Monday, July 19, 2010

A Tanzanian Top Ten

Warning: Long blog post. Feel free to skip.

With just a few days left here in Kitete, I figured it was a good time to reflect on my many adventures of the past nine weeks. I will save a more profound reflection for once I have returned to the States. For now, I have compiled a list of the top ten moments from my time here in Africa. I have given it an alliterative title in honor of Steve Alagna, or #10 as he is more commonly known.

10. Stepping off the plane
– Miley thinks there is something special about hopping of the plane at LAX, well she should try JRO. There was something absolutely thrilling about stepping onto the runway at Kilimanjaro Airport and thinking, “Wow, I am in Africa!”

9. Elephant sighting
– One of my afternoon runs got a lot more exciting when I noticed a gigantic male elephant just 50 yards in front of me. He had wandered out of the forest to torment the local farmers by eating their wheat. They were doing their best to scare him away.

8. Dislocating my shoulder – Perhaps the scariest moment of the trip was when my shoulder popped out while playing volleyball. I cannot accurately describe the relief I felt as it popped back into place. It would have been at least an hour to the nearest clinic.

7. Slaughtering chickens – Nothing gets the testosterone flowing quite like going all Liam Neeson on four innocent roosters. Hopefully PETA won’t attack me when I get back.

6. Dolphins and monkeys
– While in Zanzibar, I had the opportunity to swim with wild dolphins in the Indian Ocean and pet wild monkeys in the same day. I felt like I was Steve Irwin or something. I even managed to avoid getting rabies from the monkeys!

5. July 4th – Few things could make you love America more than spending Independence Day outside of the country. We were determined to do our patriotic duty despite our distance from the homeland. We managed to have a good old fashion BBQ with our African brothers.

4. Daladalas
– You haven’t really traveled until you have crammed 25 to 30 people in a minivan. These vehicles are a safety nightmare; I think most of them have been pieced together with parts from a chop shop. After fighting your way through the crowd to just to get on, you better be willing the forfeit any concept of personal space.

3. The World Cup – I have to admit that I have never been a soccer/football fan, but around here you don’t have a choice. After watching just a few matches with all of these enthusiastic fans, I found myself completely caught up in the action. Nothing was more agonizing than watching Ghana lose with a Ghanaian native in the room.

2. Swahili mass
– While these Sunday morning experiences were often a test in patience, in retrospect they were pretty amazing. Despite masses that ranged from two hours to four and a half hours, the people here were always completely engaged. While I never understood a word of what was said, there was no doubt that the people here possessed a deep faith.

1. Time with students РWhile it may be kind of predictable or clich̩, the time I spent with the students here was easily the most rewarding. Whether it was time spent playing cards, playing volleyball, going for runs, washing clothes, or even in class, these kids were enthusiastic. They showed me that despite their tough situations they can enjoy the blessings they have.

Tanzanian Fun Fact: The first Tanzanian president, Julius Nyerere is absolutely worshiped here. His picture can be found in practically every building in Tanzania, and they like to refer to him as “father and teacher”. In fact, there is a movement within the Tanzanian Church trying to get him canonized.

On a completely unrelated note, I am now a billionaire. When the priests returned from South Africa they brought back some of the defunct Zimbabwean currency. I am the proud owner of a $50 billion bill.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Are We Still in East Africa?

We arrived in Zanzibar on Friday evening after a two and a half hour ferry across the Zanzibar Channel. As we said goodbye to the African continent, we entered a world that hardly feels like East Africa at all.

First of all, the climate of Zanzibar is quite different than that of East Africa. With the exception of a few coastal areas, East Africa is fairly arid, with large expanses of dry grasslands like you see on the Discovery Channel. However, Zanzibar is a tropical island with vast forests and plenty of rainfall each year. It makes for a nice change of pace since Kitete has been so cold (it is the winter after all).

By far the greatest difference is a cultural one though. Ninety-seven percent of the people of Zanzibar are Muslims. This is clearly reflected in the architecture as well as the people’s dress. Mosques can be found around nearly every corner. They are all outfitted with big megaphones in order to announce the daily prayers at various times (including 5:30am this morning!). Most men wear Kufis, and women keep their heads veiled. It makes for a pretty stark contrast between the Western tourists and the locals.

Tyler actually bought a Kofi on the street and was wearing it around yesterday. We received many questions from the local people about how a Muslim and a Christian could be friends. We simply said, “Why not?” I guess in our own way we are promoting interreligious peace.

Zanzibar Fun Fact: Zanzibar is believed to be the location of the last public slave market. The Sultan of Zanzibar was forced by the British in 1873 to close the Stone Town slave market. The British then proceeded to build a cathedral at the site with a memorial to the many slaves who passed through Zanzibar.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lake Manyara

While I have internet access here in Nairobi, I wanted to post a quick photo from my trip to Lake Manyara National Park.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Life as an Expatriate

With July 4th just around the corner, I have been reflecting a bit on my experience over the past six weeks living as a foreigner.

