Sunday, November 20, 2011

Children's Day Indian Celebration

Yesterday I was invited to a Children's Day event at the Diamond Jubilee Hall. Prior to the event, all I knew was that I should arrive promptly at 6pm wearing smart-casual attire. The committee chair happens to be a Rotarian who is sponsoring the Blood Drive, hence my admittance. Little did I know, it was a celebration of Indian children in Tanzania.

There are a surprisingly large number of Indians in East Africa, over 90,000 in TZ alone. I usually encounter them at the Upanga Club on Friday nights, where I play bingo and eat chicken tikka masala (a nice break from rice and ugali). Other than that, my interactions with Tanzanians of Indian descent are limited to Rotary meetings and other high-class encounters. If you've ever heard the stereotype that Indians are the best businessmen in the world, Tanzania is a perfectly fitting example. Nearly all banks, hotels, and other insanely profitable businesses are owned and run by Tanzanians of Indian descent. From my observation, this has caused major tension between Indian-Tanzanians and Black-Tanzanians. However, they tend to get along most peacefully in Tanzania, as compared with other East African nations, which have gone so far as to kick all Indians out

Fortunately, Tanzania is a relatively peaceful country. This particular event was celebrating 50 years of peace and unity for Indians in Tanzania, coinciding with the upcoming 50 year anniversary of Tanzania's independence from the United Kingdom. 

It was a fantastic event. The High Commissioner of India in Tanzania made a speech on the great relationship Indians have had with Tanzanians, thanks the cooperation and assistance with integration, facilitated by the first President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere back in 1961. They had many Tanzanians come on stage to receive an award and blessing of good luck from the High Commissioner. Many of these people were recipients of aid from the Indian groups--headmaster whose school received running water, Sisters who received a sewing machine, etc. It was a nice gesture to show the way many have chosen to give back to the community, and to encourage others to participate in the future. 

One of the funniest moments of the evening was the singing of the national anthems. They began with the Tanzanian National Anthem, which I quietly sang along with, though not a single other person in my row joined. Most people in the audience (Tanzanian citizens or ex-pats) didn't know the national anthem! Good thing they played the Indian National Anthem next--everyone knew that one!

Then came the performances. It was Childrens Day, so there had to be children involved. It started off with the cute little kids who are just put on stage to make everyone smile. It worked. They were adorable. As each new group went up, the performances became more elaborate and entertaining. All were traditional Indian dances. They were fantastic! Two things which were most notable--hands and outfits. In many of the dances performed by teens, the position of hands was so important. The way they placed their fingers, such a tiny detail, made a dramatic difference in the style of the performance. And of course, all the kids were wearing beautiful Indian clothes--kurtis, salwar, sarees, sherwani, and dupatta. (Don't feel bad if you don't know any of those words. I just looked them up too. If you google-image search the names, you'll see some of the beautiful styles I'm talking about.) And it wasn't just the children who were wearing these clothes. Everyone in the audience was dressed up too! The colors were spectacular. 

I had a great evening. It was really nice to be surrounded by such a strong, vibrant culture and appreciation for performance art (apart from shaking your butt really fast). 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mailing Address

A lot of people have asked this week how they can send me mail. I'm hesitant to give out that information for a few reasons.

  1. If you're trying to be my penpal, I'm warning you in advance that I'll probably be as good at responding to your letters as I am at updating my blog... maybe worse, if that's even possible.
  2. Things seem to get lost quite a bit on the way to TZ. I've already been told that two incredible packages filled with all kinds of wonderful goodies never made it. I'd hate for you to go through all the trouble writing letters and licking stamps for them to get lost in big, scary, wild Africa. Who knows what would happen if a box full of chocolate, q-tips, and other essentials got into the wrong hands!? (Is anyone else picturing "The Gods Must Be Crazy"?)
But if you're still set on sending me something, you can try this address

Christina Klecker
P.O Box 35766
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Good Luck!
And thank you, in advance, for thinking of me :)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I got to meet a pretty important person this week. Some would say it's just another Rotarian, but this guy seemed to make time stop whenever he entered a room. I know this because I awkwardly and unknowingly followed him around from place to place over the past two days. 

It is my pleasure to introduce you all to Eric Kimani, Rotary District Governor. 

His district (9200) ranges from Tanzania up through Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia, all the way to Eritrea. Becoming a DG is a major accomplishment in Rotary. The reactions of most people in his presence made it feel like I was meeting a celebrity. 

I first met him when I accidentally arrived 3 minutes late to a Rotary meeting on Thursday. This is a big no-no. What could I do?? Traffic was terrible! (Do you see that excuse? I'm becoming SO Tanzanian!) Fortunately the traffic was terrible for everyone, resulting in several Rotarians trickling in after me. The DG was a guest speaker, invited to talk about his recent trip to Taiwan. He could've talked about absolutely anything, and the whole crowd would've still been completely tuned into every word.

