Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring Break Tanzania Style – Climbing Kilimanjaro

Before the Climb
So two weeks ago was our spring break and my friend Marion and I decided to climb Kilimanjaro!  Completely unprepared about what we were getting ourselves into, we booked a trip just a couple days before our break started and after a hectic trip to get our bus tickets, we were ready to head out.

We left on Friday for an 8 hour bus ride to Moshi and were picked up from the bus stop by the tour company.  Then, we went to the “office” which was really just this guy’s house at the end of a dirt road to go over some logistics before the trip. We had to pay for the trip in cash so on the way to the hotel we were staying we had to get money from the ATM.  Climbing Kilimanjaro is ridiculously expensive so when we were just counting out all the money on the beds, it kind of looked like a scene from a drug deal.  

We decided to have a day to relax in between getting into Moshi and the climb so the next day we just went to town and explored. Moshi is a lot smaller, more relaxed and a lot less stressful than Dar so it was a good day just walking around and buying a couple last minute things before we set out for Kili. At the hotel, we also met some Peace Corps volunteers from Botswana that just finished the climb and a French guy working in South Sudan also about to head out to climb Kili the next day.

Starting the Climb – Day 1
The people from the tour company all came in the morning to pick us up. Since we had basically no gear, we were told that everything would be provided and the day we came in we even went through a check list of everything we needed.  However, when they came by my friend Marion and I wanted to double check if we had everything so we requested to see what they brought us. They brought out a garbage bag with only a couple of things that were either ridiculously too small or too big.  We started to stress out a bit and made a little bit of a scene so then the guys took us around to a couple rental shops until we got everything we needed. Afterwards, we drove straight to Machame gate where we started our hike. The car ride there we got to know all our porters and guides that would be helping us out on our trip.

Hiking up Kilimanjaro, you go through four extremely different vegetation zones. Our first day started off in the rainforest. The moss growing on the trees made it seem like we were walking through Dr. Seuss land at points and we got to see some monkeys along the way. Coming into this completely unprepared, the first day mentally shocked me that I’m here, I’m actually climbing Kili and it wasn’t going to be easy. I also realized that the most intense hike I’ve ever been on was maybe 2 hours. Not the great realization to have when I’m on my way to climb the highest mountain in Africa.  By the time we got to our camping site, I was thoroughly exhausted and sore and if I had only paid $20 to hike Kili, I would’ve probably given up after the first day.
That night we ate a big dinner and hung out with the porters just talking and they were trying to teach us a song in Swahili.

 Starting our climb at the Machame Gate

 Crazy trees in the rainforest

Made it to the first camp!

Day 2
After we went to bed the night before, my stomach really started to hurt.  By the time we got up in the morning it was not feeling better and I couldn’t even eat anything which I knew was bad since we had a long day ahead of us.  This day was a lot steeper than the day before but a little shorter. We were mainly walking through a vegetation zone called the moorland. The first hour and a half, I was doing fine but later my energy levels just crashed since I had no food in me.  Since we had 2 guides, Marion went ahead of me with one and I slowly made my way along with the other. We got to the camp pretty early that day so we had time to rest and then visit the Shira Caves close by the camp.  That night, I still couldn’t eat. Even though my stomach stopped hurting for the most part, it was really hard for me to get any food down and eating became just as big of a battle as the hiking on this trip. I was able to get a couple spoonfuls of rice down after having to sing Eye of the Tiger in between bites.

Cavemen in Shira Caves

The campsite

Day 3
This day was a lot longer hike but it was a lot flatter than the day before. We started walking through the alpine desert which is mostly just big rocks everywhere.  Then we continued our climb to the Lava Towers where we ate our lunch.

