Around India in 30 Days

Excerpt from my journal:

Day 1        December 8, 2015

We arrived in Mumbai at an unglodly hour this morning. I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. I felt like I was sleepwalking my way through the airport when we stumbled upon a well dressed man with a nice watch and slicked back hair. He called us over with a nod and we followed him to what they call a "pre paid taxi" meaning a big fat rip off. We accidentally paid $35 to go a few miles to the train station. We needed to purchase a ticket to go to Delhi today. It was much cheaper to fly into Mumbai and take a train and I was also eager to train travel in India. I read this incredible book a few months ago called Around India in 80 trains about a writer with Indian heritage who decides to explore India via train to get back to her roots. You can get almost anywhere in India by train. They even have this medical train that drives through low income areas and picks people up to do minor surgeries for them at no cost.

Already, this train travel has not disappointed. The station ceiling seemed to reach far up into the sky with beams stretching back and forth like big friendly welcoming arms calling you into the magnificently vast space. Trains honking their horns. The smell of samosas and steam permeating your nostrils as the gold and red colors pop and explode the senses. I felt like my head was buzzing as we quickly paced towards our AC3 class compartment.

As we walked from our hotel where we slept for the day leading up to our departure at 5, Chris stopped to gawk at the delightful array of street food decorating the sidewalk. Samosas, real fresh squeezed juices, chick peas--oh my! There was all the fresh food one could ever hope for. We are in vegetarian heaven.We stopped for a dish of which I am unsure of the name. There was a giant bowl of flaky brown crusted shells. The kind fellow took six of them and first, one by one, inserted small amounts of potato into the shells. Then he added chickpeas cooked in a curry sauce and brilliant spices plus a yoghurt sauce drizzled over the top. Indian street food is an art form. 

Our first driver ripped us off but our second driver was a saint. He had blue green eyes and wore all white. For a small price he helped us buy our train ticket and drove us to a cheap hotel to sleep in for the day. 

Now, as Chris sits across from me I am contemplating what this journey means for me, for us, how it will potentially effect our future and what it will teach us. 

We are sharing our train compartment with two Indian men and an Ethiopian. One quiet but distinguished looking fellow with the staple Indian mustache, big bushy eyebrows, and silver hair. One congenial family man who owns a bookstore in Dheli and is writing a book about education in India. The Ethiopian is dark skinned with a beard lining his chin. He holds beads in his hands and smiles often. He told us about the knowledge of Islam and how it is like a flicker of a flame that lights up a dark room and fills it with the power of sight. He stands to my right chanting prayers as I write. He bathes often by going to the train's sink and wetting his arms and legs. To my left the sun is low in the sky like a tangerine you feel you could reach out and take a bite of it's so close. The orange light illuminates the tips of the surrounding mountains, casting reflections on the water as rays of light dance along the river speeding by us. We will arrive in Delhi by morning and who knows what's to come next. 
End excerpt 

   Our itinerary for the trip.

There is a school break between December 1st to mid January in Africa. For our time off, Chris and I decided prior to coming that we would pursue our shared dream of visiting India and Nepal. My suggestion to any future volunteers would be to buy your plane tickets for the school break prior to coming. It was a big pain to try and purchase tickets with our cards when we are in Africa but our server registers as being in Spain. 

Prior to when we flew out of Dar Es Salaam we spent a few days camping on a beach at an abandoned resort called Silver Sands. The resort seemed to be functioning without any rooms or management. The sign was hanging half broken from a chain as our cab driver approached the resort enclosed by a rock wall, with baboons running across the empty parking lot. Part of me thought that the two men who greeted us might of been scam artists pretending the place still even offered camping options because the only beings in sight were monkeys that now live where the welcome office used to be. All I knew is I wanted to swim in an ocean and eat some fish, so we hesitantly decided to stay. 

We got the opportunity to do both but somehow managed to forget one of the sixteen bottles of sun screen Chris's mom purchased for us before we left. I would tell you we got sun burned but that would be a sever misrepresentation of what happened to us on that beach in Africa. I was so burned that my face took on a different shape and I looked like an old Hmong man. The burn forced us to leave a day early in search of some kind of pain medication that would allow me to not feel my face. That's exactly what I told the woman at the pharmacy we ended up at. I pointed at my singed, swollen face trying to indicate the sun had done this to me and this was not actually how I looked. 

Eventually we found some medicine and were thankful to have already had some ointment with us. We camped out in our hotel for a couple days, hoping the burns would subside quickly considering we needed to carry packs for a month. Besides a small electrical fire in our room and getting locked inside the morning we needed to get to the airport--the beginning of the trip went off without a hitch.

Side note: 
The hotel we found in Lonely Planet was a Muslim owned place with a bustling budget restaurant downstairs. I point out the religious affiliation of the management because the driver that took us there asked us why we would want to stay in a place owned by Muslims. He felt they had ruined Tanzania. All my experiences with Muslim people in my travels have contradicted the demonizing image being painted in the global media. They have been some of the most gentle and hospitable people I've yet to meet--because of their religion, not in spite of it. I recently finished the autobiography of Malcom X. He was a peaceful Muslim who American media painted as an angry, violent man because of his radical and revolutionary beliefs about racism. I think it's important to recognize that whatever media wants to portray, it will. 

As you can see from my journal entry, we landed in Mumbai on December 8th.We were on a mission to meet our friend Pujan in Delhi by the 12th so we could travel together with her to her homeland Nepal. Once in Dehli, the known streetfood capital of India, we ate everything in sight. After four months of a rice and beans diet, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the winding alleys of Dheli full of carts upon carts of fried, spiced everything you can imagine. If you can eat it, Indians can fry it. I sat down for a thimble full of milk coffee with a couple old Indian men on a wooden bench. The one to my left handed me their newspaper because that's just what you do in India mid day. I played badminton with a group of kids in an alleyway. Found a seemingly secret corridor that lead to an apartment complex with a Hindu shrine in the middle. And tried out a rickshaw through Delhi traffic which makes the 110 in Los Angeles look like a raceway. 

 Our first taste of street food in Mumbai.

There are shrines on almost every street in Delhi, decorated with burning incense and flower wreaths. Later in our trip we happened upon the market where many of these flower wreaths were made. It was like the Pike Place of flowers. A flurry of color and floral aroma filling the air around it. The place was pure magic. A market set in an old stone British fort with stairs leading to nowhere and men eating their rice lunch served on giant banana leaves. The merchants all bore huge smiles and welcomed us to take pictures, even asking us to take pictures with them. They were the happiest people I met in India. Guess selling flowers is a joyful racket to get into.

We took a tourist bus to go see the Taj Majal and Agra Fort. Later in the evening, on the way back, we pulled into a dusty old town that looked like something out of an Indian western movie. We got out of the bus to stretch our legs and turned up a side road. There we found a temple much older then the Taj Majal. There was an older man with a round belly and mischievous eyes sitting outside with a group of young men who hung on his every word. He saw me light up about the monkey that was perusing the place with her baby on her back. "You like monkeys?" He said with a sly smile. I had become wary of anyone talking to us at this point because almost always they were trying to sell us something so I brushed off his comment and began walking away. "Wait! Let me show you something." He called after us. Reluctantly I turned around and with my heart pumping I followed him back behind the ancient temple. He told us how it was a temple dedicated to the Lord Baby Krishna and the young gaggle of men with him said we must anoint our heads by the shrine of his feet we passed by. It was a large cement block with baby Krishna footprints in the center. Behind the temple sat hundreds of red faced baboons huddled together for warmth, staring down the bulb of our flashlights with hesitant, fearful eyes. A large male began screaming and within seconds they all joined in, chasing us out of their domain. We found out this man was the owner of this sacred place and they still hold service there every week. But at night, it belongs to the monkeys. 

