Alright, I know I said I would write about my trip to Malawi in my next blog. Well, I lied. It’s been such a long time since then that I have another trip there coming up in the next week or two, so I’m going to save it until then and just write about both trips. However, I’ve been harassed by a large enough group of people over a long enough period of time that I’m going to write one before then, too. Namely, this one.
So what’s happened since my last blog? Well, Charlene went home, for one. We had a big party beforehand with lots of games and prizes for the winners. There were a lot of scraped knees that happened—easy to do when your playground consists of dirt and rocks—so I spent a time being Doctor Lisa and going around with neosporin disinfecting spray and bandaids, and Charlene’s voice fell prey to the constant, necessary need to shout over the voices of 40-some excited children (sorry for being bad at shouting, Charlene. You are a trooper), but everyone had a lot of fun. We also bought 150 mendazi (a sort of donut-like fried bread) that we sprinkled with sugar and cocoa powder, which everyone loved.
After the games we had a slumber party with the kids at Charlene’s house. We watched a couple movies (Home Alone and The Lion King) and danced to Taylor Swift and Shakira (if you ever want to get incredibly sick of hearing the song Waka Waka, come have a dance party with these kids). We all had a good time. When it was time for lights out the kids were predictably giggly and didn’t want to sleep, and of course I didn’t help because every time they said something silly I would laugh, too, but eventually my half-hearted scolding and the late hour won out and everyone got to sleep. Zach slept in the other room with the boys so that they weren’t left out, which was good. It’s always sad when one group gets excluded. Then in the morning we had a giant impromptu pillow fight (which actually gave me a huge headache because pillows hurt when people swing them as hard as they can at your head—imagine that!) and then we sent the kids home.
The day Charlene left we had school and I spent the day being a photographer so that she’d have lots of pictures of her with the kids. The kids and I were also incredibly sneaky and I’d been teaching them a song to sing her (God Be With You Till We Meet Again) for the last couple months which, with the help of Olga, we successfully surprised her with at the end of school. It wasn’t great, but it was cute and we succeeded in my goal of making Charlene cry, so it was worth it. I’m very impressed that they managed to keep it a secret for so long, though. I guess they all really wanted to make Teacher Charlene cry, too.
After she left we still had the end of school so I had to write, proctor, and grade a few midterms, which was a very new experience for me. It’s fun when kids who have been struggling surprise you and do well on their tests—but it’s not so fun when kids who you know are very smart do badly because they’re nervous. I’m determined to give them lots of practice tests to get them over that before their national exams. Still, most everyone did quite well, and as I said before, those that didn’t still have half a year to improve—plus they’ll have triple the amount of wazungu teachers in the meantime, so they’ll be fine.
|Babies! The one on the left is the two-week-old.|
After that all of us teachers had to get together and fill out report cards for the kids, which took several hours but ended up being kind of fun, too. I like the Tanzanian teachers, they’re good people. Then we had a parent-teacher meeting where I spoke a bit at the beginning about how the children should act at school and how they needed to study over break and how they needed new uniforms for next term and Teacher Samson translated for me. Then I just sat there looking pretty and pretending I understood what was happening while everyone spoke in Kiswahili for a couple hours, which I’m getting pretty good at. It would be better if I just learned Kiswahili, but hey… I’m slowly, slowly getting there. I can sing the national anthem now! …I still don’t know what it means, but it’s a start.
Almost immediately after school ended Olga and I left on a safari to Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara National Park, which was amazing. Each park is unique and worth a look, especially Ngorongoro. Along with the regular crowd of impala, wildebeest, giraffes, and zebras, Tarangire had a TON of elephants. We lucked out because we saw several babies, one that was only a week or two old, according to our guide. Elephants don’t mate at any certain time of year (I guess Zebra are one of the only few savannah animals that have a “mating season”) so it really is the luck of the draw. Being friends with a few park rangers might help. On our way out we got eaten alive by tsetse flies, so now I can joke about having sleeping sickness (whether it’s true or not remains to be seen).
The drive up to the rim of Ngorongoro was beautiful with a lot of mahogany trees, which I’d never seen before. I’m really a nerd—I take pictures of the trees and rocks here because they’re so different and so much more interesting than the ones back home. In the basin there were a lot of yellow acacia trees which I really loved and got a lot of pictures of, along with the millions of wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, water buffalo, hippos, ostriches, warthogs, flamingoes, jackals, hyenas, lions, and, yes, a black rhino.
|Yellow acacia (they look yellower in person)|
The rhino was the thing I was most excited about—although we did get to see a lioness stalking some prey, which was neat. She slunk off into the tall grass while her friend just watched her lazily, and the wildebeest she took an interest in decided they didn’t share her interest one bit, thank you very much, and promptly ran across the road to the open plain. We saw some hyenas chasing wildebeest, too, but they really weren’t interested in eating, according to our guide. Just messing with them. Maybe they wanted to start a stampede to kill Mufasa, who knows?