Later on, I attended the International School of Tanganyika Interact Chartering ceremony. Can you guess who was the Guest of Honor? He again talked about his trip to Taiwan, but put a spin on it to encourage dedication from the youngsters. It was actually a great speech. He spent quite a bit of time talking about how incredible and life-changing the Rotary Scholarships have been for the youth in Rotary, which I certainly agree with. With 20+ years in Rotary, major humanitarian initiatives carried out to improve the world, and that fancy necklace to distinguish his excellence, the DG was still a very down-to-earth guy. He spent the majority of his time talking individually with the high school Interact students. 

I was lucky to sneak in for a picture with the DG and the President of the Rotaract Club of Kwanza, Chris.

The last event that I creepily followed the DG to was the biggest annual event hosted by Rotary in Dar es Salaam, the Rotary Dar Marathon. Over the past few years, this project has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various initiatives in Tanzania. This year, the Rotary Clubs of Dar es Salaam have decided to focus their efforts on building a new Children's Cancer ward at the National Government Hospital, the only children's cancer center in Tanzania. Leading up to the big day, they had already raised about $400,000 USD. 

I had a 3:45am wake-up call so I could make it across town in time to set up for the big event. I was in good company with a group of Rotaractors from the University. 

The half-marathon was awesome.... to watch. I was helping out with organizational stuff at the big meeting spot i.e. handing out tshirts and water bottles, neatly presenting 250 cases of water bottles and thousands of sodas before the crowds came through. Everyone in my section was so glad to have me helping out because I was the only one who wasn't afraid to touch the big ice blocks. All these Tanzanians thought it was cold! 

The marathon runners were really impressive. Some of the semi-professional runners completed it in 65 minutes! I don't think I could finish if you gave me four hours. It was a good time. 

I had to leave a bit early. At 7:30am, I headed back towards my part of town because I was working the rest of the day. I haven't mentioned that I've taken on a full-time volunteer opportunity. That'll be my next post... but it'll have to wait a while. I'll be bunking with lions in the Serengeti next week!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Good skin

One of my students, an older man (45y/o?) named Chako, was asked to make a sentence using one of the words written on the board that started with the letter S. Out of all 15 words, and all possible combinations of sentences, Chako came up with "Christina's skin is good." So I responded jokingly, "Thanks! Your skin is good too!" He said "No, no. Black skin is bad. Your skin is good."

Later in class, he asked to marry me. I'll let you all make your own interpretations about this one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hiking the Uluguru Mountains

This weekend I couldn't pass up the opportunity to go hiking in the Uluguru Mountains. Unfortunately, my horrible pronunciation paired with a terrible attempt at the Tanzanian accent left me calling them the "Uluguluglu Mountains" but people definitely still knew what I was talking about.

This place was so beautiful. I didn't even realize how massive the mountains were just looking at them. But I figured it out as soon as we started hiking... 

Oh man. I hardly made it to the top. Definitely worth it though. That's the city of Morogoro wayyy down below.

I was struggling with these mountains, just for recreation. Most people who live out here have farms on the steep mountain faces. Can you imagine??

I went with a great group of people, including my friend Neil, and a bunch of his friends who I just met on the trip (Chrissy, Ryan, and our Lithuanian friend Vithas). We all had such a great time, and managed to make it through nearly 9 hours of hiking! 

A Maasai guide joined us for the hike. He works with this organization that provides tours through the mountains and uses a chunk of the tour fees for improving the quality of life for local communities. We passed over a bridge that they built to help the mountain people get to the only hospital in the area, so that was pretty cool. It was nice to hear the history of this area and some cultural tidbits about the villages we were walking through. 
I'm really glad our guide was there to help us out. There's no way I would've ever found my way up to our destination, which was called Morningside. 

I'm not really sure why this was our destination, but it was a nice place to chill out for a few minutes and enjoy the view. 

We passed by the first church built in this area called Morogoro. The Germans built it here in 1913. They still hold services here, though there aren't many people who practice. 90% of the villagers up on the mountain are Muslims. 

I was freaking out at the thought of spiders on this hike, though we didn't come across any. It rained the day before, so I guess that means we're less likely to come across spiders. Our guide said there's one bad spider in this area, but it doesn't like the rain, so we don't have to worry. Just to let you know, this 'bad spider' is actually called the "Bull Spider" because it grows to about the size of your palm and has HORNS! A spider with horns.... was he kidding?! That sounds atrocious. 

We came across some really cool bugs along the way. The butterflies were beautiful, but my favorite colorful bugs were these big grasshoppers. 

Not sure if the photo really captures the size of these things. They were about the length and thickness of my thumb. Apparently it's grasshopper season, so they were all over the place, jumping around, jumping on my clothes, jumping off the cliffs... nbd. 

Then we came to my favorite bug, only because I recognized them from Discovery Channel or Animal Planet or something. Siafu is the local name for the Driver Ant. These things are awful. They travel in colonies with millions upon millions of ants. They ravage anything in their course. Their bite is supposedly horribly painful and they have been known to devour anything from small rodents to babies and even goats.  This was so cool! Until my guide said casually, "oh hey, Christina, there's one on your pants!"

Don't worry, I survived.

On the way down, we stopped by a waterfall. It was so beautiful.

I'll only include this last picture so you can get a good laugh at my horrendous farmer's tan. This is the first time my shoulders have been exposed in Tanzania!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mzungu, I love you!

"How are you?"