Smooch in front of the Taj Majal.

From Delhi we took a bus to Kathmandu, Nepal. A city set in a magnificent green mountain range where the people live as they have been living for thousands of years. I saw women carrying heavy baskets with the straps slung across their forehead. Steps carved into the sides of the mountains so that the earth and grass have naturally grown around them. This ingenuity allows them to live and farm on the sides of the mountains. Smoke rising from hay stack structures and cows languishing in the fields. As we neared the city, driving through dangerously narrow and winding roads, we began to see some effects of the earthquake. Damage done to parts of the road and structures being held up by bamboo. Across the lake there was a resort that you used to be able to reach by taking a ski lift. Now that the gondola is gone, locals use the cable cord that used to hold it up to make their way across the lake back to their home with their bare hands. 

We toured the temples of Kathmandu and hiked the hills of Pokhara, Nepal. We watched the sunrise over the Himalayas and meditated in front of one of the World Peace Pagodas. We somehow ate at one of the best Italian restaurants I've ever been to and we drank our first great glass of wine since leaving home. We enjoyed how cheap everything was but were also cognicent that the earthquake has destroyed Nepal's tourism for now and we were reaping the benefits of them being desperate for revenue. 

Monkey Temple in Kathmandu. 

Sometimes the best discoveries are those made with no expectations. In route to Darjeeling, I had no idea it was a city set 7,000 ft high in the clouds or that it would be the dead of winter when we arrived. The car we took kept creeping higher and higher and it began to feel like they were never going to stop. We passed cities upon cities of people living on the cliffsides. The road was overcrowded with tourist adventure vehicles driving people up and down. I had to close my eyes numerous times just to keep from screaming at how dangerously close we were to toppling off the side of the mountain. 

In Darjeeling we stayed in a place that had a giant window exhibiting the breathtaking view of the mountainside and nearby monastery. People have always said I have my head in the clouds, well in Darjeeling I actually did. We drank tea and wandered around, discovering temples and marketplaces along the way. Later that night we found a store owned by a man who inherited the place from his father. We purchased a mask from him which is said to be of the wandering man, a man who wanders the earth alone. His place was like a treasure chest, each piece hand chosen from his travels around India. A nice relief from all the booths selling made in China trinkets. 

A shot from Pokhara, Nepal on the morning 
we hiked up to the World Peace Pagoda.

From Darjeeling we needed to get to Calcutta. I will spare you the gory details of how difficult this was when every single train was booked and there were no buses. But I will tell you we were train stowaways on Christmas and that by the time we got to Chennai we were totally done with traveling for a few days. We traveled thousands of miles around the border of India to get to Chennai to see the most glorious temple in all of India and it happened to be covered with a tarp because they were painting it. We laughed at the absurdity of life and ventured out that day to try and make up for our loss. Chennai had my favorite food in India. They serve a breakfast called dosa which is basically a giant crepe. I ordered an onion dosa so it was filled with diced onions and served with two sauces; a coconut sauce and a mildly sweet, spicy tomato sauce. For a mere $12 Chris and I went to a fine dining restaurant and split a dish which is common in South India. A meaty fish wrapped in banana leaf with a side of prawns biriani (a heavily spiced rice dish), and a vegetable curry.

In Chennai We visited a beach that was covered with enormous amounts of litter, plastic bottles and bags being shoved back onto the sandy shore--bits of glass strewn about. I didn't know how poor a state the planet was in in many parts of the world. It's just a total lack of education. I watched even the most regal looking people in India throw their empty foil chip bags and plastic water bottles out bus windows and into the ocean. 

From Chennai we took a sleeper bus to Goa. I've always wanted to take a sleeper bus and was excited to climb into our very own queen size bed with cushion pillows and fold down seats. We intended on traveling around India by train but ended up taking mostly buses--besides having to stowaway on a couple sold out trains because we had no other option. We had no idea how quickly the trains book up, any train to go anywhere had a waiting list of at least 100 people. The thing about buses in India is that they, like everyone in the country, are the most horn happy people in the world. If they don't have a horn to honk then they'll ring the bell of their bike. So we had more then a few sleepless nights on cross country buses who honked their horns all night, letting out long absurd songs sounding like the royal trumpets to the Smurfs. 

Our friend Pujan as the sun 
rose over the Himalayas.

Goa was insane. It has one of the most infamous NYE parties in the world and there were hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world there to attend it. We got mistaken for being from every country except USA. We took it as a compliment that we don't look American. We also took advantage of saying we were from Africa because people want to charge you more for things where then hear you are from America. 

We wandered around for an hour looking for a hotel when we first got to Goa because everything was either sold out or the price was jacked up for the New Years party tourists. I was getting really worried when we left the tenth place who told us there were no rooms available. With my head down we began walking out of the alleyway of the place. "Hello." An older scrawny Indian man with tanned skin and a full head of silver hair said. "Oh, hi! Are you the reception?" I asked nervously. The crew of people sitting on the stoop of a tiled deck all laughed and told us they basically were. It turns out the Indian man and his girlfriend live in the hotel six months out of the year and then live in her home, Latvia, for the rest of the year. "It's a visa relationship." The Indian man's girlfriend smirked and said to me as she let out a puff of smoke from her cigarette. 

The hotel was perfect. The India man, Vinaya, turned out to be a published author and professor who I got to have many stimulating conversations with about American politics and the meaning of life. His girlfriend hated America, and for the first time in my life I actually felt defensive about my country. I live in a poor village and I have traveled around enough of India to see that we are fortunate to have the freedoms we do. To see how much sacrifice has been made so we can have those freedoms. I thought I hated America too by the time I decided to go to Africa, but now I see the big picture. How lucky we are to have sanitation systems and accessibility to clean water. How lucky we are to have education just handed to us, and healthcare at our fingertips.

In Goa we rented a scooter from our hotel and Chris took us joyriding around the island all day. We swam in the Arabian sea and ate incredible Goan food. The best places were always family owned. Restaurants that are run right out of their own kitchen. We had as much prawns curry and fresh calamari as we could take. New Years Eve we made sure to try fenny, a Goan alcohol must-have made from fermented cashew. The beach was full of a sea of dancing, wasted Indian men losing their minds as fireworks exploded against the night sky. Vinaya warned us that these men are so repressed in there own culture that they totally lose their minds when they party in Goa. 

Sunrise from our tree fort.

Our last night in town we moved out of our hotel and camped out in a tree fort right on the beach. We watched the sun rise and fall and I sent out a paper lantern with a secret wish for the New Year. When I left Africa for India I wasn't sure what was going to happen. We had this crazy plan to cover hundreds of miles in a month by train and weren't sure if it could actually be pulled off. But together, we did it. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it. I feel like every time I travel my scope gets a little larger. Like my vision started off as a pinhole but it gets stretched a little more each time. If you don't travel then all you have is a narrow point of view influenced heavily by your limited surroundings. By seeing how other people live I think I become more in touch with the unity of the world. How similar the most basic desires of all people are. 

I've learned how to say no this year which is an invaluable lesson I'll take with me forever. As a woman this is a lesson we all must learn in a society which tells us to 'say yes to the dress.' I learned how to stay calm under pressure and handle high stress situations, like being so sure that we would never find a hotel in Goa. I further realized what a great team Chris and I make, and it deepened our connection in a way that only traveling together can.