Alpine desert with Kili in the back

Day 4
We started this day off by climbing up the Barranco wall. I had to whip out those rock climbing skills I never had because for an hour and half we were literally climbing vertically up. At one point we got to this beautiful lookout point of Kilimanjaro where Marion and I spend way too much time perfecting our jumping pictures. This was the first time I started to feel the lack of oxygen because with every jump I was gasping for breath. At times, this day was a bit frustrating.  We’d have a long steep uphill and when we got to the top we would have a steep downhill. All that work just to go back down. By the time we got to our campsite I was pretty beat. I still didn’t get my appetite back since the second day but I knew that in a couple hours we would be starting our summit so I just needed something flavorless to fill my stomach so for the first time in Tanzania, I was craving ugali. 

Getting some help up the Barranco Wall

Kili jumping picture win

Day 5
Summit Day. Also known as the most painful day of my life. So after about 2 hours of sleep, we were waken up at 11:30 to start our climb at midnight. Still sore from the night before, we put on a ridiculous amount of layers and after a bit of tea, we were ready to head out. We made our way through the dark with our headlamps to lead the way. It was freezing and ridiculously steep.  For hours, we were slowly making progress. It was probably for the best we summitted in the dark since I lost track of time completely and all my energy was focused on my next step. I think we were one of the last people to leave the camp since there was no one behind us.  At one point, we caught up with this one other group. I was sort of jealous since their guides were keeping them motivated and singing to them but I guess that’s what we miss out by not paying more.  As the sun started rising, we were still not even that close to the top. However, the view was absolutely beautiful.  Seeing the sun rise above the other peak of Kilimanjaro and the fact we were above it was breathtaking. Speaking of breathtaking, the lack of oxygen at that altitude made breathing very difficult.  Marion and I were walking at possible the slowest speed possible. We were started to see some people on their way back down, which gave us a little bit more motivation. Finally, we made it past the steepest part and were at the Stella Point. We continued on another hour and a half to the highest point, Uhuru Peak, past snow and glaciers. When we made it to the peak, I just couldn’t believe I made it. I was so exhausted though, I just wanted to take some pictures as fast as possible and go back down.

The way back down may have just been as painful as up. I was exhausted and the way down was very steep. We sort of had to slide our way down because the ground was sort of like sand. I was just so delirious by that times that our guide had to help me down. My toes were aching like crazy since I had three pairs of socks on making my shoes really tight. Every step downhill hurt. After the 9 hours it took to get up and the 5 it took to get back down, we were finally at the campsite. We were given a couple hours to rest and eat a bit (we hadn’t had food this whole time) which I couldn’t even do. Initially, we were supposed to go another 4 hours to our last camp but since we were so tired our guide thankfully let us go to a camp that was closer. It was only supposed to take an hour and a half but it ended up being nearly three for us. We were walking through the dark, and being so exhausted, I started to hallucinate a bit. When we finally got to the campsite, I was just so happy that the day was over and was ready to go straight to sleep.

On the way up to the summit

 Exhausted - pretty much the definition of our trip

 Sunrise on the way to the top

 Beautiful views from the peak

 You know, just saw some glaciers no big deal

 Uhuru Peak - We made it!

Day 6
It was the last day and we were finishing our descent. We packed up our camps for the last time and headed back down. We made our way back through the moorland and rainforest now with a little more time to appreciate it all since we were going downhill. By the end my toes were aching like crazy again from going downhill. We got a little bit of a shortcut because what would have been the last 45 minutes of hiking, we managed to hitch a ride on an emergency vehicle. At the end, we got our certificates and headed back to the hotel. Our first shower in six days and there was no hot water. Somehow my most looked forward to showers have all been cold but at that point I was just happy to feel clean again.  The rest of the day started our slow road back to recovery where we just spent the day at the hotel in awe that we were just at the top just a day ago.   

Overall, Kilimanjaro was by far the hardest thing I’ve physically and mentally went through. It was long and it was painful. I got windburned so bad my skin off my entire face peeled off. My lips felt like they were cut with mini-razor blades and eating anything citrusy or spicy after the climb burned my entire mouth. Altitude sickness affects people in a lot of ways and for me I completely lost my appetite. It’s one of the weirdest things I’ve felt but even when my stomach wasn’t hurting, it was almost like I was incapable of eating which definitely effecting my energy levels on the way up. At the end of the climb, my feet were two big blisters. Two weeks later and I still haven’t gotten full feeling back into my toes (here’s to hoping I’ll eventually get feeling back).

