Chlorofluorocarbons and Best Friends

Tanzania

IMG_1214I met Ruhaila on my first day of teaching. She was sitting quietly, arms wrapped lovingly around her dictionary, with a sassy smirk across her face. She was intimidating and looked like she was not being challenged. Great, I thought. Here I was, my first day, teaching a class not even listed on my schedule with a know-it-all sitting front and center waiting for me to teach about environmental degradation.  As I am neither an environmental studies major nor studying education this all came very naturally.

I saw her judgmental glances; they made me want to run to the ocean and swim back to the comfortable shores of Delaware. She was on to me – she knew I was clueless.

After hopelessly reading the textbook for thirty minutes I gave them an exercise. Of course she was the first to raise her hand.

“Could you explain chlorofluorocarbons?” she asked.

No I cannot. Seriously girl – figure it out. This is what I wanted to say, but instead I put on a smile and told her I’d do the best I could.

After this question we began talking. Her ambition was to be a doctor and her English was one of the best I had heard thus far. Ruhaila’s smile stopped looking so intimidating and transformed into a kind invitation for friendship. I accepted.

The next day I lent her a Time magazine placing posted it notes on every article medicine related. I knew that even if she couldn’t understand everything, she could see that becoming a doctor was possible. In return for the magazine she invited me to her home. Again, I accepted.

Forty-eight hours later bread was being shoveled down my throat and headscarves being delicately wrapped around my sweaty forehead. Ruhaila proudly introduced me to all the people around her village. She taught me Swahili and orchestrated a full-blown photo shoot with the rest of her family and I.

Hours passed of talking about boys and running around the house giving piggyback rides to her nephews. Ruhaila, a seventeen-year old Muslim girl, had her entire career figured out and she would consider boys after she achieved that.

Somewhere along the five weeks I knew Ruhaila we became best friends. On my last day of school I was given a small party where the school selected a representative from every class to give a speech looking back on our time together. I prepared myself and stashed some toilet paper in my back pocket. I didn’t bring enough.

Ruhaila gave one of the speeches and she was already crying before beginning her speech. After I started crying all the teenage girls in the room started dropping like flies leaving the one male administrator in the room to deal with fifteen teary-eyed girls on his own.

I can’t even remember what she was saying in her speech, maybe because I was so focused on trying to hold back my tears.

Ruhaila and I may come from completely different backgrounds, but our silent thoughts at that moment were identical I will never forget you.

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Table Mountain

Nature, South Africa

 

Let me introduce you to this beautiful place.

Let me introduce you to this beautiful place.

I’m on top of the world! Those few words explain the feeling of reaching the top of Table Mountain. Now don’t think I’m all tough and hiked the entire mountain, because to be honest I just took the cable car (a small price to pay for saving loads of time).

The “aerial cableway” can take as many as 65 people at a time and has rotating floors – so if you thought being flown in a little cable car hanging from a wire going almost 3,500 feet into the atmosphere was frightening add a lot of people and a constantly moving floor to it. Let’s just say it is not the most relaxing ride, but the views make up for it. Looking out on my way up the mountain completely took my breathe away; I was utterly speechless until I got back on the ground. Immediately below the cable car is the vibrant city of Cape Town and to the left are some of the most stunning beaches in the world like Camps Bay and Clifton.

Into The “Wild”

Nature, South Africa

Yesterday I had the incredible opportunity to visit Kwantu Elephant Sanctuary, which is part of the larger game reserve, about 30 minutes outside of Grahamstown, South Africa. The reserve is home to 21 elephants (or 5 – the website said 5, but our tour guide said 21) who have almost 15,000 acres of land to spread out on, along with many other animals. Despite the terrain remaining true to what their usual habitat would be like, they are still fenced in and trained – hence the use of quotation marks around “wild”.

Exploring Grahamstown & Rhodes University

Photography, South Africa

Grahamstown is composed a few main streets flaunting several mouth-watering restaurants and bumpin’ pubs. It’s a college town so although during the day the streets are filled with locals doing their shopping and selling items on the street, at night it is much of a party town especially on Fridays. For some reason, which is unbeknownst to me, Wednesdays (but not Saturdays) are also a huge party night.

Getting to know Grahamstown requires a map or someone who knows where their going because it does have a moderately puzzling street composition. The scenery can change quite rapidly if you’re not paying attention, and although I enjoy seeing all aspects of life in Grahamstown, a mirage of “ay-bay-bay” or “hey sista, coins?” following me to KFC is not my favorite thing.