Our trip ended where we started, in Mumbai. Mumbai is the most modern city we visited in India. From the moment we stepped out of the train station I was struck by the grand British looking architecture. It was a beautiful city to get lost in and we spent most of our time doing just that. We saw a strange Bollywood movie staring an alcoholic father who disowns his whole family because they made him move out of the house. I was flabbergasted each time the audience laughed at parts where he was extremely offensive towards women. I think if you want to know the role of a woman in a culture just watch their films and television. On our second day we walked down to the Gateway of India and took a 60 minute ferry ride to Elephanta Island. It's an ancient island full of grand caves with intricate Hindi art carved into them. We played chess on top of an old cannon and I had to run from a cow that tried to chase me down for my corn on the cob. Beware of the monkeys and cows of Elephanta Island, they will jack your snacks. 

Now we are back in Berega, and it feels good to be home. It's mid rainy season and pouring in sheets like I've never seen. The place became a tropical green wonderland overnight. Yesterday it started up while I was teaching in a classroom with no power and a tin roof. It was like bullets were being fired in a darkened room. I was trying to teach verbs by yelling over the apocalypse happening outside the window. One adorable nine year old in my class, Abraham, kept telling me, "Teacher, I am concerned." He lives across the river and when it rains like this it floods so he cannot cross it. There was no way I could keep teaching. We needed to get back to the school so the kids could get home. The dirt road was flooded up to our ankles. The second we stepped into the rain we were drenched like we had gone through a car wash. Laughing so hard it was hard to run, I ran with a group of ten soaking wet kids to the school a quarter mile away. 

I am home and we've got some work to do in preparation for this new school year. My first priority is putting together a class for the African teachers. There were issues last year with them continuing to pinch the kids as a form of punishment. I need to figure out a way to bridge the cultural divide between us so they can understand how there are alternatives to corporal punishment that work better. I am also interested in volunteering with the local orphanage to help teach the kids reading. I'm working with the older kids at our school this semester and loving it so far. They are engaged in learning and unbelievably respectful. They are the group of students who has been with the school the longest, meaning they started out in kindergarten and now have worked their way all the way up to fifth grade only at our school. If our fifth graders are any indication of how the school is doing in educating young minds, I would say its doing extraordinary.


Be free.

A few weeks ago Chris and I did our visa run to Malawi. We have discovered how difficult it is to get a work permit. The two Tanzanians in charge of everything to do with Hands4Africa are named Ruth and Isaac Mgogo. Ruth has been trying to get us the permit since we got here. Since we don't have a work permit, we are still technically tourists. This means we need to leave Tanzania every three months to stay legal. It seems like it would be a pain, but actually it's a great opportunity to go check out other areas of Africa.

View from the summit of a mountain we 
climbed in Berega.

Our first destination from our village Berega was to go to the neighboring city of Morogoro. I say neighboring but that is a relative term here. We take a pikipiki (motorcycle) to Keigaya junction--about three miles. Then we get herded like Masaii cattle into a noah (minivan) while everyone is shouting, "mzungu, mzungu!" (white person) as if they haven't seen us several times before. We wait in the minivan while sixteen more people and a chicken are loaded in. The ride to Morogoro can take anywhere from two to five hours depending on how many stops the driver chooses to make. Once there, we are bombarded by pikipiki and taxi drivers looking to make some dough. They crowd around and try and grab your bags, attempting to lead you in the direction of their ride. We are used to this now and have gotten good at brushing them off and saying a firm, “hamna.” (no) 

There was one time we were going on a Saturday outing to the Masaii market when I lost my temper on one of the guys trying to overcharge us. This is a constant problem wherever we go. I was told by the head teacher at St. Mary's, Noel, that there is a myth in Tanzania. People think all whites live in Palaces and have endless amounts of money. I argued with the man trying to overcharge us, repeating "elfu saba, not elfu tisa!" (seven thousand shillings, not nine thousand shillings!) I said, “fine! Hamna ride!” I went and stood by the side of the road with my arms crossed, fuming that this guy and so many others were trying to pull one over on me. Five minutes later we got in the noah and paid the nine thousand shillings.

From the day we took a trip the the Masaii market. 
It was so crowded we had to stand with our head
out of the sunroof.

In Morogro, the first thing we did was take a taxi to our favorite expat restaurant, Dragon Air. They have a veggie burger that would be good even in the US. And like everywhere, their ‘chips’ are always fresh cut potatoes. They also serve a side salad, which we never get in Berega. Everything must be cooked here to avoid getting sick.  We split a bottle of wine and basked in the freedom of having a week off from teaching. After dinner while waiting for our taxi we decided to go onto the kids playground. I slid down the aerodynamically challenged slide and severely bruised my tailbone when I landed hard onto the ground. We had a week ahead of us full of 5-12 hour long, crowded bus rides where I had to come up with creative ways to sit sideways.

The next morning we boarded our bus for Malawi. We were pleasantly surprised when it was extremely comfortable and the driver even gave us free sodas. After reading the blogs of past volunteers, I expected to be in the back of a pick up truck. But the ride there was relatively comfortable and serene. Our surroundings steadily got greener. The real African bush jungle surrounded us before long. Rolling green hills and palm trees jetting up out of the ground. Baboons running along side the road or sitting, staring at the passing cars like little old men. The road seemed to be a part of it’s surrounding rather then something put there by men. Semi trucks came towards us like speeding bullets, honking with all their might every time they passed us. I thought for sure they were going to kill us. The roads, as I said, are like a part of their surroundings—very narrow and barely big enough for cars to pass on either side. Drivers like to pull into the lane that is not theirs to pass cars. This creates many accidents. I can’t tell you how many overturned cars we saw during our week of travel.

The closer we got to Malawi, the more beautiful it became. Where we live, it is winter going into spring. It was as dry as a desert when we left. In Malawi, they always have moisture in the air. It keeps everything vibrant and provides enough food for them year round. We pulled into the town right before the border, Kyela, late into the night. A tall, kind young guy who spoke impressive amounts of English for only having finished the seventh grade, waited for us to finish eating and walked us to a cheap hotel for the night. He told us to be careful, that people may see us and think we have lots of money. I realized at that moment that we had trusted him far too much. What if when he said he would walk us to our hotel, he had mugged us instead? Chris and I talked about how we needed to be more careful next time. The room had a cot, television chained to the wall, and a bathroom with a staple African toilet: a hole in the ground with a plastic cup to do your business. The shower water drains into the toilet. This brought a whole new meaning to, ‘don’t drop the soap.’ We were glad to get out of there by morning.

Kyela looks like it just survived a hurricane. The sidewalks were all uprooted. Piles of trash on fire littered the streets. We had no idea how to get to the bus station that would take us to the border, so I asked a guy with a nice shirt and slacks. Usually you can judge who speaks English by the kind of clothes they are wearing. But I still can get surprised. He not only walked us to where the busses were, he took Chris on his motorcycle on an ATM run so we could have money to exchange at the border. I sat and waited for them, hoping we didn’t make a mistake trusting yet again. As I was waiting, two older men called me over to where they were working operating an oil stand for the motorcycles. “Habari za asabuhi,” (good morning) they said as they motioned me over with an open arm gesture. I know a small amount of Swahili now and was able to say a couple greeting phrases back. I sat next to the old man on the bench and he kindly welcomed me to Kyela. We sat quietly next to each other as people walked by and waved. I felt at ease sitting there. I knew Chris would be okay. Turns out the guy who drove Chris to the ATM worked for the government. If we had been staying that night he would have had us over to his house for a dinner with his family. We had the best of luck with hospitality in Kyela, I will always be thankful to the people who helped us find our way.

