Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ninamshukuru Mungu kwa Wahandisi!

            Wikiendi iliopita, mimi na wanafunzi wengine tulienda sarafi mlimani! Last weekend, the other students and I went on a trip to the mountains! It was the second time we did the hike, but we decided we wanted to come back and camp out for the night. So, Saturday afternoon we bought mats and a tarp at the market, packed up our bags, and set out. There were 11 of us who went: 7 students, Paul and Nathan (two of our teachers), Fahim, and Egbert. Fahim and Egbert are two of the greatest and funniest people I’ve gotten to know here.

Heading down into the valley on our first walk.

The crew settling down for the night.

            It was about an hour and a half walk into the valley to the river. When we got to the river, it wasn’t a river at all. At least we didn’t think so the first time we saw it. Fahim had told us there was water underneath, but all we saw was brown saturated earth covered in head-high green grasses. But, as soon as we stepped out onto what we thought was land, it moved. The land actually ripples beneath your feet, and with every step the land rises and sinks. It feels like you’re walking on a waterbed. I have never seen anything like it in my life. The second time we crossed it, for the overnight trip, we decided it would be a good idea to all cross barefoot so we wouldn’t have to walk the rest of the way with wet socks and shoes. We slowly made our way across, squishing mud between our toes. From there, it's about another hour to the top of the hill where we ended up sleeping. When we got there, we set up our tarp in case of rain—the rains have started here, so it rains for a few hours almost every day now. We unpacked our food that Egbert put together for us and had the perfect picnic dinner: chapatti, avocado, chicken, bananas, pineapple, and mangos.
            So, believe it or not, it actually gets cold in Africa. Especially up in the mountains, at night, during the rainy season. We ended up sleeping basically on top of each other, wearing every piece of clothing we brought, under all of the kangas and mats possible, to stay warm. In the middle of the night it started raining so we moved under the tarp, which proved much warmer because it blocked most of the wind. In the morning we woke up to find a herd of cows on the hilltop with us. The cows here are not only huge, but they have 3-foot long horns on their heads. Good thing Egbert used to herd cows—really though—and just shooed them away. In the morning we had chai, packed up, and headed out. Crossing the river on the way home was just as exciting if not more, because Nathan punctured the layer of earth on the river and fell in up to his waist. He was covered in black mud and smelled just great. Paul has a video of the river crossing, and in the background you can just make out Joyce’s voice saying “So guys. How many parasites do you think we all have?” Despite half-hearted worries about getting worms, I’m sure we’ll go again. The trip was great.

Our camping point - on the other side of the river

            Since writing last, I’ve now been at my volunteer placement almost two weeks. I’m working at WOMEDA – Women Emancipation and Development Agency. It’s an NGO in Kayanga that provides support, counseling, legal aid, education, and clinics for women and children. I go to WOMEDA with Kara, another Amizade student. Our first week there, we mainly observed, listened and learned about the organization and how things work. Since our first day, we’ve been sitting in on social and legal counseling with Lida and Evelyne (two of the amazing young women who work there) which is almost overwhelming. We’ve heard the stories of women from all over Karagwe who come to WOMEDA for help. They speak mostly in Swahili or Kinyambo, the local tribal language, so Kara, Lida, and Evelyne have been helping me understand what they’re saying. It brings to life the gender equality issues that I’ve mostly just heard about.

All the girls outside of WOMEDA

            Working at WOMEDA is also improving my Swahili so much. It forces me to speak, and everyone is so helpful in teaching me. For the semester, Kara and I will be working on a team with Lida and Evelyne to develop and write new WOMEDA policies on child protection and HIV/AIDS. I will be focusing most on the HIV/AIDS policy, and this past week I’ve been researching and reading a lot about the national policy and laws. Starting next week, the four of us will be going out into the community, to villages, hospitals, schools, and to the streets to talk to all different people about these issues and what they value, need, and want. The policy we are creating will cater to the people that it will eventually protect and support. It’s a very interesting project, in light of what we’ve been learning about sustainable development and project implementation. Plus, Lida and Evelyne are the greatest.
            Funny story about WOMEDA. Yesterday, Kara and I were sitting reading through some research and taking notes when one of the men who works at WOMEDA, Ishengoma, comes in and tells me he needs my help. Just me. I get up and follow him down the hall to another room. I have no idea what he’s going to ask, or whether or not I’m going to understand him in Swahili. We walk into Evelyn’s office, and Ishengoma turns to me and says that he wanted me because he needed the help of an engineer, so he figured that, naturally, I could do it. The big task: Change the toner on the printer. I stepped up to the challenge, meticulously followed the instructions in the manual in English, and after 5 whole minutes of hard work I finally finished. What would WOMEDA do without an engineer around? I felt so important. My years at Carnegie Mellon are finally paying off.