This is probably the most common conversation I ever have with strangers as I quickly walk past them. I get a good laugh out of it every single time. In Swahili, there's no distinction between like and love, so if someone is trying to say they like you or just want to talk to you, it comes out as true love. It's doing great things for my ego.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

So many projects!

Busy busy busy...

This year I was selected to represent Rotaract as the Director of Community Service for the Rotaract Club of Kwanza. This would be significantly easier if I was more accustomed to the way things work here in Tanzania. For example, nothing can be accomplished unless you are physically present to oversee something. Phone calls? Emails? No way. Hop on a bus and talk to someone in person before they believe you're legit. Needless to say, getting things done takes a lot more time and effort than I'm used to. It's nice that you get a much more personal experience with partners though.

There are a few major projects that I'll be responsible for this year. The first is my absolute favorite--the Mwenge Teaching Project. Every evening (mon-fri) I go to Mwenge to teach English to a group of mostly woodcarvers. Lately I've been working with the reading and writing group. Their ability to speak English is varied, but some cannot even recognize the letter A. Every day we've been going over a different letter, writing it over and over, and learning new words that start with each letter. By the end of class, each student makes a sentence with one of the new words they have learned. If anyone has suggestions on how to teach adult students to read and write, I'd love to hear them! Please!! They all love the class, but I'm not sure how to give them the best education possible. A few improvements for the class from Rotaract will be additional teachers, sustainable lighting (because the power is cut for rationing every other day), books, notebooks, chalk, and consultation from a University professor on how to improve our teaching methods. I'll be responsible for the budget and figuring out how to allocate some money that has been set aside. ugh. Budgets are the worst. But I love my students. They have become my best friends here.

The second program is to visit three orphanages around Dar es Salaam. Playing with the kids is fantastic, and they get so excited to have visitors. A large part of this program is also to raise funds for supplies. With every visit, we deliver boxes full of books, notebooks, pens, medical supplies, and biscuits, so there is a ton of prep work before we get to the fun stuff.

The biggest project I'll be working on with Rotaract this year has already started--the Blood Donation Project. We are hoping for a huge turnout. Statistics show that though the need for blood in hospitals is extremely high, only about 24% of the needed amount is donated. This leaves people in a fight for blood when they are sick or injured. From what I've heard, the system for receiving blood is not need-based, but entirely dependent on bribing the authorities. Since 2007, the Rotaract Clubs of Dar es Salaam have been trying to even the playing field by hosting the largest Blood Drive in Tanzania. This year, it will be bigger and better than ever! We are expanding to five locations throughout the city for a three day program filled with blood, blood, and more blood. It just so happens that this event kicks off on the greatest day of the year (if you remember from my last post). That's right, my birthday! So instead of presents this year, I'm asking all my friends for their blood! Nothing weird about that statement.

This project is going to be HUGE! We have already started approaching the biggest companies in Tanzania for sponsorships because our budget is about $18,000. My biggest concern is that people in Tanzania are extremely hesitant to give blood. It's not something that is taught as a positive experience, so they are all afraid, don't understand, or think it is going to be sold to the wrong people and not given to those in need. So we are luring them in with a free tshirt, water, soda, and biscuits. I hope this works!

To put your mind at ease about the corruption, I can assure you that all the blood collected by Rotaract is going to the right place. It will be donated specifically to the Ocean Road Cancer Institute's Children's Cancer Ward. We know a doctor who is going to manage the distribution personally.

I'm really excited for all these projects. You're probably all thinking "Whatever, Christina, you get excited about everything..." But this time is different. I know there will be a ton of frustrations, small failures, and struggles along the way, but I think ultimately they will all be meaningful in the community. I'm glad to be a part of them. But mostly nervous, because it's all up to me. Director of Community Service?? So much pressure!

Friday, September 16, 2011


I was helping one of the guys from my English class set up an email account this week. He's eager to keep in touch with former teachers but doesn't have any idea how to do it. One of the required fields is to enter your birthday. This was the toughest question on the page for my dear friend, Elias. He couldn't remember his birthday! Actually, it seemed like the problem was that no one had ever told him when his birthday was. He had never celebrated with cake, songs, or a party. The weirder part of the conversation came about when Elias admitted that he wasn't even sure what year he was born or how old he is (though he doesn't look a day over 14). I was determined to get to the bottom of this mystery.

I told him he had to call his mother. Because Elias is the oldest of like 6 kids, I wasn't too sure that his mother would even remember.
Problem #1--no cell phone.
Problem #2--no money for phone credit.
Problem #3 (after I lent him my phone with credit)--he doesn't know his mother's phone number!
Problem #4 (after bringing her number 2 days later)--her line didn't work!! probably due to a lack of power in her village for a few days.

Finally we solved the mystery almost a week later. Though Elias thought he was only 18 or 19 years old, his birthday is March 10, 1990. So glad we figured it out, otherwise he would've had to share cake with me on the greatest day of the year--December 2!

Many people in Tanzania have an idea of approximately how old they are, and some know their birthdays, but it's not a big deal here. They only recently started eating cake (American influence, obviously) and they'll receive presents/contributions if they throw a party. Otherwise, it's just another day.