 But despite all this, am I glad I did it? For sure. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, even surreal at times. It felt like I was walking in between different mysterious worlds.  The absolute feeling of joy you get when you get to the top is awesome. What’s more awesome is the feeling you have when get down and actually have the energy to be excited. It’s things like these that show you where you limits are and give you no choice but to push way past them. It leaves you a sense of being invincible because whenever I’m about to do something difficult, I just have to think it can’t be as bad as Kili. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Daily Life in Dar

It’s almost our spring break here (time is going by really fast now) and I feel like I’ve gotten into a pretty regular rhythm here so I thought I’d put up a post of just some aspects of daily life here.  

I’m staying at the university in Dar which is kind of a different world from the rest of the city.  It’s a lot less hectic, really green, spacious and pretty safe, at least during the day. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we have classes and on Tuesday and Thursday everyone goes to their internships.  The classes I’m taking are Development Perspectives, African International Relations and Foreign Policy, Swahili, History of East Africa and Internship class. It took about 3 weeks from when classes were supposed to start to when they actually did. Now, classes are going on pretty normally.  However, we sometimes do get the situation where professors just won’t show up and you have to call them to ask them if they are coming or if we should reschedule class. 

As terrible as this might sound, it’s almost halfway through the semester but I still don’t exactly feel like I’m in school mode and for the few times we’ve had assignments so far, it’s been quite a battle to try and get them done. All of our finals here are 60% of the grade and the other 40% is usually a paper, presentation and maybe a smaller test. Apart from the other CIEE students, we’re taking classes with some other students from the US, and also students from Finland and Korea. There are also other international students on campus but most of them are either on separate programs or taking classes with the Tanzanian students here. The semester for the university here is pretty different than ours and for the past 3 weeks they had their equivalent of winter break. Because of this, the campus has been really empty since most people went home. This week though most everyone is back.   

On Tuesdays and Thursdays everyone in the program has their own individual internships. For mine, I’m doing a research project for the engineering school here. My project is on water quality of community water supplies in areas in the outer perimeter of the city. So far, the main part of my internship has been trying to jump a bunch of administrative hurdles just to even do this project.  I won’t get too into it in this post but for the most part I think I have most of that behind and I’ve gotten to the point where I’m actually taking samples and testing them which is pretty exciting.

So I’m also living in the dorms on campus with a Tanzanian roommate. I’ve had the room to myself the past couple weeks because she went home for the break. The first couple weeks in the dorms were interesting. There were constant water shortages and we always had to get water from the tank outside and carry it up to our rooms for showers.  There was a time when there was a huge shortage of water on the entire campus for about a week.  Even the tanks ran out of water.  When the water runs out the worst thing probably is the toilets get absolutely disgusting since there is nothing to flush them.  In the dorms, we have normal toilets and on campus there are mainly squat toilets.  When water runs out in the dorms, it’s usually actually more sanitary to go to the squat toilets. However, when there was no water on campus, even the squat toilets became disgusting and you always seemed to get a nice whiff of sewage wherever you went.  When most of the campus left for break, we’ve had water the whole time so it’s been quite a luxury.  Now, most students are coming back so we’ll see how the water if we start getting shortages again or not.  

Power is also another thing that’s quite unreliable here. It’s gone out a couple of times on campus.  And now, since we’re going into the rainy season, it seems to be going out more from the storms.
During the week, I don’t really venture out to explore the city or anything, besides going to collect samples for my internship, mostly because it’s such a hassle to get anywhere here.  Getting anywhere usually takes about an hour to an hour and a half. The thing is most places aren’t even that far away. Traffic is just so bad here that most of the time we’re not even moving for 20 minutes at a time.   