Earth Day Post – Tanzania’s National Parks

Nature, Photography, Tanzania

Making your way to Tanzania’s National Parks like the Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire is a journey filled with carsickness and dust that clings to your pores like a green tea face mask. It’s a dirty and long adventure, but the end result is nature that has been (mostly) unaffected by technology and pollution, one that looks more like a dream than real life. Six hours worth of hang-banging, gut-wrenching unpaved and unmanaged roads is worth the opportunity to see the Lion King in person, with a front row seat.

Sandy Toes in Zanzibar

Photography, Tanzania

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Undeniably Zanzibar’s beaches are my favorite. The sand is soft and almost has a milky consistency which glides over your feet and toes like butter. Zanzibar’s velvety coasts also feature year-round warm waters thanks to the Indian Ocean and tropical climate. Although I was in Zanzibar for work, I still got time on the weekends (and after classes) to enjoy the tourist hotspots.

Even on the most popular beach there was still space to breath. It wasn’t like Ocean City, Md in July – there was open space and self-catering services. This is not necessarily a great thing for Zanzibar’s economy as it has seen a dip in tourism recently, at least in Stone Town – according to my hotel manager friend Ulrica, but it feels like paradise for me.

One highlight of my beach excursions was going to the East Coast beach and The Rock restaurant, which lives up to it’s name as the restaurant is literally on a rock and requires a boat to get to during high tide. What an experience. The food was also to die for and surprisingly affordable (in American standards). I got home-made tagliatelle with lobster mixed in – I’m drooling thinking about it.

Not only beaches in Zanzibar pure paradise, they’re also fun. Local kids will come play frisbee with you and you never know who you’ll meet! Going to the beach by myself was so fun because I’d meet all these other tourists/volunteers, mostly from Europe, and we’d all talk about our experiences and where we’re from. Zanzibar is mostly a tourist destination for Europeans because for much of Europe there’s little to no time difference whereas from the US (mainland) there’s anywhere from 6-10 depending on day light savings time.

The best time to go is definitely during their winter, as during Zanzibar’s summer it is unbearable hot and humid. Their winter usually lasts from May to September, but July is definitely the peak of tourist season. Make sure though before you go for a relaxing beach vacation you know the area in which you’re staying. For example it is never appropriate to show your knees on the streets of Stone Town, but it is perfectly ok to lay out in the sun wearing nothing but a bathing suit once you hit the sand. On the east coast of Zanzibar you’ll have much more privacy and the beaches are apparently more pristine, although I’m not a huge beach snob. All I need is warm water and soft sand, and just about every beach in Zanzibar (I went to at least) had that.

“Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness” – Ray Bradbury

Photography, Tanzania

Getting lost gives you the opportunity to really see an area. Leaving the guidebook at home and just exploring is my favorite thing to do when traveling. I find myself being more observant and so I see what the locals really are doing – what restaurants they’re eating at, the shortcuts they know that no one else knows, even something as basic as greetings.

All my tour books in Tanzania said that “Hello” was “Habari” or “Jambo”. Little did I know until I started pulling my head out of the book that I sounded like a ignorant tourist when I said things like that. It makes sense if they think about it because how often do we say “hello” in America? It’s always hi or what’s up or hey. Same in Tanzania. Instead of “Jambo” you say “Mambo,” which is basically like saying “Hey, what’s up?” With exploration and getting lost in the culture that I’m living in I would have knew that. It’s important to not just “get lost” physically, but also to get lost figuratively. Devour that culture while you can because you will miss it dearly once you’ve left.

Africa Time – Ups & Downs

Education, Morocco, Tanzania, Travel Tips

Africa: a continent so diverse I can’t formulate one general description of it. It’s a challenge to feel stressed in Africa; life is just slower and the air is simply fresher. Unfortunately (and sometimes fortunately) what comes along with everyone’s relaxed disposition is a lack of urgency as well as the joke that scheduling is in Africa.

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While working in Tanzania as an English teacher if class started on time I questioned the sanity of my headmaster. Even in Morocco my pre-arranged car was almost three hours late to pick me up at the airport in Rabat. In South Africa they actually have slang to inhibit Africa’s bad habit; when you say “just now” that means meet you in 20 minutes and when you say “now now” that means maybe 10 minutes – there’s no such thing as being in a hurry. This overarching generalization of poor time management is what the traveling community knows as Africa time. Nothing ever starts on time, which is an adjustment from the structured Western world I come from and comes with its own set of ups and downs.

