The recorded ramblings of an unschooled writer, aspiring biologist, amateur equestrian, ardent bookworm, avid music appreciator, increasingly addicted runner and college student spending the summer in Ely, MN.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

At last, my arm is complete again!

At last, my arm is complete again!

September 29, 2009

For those of you who didn’t catch it, the above line is taken directly from the musical “Sweeney Todd”. Though Sweeney may have been referring to his razor blades as his preferred instruments of mischief and mayhem, I feel it also accurately describes how I felt when I used my video camera today for the first time in Africa.

After a morning run, (this time all by my lonesome, as Laila and Alex both overslept and bailed out on me) I got ready to leave very quickly because the group was finally going to do something biology related and go the Jozani Forest to see the very rare and endangered Red Colobus Monkeys.

After a long bus ride, we finally arrived at the national park. Our guide was very nice and we started with just a walk through the forest where we saw black faced vervet monkeys scampering among the eucalyptus, mahogany and native species trees. We also caught glimpses of elephant shrews scurrying away and even a small bright green tree snake! I was getting frustrated with the group because everyone was talking so much and being really noisy. I’m sure we would have seen many more animals if people would have just shut up!

Then we got back in the bus in order to go to the section of the park where the monkeys live. It was so incredible to be so close to them. I tried to be really quiet and stay away from the main bulk of the group. I was able to take some incredible video of the monkeys, especially of the mamas with their watoto (children). Unfortunately I didn’t bring all of the cables and everything I need to transfer the video onto the computer with me, so you’ll have to wait until I get home to see it. The only thing I didn’t like about the experience was that the monkeys are just so used to people that its more like a zoo than natural observation, so I have no idea if what I filmed was really their natural behavior or not. Still though, I really enjoyed it and could easily have spent the rest of the day watching the monkeys.

I was very sad to leave the monkeys, but we all had to leave in order to have time to visit a mangrove swamp. Mangroves are incredible trees that can grow in the areas that flood during high tide. They are a very important habitat and act as sort of a refuge for all sorts of interesting species. I filmed a number of very cool crab species there and was impressed by how well my little camera did filming something so small.

Mangroves are amazing. It was so shady and cool and even though it was damp there were no mosquitos because the salinity is too high for their larvae to develop. We were mainly walking on a sort of boardwalk above the roots and mud that had been added for tourists, but we got to try walking for a short stretch on the mangrove roots and that was really, really fun!

I’m starting to be worried about if I brought enough videotapes. There are going to be so many interesting animals. Does anyone know how much worse the video quality will be if I format my tapes in LP instead of SP? That way I could get 90 minutes/tape instead of only 60.

After the mangrove forest we went to visit a spice farm. It was so cool to see all of the plants on which spices like pepper, saffron, vanilla, cinnamon, cumin, etc. all grow. They gave us each a very tasty coconut of our own to first drink the water from and then eat. Most of us couldn’t finish a whole coconut apiece, but Kai helped us out and had very many coconuts! The little boys also showed us how they can simply run up the side of a coconut tree to cut down the fruits using only a piece of rope twisted around their feet in a figure eight shape for a bit of extra traction. I have hilarious video of several members of the group trying this out. I tried too (didn’t get very far and ended up clinging to the tree by simply wrapping my horseback riding strong legs around it until Kai helped me jump down), but luckily I haven’t taught anyone else how to use the camera yet!

Again, we all piled back into the bus and headed for Stonetown again where we all stopped for lunch of enormous plates of rice and either chicken or fish. It was pretty tasty! And I got some very strange, but good orange juice that was green in color and rather tart.

Later in the day I worked on my essay, walked around the city some more and went out to dinner with a fun group of girls and had pumpkin soup! (Rachel and I have both been obsessed with the idea of soup lately, for whatever reason). We had originally wanted to go have dinner at the Old Fort and listen to traditional Swahili music (advertisted as happening every Tuesday and Friday night), but when we got there we were told that there would be no music that evening, so that was very disappointing to me as I LOVE music and other than the godawful “Jambo Song” that ever hustler on the street tries to sell you (Jambo! Jambo, Bwana! Habari gani? – Hello! Hello, sir! What’s your news?), I really haven’t experienced much East African music.

Also, I’ve decided that I need to be more outgoing and practice my Swahili more, so I’ve made a resolution for the month of October in which I will seek out a new person to speak Swahili with every day. I’m hoping by the end of the month my increased outgoingness will have become a habit and will no longer need to be a resolution.

Miss you all!javascript:void(0)
Anyone know how the labradog and Bad Horse (another musical reference for which I apologize to my non theater nerd friends for) are doing?

Humans = pretty much my least favorite animal ever...

Humans = pretty much my least favorite animals ever…

September 28, 2009

Another day in Zanzibar. It feels so strange to still be in the same place after the last crazy bout of travel!

This morning started with a lovely morning run through Stonetown with Alex and Laila (and lots of shouts of “mzungu, mzungu!” following us, of course). The highlight though was as we looped around the main square for the second time, a bunch of Swahili guys complimented us on our “polepole” (slow) running! After the run, Laila was civilized enough to take a shower, but Alex and I headed up to breakfast nice and sweaty and finally actually hungry.

This morning after a (supposedly) short lecture on the history of the slave trade in Zanzibar, we headed off to the Palace Museum, the old palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar that now holds a bunch of the original furniture and paintings and crap like that. It was cool, but I was satisfied after about five minutes – I guess I’m just not really a museum person, especially when there is such a lively and vibrant city right outside of its front doors. The only thing that really caught my attention was the saddle of the Sultan! I took a picture of it and will try to post it soon. It looked entirely illogical and very uncomfortable for both horse and rider, though it is quite ornately decorated.

Next we went to the cathedral that was built on the location of the former slave market in Zanzibar. For some reason, Daudi was today obsessed with the idea of the group behaving like tourists as if it were some fascinating anthological study and told us not to worry about covering ourselves enough to meet Muslim standards, made us walk really slowly, stop often to check for directions and generally be obnoxious. I hated it – Zanzibar is really not that difficult to find your way around in! Even the old German tourists in search of beer that is not Tusker manage better than we did today.

But back to the former slave market site:
Before the British were able to wield enough influence in the region to shut it down, the slave trade was the Sultan’s biggest source of wealth in Zanzibar and people were the island’s most profitable export. Once the trade was stopped, a British missionary arranged for the Anglican Church to purchase the slave market area and built a cathedral there in its place.

In my opinion the whole thing is a little morbid. The altar is located where the whipping post formerly was and it just seems strange to me to put something so beautiful (the cathedral is a work of art – incredible stained glass, paintings, etc.) where something so horrible once was. But perhaps it is seen as a memorial?

The tour guide also said that there used to be a well on the property which was where the slaves who were too weak to command a price at auction were drowned as a human sacrifice to improve the trade. Daudi later told us this was bullshit and totally made up in order to shock and scandalize tourists, but I guess he really did want us initially to have the full tourist experience.

We also saw the actual monument to the slaves, four very proud looking sculptures of East African people standing in a pit, wearing chains around their necks that had actually been used in the market itself. It was really one of those moments where you realize that art can say so much more than words.

After the cathedral we went into the building next door, which used to be a missionary hospital, but is now a hostel. Under the building is preserved one of the original holding areas where slaves where kept for as many as four days while they waited to be auctioned. The cave like rooms were tiny. We went into the one that had been used to hold up to 75 women and children. The floor and ceiling were so close together there was literally only about 3 feet of air between them. We were only able to stay standing up because we were standing in the two foot deep or so trench that ran through the middle of the room that used to be covered by an grate and served as the room’s bathroom area, as it was designed so that at high tide, the ocean would sweep in and wash all of the waste away. Width and length wise, the area was probably about the size of my bedroom at home. Many slaves who were kept there died not just of starvation, but also suffocation, as there were only tiny slits in a few places along the walls to let in light and air.

I felt like I was going to vomit when we all went in and it had nothing to do with the fact that I’ve been a little sick lately. Even with only 25 of us there was no space. I just can’t even comprehend how any human could do that to another. Some of the students went in to see the even smaller chamber meant to hold 50 men, but I went back up. I’m more ready than ever to start the biology section – different animal species have their different identifying characteristics – cheetahs are fast, elephants have incredible memories, dogs are loyal, cats are independent – humans are cruel. I’m ready to learn about some creatures who aren’t just devising new ways to torture each other generation after generation.

We were released for lunch after that and a pretty good group of us girls headed out in search of mzungu food. We ended up at a decent café that had wrap sandwiches. Though the prices did exceed our lunch allowance, we felt a they were worth it. For example, I paid 6,000 Tanzanian shillings for a falafel sandwich (somewhere between 5 and 6$ US) and our allowance is 5,000 shillings/meal, but keeping my tummy somewhat more happy seems worth spending a bit of my own money on!

Speaking of stomachs, the gross, puking, alien infested stomach sickness seems to be still working its way around the group. Claire and Rachel R. are the ones currently feeling lousy 

The rest of the afternoon I spent writing e-mails, taking a nap, working on an essay for history and in the net café. After that I went back to the hotel for our evening class/lecture session. A friend of Daudi’s has a daughter who is currently going to the state university in Zanzibar to become a science teacher and she came to speak with us, along with one of her male friends about what being a university student in Zanzibar is like.

Mpagi (the university student), was very, very shy and though she spoke quite good English, wanted to speak in Kiswahili. She came wearing a beautiful bui bui, black but decorated with some lovely embroidery and a light but tightly wrapped and pinned head scarf, every inch the perfect image of a devout young Muslim woman. She often had a very serious expression, but when she smiled, she was so beautiful despite all of the fabric covering her. I was happy that I could understand much of what she was saying (the simpler sentences) before Daudi even translated them! She told us that she was only one of two girls from her primary school to receive good enough grades to go on to secondary school, and at the end of secondary school (through 11th grade) she was again one of two girls selected to go onto the pre-university years of study (12th and 13th grades).

