“Changing the world”

I’ve been back in the US less than a week. It’s a very weird feeling. Wonderful but weird. Everyone I’ve seen has given me a super warm welcome, of which I am thankful. Generally, the interactions go a little something like this: They see me. They smile. I smile. We hug. They squeeze. I say it’s good to see them (which it is (these people have lived in my mind for 2+ years, so it is nice to get them out of my brain and into my eyes)). Most people ask one of the following questions:

“How are you?”

“How was Africa?”

“How was your trip?”

Answering these questions can be difficult. The general “how are you” is forever tainted because Tanzanians say it all of the time; many people think it’s actually one word (howahu). It’s also just a very vague question. I have been trying to find an answer I can live with, so I’ve been responding: “hanging in there” (which is absolutely true). The “how was Africa” question used to make me more angry than it does now. I see people’s faces as they ask it and I know they are not intentionally being ignorant. I softly smile and subtly answer, “Tanzania was wonderful, how have you been?” Africa is huge. I lived in just one small part of that continent, it’s unsettling how many people don’t know that.  I’m also finding that deflecting some attention off of me and turning the conversation onto other people is helping me cope. “How was your trip” is my least favorite question. I lived in one place for 2 years. I wasn’t on vacation. It certainly wasn’t a “trip”. Again though, I know this question isn’t intended to offend me. I answer, “It was a great experience. Living in a new culture for two years teaches you a lot.” That’s usually enough for most people, so it ends there.

HOWEVER, some people have been asking really insightful questions and are genuinely interested in my experiences. They ask specific questions, look into my eyes when I speak, and hang onto the words I’m saying. In only 5 days, it has become obvious to me who is legitimately interested in my experience and who just wants to politely greet me. Both are okay! It just took some getting used to. It’s also interesting to see how many people immediately compare my experience to a life experience of their own—sometimes comparable, sometimes not. I’m developing my elevator speech. I know my top 5 favorite stories. As I tell stories, I’ve been getting emotional. PTSD isn’t what I want to call it, but I have been and will continue to experience some intense reverse-culture shock. So I’m sorry in advance if I just start crying. It’s not you, it’s me.

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How could you not cry, missing this face?

Sometimes the conversation turns into a serenade to me.  “Elizabeth, you changed the world.” “Elizabeth, you touched so many lives.” “Elizabeth, they were so lucky to have you”. Did I change the world?  Did I actually touch people’s lives? Were they lucky I was there? These questions are things every Peace Corps volunteer reflects on, almost daily. Am I doing anything? Making any sort of difference? Would my students actually be better off with a Tanzanian teacher who can speak to them fluently? Am I making positive changes in my community that will last? Do I matter?

 

I didn’t change the world. I didn’t teach everyone in my village to speak perfect English. I didn’t leave my name on any piece of infrastructure. I didn’t convince all the teachers in my school to stop using corporal punishment. This experience was undeniably difficult. Of course, I came in with the notion that I wanted to make a difference and change the world. I didn’t do that. You know what I did? I built relationships; I taught kids. I’m not talking about spelling, verb tenses, or punctuation. Sure, we did those things but that’s not really what I hope they remember. I taught them about kindness. Silliness. Friendship. Mutual respect. Peace. I impacted the lives of people I came into contact with. I acted as an example for my girls. I taught my boys about respecting women. I taught my colleagues new teaching techniques and how it is possible to teach successfully without a stick in hand. I represented my own country with class and proved not all Americans act/think the same. I taught them that not all white people are best friends with celebrities or have a million dollars. I taught them the world is actually round and there are people who look like them all over it. I did make a difference. Some days that felt like a lie. As I look back though, I can can confidently say that I impacted hundreds of people, in small but meaningful ways.

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Those smiles…
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Teaching on Pemba
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My favorite place to be…

Back to the topic of “changing the world”. Some people go on trips with church or leadership groups, stay in the country for 2 weeks, build a house or give out some supplies, take photos, and come back. In my two years, I observed this scenario a lot. I learned the truth about foreign aid and must admit, I have a lot of opinions. Voluntourism is real and can be a real problem. I watched people come and go—without learning the language or the actual needs of the community. They dump things (not education) and then leave. Those things are misused and unused and ultimately unsustainable. This is why I am so proud to be a Peace Corps volunteer. When you look at my list of “tangible achievements” it’s pretty small. I didn’t really give any things. My attempted library grant failed. It wasn’t sustainable at my school (too much corruption and not enough buy-in from the village/school). If I had pushed that project, I am certain it would have failed as soon as I left. I wasn’t giving away money every day, instead I was working with a living allowance that was the same amount of money that my fellow Tanzanian teachers had. I was living in the village with them, not in a big gated house in the neighboring town. I grew to know the language, understand the culture, and thus, was able to make the small strides to sustainable changes. The other day my counterpart sent me a video of him teaching more of the menstrual health sessions to his students. He did that by himself, after I had left. Seeing the proof of that project’s sustainability made me beam with joy. Peace Corps is the best method of foreign aid and I’m grateful I was able to experience it.

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That being said, I am not a martyr. There were days when I hid in my house and ate an entire sleeve of thin mints without sharing. I gave my students care-package lollipops but always saved the green apple ones for myself. I didn’t give money to every homeless person I saw. Sure, I made sacrifices and I definitely lived minimally but everything is relative.  I lived without running water, electricity, a western toilet. I did laundry by hand and peed in a hole in the ground. I killed bugs and other fun, crawly things. For the first time in my life, I felt actual hunger (but it still didn’t compare to the lives of my students). As you’re asking me questions, know I’ve got plenty of stories to tell–about the good and the bad.

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Water filter
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Cooking bananas
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20 minute walk to fetch water. Thank goodness for help.
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My toilet
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Dinner
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Super comfy bed 😛

I do not want to scare people away from asking me questions or talking about my experience. Please, ask away. It’s just a hard to always know how to respond. I don’t want to only share the highlights and have people think I was on vacation for 2 years. I also don’t want to tell people the bad stuff, only to have them judge/pity me or Tanzanians. If you don’t know what to ask me, ask me about my students. I can talk about them all day! I’ve said it before–they taught me more than I taught them. They taught me about kindness. Silliness. Friendship. Gratitude. Patience. Diligence. Faith. Hope. They taught me how to persevere. They taught me what is really important and what is necessary. The difference between what you want and what you need. Those kids made me want to go to school every day and gave me something to look forward to. Their raw, genuine nature…I’ll probably never see something like that ever again. I miss them terribly.

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Being back has been overwhelming…in expected and unexpected ways. I’m already drafting my next (and probably final) blog post about the inner workings of the “transition phase”. Only being here a few days, I need to wait a bit and settle in more before writing a full post about all the feelings and thoughts I’m having. I do need to say that I’ve loved seeing my family and friends. The kindness and generosity people have shown me (from putting up welcome signs, treating me to meals, or saying tons of lovely words) has meant so much. It’s good to be home.

