Sunday, January 30, 2011


Monkeys run around this campus like squirrels back home. I always see them in packs of 5-15, although I'm sure there are more hiding in trees or bushes that I don't notice.

I've been warned that the male monkeys tend to pick on female humans. Seems crazy, right? They will actually taunt women because they expect them to scream and get all frazzled, yet they don't go anywhere near the men.

One of the first days, I walked outside and there were monkeys in the driveway! I wasn't sure if they would attack me or if they were harmless. So I ran back inside to ask Neema, the maid, for some help. She laughed at me (as usual when I get freaked out by the wildlife) and then showed me how to scare them off. If you pretend to pick up a rock and throw it at them, they usually run away. Monkeys aren't afraid of me... I'm working on a really scary yell and intimidating body language, but so far it hasn't worked.

Today there was a monkey brawl right outside my window! They started off climbing on top of the house and dangling outside the windows. I had a nice view of this guy while eating breakfast.

One of the big monkeys was picking on two babies as they tried to climb a tree. Three older monkeys saw this and began attacking the bully. It was unbelievable! I should've filmed it for Discovery Channel or NatGeo.

Another monkey was playing with the clothesline. He kept grabbing at my brother's shirt until he completely ripped it down from the line. Then he started running away with it!

Neema and I rushed outside and scared them away before they stole all the laundry.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Prison Island

Tortoises are not native to Tanzania, but there are many that live in a place called Prison Island.

These were a gift from the Seychelles in exchange for several flowering plants from Zanzibar. I think Zanzibar got the better end of the deal with tortoises!

They started out with only four tortoises in the 1920s. Over the years, they ran into many problems with people trying to steal the animals so they could sell them. They switched their location several times around the island of Zanzibar until they were finally relocated to Prison Island. Now there are over 100 tortoises thriving in this area.

One of these guys was 165 years old! And he was HUGE!

After I got over my fear of a tortoise eating my fingers, I had a lot of fun. 

I couldn't believe how many were scattered all around. They move a lot faster than you'd think!

Prison Island was never actually used as a prison. It was intended for this purpose but instead was turned into a quarantine station for trade ships from Asia which brought goods, news, people, and plenty of disease. If they suspected that a ship contained any contaminated goods or people, it would be quarantined and disinfected on this island before moving on to Zanzibar.

There were a handful of buildings that were once used as medical facilities. We sat outside one of these buildings to look at the beautiful view.

There was another island just off the cost called Snake Island, but I don't think I'm ready for that one just yet.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mwalimu Christina

Today was my first day of teaching! Oh, you didn't know I'd be teaching? Neither did I, but I'm really glad I started.

My day began fighting for a seat on three dala dalas to get to Loyola Jesuit High School. I walked into the math department, hoping to speak with the teacher who I'd be assisting for the day. She handed me a notebook with the information that was to be covered in the Form 1 math classes before the end of the month. She walked me to the classroom and announced “This is Miss Christina. She'll be teaching your math class each Monday.” Then she left—not something I was prepared for. I'm really glad I remembered how to do long division... and short division... and prime factorization. That was a nerve-wracking experience, to say the least. The kids were great though. Form 1 students range in age from about 10 to 14 years old. This all depends on when their parents put them in school or sometimes how quickly they are able to learn English if their primary school was taught in Swahili. This first class was really fun to teach. They were all participating and knew way more than I expected. These kids could rattle off every prime number past 50! And they could perform pretty advanced division in their heads. I was really impressed.

The second class could take a few lessons from my first class. This group was right after lunch so they were rowdy and definitely didn't want to be in school. It made me rethink all those times I was whispering and passing notes in class. I'm so sorry to all my former teachers... now I understand. It seemed like a never-ending hour and a half.

Later in the day I met up with Chris from the Rotaract Club. He was taking me to Mwenge to teach English. I wasn't aware of any details like what age group, level of understanding, or what they needed to learn (grammar, vocabulary, verb tenses, etc). We walked up to some shops along the street and then ducked into an alley that led behind all the shops to a soccer field. Adults were playing an organized game with many spectators relaxing after a long, hot day. It was fun, but where was the classroom? Apparently after dark, they take out two chalkboards, screw in a couple small light bulbs under a roof and call it a classroom. Adult students began to stroll in have a seat on the rickety benches. Finally a young man named Kevin showed up. He explained that he teaches the beginners class, and usually American volunteers will teach the advanced class. Those volunteers didn't show up yet, so he asked me to teach them. What was I supposed to teach?!? He said I could teach about anything as long as I try to engage them in conversation. They are looking to perfect their conversation skills, and what better way than to listen to a native English speaker.