After pre-university, she took the entrance tests for university, hoping to get into a program to study medicine. Her tests scores were not quite high enough for that, but she was able to get into the education program and receive a loan from the government in order to help with her expenses. She also said that unlike her other male relatives (who think she should be married already), that her father is very, very supportive of her education and even approves of her plan to continue on with some sort of graduate studies if she can gain admittance to such a program, even though doing so would mean having to go live and attend school in mainland Tanzania.

She does want to get married and have children someday, though she will not marry a man who will not allow her to work outside of the home. Her own mother plans to stay with the children when they are very small in order for her to be able to work.

Her friend who spoke wasn’t as interesting. He displayed the attitude I’m beginning to view as typical here – very dismissive of and demeaning towards women. He started off his talk by explaining that where we are from “ladies first, men second” might sometimes be the rule but that in Islam it is “always the men first, always!”.

I greatly admired Mpagi and her courage in speaking to us – it was clearly difficult for her to do, but I really learned a lot and her talk gave me a lot to think about. I realize more than ever how incredibly lucky I am in my own educational opportunities. All of my relatives are supportive of me going to college and studying science – not a one of them believes I should be kept in the kitchen and be producing half a dozen children to keep me busy. I also don’t have to worry about having enough materials, for example, in a science lab class in order to practice the necessary schools the way students in Zanzibar do if their government assisted funding isn’t paid to them on time.

A bunch of us then went to the market again for dinner tonight. I tried my first “Zanzibar Pizza”, dough wrapped around egg and vegetables (and meat or fish if you choose) and lightly fried (still too fried for me though) on a grill. Everyone else has been raving about them and while I liked mine, I wasn’t blown away by it. Though I still haven’t tried one of the dessert ones – which is banana and nutella stuffed - and I don’t think I will as that sounds a little too good!

A few last good things I’ve neglected to mention in previous entries:
1. When Rachel R. and her host brother were walking around together in Pemba, they came upon a goat giving birth and he informed her they were watching “Reproduction. Where one becomes two…reproduction!”
2. The man who came from the university to speak to us spoke of the difficulty of combining studies with “loving affairs”. (I think he would have just said “relationships” if he knew the words, but hearing the phrase “loving affairs” about fifty times within the space of five minutes was far more entertaining)
3. My current roommate, Kim, removed all of the hair braid extensions she got in Riruta tonight! She is really sad because she misses them and also because taking them out made an alarming amount of her real hair fall out too.

I get to go see monkeys tomorrow!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Goodmorning Zanzibar!

September 27, 2009

I’m writing this early on Monday morning, after my first full day on the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago. Its very, very strange to be here in a huge very bustling and touristy city after being on Pemba.

I like Zanzibar and Stonetown is very interesting, but I’m really disappointed by the fact that all of the beaches here are privately owned. They are sandy and beautiful and the ocean is the prettiest, brightest shade of blue, but I can’t get in it! So in a way, I’m counting down the days until we leave on Friday afternoon to head for the north end of the island (we can swim there) and leave for the coast of the mainland where we will be swimming and snorkeling for hours every single day.

Yesterday was a pretty easy day academically speaking. Mostly I just wandered around the city with just about every single different group of L+C students who went out for any reason – I just wanted to walk around! I’m still very frustrated with doing so much sitting around.

In the morning Alex, Meryl, Rachel Y. and I walked up to where the main market is in search of Zaine phone SIM cards and advice on how to make Alex’s malfunctioning phone work. Sadly, the Zaine store was closed, but we had a nice conversation with some guys hanging out in front of it and they tried to help Alex with her phone, but still no luck. I haven’t bought a SIM card yet because everyone seems to be having trouble with theirs on Zanzibar so I will just wait and get on the coast. And then let everyone know my new Tanzanian number which will hopefully work better than the Kenyan one anyways and hopefully will actually allow me to receive some calls from home.

After Rachel Y. and I walked back, a huge group of girls was getting ready to head out with Daudi (David Sperling – Daudi is what the Swahili speaking people call him). I decided to join in and headed off with the group to go see where the post office, internet café, several banks, a small grocery store and a few other important things are located.

The grocery store was very cool – it is a small business run by a very, very nice woman. Peggy and I both found clove soap that smells amazing and went in together on a big bag of laundry detergent to do our laundry with (though we still need to figure out about a bucket), so with all of the we should be smelling very good very, very soon. And Rachel R. found some sort of chocolatey treat, so all is well in her world, I think!

After wandering the city for a awhile in a very circular Daudi led fashion, a bunch of us went to the net café. I spent so much time there! It was quite lovely to catch up on the news of home after not having any at all for a few days.

After that I tried to figure out my schedule for next semester. I am sure that I want to take Ecology (or Evolution if I can’t get into Ecology), Animal Behavior and Advanced Social Psych (which would get my psych 400 level stuff out of the way before senior year, yay!). I also want to see if I can sneak my way into a Fiction Workshop class. Technically I have completed absolutely none of the pre requisites for that class, but in a few weeks I’ll e-mail the professor and see if I can send in some samples of my work or something. I was similarly under qualified for the writing courses I took in Virginia, but they were my very favorite classes and I ended up doing pretty well in them, so I will see how strict the standards are at L+C are…if I have to be a truly dedicated literary genius to qualify (in which case I won’t) or if science nerds who just like to write a story every now and then might be given a chance too.

Then I went back to the guest house to hang out and do some journaling. We had an evening lecture from a very interesting woman Daudi met on the plane to Pemba who agreed to come talk to us after he explained our reason for being in Zanzibar.

Her name is Beth (can’t remember her last name, sorry) and she is from New York, but is currently working with the non profit organization Millenium Villages which is working to bring the UN’s Millenium goals for standards of living to villages around the world (health care, access to clean water, education, women’s rights, etc.) She is working with a village not far from Tumbe, where the L+C group did our homestays. She was a really fascinating speaker and I really agreed with the organization’s philosophy of letting the villagers decide for themselves what the most important projects are what the best way to accomplish them is, so the change is a grassroots movement. I also really respected her when she said she felt that the only way to be able to be effective in helping people in this process was really to live among them to better understand both what they need and what they want. She was of the opinion that there is (not enough, but) a lot of money available for aid programs, but so many of the projects don’t really take into account all of the details in the situation. For example, Daudi tells the story of an area in inland Kenya where there are two water wells. One has an old hand crank, but the line to use it is always many people deep. The other has a beautiful, very modern diesel engine to power it but is never used, because there is no diesel available! Anyways, it was a really interesting evening and I admired her a lot. She was just kind of your average accountant who was sick of thinking that the world needed to become a better place and decided she should actually do something about it. I really admire people who have the strength to act on their convictions, instead of just talking about them.

After that, we were sent as a group down to a big market in the square in front of the old Sultan’s Palace to find dinner among the many venders. I was feeling sick to my stomach after an excellent, but extravagant lunch – we went to an Italian restaurant and I had a fabulous tuna salad and a scoop of mango gelato (yum!), so I stuck to watermelon for dinner, but my friends had all sorts of interesting snack like: fish kebabs, octopus, oyster/clam kebabs, “Zanzibar Pizzas” (sort of a thin layer of fried dough covering meat, cheese or vegetables), sugar cane juice, fruit, cakes, sodas, samosas, chapatis and all sorts of other East African delights!

I practiced my Swahili a bit with some of the people there (though am quite concerned for the verbal final on Thursday) and had fun wandering around and just looking at the sheer amount and diversity of food available!

A big group went out in search of a hookah bar, but I thought taking it easy for one more night was probably a good idea, so I hung out at the Garden Guest House some more. I ended up rereading the book “The Giver” because Meryl had brought it with her and after she finished her essay we ended up talking for a long time about all sorts of wonderful shared interests. Turns out she: loves horses (was a western rider in 4-H as a kid), is a former theater nerd, loves science fiction (especially Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars) and loves creative writing. So as you can imagine we had TONS to talk about! Michael walked into the room at one point and though initially distressed when he heard the phrase “angry sex” (as uttered by Meryl and I, deep in discussion about what Battlestar Galactica contains that Star Trek doesn’t) was quickly reassured when he realized that really we were just talking space ships and aliens and joined the conversation too, more than happy to talk sci-fi with us! What fun!

Gotta go do some laundry…washing machines will seem like the greatest adventure ever when I get home…

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Return to the land of the living...

September 26, 2009

So I managed to survive the trip to Zanzibar and even managed to eat toast and a banana this morning and real food this evening (though may have to take a break from eating again as every time I eat it leads to really unpleasant stomach bloating and pain…ugh).

My morning started off bright and early when I woke up with the pre dawn call to prayer after another painful stomach night due to the fact that I ate a plate of plain rice! Yikes! I packed up all of my stuff that had been just dumped in a pile by the bed as I was searching my bag for various medications.

Then I went and had breakfast with the walimus, Lisa and the two other sickly members of the L+C group, Zach and Miles. Though as it turns out, Zach had braved going back to Tumbe for the part of the day yesterday and had ended up with a very serious admirer, Alex’s twenty year old sister, Mosa, who is nice and gorgeous!

We loaded all of the other luggage stored in the room I’d been staying in onto the bus when it finally arrived (in true African fashion, about an hour late) and then rode the bus for an hour so in order to get to Wete where we determined the location of the other L+C students by simply driving to the center of the village and asking the nearest children “Wazungu wapi?” (Where are the white people?). They were all too happy to show us and ran in the correct direction shrieking and laughing.