So during class days, I guess here’s what a typical day for me is.  On MWF, my classes start at 8am.  Getting up early here isn’t that big of a deal since I feel like I get a good amount of sleep.  Also, usually since about 6:30am the dorms are already filled with sounds of crying babies, cleaning ladies yelling and people blasting club music and I’m usually already awake by the time my alarm goes off. On Monday and Wednesday, we gather around in a circle on the floor at Jenny’s and learn some Swahili with our awesome teacher Paulo.  We were told that we couldn’t hold our lessons on campus because our teacher isn’t part of the university so we have to have it at Jenny’s. Then we have a small break and I usually go to the cafĂ© on campus to get my daily hot milk with coffee and donut.  After that, we go to where the rest of our classes are, Room 15 to sweat (and maybe do a little bit of learning). For lunch we usually go to one of the cafeterias and usually just get rice and beans (with veggies and cabbage if I’m lucky).  When I go back to the dorms, I don’t really do too much, mostly just do some reading and occasionally go for a run or attempt to hand wash some of my clothes.  After it’s dark there’s really no where to go on campus and it’s also not that smart to be walking around alone then so it occasionally gets a bit boring at night.

During the weekend, though I try and get off campus as much as possible since it’s almost impossible to do so during the week.  A lot of our weekends so far have been planned trips through CIEE.  The weekends we have off though are usually a combination of going to one of the beaches here and trying to explore the city.  Dar is pretty massive or at least it seems like it since it takes so long to get anywhere. Most of my adventuring about the city revolves around trying to find a good place to get food and exploring the area around that. In general, Dar is filled with amazing restaurants and full of good vegetarian options too.  So far, I’ve tried a couple really good Indian places, an Ethiopian restaurant, a couple surprisingly good Italian places and this past weekend a Turkish place.

Anyways, this next week is spring break and I’m going to attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (6 more days)! I’m starting to psyche myself out right now since it’s so close so wish me luck!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Zanzibar Pictues

 Monument at the site of the former slave market

 Spice Market

 The Narrow Streets of Stone Town

Arabic Influence

Tanzanian Wheelchair 

 The Old Fort

 Inside the Old Fort before the Music Festival

Parade before the Music Festival

 At the Spice Farm

 If you smear the seeds it looks like lipstick

Rockin the hats we got after the Spice Tour 

 House in Jambiani Village made of coral and limestone

 Kids collecting leftover seaweed on the beach

 The Medicine Man

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


We had our first big trip this past weekend and one I had been looking forward to for a while.  We went to the island of Zanzibar which is right off the coast of Tanzania.  Typically people take a ferry there but because a ferry recently sunk, we took a short 20 minute flight instead.

We left Thursday morning and spent the day exploring Stone Town which is absolutely beautiful.  We visited a bunch of historical sites including slave chambers, museums, the Old Fort and the markets.  The music festival was also happening this weekend so after a stop for ice cream we went to see the parade. At night we went to the first night of the festival which was actually in the Old Fort.   We also went to get sweet Zanzibar pizza.  I got nutella and coconut pizza. Delicious.

On Friday we had a Spice Tour. It was a lot of fun and probably my favorite thing from our trip there.  We were taken around a spice farm and we were guessing and sampling different spices.  There was also this one fruit? ( or flower? I don’t exactly know what it was) that when you crack it open and smash the seeds, it’s pretty much like red lipstick so we had a lot of fun just smearing our faces with it.  We also got to see one of the guys climb a coconut tree barefoot.  I gave it a try and epically failed ( I think I got like 3 inches off the ground).  From some of the leaves there, they made us these awesome hats and little canteen bags too.  Then we had a wonderful lunch there made with many of the spices on the farm. 

After the spice tour, we headed to our destination for the next couple days, Jambiani village.  The hostel we stayed at was owned by Jenny’s friend and was right by the ocean.  We got in late afternoon so we just relaxed on the beach for the rest of the day.   Some people went swimming which I’m glad I didn’t because everyone that did got some pretty bad side effects.  The tide was very high and there was something in the water that was even carried in the wind.  That night we all had a weird feeling in our nose even just by sitting by the beach. 