I began by asking the seven students to talk a bit about their favorite pastime. Many said football. Others said they enjoy being an accountant (even though they weren't actually an accountant), exercising, watching sports and playing chess.
I asked what they wanted to learn about, but no one had any suggestions. First I went over some tricky verbs like do, have, think, write, and make in past, present, and future. It was informative, but not exactly fun to learn about. So I started talking about the solar system. I remembered most of my facts about the sun from this song called “the sun is a mass of incandescent gas” by They Might Be Giants. It's definitely worth listening to.
Some of the students were very knowledgeable about the solar system in both Swahili and English, but there were a few students who had no idea that there were any planets other than Earth! Can you imagine how shocking it must've been for these adults to realize for the first time that there is something so much greater out there? They were blown away when we discussed the possibility of life on another planet.

Something in common with all the students was confusion surrounding Pluto's failure to qualify as a planet anymore. We were all quite disappointed when that fact came about.

I must admit that I was so inspired by these seven ladies and gentlemen. Each of them was an adult who worked all day long. Every night they come to these lessons to improve their English in a completely voluntary setting. None of them were falling asleep or fidgeting or visibly discontented. They all wanted to be there! The setting was not conducive to teaching whatsoever, but that didn't stop them from being 100% attentive. It was such a great group to work with because they are learning for all the right reasons. I sincerely look forward to teaching these students again.

They meet every night during the week from 7:30-9pm. My only concern is finding the place by myself... it seems unlikely. I might not get there again until I have someone show me where it is. My sense of direction is horrible!

My family was just starting dinner as I got home.
And the night concluded with another glorious bucket shower :)  

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Barbro Girls' School

The other Fairfield ladies, Samuel, and I took a day trip to Barbro Johansson Model Girls' Secondary School. We were told that the Form VI class is about to graduate, and they would love to hear about our college experience.

The trip to Barbro wasn't what I was expecting. First we all squeezed onto the dala dala, but that has become pretty standard in our adventures. The unusual part was once the dala dala left us at the bottom of a big hill with no school in sight. Several men rushed over to us speaking fast Swahili that I couldn't understand. Next thing you know, Samuel hops on the back of one of their motorcycles and insists that we do the same. WHAT??

In general I'm very opposed to motorcycles because they bring back scary memories (first rotation in the Emergency Room with the victim of a motorcycle accident). But somehow I left all those concerns back on the dala dala and hopped on like a champ. I rode up the hill for a few miles with the wind whipping my hair around and having so much fun! I was a little nervous about wearing a skirt, but that turned out alright. You might also notice that my arms are getting a beautiful tan, while the rest of my body remains a blinding white... I might need to get to the beach one of these days.

Administrators greeted us at the gate and offered us a delicious lunch. They explained the mission of the school and a bit of history about how it came to be. Barbro Johansson was a Swedish missionary who spent most of her life dedicated to improving education facilities for females in Tanzania. This non-profit boarding school was established with the intention of providing quality education to young ladies from all over the country, without considering their ethnic background, religion, or economic standing. In fact, many of the ladies have scholarships based solely on need, with preference given to “HIV/AIDS orphans and other children in distress” (according to the pamphlet). They work with many agencies throughout Tanzania to identify students with a history of academic excellence and desire to learn, though they may not otherwise have the opportunity.

We walked over to the academic classrooms where over 40 girls shuffled in after us. And then it was time for the speeches. We divided up a few topics and I was selected to discuss mission trips and the study abroad program, which somehow included my experiences with the Honors Program, Jesuit Mission and School of Engineering. The ladies listened intently to every word, which is not a reaction I'd expect if giving this talk to a high school in America. Afterward they had many questions, especially surrounding the cost of education and payment options. Since most of the girls rely on scholarships just to pay for boarding school, it seemed unlikely that any would be able to afford a school in the U.S. for over $50,000 a year. We emphasized that there are many organizations out there (*Rotary*) who want to give money to ambitious students if they show potential and a willingness to work hard. Along with grants and financial aid, we insisted that continued education was a possibility for each one of them. This led to an emphasis on education in general. Even so, many of the girls plan to apply to Fairfield!

My favorite part was sitting down with a few ladies after to answer their specific questions.

I wasn't expecting this, but they called me over as we were preparing to leave. The girls were so sweet! And all very excited about going to college. They asked questions ranging from challenging classes and acceptance rates to how people live in the winter and what kind of food they would be eating there. They could not believe my description of Barone Dining Hall. I guess that makes sense, considering their dining arrangements every day:

On this particular day, they were eating ugali with beans and spinach. Ugali is a staple among Tanzanians. It's a grainy, mushy, bland creation from flour, oil and water. It doesn't have any taste and is used just to fill up your stomach in the middle of the day. I was informed that 90% of Tanzanians eat this everyday, sometimes for lunch and dinner.