We met up with everyone and I had to hang out with Hassan awkwardly again who wanted to take me home with him now that I was feeling better and back in Tumbe but I had to explain to him it was time for me to leave. Thankfully, Rachel came and rescued me with tales of her home stay so I was able to escape without further proposals of marriage or cow viewing.

Then we took the bus another hour or so (a very beautiful ride – I was finally feeling well enough to really appreciate the lush green scenery of Pemba – were it not for my feeling sick and spending most of my Pemba time in a small guest house room, it might have been my favorite place we’ve been so far) to get to the ferry to Zanzibar. It even rained a bit during the bus ride which made everything smell so fresh and lively and wonderful!

The ferry ride was fun – I think everyone was worried that I might get sick during it (and in fact I informed Rachel that no matter how much I might beg for food I wasn’t allowed to eat any until my feet were safely on dry land) but really the sea was very calm and I thought the rocking motion of the waves was very, very soothing.

It was really overwhelming to arrive in the bustling, very tourist friendly city of Zanzibar. I was really happy to be able to wear tourist clothes again (meaning no head scarf and bare arms/collar bones) and am currently wearing my long green dress and feeling absolutely naked!

We checked into our guest house, found our roommate and room assignments (Kim and I are in number 212, right next door to Zach and Anton and across from Daudi (Professor Sperling)) and took a chance to take a shower and change into said tourist clothes. Then we had a group meeting about the home stays in Pemba.

Turns out they were largely problematic. Many of the other women on the program had been harassed in some way or another including repeated proposals of marriage (like during my cow hunting adventure); guys making inappropriate jokes; guys trying to convince girls that the only place for them to sleep in the house was in their beds/rooms (though no one fell for that one…) or guys hitting them on the arm or shoulder for mispronouncing Kiswahili words or using whatever language they didn’t prefer. Our meeting was really productive though and everyone got a chance to talk things over and help work on a proposal to make things better for next years group. Everyone survived and we all felt like we learned a lot even if we didn’t enjoy it (though clearly I experienced a lot less of Tumbe than the rest of the group).

I personally learned that I would never be able to live for really any period of time in a culture where women are so marginalized and under valued. I couldn’t stand being treated like a thing to paraded about, rather than a real person, the way the men in the group were. I also hated the idea that I had to “belong” to some man whether it was one of the village guys or my father or husband back in America. I want to be my own person before I’m someone else’s, always!

Next, after a run downstairs (mostly in the dark due to a short blackout) to grab DEET and a kanga/shawl we had dinner. I ate way too much because I was so excited to have an appetite for real food: salad, rice, beans, curry sauce and passion. I also had a Stoney (the ginger soda) and that seemed to help my tummy some. I avoided the fish and squid – luckily Kai was all too happy to polish them off for me so I didn’t have to feel guilty about wasting them. But my stomach really hurts again, so I think I’m just going to have to do really small portions of bland foods for the next week or so which is such a bummer as Zanzibar had some of the best sea food ever (or so I’m told) many of it in spicy sauces and hot, hot, hot curries!

Now I’m off to go work on my essays that are due tomorrow but before I do that, here’s a list of interesting things that I forgot to talk about earlier:

1.The moto bike riding school teacher I was so happy to see was Rachel R’s host father and as it turns out was a real jerk. He almost made Alex cry by insulting her in front of all of the students and threatening to beat her host sister with a stick.

2.Kids who get sleepy on the Pemba/Zanzibar ferry just stretch out in the middle of the aisles – its really hard not to step on them if you need to get to the bathroom or to go buy snacks.

3.Due to many lost in translation incidents in Tumbe, the phrase “speak more politely” now means “speak slowly” to the L+C group.

4.No one is engaged/married after leaving Tumbe (though I think Zach may have come the closest of anyone).

5.Everyone was telling me that Kai came to visit their house in Tumbe to get coconuts from their family’s coconut tree, so he must have eaten a hell of a lot of coconuts.

6.Kim’s host brother let her drive his moto bike around Tumbe – I’m so jealous!

7.Rachel and Laila got to go swimming in the Indian Ocean while in Tumbe – again I’m jealous and intend to do some swimming of my own as soon as possible!

8.Last night at dinner at Sharouk’s Guest House in Wete on Pemba Island, I had dinner (that plate of rice mentioned at the beginning of this blog) with Mwalimu Rose, Mwalimu Ken, Lisa and Mwalimu Daudi and also with the other two guests, two very nice German medical students (a 4th year and 5th year student in the German system) who had just finished volunteering for a month in a public hospital in Rwanda. They told us lots of fabulous and gory medical tales. Also, in conversing with them I learned:
a.The hospital they worked at had very limited so supplies – so limited in fact that surgical gloves and disinfectant were only available with regularity to surgeons, not anyone else involved in patient care.

b. Rounds were conducted in a mixture of English, French and a local dialect – very difficult for the German med students as English is already a second language for them (though they both spoke it very well).

c. When you have stomach/intestinal bacterial troubles it is better to just have diarrhea/vomit it all out first before taking antibiotics and not just take Imodium or whatever else unless you have to travel – I was happy because I’d come to this conclusion about my stomach troubles all on my lonesome and am glad someone more medically qualified than I seems to agree.

d. Surgical sheets/gowns in the Rwandan hospital were all washed together in one large container and then dried by laying them out in the grass field in front of the hospital.

e. They both lost tons of weight (and really missed German food) while they were there because they were there during Ramadan and not so not only could they not buy prepared food during the day for the whole month, they also weren’t allowed to cook anything after sunrise or before sunset where they were staying.

f. That one of them (the more talkative and outgoing of the two) should probably be my friend Jessica’s future husband.

I miss you all, but can tell the next 5 days in Zanzibar are going to be awesome. And after that it is time for snorkeling and safari and the stuff I’m really looking forward to – no more unwanted male attention and many more animals!


Friday, September 25, 2009

In which I dreamt some crazy, crazy things...

September 25, 2009

So, here I am now, still in bed at the hotel on Pemba. I was sleeping, but the hustle and bustle of life here along with crazy sick dreams keeps waking me up, so I thought it might be good to try to stay awake for a little longer. I’m finally starting to feel a bit better (though this morning, I was struck by how ironic it was that I was kneeling, albeit before the great porcelain god, at the time the sunrise/dawn call to prayer was resounding majestically throughout Wete).

I’m really upset with myself. If I’d just stayed back at the hotel yesterday, I probably would have been ok to go for today and not stuck back here in Wete resting while most of the group is with host families. I just didn’t want to miss out and I hate it when my body doesn’t do what I tell it to, so I was determined to push my way through it, which just wasn’t going to happen. I remember that I literally got off the dola dola and when Rachel asked me how I was feeling I said “I don’t know if this was such a good idea…”. Turns out that I was right and it wasn’t, but I really hate to disappoint others and cause problems and I was really looking forward to this homestay myself. Hopefully tomorrow morning I will at least be able to go and spend two or three hours there before we all leave in more dola dolas to head for the other coast of Pemba to be picked up by boats to go to Zanzibar.

I’m finally starting to feel a bit better as I don’t think there’s really anything left in my body that could be making me sick at this point. I do however feel like I’ve been run over by a dola dola, matatu, or gari la mgombe (ox cart). My muscles are all just as sore as if I’d rerun the Hood to Coast and many of my joints are swollen to various degrees (I think just from the unusual positions I’ve been slumping into and falling asleep in – I even fell asleep on the bathroom floor for a couple of minutes this morning. Lisa came to check in on me this morning before she, Rose and the walimus (teachers/professors) left for Tumbe today and said I felt like I still had slight fever, which seems incredible to me given that I’ve taken more alleve in the past three days than I ever have before in my life!

I’ve been trying really hard to wake up every now and then and drink a bunch of water so I at least stay hydrated, so I think I’m doing ok on that. I haven’t eaten anything for about a day and a half now, which I think is a good thing – I think my body just needs a break. I might try this evening to eat something, or just might wait until we get to Zanzibar. Lisa told me that I can go out anytime and talk to Kasim in the kitchen about getting food, but right now (even though there is a nice breeze coming through the window, the fan is on and I’m only wearing a kanga and a sports bra) I’m really, really hot and putting on enough clothes to leave the room (long sleeves, skirt and head scarf) sounds unbearable. Besides, my fellow students might like the boat ride to Zanzibar better if I come with an empty stomach!

The only upside to all of this, is that I’m feeling strangely proud of myself for not being homesick despite being sick. Maybe I’m just too tired to feel homesick or too angry at myself for not being proactive about my health sooner and taking rest yesterday when I needed it, but for whatever reason even though I’m dizzy and headachey and hurting and bored I’m pretty content just to lay here in bed until I feel a bit stronger.

Alex had told everyone at the beginning of the program that at about the 3 week mark, some of our bodies would really rebel at all of the changes we’d put them through and mine was definitely one of those. I think I’m also one of the people who’s lifestyle has changed the most though, so it makes sense. I mean at home, I’m crazy about exercising/just having an active life in general and here I’ve been sitting around for days on end more than I would have thought I could ever possibly do without going crazy. Also, I think unlike a lot of college students who eat a lot of fried and sugary foods, I hardly ever eat such things (which were really popular in Riruta), so my diet changed an awful lot, almost overnight. I can change that though back to more like what it is at home – I’ll just have to spend a fair bit of my own money in order to do so, which stinks, but is certainly preferable to getting this sick again. Also, once we get to Zanzibar I should be able to go running along the beach and swim in the ocean before/after classes once I feel better so that should help too. Now that I really stop and think about what I’ve been putting my body through these past couple of weeks, its really a wonder I didn’t fall apart sooner!