In Malawi, most people speak English. English and Chechewa are their national languages. Getting across the border went off without a hitch. We needed to fill out some forms and get our passports stamped and we were on our way. We took a taxi to a hotel Liz recommended. Our driver was the first to tell us the phrase, be free, something we often heard during our few days stay. Beach Chamber Hotel was a lakeside safe haven, almost eerily calm. We were one of a couple guests. Hollowed out tree trunk boats scattered across the lakeshore. Men were bringing in catches. Women took them to dry out on a field of drying racks. We took a walk along the drying racks on our second day and found that some of the fishermen live underneath them. Our first night, we had the first fish we had eaten in ages. It was one of the best meals of my life. So satisfying after not eating anything but rice and beans for four months. Lake Malawi has many different varieties of fish, but the main one they choose to serve is chambo (tilapia) because the white tourists like it. They grilled up a whole tilapia for with a huge serving of rice and vegetables. I’ve always had a weak stomach for eating fish that still has its bones and eyes. I feel like it is judging me for eating it. But definitely not this time. It’s amazing how much we are capable of reevaluating our standards based on our circumstances.

At sunrise the next morning Chris and I made our way down to lakeshore. Lake Malawi is one of the biggest lakes in the world. We were told it’s as big as the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco. As the sun was rising, it looked like the lake melted into the sky. The pale pink hues and soft blues were like wisps of paint on a soft, grey canvas. We climbed into one of the young fisherman’s boats and he took us on a ride over to a small off shooting island. We went on a short walk, enjoying of the feeling of the sand in our toes. I watched as one of the fishermen pulled his boat, full of sardines, up onto the shore.

The sun rising over Lake Malawi.

Around dinnertime, I spotted the other guest at the hotel. An older white man with kind eyes and a golfers cap. He looked similar to Gene Wilder from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I asked him where he was from and he said, “New York originally, but I’ve been here in Malawi for many years.” We came to find out this was a truly remarkable man. Peter Daino moved to Malawi when he enlisted in the Peace Corps and has been there ever since. He used to be a Catholic ‘brother’ a new term I learned, akin to a nun. He helped to build a trade school for orphans that offers practical coursework such as hospitality, farming, and tailoring. It’s African run, and they manage to keep the tuition extremely low. Now he is working with Catholic nuns at an orphanage for small children. He told us of numerous organizations that could possibly help to build a secondary school one day in Berega. I was inspired by this man’s character. It is not every day you meet someone so inherently selfless.

Peter happened to have a friend, Daniel, drop by who worked at a nearby orphanage. Daniel offered to let us come check it out before we were going to set out back to Tanzania the next morning. Lucubilo orphanage began with just one nun and a few orphans. She found a small, broken down building to house orphans and had a dream of building something larger. The nun who started it was awarded the Opus prize, the Nobel Peace Prize of humanitarian work for Social Justice. The award is worth one million dollars, to be put towards the organization. The hub, where we visited, houses up to one hundred orphans at a time. They have a preschool and primary school on site. We were given a tour of the whole premises.

As we were walking through the girls’ dormitory, Daniel told us the den mother for this dorm had adopted one of the children, and that she will choose not to tell the child she is not his biological mother. This child was found abandoned in the mud with flies all over his little face. We were followed by joyful, barefoot kids enjoying their day off school. It was a holiday similar to Dia De Los Muertos on that warm breezy day. We met one boy who was physically and mentally disabled so that he was seventeen but looked four. If it weren’t for this place, you can be assured he would not be alive. Today Lucubilo has reached over 12,000 children. They developed a program where they go into villages throughout Malawi and build a board of people who will know how to properly look after the orphans in the village. If the orphan still has a home after losing their parents, then they are able to stay there with a guardian looking after them. Lucubilo provides funds to helps raise them by planting small farms in each village. The profits from selling the vegetables goes directly towards helping the child stay in school and be fed. They have people from the hub orphanage periodically go check that the farm is being kept up and the orphans are being taken care of. The nun who started it all was highly intelligent and completely modest. I felt like I was watching an angel speak, the light coming through the window making a halo around her face. I imagined each wrinkle carving beautiful lines in her chocolate skin was there for a life she had saved.

Next stop was the Malawi border heading back into Tanzania. I sat next to a gentlemen who explained to me the meaning behind the expression I so often heard, ‘be free.’ Malawi was one of the very last places to still have a slave trade. Slave trade was introduced in the 19th Century following a great demand for ivory. The Swahili -Arabs moved further into the interior of Africa including Malawi to obtain slaves and ivory. Dr. David Livingstone was a Scottish missionary and explorer. He visited in l861 where he witnessed slave trade at its peak. He got horrified in the way slaves were handled. He was able to secure a treaty. The treaty did not last long though and it was up until Nyasaland came under the British region in 1891 that slave trade in Malawi completely came to cease. Malawi was one of the last African countries to be freed from the slave trade. Malawian’s say to be free because they never forget their gratitude for having their freedom.

Ruaha National Park where we did a safari. 
We saw Elephants, a cheetah, Gazelles and many others.

The rest of our trip was mostly stop and go. We stopped at hotels along the way back and enjoyed hot showers and good food. The best meals we had were in Iringa: a clean, quaint little town who is developing rapidly. We were not stared at. In fact people barely noticed us. I only heard someone say mzungu one time. I enjoyed studying the clothing of the women. It was a cross section between old Africa and new, still with brightly covered patterns but a little more riskay. The people of Iringa are accustomed to having tourists come through to stay at their famous hotel, Naema’s Place. Naema’s is run by two Americans that employ only disabled adults. All the waiters are deaf and the menu gives you some African Sign Language cues to communicate. They have a work studio and crafts store downstairs with an amazing selection of cute clothes and hand crafted household items. They also serve a killer cup of coffee and delicious chocolate cake. All the proceeds go towards the disabled community of Iringa.

By the time we arrived back in Berega, I was happy to be home. We missed the first rain while we were away, and the place had transformed overnight. All the dried up trees were now blanketed in fresh smelling leaves. The grass was sprouting up all over our yard. Bright orange and pink flowers decorated the treetops. Rainy season has arrived and the people of Berega are happy to have their prayers answered of food and abundant water supply.

My preschool students proudly showing 
off some drawings they did of me.


Water and Waste

I will never think about water or waste in the same way. My approach towards conservation and use are changing rapidly and drastically. One month ago when I did dishes I let water run in between washing each dish. I threw away things with little thought to what I was putting in the trash because we have a waste management system that makes it easy for us. In our first week in Berega, we spent a great deal of time cleaning out the house. Getting rid of anything left behind from previous volunteers. We ended up with three large boxes full of trash we needed to burn. To us, a few spoonfuls of someone's spice and empty containers meant nothing. To us, if the handle of a bug zapper was broken we weren't going to find any use out of it. We didn't want someone's Lubriderm or comb. To us, it was all junk.

 Some of my cuties in preschool at recess

The kids came over and began rifling through the boxes excitedly squealing, "Teacher, teacher, can I have?!" Within an hour we had three happy kids with overflowing baskets of treasures balancing on their heads. One little girl dropped a bit of one of her spices on the ground and swept it from the ground back into the small plastic bag. They waste nothing. Never have I seen a person so excited to get shampoo. It was then, within my first week of being here that I realized the same kids--the same poised kids in crisp white shirts and with yearning, attentive faces in my classroom, were the same kids who would eat a potato out of a burning trash pile and live in makeshift homes made of twigs and thatch roofs. How do you give homework to a kid who doesn't own a pencil?