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Saying Goodbye

I’ve never been good at goodbyes. My final month in Tanzania has been more challenging than I anticipated. I thought everything would be pleasant and things would be easier. Not quite. Things were still hard and my frustrations only grew more frustrating. That’s what I get for having expectations. I wasn’t in the euphoric, nostalgic, savory mood I wanted to be in…until I was.

Around the T-3 day mark before I left my site, all the feelings I’d expected, hit me at once. I experienced the “lasts”. I went to my rock for the final time—the place in all of TZ where I feel the most at home, the place where I gain the most clarity.

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This rock has been my rock. 

I was celebrated. My incredible counterpart organized a party at his house. My favorite 35 people came out to celebrate. We cooked together, ate, and enjoyed each others company.

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I must admit, I won’t miss ugali much 

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There is a Tanzanian tradition where the guest of honor gets to feed and be fed cake by the people he/she loves. I ate a ton of cake. It was phenomenal.

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This guy…
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Mama Morrie…one of my favorites. 

After gorging on cake, we did another traditional routine of lining up and doing a dance presentation of gifts. I received a prayer book and two beautiful pieces of fabric.

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The thoughtfulness was overwhelming and everyone had wide smiles and bright eyes—a few of my favorite things. I have never felt as integrated in my village as I did that night. Everything seemed so normal and “right”, like we’d be doing it for years. Which actually, we have been…two whole years. Speaking Kiswahili, cooking, laughing…how I will miss spending time with all the golden people of whom I call family.

The day before I left, my school had an assembly where I gave a “farewell speech” to my students. I practiced it once but it felt so natural, speaking to them using Kiswahili with peppered in silly English phrases I’ve taught them.

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My dad sent over a real rim and ball. They were ecstatic. 

After my speech, a few teachers said some kind words and the students did presentations. Their heart-wrenching songs had too many of us in tears. A lot of them wrote me letters to take home with me. Most were thoughtful and sweet but some of them cut me deep. “Madam Eliza, we love you, why do you want to leave us?” The word abandon was used. Without trying to, they were breaking my heart. While I feel ready to finish my PC service, leaving my kids behind gives me an incredible amount of guilt.

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Some of the letters 

Post-Peace Coprs guilt is a normal thing, so I’m told. I have been in the capitol eating well and spending more money in one day than I usually do in one week in my village. Guilt about so many things. I feel guilty about leaving my students. Will they continue to be taught? Will corporal punishment increase now that I’m gone? Will they pass their exams? My students don’t have phones so it’s next to impossible for me to keep in contact with them. I do hope to do a letter-writing exchange with my replacement volunteer, so that gives me hope. I want to visit my village again someday but who will be there? Will my students have moved? Will my older village friends have died? Those thoughts eat at me a bit. While I understand that this transition is necessary, that doesn’t subside the guilt.

That final night in my house felt strange. I had taken down all my decorations and packed all my belongings; it no longer felt like my house.

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Most of the mail I’ve received since I’ve been here. 

I burned my last stick of incense and did a lot of reflecting. I woke up early the next morning to watch the sunrise and had a good cry.

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I’m going to miss drinking coffee in my courtyard…

My students knew what time my car was coming and 40 of them came over to wait with me. Hugs and tears all around. Some of them gave me beaded bracelets and toy cars—their few personal possessions at school, yet they wanted me to have them to remember them by (as if I could ever forget them). Those 40 girls lived at the school hostel near my house. They had become my little sisters and even though teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, the strongest relationships I formed were with them.

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They ran for awhile!

They chased the car as we drove away and I felt so, so loved. As I left my village for the final time, I was overwhelmed with pride. I did it. I can clearly remember my feelings and thoughts two years ago when I arrived in my village…how far I’ve come since then. It was an incredible realization.

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My first two official years of teaching in the books. 

After that, I spent some time in my regional town—the goodbyes continued. I also ate my favorite things and saw my favorite sights.

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Neemas became my sanctuary in town. 

Then I met up with Martin and we returned to the place we started, way back when. We visited our homestay families in Korogwe and seeing them again was a highlight of service. Being able to finally articulate our gratitude and love for them—the people who took care of us when we were babies. Truly infants. At that time we didn’t know how to talk, eat, or even use the bathroom. Not enough PCVs go back to visit their families after training, so our families were overcome with joy to see us again. We had come full circle and were so happy even the bus rides were enjoyable.

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My family. 

Before we are allowed to leave Tanzania, we have to do a lot of administrative and medical paperwork. Interviews, appointments, and way too many stool samples took up our final week. We officially “finish” our PC service when we ring the ceremonial bell.

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Saying goodbye to our PC staff was tough. Those doctors were some of the best I’ve ever had and the admin staff have made professional and personal impacts on me that I will never forget.

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PC staff supported us, protected us, and encouraged us. 

My best friends also made the trip in to spend time with us before we leave. Peace Corps friends are in their own category. The bonds we’ll always share are…invaluable. Saying goodbye to them was different. Difficult, for sure, but I know I will see them again once we are all stateside. I can’t wait to be in a restaurant with them, eating all the food we’ve dreamt about, speaking Kiswahili for fun, and reminiscing about TZ.

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Richard has been there since the Uber from the airport in Philly. Never could have predicted we’d stay so close. 
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My unexpected best friend. Stay golden, Ponyboy. 
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PC relationships don’t usually last. We’re 2 years strong. 

We are hours away from leaving Tanzania. I can’t help but think about everything that has happened in the past 2+ years. I’ve done a lot of writing and reflection throughout my service. I’ve written daily in my journal. I have done private monthly video blogs (so embarrassing to watch). I’ve kept a calendar of events every day for the past year and a half. I’ve also kept notes in random places of random things. I recently went through and read most of my writing. From them all, I’ve compiled some lists. Lists that encompass dozens of stories—highlights and horrors.

As with any place, there are things you love and things you really dislike. Here’s my top 10 of each:

Things I’ll miss:

  1. My students
  2. Tanzanian hospitality
  3. Being fully culturally immersed
  4. Fruit (taste and price)
  5. Knowing where my food is coming from
  6. Warm ocean water
  7. Village night skies
  8. Shocking people with Kiswahili knowledge
  9. Seeing wild animals
  10. Peace Corps friends

Things I won’t miss:

  1. Harassment
  2. Public transportation
  3. Water/food poisoning
  4. Bartering for prices
  5. Pee bucket
  6. Insects and scary animals
  7. Lack of privacy
  8. People going through my trash
  9. “Tanzania time”
  10. Inability to be anonymous

As I reach the quarter-century mark of my life, I’ve learned how valuable it is to have new experiences and do things for the first time. Over the past two years I’ve had a long list of “firsts”.