Hopefully I will feel better soon and I’m about ready for another nap, but before I do that, here are some things I’ve forgotten to write:
1. On the drive into Tanzania I saw lots of vervet monkeys running around by the side of the road!
2. Yesterday in Tumbe, one young man told me that my name (which he could not pronounce) was shining and beautiful and that my face was just as shining and beautiful as my name. At this point, I had both arms wrapped around my stomach and my head scarf was about to fall off and I was sweating more heavily than I have ever sweated ever, but I still managed to sort of whimper “asante sana” (thank you very much).
3. The dola dola operator who rode in the back with my dola dola group took a great liking to Anton and they had a very funny conversation in mixed Swahili and English for the duration of the ride.
4. Due to his darker skin tone, people keep thinking that Kai is an Arab when he wears his kanzu and man head scarf and several devout and well studied muslims have actually walked up to him and tried to start conversations with him in Arabic.
5. I’ve had such crazy, crazy dreams. Many of them have been unpleasant:
a. dreams of having a big tapeworm in my stomach/intestines
b. Lance getting eaten by lions (this dream kept happening over and over again, each time with more detail than the last…it was awful)
c. Going home from Africa to my house and finding no one is there and all of my family’s stuff is gone
but others have been hilarious like:
d. Robin Hood/Knight’s Tale like dream in which my friend Esme and I were riding our horses down Cedar Hills Blvd in Beaverton so that we could go to a jousting tournament and then for some reason we had to get off the horses and walk and I kept getting left behind because for some reason I was only allowed to walk on my tiptoes, but Esme could walk normally and even run and my horse kept stepping on my feet because I was walking too slow.
e. The Lewis and Clark group currently in Africa and I were all in Antarctica for some reason trying to capture penguins with our barehands, using boxes of digestive biscuits (a kind of a plain cookie), like we’ve been given at tea time, for our only tool.
f. I went to meet my friends Alison, Anya, Christina, Jessica, Henry, Danya, Jose and Bryan for lunch at a sushi restaurant (and probably more people I know too as people I know seemed to fill the entire huge restaurant), but when I got there, Alison had a monkey sitting on her lap for no apparent reason and Monty (a stallion I rode this winter) was there too and no one seemed to think that any of this was strange in the slightest, so I just kind of sat there and listened to Alison talk about how Harry (her dog) had just turned into a monkey overnight and Monty talk about how he wasn’t sure if he preferred to have the eel or the tuna.
g. Lance and I were the first dog/girl pair chosen by Nasa to fly a manned mission to Mars. That dream was pretty cool, though I think I woke up shortly before we landed…bummer! It also somehow involved lots of spaghetti, avocado sushi rolls, pumpkin pie ice cream and my dad’s carrot soup and green vegetable curry… though I can’t really remember all of those details…just know that I woke up with a fierce craving for all of the above and then promptly threw up.
And that is only what I can remember more or less clearly. For someone who doesn’t normally dream at all, last night was one hell of a crazy time!

Well, I’m off for some more strange and vivid dreams! I hope yours are equally colorful!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I have a cow, a fine cow. When you meet my cow you will change your mind and marry me...

September 24, 2009

Still writing this early in the morning on the 25th. Yesterday, I woke up feeling absolutely awful. You know the kind of abdominal pain and stomach ache where you feel like one of the creatures from the alien movies is literally trying to claw its way out of your abdomen and all you want to do it lay down and cry? Yeah, that kind of awful.

But I made myself get up and finish packing and was trying to joke around with Rachel about how at least a sick mzungu wouldn’t get any proposals of marriage, but she was kind of looking at me like I’d sprouted an additional head or something equally frightening just because I was attempting to be up and about at all. I forced myself to eat again – bread and a banana and gross as this sounds was honestly hoping that if I had something more in my stomach I would be able to throw up and then feel better. Alas, no luck in that department.

Most of the guys ended up getting really sick last night too – the majority of them were vomiting the night away and poor Miles ended up so dehydrated and unable to keep anything down that even when he came down to say goodbye to the group he had to bring his bucket with him (and use it). Wete’s Dr. ended up having to come and prescribe him an anti-emetic – poor Miles!

Sam and Miles decided to stay in Wete. Michael and Kai had managed to avoid the sickness, Anton and Heather were feeling better and Zach and I despite looking and feeling rather green were determined to make it to Tumbe. We all piled into “dola dolas” – trucks with two benches facing each other in the bed of the truck and a canopy over the top. Zach and I were thoughtfully quarantined at the back of the dola dola given our sickliness. The quick glimpses of scenery that I caught were some of the most beautiful I have ever seen in my life, but mostly I just kept my eyes closed, my head down, clung to the seat of the dola dola with one hand and wrapped my other arm around my alien-infested stomach and focused on making it to Tumbe without vomiting on my fellow dola dola passengers.

Side note – its 4:20 am and I’m hearing the before sunrise call to prayer in Wete. Kind of cool.

After about an hour’s drive (Pemba is a much bigger island than we’d all initially envisioned), we arrived in Tumbe village. We realized we’d also made a mistake in assuming that Tumbe village would be a little village – it’s a BIG village, with at least as many as (probably more than 600 families). We all crowded into a small room to meet the village wazee (elders) and chiefs (one for east Tumbe, one for West tumbe) and the imam (a funny man with a only a few, crooked teeth and a moto bike) and be introduced to our host brothers and sisters who would take us to our homes.

I was one of the first people to be introduced to my host sibling, a guy a year or two younger than me by the name of the Hassan. We grabbed my bag, bottles of water and the packages of salt, sugar and flour we were to bring as gifts for the family and set off for Hassan’s house. He introduced me to his mama, his younger brother and his younger sister. He also inquired repeatedly if I had any interest in being his “husband-to-be” but I explained that I already had a husband-to-be in America (ok, so it was a total lie, but much easier than explaining why I don’t have one/want one) so any proposals were successfully averted. Prof. Sperling had tried to tell him that I was feeling sick to my stomach, but Hassan had thought that he was saying that I had a toothache. With use of my Swahili dictionary (and much pointing at my stomach and saying “mbaya, mbaya” (bad, bad)), I was able to explain that I didn’t feel well. Hassan, delighted to use his school learned English informed me that I should take a short resti and then we would go out.

He showed me into the room where I would be staying and then left to go chat with his mama. I changed out of my bui bui, because despite being freezing cold, I had managed to sweat through both the tank top and skirt I was wearing underneath it and the bui bui itself. I put on the warmest thing I had with me, my long green cotton dress and a long sleeved t-shirt over it. I added the black head scarf back on top of that and was almost warm. I rummaged around in my big bag o’ pills for the appropriate fever reducing and stomach calming items and as I was taking them, Hassan wandered back in and said “Oh good, you have taken your treatments – we will go now”, so I followed him.

We spent an hour walking around meeting all of his relatives – older sisters with homes, husbands and children of their own; aunts; uncles; cousins; grandmother; his “other mother” (his father’s second wife) and his many teachers. I wanted so badly to try to speak with them in Swahili, but I was feeling so sick and feverish and cold that I literally was having trouble answering the questions he asked me in English. He kept looking at me and getting really angry at me and demanding “Why do you not know this?” when I couldn’t remember the answer to a question in English (or sometimes, couldn’t even remember this question itself) and I felt so bad. Then even when I tried to speak in Kiswahili he got really angry with me because he wanted to practice English. I told him that he could speak English to me and I would speak Kiswahili in return, but he said no that he wished to practice English so I must speak English too. He also wouldn’t let me talk to any of his friends unless we all spoke in English.

Somewhere in the conversation, it had come out that I really liked animals, so Hassan decided that I should meet his cow. He told me that I would want to marry him when I met his cow! And asked me if I had a cow at home. I said no that I had a really good horse and a dog who was like my best friend. He told me that horses were no good (oxen are clearly better) and that I was stupid for having a dog as a friend because I never know when it is going to turn around and bite me at anytime. I wanted to say that my dog doesn’t drag me out walking for hours when I feel sick and constantly propose, but clearly I didn’t say that. We walked around looking for the damn cow for at least two hours before he gave up. At this point, walking was starting to feel rather difficult as I was still freezing cold, but sweating as I have never before sweat in my life in the muggy heat of midday on the island. As we walked he was introducing me to all of his friends from school and they were all saying I was “mrembo sana” or “mrembo kabisa” (very beautiful or very, very beautiful) and I’m hard pressed to come up with a time in my life when I have felt less beautiful, actually.

He eventually gave up looking for the cow and I tried to explain again that I really felt sick and that I needed to go and see one if one of my walimu (teachers) was still nearby or go see Alexi (what Swahili speaking people call Alex, the student leader). Hassan thought that we should go visit the historical site of some ruins outside of Tumbe and then we could go see Alexi, but at this point I was done wandering around in the sun and all but started stamping my feet and demanding that I needed to go to Alexi right that moment. I am so glad I was so insistent because I later found out that the round trip walk to the ruins is about 2 or 3 km total! Luckily, mere moments later, the moto bike riding imam came by and I greeted him respectfully and then asked if he could tell me where Alexi lived because I was feeling sick. He told Hassan and I were she was staying and then told Hassan to take me there.

We got there and I felt so bad for interrupting Alex’s time with her family because she looked like she was having a good time talking to them. She took me to her room there and had me lay down the bed and made me take of my head scarf and be under a fan because she said that even though I felt cold and had taken Aleve, I still had a fever. She also pretty much forced me to drink water, for which I am very grateful. Despite a barely functioning cell phone, she also managed to get a text message sent to Prof. Sperling and Lisa Clifton, telling them that I needed to go back to Wete. She went with Hassan to pick up my things and found Zach on the way who was in similarly bad shape (he’d gone on a rather lengthy excursion down to the beach).

I stayed on Alex’s bed, mostly not quite asleep, but not quite awake either in that weird, zoned out kind of detached state you go into when your body feels so bad you just kind of want to distance yourself from it. Little kids kept sneaking into the room and shaking my bed or poking at my feet or hair when they could sneak away from the adults, but I didn’t even open my eyes. I was too worn out to give a damn by that point in time.