I had such a great day talking with these incredible ladies. They gave us a tour of their dormitories and around the campus a bit. If anyone ever complains about forced triples at Fairfield, they should see the 5 bunkbeds crammed into one room with a few dressers and closets. The ladies at Barbro School didn't seem to mind though. They were all so happy to be at this school receiving a top quality education and having food on their plate each day.  

Washing Machines? Not in Africa...

I have more respect for Tanzanian women today than ever before. I just spent three hours of my morning at war with laundry. The thought of a washing machine seems like such a luxury after all that torturous work. My hands were left pruned and scraped from hours of scrubbing. Honestly, I started bleeding from one of my fingers! I am so impressed by these Tanzanian ladies who wash not only their own clothes, but those belonging to everyone in the entire household! I can't even imagine it after what I went through today.

In this grueling process I made a few rules that will hopefully make my future laundry days a bit less painful.
  1. Wash laundry twice a week—I'm pretty sure that if I had less to clean, my hands would've survived the scrubbing. But I'm also fairly confident that I won't get around to it this often...
  2. Never wear anything white—the most time was spent on these awful white pants that had small dots of mud splashed on the back of both legs. On the bright side, they're tinted pink now, so maybe stains won't show up as easily in the future.
  3. Always wear flip flops—I'm never wearing socks again! (if I can help it). I am so happy to be done cleaning endless pairs of socks, which were obviously all inside-out when I started, dumping clumps of red dirt into the bucket each time I fixed them. I'm also quite pleased that none of the socks went missing, which always seems to happen in the dryer back home.
  4. Skip the workout on laundry days—If I did laundry every day, I'd have massive biceps by the end of the week!
For anyone who thinks I'm not roughin' it in Africa, I'd like to see you hand-wash every article of clothing you have on your continent. Then we can talk.

Friday, January 21, 2011


I went to my first Rotaract meeting today!! They have a small, but really dedicated group of people and I'm so excited to begin working with them. They just had a successful blood drive last week, with over 400 participants. In the beginning of February we will be cleaning up the outside of a hospital in Dar es Salaam, and providing additional cleaning supplies for the inside. Then they are preparing for RYLA (the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) where they are hoping for some recognition for all the events they have accomplished this year.

On Monday one of the members is showing me to a school where I will teach English for a while in the evening. Then they will take me to a Rotary meeting on Thursday afternoon. I can't wait to get involved with these clubs. I miss my Fairfield Rotaractors!! But this group seems great, so I'm very excited to get in touch with them. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Spice Tour

Another excursion in Zanzibar took us to the local farms where spices and fruits are grown.

For this part, I felt like I was completely lost in the jungle, surrounded by tall tropical trees and tons of bugs. This little guy was my favorite! Have you ever seen a neon green spider?

It was really interesting to learn how all these common fruits and spices can be grown in the same area. At one point the tour guide took a knife to the bark of a tree. When I smelled it, I could tell right away that it was cinnamon. They use every part of the tree for something. Some parts are better for adding flavor to tea, while others are better for cooking.

Each time we came to a different tree, one of the guides would climb all the way to the top so we could see the fruit up close.

There were so many different fruits in this area, and we got to try most of them.
Jackfruit (Fenesi)

Pineapple (Nanas)

Banana (Ndizi)

Coconut (Nazi)

Once again, I tried every piece of food they put in front of me. I don't think I'll ever be a fan of Passion Fruit, but the rest was so delicious!  

At the end of the tour, one of the guides had made us all accessories from banana tree leaves. It's the latest fashion here in Africa... at least I tried to start the trend.

This adorable kid came up to me and gave me a ring made from banana leaves. It was so sweet! A little later on I saw him again and he continued to greet me and have a little conversation in Swahili. He was admiring my bracelet and finally asked if he could have it. Would you turn down a face like this??

But the bracelet was a good luck/parting gift from my good friend Geoff (who is currently freezing in the northernmost province of China). It had the word “Serve” written on it. So, Geoff, I want you to know that the bracelet has gone to a better home, and you absolutely made this child's day. He was jumping for joy!

On the way home we stopped at an old white building that looked sort of like a temple. 

It was actually a bathhouse constructed by a Sultan for his wife, Persian Princess Sheharzade.