Top 10 Firsts:

  1. Ate authentic, diverse foods (Ethiopian, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Korean, Lebanese, Jamaican, Mediterranean)
  2. Ate things I’d been too wimpy to try (duck, goat, octopus, squid, sushi, sangria, capers, artichokes, anchovies, hot peppers, tofu, and many more)
  3. Swam/skinny-dipped in the Indian Ocean
  4. Experienced real darkness, fatigue, hunger, and loneliness
  5. Hitchhiked
  6. Played Pokemon
  7. Watched things I’d never seen (Game of Thrones, Friends, StarWars, Lord of the Rings, Stranger Things, anime, and more)
  8. Cut my own hair
  9. Meditated
  10. Ran a half marathon
  11. Reached fluency in a new language
  12. Soiled my pants (x3)
  13. Lived alone–without water, plumbing, or electricity

I have met a ton of new friends. Coming into contact with so many people from different cultures has been enriching. It’s pretty cool to have friends in so many different parts of the world.

Other than the US and Tanzania,  I met people from/who live in:

  1. Canada
  2. Italy
  3. Germany
  4. Nigeria
  5. South Africa
  6. Sweden
  7. Mozambique
  8. Rwanda
  9. Madagascar
  10. Lesotho
  11. Comoros
  12. Kenya
  13. Ethiopia
  14. England
  15. Australia
  16. China
  17. Oman
  18. Italy
  19. France

Along with all those new people, came some pretty fantastic names. Tanzanians have the most interesting ones.

People’s names that made me smirk:

  1. Love
  2. Happy
  3. Christmas
  4. God
  5. Reward
  6. Gifti
  7. Goodluck
  8. Heavy duty
  9. Innocent
  10. Pombekali (translates to “strong alcohol”)

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what I’m going to do as soon as I get back to the states. First, I’ll be shocked at how tall Jennifer is and then attempt to squeeze the old out of her. Then I’ll try to convince my mom to stop crying. Then I expect my dad to never let me out of his sight again. After that, I’m going to eat.

Drooling over the taste of:

  1. Lime Tostitos with salsa and queso
  2. Crunchy, crispy, cold, fresh salads
  3. Hard-serve, chunky ice cream in a chocolate waffle cone
  4. Anything my Nana cooks
  5. Cortland apples with peanut butter and caramel
  6. Java Joe’s coffee and bagels
  7. Greek yogurt with granola and every kind of BERRY
  8. All the cheese
  9. Onion rings
  10. Anything thanksgiving related
  11. Free, tap water
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Gimme all the ice cream

There are so many little things I’m looking forward to (yes, not just food). Way too many to list. However, I am nervous too. Nervous to re-integrate into a culture that has changed a lot. Nervous to see what I’ve missed. I’ve missed family vacations, gold ball celebrations, graduations, weddings, births, deaths. I was absent for 27 months that my family and friends were present for. I will come back to a different house and different town. People moved away and moved in. Places closed down and opened. Memories were made without me. The world didn’t stop turning. Please bare with me while I get used to how it spins. You may not realize just how much the US has changed, as you’ve gotten used to it. Don’t forget, Obama was president when I left.

It’s been awhile. It’s not just things there that have changed. I have changed…a lot. My taste buds. My sun spots. My dress size. My awareness. My patience. My spirit. Me. I’ve developed and grown into what I think is the best version of myself. I hope you all agree. Saying goodbye to Tanzania and Peace Corps has been one of the hardest things I’ve done. Now I start to say hello to the next phase of my life. Time to get on that plane. Morocco and Germany, here we come.

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Keep girls in school. Period.

Huru (which means “freedom” in Kiswahili) is a project that Tanzanian Peace Corps Volunteers rave about. This international organization (who partners with Peace Corps) has a beautiful mission—give girls the freedom they need to get the education they deserve. Huru has worked with over 1,000 schools in Africa to provide sexual and reproductive health, life skills, gender-based violence, and HIV/AIDS prevention. Along with education, girls are given “Huru Kits” which contain reusable menstrual pads, underwear, soap, storage bags, and directions in both English and Kiswahili. Millions of girls across the continent miss school every month because they lack the resources and information needed to manage their periods. Missing school every month increases their chance of falling behind, possibly failing or dropping out all together, in addition to, increasing gender inequality. This is such an impactful program and my school was lucky enough to participate in it.

This initiative takes a lot of commitment. First, my counterpart and I wrote a grant to allocate funds for the transport of kits, seminar materials, facilities, facilitators, etc. In addition to writing the grant, we had to apply to attend the Huru training. Many volunteers are interested in doing this project, thus making it quite competitive. The day we were accepted was a very happy day. We attended the training in May and had so much fun learning about how to coordinate and plan our own seminar. I was proud of our Tanzanian counterparts because SRH topics are often taboo and many people don’t talk about them in public. Their willingness to go outside of their comfort zone was impressive. After the training, we were pumped to do our implementation.

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Learning how to use the kits

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My counterpart’s birthday was during our training. He was glowing.
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We did it!

Our team consisted of my counterpart, a rockstar nurse from our local clinic, a handful of our best teachers, three of the PCVs living close to me, and my four LEAD students who attended the national leadership conference in January.

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So thankful for this crew.

Between us, we taught 10 mini sessions:

  1. HIV/ STIs
  2. Puberty
  3. Family planning/condom demonstrations
  4. Financial skills
  5. Gender stereotypes
  6. Risky behaviors
  7. Self-love/confidence
  8. Goal setting/dreams
  9. Cleanliness/hand-washing tutorial
  10. Feedback/Q & A

We took over the school on a Friday morning. There were 500 students total; our entire high school and the (equivalent of) 7th and 8th graders who came over from the primary school. We taught each session for 25 minutes, doing a brief instruction, supplemented with hands-on activities. I have never seen my students and teachers so excited to be in school. The motivation came from two places. First and foremost, we were doing 90% of our instruction in Kiswahili. For the first time, my students were able to relax the language compartment in their brain and just focus on absorbing the content. They were curious, active, and happy. Additionally, I think every student realized they were learning things that actually mattered to their own life and future. That’s not to say physics and grammar don’t matter, but they certainly have less immediate impact in my students’ minds. I couldn’t believe how well it went. There was a moment where I was rotating to check in with each session and I heard simultaneous laughter/discussion. Tears started flowing and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a single moment of such joy, pride, and gratitude. It was such a productive day. No behavior issues. No corporal punishment. All the normal negativity that lurks over a typical school day was absent and it was all about learning and laughter. I wasn’t the only one who felt it. The students gave us enthusiastic feedback and the teachers recognized the benefits of using hands-on activities to support their instruction. Everyone benefited from this seminar in more ways than I can measure.