After Prof. Sperling and Lisa arrived, we spent some unsuccessful time in the car searching for Heather in case she was sick too. Prof. Sperling though that if she were feeling sick she would have found a way to contact them or still be in her family’s home and Zach and I explained about our respective cow and beach adventures and that no we didn’t really know enough Swahili to explain that we were feeling sick and didn’t want to appear rude by not allowing ourselves to be dragged around outside in the hot sun.

Side note – Its now 11 am. I had to take a break earlier this morning to go back to sleep.

So we left without Heather – I really hope she is feeling ok because I can’t imagine having to stay feeling that miserable. We made the 50 minute drive back to Wete, Zach and Prof. Sperling in the front seat and Lisa and I in the back. I was pretty much clinging to the door and clutching my stomach exactly as I had on the dola dola not even twelve hours earlier.

We made it back to the hotel and Zach went back to the annex where we had all stayed to go stay with the other sick guys and I ended up at the main hotel because I’m the only sick girl right now, so Lisa had me go in Alex’s old room (that also has all the luggage everyone didn’t take) so I would be just across the hall from her in case something seriously started to go wrong. I took a shower and went to sleep around 6:30, though I kept waking up at night as whatever is making me sick worked hard at leaving my body through whatever means possible.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hello Tanzania!

September 23, 2009

I’m actually writing this early on the 25th (its about 3 am right now), but for unexpected reasons I suddenly have all sorts of free time…will explain that later and thought I might catch up on what I’ve been up to these past couple of days.

On Wednesday morning, we all loaded all of our bags into the bus once again to head for Tanzania. Every time we have to do the reloading thing, I wish that I had brought fewer things with me! Lisa has told me more than once that when I carry all of my things (backpacking pack on my back, black backpack worn across the front of my body and using my hands to hold onto my blue duffel below that) at once she can hardly see me underneath them!

We left around 10 and drove and drove and drove. Even though Lewis and Clark had rented the whole bus, our drivers were trying to make a little extra money and we ended up with a couple of extra Africans and a chain smoking middle aged Spanish woman along for the ride.

We had to take a large ferry in order to get out of Mombasa. For whatever, reason our driver told us we had to get out of the bus to take the ferry (you don’t have to really, as we saw several other bus loads of wazungu still in the bus). But I’m glad we got the chance to get out as the view was really pretty, the air smelled all salty and like the sea and we were able to stretch our legs at least for a few minutes. We waited on the other side for what must have been at least ½ an hour for the bus to get on the very and come join us, but eventually we made it back on and took off again.

The next place we stopped was at the Kenyan border where we had to show our passports and drop off completed exit forms for leaving the country. The guards were very cheerful and were telling us all that we should “Say hello to Obama!” when we went home.

We drove for a while longer on a dirt road in what is kind of a “No Man’s Land” between Kenya and Tanzania before we reached the Tanzanian border. Again, we all had to whip out our passports and those of us (most of the group) who didn’t have Tanzanian visas had to wait in line and pay our $100 US for those.

Then back in the bus we went and onward to Tanga and the Tanga Airport! We made one stop in Tanga to purchase snacks, though Rachel and I were so well supplied from our Tusky’s trip the day before that we just finished that for lunch. We all climbed into the bus again and made the last little trip to the airport. Though the drive was long, Tanzania is for the most part, a very rural and very beautiful country and I spent most of the drive either half dozing or looking at the scenery so it was quite pleasant. However, most of the roads in Tanzania are not paved and the bus driver was driving quite fast, so there were a few turns that were a touch frightening!

We arrived to the airport about two and a half hours before our flight and I think it’s a great testament to how well we get along as a group that everyone just waited patiently. Either that or we’ve all learned the true meaning of “haraka haraka haina baraka” (hurrying brings no blessing) a lot better than our Kiswahili teachers think we have.

Eventually we brought our big bags (all weighing less than 15 kilos) into the airport to check in and shortly after that, the first plane load of us (13 students) boarded one of the tiny Cessnas and we took off for Pemba Island. It was a beautiful, beautiful flight and I took some amazing photos. From the air I could see the most amazing coral reefs both along the coast and surrounding the islands and once again I was wishing it was time for the safari/biology part of the program because all I want to do is go snorkeling in them.

Shortly after arriving on Pemba, while waiting in the airport for plane #2 to arrive with the rest of the group, I started to feel quite sick and ended up laying down with my head on my backpack and almost but not quite falling asleep. Once the others arrived, we all crammed into one not so big bus. I was sitting in the middle on a pull out seat with Natalie and Heather on one side of me and Nicole and Heather on the other. I was also kind of being pushed backwards off of my seat into the row behind me, but was kept helpfully propped up by Anton’s knee – I still actually have a faint Anton knee sized bruise mark in the middle of my back! :P Poor Heather was feeling really sick and ended up vomiting out the window of the bus. She was such a good sport about it though and five minutes later was laughing about how it had happened just as we drove past a group of about twenty young men who were all staring and waving at us. After that, the group made the rest of the slightly less than an hour drive to Wete village without mishap.

We arrived at the beautiful lodge we spent the night at just as the sun started to set and after dumping our bags in our rooms we headed up to the rooftop balcony to watch the sunset and see the flying foxes (rather large and beautiful bats) emerge in great numbers from their hiding places. Then I went to take a nap as my stomach was not feeling so great.

Rachel R. was nice enough to wake me up for dinner and on the way up I took a quick look around the downstairs area where most of us girls were staying. We joked that it felt like the first ever L+C sorority house with so many of us sharing large rooms and a couple of bathrooms. I shared a room with Rachel and was mostly just happy that I had a functional mosquito net this time around.

At dinner I had “tree tomato” juice. None of us were really sure what a tree tomato was, but we all tried it and it was delicious. I also had rice, but decided to forgo the fish, fried potatoes and other excellent looking foods laid out buffet style for us. I didn’t even want to eat rice, but I thought that eating something plain might make me feel better. It didn’t really and I had to tell myself that I wasn’t allowed to go sleep until I’d eaten every bite of my rice, so I did. Right as I was leaving Alex announced that she wanted to have a meeting with all of the people who were feeling sick. Once again, Rachel was the sweetest person ever and despite the fact that she’s healthy as a horse (how she manages this after being my roommate so frequently, I don’t know :P!) she stayed for the sick people meeting so that I could go get some sleep and she could tell me if there was anything important said.

Before I went downstairs, I did stop to talk to Prof. Sperling about how I was feeling sick and what I should do about the upcoming Tumbe village homestay. Before long, others were asking them the same question too. He assured us that whatever we had was likely a 24 hour bug and that we should still go to our host families and that if necessary we knew how to tell them “I am sick!” (Mimi ni mgonjwa!) and “I would like to sleep now!” (Ningependa kulala sasa!). So I went to bed, hoping to feel better in the morning.

About ½ dozen of the students (the really hardy, healthy ones), went out to a carnival in Wete during the night with Prof. Sperling. Rachel said they all had a great time – took a photo in one of the silly photo booths painted like a wedding scene and ate tons of sugar cane. I’m really sorry to have missed it.

- Hill

Billie Jean is not my lover...mia hee, mia ho, mia haha...just dance...para a bailar a la bamba...

September 23, 2009

Update on my evening…I went out for the evening to “Club Rio” with a group from L+C. Club Rio seems very Western tourist oriented and for most of the evening we were the only people in there. Most of the group drank Tuskers, but I was lame and started with ginger ale, though I did redeem myself by at least having a rum shot with everyone (after it took Kai about 15 minutes to order ½ dozen of them, he kept coming back saying well, vodka’s 250 shillings, tequila is 200…and we just told him to order the cheapest thing – rum at 100 shillings and come back).

I really like going out and dancing and having a good time with everyone, but don’t really like drinking that much. I don’t have anything against it, but I just don’t particularly like the way it makes me feel and I have no desire to be stumbling around and shouting in an embarrassing manner from having too much! Also, the alcohol/doxy combination is not seeming to be a good one, but I just hate the fact that I’m so lame. I wish I was better at partying…I would have more friends at college then, I think, but I fail at the whole partying thing pretty awesomely.

My favorite parts of the outing:
1. Kai and Rachel R. swing dancing to “La Bamba”

2. Zach protecting Meryl from the creepy guy wearing the embroidered marijuana button down shirt towards the end of the evening

3. Kim and Rachel Y. convincing the manager to join them on the dance floor.

4. The way Kim’s kanga skirt kept getting progressively shorter throughout the evening.

5. Anton’s dancing – I wish I could describe it, but there are simply not words in the English language (or any other language really, to describe it).

6. Alex leaping on top of Anton at one point expecting to be caught – she was quite disappointed.

7. The musical selection: Numa Numa (the regular and the hip hop version); Billie Jean; Just Dance; La Bamba; Stacey’s Mom and many other fabulously bad dance tunes.

Overall, I had fun and am glad I went even though it is now midnight and I still have to shower, repack for my island home stay and time on Zanzibar and do some paper writing


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I do not write, I compose...

September 22, 2009

Today has been a slightly less busy day than others, but there’s still a lot to tell you about. This morning started with uji (my new favorite breakfast food) and then a walk with the rest of the bui bui and kanzu wearing group to the Kiswahilli Center in town where our hosts Ahkmed Shake and Amira, the woman who has been helping the girls in the group out with bui buis and head scarves and such help run a program to teach youth in Mombasa traditional Kiswahili skills like dressmaking, woodworking, etc.