Although birthdays don't really matter in Tanzania, I can't ignore this wonderful day that a very special lady is celebrating in America.


I think this is the first of your birthdays in about 22 years that I won't be able to celebrate with you. Promise I'll be there in spirit. I hope you have a wonderful day! (I updated my blog just for you!!)
Love you!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ferry Accident

I guess something from Tanzania made global headlines today, so I want everyone to know that I'm alright. But there are over 600 people who were not so lucky. Most are still missing... many are washing up on shore or being recovered from fishing boats. This is one of the biggest tragedies Tanzania has had in recent history.

An evening ferry was traveling from Zanzibar to Pemba Island, about 40km offshore in the Indian Ocean. The ferry was carrying cargo and several hundreds of people. So far, reports are saying that the ship was completely overcrowded, so much so that some people refused to board or hopped off last minute because it seemed so unsafe.

I'll be the first to admit that Tanzanian laws aren't always followed. If you've ever heard me talk about the way they squish people into dala dalas like sardines, then it should be no surprise that the same practices are carried out in taxis, bajajs, pick-up trucks, and also ferries.

In my experience, traveling to and from Zanzibar, they always allow more people than seating capacity allows. About half the passengers are sprawled out on the outer decks because there is never enough room for all of them. Unless you pay for first class, it's a mad rush to get on the ferry because everyone knows there's a good chance they'll be stuck outside for hours if they're too slow--rain or shine, rocky waves or calm seas--even when the sun is beating down on a 100+ degree day.

This particular instance is far worse than anything I have seen before. I sincerely hope it serves as a wake-up call to all those who allow such unsafe practices to continue. This is a major tragedy for Tanzania. So far over 100 have been found dead, and it is thought that hundreds are still missing in the water. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Every time I come into the office wearing pants, people tell me I look "smart." All the other people working in the office get really excited and tell me how great I look, because I'm wearing pants (as opposed to a skirt). There's one woman in particular who jumps up and hugs me because I look so nice... weird... but it's kinda cute.

Today she told me I look so nice because I'm wearing pants. She would love to wear pants but she's too scared. When I asked why she's afraid of pants, she said, "Well, that's what a man wears! I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm a man!

Conclusion: I look smart today because I can be mistaken for a man.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tanzanian Wedding

I recently got a call from my long lost Baba... remember my host family? I haven't heard from him since mid-July when he asked for a contribution for a cousin's wedding. Well, the big day finally arrived. The groom, Lawrence, is an engineer!! I think I only met him once or twice. I remember he stayed with the family for a few days back in March. He thinks my name is Kate... oh well. The wedding was awesome. 

I met up with some of the family at my old house, and we drove to an area called Mbezi, where they go to church. There was a huge party going on before we got there. A band of trumpets, trombones, and drums were echoing for miles. Whenever they took a break, you could hear the choir singing and dancing. They looked (and danced) exactly like the women from this video. In fact, this is one of the songs they sang, a very popular Christian song in Tanzania. 

Everyone danced as they processed in. It was a huge celebration--for 3 different couples. Although each wedding party had 3-4 bridesmaids and groomsmen, only the bride, groom, maid of honor, and best man from each marriage sat up by the altar, and everyone else in the pews. 

There was nothing too remarkable about the ceremony. They walk up to the altar, priest says a few words, lift the veil for a very quick peck on the lips, exchange rings, read to each other from the Bible, and then repeat for the other two weddings. The real shocker was the response of everyone in the audience. There are a few moments throughout each ceremony when the audience completely freaks out and starts screaming. I nearly jumped out of my seat the first time it happened. This isn't just normal cheering. It's almost like a dog yelping, but they trill it, and go on for like 25 seconds! It's really impressive, but something I'd never try to replicate. 

As soon as the wedding was over, we all walked out to the front of the church and took a million pictures. People would randomly break out in song and dance. They never really stopped dancing from this moment on. You had to have a bounce in your step for absolutely everything you did from this point forward. We loaded up a giant bus and headed to the beach for more pictures.

Something I was not told beforehand was that the wedding had a very specific color scheme. I'm not sure how this is selected, but every person in the wedding parties, family members, and everyone else in attendance was wearing maroon splashed with either silver or gold. I showed up in bright blue. As if i don't already stand out in Tanzania...

I spent most of my time with my best friend, Neema. Anyone remember her? She's the greatest housegirl/sister anyone could ask her. Still doesn't speak any English, but we make it work. 

I had one other friend for the evening, Deo. He's my brother, though we'd call him a cousin. I was psyched that he was also not wearing maroon. 

My favorite comment from him was "I think I want to get married in the next 5 years. I'm still young now, but I get so bored washing clothes by myself. I want to get married so I have someone to help me wash." With that attitude, I'm sure he'll find a lovely Tanzanian girl... certainly not an American!

We had some major bus issues on the way from the beach to the hotel. First we had to push it to get it started. Already a bad sign... then the driver tried to take a shortcut through the sand, and got stuck. After about 10 minutes of failed attempts, we dug ourselves out of the sand and continued back on the road. One problem--the bus couldn't go any faster than 10mph now! It took us about an hour to get to the reception. No worries though, because nothing ever starts on time. And half the guests were on my bus! 