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Balloons and wind don’t mix.
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The students look especially interested in this session, eh? 🙂
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We built hand-washing stations for students to use after they go to the bathroom. Hopefully this will help our school’s overall cleanliness.
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Besides the freezing cold water, they loved it!
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Watching our student leaders teach was heartwarming.
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In this game, a few students are representing risky behaviors and the rest of the students need to try to avoid getting tagged by the risky behaviors.
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They must run to the other side, successfully avoiding “risky behaviors”. Thus, reaching their goals.
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It got serious.
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Normal school day=take notes (many don’t).                                                                       Huru school day=notes aren’t necessary (everyone takes notes)

After the sessions were complete, we finished our Q and A (answering the thoughtful questions from the anonymous question box) and had an assembly. We held a raffle for all the students. 85 lucky students received various prizes.

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We had a super generous and thoughtful donation from a Winslow family. They donated a bunch of cool soccer apparel. The kids were ooh-ing and aah-ing and glowed when I told them the talent that these jerseys have experienced. Hopefully Carly and Jake left some magic in there for them.

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The grand prize was a soccer ball (from my parents) which luck gave one of my gentlest, most hard working students.

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Titho the dreamer
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What a group!

After school, my counterpart invited all the facilitators over to his house for lunch. We ate and debriefed the phenomenal day.  Other volunteers were not as supported with their implementation…I couldn’t thank them enough for their hard work.

The only hiccup in all this greatness was a serious delay with the kit transportation. Unfortunately, even to this day, my students have not received their kits. However, my counterpart and I have set up a plan and PC will work with him when I’m gone. I know he will do great on his own, I only wish I could have been there to watch the magic.

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My counterpart, my rock, my friend

Good news though, before I left, I did a tutorial with all the girls about how to use the kits—just so I could have some sort of conclusion with my role in the project. Their reactions as I was showing them all the containments…their genuine appreciation was written all over their faces. Not only will this help them stay in school but it will also reduce family expenses (for the girls who could afford materials) and health problems (for the girls who were using inadequate materials). Before the girls receive their kits, they will also be given three more educational sessions. They will learn about menstruation, pregnancy, and unhealthy relationships (cross-generational sexual encounters are uncomfortably common here and will be addressed in this session). In Tanzania, 3 out of 4 girls do not know about menstruation before getting their first period. There are many negative stereotypes about being dirty and unholy. We hope that between the education and the kits, our girls will feel more competent and confident, in regards to their periods and beyond.

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Example Kit
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Demonstrations

As Peace Corps Volunteers, specifically teachers, we see our impact happen very slowly, if at all. This seminar provided so much to so many and the immediate impact I was able to observe still gives me goosebumps. Hands down, one of the top highlights of my service and something I would love to adapt for my future American classroom.

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Happiness is…

If you want to learn more about Huru or make a donation, check out:

https://huruinternational.org/

My friend, Mohammed

Growing up in a small town in Maine, I wasn’t exposed to much diversity. I went to a Catholic elementary school and a very white high school. I didn’t have any friends who were Muslim, until I went to college. My eyes were opened (only by a fraction) and I realized how much I didn’t know I didn’t know. They say our brains are compartmentalized: Things we know we know. Things we don’t know we know. Things we know we don’t know. And, the most dangerous, things we don’t know we don’t know. Peace Corps has taught me just how vast that compartment is.

In particular, we (Americans) don’t actually know many facets about Islam. Islamophobia is real. Sure, we have had negative experiences with certain groups of radical Muslims. However, that should not and cannot define our mindset about 1.6 billion people with whom we share this world. Admittedly, when I used to hear the names, Mohammed or Hussien, certain thoughts ran through my brain. Now, thanks to my exposure to a wonderful culture, when I hear the name Mohammed (the most common name in the world, by the way) I think of my good friend. When I hear Hussien, I think of an incredible woman and brilliant doctor who saved my Peace Corps service from being terminated.

Upon my arrival in Tanzania, I was eager and anxious to be around an entirely new culture. Tanzania is approximately 50% Christian and 50% Muslim. I figured if I were around Christian Tanzanians, it wouldn’t be that different. Silly Elizabeth. I did, in fact, get placed in a very Christian community (90%). Tanzanian Christian culture is very different than the Christian culture I grew up in. However, I also spent a lot of time at another site, which is 99% Muslim, on the island of Pemba. I observed many cultural differences as I switched back and forth. I didn’t spend too much time around Muslim families on mainland Tanzania, but I do know that different places come with varying  cultural, religious components. Seeing the discrepancies regarding Muslim culture (even within the same country) really emphasized the importance of not making assumptions about the religion as a whole. Islam has diverse roots here. Many Muslim Tanzanians are Arab immigrants or have Arab heritage. Everyone has a different backstory and I am so thankful I was able to spend as much time as I did on Pemba. Pemba is technically a part of Tanzania but many people identify as being Zanabari, before being Tanzanian. I really enjoyed learning about Islam and observing all the different characteristics within the culture. I am still only an observer and, by no means, an expert. Here are some of my observations about Zanzabari Muslim Culture:

  1. In 2+ years, I was never harassed or cat-called by a man wearing a kofia (caps worn by muslim men).
  2. Their devotion to their religion is evident through their daily behavior; the discipline it takes to pray 5 times a day is admirable. The call to prayer is always one of my favorite parts of the day.
  3. Muslim women are some of the strongest, sassiest, most prideful women I’ve met. A woman wearing a hijab is not a weak woman. I wore a hijab, not to appease men and give in to oppression; I dressed conservatively to show solidarity with women and be culturally appropriate in a place of which I am a guest. IMG_2727
  4. Muslim families are generous without a “catch”. Their generosity was sincere and they didn’t expect to be compensated. The woman who spent two hours doing my henna refused to even take payment from me. It was Ramadan and she wanted me to feel included in the celebration.  XOBP8010
  5. Food is tasteful and rich. There is no ugali, instead pilau (basmati rice enriched with spices), urojo (soup with all the fixings), homemade bread, and all the seafood you could want. Also juice. How I will miss that juice. IMG_8503
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    Never expected octopus to be my favorite!
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    Not pictured: 2 pitchers of juice, 2 cakes, and a tray of biscuits 
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    Night Market selection 

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    There’s a reason they’re called the Spice Islands 
  6. Clothing is elegant and respectful. A man (especially on Fridays (the holy day)) typically wears a khanzu and kofia, while many women wear baibuis. IMG_1667 ICYD4256
  7. Crafts and architecture are creative and sound. Their hand-carved doors will stop you dead in your tracks. IMG_0428
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    The spikes were originally designed to keep out elephants 

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My goal for returning to American classrooms is to use my experience as a springboard into students’ investigation of the things they don’t know they don’t know. I’ll bring my hijab and Muslim garb into their classroom. I’ll share the stories about my good friends and incredible doctors. Hopefully then, when they hear names they may have previously thought to be tainted, they’ll smile and realize they know more than they knew before.