But I digress. The rhino! Yes, the rhino was great. We saw him far, far away and stopped to squint out at him along with another car. Then he went behind a hill and the other car left but we stayed because we were chatting and he showed up again—and kept coming. Sucks for that other car, they gave up too easily. He came so close that our guide said he’d never seen one so near before. I guess you usually need a good telephoto lens or some binoculars to get a good look at one, but we were lucky. Unluckily I had broken my mom’s good camera on my Malawi trip (which I will tell you about later, I promise) so all I had was an underwater camera with no zoom, but it’s enough for the memories. Our guide called all the other guides on his radio and told them that we were sitting there with this rhino right up next to us (well, okay, he was still a good 30-40 feet away, but it’s a wild rhino, darn it! It was close!) and everyone came rushing over. It was a really neat experience, but it makes me sad that it’s one I will probably never repeat because of how close to extinction the black rhino is. I wished him luck as we drove off.
After Ngorongoro we went to Lake Manyara, which was sort of a mistake because Ngorongoro is so incredible that Lake Manyara really pales by comparison. There were a lot of really cute monkeys and baboons, though, along with their babies, so it was still great. We also saw this small grey furry mammal that our guide said was related to the elephant (don’t remember the name, maybe someone can tell me) and a lot of beautiful birds. There were also these MASSIVE fig trees which I wanted to get a picture of but we were always driving when I saw one and I felt stupid saying “Wait! Go back! I want a picture of this tree!” Oh, and we saw one of my favorite impala/gazelle-type animals, the bush buck. They’re really cute and they have spots like a baby deer, but they’re really shy and only travel in pairs so you don’t see them very often.
After that we flew to Zanzibar and spent a night there, and the following day we swam with the sea turtles at the sanctuary in Nungwi. This was the one part of the trip that Olga was really excited about, and it was the one thing I absolutely have been wanting to do ever since my mom came back from Zanzibar, so we were both very happy. We spent about two and a half hours there, I think, and I got a lot of pictures and videos with my underwater camera. Several people I’ve talked to have asked whether the water was clean—well, no, it wasn’t, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from swimming with sea turtles, was I? I didn’t even stop when one of them bit me. (I had a bit of seaweed on me, wasn’t the turtle’s fault.) It was an amazing experience and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
|A couple friends enjoying the view.|
On the flip side, while we were driving back to the airport one of the workers of the hotel, who had hitched a ride with us, told us how a couple of women from the hotel had decided to walk to Nungwi (the same village where we swam with the turtles) that day. He tried to convince them to take a cab, but they didn’t want to spend the extra money and it was a short walk so they went on their way. Apparently no one felt it important to warn them (including the hotel guy, apparently??) that they shouldn’t wear tank tops or short shorts in a Muslim country during Ramadan, so they ended up being robbed and severely beaten by a group of men. A neighboring hotel found them and took them to the hospital before phoning our hotel and that’s how he knew about it. Luckily they’d left their passports behind, so they didn’t lose those, but imagine—you go on vacation to this beautiful tropical island expecting to have a great time and you end up beaten senseless and robbed.
|Our guide, Ibra; Olga; and I, on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater.|
I don’t want to lay the blame on those girls, because what those men did was disgusting and they should be locked away for it, but I do think this is something worthwhile to tell all you people out there—RESEARCH THE CULTURE OF ANY PLACE YOU’RE GOING TO BE TRAVELING. Learn what is okay to wear and not to wear, to do and not do, to say and not say. You’ll be safer, and the locals will like you a lot more. Even things like asking before you take a picture can be a big deal to some people, so just be careful, and when in doubt, ask. When we were on the road to Tarangire we saw a massive line of men training for the Tanzanian military, some with giant tires around their necks, some carrying huge sections of pipe, all walking for miles in the hot sun. I asked our guide if I could take a picture and he said no, you’re never allowed to take pictures of them. I was disappointed, but hey, when you’re in a different country you have to play by their rules. If I’d decided to ignore him or hadn’t asked in the first place and we’d been pulled over I’d probably have had to pay a huge fine/bribe. So again, research, err on the conservative side, and ask. That’s my sage advice for this post.