We have been having some behavioral issues in our classrooms lately. A select few of the kids are acting pretentious and entitled. Like we owe them things. As if the ones who come to our houses are somehow better then the others. It creates rifts in the classroom. It is beginning to make me wonder if we should have them over at all. So currently our house will serve only as a library to them instead of a play center where they can come and look through all of our things asking, "Teacher, can I have?" Then when we say no. "But teacher, you can just buy another." Although it's dichotomous you see. On one hand, I want to give them everything and cook for them every meal and allow them to feel like our home is a place where they can play with toys rather then dead birds and burnt trash. On the other hand when you have a sudden influx of things being given to a group of kids who have never had anything, there is the potential of them becoming spoiled. Which is what is happening. I think that in time we will find a balance between giving them our kindness but also commanding some respect.
One of the beautiful little girls from a Maasai village we visited

Twice we had an issue with some kids playing a prank on us 'mzungus.' (word for white person meaning one who wanders around in circles all day) We came home to find all our water faucets had been turned on full blast. On Friday we took a trip to the neighboring city, Morogoro. I use the term neighboring loosely, as it takes a 20 minute piki piki (motorcycle) and 2 hour noah (minivan) ride to get there. When we returned our water had been on for at least three hours and we had a backyard full of mud. We asked some of our favorite girls to keep an eye out for who did it and told them we would reward them with a sheet of stickers. Sure enough they found the culprits, some village kids who we promptly visited today and scolded with one of my students translating for me. It's funny--the things that used to stress me out and the things that stress me out now. If we run out of water, (and now that at least 1000 liters have been wasted, it's very likely) we don't get any more until rainy season in a few months. That is our only drinking water. The ground water gets refilled twice a week but when we run out Chris is taking trips over to the other volunteers houses to fill up buckets so we can flush the toilet. 

The kids travel down to the dry lake to pump water out of the ground and carry it on their heads back a mile or two to their homes. That ground water is unfiltered and full of dirt and other bacteria, and they drink it out of empty soy sauce bottles or reused plastic water bottles for months. I didn't have a legitimate shower the first couple of weeks and felt pretty grimy but the majority of the kids are lucky to get their bodies wet once a week. They have a very distinct and endearing, 'village kid' smell. Getting a phone was kind of hassle and we were feeling a bit sorry for ourselves having to walk back and forth fetching different copies and such to get them turned on. I was siting on the bench outside the phone store (a wooden shed) when a small boy sat next to me with dirt encrusted into his hands and bare feet and a runny nose. He sat silently next to me, just staring ahead into space. No one is watching these kids grow up and so they are raising each other. It is common to see girls ten or younger with babies slung across their backs walking around the village. Boys who aren't in school can be seen spending their days herding cows in the dry lake. (which will be overflowing when rainy season hits) Well, let me clarify. There are 'village kids' which are the ones who are running around unable to afford school and then there are the kids who are fortunate enough to either receive scholarship or have parents that can send them to school. Even those kids end up running into issues when their parents don't pay for months at a time and we have to send them home for a week until if and when their school fees are paid.

My Chris with some of the kids at recess our first week

It's a different world here. Men and women are like two different species, only fraternizing with one another for baby making, and then going back to their own sex for any kind of socializing. Men and men may hold hands but women and men holding hands is looked at with disapproving, uncomfortable glances. It seems to me, and I say 'seems to me' intentionally because it's merely my own observations, that women are second class citizens yet they do most of the hard work. Men seem to mostly hang about all day while women are carrying heavy containers on their heads and making maize. This is an over generalization as of course there are many exceptions to this--men who work at the plantation and drivers transporting human waste to the plantation all day. This is one of the many wonderful projects Hands4Africa has created. They funded new toilets which are sheds with a hole in the ground and hay to cover the smell. Throughout the day the waste is removed and taken to the farm to be used as fertilizer.

Everywhere we go we hear light chuckles and most times I say, 'Jambo' (hello) I get laughed at. Many kids come chasing us down the street, holding our hands and yelling for us 'wazungus' to take their pictcha. But people are mostly kind, and each day it gets easier. We go to the one restaurant in town every other day for a cheap, tasty lunch of rice and beans. (walli maharage) At first we could tell they were not that into serving us. And it was stressful because we knew such little Swahili. We still don't speak Swahili but we've learned the employees names and we've learned to laugh at ourselves a bit--realizing that their giggles are not meant to be patronizing. It's always funny when you don't speak the same language as someone but you're trying to communicate.

We are coming up with new ways to work with their limited variety of ingredients. My favorite meal we've made so far has to be a rice, potato, tomato, onion soup I made along with some yucca that Chris fried up. We are learning how to shop at their Monday market. The price they give the first time is never the actual price, you can always bargain. Especially since they always mark things up for the mzungus. To every one here, we are rich. If only they knew that technically we are the poorest of them all with our very American student loans debt. At the last market I purchased some fabric to take to the tailor and get a head scarf and bag made. The head scarf is to cover my newly bald head from the African sun. I already got a mild burn going on--the only downside I've yet to see of being a baldie. I decided last weekend that I was sick of having an itchy, dirty head all the time so I asked Chris to shave my head and let me tell you, it feels wonderful. I feel light, clean, and fresh. And it makes getting ready in the morning a breeze. I've noticed that all the women I run into now are more keen towards me and they love to rub my head. Something I've always wanted to do and where better in the world to do it then in a place where people who are not bald are the minority.

As I write this, Chris is out in the backyard handwashing our laundry. It takes a couple of hours to do a large load but he insists on doing it himself rather then hiring the local women who does it for the other volunteers. I think we both enjoy the sensation of feeling as if we are living in a different time period. He starts at the plantation tomorrow. We ran into one of the men in charge today, Frank, and he seemed incredibly kind. He'll be joining us for what I've heard is going to be an arduous hike up one of the nearby mountains next Saturday.

We were just talking about how we will want to spend money when we get back. It costs about $300 for a kid to go to school for a year here. We probably spent that just in eating out alone within a few months back home. If you are not shopping at a thrift store then you could easily spend three hundred dollars on a couple clothes shopping trips. It's absurd how much money we waste--just like water and trash we treat it like there is an endless supply. In some ways, the way they take care of waste here is more efficient. (although admittedly in most ways the system needs a lot of work) They reuse anything that could possibly be recycled. Kids make their own bicycles out of scrap pieces of wood. They are ingenious creations. I saw a wheelchair in the hospital made out of a lawn chair and bicycle tires. The only things they throw away get burnt in large dug holes all over the place. The issue is litter. They don't even know what the word is. In a recent quiz Chris gave, a student responded to the question 'what is litter?' with a: Litter is something that helps your beaver. My new mission will be to help teach these kids to pick up trash and put it in burn piles so they do not have trash surrounding their homes and dirtying up an otherwise magnificently beautiful landscape.

My favorite meal we've had yet, a tomato vegitable soup
with fried yucca root

I teach preschool in the morning and standard three and two in the afternoon. My preschoolers are absolutely adorable but they don't speak English. I have the hard job of working with a group of fifteen 4-8 year olds who mostly don't know what I'm saying and have only ever been taught to memorize. This is a huge issue with the African way of teaching and I hope that our influence will teach these teachers that unless kids understand core concepts then they can memorize all they want but still fail to understand. I'm showing the kids a movie once a week in hopes that hearing the English will be good for them. We listen to music and dance at recess and I wish I could get a video of these kids getting down with their bad selves because it's the cutest thing I've ever seen. We are working through shapes, numbers, math concepts, vocabulary, and spelling. On Fridays I let them color for an hour and it's funny, they find that to be extremely difficult. They've never seen so many crayons in their life and they are constantly come up to my desk saying "Teachuh loooooook," because they don't know if they are doing it right.