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Bonus Photos: Zanzibar and Pemba have given me some of my fondest memories:

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Doing letter exchanges with Martin’s students was such an incredible experience for everyone involved!
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Rooftop happy hours with live music and free popcorn
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Late nights with coffee, dates, and journaling
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Movie Cafe was my favorite date night spot.
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Prisoner Island with lots of new friends

And I’ve met so many lovely humans:

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And also some of my favorite foods:

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Never appreciated delis until now
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Homemade fish tacos
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Best sangria in TZ

I’ll always hold Zanz memories close to my heart.

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The amount of coffee drank, avocado toast consumed, and card games played is countless.
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Could never have navigated the twists and turns of Stone Town without him

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“It means no worries…”

I hate to rain on the parade but Hakuna Matata isn’t what it is thought to be. It’s sort of Swahili, but not really. I bring this up because this post is about worries and I want to make sure I do my due diligence. If you ever visit here and Tanzanians say “Hakuna Matata” to you, know that that’s not an actual expression, rather they just want to make you happy by saying something you’ll recognize. I just beg of you do not buy the shirts that say “Tanzania: Hakuna Matata”. Soap box moment over.

June has come and gone and I’m supposed to be writing about all the fun things I’ve been doing while relaxing on my vacation. This break has not been what I planned. It was full of unexpected hiccups, hoops, and hospital visits. My boyfriend got malaria during the beginning of our travel and after a horrible 18 hour trip to the capitol, we finally got him to the hospital and he was admitted immediately. Our PC doctor was with us helping us with everything. It was a very scary and overwhelming experience but thankfully he is back to normal now. Malaria is a serious disease. Each year, 10-12 million people contract malaria in Tanzania and 80,000 die from the disease, most of them of them children.

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Can’t beat these views

So Martin was sick for most of June. Then, last week, we had our COS (Close of Service) conference; the last time our original cohort would be together. We stayed in a beautiful resort—PC rewarding us for making it until the end. It was super relaxing and the company was stellar. We stuffed our faces, had great discussions, and watched a lot of the World Cup. However, on our second-to-last night, I got pretty sick. A fever just south of 103 and some other unpleasant symptoms sent me to see our PC doctor. What was first diagnosed as a bacterial infection ended up being a parasite that has held me hostage for a week now. Hoping to get medically cleared any day now and make the trip back to my house, one final time.

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Two of our oldest volunteers with the youngest spirits 
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My guys since day 1 
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Wouldn’t have been Iringa without her 
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Tupo 

I am my mother’s daughter and both my grandmothers’ granddaughter. We are worriers. Before PC, I worried too much. In the past two years, I have had experienced so many worry-worthy moments. I quickly realized that in order to survive and not worry about things constantly, I needed to develop a triage system.

First, prioritize everyday worries. Will I see a rat in my room? How many ants will be in my bread? Will there be enough water to fetch? Will my students understand what I’m teaching? How much corporal punishment will I see? How many of my students have eaten today? Will my bus come? What are the noises I hear at night? Thankfully, minus the worries about my students, I am at the point where I no longer over-worry about most of these.

Medical worries don’t eat at me too much, unless I’m really sick. When other people are sick, I get really worried. I triage thoughts like these: Is that a jigger in my foot?  Has the water in my juice been boiled first? Is my diarrhea more than just food/water poisoning? Will my thumb tendon re-snap if I lift this? What will happen if I don’t eat any protein this week? Why is my hair thinning?

Emotional worries naw at me hardest. Why isn’t my friend picking up her phone? Is he okay? Am I doing everything I could be doing? Am I a good enough teacher? Volunteer? Friend? Girlfriend? Daughter? Sister? Am I advocating for women or allowing myself to be bullied? Am I selfish? Why am I not giving away all of my care package food? Am I soaking up every experience or is my fatigue and frustration getting the best of me? Any many, many more.

My newest conglomerate of worries is about the immediate future. What is it going to be like to leave this place? How am I going to walk away from my students? Am I ever going to see some of these people again? Am I ever going to see my PC friends again? What will my reunion with my family be like? Are people from home going to accept me if I’m not the same “me” who left? Am I going to accept them? Are first-world problems going to drive me insane? Will I cry in the grocery store? Will anyone from Maine actually understand what I’ve been doing for the last 2+ years? Will I feel alone?

In Tanzanian culture, worrying isn’t really an issue. People always assume the bus will come. They pray their loved ones will heal. They hope everything will work out and they truly believe it will. I don’t know the word for doubt because it’s hardly ever used. I use the Kiswahili phrase “I’m not sure” more than any Tanzanian I’ve ever met. Their faith and their culture help them find peace that things will be okay. I’ve learned to adopt those philosophies as much as I can.

2016 Elizabeth did not like being vulnerable. I was good at a list of things and I stuck with that list for a long time. I didn’t want to take “risks”. I’ve learned that risks don’t have to be reckless and they don’t have to be negative. Joining Peace Corps and getting on that plane was the biggest risk I’ve ever taken. I have taken thousands of positive, healthy, and calculated risks during my service and it’s the reason I’ve been successful. It’s the reason I’ve grown and it’s the reason I am currently the strongest version of myself. All that being said, I still worry sometimes but only when the triage allows it.

So here we are. The last 50 days. My COS date (the day I end my Peace Corps service) is August 24, 2018. So from now until then this is what I’ll be doing:

  1. Keep my insides inside and get healthy
  2. Return to site
  3. Greet everyone and explain why I was gone for so long
  4. Teach like a madman
  5. Facilitate the HURU (menstruation/SRH) Training
  6. Pack up my house/give things away
  7. Have an emotional rollercoaster goodbye party
  8. Explore my banking town one last time
  9. Visit my homestay family one last time
  10. Ring the ceremonial bell and cry an embarrassing amount

Then it’s off to Morocco for about 2 weeks and then Germany for another 2. Hoping to be Stateside around September 21! It’s a very surreal feeling–being done. Hitting me differently depending on the circumstance. I’ll try to articulate those thoughts in my next post…

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I’m not good at goodbyes 
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Happiness is…

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

In full transparency, I’ve never been on a train here but I like that movie title. Also, sticking with transparency, my least favorite thing in all of Tanzania (other than harassment) is public transportation. This is not going to be a flowery blog post. Instead it’ll be snarky comments/lists with photos to boot. I think it’s about time to relay what I really means when I say, “going to town”, “going to the capitol”, and “getting on the bus”. To think, I used to whine about being crowded in our basketball mini-vans or a 3 hour trip to my Grandmother’s house. Here’s why I will never again complain about being in a car:

I have been all over the emotional spectrum in regards to transportation. Back in July 2016 when we touched down in Tanzania, we boarded these private minibuses (just us PC people) and drove from the airport through the city. To say I was overwhelmed would be a vast understatement. Never having really explored cities, the traffic and mere amount of people was dumfounding; add in the excess poverty, litter, makeshift buildings, and people asking for money. People also walk in the road selling random items (brooms, belts, balls, bananas, etc.)–I was taken aback, seeing things I had never seen before. Of course I was an emotional wreck just starting out, this introduction to public transportation tipped me over the edge. I asked to borrow someone’s sunglasses (Martin’s ironically enough) and I cried beneath them.