Ahkmed Shake is a very renowned Swahili poet and he gave us a very interesting lecture on Swahili poetry. I loved how he didn’t use the term “writing” for poetry when he spoke of it in English, but rather “composing” which as it turns out is much more accurate as Amira, a very renowned Swahili poetry reader performed several of his poems, singing them more than saying them as she recited. It was an incredible experience. Kim, from the L+C group read one of the long epic poems aloud in an English translation and it was incredible to be able to understand the meaning behind the musicality.

After the poetry section, they showed us the woodworking room and the sewing room. In the woodworking area, I tried using the chisel and mallet, but failed at it pretty spectacularly. It was still fun though! The woodwork is absolutely incredible full of lots of different ornate designs that the boys learn one by one. Some of them may spend as many as 2 or 3 months working on the first pattern and perfecting it before they are permitted to move to the second.

Next we walked around Fort Jesus, a fort built by the Portugese. It is a very unique fort, because it is built with angled walls in such a way that each wall can be defended from another, so that no one can scale it. It is right at the mouth of the old harbor and again we enjoyed the lovely breeze coming off the ocean.

After that, Rachel and I wandered around the city for several hours. We stopped at a small hole in the wall café and she ordered one of the biggest plates of “chips” (French fries) that I have ever seen and we both ordered a bottle of mango juice, which is incredible. It tastes like someone grabbed a chilled glass bottle and just shoved a whole mango into it and shook it around. It is so thick and pulpy that it was almost like a smoothie.

Next we tracked down a Tusky’s so I could buy peanut butter and a few rolls. And then a fruit stand for bananas and mangos. I was so excited for my peanut butter and banana sandwhich for lunch and embarrassingly enough just had another for dinner! But I’ve had a few too many outrageously extravagant meals out lately that haven’t been so kind to my tummy, so I was glad to just eat something I know will agree with me and tastes really good too! I also had a mango too, so basically I just got to eat all of my favorite foods at once, haha.

Some of the group is going out for Chinese food I think, and then after that some people are going out to go clubbing or whatever in Mombasa. I’m thinking about going with them but am torn – I have so much to do – writing papers, repacking a small pack for our island home stays, laundry and am worried that I am getting sick (I feel 100% fine barring Swahili cooking induced indigestion, but have kind of a rasping man voice that keeps coming and going), so I’m not sure if I’ll go or not. Probably, if a small group goes straight from the hotel without first going out to dinner I’ll go out for a while too, but I’m really enjoying this whole day of having a settled stomach and am not about to risk Chinese food!

I wanted to go to the beach today, but never quite managed it between trying to get papers written and see some of the city before it got dark. Also, I knew that I if I went to the beach, I would want to swim and I’m not really sure what the etiquette on swimming/bathing suits is here in Mombasa.

And now, a few amusing things that I’ve forgotten to tell you:
1. Mama in Riruta on the bus to the Guest House demanded to know why white women have such “big legs”. I told her that mine were so big from muscle from riding and running. She said no, not just me, that all white ladies have big legs, especially “huge calves” but I wasn’t able to provide a satisfactory answer for her.
2. On my last day in Riruta, while coming home from my morning run, three different men told me they loved me. The first was an older guy with a gold front tooth on a bicycle, the second was a youngish guy walking and the third a middle aged man in a motokar. I am hoping this phase in my life is over and done with!
3. People in Mombasa sometimes ask if we are muslims when we are out in our bui buis. I feel really awkward about this. We were instructed to answer “Sijakuwa” when asked if we are, which means that not we are not, but also leaves it open ended as if we might at some ambiguous point in the future consider it.
4. I completely and utterly fail at wearing a head scarf, much the same way I fail at being acceptably girly at home when it comes to dressing up and wearing makeup and actually looking decent while doing so. I’ve had the damn thing for two whole days now and still haven’t figured out the proper way to tie it no matter how many people have shown me. I just do the best I can, adjust it a lot and am hoping that my family in Pemba is going to be really progressive and modern and understanding when I inadvertently flash them an ear or a bit of hair every now and then. The upside to this is that it will likely prevent any proposals of marriage in Tanzania.
5. I saw my first Obama kanga in a store today. It was literally a kanga with images of Obama’s head printed on it that read “Hongera Barack Obama”. It was also the most expensive kanga I’ve seen yet.
6. The L+C men ended up with their picture in the Mombasa newspaper. Of course, they were wearing their man dresses (kanzus) and little hats for this!

I love getting your e-mails!


September 20, 2009

Wow! The past two days have been totally overwhelming.

Yesterday, my day started as usual with an AM run and then margarine on toast. But then instead of school or an outing with Mama, I finished my second essay for history about my homestay in Riruta (which was also my “bus pass” to get to Mombassa) and then got dressed in my fancy dress.

I still don’t like the top as it still accenutes my already exaggerated by east Africa chubbiness, but the skirt looked great and mama was pleased by the number of compliments it received. (Walimus Ken and Rose both informed me that it made me look quite shapely, haha) It is something that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

We had an East African feast at the Clifton’s house/school with all of the other host families and their L+C students. Some of the mamas worked together to make huge vats of rice, mokimo (potatoes, corn + spinach mashed togethere), chapatti, an mbuzi dish (goat stew of some sort), a salsa like salad and sliced oranges. There was also tons of soda – everything from black currant flavored Fantas to Cokes to my personal favorite “Stoneys” – a sort of gingerale that isn’t quite soda because it doesn’t really have that much sugar in it and is kind of bitter. The last gulp tastes so strongly of ginger that it kind of burns your throat on the way down.

I ended up sitting by Zach and his host brother for most of the lunch. Zach’s brother informed us that by the way were both guzzling down Stoneys that we must both be very big alchol drinkers which made us laugh because we are among those on the program who drink the least!

Zach’s family had also purchased for him some traditional African wear, a sort of woven set of shorts and a shirt that only serve to increase the resemblance to Jesus. He loves them and I don’t think he’s taken them off since. Lisa’s mama also had a dress made for her, though her dress was much more African than mine as it had a few ruffles going about the shoulder (my mama wouldn’t let me have ruffles as she said that my shoulders weren’t big enough for them!).

It was incredible to be with all of those amazing people who had welcomed all of us strange mzungu into their homes all at once. Their genoristy and open heartedness has been truly incredible.

After lunch, my family and I took a series of matatus and Citi Hoppas so they could drop me back off at the Guest House. Baba insisted on carrying my big backpack which was funny because he kept saying that he did not believe I could ever have carried it in the first place, but I had already done the 10 minute walk from Ken’s house to my family’s house in Riruta with it on just fine and Baba could hardly make it the 200 feet to the bus stop without weaving from side to side. He also almost fell out of the matatu while wearing it and almost dropped it another dozen or so times. I was getting a little worried because I had thought that I would carry the big bag so it had all of my important stuff in it – money, cell phone, laptop, ID and video camera!

But eventually, mama, baba and I did make it to the Guest House and dropped me off with a handshake from baba, many hugs from mama and many thanks all around. Mama also got my e-mail address! We are going to be pen pals when I return home and I am very, very excited.

At the Guest House, I tracked down the room that Rachel had already checked into for us and changed into my bathing suit so I could join a bunch of the L+C students and Rachel’s host siblings and cousins in the swimming pool. Of course, I couldn’t remember where I had packed my suit and so had to dump everything out on the floor first, but I did find it and had a great time swimming. It felt so great to be in the water after two weeks of not really totally bathing or showering and the shower afterwards felt even better.

At dinner that night, I ate only salad, cooked carrots and fruit because I was so excited that no one was forcing fried dough or potato product onto my plate! Also, during dinner it began to rain and a small thunderstorm occurred during the night, which was wonderful and so very much needed by the very dry area.

In the morning, we woke up to finish packing, eat breakfast and get on the bus to Mombassa. The ride took almost all day. We left at eight thirty and arrived at our hotel on the coast a little bit before six. Rachel and I decided to be roommates again because we get along really well and don’t drive each other crazy in the slightest. (Or at least I don’t drive her crazy – she doesn’t have any habits that would drive anyone else crazy, but she is a very sound sleeper which is excellent because she doesn’t find my habit of not sleeping to be irritating). Plus, at the Guest House last night we bonded over a shared love of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was pretty excellent.

On the drive to Mombassa, I sat next to Devin, which was great. Neither of us was really feeling that talkative and so we were both able to alternate between reading and listening to our ipods while staring out the window and watching the beautiful African scenery fly by. We drove by: (well, through, really) a huge national park the size of the state of Connecticutt; the maximum security prison in Kenya; the area where the German forces attempted to enter and take over British East Africa; elephants, wildabeasts; ostriches; giraffes; cows; goats; Maasi, Kamba tribespeople making charcoal and many small villages.

We stopped for lunch at a village in the ½ way point. I wasn’t feeling very hungry (and certainly not for more fried dough!) so I opted for the drinkable strawberry yogurt. Almost all of the yogurt here comes in cartons like the little containers of milk served at grade schools and is meant to be drunk straight out of the carton, not eaten with a spoon. I quite like it – though this particular brand of strawberry yogurt tasted not at all like strawberries and only vaguely fruity at best. But its as close to a smoothie as I’ve come since leaving the US so I was happy!

After arriving in Mombassa and checking in, we all took a few minutes to get dressed up nicely (no uncovered arms or shoulders for women) and went out to eat some traditional Swahili food. It was delicious – I feasted on warm naan bread and way too much of a fabulous spices vegetable dish with eggplant, carrots, peas, etc. Unfortunately, it seems that some of the spices didn’t agree with me as I’m currently suffering from the worst upset stomach I’ve had since arriving in Kenya, but oh…was it worth it!