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UPSIDES – I’m an optimist person as well as someone who loves Africa so I’d much rather start with positives. Obviously having no true schedule is fairly conducive for relaxation and can be freeing to not live your life by a strict schedule. College has gotten me in such a rut with a packed planner varying from odd jobs, club meetings, actual classes, and social gatherings. It’s exhilarating to go somewhere where none of that matters.

Teaching without a community sense of time is actually awesome because it gives me the flexibility to make lesson plans on the fly. If something isn’t working I can change it. My school was grateful for anything I could do for them because my English skills were something they never had before. It’s not like there was a scary curriculum looming over my every move like it is in America. Sure there were standardized exams that were and are a big deal for my students, but I could get through the required information in about five minutes leaving me forty minutes of fun time.

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Another upside to “Africa time” is that no one is ever in a hurry. Yes this can also go into the negative section, but I’ll get to that in a few. Being able to snooze my alarm a couple times without waking up in a rumpus is amazing. It gives me the ability to stroll to my school instead of my fast-paced halfrun I do to get to class here in the US. Think of all the surroundings and people-watching you miss out on when you speed walk. That’s not a problem in Africa.

With a view like this how can one be stressed? This was the balcony on the back of my school - Tumekuja Secondary School

With a view like this how can one be stressed? This was the balcony on the back of my school – Tumekuja Secondary School

calo-bolletteDOWNSIDES – As I mentioned earlier there are many, like lists and lists, of reasons why “Africa time” is really awful. It can serve as a major roadblock in getting anything substantial done in a classroom setting or just with everyday life and it makes tourism less desirable for many people. All of this adds up to the fact that a lack of time management hinders Africa’s economic development on a larger scale. On a more personal level and with having experience teaching in a very disorganized environment, I’ve found that the biggest challenge was never really knowing exactly what my school wanted of me.

Basically when I arrived at my school on the first day they handed me a book and said teach. One day I was thrown into a random environmental science class to teach a lesson on environmental degradation and chloroflourocarbons to students only one year younger than me. I really should have recorded myself teaching that class because it just might have gotten on America’s Home Videos or something of the sorts. But really you just have to go with it – that’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from living and teaching in Tanzania.

It’s certainly irritating to have no set schedule, leaving me with more questions than answers, which is only intensified by most locals inability to speak English and my poor Swahili skills. I would go for a meeting and simply no one would show up for thirty  minutes. Break time at my schools was supposed to last 15 minutes, but I cannot remember a single day that it finished within 30. All of my lesson plans were constantly re-evaluated and re-worked because of the sheer quantity of unplanned occurrences. And you know, that’s ok.

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If you let the three hour late bus ride bother you, truthfully, you will never make it in Africa. Flexibility is key when traveling in general, but especially in Africa because of all the unexpected things that could happen – sudden rains, bad roads, violence, and so many more different curveballs that may be thrown at you. Africa is a learning and growing experience. So just go! Africa awaits you.

Interested in volunteering/interning in Tanzania?

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My one friend, Sean Stoerrle, is working with a wondering non-profit called Maasai Children Education located in Arusha, Tanzania including programs all over the country mostly centered in Arusha, but also in Zanzibar. You can doing anything from working with NGOs to environmental work with Roots and Shoots to teaching. Sean is an expert on Tanzania as he’s lived there for the past few years and he’s an alumni from my college, Washington College. Check out more about their program at their website or Facebook!

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Another possibility out there is called America’s Unofficial Ambassadors, which focuses on providing unique internships that connect Americans to the Muslim World in hopes of building better relations between the two areas as well as dispel stereotypes. In Africa, they have programs in Morocco and Zanzibar, but they also have a handful of other programs including ones in Indonesia and Tajikistan. Wonderfully organized opportunity and there are opportunities of funding through the program. Check out their website or Facebook as well for more information.

Oldies but Goodies

Tanzania

On Prison Island, a popular tourist attraction in Zanzibar off the coast of Stone Town, is home to some really old turtles. These guys have seriously been through a lot. The oldest turtle on Prison Island is 189 years old, when America was only on its fifth president and Beethoven was still alive.

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This grandpa has seen a lot of history. He’s seen slavery in America. Both World Wars. The dropping of the atomic bomb, hundreds of revolutions and wars, and a time before blue jeans.

Throughout international crisis after crisis this oldie has remained on the same island enjoying the hundreds of tourists who come through daily. He gets a nice neck massage in return for a few pictures. His life has been the same thing for almost 200 years now. I cannot even imagine living in the same poop covered enclosure for that long…

While so much has changed in the world around him since this elder’s birth, nothing has really changed for him. And I think he is totally ok with that.

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This is a BABY turtle….

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