At the beginning we didn’t really use public transportation much. Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to drive cars or even be on motorcycles. During training, PC staff sheltered us and we rode in their private cars, exclusively. The only exception was when we wanted to go into town and socialize. Back then, I never rode anywhere without one of my (male) friends. I can still remember my first solo ride and how nervous I was. I am smirking as I type this. It’s hard to believe that was almost 2 years ago…I’ve come a long way.

After we broke out of our training bubble, we were promptly thrown into the deep-end and expected to swim. I waffled for a solid 2 months. I got ripped off, got talked into getting on a bus that wasn’t leaving for hours, and got dropped off at the wrong place multiple times. I used to trust people who said “the car is coming now”. The most told lie in all of TZ. One time, my van got stopped because the police officer saw me, assumed I was paying the driver an inflated price, and the cop wanted some of that stake. Corruption is all too common and #3 on my list of things I will not miss about Tanzania.

Many things are different here. They drive on the left side of the road and the seats and swapped. IMG_8736

Here’s what license plates look like. This one is the fancy government PC plate. 116 is our US country code. IMG_8698

Here’s a typical (village/town)road. IMG_1498

Let me break down the possible modes of transportation.

  1. Motorcycles (pikipiki). The cheapest and most accessible mode of transportation…but of course, we can’t take those. (A typical ride costs 50 cents)
  2. Bajaji (tuk-tuk or rickshaw). They are pretty great but can typically only hold 3 people, drive relatively slowly, and are only accessible in towns or cities, going short distances. (25 cents, short distance; 2 dollars, 20 minute ride)IMG_8749
  3. Daladala. They are typically mini-buses that travel constantly throughout the day, within a certain area. This is how people generally commute to work and how people get around in the city. (10 cents-1 dollar)
  4. Noah. A noah is a van (Noah was the first brand of van, and the name stuck). These are my most dreaded mode of transportation. These are 12 passenger vans. 12. Noah’s are village-town transportation. My village has one noah that leaves the village center at 7:00 AM every morning. It is the only guaranteed vehicle that will leave the vil every day—so if you want out, you need to get on it. Transparency again. I just told you two lies. Sure, there are 12 seats but on average, 26 people pile in the van. My record is 35 but that was all my secondary students (and me)…so who cares if they are comfortable/safe, right? One time we had 31 and 2 people were breastfeeding. Good times. My other lie was “leaving at 7”. On average, it leaves at 7:30, which isn’t bad at all. However, it has left at 6:40 and 9:00 as well. I leave my house at 6:25 and arrive at 6:45, just to be safe. My village noah, although I hate it, has people I know and people who know me. Could be worse. (Village-town is 1 dollar)
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    Our village van, getting its engine fixed before we leave. 

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    Good thing I love them.
  5. Costa. A coasta is a bus, but not a coach bus, that typically has two seats with an aisle in between. Aisles have fold-down seats which are small but don’t worry, you only get half that seat anyway, because two people are forced into that seat—6 across. Smushed against the window or sandwiched between people, pick your poison (I choose window, every time). (Town-city is $1.50)IMG_6907
  6. Big Buses. These are coach buses circa 2000s, mostly from Asia. The quality ranges from bus to bus. Some are wooden boxes on wheels and some are actually luxurious. The bus I typically take for my long journey from Iringa-Dar (the capitol) is called Upendo (love). I have had very few issues with this bus company. Falsely advertised AC and loud music are my only complaints. (My 10 hour trip cost roughly $10)IMG_2497
  7. Dar-Zanzibar Ferry. Luxurious and fast! This thing flies. 2 hours from Dar to Zanz! ($12 for TZ residents, thank you PC)P1060312
  8. Zanzibar-Pemba Ferry. This guy is enormous, nice, but slow. 7 hours from zanz-pemba but thankfully inside there is AC, couches, food, and most importantly, a toilet. ($12)IMG_0084
  9. Dhows. Small boats like this one are used to go from the main island to sandbars or other, smaller islands. This is similar to what we took to swim with whale sharks. I get sea sick but they’re fun to ride! (prices vary)IMG_9942
  10. Aeroplanes (this is one of the British English words I’ve had to adapt to). I don’t fly often but when we want to avoid the slow ferry, we fly. 7 hours turns into a 20 minute flight. Glorious. ($45.00 but worth it, sometimes) IMG_2704
  11. Feet. I most frequently travel by foot. My chacos, unattractive as they may be, are very sturdy and reliable. (free) IMG_9413

Here’s my top 5 charming aspects of public transportation:

  1. Duration. The length of travel varies. By foot, it takes me 20 minutes to walk from my house to the bus stop. It takes my village Noah 1.5-2.5 hours to get to my nearest town. Then it takes a costa another 2-3 hours to get to the regional capitol. Then it takes a big bus 10-12 hours to get to the capitol. Of course, these approximations all depend on how many times you are stopped by police (often), how many times you stop to let people on (often), how many times you break down (semi-often) and how many times you stop to go to the bathroom (rarely). The longest trip I’ve taken in a single day was 14 hours. Many of my friends have done much worse, so I consider myself lucky. One of my friends had to spend the night in her broken down bus. Yikes.

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    Break down view. 
  2. Entertainment. You can be sure that on 99% of public transport there will be blaring music. I say blaring. I mean that you can feel the bass in your chest. Headphones hardly block it out. The music will either be gospel or TZ Bongo Flava (google Diamond Platinum to get a taste). My village noah has one “playlist” with three songs: 2 bongo flava and 1 Shania Twain. How did I get so lucky? If not radio music, maybe you’ll be blessed with music videos. The irony with music videos is how provocative they are. I’m not allowed to show my knees in public but these videos are a smidgen short of porn. On the big buses that go long distances, you might even get a movie. It’ll either be homemade Tanzanian film, a kung-fu movie, or my personal favorite, dubbed over Titanic. Non-media forms of entertainment on your journey? The beauty product salespeople. They’ll randomly board the bus with their duffle bags and stand up in the aisle selling toothpaste and hair ointment. I actually love these people because the volume is forced to be turned down and I can finally hear my own music. I also appreciate people climbing over each other to find a space to sit/stand. Nothing is better than seeing a 60 year old woman in a dress, climb over a seat like a devious elementary school kid. People falling over as the car twists, turns, and bumps. Love that. Babies stare at me. Sometimes cry. Multiple times, parents have told me I am the first white person their child has seen. Reactions vary. My most entertaining story: there was a baby and a mother sitting in the front of the costa. The baby was crying bloody murder. The mama proceeded to defend herself by blaming the crying on me and my friend (who were sitting in the back corner of the bus). She said (in Kiswahili) that the baby wanted the corn the white people were eating and we didn’t share. Not sure how her infant child told her that, but sure.