Momassa was very, very cheerful and busy tonight because it is the end of Ramadan (the month of fasting Muslims practice at the end of their calendar year), so everyone was celebrating. After dinner we went to a carnival/festival with swing rides, ice cream for sale. Before we all went in, David Sperling said he thought there would be horses and camels, but there weren’t any to be seen at all, so of course I was disappointed. The carnival was really overwhelming, but in a fun sort of way. I’m not quite sure why I find Nairobi so much more intimidating, but for whatever reason I’m much more comfortable in Mombassa. The only problem with the carnival is that it was really dark because the city has been rationing electricity. There were so many announcements over the loud speaker asking mamas to please come pick up there lost children at the Red Cross Tent. Also, Rachel and I made several unwanted friends! (More on that later).

Because of the carnival’s power shortage, most of the rides/swings were being powered by teams of young men simply pushing them along by hand. It was pretty incredible to see. The air smelled like corn roasting, curry spices, the heat of too many human bodies in one place, frying oil, exotic spices, rotting trash and hints of various perfumes or oils as well dressed muslim women would brush by. When I imagined going on this trip, I never thought that I would do something like go to an end of Ramadan festival, but now that I have I’m really glad I did – it was a cool experience and a once in a lifetime sort of thing.

After the carnival, Rachel and I were very excited to rush back to the hotel and take real showers once more! When I got out of the shower she informed me that she thought she heard others from the group out and about, so wearing our safari pants and t-shirts (all comfy for bed, or so we thought) we discovered that a big group of L+C students was in the bar at the hotel. Before joining them, we snuck back up and put on our skirts again because everyone else was still dressed up and I’m starting to finally feel some sense of shame regarding my really ugly (but oh so comfy) safari pants that literally are man sizes and stay on me only through the fortunate feature of incredible drawstrings as well as an awful lot of luck.

I didn’t have anything to drink after the yummy but not quite agreeing with me Swahili dinner, but Rachel did try her first Tusker. She liked it! Crazy girl! But I think I’ll stay her friend anyways, despite her unfortunate preference for the Keynan national drink of choice.

Now I’m finally in bed after this long day and am really excited for tomorrow. Tomorrow morning we are eating breakfast in the hotel as a group, then meeting up to go shopping for our kangas, etc. so we will be properly dressed and veiled for our muslim home stays. I am really excited to pick out a pretty one and am to get a pattern that is mainly my favorite color, green.

After that, we will go have a Swahili lunch, wander around the city some more and then have dinner at the “Mombassa Club”, which Professor Clifton tells us will be our “colonial experience” for the trip. Sounds intriguing…

I miss you all and wish you could be here with me on this adventure! I’m having a fantastic time and learning so much!

But before I go, another one of those amusing lists:
1. Rachel and I made two “friends” at the carnival who we were pretty sure are pickpockets. Not that it mattered because literally, neither of us had any money at all on us. But we couldn’t seem to make them go away…they kept approaching us and only after we explained we were broke students and no we did not want to go to some dark corner of the festival to take a picture with them did they go away. The way we figured that it worked was that green shirt (attempting to flirt with Rachel) was the smooth talker who distracted people and yellow shirt (lurking silenty and awkwardly behind me) was the one who did the actual picking of the pockets.
2. Zach’s favorite new outfit makes him look so Jesus like that I think that may have just become his nickname for the rest of the trip.
3. I read a book called “Middlesex” that Peggy lent to me during the ride to Mombassa and really enjoyed it. If anyone has read it, I’d love to talk about it when I get back home.
4. I realized on the bus ride that I have both the german and the English version of 99 red ballons on my iPod. Yes, it is great for running, but the fact that I felt the need to download both…that seems a bit questionable to me!
5. My mosquito net in the current hotel is hung on the ceiling about three feet away from my actual bed, so it keeps blowing into my face and really only covers the top part of my body, but even though its hot I’m upholding my habit of sleeping under as many blankets as possible, so I think I’ll be just fine. I’m just glad this one isn’t smelly!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Welcome, family of Barack Obama!

September 22, 2009

Yesterday was my first full day in Mombasa. The morning started with breakfast in the dining room of the Lotus Hotel where we are staying. I opted for fruit, “wheatibix” (it looks like a granola bar, but is really just compressed cereal that expands when you pour milk on it) and tried a few gulps of uji, a sort of purple-y colored millet porridge that I loved!

After breakfast, the group headed out to Biashara (“Business”) Street to buy kangas, bui buis and kanzus. I ended up with a bui bui, a long black silky sack that has long sleeves (mine are ruffled!) and is so long it drags on the floor just a bit when I am wearing no shoes. To go with the bui bui, I also have a black head scarf to cover my hair and ears. It was very strange to wear it. I felt somehow like wearing it was mocking the Swahilli people, but they were very, very pleased by the fact that the whole group was so well dressed.

Buying it was so overwhelming. We were all crowded into this tiny little shop and were greeted over and over by the shop owner who kept enthusiastically shaking our hands and saying “Welcome, family of Barack Obama!”. I didn’t so much decide on a bui bui as much as pick the first one I tried on that was the right length. I didn’t realize it had ruffly sleeves until after I bought it, which I hated at first, but have really grown on me since then.

Even all of the men bought kanzus and the little man hats or head shawl things that go with them. A kanzu is a white or light colored sort of “man dress” that has long sleeves and about ankle length. It has been very funny to watch all of the men try to figure out how to navigate obstacles like stairs and curbs in their kanzus. I think they have a new respect for us girls who wear skirts and dresses on a semi-regular basis here in East Africa.

Next, we all went to an end of Ramadan ceremony that was occurring in the town center. The imam even announced the group from Lewis and Clark as guests. We were all sitting their sweating in our bui buis and kanzus, men on one side of the room, women on the other, but it was such a nice gesture to be recognized like that. After the women in the group left, the men were asked to stay behind so they could go up to the pavilion and be formally introduced. I haven’t had a chance to ask any of them about that yet, so I’m not quite sure what exactly that entailed.

We went back to “Island Dishes”, the same Swahili restaurant we ate at shortly after arriving in mombasa. The fare was much the same, I had some spiced vegetables and flat bread with a spicy sauce, but there was also fish, chicken, chapatti, rice and other dishes. We tried a sort of gummy traditional Swahili candy desert that I was not fond of at all and tamarin juice (which I loved) and then finished the meal with Swahili coffee, which comes in a tiny, tiny cup and I so heavily spiced that even I drank it because it didn’t taste like coffee at all.

After that we went back to the Lotus Hotel for the chance to shower and “freshen up” for our evening activites. Ahkmed Shake, the Swahili man who has been the main person guiding us around the city, met us all in the evening to take us to a mosque and show us how muslims pray.

We went to a small, private family mosque, but it was beautiful. Ahkmed Shake is a very, very devout muslim and it was so incredible of him to teach us so much about his religion. He let us watch him do the traditional ablutions before prayer in which muslims go to a special room in the downstairs of the mosque to ritually cleanse themselves before the prayer. He demonstrated how in order to be properly clean before prayer, muslims wash their hands, mouths, noses, ears, feet and head three times each before going back upstairs to pray. He also explained that the ritual washing in the mosque was for men only and that when women come to the mosque they have already done their ablutions at home first.

We went back upstairs and he faced Mecca and did a ritual set of prayers – the same that he would do (in varying number and at various volumes, depending on which of the five daily times of prayer it was). Then, he turned to address the group.

He thanked us for coming to the mosque and expressed his happiness at being able to share with us some of his knowledge about Islam. He told us that while there are many people who would not welcome us into their mosques because we are not muslims, he believes that any true muslim would open the door for anyone respectful and wanting to learn. He also explained that Islam isn’t a religion of missonaries or conversion – that if you want to become a muslim, the way you do it is simply to know in your heart that you believe in Allah as the one and true god, begin to follow the 5 Pillars of Islam (the principle practices and values of the faith), attend services at the mosque and learn all you can about the religion.

We also wandered around Old Town Mombasa for quite a while. The streets are such a maze, that the modern day police force in Mombasa won’t even enter it because the roads are so narrow, curved and confusing that only its natives can really find their way about. We walked to a vantage point where we could see the old harbor that had been used for trading until the bigger, deeper harbor on the other side of Mombasa became the more widely used (according to David Sperling, during the Gulf War, Mombasa was the closest friendly port to the war for the American forces, so the US channeled about 76 million dollars into expanding and deepening the harbor).

All of the people we met were very friendly. They all really respect us for wearing their dress and all of us girls were getting comments about how beautiful we all were. Unlike in Riruta where these comments were followed by further creepy conversation or behavior, here in Mombasa, men some quite content to comment on your bui bui wearing beauty and then be on their way.

After seeing the Swahilli side of things, David Sperling decided it was time for us to experience our first (and likely last) taste of “coloniana” before we head off to Tanzania (which has no British colonial hold outs because it was a German colony). We went to the “Mombasa Club” for dinner, an exclusive members only club we were able to gain access to because Prof. Sperling is indeed a member and it was a Monday night, so things were fairly slow.

The whole place was incredible, starting with the ladies’ room many of us went to in order to change out of our bui buis. Some girls decided to eat dinner in their bui buis, but Rachel and I both reasoned that if dressing like a Swahili was appropriate for visiting Old Town Momasa, then dressing like a Westerner would surely be the way to go for spending time in an old colonial hot spot. Before dinner, David took us on a short tour of the Club, even showing us the room he prefers to stay in (Members can book very nice rooms in the Club for a fraction of what a nice hotel in the area would cost). There several incredible sitting areas that look right out onto the Indian Ocean and catch the lovliest cool breezes in the evening. We even went into the “Men’s Bar” that until recently did not even admit female members, but now does and then went to the dining area where we ate our dinner.

I ended up at a very small table with just Ken and Mara Clifton which was very, very fun. We all really enjoyed the meal of rice, swordfish and vegetables and even more so the ice cream for dessert. Also, David Sperling had ordered us all fresh lime juice to drink with dinner which was perfect and so refreshing.

After dinner, all of us in our very conspicuous wazungu glory trekked back to the Lotus Hotel for some much needed sleep!