The next day was pretty interesting. We all woke up with our eyes completely swollen and our faces feeling scaly.  Today even (5 days later) my face still feels like a snake and I got some sort of rash on my chin.  Anyways, Christina (the one that owns the hostel) got us some natural remedy after breakfast.  We had the put these boiling hot tea leaves on our eyes.  I don’t think it helped too much but it was an interesting experience.  The rest of the day, we went on a tour of the village itself.  We were walking around for hours and it was long, hot and uncomfortable with barely any shade.  The houses in the village were very interesting though especially since they make them out of a combination of coral and limestone.  We also learned about seaweed farming there.  So the ladies in the village have these farms in the ocean where they grow seaweed and sell it to high end cosmetic companies and to the Asian food market.  You can see the farms when the tide is far out.  When we first heard of this, it seemed like it would be a very good thing for the community, especially in terms of having women get income.  However, we met some NGO workers from Norway in the community and they told us about how little the women actually get from this work, how malnourished they are, the health effects and how their work is comparable to slave labor.  After we learned more about the Norwegian NGO’s initiatives there, we walked around some more and then went to see the local medicine man. 

After that, we walked back and since the tide was still pretty far out we figured it was safe to go swimming.  How much the tide goes in and out is pretty incredible.  It’s probably at least half a mile.  While we were walking to get to the water we had to watch out for the sea urchins and got to see a whole bunch of starfish and the ladies working on their seaweed farms. Unlike the water at high tide, the water when we got to it was perfectly clear, beautiful and definitely refreshing.  By the time we started to walk back, the tide had come in a bit and some of the seaweed farms were now underwater. That night after dinner, we sat by the ocean, had a drum circle by a bonfire and watched the moon rise over the ocean horizon.  The hostel workers were all very nice and tried to speak Swahili with us, which was definitely very helpful.

On Sunday morning, some of us woke up to see the sunrise.  Unfortunately though, the sky was very cloudy and we didn’t actually see much.  After breakfast, we packed up and left to go back to Stone Town.  We did some pretty touristy shopping (gypsy pants was a must for most of us) and headed back to the airport.  The airplanes we took there and back were very tiny, maybe 15 people max.  On the way back,  I sat next to the pilot up front and even got the fly the plane for a bit which was pretty exciting. 

All in all, I would say it was a pretty amazing weekend.  Pictures to follow!

Cooking with Bibi

I’m getting pretty behind on updating this.

Anyways two weeks ago we had cooking lessons as part of our cultural excursion program.  We went to a Bibi’s (grandma) house and learned how many traditional Tanzanian dishes were made.  Spicy tea, coconut rice, chapati, pilau (unfortunately not vegetarian), fish, mango-ginger juice and these delicious peanut bars were all part of the ridiculous feast that day. It was definitely nice to have a homemade Tanzanian meal rather than the typical cafeteria beans and rice.  As we were waiting for everything to cook, we also had a great time playing with all the kids there.  

 Bibi rolling out some chapati

Trying to shred coconut on this very interesting contraption

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Taking Justice Into Their Own Hands

Petty theft is probably the most common crime in Tanzania and being a “mzungu” here makes you especially a target. During our orientation, it was drilled into our heads just how rampant theft is.  From the typical purse snatching or pickpocketing at crowded markets and  daladalas,  to taxi cab scams, to getting shoved into a car, beaten up a bit and driven around town emptying your bank account and finally to the alleged machete guy on campus who cuts off people’s hands. 

The university had their own orientation for us and one of the sessions about safety went something like this:
Mzungus: Is there anything we can do if we’re getting robbed?
Tanzanian police officer: You either let them take what they want or you shout Mwizi (thief).
Mzungus: Well what happens when you say that?
Tanzanian police officer: One of two things can happen.  If there is a police officer nearby, they will take him and arrest him.  If not, people might get angry and you might see him die in front of you. 