The reception was a lot of fun. There were a few quirky Tanzanian traditions that I really enjoyed. There was a structured schedule of events, hosted by an MC. It started off with procession of the wedding party. Obviously they all danced in. It was really cute. When the bride and groom finally entered, everyone stood up with their special wedding handkerchiefs. Instead of bubbles or rice, all the guests here get hankies with a nice message from the bride and groom. You have to dance while waving them in the air as the couple processes in. 

Then they introduce all the elders. In Tanzanian families, you don't have aunts and uncles, you just have big fathers/mothers, and little fathers/mothers. So nearly every relative that is older than the bride and groom gets a special introduction and a big cheer from everyone in the room. After that, everyone else is introduced to each other. They do this by a community toast. Everyone stands up with their glass and walks all around the room. You clink glasses with everyone you run into! And of course, you're all dancing while this happens. It's a really cute tradition. 

Then they bring all the families onto the dance floor with tribal dances. This is where things get really cool. As you've probably heard by now, I try really hard to be Tanzanian. Many people don't believe me because I'm so white... but I'm mastering all the important stuff--being late to everything, speaking colloquial swahili, welcoming others to my food, etc. When people call me "Mzungu" ('white girl' or 'foreigner', however you choose to translate it) I've earned the right to snap at them at say "mimi si mzungu! mimi ni mbongo!" which basically translates to "I'm SO Tanzanian!!" They always get a big kick out of it, because they don't expect me to understand them in the first place. Now that I've been to this wedding, and performed the ritual Chagga (tribe) wedding dance, I'm even more Tanzanian than before. There wasn't much to it, but it was so much fun! Everyone ran up onto the dance floor waving their arms around like monkeys. Then they all linked hands and swayed back and forth while continuing around the circle, stomping with the major drum beats. 

There's one really weird tradition that I can't quite understand--presents. Everyone who brought a gift dances up onto the stage with the present, sets it aside on the table and then hugs/shakes hands with the bride and groom. Then they all pose for pictures. It doesn't end there, though. Afterward, all the siblings (including cousins) open each present and run (dancing) onto the stage waving them around in the air. Then they drop them all in front of the bride and groom and pose for more pictures. Weird... but that's not all. Then the parents of the bride and groom are invited onto the stage. They all sit down in a line and even more presents are brought forward. Instead of just dropping the gifts in front, as with the first group, they are literally COVERED in the gifts. Why? I'm not sure... tradition. 

Now, please brace yourself for the BEST part of the evening. It's called Ndafu. Words cannot describe how excited I was for this. In English, Ndafu is "goat cake." 

I imagine it's kinda like a pig roast, but way cooler. Look at that head! This is one of the greatest Chagga traditions. I'm pretty sure no other tribe eats ndafu at weddings... or ever. 

They carve into it like a turkey... or like a cake. And then the couple romantically feeds each other pieces of this goat as it stares them in the face. 

I love Tanzanian weddings! Can't wait for the next one!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fuel Crisis

It seems like every part of the world is experiencing some sort of devastating crisis right now. With all the talk of debt ceilings, rioting, and famine, I bet none of you have heard of the fuel crisis in Tanzania. I don't blame you; it's hard to make the news these days.

Fuel prices have been rising significantly in Tanzania, along with many other places in the world. As you probably know, rising fuel costs lead to higher costs for food and other items that are processed or transported aka EVERYTHING. To put this into perspective for you, the cost of sugar 6 months ago was 1500Tsh. Today it is 6000Tsh. That's a 300% markup! You might be thinking, 'Come on Christina, that's still only $4. What's the big deal?' Well, let's remember that over 80% of the population lives on less than $2 a day. (Maybe my data is slightly outdated because they haven't done a proper analysis in almost 10 years, but you get the point.)

People are really struggling with the increase in fuel costs. Especially because there has been an energy crisis going on at the same time. Tanzania's power supply is mostly hydroelectric, and insufficient rains in the last year led to a 230MW deficit in the power grid. To put that in simpler terms, they could only produce 2/3 of the energy needed to supply the nation. They started this practice called "power rationing" which is just as inconvenient as it sounds. Around February, the power companies began to supply power whenever they felt like it. For a while it was consistent--power one day, no power the next. But things always got crazy and unpredictable. I'm very fortunate to be living on the same line as a major University and Hospital, so the power company tries not to take away my power so often. We're not so lucky at the office or my classroom where we work by lantern (when they can afford fuel).

That brings me back to the main point. Many of the wealthier people were dealing with the power rationing by starting up their nifty little generators every evening. When fuel prices kept increasing, they realized they couldn't afford to watch tv or keep their AC running. I'm not sure if you can sense my lack of sympathy... but it did become a major issue for the tourism industry, which brings in the most revenue to the country. The hotels were spending over $10,000 each day to fuel the generators that they needed to keep the kitchen and laundry facilities running, along with adequate power for each room. Major problems. We wouldn't want the rest of the world complaining about their terrible vacation to Tanzania... it would seriously hurt the economy.