It is true that living outside of the US has made me appreciate more fully the blessings that we have. I think that sentiment is terribly cliché, but very true. Not simply our material wealth, but also our civil and political structures are something to be cherished. It is so easy to take for granted that we can move about free of fear, or that we can trust our police officers to do their job without taking bribes. The fact that every window I have seen in Africa has bars (including churches) is a clear indication that no one truly feels safe here.

Another intriguing aspect of spending time outside of the US has been observing other people’s opinions of America. There is a precarious balance between an affinity for American culture and disapproval of US foreign policy. The people here love to hear about America, especially rural people like in Kitete. They are amazed that most of us have cars, and that we don’t have elephants or giraffes. Meanwhile, more educated people like the priests are surprisingly well versed in US politics. They can talk at length about Democrats and Republicans, or about why they think the war in Iraq was a good or bad decision. It has been very interesting listening to their views on politics.

Of course, as in America, not everyone knows what they are talking about. For instance, just yesterday I listened to our cab driver explain how Obama is actually one of the richest men in the world because he is stealing millions of US tax dollars under the table.

Kenyan Fun Fact: Despite being one of the 30 poorest countries in the world, Kenyans politicians are among the richest. Kenyan members of parliament make more than their counterparts in Germany and the Kenyan president earns 10% more than the US president. That kind of corruption makes Rod Blagojevich look like Honest Abe.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Beginning of the End

Despite the fact that I have three and a half weeks left, it feels as though my time here is coming to a swift end.

Friday marked the end of the term for the students here in Kitete. They took their final exams (or terminal exams as they call them), packed up their bags, and headed back to their respective homes. It is hard to imagine that I will never see most of these students again. In just five weeks, we have all become great friends. Hopefully they learned something too.

Before they left, we had a big end of term celebration. We even slaughtered a goat for the occasion. I was supposed to participate in the slaughter, but there was a miscommunication about the time of the deed. I guess I will have to stick to chickens (for those keeping track, my chicken kill count is at three). We had a big feast, they thanked us for teaching them, and we gave them some parting advice.

With the students gone, life is slow here in Kitete. There is not much work for us to do here. We can’t exactly teach without any students. Instead, we are preparing to travel. Monday we will be visiting Lake Manyara National Park, which is full of giraffes, rhinos, lions, etc. Then on Thursday we will head to Nairobi, Kenya for a week, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar for a week, and then back to Kitete. By the time we return from travelling, we will only have one week left.

The experience has been amazing thus far, and there is still so much left to see. In fact, I came across a wild elephant on one of my runs last week. It had wandered out of the forest to eat some of the farmers’ wheat. I watched from about 50 yards away, having been warned that elephants are actually very dangerous.

Tanzanian Fun Fact: Tanzania is home to over 130 tribal and ethnic groups. These groups range in size from only a hundred thousand to two million. Most have their own languages too. The people here are the Iraqw people, originally from Ethiopia. I don’t believe they are of any relation to the Iraqis in the Middle East!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Winter Solstice

While all of you back in the States will be enjoying the longest day of the year later next week, here in Kitete it will be the winter solstice. It is one of the stranger aspects of living in the Southern Hemisphere.

I must confess, of course, that it is not exactly the most daunting winter solstice. Being only about a hundred miles from the equator changes things a bit. Winter here is light years from the frigid temperatures of South Bend, although it is colder than you probably think.

Because we are up in the mountains most mornings there is a thick fog over the whole area and a temperature just below 60°F. By the afternoon the sun typically breaks through the clouds and the high temperature is normally around 70°F.

That’s hardly winter weather by our standards, but the locals here think otherwise. They think it is absolutely freezing. Most of them get all bundled up in winter coats and knit caps. It’s pretty funny to see. A simple sweatshirt in the evenings is good enough for hearty Americans like us.

Tanzanian Fun Fact: The people here don’t have arm or leg hair, absolutely none! They are so intrigued by my hairy legs and arms, and often feel free to touch it. I assume it is an evolutionary difference between living in a temperate versus tropical climate, but that’s just a guess.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Football is God

Today marks the beginning of my fifth week of travel, but more importantly it marks the fifth day of the World Cup.

Each year a consulting firm calculates the billions of dollars of efficiency lost during the NCAA Basketball Tournament due to workers watching the games on the internet. While this is an interesting project, I think they should turn their attention to the World Cup.

Football (or soccer if you like) is the main event here in Kitete, and it is capturing everyone’s attention. At any given point in the day there will be between 20 and 40 people huddled in the dark dining hall watching on a little 24” TV ghetto-rigged to a dilapidated satellite. That’s just for any old game. If an African team is playing, everyone is watching, seriously everything stops. Some of the students even dressed up in shirts and ties for the first Nigeria game.

Just today Tyler and were discussing how the students seem abnormally tired in class. It didn’t take us long to diagnose the problem; the students have been staying up late watching football. Football is more than a sport here. It is a religion.

Tanzanian Fun Fact: I have occasionally heard people talk about wanting to “drop off the grid” by going camping or hiking. They should just come to Kitete. We are roughly 13km from the nearest power line and a 45 minute jeep ride from the nearest paved road.