It was a pretty advanced system for its day. In the toilet section, you would walk up a few stairs where there were several stalls, each with a hole in the floor. Slaves would be underneath these stalls with buckets... and then they would leave when the person was finished. I'm very serious when I say this was an advanced system—for 1832.  


This weekend I set off to the historical city of Bagamoyo with Samuel and the other girls from Fairfield. I knew Bagamoyo used to be an important port city for trading with many countries to the east. I also knew that there was a major uprising that began in this region. I had no idea that Bagamoyo was one of the most significant cities in all of East Africa. For many years, it served as the capital. The Germans played a major role in the architectural style of this town, with other influences from Indian and Arabic designs. Bagamoyo is home to a smaller version of Stonetown.

Once again, the doors contain ornate carvings that give the buildings all a special character. They were used to depict the wealth and status of a household.

I learned the significance behind some of the carvings. Arabic design denotes a pineapple at the base of the frame. In the Indian design, the pineapple shape is translated into a swirly looking fish. Both symbolize fertility and bounty. There is a chain-link design that typically surrounds the door as a symbol of protection. A lotus flower represents the traditional farming lifestyle and value of the land. Several pointy knobs might be found sticking out from the door, covered in copper or another precious metal. These were originally used in India to protect the home from charging elephants, but later became a means of showing the wealth of the household. It was really interesting to walk through the town and point out the different characteristics of each household based on the door carvings.

The name Bagamoyo has a direct Swahili translation, meaning “Lay down your heart.” One interpretation is that Bagamoyo is the final port city after a long journey from inland Tanga, so when people finally reached this city they could relax and rest. Another interpretation is that it was a major site for slave trade, so the slaves would perceive Bagamoyo as the place to give up all hope before they were sent off into slavery.

We walked to the grave site of many prominent leaders throughout the history of Bagamoyo. 

There was one story in particular which the locals enjoy... though I'm not entirely sure why. Apparently a revered general was away at war for long periods of time, fighting to continue the slave trade in Tanzania. He came home to find that his wife had an ongoing affair with a slave! He was so ashamed that he killed himself, and now lies in this grave in Bagamoyo. It seems like a tragedy to me, but the locals enjoy the story as a comedy. Cultural differences, I suppose.

“Karibu” means welcome, but these carvings dressed like people were a little too creepy for me.

Every time I meet someone new, the first thing they say is “karibu,” and they'll say it at least twice more before the conversation is over. I'm really happy people are so polite and friendly here because they truly make an effort to make me feel like I belong.

As we walked closer to the shore, we started to smell something that practically made my eyes tear. Maybe the rest of the group didn't have such a strong reaction to the fish market, but my poor senses couldn't handle it. Still, I asked to walk closer to see what was going on. From far away, it just looks like a bunch of people huddled together on the beach, possibly waiting for a ferry. 

When you get closer, you can see all the men with buckets full of their latest catch—small fish, barracuda, squid, blue crabs. 

Some men are sitting in the sand with a pile of tiny fish, scaling them and then throwing them underneath a mound of sand. And all the women scope out the best catch to make dinner for their families.

This used to be the site of slave auctions. Now it is used as a market to sell local crafts.
Our next stop was the remains of a 13th century mosque called the Kaole ruins. 

This site is thought to be one of the earliest known connections between Islam and East Africa.

The Arabs settled here because it was an excellent port for trade. They had a direct view of the beach from the location of the mosque. Over time, mangrove trees grew so rampantly through this area that the port became inaccessible.

This large cross by the water marks the location of the first Catholic missionaries to East Africa.

A bit further down the road, we came across the spot where these first missionaries settled. There was an excellent museum with a great history of events that happened in Bagamoyo including early Arab influences, the ending of slavery, German rule being overrun by the British, and the steady decline of this previously prosperous city. The intention of the mission was to provide a safe haven for children who were released from slavery. Ultimately it expanded into a large church, school, and an active site for community projects.

The mission played a major role in the local end to slavery and recovery of former slaves. Here, money would be raised to free the slaves, who were then taught a useful trade. This enabled them to maintain paying jobs so they could care for themselves and their families. 

There is a giant Baobob tree behind the church which was planted in 1868, when this mission was founded. Apparently one of the sisters who worked at a clinic just behind the tree would tie her donkey to it everyday. After about five years, the tree grew so large that it began to swallow the chain that the donkey was tied to everyday. Now the tree has grown immensely, and you can still see the end of the chain coming out from the tree. In the year 2000, the tree measured 12.5 meters in circumference. They expect it to live for about 1000 years.

This is how we got around the town—the back of a rickety old pick-up truck! It was a little bumpy in the back, but we enjoyed the ride.