Once the government recognized the extent to which people were suffering with the power deficit along with a steady increase in fuel costs, they decided to put a cap on the price of fuel. Good Job Government! I'm happy to say they actually intervened in a problem. Though you can see how this may have upset the fuel companies. Some of them were so mad about the 91Tsh (6 cents) per liter reduction that they stopped selling fuel altogether.

Let me be more clear about that last comment: For over 4 million people living in Dar es Salaam, there was one day this week that only 2 stations were selling fuel.

I can't take credit for this photo, as I refused to get within 5 miles of any working petrol stations. I heard the lines were backed up for 4km this day, which doesn't surprise me one bit.

As each day passed, there was uncertainty as to which petrol stations would be selling fuel. Most said they didn't have any fuel available. When they were open, they would only supply 10 liters per customer. Priority was given to anyone who showed up on foot with containers. BP still hasn't opened any stations throughout the city... even more reason to love them, right?

I'll admit that this hasn't proven to be a major inconvenience to me just yet... I try to live simply here, so I'm not traveling too much (except walking) or using fuel for any other reason. They anticipate the cost of public transport to increase with the current situation. They also expect that the cost of food will rise significantly over the next few months. If these predictions are accurate, I'm sure you'll hear me ranting and raving through this blog. There's still no end in sight.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Today I was talking to my friend Regina outside her soda/carving supply shop while waiting to eat lunch. This woman walks up and asks Regina for something. She had an adorable little baby with her, so I obviously admired it and touched its pudgy little hands. So cute. It couldn't have been more than 3 months old. Just sitting there like a little chubby lump on her hip. The mother looked at me and told me the baby likes me. Then she handed it to me and walked away! I didn't even know where she was going or who this woman was! Regina and a few of the carvers were confused about why I looked so surprised. They just told me "It's ok. She'll come back later." No big deal...

So I amble around the carvers' area with my new friend. We were a hit. Everyone loved looking at me and my little Tanzanian baby. I asked them all "unapenda mtoto wangu?" (Do you like my baby?) and they would all burst out in laughter. But no one thought it was strange for me to walk around with this mystery baby.

The mother came back about fifteen minutes later. What a relief!

I told a few of my friends about the baby incident and how I couldn't believe she just left her child with a stranger for so long. They didn't understand what was so shocking. "Well, did the baby like you? It wasn't crying, right? Then you should've given it back." I admitted that I liked having the baby for a little while. Then they said "Do you want it again? We could go get it for you to play with." Then they began yelling to the mother to bring her child over to me. So I said "No, that's ok. It was really small... not the kind of kid you play with anyway. But it was cute." Then they said, "oh, ok, I understand. You want a bigger baby. Would you want like a 5 year old? They're fun. I can bring one of those for you tomorrow. Actually, just tell me what age. I can bring some kids everyday if you want."

Tanzanians are so generous...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I miss America

Don't get me wrong, I truly enjoy Tanzania and I hope to stay longer than I initially planned. But with the recent news of bin Laden's death, I can't help but feel a strong sense of American pride. When I first heard the news yesterday, I wasn't sure how to react. I heard news of many Americans celebrating and crowding the streets in excitement. My first instinct was to celebrate because a terrible man will no longer be able to spread the message of terrorism.

But I didn't.

I smiled to myself and tried to learn more about how it happened, and how they could be so sure it was him. More than anything, I wanted to discuss what this means, why everyone is so happy, and what the possible implications would be. I just wanted to talk about with someone.

But I couldn't.

So far it seems that people in Tanzania care more about the royal wedding than the death of bin Laden. Obviously his death does not mark an end to terrorism, but it is symbolic because we are achieving small victories in the fight against terrorism. And yes, there is that underlying excitement of vindication because we finally got the bad guy that caused all the pain and heartache as a result of 9/11.

I'm not sure what emotions to have anymore. I wish I could be back in America to enjoy this moment in the company of others who know what we all experienced. They might share my confusion, or help me sort out all the feelings running through my mind. At the very least, I'm sure they'd be willing to speak openly about everything.

Maybe it is too soon to pass judgment on the reaction of Tanzanians. They often watch news every evening, so it is possible they just hadn't heard anything about it yesterday. Still I wish I could've been in an environment where that was the hot topic.

Instead of sulking because I'm missing all the patriotism and unity back home, I decided to make myself a mix of songs that reflect my love for America. Right now “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” by Toby Keith and “It's America” by Rodney Atkins top the list.

I can assure you that I never realized how much I love America until I left. It's strange to recognize how much I took for granted.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Working on Africa Time

Machui plans put on hold again. To refresh your memory, that's the small village in Zanzibar that I'm hoping to reach out to for a solution to their water crisis.

I was supposed to visit to assess the situation quite some time ago, but then I broke my leg. That made independent travel by bus and ferry a bit too unsafe and near-impossible. I've been speaking with the Sisters and someone who previously worked on the water project in hopes to get more information, but it seems like I really need to be there in person to figure out the current situation. So I waited it out, and had plans to go last weekend. I actually made it to Zanzibar! And then I got sick... I swear something is trying to keep me away from this little village.