So basically, according to the officer if someone is accused of being a thief, people nearby will get really angry and start beating the thief until they die.  After hearing this I wasn’t sure what to think.  The officer said this so casually but I was skeptical just how true this was. In the end I assured myself that maybe this was an instance that happened once or twice in the past. At the same time though I wasn’t going to shout mwizi at the next guy who looks at me funny.

However, the other day my friend Marion and I were at lunch with Polycarp, one of the Tanzanian students working in CIEE.  We started talking about this topic again and we asked if this type of street justice actually happens.  Shockingly enough, yes it does. And it’s happened 5 times just on the UDSM campus. 

Polycarp then began to tell us his experience with this. He was walking to class and saw a group of people.  They were crowded around, beating a man. Some were striking him metal rods, others stomped in his face with their boots. Apparently, the man was caught stealing a bike nearby the campus.  He was then chased into campus, caught and beaten.  Polycarp said when he got there he saw the man bloody and unconscious. He then broke up the beating and there was an officer nearby who helped.  The man was then rushed to the hospital but by the time he got there, he was already dead.  

So there it is. Tanzanian street justice. I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around this concept but at this point I just hope  it’s one of those experiences I don’t encounter during my time here.  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

First Impressions and Trip to Bagamoyo

 Last Friday we took an all day tour of downtown Dar es Salaam (which also consisted of trespassing every luxury hotel here).  It’s really interesting to see all the different influences in the downtown of Dar like Islam, Christianity, Indian and German just to name a few.  There, we also went to a fish market and Kariakoo which is a huge market with just about everything imaginable.

Street Vendors Downtown


Kariakoo Market

Then there’s the peninsula which is completely different from other parts of the city.  It’s filled with really nice hotels, shopping malls and restaurants and it’s mainly where most of the expats live. Also most of the embassy houses are pretty close by there as well.  Going in there almost feels like I’m back in the US and in general, it’s been really interesting going in between what seems like two different worlds here.  One day we’re walking through a traditional area of Tanzania and lugging buckets of water into our room and the next we go to hang out at the beach on a resort or out to dinner at a nice restaurant.

This past weekend we went to Bagamoyo which is an old historical town.  We saw ruins of an old mosque, visited the first church in Tanzania and learned about the slave trade here.

Learning about the slave trade in East Africa was really interesting. Typically whenever I’ve learned about slavery it has always been about West Africa and the Americas and so slavery here is not something I would have ever thought about.  The most interesting thing was how the effects of slavery still impact life on the coast.  For example, there’s still a stigma against marrying someone that is a descendent of slavery.  Also, even though the soil by the coast is very good, most people refuse to farm here because it’s associated with slave work.  So aid agencies and programs to promote agriculture in the area have mostly failed because of this.   

Ruins from an old mosque

Camel sighting driving around Bagamoyo

This week we were supposed to start our classes.  However, unlike the US, the schedule for classes isn’t as set and stone right from the beginning.  First off, the schedule changed about 4 times this week.  Also, most of the professors didn’t show up probably due to the scheduling confusion.  In general though we’ve  been told that professors might just not show up to class and when this happens we need to call them and ask if they’re coming.  When we meet our professors (which hopefully they’ll show up next week) we can aslo negotiate when we’ll have classes so we can change the schedule around.  So far, we’ve had Swahili, African International Relations and Foreign Policy and most people have started their internships. 

So I’m actually pretty stoked about my internship although it has been quite an effort to get to where I am now.  I’m really starting to get a sense of Africa time now.  Anyways, I’m going to be working for the Water Quality department and my project is going to be about drinking water.  Basically what I’m going to be doing is going to different parts of the city which will mostly be in the outskirts of town, collecting water samples from these kiosks that sell drinking water from the tap, assessing the quality of the water and comparing them to Tanzanian and WHO standards.  I need to write a proposal for the project this weekend probably so I can start working as soon as possible. 

On another positive note, we finally have running water in the dorms! It’s not uncommon for the water to be shut off here but it typically only happens for 1-3 days. However since we got here, the pump for our dorm has been broken so we’ve gotten water maybe twice for a few hours.  But the water has been working for more than a day now which has really been exciting.