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    This mama wanted to rest so she asked me to hold her baby for our three hour ride. 
  3. Aroma. My region is cold but most of the country is hot. So many people in such a small area for such a long time…it’s obvious that there would be some unpleasant smells. There are other factors that increase the unpleasantries, of course. Animals. Babies. Vomit. Food waste. Just to name a few. Another reason I try to always snag a window seat. Personal space is not a thing. Ever since Tanzanians were children they’ve been sharing beds and sharing desks. Personal space is a very American idea and one that is difficult to explain—so we just try to grin and bare it.
  4. Socializing. I have developed a specific system for socializing during travel. At the beginning of my service, I was a spry little golden retriever; I waited for my seat mate with a big smile, ready to try to tackle a greeting interaction. I have calmed down and become just jaded enough that I don’t open myself up for harassment or unpleasant interactions. Now, my system has proved very successful. I start with my headphones in. Seat mate sits down. I greet, kindly. Don’t offer up my name, just greet. Usually they are surprised I know Kiswahili and want to know why. I offer up that I am a volunteer teacher and I live in a village (don’t disclose where). I then politely smile and proceed to put my headphones back in and look out the window or read my book. Pretending to sleep sometimes works, too. I like this strategy because I immediately go from being a random white person to being a culturally appropriate, polite teacher. Yes, I’m still white and if my seat mate wants to try to rob me or ask me violating questions, it’ll happen. However, it hasn’t happened yet. Mitigation is real.
  5. Window shopping. I previously mentioned that the buses don’t stop very often (other than to load more people on). Thankfully people run alongside the bus and sell things through the window! Things you can buy out the window: fruit (peeled oranges), vegetables (1lb bag of onions), socks, baskets, meat (on a stick), french fries, cell phones accessories, mirrors, and many more fun treasures. My favorite bus food is corn on the cob that has been crisped over charcoal. They advertise these on long sticks. I’ve been hit in the face twice. How else were they supposed to wake me up? When I don’t want to buy anything I close the window and try to hide. If they spot the whiteness, the game begins. All the nicknames are yelled to try to get my attention: mzungu (white person), mchina (asian person), my wife, mama, sister, aunti, baby, mrembo (beauty), sweet. I’ve heard it all. Except grandmother, so, go me. I recently discovered the magic of sunglasses. While I am a big supporter of eye contact, in these scenarios, they really save the day.

In all seriousness, my favorite part about traveling is seeing the country. I am very fortunate to live in the Southern Highlands. My longest trips include driving through twisty mountain ranges and through Mikumi National Park. I’ve seen elephants, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, and much more just from the road. Not much tops a free safari.

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Snapped this pic out my window. 

Driving through the park isn’t dangerous but the mountains can be scary. The turns are quite sharp and the ledges are steep. Accidents are uncomfortably common but PC is very good about ensuring we take quality buses, with less of a history of problems.I’ve only been scared three times. Once was going too fast through that mountainous stretch. Once was leaving my village during the rainy season. Roads get washed out and holes become trenches. We went on two wheels for a few seconds but came back down. What a thrill.

IMG_9309And the third time was when our bus hit a group of cows. 3 cows. We came over a hill and there they were at the bottom. We couldn’t break in time. It was terrible. I’m hoping I don’t have to add to this list in my final 4 months.

Arrival. This should be the best part of the journey, right? Not quite. You arrive at the “stendi” (bus stands). Bus stands are the #1 place for harassment and stranger danger. Too much touching, too many comments, and too much nonsense have happened at stendis. I used to play the game and “show off” my Kiwshaili: “No, I don’t need help carrying my bag”. “No, I don’t need a taxi.” “No, you don’t know me.” “No, you can’t have my phone number.” “No, I don’t want to marry you”. Now, I don’t mess around. We arrive, I put my sunglasses on, and I shut my mouth. I don’t even greet anyone (which makes me sad, but it’s just easier). I walk like I’ve been there a million times and get out as fast as possible. I don’t like putting on that serious, “don’t mess with me” face. At the beginning of my service I was incapable of it. Well, I’ve got it down now.

Enjoy the following collage entitled: Things Blocking The Road.

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And this collage called, Graphics That Make Me Chuckle:

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Rs and Ls are commonly mixed up. (Rice/Lice is my personal favorite example)
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The Pope is very popular. 

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To sum it up, travel days aren’t fun. Pros and cons. I hate dehydrating and starving myself, to ensure I don’t mess my pants. I hate leg cramps and butt sweat. I hate the movie where Jayden Smith does karate in China. I hate people who fall asleep on me. I hate holding chickens. I love corn. I love podcast marathons. I love bananas. I love kind people. I love fun children. I will not miss traveling in this country. However, I am almost always traveling to go meet friends or return to my students.; always a light at the end of the tunnel, even if the light is 14 hours with a chicken, later.

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Classic Eliza

P.S: This is the most ironic blog post I’ve ever published. My hatred for transportation increased today. I always write these posts at my house, in the village. Then when I go to town on Saturday (once or twice a month), I post them. Well this morning I arrive at the bus stand at 6:45, like always. 4 other people were waiting. Time began ticking and even they became impatient. They called the drivers and asked where they were. Turns out they didn’t feel like working today, so there will be no van leaving the village. Of course. I must admit I was freaking out a bit. Not only did I want to post this blog but I also needed to print things for my students, check the mail, and get food/water. I called my counterpart and he sensed my anxiety. Per usual, he saved the day. He came to the stand and walked with me to the neighboring village and helped me safely hitchhike. He assured me it would all work out and I needed to call him when I arrived in town. Although I paid more than I typically do, here I am in town. Not sure how I’ll get back yet but that’s this afternoon’s problem. Man, I will never again take my car for granted.

Chaos (a scary safari and bed bugs)

Spotted! The coveted lion tracks we had been searching for led up to a river crossing. Antelope and baboons were peppered around everywhere. Our (devoted and overly ambitions) guide thought the water was shallow enough to cross. Well… it turned out to be deceivingly deep. Can you guess what happened next?

Let’s rewind, 2 weeks ago we had our spring break. It was lovely— best friends and new adventures. That safari was probably the most “adventurous” I have felt in quite awhile. Here’s the backstory:

Ruaha National Park is in my region (Iringa) but it’s far enough away so that I had never been. It’s the largest park in Tanzania, as it covers more land than all of Switzerland. Anyway, I, along with one of my best friends and a few other PC volunteers set up a day trip safari. We left the regional capital at 6:00 AM and headed for the park. it was the fastest I’ve ever traveled in this country—as cars can go much quicker than “buses”. We were on cloud 9.