I couldn't keep down any food, and felt like the world was spinning around me anytime I moved my head. I rushed back to see a doctor in Dar. After a day full of testing, doctors concluded that I had a parasite in my stomach, but they couldn't be entirely sure which type until they performed more tests. Once they figured out precisely which bug took over my body, then they could determine how to get rid of it. I returned the following day, after having nightmares about a worm eating me from the inside out. Then they decided that it wasn't a parasite (phew!) but they couldn't figure out what the problem was. Apparently my stomach was inflamed to a "moderately severe" level, but my body looked strong, so I should just allow myself to fight off whatever the problem is. Even more reason to love Tanzanian healthcare...

I'm doing much better now, but disappointed that my Machui plans have been pushed aside again. Hopefully I'll get out there this coming weekend--fingers crossed! 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter Everyone!

I hope you're all having a lovely day with family and friends. It never occurred to me how much I would miss one of those big family functions at a time like this, but I still had a nice day here in Dar. Last night I attended the Easter Vigil at the campus chapel. They cancelled the English mass this weekend, without any explanation, so it was really interesting in Swahili. And yes, an Easter Vigil in Tanzania is just as long as the ones in America. They did a very nice job decorating the chapel, and they had beautiful Swahili hymns sung by one of the most talented choirs I've ever heard. It was really nice.

My Easter morning consisted of piles upon piles of laundry. Done in a couple hours, with limited cuts on my knuckles. I'm definitely getting better at this!

It was nice and quiet because my host family took off to their other home in Morogoro for celebrations.

I met up with Pam and Jas, two students from Fairfield who are studying at the University. We decided to grab lunch together and search for chocolate bunnies! Unfortunately, Tanzania wasn't on the Easter Bunny's map this year. But we each bought an over-sized chocolate bar and walked over to the movie theater. We saw the movie "Hall Pass." It was hilarious, but not exactly easter-appropriate.

On the way home, the real excitement happened. We were walking back towards campus when Pam stopped short just before the gate. She called us over to see a massive lizard. It was just under 3 feet long!! I was really glad to see it was dead, but it looked so alive. This girl saw us gawking at the beast, and she walked right over and picked it up by the tail. She started swinging it around like a toy! For the record, this girl was actually like 20 years old... not a little kid. And she showed absolutely no fear while playing with the lizard. This is actually the second time I've seen such a big nasty thing. (the first one was squashed in the middle of the road). The dead ones don't bother me so much, but I'm pretty sure there are living ones out there somewhere, and I really hope I never cross paths with them. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Back to Blogging

This is a pretty busy week for me. I finally got my cast off! I'm hoping that was my last experience with the hospital because it was just as frightening as every other. The nurse set me up in a nice room in the "casualty" department. (That's their word for "emergency room," but I think it's slightly unsettling.) Then she hooked up a nice rotating saw. It looked a lot like the dremel I would use at work, but bigger and sharper... and I've cut through some thick metal with those things! It's ok, she was only going to cut the cast, right? 

The nurse was making a pretty good dent in the top layer of the cast, but she kept taking breaks, as if this was a very exhausting exercise. Finally she said "It's too thick!" Then she grabbed the saw again and started hacking away. Her entire body was bobbing up and down as she fought with the thick plaster. The worst moment was when a person from the custodial staff walked into the room. She turned around and politely said hi to him WHILE USING THAT SAW ON MY LEG!! I honestly thought I was going to lose my leg. In an effort to be less dramatic, I turned to my friend Pam and began to rationalize the situation. I calmly told her that the worst thing that was going to happen was for her to hit the skin, see a little blood, and then I could call in her supervisor to finish the simple procedure. I was actually preparing for her to cut my leg, and assuring myself that it wouldn't be that bad. Way to go, Tanzanian healthcare. It's hard to believe that this is one of the best facilities in East Africa. It definitely makes me appreciate the high level of care I receive in the US. 

Well, the good news is that I survived--no scars! Except that big burn on my heel. More good news--it's healing! I have to wear an ankle support (kind of like an ACE bandage) for the next month and build up the strength in my little chicken leg. 

For the next month, I'm advised not to walk on sand or hills. Good thing I'm going to Zanzibar on Friday! That's the beautiful island off the coast of Dar es Salaam. I'll be heading back to Machui to find out firsthand about the struggles with water in the small village. 

But I can't think about that until after my big test tomorrow. Essays on African Civilizations. Thousands of years, starting with the hunting and gathering lifestyles, all the way through iron working and the formation of major cities. This should be interesting... I haven't taken a test like this in almost a year! I'm getting too old for stress like this.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Over the past couple weeks I have been back and forth to Arusha in the northern part of Tanzania. I have been exploring the National Parks in that area including Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Serengeti, and Ngorongoro. Each park contains all the wildlife you would imagine in Eastern Africa. I couldn't believe how close I got to some of these amazing animals. The best part was experiencing everything in pure nature. These animals aren't cooped up in fences all day; they are roaming freely through vast plains or resting up in the tall acacia trees. It is amazing to see their natural behaviors up close.

The first park I visited was Tarangire. 

This park is most celebrated for its beautiful landscape dotted with enormous baobob trees. The bark of this plant is a favorite snack of the African elephant, so it is also home to one of the largest elephant populations in all of Africa. Everywhere I turned there was another group of elephants! At one point, they completely surrounded the safari vehicle. We just had to wait for them to clear out of the area a bit so we could drive off.