Especially when it took us to our next stop—Mamba! (Crocodiles)

There were so many crocodiles in this place. Most of them were enjoying the shady areas, but when we stepped up to the wall, a few came out looking hungry.

This was such an awesome experience. I've never been so close to so many crocodiles before! Or any vicious animal, for that matter. I was convinced that the 4 foot wall wasn't going to keep the crocs in... which is why I really enjoyed the babies.

ok, maybe I shouldn't have enjoyed them that much. But it was so cool!  

Monday, January 17, 2011


All this excitement was exhausting, but totally worth it. The combination of the heat, extreme humidity, lack of sleep, and busy schedule had us all a bit rundown. But of course, I was the first one to get sick. I had a very high fever. At one point it reached 103.6, so I decided to seek medical attention here in Zanzibar. I also had a sore throat, and it was painful to eat and drink... not that I had an appetite anyway. So Samuel walked me to a clinic run by one of the nuns who also happens to be a nurse. Everyone I have met so far speaks Swahili, and most speak a good amount of English. Unfortunately, my nurse spoke very little English, so I was using bogus sign language and Sam as a translator to get my symptoms across to her. After cleaning off a thermometer, she handed it to me. I instinctively started putting it under my tongue and the nurse flipped out. She must've thought I was crazy because she then directed me to slide it under my arm. Oops! She came to the conclusion that I have tonsilitis. She prescribed two medications, and insisted I drink plenty of hot liquids and gargle with salt water. If my fever didn't begin to go down in the next two days, she said I probably have malaria, and must get another treatment. I had my fingers crossed for tonsilitis!
The clinic was very clean and simple. Outside there were six people sprawled across benches, waiting to see the nurse. I was told that this is one of the best facilities in the area. People will travel many extra miles, passing several clinics along the way, because they know they will get the best treatment here. After the nurse handed me a small post-it with my symptoms and prescriptions on it, I walked about 30 feet down the way to a man who gave me the actual medicine. They had a very nice system in place. I enjoyed speaking with the nurse—even if the conversation was mostly in a language I couldn't comprehend. It was very relaxed and I never felt rushed. It was certainly a different experience than I've ever had with doctors in the US.
The next day everyone had a bit of a scare when my temperature exceeded 104 degrees for several hours. They insisted I go to another doctor on the island, or they would fly me to the mainland for a hospital. This facility in Zanzibar had five doctors who rotate shifts. I met with Ahmed, who looked in my mouth and immediately diagnosed tonsillitis. He also said the meds that I have been taking aren't nearly strong enough, so he prescribed better ones. He reaffirmed that I could not drink any cold liquids for the next five days. Do these doctors realize that it's 90 degrees outside?? I must admit, this guy knew what he was talking about, because I was back to full health in just a few days.
I'm glad that scare is over. I didn't want to be a burden, but I was too weak to go on excursions outside the mission. Everyone was so helpful! While the other students were out exploring the island, the nuns and their staff checked on me constantly. They would bring me fruit and tea every couple hours. I look forward to visiting these nuns again and maybe even helping out with their school.

The nuns run an incredible program in Machui. In addition to the clinic, they run a secondary school for students who have been unable to obtain their education. Many of the students were removed from other schools due to a lack of money or other obligations. The Sisters in Machui give all these students a second chance. As long as they show a desire to learn, they will be admitted to the school.
We were able to interview some of the students as part of a Kiswahili lesson one morning. We would generate a bit of smalltalk, and then ask why they wanted to be admitted to this school and where they ultimately would like to end up. A large number of students said they want to work in hotels as a front desk attendant or chef. Most of them want to remain in Tanzania for the rest of their lives. It was interesting to learn about their ambitions. This was the biggest “changamoto” (challenge) we have had so far in our Swahili practice but it was really helpful to speak with the students.

Did I mention how beautiful the mission is? The buildings are not extravagant, but the foliage certainly is. 

There are gorgeous flowers and fruit trees everywhere you look. Almost all the food came directly from the garden.

This was the house I stayed in with the ladies studying abroad from Fairfield.

There were four bedrooms, two showers (only one worked), and two toilets (one of which was just a hole in the ground). It was a great introduction to living simply in Africa... especially when the power went out. The humidity is very intense here, so it seems that your body is in a constant state of sweat. This makes a cold shower feel like the best time of day. Unfortunately, when the power goes out for a while, so does the running water. Who would pass up the opportunity for a nice bucket shower?? That's right. One bucket of water and another little cup to pour the water with. You'd be amazed at what a small amount of water you really need to get clean.