Missing you all, but loving Mombasa,

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Dress pictures!


Grazing in Ngong.

Rachel eating an apfel strudel cookie so thoughtfully provided by Jesus (Zach)

Masaai ahead of us in Ngong

Cows in Ngong.

The road in Ngong - the trek to begin our trek.


One of the Ngong Hills.

The sign going into the park. We opted to go without a guide.

One of the many gorgeous views.

Laila crouching with her jar of peanut butter we were all envious of.

Zach and Rachel hiking.

Lydia, Alex and Lisa eating lunch in Ngong.

Anton and his Kenyan family.

The windmills at Ngong Hills.


Me trying to converse with the zebra in the museum.

Rachel trying to run from the Zebra in the musuem.

Serious Uncle – Uncle the dog


Some of the L+C Crowd – Hanging out in front of the Clifton’s house/shule in Riruta during lunch time

A Wee Little Lizard – A visitor on the ceiling of our school house.

Mpaka Mnono (Fat Cat) – Our friend at the Methodist Guest House and the very first animal I laid eyes on in East Africa.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mama wangu alinunua mbwa mdogo kwa mimi kwa sababu ninapenda wanyma!

Mama wangu alinunua mbwa mdogo kwa mimi kwa sababu ninapenda wanyma!
(My mama bought me a little dog because I love animals!)

September 18, 2009

So, today was my last full day in Riruta Satellite! I took my final written Kiswahili exam (there is still a verbal exam to look forward to at the end of the program), and I think it went better than I was expecting. Unless, I’m way more clueless (and much more of a mzungu) than I think I am, I did ok. I’m sure I probably biffed a verb tense or five and also likely mispelled or misidentified a few adjectives here and there, but overall I’m feeling pretty good about it. The biggest mistake I can think of right now is that on the way home I realized in the “Translate from English to Kiswahili” part of the test I definitely translated the phrase “His tea has hot milk in it” as “His tea has cold milk in it”!

We also had two essay questions that had to be written in Kiswahili. I will share with you what mine was like (mostly) in English. It must be hilarious to read them all as I’m sure they all read as if they were narrated by not particularly bright four year olds.

The instructions for the final essay were to describe yourself and your life so far using all of the verb tenses we know and two words/phrases of the day. My essay read pretty much as follows:

I was born on the first of April in 1989 in the country of America, in the state of Connecticutt and the city of New Haven. When I was a few years old, my family and I moved to the state of Georgia because my dad and my mom were doing work in the city of Atlanta. We lived other places in the east of the United States too.

Later, when I was nine years old we moved to the state of Oregon because my family and I didn’t like the east part of America but we did like the west part of America. My dad bought a nyumba kubwa (big house). I liked the big house and my chyumbani za kijani (green room – green was a word of the day) a lot. My mom bought me a mbwa mdogo (little dog) because I love animals!

Today, mbwa wangu si kubwa (my dog is big)! He is called Lancelot and he is my very best friend. Right now, I miss Lancelot because he is in Oregon with my family but I am in Nairobi. I am missing him and want to see him a lot, but after Nairobi, I am going to Mombassa and Tanzania and then to the UK to see my friend called Maria Christina before I am returning to Oregon for Christmas with my family and Lancelot. I miss my family a lot too.

When I go back to my home in Oregon I will be back in my country. My country is the country of the president who says “Ndiyo tunaweza!” (“Yes we can!” – it was another word of the day). I love my country a lot but I love Kenya too. I will miss Kenya and my Kenyan friends when I go home.

Cleary, that’s the work of a future Pulitzer winner, don’t you think? Seriously though, I’m actually proud of what I have learned because I came not knowing a word of swahili beyond what I knew from obsessive viewing of “The Lion King” as a small child. The fact that I can write a narrative, no matter how simple, is pretty cool after only 50 instructional hours of swahili. Writing is one thing though, because I have time to think, so I’m pretty nervous about the three day homestays on Pemba island next week where my family won’t speak any english at all. I’m going to be saying “Polepole, tena, tafadali!” (Slower, again, please!) an awful lot.

I’m really excited to be living with a muslim family as I think Islam is a relly fasinating religon and this is a really unique opportunity to experience it first hand that few people ever get. The island where we will be living is not a tourist destination in anyway and indeed the first time the L+C students went there a couple of years ago, a good number of the members of the council of elders had serious reservations about them staying there because they were worried the students would provide a destructive influence for the younger generations. But the L+C students have proven to be very respectable and respectful (the other woman and I will all be dressed traditionally – long skirts and veils, with only faces, feet and hands showing) and the village has come to enjoy the visit, according to our history professor, David Sperling.

It is going to be so different than anything I have ever experienced. He told us today that two of us would be staying with the Imam’s (muslim leader of prayer) family, but that we would be living in different houses as one would be living in one wife’s house and the other in the second wife’s house. Its going to be weird to have to think about always letting the men in the group go first, sit at the front of the group, take food first, etc. buy I’m sure I will learn a lot. We are also going to have the opportunity to visit a mosque and learn the ritual routines and maybe a bit of the prayers too.

He also said that he expected with a group of so many girls going that he expected at least three marriage proposals before the week was out! Professor Clifton found the section in one of our readings about Islam that translates a passage from the Qoran into english about how Muslim men are not allowed to marry women who are not themselves muslim or other “people of the book” (Jews or Christians). He jokingly informed us he would translate the “marrying infidels is not allowed” verse into kiswhili for us to write down and memorize on the eight hour bus ride to Mombasa. He also shared with us his two absolute rules for particpants on the program. Rule #1 – No dying. Rule #2 – No getting married. Those seem pretty reasonable to me!

My host family has been so sweet to me on my last day! Baba came home from work bringing me a bright red t-shirt with the Kenyan flag embroidered HUGE-ly across the front of it. It absolutely screams MZUNGU as if it were printed in flashing neon letters across the front of it, but nontheless I love it.

Mama gave me a black sweater that is very pretty and was hers but doesn’t really fit her anymore and then presented me with two very african necklaces to take home to my mother because she says that I have talked so much about her she feels like my mom is part of the family too and wants to give her a present, one mama to another. She really, really wants to meet my mom if ever my mom travels to Nairobi (which I think will happen just as soon as Hell freezes over or my mom because a fan of the U of O Ducks).

My swahlli exam today was two hours long, but quite a few of us finished within the first hour so I was able to go home for a quiet lunch of ugali, salad and cooked cabbage all alone with mama while the kids were out at school. It was very nice and she told me how sad she was that I was leaving and wouldn’t be around next weekend because she will be celebrating her 30th birthday next weekend and is going out to all the clubs with her sister to get drunk and she thinks that I would be very fun to have along on such an adventure, haha! Mama was quite the wild woman in her day, it sounds like and she was very diasppointed in my when I confessed that clubbing was not a routine part of my social life, I have no one interested in dating me back home and no potential dates within the Lewis and Clark group. When I told her that I considered the guys on the program to be more like brothers and that most of them have girlfriends back home anyways, she told me that she didn’t see a problem with that as most university girls in Kenya consider boyfriend stealing to be a sport!

At this point, she of course started in again on how that “young man who walked you to the door last week is a nice looking fellow except for his bad hair that makes him look like Jesus” (poor Zach!). When I then informed her that children in the Ngong Hills last Saturday really did call Zach “Jesus”, she laughed so hard that she forgot about her need to lecture me more about men and dating and I was quite relieved! She can be very persistant.

Mama also told me about all of her favorite television shows. They are Desperate Housewives, Big Brother Africa, Prison Break, 24 and most of all the Australian soap opera, Neighbors. I am not exaggerating even the slightest bit when I tell you that Neighbors has been on the air literally longer than I have been alive, possibly even before my parents met each other. Also, somewhat distressing was last week after mama had looked at my photos from home she had to point out that one of the supporting actors on that show bears an alarming resemblance to my friend Bryan, down to the mannerisms the actor used. I don’t think that I would have made that connection on my own, but after she pointed it out, it really kind of freaked me out a little bit!

She also told me about her plans to open her own business, a small beauty shop, this upcoming Januray. I am very excited for her and hope all works out according to plan!

After lunch, mama and I went to pick up the dress she had made for me to wear to the goodbye party tomorrow. The skirt is beautiful and I think looks very nice, but unfortuntaely the shirt really accentuates the fact that I have the world’s shortest torso and makes me appear as if I have no waist and am really chubby – in other words, totally accentuates that good old east africa weight gain. Ugh – maybe I can get away with a sweater over the top? Really though, I am so thrilled and thankful that she did that for me. The skirt is something that I will have and treasure for the rest of my life and I will always remember mama’s kindness and openheartedness towards me, a mgeni (stranger/guest) mzungu. It is beautifully made and it is hard to believe it was made by a hand in the stall on the side of the road by a single woman using a foot pedal (non electric) sewing machine. We also got a matching pair of Masaai sandals beaded to go with it. My mama is so excited for me to wear it and made me try it on right away. Mercy the housegirl thought it was “very smart” and Mama thinks I may end up with a boyfriend yet, haha.

I feel a little silly wearing it because the pattern is bold and beautiful and bright and very, very African and I’m not exotic looking enough in anway at all to really pull it off and do it justice the way a tall, slender and regal African woman could, but I will try my very best!

The history lecture tonight was more about Islam which was very interesting and I’m embarrassed to admit that I kept almost dosing off because I slept in very fitful twenty minute increments last night because I was so worried about the swahili exam! (Rachel confessed that she too hardly slept last night, but to her credit she appeared to be much more alert than I during the nearly 3 hours of history lecture that occoured.)

Ready to cuddle with the fleas one last time as I’m pretty exhausted! I promise there will be pictures of the skirt ASAP!

Lala salama,