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.