They are doing a great job, but it's a slow process and luckily I am a pretty patient person. The biggest struggle with them, as with my other classes is commanding respect. We don't speak the same language or have the same skin color so they test their limits and our patience. My standard 2 class is a personality development/information technology/vocation combined course and it's just 45 minutes so I am teaching a wide variety of subjects and coming up with creative approaches to make it fun for them. I was excited to find out they didn't know what poetry was. I brought in one of my favorite Maya Angelou poems and got to explain what slavery was to them--a heavy task. I was able to teach them about the power of education and how liberating literature can truly be through the words of Angelou's poem. It was my best teaching moment yet. Their eyes were wide and they sat at the edge of their seats. Afterwards they all got to write their own poems and read them in front of the class. My standard three English class would pass their final even if they took it now. They are incredibly bright and a little too smart for their own good sometimes since I can't seem to get them to sit down and concentrate on the lesson. In our last few classes I had them create an autobiography. I helped them construct little books. They had never seen a stapler before and were fascinated. They were to write and illustrate four pages discussing what they wanted their life to be like in 20 years. One girl said she wanted to grow up to be a doctor so she could help the sick, poor people of Africa who needed medical attention. I think it was a great assignment for kids who are not usually encouraged to think too far into their own future.

Africa is beginning to feel like our home, as we settle in further which each passing day. Last night Chris and I played one of my favorite childhood games 'mancala' by candlelight in the kids play room and I though to myself--happiness is simple. We over complicate the term in the states, attaching things and money to the idea of a happy life. But the kids here have nothing, and I have never met such happy kids. I think it's important to appreciate all the freedoms of choice and education we have in America, but in that same vein I think it is important to put down all of our 'stuff' sometimes i.e. phones, technology, television, media and connect in the way they connect with each other here. Through eating meals together, (that take hours of preparation to make) being outside and getting dirty, or by playing mancala by candlelight.


Home sweet home

View from the morning we flied into Ethiopia

We left the states one week and one day ago today. Hard to believe because it feels like it's been months. The trip got off to a rough start when we were held up at the airport in San Francisco. They didn't want to let us on our plane because we do not have a return ticket yet. This is because it is extremely difficult to buy a round trip ticket to Africa or anywhere out of the country for that matter when your return date is a year later. I have not been through the process of renewing a visa yet but I know we will be going to Kenya or Malawi every three months to do it because getting a visa for a year in Africa is extremely expensive and difficult. After a stressful few minutes and a couple frantic emails to Dr. Logan, (the director of H4A) we were called up to begin checking in our bags. We packed for a little over a week and did our best to try to consolidate down to four 50 pound bags but that turned about to be a lot less room then I anticipated. We brought two bags of donations and Chris's mom purchased a fifth bag for us for $150 which was packed full of spices, oils, and supplements that we fought her on, but are now ever thankful for having. We have enough sunscreen and bug spray to last us for about three years and enough supplements to fill a small supermarket--so thanks Cindy! Between those gifts and the REI shopping spree my big brother took me on, I feel pretty over prepared. 

Our flight to DC was a redeye so we arrived in the morning and shortly after boarded our long, grueling flight to Ethiopia. (Not really, I slept most of the time while Chris rubbed my feet) He wrote me a beautiful letter on a barf bag while I was sleeping and when I woke up I wrote him one in return. They are hung up in our bedroom and serve as a reminder that no matter how challenging things may get while we are here, we won't forget that we are in this together. As we landed the plane, Chris and I immediately noticed how green everything was. The land was sprawling green flatlands, moisture hanging in the spring scented air. The airport in Ethiopia was about the size of one terminal of SFO. The walls were stained brown and the speaker system broken so when they said anything into the microphone it sounded like they were attempting to speak over the sound of a fifty car pile up. There was a sharp contrast in the people-- between Muslims draped in their black veils, African women dressed elegantly in long skirts popping and alive with bright colors and matching button up shirts, African businessmen in Khakis with polished shoes white button up shirts, Americans backpackers on their way to Kilimanjaro, and European families and couples on holiday. Chris and I had our backpacks we brought for when we travel through India in December, so I guess as far as strangers could discern, we looked like just another couple of backpackers.

We approached our terminal but were turned away and told to come back at nine, just 45 minutes before we were to begin boarding. So we moved aside and found seats, a challenging endeavor because the small airport was packed with people. As we waited some Africans sitting next to us had what looked to be a heated discussion but for all we knew they were talking about the weather. At about 8:30 I looked over towards the entrance to the gates and noticed a sea of people flooding towards the entrance in an unorganized mob fashion. I thought, uh oh, and we quickly gathered our bags, rushing over and trying not to stress about missing our flight and getting stuck in this hot place where I couldn't remove my sweater for fear of seeming immodest. After an hour and a half of waiting in the line to cross over to where all the gates were, we made it in seemingly just the nick of time. But our gate got changed and no one seemed to know where to. The attendant we spoke to was asking passengers at gates what flights they were waiting for to try to determine where our gate was and we were beginning to get worried considering it was 10am. With sweat dripping down our foreheads we picked up our bags for the third time and were told to run to the other end of the small airport to find out that wasn't our gate either, but at 10:20--just ten minutes before we were suppose to take off, we were calmly told in half English by a smiling attendant not to worry and to go sit at gate 4. 

Our flight to Dar Es Salaam was smooth and easy. We weren't originally seated together but a kind gentlemen gave up his seat to us. As we landed everyone clapped and a group in the back started singing African songs, it felt like home. When you exit the plane in Dar you walk off into a small room where you fill out a card stating your purpose of visit and where you'll be staying and who to contact to vouch for you. We waited in line and took that card up to a booth where they took a picture of us and we payed $100, which is twice what Europeans pay, I guess because they think all Americans are rich. Brad (H4A Director) covered the cost of our visas by depositing money into our account a couple days before we left. You need to get a hundred dollar bill out before leaving home and I think it has to be passed the year 2010. This covers a one year in and out visa, but we will still need to get it renewed after three months because it technically only covers three months. They took our passports and said wait at the other end and they will call your name. A man in a military looking uniform with a flashing smile and quick wit was yelling out names and when he got to Chris's, I went to grab it. He looked confused. I said, "Oh that's my boyfriend..." and pointed over to where Chris was sitting with all of our bags. He handed me the passport and then when he got to mine shouted, "Girlfriend, girlfriend, is there a girlfriend around here?"

On the other side of where you get your visa, you make a short visit to customs and throw all your bags through an x-ray machine. They semi glance at it and your on your way. We were greeted by the H4A driver, a native from Berega named Abdalah. He had a piece of paper with our names on it and excitedly waved us over. He grabbed my cart and quickly sped through the crowds of people, an expert at navigating through large masses. We lagged behind and then realized we still needed to exchange our money, so he turned around and showed us where to go. We brought $200 (our first pay from Brad) and were given 1USD to 1800TSH (Tanzanian shilling). That is an okay exchange rate, if I could go back I would of waited to exchange at the hotel, they had a better exchange rate. From there Abdalah took us to our hotel, the Ritz Carlton of Dar Es Salaam, Nikko Tower. At least four different men popped out of nowhere to help us with our bags. One helped us up to our room where we consequentially passed out for I don't know how many hours after a nice, long sulfur smelling shower. Located in a large alleyway in what looked to be a predominantly Muslim part of town, Nikko Tower stood 8 stories high with a restaurant located on the middle floor. We stopped there once we woke up and had a very delicious rice with vegetables dish with a staple African sauce made up of tomato, ginger, onion, and garlic. Afterwards we took an evening stroll around the block and heard music bellowing out from the second story of a nearby building, christmas lights strewn up around a crisp white room. A Dar nightclub, I thought. Men hanging out and chatting all over the up heaved sidewalk. Children were indoors at this time but adults loitered about everywhere, chatting and laughing. Taxis seemed to be racing down the street with no regard for pedestrians. The smell of burning trash pierced our nostrils as we walked hand in hand, silently smirking--taking in this entirely different world.