Another exciting find was a leopard. These animals are extremely rare to spot because they are solitary and hide in trees. The only time you'd ever see two leopards together is if a mother is still raising her young. Otherwise they maintain a territory of about 8 kilometers. It was so far off in the distance, and only its head was visible through all the leaves of the acacia tree. My guide must've been eating his carrots this week... pretty soon there were 8 other safari cars huddled around us to see such a rare find.

Lake Manyara was our next stop. The baboons completely own this neck of the woods, or at least that's what they think.

My favorite part of the day was when a mother and baby elephant came out of the woods and surprised us by drinking water from a muddy river just a few feet away. Then two other sets of mother and baby elephants came out of the same area. The mothers were drinking and bathing while the babies began playing together. It was like something you might see on National Geographic, but it was happening right before my eyes!

A little farther down the road, I could hear horrible moaning sounds. Two elephants were fighting! As we pulled up to the scene, I could see that it was just a couple young elephants playing around... but I wouldn't want to get in the middle of that.

That night, our hotel overlooked Lake Manyara. Remember--no fences, no boundaries, wild animals everywhere. The hotel staff warned us to keep windows and doors closed and locked at all times. I guess our neighbors didn't pay attention to that fact. In the morning, we heard a loud scream and watched a baboon run off with an entire fruit basket from the room next door! The woman was totally terrified as the baboon sat on the roof eating her breakfast. 

The next stop on the journey was Serengeti National Park. This is where most of the excitement of the trip took place. Serengeti is home to so many big cats—lions, cheetahs, and leopards.

On my second drive through the Serengeti, there was another exciting leopard spotting here. It was snoozing up in an acacia tree right by the road!

Lions spend most of their time laying around, full-bellied, digesting the feast of zebra, wildebeest, or antelope that roam all around them.

When they decide to get up and move around, it's an incredible sight. They are so large and powerful. 

I was surprised at how many prides of lions I saw in this small time. There were so many of them! These ones were staring down a large group of buffalo.

The cubs are adorable! And very active. They play with each other, jumping around and pretending to fight. Whenever they try to play with the adult lions, they always get swatted away, and then go back to jumping around in the tall reeds.

The cheetahs were my absolute favorite part of the entire trip. We found a group of three cheetah brothers ready to hunt. 

First they were watching a herd of zebras. Normally cheetahs wouldn't aim for such large prey, but there was a baby in the group that they were hoping to separate and catch. Unfortunately, they played the waiting game a little too long and the zebras slipped away. 

Not to worry, the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebras were running right in front of their path, single-file, like a mouth-watering display in a supermarket. 

They waited for a long time, and finally decided to make a strike. Each of the cheetahs went after a different wildebeest, leading to failure and empty stomachs. It was disappointing, but these cheetahs weren't done yet. They went to rest over in the shade. 

Just a few minutes later, two baby wildebeest came prancing over, right in front of the three cheetahs!! 

They dashed out of that shade so fast, earning their title as the fastest land animal in the world. The first cheetah took down one of the wildebeest and as the second caught up, they carried their prey to an area with higher grasses. 

Then they began to devour their lunch. 

I kept watching until the vultures were done feeding on the dry bones.

My second safari was spent camping in each park. That's right--in the parks! That meant it was completely normal for wild animals to roam around each of the tents eating grass and doing other things that animals do. 

One evening in the Serengeti, water buffalo came right up to my tent! These things are massive!! I guess they aren't going to bother you unless you provoke them. But how do you know what might set off a giant buffalo? 

Our last day was spent in Ngorongoro crater. This massive crater used to be a full volcanic mountain, but collapsed on itself over two million years ago. Now it is the largest caldera in the world, and home to the greatest concentration of predators in the world. The rare Black Rhino can be found here in the crater. The populations are extremely endangered—last counted at only 19 in this area! This is a result of poachers who want the rhino horn for medicinal use in Asia.

I was amazed by all the wildlife condensed into that crater. We saw just as many species within the crater as we did in every other park combined!







Antelope. Below you can see an Eland in front of some Thompson's Gazelles. 



Hyenas--they really do smile at you!

There aren't any giraffes or female elephants in the crater. Giraffes are too top-heavy to make the steep descent into the crater. Plus is only a small patch of acacia trees, so they are more protected when they stick with the food outside the crater. Female elephants don't venture down there because their babies wouldn't have any protection from predators in the open plains. They prefer to stay in the highlands where there are plenty of tall jungle-like trees. 
This didn't mean I couldn't see any. As a matter of fact, a massive group of giraffes came out to say goodbye to us on the way out of the crater. There must've been at least 30 giraffes scattered up on this hilltop! They are such magnificent creatures. When they run, it looks like slow motion. They are graceful, but so large that every movement is ten times slower than you'd expect. Absolutely amazing. 

The exciting and memorable parts of safari were certainly the big game animals. But I couldn't possibly leave out all the wacky and incredible birds. Most of them had such a beautiful array of colors. I wish I was able to snap a few more photos, but the little ones are so quick!

These safari adventures were an incredible way to see the beauty of Africa up close.