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That was until a few potholes got the better of us. I know next to nothing about cars, even less about standard vehicles, but even I knew something was up. It was our transmission. After about 20 minutes of trial and error, our guide was able to repair it enough to continue. We finally reached the park. The “entrance” to the park is not actually the entrance to the park. We broke down again (while in animal territory) 30 minutes from the actual gate. We were in the middle of no where, with no cell service, and Tsetse flies (most dangerous fly) trying to pry through our windows. One of my friends offered to help our guide look at the transmission but he answered in Swahili, “Hapana, mamba wapo” (no, there are crocodiles around). Cool. After another half hour of waiting and panicking slightly, the car worked enough to crawl our way toward the gate. Somehow during our 40 minute crawl, it mended itself (standard vehicles are magical). Elephants greeted us as we finally reached the gate. They got us re-excited for the day. With slight bouts of doubt, we officially entered the park.

This park was the grandest view my eyes have soaked up while in Tanzania. The landscape was stunning and the biome was remarkably diverse. Parts of the park looked like Maine, Ireland, and stereotypical “Africa”. The mountains and trees deserved just as much gawking as the elephants and giraffes. Jackals, impala, antelope, hippos, crocodiles, kudu, monkeys, baboons, vultures, lizards, warthogs, buffalos, and the most beautiful birds I’ve ever seen, also were very gawk-worthy. One of my friends had a fancy camera and she let us all take photos. Can’t wait to print these when I go back.

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Croc

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You may have noticed I omitted any cats from my previous list. This park has cheetahs, leopards, and lions. However, the cats come out to play in the early morning and at night; they rest during the day to beat the heat. We searched and searched for them but came up short. We were the only tourists in the park (rainy reason isn’t the most ideal time to visit). We stumbled across a research car who told us there was a giraffe carcass nearby and lions had been seen near there.

Now we return to the opening scene. Lion tracks were spotted and we followed them to the river-crossing. We drove right on thru it and got very stuck. I thought our guide was kidding when he said it was time for us to “get out and push”. There were baboons and antelope within a football field from us and we had no idea where the lion who made those tracks was lurking. Regardless, the pushing began. Pushing forward, pushing backward, digging under the tires, placing rocks under the tires, changing the flat tire, and so much more fun was had. 2 hours later we all were getting frustrated, sweaty, anxious, and hungry. We finally called the park rangers and they came with their car and chain to drag us out. Victory at last. We retreated back the way we came and never followed those tracks. We stopped for lunch and as it was past 2:00 PM, I was quite confident our chance for cat sightings had passed.

Sometimes I love being wrong. We ended up finding the area near the carcass and found new tracks. We went very much off the trail (I could feel my pulse in my temples) and we had car trouble again. I’ll spare you the worst case scenario fantasies that ran through my head. We finally got out of that and spotted our girl. She was laying by the river, just hanging out. We watched her for awhile and then she got up, took a nice, sensual stretch, and walked away. We changed our view only to see her lover. A young male, who knew exactly what was in store for him. She layed down, he bit her neck, and we watched them do their business for an efficient 12 seconds. They finished, she rolled over, and he yawned 5 times. One, I happen to snap a photo of.

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Accurate

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The sun had begin to move down the sky and it was getting later in the afternoon. We were satisfied and ready to safely make it back. On our way out, we spotted an older, bigger, male lion lounging on another shoreline. We hung out with him just long enough to not feel in danger, and then headed out. We made it back to the gate just as the sun was setting and I was relieved. Getting stuck overnight in a national park is a bit too adventurous for me. We experienced more car trouble on our way home, having to stop in a nearby village to get some supplies. We finally made it home at 10:30 and we were all relieved and exhausted. Safari is Kiswahili for “journey” , after all. We sure got our moneys worth.

My friend (Taylor) came to my site, following the safari. I showed her all around my village and we met my favorite people. It’s always nice having company at my house—sharing my everyday life and introducing my American friends to my Tanzanian friends. She and I have become really close, really fast. She’s a grade A volunteer, a world class toast chef, and a mean card player. What more could you want in a friend?

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Looking out over Iringa town
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Jumping around my rock

The next week I made the trek out to Zanzibar (one of the islands I frequently write about). Martin and I had an Air BnB all to ourselves and we spent the week exploring, cooking, eating, beaching, playing cards/chess, and relaxing. He and I enjoy going to cafes together. In the morning, at night, it’s our favorite way to “kill time”. He orders one shot espresso macchiato and I order either a sugary lemonade/tea or chocolate disguised as coffee. He studies engineering, math, or some other g(r)eek subject on his computer, while I write in my journal or frivolously read my current YA kindle book. We exchange drinks back and forth without even batting an eye. After some time has passed and I get restless, I pull out my cards. He looks at me, knows I need some human interaction and concedes. I smoke him in Pay Me or Golf and he beats me at Rummy. I keep score. He shuffles. Sometimes we talk about other tourists in kiswahili—nothing too judgmental, just enough for giggles or guesses as to where they’re from or what they’re doing here. Never an argument on whose turn it is to pay, it just happens, we pack the bag, push in our chairs, and that’s the end. Until our next cafe stop, that is.

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A beautifully stormy beach day 

Vacation is wonderful until it ends. I always experience a little lag upon my return to site, post-vacation. This time was more physically unpleasant than mentally. I have had beg bugs twice previously, both went away surprisingly fast. This time though, I woke up with more bites than both of those times combined. I have been loathing my bed/mattress for the past year. It’s small, thin, unstable, and uncomfortable. I should have invested in new ones at the beginning of my service but by the time I realized that, it seemed like a waste of money with only a short amount of time left here. However, these bugs put me over the edge. I couldn’t seem to get rid of them, so I had made up my mind to buy a new bed. I talked to my counterpart (who no longer teaches at school) and he walked 20 minutes from his house (in the rain) to come help me. He saw the bites on my arm and immediately came up with a plan. He left and said he’d be back. 20 minutes later he shows up with a dissembled bed frame and THICK, giant mattress strapped to a motorcycle. He told me this was one of his extra beds (his wife and children live in a different region (this is very normal in Tanzania)) and they wouldn’t be visiting again until after I leave, so I could use this bed in the meantime. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and proceeded to take apart my old bed and install this new, giant, luxurious bed. I cried. There are some bad people who have said and done bad things…but there are also good people, like Meja Kibiki, who have hearts made of gold and they always uplift my faith in humanity (specifically in regards to Tanzanian men).

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Before
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After

This new bed is the real deal. I can do a complete roll across it. I have to scoot to get from one side to the other. It doesn’t make loud creaking sounds whenever I budge. It doesn’t need cardboard padding to make it so I can’t feel the wooden boards holding me up.  And best of all, it doesn’t have bed bugs.

All the challenges this PC experience as brought me, I am thankful for most of them. In the moment, I might shed a nervous tear about getting eaten by a lion or I might wake up at 3 AM and rip off all my clothes, to inspect myself for bugs. However, once the fear/frustration passes, I reflect, learn, and maybe laugh at what happened. Hell, now I’ve sure got a long list of stories to tell.

Cheers to 4 more months of chaos!