Other exciting things—
1.     I got my first skirt made from a seamstress at KVDPA where Joyce works.   
2.     This Saturday, we are starting construction on a huge water tank for a girls' boarding school in Chonyonyo village. We’ll be working every Saturday until it's completed. I think it will be really interesting to see how a design and construction project is carried out here, and I am excited to help build it!
3.     We finally got electricity back last night! I wrote this entry last Thursday, but I wasn’t able to send it until now. I also ended up with a migraine this weekend and couldn’t go to Chonyonyo but I’m going Thursday instead.
4.   As part of the Amizade program, we are writing a blog that is being posted on the Amizade website. Two students write each week. Here is the link if you want to take a look:
5.   More pictures:

Kara, Edna, and I. Just dancing. 

They got us cakes from the one place in town with an oven :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kayanga, Karagwe, Kagera, Tanzania

            Right now I’m sitting outside of Misha Guest House in Kayanga town, our new home for the next 3 months. We arrived here last Thursday from Kampala, Uganda, where I met the other 7 students. This semester I am taking part in a Global-Service Learning semester through an organization called Amizade. Amizade partners with local organizations around the world to promote sustainable development initiatives and to encourage students to become global citizens through intercultural immersion and exchange. My program site is in Kayanga town, in the Karagwe district, of the Kagera region of Tanzania. It is one of the most remote regions in Tanzania, and we are living in a rural community in the mountains of the Northwest. We are situated between Rwanda to the West, Lake Victoria to the East, and Uganda to the North. Last Thursday we made the trek from Kampala to Kayanga, kicking up dirt in our dueling land rovers as we made our way down the dusty bumpy roads. Our car broke down (in a little town luckily!) but after a couple hours and many heads under the hood, we were back on the road and arrived here at Misha without any other complications.
            Kayanga is beautiful. It is higher in elevation than Moshi, so it is greener and a little bit cooler. From our guest house, you can see the hillside leading down into a green valley and in the distance a green river. There are rolling mountains all around us, red dirt paths, flowering trees, and welcoming people. There are not many wazungu here—foreigners, or white people—because Kayanga is pretty remote, but everyone is incredibly friendly and welcoming. Many of the students have already employed the help of the neighborhood kids as part time Kiswahili teachers.  Life here is different in the little ways. We sleep under mosquito nets every night, we have to boil our water before we drink it, we have squat toilets, the electricity goes out sporadically, the water isn’t always turned on, we hand wash all of our clothes and dishes, and few people speak English. After the first couple days, these things no longer matter and just become normal. Although they've already made for some funny stories.

Sunrise from Misha guest house, our new home. 

Where we live. Not too bad... 

            Since arriving, we’ve already settled into a semi-routine. We had our first classes on Monday. We have Kiswahili with Bwana Osward everyday except Sundays, a field-placement reflection class, Sustainable Development in Rural Tanzania, and Global Service Learning. We start our volunteer placements next week, and every day this week we are visiting a different NGO, listening to presentations on their goals, missions, and our possible involvement.
            Jumapili iliopita, nilichota maji na wasichana ambao wanaishi kilimani. Last Sunday, I fetched water with the girls who live on the hillside. Three of our Amizade students had met the girls on a walk the day before, and we came back the next day to help them carry water. The girls were all 6-10 years old. They walk over an hour, twice a day, to bring water back to their families. One of the girls, Mariam, helped me fold my kanga into a crown, which cushions your head from the heavy plastic jerry can of water. The spring was across the hillside and down into a steep valley. It was a 3 foot long, 3 foot deep pool of water being fed by a tiny stream of water coming from under a rock. We filled our jerry cans and shoved a banana end in each of the openings as a cap. The girls are amazing. Its inspiring and extremely humbling. They fixed leaking containers, folded our kangas, helped us lift the water up onto our heads, and they asked if we were okay. They were worried about us. Its hard to explain how you feel when a ten year old girl is carrying more water than you are, which she does twice a day everyday, and she asks you if you’re okay. Everyone knows about the water crisis here. But, the more I see and the more I experience, the more I realize that I will never fully understand what its like to live without a reliable water source and the direct and indirect effects it has on the community.
            As far as my Kiswahili goes, ninajifunza kidogo zaidi kila siku--I’m learning a little more every day. Today I sat outside in the shade with Justina, Winstrauss, and Dianna, 3 of the Misha staff, and they taught me a bunch of new words and phrases. They don’t speak English, so it’s always a fun time trying to understand each other until finally everyone is laughing because I finally finally get it. Yesterday, I made a best friend. Her name is Edna and she is two years old. She’s the daughter of one of the young women working at Misha. It’s the perfect friendship because she doesn’t care that I can’t speak Swahili yet. And she might be the cutest child I’ve ever seen, with the biggest personality. Tunajifunza Kiswahili pamoja. We will learn Swahili together.
            Things are just getting started here, as we arrived only a week ago, but I’m excited to see how everything plays out. Today is my 21st birthday and it’s a wonderful gift to be able to celebrate it here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I made it to Tanzania, and I’ve been staying here in Moshi town. It’s beautiful.  The trees have bright pink and orange flowers, its hot, and everything is dusty. Town is a mixing bowl of people, crazy cars flying down the streets (on left side of the road!), street vendors, bikes, workers – everything in motion.  I took the first day to explore town and get settled in. I stayed at Karibu Hostel just outside of town, however the owner of the hostel told me upon arriving that she was leaving the next day to go back to Austrailia for health reasons. She’d been in a dala dala (little bus) accident, and needed some time to recover. So, I decided I needed to find another hostel to stay in while in Moshi.