View from our room in Nikko Tower

We awoke early to the sound of hymns coming from the loudspeaker at the mosk next door. We had an extra day to hang out in Dar because Liz and Marianne had taken a trip to Zanzibar and we were all going to ride to Berega together with Abdalah. I looked up things to do in Dar and found a beach described as "serene and quite, free of tourists," just a short ferry ride away. Around 8am we took the Kigamboni ferry across to what American's call 'South Beach.' We were the only tourists in sight. As we later found out, (lying on the beach at an almost completely abandoned resort) there is a presidential election going on in Tanzania right now and this tends to scare tourists away. Some men approached us to practice their English and also try to sell us scarves. They warned us to keep our things with us at all times and not walk far from the resort because men wait all day and hide in the bushes with machetes, waiting to pray on even other Africans. One of the men told us that his only income comes from tourism. He supports his wife and two boys with only the small amount of money he makes selling to tourists up and down the beach. As Chris and I sped away from the resort, (me clutching tightly to the driver going far too fast on our motorcycle) I took a close look at our surroundings. Everything was designed to cater to the tourists. All the carved wooden sculptures and brightly covered scarves. I noticed that in the city the only college I saw was one for hospitality. It seems to me that this is a fragile, limited economy and it is only natural for people to be driven to steal during 'dry' tourist seasons.

Walking up to the ferry to go to South Beach

Both boarding and exiting the ferry, I felt a new and uncomfortable feeling of being a minority settle within me. People looked at us like aliens. My knees were showing and I felt self conscious. I could feel people staring wherever we went, and who could blame them? We are funny looking, pale little people in big hats. We walked for awhile, taking in all the sights of motorcycles humming by with 2-3 people on them, humongous slabs of red meat hanging, women carrying heavy empty gas barrels of water on their heads, and men balancing incredible amounts of farm fresh food on the back of their bikes. Deciding it was unlikely we would ever find this beach on our own. we hopped on the back of a guy's motorcycle and he took us to South Beach. He originally told us 6000 shillings ($3.50) but doubled it when we pulled up to the resort, stating "That was for one of you." So we learned an important lesson there about clarifying our prices with people prior to riding anywhere with them or buying anything from them.

We arrived back to Dar around 11:00am. It felt much later because I had been up since 4am, Chris since 2. Jetlag is a drag. Decided to just walk until we found food, figuring we would be able to hail a taxi and get back to Nikko Tower without a hitch. We walked...and walked, and walked some more. In a daze from a morning of culture shock, the East Indian shoreline to our left full of cargo ships. Little boys with baskets full of candies made kissing sounds at us as we passed. Cold water was offered for 500 tsh, just twenty five cents. The ferry ride was 200 tsh each which amounts to 20 cents each. I was still surprised at how cheap everything is. Finally we decided to take a side road and found the business district of Dar where people looked to be coming and going from work, dressed as if they came straight from the 1940s with button ups and khaki pants and shoes that shined in the African sun beating down on us. This is wintertime and it was still close to 90 degrees that day. We took another alleyway and happened upon a restaurant with no name. Sitting down and looking at the menu we realized nothing was in English and no one spoke English, so we pointed. To our right was a man eating rice, beans, greens, and a fish so that seemed well enough. Their tomato sauce is sweet and savory--mixed with the flavor of the sourkraut and pinto beans, it was an unforgettable meal. The fish looked like it was plucked out of the ocean and thrown right onto the grille, eyes and all. We later found out fish is the number one cause of typhoid and you can catch typhoid even if you've had the vaccination, so I'm glad that one was enjoyable because it will be our meat for this year.

After the restaurant we were exhausted and hopped on the first taxi we found. The taxi we took are common around this area of Dar, though I've heard they are illegal and not suppose to be driven. I'm starting to realize that legality here is pretty flexible term. A 'tuk tuk' is sort of like an ATV with a large cover over it. They are able to go onto the beach and they go about 50mph, weaving in and out of traffic with no problem. Our driver did not speak English and did not know where our hotel was so we had two strikes against us. He pulled over to ask another driver where to go and the driver ended up telling us to just come with him. We hopped on out and took a 10,000 tsh ($5.00) ride back to Nikko Tower. I almost felt bad for the young driver we were leaving who looked defeated as he lost his sale and we climbed in the other taxi. I was surprised to read the time--it was only 2pm! How could so much of happened in such a short time. Felt like we had been to Mars and back.

At South Beach with a herd of wild cows

The next morning at 7:30am sharp Abdalah was there to take us to pick up Liz and Marianne at a nearby hostel. Took us over an hour because we got stuck in the definition of a traffic jam, (life without traffic lights) and stopped/bribed by a policeman. He asked Abdalah to pull over and told him that he couldn't make out his front license plate. Speaking in Swahili he called a passerby over and was motioning towards the front of our car with his baton. Chris and I didn't know what was going on and nervously twiddled our thumbs until the grinning officer came by our window and shouted, "Mambo!" I just smiled back and kept saying Mambo without realizing he was trying to teach me the proper response which is 'poa.' He walked away and called Abdalah over. They were speaking for a couple of minutes before Abdalah came back shaking his head and started up the van. The officer had told him he would write him a ticket for 30,000 tsh ($15) but when Abdalah didn't have that much money on him the officer told him to just give him whatever he had on him which was 5000 tsh. When Abdalah said, "No, that's corruption." The officer replied, "If you don't like corruption then I will write you the ticket for 30,000." And that was that. Law enforcement in Africa. We got pulled over like this several more times on the way to Berega. Each time an officer standing by the side of the road would motion us over. One time a women officer asked us for our juice that was in the back of the van. The other times they just wanted to see what the white people were doing in Africa.

The drive to Berega took over six hours. We stopped in Morogoro (a town about two hours from Berega) to go to the Market and pick up our groceries for the week. It was an experience. Right away we were flooded with anxious, sweaty faces invading our personal space with fruits and veggies and yelling into our ears, "YOU WANT BANANA?" They shouted. "YOU WANT ZUCCHINI I GET YOU GOOD ZUCCHINI?" As far as they were concerned we were made of money, and they wanted us to buy everything but they didn't want to give us any change. Chris accidentally made a boy with a mango almost completely lose it because he mistakenly lead him to believe he wanted to buy it but then didn't. The boy followed us to our car yelling and trying to push the mango on us, with tears shimmering behind his eyes. The issue was we only had larger bills and no one had the change to give us, or we would of bought the mango out of sympathy at that point. I saw the desperation of extreme poverty in his face and the faces of the merchants and it was a stark reality to behold.

There is one bridge to get into Berega village. It has already collapsed and been rebuilt a couple of times in the past few years. The rainy season just wipes everything out. So I'm excited for non stop water but worried at the prospect of losing any access to civilization for awhile if the bridge gets taken out this year. The water in our home comes from either the ground or the rainwater. The rainwater we filter and use to cook with it, and supposedly it is also good to drink as well but we haven't made that leap yet. We arrived to the village late into the evening and were shown to our house where we fell asleep under the mosquito net instantly. I thought I would sleep on the drive over since I am known to pass out in the car but was too taken by the landscape as we got deeper and deeper into the African bush--further and further from Dar or any large cities. Palm trees and hundreds of other varieties of trees I had never seen before shot up all around us. The sun set over purple tinted mountains far into the distance and the dirt became a rich red. I will never forget the sight of two dark skinned shirtless men plunging sticks into barrels of oil covered in the thick black substance. Or the women in traditional African garments (bright yellow and green patterns set against the red dirt) walking down the road with babies slung across their backs balancing baskets on their heads.

