of the Tanzanians.

Well I better run, hopefully, I’ll be able to tell you more soon


Friday, February 17, 2012

Its A New Day

Mambo Everyone! My fourth week in Africa is well underway, and I’m finally starting to get used to washing my laundry by hand. We spent our third week in Tanzania basking in the 80 degree heat at Mazumbai Tropical Forest. After an eight hour drive, the last two hours of which seeming to last terrifying longer than that, we finally made it to the forest. We drove straight up the mountain on dirt roads, veering past cars and flying around corners. A little vertigo later, we arrived at the most beautiful campsite I have ever seen. We spent the week camping on the lawn of a Swiss Chalet, equipped with a moat, fireplace, and one of the most beautiful views of the mountains that I’ve ever seen.
Our first day there, we hiked for six hours and then proceeded to go off on our own and “greet the forest”, our only rule: Be back by nightfall. I spent those next four hours in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Following a small stream, I made my way through the bush and brambles (luckily avoiding the nettles completely), hopped from stone to stone across a precariously dirty stream, and found my way to a large stone platform. I can only describe it as a flat rock, overlooking a 50 yard open area complete with a waterfall, encircled by banana trees and taller brush. It was absolutely stunning and the acoustics we‘re unlike anything I had ever heard. I spent about 3 hours of my time there singing Bon Iver and Barcelona songs.
Anyway, for the next couple days, we researched horizontal and vertical stratification strategies in the forest, I won't bore you with the details, but basically we were tromping through the forest measuring DBH (diameter at breast height), height, and crown cover, of trees in our transects. We also spent a good portion of our time doing Baba Jack boot camp. Our AD led a workout every day so we could try and stay in shape with all the chipati we’ve been eating. (hopefully I’ll be able to make it for all of you when I come home!)
Baba Jack boot camp was strikingly similar to cross fit, the work out program we use on swim team… for all my swimmers, you should know Angie made an appearance on Monday. I also finished reading The Book Thief on my kindle, and if you haven’t read it yet, when you get some spare time, you really should. I was immediately drawn into the story and finished reading it in three days.
We left Mazumbai yesterday, and spent last night at a karaoke bar in Arusha. Because we have a free day today, we were able to stay out late, and enjoy ourselves in the city. I did wake up at 7 this morning and do my laundry though… lame. But tomorrow we head to our home stays, so I would prefer to have clean laundry for when I meet my new "familiy". I'm anxious to meet my new mom, dad, sisters, and brothers. I’m really nervous but I’m also excited. This is such a new experience and amazing opportunity!
I'm off. Hopefully you'll hear from me around Wednesday, and I'll be able to tell you all about my sisters and brothers.
Until next time,