The next day I hiked up to the Shimbwe waterfall with a fellow traveller I’d met at the Coffee Shop the day before. We took a dala dala to Shimbwe town, which was quite the experience! Dala dalas are 11 passenger vans that are stuffed full of people. When I say stuffed, I mean that at the max there were 24 people and a baby on the bus with us at one time. 5 bushels of bananas, a chicken, and 3 cases of Kilimanjaro beer were also riding with us at different points. It was wild. Once we got to Shimbwe, we didn’t really know where we were going so we just kept asking people where the maporomoko was, which is the word for waterfall. It was about a 2 hour walk through the little village and the surrounding area until we could see the waterfall. An hours walk from there, through the jungle on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, and we made it! It was definitely worth the long walk. On the way back we got semi lost, but everyone was really helpful and one man walked us a good portion of the way. Everyone here is so friendly and welcoming. When they see a mzungu, a white person, they always say karibu sana! Welcome! 

The waterfall in the distance.

 We made it!

I spent the next couple days preparing for my Kili trek. I met a girl at a local hostel who decided to come with me, so we got organized and went to Weru Weru River Lodge the day before we left for the mountain, where all of the Ahsante Tours climbers stay the night before. Weru Weru is a little oasis about 20 minutes outside of town, and it must be the nicest place in Moshi. When we walked in, someone took our bags and offered us a hot towel and a glass of juice. Its that nice. Two nights at Weru Weru are included in our overall price, because Ahsante owns the lodge. Also, because we joined a group of 34 from the UK our price was really reasonable.  I left for the mountain on January 29th. I just got back yesterday and…I climbed Kilimanjaro!

Uhuru Peak - 19,341 ft!

For the past 6 days, I’ve been on the mountain. It was a challenging, amazing trip, and it was physically the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The first two days were nice, just long walking days, around 6 hours each day. The first night, all of the porters and cooks and guides got everyone singing and dancing together.
Paul and Peter taught us one of the songs as well, and let me tell you—it’s been stuck in my head every since.

Day 2 we walked up through the moorelands. Again the scenery was breath taking, as it was everyday. I couldn’t sleep though! I guess it was a combination of the altitude and the cold. The third day, we climbed to lava tower, which is close in altitude to base camp, the camp you stay at before the summit. Then, we hiked downhill for two hours to Barranco camp. The 4th day was long and hard. It started with traversing the Barranco wall, which is hands and feet climbing up the side of this giant rock wall. We also crossed Karanga valley, which, on the way back up, is so steep you would laugh if you saw it. We were walking so slow. All the guides and porters keep telling us, “pole pole!” Go slow! Our guide was a guy named Paul. He was fantastic. He's 27 and lives here in Moshi. He spoke English really well and new the mountain so well. He was a porter first, then a cook, then an assistant guide, and now he's been a guide for 3 years. Peter was our assistant guide, and the four of us, he said, were familia Kilimanjaro.

On the fourth day, we arrived at base camp at around 2:30 pm, had tea (which we have everyday!) and then had dinner at around 5. Just a side note, we were woken up every morning with tea and coffee in our tents. So nice. And we ate three hot meals a day on the mountain. And we had our own little tent with a table and chairs for every meal. It was glamping - glamour camping - to the max. They thought of every little detail to make it a more comfortable, enjoyable experience for everyone. It’s quite the system them run here. So, every day on the mountain you went to sleep (or tried at least) as soon as it got dark. Every morning we woke up at about 6 so we could be walking by 7. On the summit night we woke up at 11:30 pm. We left at 12:30, in complete darkness. We walked and walked and walked and walked. It was freezing cold and so windy. My nose and face still have wind burn 2 days later! But, through all the light headed hours of walking, I finally made it to Uhuru Peak! It sits at 5895 meters, which is 19,341 ft. Africa’s Highest point! It was worth every step. 

Here are some pictures from the trip!

So far away! - Day 2

 Sunset at Shira Camp - Day 2

 The Shira "Cave" with Naama and some amazing porters and guides - Michael, Angela, and Peter

 Kili keeps on growing! - Day 3

 Lava Tower - Highest point of Day 3

 Taking a break after the Barranco Wall - Day 4

 Amazing sunrise on the summit morning - Day 5

One of the breathtaking glaciers on top of the mountain - Day 5

 A view of Base Camp, heading back down from the summit - Day 5

Familia Kilimanjaro! Lane, Naama, Paul & Peter - Day 6