I fell asleep anxious, feeling so far from home. A terrible mixture of homesickness and culture shock put me into a coma like state. That feeling still sneaks in at times now. But I'll cut myself some slack. It's only been a week after all. This week has been made up of teacher's meetings and getting our house in order. Chris has been dedicated to trying to debug the house. A valiant effort but we live deep in the African bush jungle and it is very unlikely that we aren't going to keep seeing a spider or 2 or 10. The worst one so far was about the size of a small plate and he caught it with a plastic container which we have now deemed, 'spider jail.' The other night he (Chris) caught a cockroach and a spider in one swoop with the spider jail. Pretty impressive. The other teachers are really wonderful. We are especially happy that the couple that got here at the same time as us are really rad and into hiking. So we'll all get to do trips together to the nearby Berega mountain and hopefully to Zanzibar as well. There's much more to write since school started today, (best day so far) but I'll get into all that later.


It's time for Africa!

If your wondering what's going on with my nails there: I had just finished painting Chris's bathroom to make the house nice for my graduation party. But I hope what you are really thinking about is the profound nature of the words above. They resonated with me seven months ago when I needed to make a decision. Was I going to go straight to grad school and indenture myself to the United States for at least the next 5-7 years while I get my doctorate in psychology? Or was I going to flee the country for a life of adventure and service to others? Obviously you are reading this blog so you know which one I chose. In the words of Shakira, the questionably talented pop star, "It's time for Africa!"

Ninakupenda was the first Swahili phrase I learned when I began researching Tanzania. It means, I love you. It's funny because I actually didn't know what it meant but a few months back Chris texted me it, and without looking up the definition I promptly responded with an: I love you back. The soft sound of the syllables just seemed to automatically googletranslate in my mind. We leave for Berega in 72 hours-- 3 days! I have dreamed of going since I was a little girl. When I was 9 was the first time I illustrated a book picturing myself and my future husband and kids living there, and playing volleyball of all things in our brick hut with a haystack roof. I dislike volleyball but I am so excited to be going to Africa.

At midnight on Friday we will board United Airlines and fly to Washington DC. From there we'll follow in Obama's footsteps and land in Ethiopia, and from there we will venture to our final destination: Dar Es Salaam. This translates to, 'abode of peace' in Arabic. How lovely to land in peace. The director of our program, Dr. Brad Logan, has been exceedingly warm, helpful, and timely in all of his communication throughout this process. I couldn't be more thankful for all of his help throughout our correspondence. Especially in those times where I needed constant reassurance that we were going. He has taken care of our insurance, our tickets, and just this morning we woke up to our hotel booking at what looks to be a very fancy hotel called Nikko Tower in Dar. We will be greeted by the refreshingly candid Liz Claibourne. (no, not the makeup inventor) Liz has been there from the beginning of this program. She has a background in nursing and helped build this school from the ground up. She was the first person I spoke to back in November when this was all but and idea.

I applied to Peace Corps but didn't get in, so I basically resided myself to starting graduate school, but felt a deep longing to take a break from higher education and have an experience that would shake up my world. Give me some new eyes for awhile or at least a different lens to view the world from. I want to live without screens and advertising and corporate interests in my face at every turn. Be surrounded by people who have little yet appreciate the simple opportunity to become educated beings. Back to the story of how my involvement with H4A all came to be. My good friend from college, the crazy intelligent and compassionate Lauren Brown, spent a couple months in Tanzania when she was but 18. I had just found out that I didn't get into Peace Corps and I was bumming hard. She was sitting at the cafeteria table listening to me attempt to rationalize how it would be better off this way and I will start graduate school right away and it's meant to be and blah blah blah before she interrupted and said, "Well if you want to go to Africa, I know a way you can go."

I had put Africa as my first choice on my application for PC and was being considered for Madagascar before I found out I didn't get it. I really, really, really wanted to go and lit up with a mixture of extreme excitement, simultaneously squelching my doubts about it being an offer too good to be true. I already knew she had spent some time in Africa volunteering at an orphanage, where she worked with children who were born with HIV. The experience inspired her to go into women's health and become a doctor. Her dream is to open up a clinic for women in Africa. Lauren rocks. What I didn't know was that she made a friend Charlene while there who fell so deeply in love with Africa that she joined a program called Hands4Africa. She went back to teach English and Science for a year. Serendipitously enough Charlene was going to be leaving in July and they needed a new English teacher to replace her for the next school year. Lauren connected us on facebook and Charlene connected me with the program's director, Dr. Brad Logan. I'm not going to lie. It was pretty easy to get in. They need teachers and everyone is welcome. Liz said, "If you have above a 4th grade education in the United States, you can come teach English here."

So you do not need to be done with college to come help. If you come for one year everything is paid for-- from the airfare to your health insurance and a monthly stipend which is far above minimum wage for the average Tanzanian. If you come for 6 months, the trip is half paid for. If you want to come help for one month, you have a place to stay with Chris and I. That brings me to the subject of how my love, Christopher McAfee, ended up deciding to come join me. It wasn't hard, I knew I didn't want to live without him. So I asked, and he was already planning on coming to surprise me. We make each other better and balance each other out in every way. So ultimately this organization will be much better off having us both. (plus, it appeases my overprotective big brother) While I will be teaching English and Art and also anticipate teaching some kind of health classes at the Berega Hospital, Chris will be teaching one math class in the morning and spending the rest of his time working in the sustainable agriculture program that H4A has. He is gifted in so many ways, from a vast knowledge of computers to being able to fix cars-- I have a feeling Chris is going to be pretty pooped at the end of each day.

St. Mary's started 6 years ago with only 8 kids and now it has grown to around 140. Liz will be joined by our fellow volunteer Marianne, who is also from the Bay Area, at the airport to pick us up in Dar. We will all have a good nights rest and one of our last long hot showers before going to the market. At the market we'll need to pick up enough groceries to last us for a couple of weeks. Then the real adventure begins. A long, bumpy ride on and off dirt roads all the way to Berega. After 4-5 hours we will arrive in our new home for the next year. Chris and I were fortunate enough to receive our own housing accommodations, with an extra room for guests. (hint, hint) COME VISIT! Bring donations and books with you and come travel in the motherland, where we all originate from. My not so subtle invitation.

When we get there we will have a little over a week to figure out who is teaching what and what grade each of will be working with. If I'm not mistaken there will be seven of us teachers there. The biggest new incoming round of teachers the school has ever had. So it's quite an exciting school year for this growing program. In December the two of us (Chris and I) have plans to fly to Mumbai and meet up with our college friend Pujan to backpack in India for a month. Pujan is studying abroad in India for a semester and studying public health. She is from Nepal and has invited us to go back to her hometown to meet her family. Chris is excited to go to Kathmandu, their capitol. I cannot wait to backpack through the glory of Darjeeling, India and spend our new years eve in Goa. We will get to visit two of the world's 7 best beaches this year. Zanzibar in Africa and Goa in India. School has a break from December 1st to January 15th and as a volunteer you can do whatever you would like with that time. Man, it is going to be a good year. (side note: if you want to travel to India, the visa process is complicated and you must do it while still in the states through their embassy)

Picture from the night we signed our contracts

A very useful and comfortable gift from my
best friend Riley, 
Charlene recommended these as the best 
shoes for the rough African terrain

Chris and I right after we got all of our 
many vaccinations and years worth of malaria pills for trip
Packing, kind of
How in god's name are we going to get all 
of this into 4 50 pound suitcases?
Spoiler alert: we didn't