Now that we’ve gotten that over with, let me tell you the tale of the first time I’ve ever punched someone that wasn’t one of my siblings. We went back to Dar that night and, due to some changes in Olga’s flight, had to stay there for a few extra nights. That was fine—Dar is a pretty nice place to be stuck, after all, (just not when you’re stuck in traffic) and we had a very nice dinner at Mamboz. So the next morning we went to Coco Beach, the only public beach in Dar, and, well… it’s a very nice beach, but chances are high that if you go you’ll be the only mzungu (white person) there, and everyone will be staring at you. This is a common occurrence all throughout Tanzania. You get used to the staring. But it’s a little more disconcerting when you’re wearing a bathing suit, so Olga and I decided to skip on the swimming. Despite that smart decision, I had some trouble with a man who was either drunk or high on something pretty potent.
We were sitting on some benches overlooking the beach and he came over and sat next to me. I was talking to Olga and Zach so I didn’t really pay attention to him until he started talking to me—at which point I started actively ignoring him. That sounds mean, but men can be very pushy and nasty here and I knew he didn’t want to make small talk, so ignore him I did. After a couple minutes of this he reaches over and tries to hand me a CD. I didn’t know what it was so I just gave him a weird look and said “hapana, asante” (no thanks). He left his hand with the CD on my leg, which creeped me out, so I stood up and told the others we should walk down the beach, and they agreed. Zach had to pay for his drink or use the bathroom or something so he left for a moment while Olga and I talked, and while we were standing there the same man walks up behind me and grabs my butt.
Now, this wasn’t just a simple little pinch on the toosh, this was like, some very invasive groping, so I told him in not-so-polite terms to get lost. To which he responded by repeating the action, and I turned and swore loudly at him and stalked off down the beach, fuming. Olga and Zach followed after me, surprised into silence because I don’t think either of them had ever seen me angry before. And boy, was I angry. I’ve really never been so angry in my entire life. And to top it off, the man started following us. He walked with us down the length of the beach while we all ignored him and I tried not to give in to my insane desire to bash his head in. When we turned around and started heading back he did the same, and about halfway along he stepped close to me and grabbed my wrist. I wasn’t having any of that, so I turned and punched him as hard as I could in the arm (his face was, alas, too far away for me to reach) and said something very rude. I think this surprised him because he grabbed his arm where I’d punched him and backed off. Meanwhile I stooped down and picked up a big ol’ chunk of coral to bash him with if he tried anything else (I told you I was incredibly angry). He didn’t bother us after that, perhaps because I kept a firm grip on that coral or perhaps because he really hadn’t expected me to punch him in the first place. The women here tend not to protest when men start getting nasty. Too bad for this guy, he picked the worst kind of mzungu. The pissy kind with a good right hook.
We had a lovely day after that, visiting the Slipway and all the little shops around it, walking along the dock there, and of course dinner again at Mamboz. The next day we spent around our hotel (Olga and I stayed at the Holiday Inn which has a lot of nice amenities), swimming and making a whirlpool in the pool, lounging around on the deck and eating lunch, then retiring to our room to watch TV. We got about 3/4 of the way through the second Hobbit movie (which I’d never seen before, darn it, and I didn’t get to finish) before we had to leave to take Olga to the airport. Lucky we left when we did because it was the usual Dar traffic and it took us a couple of hours to make it to the airport. After some sad goodbyes we went out to eat at—you guessed it—Mamboz. But this time the owner told us he wanted us to go try his son’s restaurant, which was also called Mamboz, but was about 15 minutes away. (30, if you get lost like we did.)
Oh, man. Regular Mamboz is excellent, but this place was divine. It even had a salad bar. (Well, a table with plates of shredded cabbage and various other things on it, but still. A SALAD BAR!) Zach got the chicken tikka masala and I got some sort of shrimp noodle thing, both of which were delicious. Abdallah decided to stick with good ol’ fried chicken, which of course was great, as it always is at Mamboz.
We drove back the next morning and I’ve been in Berega since then, hanging out with the kids and the other volunteers and reading—lots of reading. Not going to lie, this place gets pretty isolating when you don’t have school to take up your time and energy and I’ll admit, it’s really been getting to me over this break. I’ll be glad when school starts again and I have something to do all day—then I’ll appreciate the few days where I have nothing.
We have a lot of new volunteers coming in for this next term, and all of them are staying a year, so that’s exciting. I think we’ll get a lot done that we’ve just never had the manpower to do before. Plus, a huge group of volunteers are coming to help work on our new school building, so maybe we’ll have some classrooms started up soon! I know I go on about the safaris and the other trips, but the kids are why most of us come here, and they’re what make it worth it. We’ll be working especially hard with Standard 4 this next term to prepare them for their national exams at the end of the year, something that they must pass in order to move on to Standard 5. This is the first year that we’ve had a Standard 4, since we started from the ground up, so this is a big deal. I’m confident that they’ll do well, though, they’re very bright kids. Plus, they’ve had good teachers—even the ones that occasionally attack poor, defenseless men on the beach who just wanted to share their new CD.