Chlorofluorocarbons and Best Friends

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.

Unilingual & Still Traveling

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. – Nelson Mandela

I stopped letting my language skills get in the way of traveling a long time ago as I discovered that, as horribly touristy I feel when I stumble through even a basic greeting, it’s worth it to see the world. When I decide on a new place to travel to I always tell myself that I’m going to magically learn the language before I go, at least to the point where I can order food at a local establishment or tell a taxi driver where I’m going, but that never happens. Studying a language in a country through immersion and really the best way to learn a language so never let language barriers hinder travel.

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Planning Way Way Ahead

“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” – Henry David Thoreau

Traveling alone is exhilarating, scary, and necessary. Never knowing what to expect is part of the fun and part of the fear. I’m a talker, once you get me going you wish you could get me to stop. I have a tendency to go on unmapped rants that run around in circles until someone changes the topic or just walks away. Luckily that makes traveling by myself easy because I’m not scared of making friends along the way. Even with that being say I still prefer traveling with friends, but I still try to take time to explore places by myself.

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Africa Time – Ups & Downs

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.

Travel ≠ Far Away

Hoping on an airplane and flying for twenty hours to another continent is not the only way to travel. Sometimes traveling could just be a thirty minute drive to a town you’ve never been to or even just exploring those woods behind your house. To travel does not mean you have to go far. As a college student, I’m 1) poor and 2) tight on time. While in session I don’t have the luxury to just pick up and leave for weeks at a time so in order to fill my burning desire to see the world I pick a new city I want to explore when I get restless. Going on a weekend trip New York City or day trip to a state park will do the trick to cure that urge to go far far away. After a stressful week I just like to go somewhere – whether that’s Washington DC or the Target out of town – it’s just important for me to get out of the small town I live in.

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There’s just so much to see within a ten mile radius that I always have something new to add to my list. These little trips also feel much more doable than my third trip to Africa this year or planning my study abroad trip to Italy.

When you’re bored and restless think about these possibilities…

1. The beach! I am one of those people that’s actually happy with sand all over me. The sun and the sand just make me feel so happy. Don’t think of the beach as weather permitted either because the ocean is just as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer, just maybe less sun!

2. Museums: I can guarantee that you have a free museum within a five mile radius. Although these little one-roomed museums can be dinky and may only take you five minutes to walk though, some are really worth a look. There’s a great museum in Chestertown put together by the Kent County Historical Society as well as a 45 minute audio tour at the local Customs House (which happens to be my job – handing people iPods for their tour – yay hard work…).

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3. Farmer’s Markets!! I love a good farmer’s market, which is good because that’s Chestertown’s biggest attraction.. Which is a little sad, but I’ll go with it.

4. Explore the town over – walking through a town you’ve only driven through can be quite exciting. You never know what you could find. You may find your new favorite boutique or a wonderful thrift shop – just keep looking!

5. Go to the nearest city because although I like to usually have a game plan while traveling, sometimes it’s fun to be completely spontaneous. Sometimes it rocks, but other times it backfires like when I went to Canada and I couldn’t find a hotel that would let a 19 year old stay there (for less than $100)… it was a sad day.

Just go outside and take a walk. Traveling does not have a black and white definition, there’s just all grey or maybe it’s all rainbow. Traveling is just so many different shades of the various colors of the rainbow… Somewheeeerrrreee over the rainbowwww, I will be able to go anywhere I want. Hah. I think it’s a little too late in the day to write a coherent post.

Lalasalama (goodnight in Swahili)

Lemur Selfies

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Zoos in general are kinda ehhh to me when traveling as I feel they’re kind of a waste of money, but this zoo was relatively affordable and also happened to be one of my traveling partner’s favorite childhood memories. A highlight of the zoo was their relaxed approach in dealing with lemurs in what they call “Lemur Encounter,” where you’re put in a play-pen with two lemurs and you just play around with them. I was especially pleased at their selfie taking skills. I’m out ☮.

Treat. Yo. Self.

When traveling it’s important to not overload yourself with excursions and cultural experiences. Culture shock is a real thing, so don’t feel surprised if home sickness hits you and all of a sudden you just miss everything American. For me to secure my sanity during a trip I always treat myself. It’s important to carry around a piece of home or have an outlet for relaxation on any trip even on a dirt cheap budget!

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For many places outside the US, going to catch a movie is so much cheaper and you can see some pretty unique flicks. Foreign movies aren’t for everyone, but it is definitely worth a shot. If all else fails go see a Mr. Bean movie, I swear in every developing country’s movie theatre they show a Mr. Bean movie. It’s light-hearted and he’s so lovable. Definitely worth $0.40.

Spend a day pampering yourself. I know the first time I splurged on a manicure, I felt guilty because for the price of a manicure some locals could pay a months rent. Realistically though that cost is something like $4. Of course this depends on the country, I was in Tanzania for this, so I felt especially guilty because of the poverty surrounding me. But sometimes it’s necessary to just take some time for yourself. You deserve it. Get a manicure or a massage, because let’s be real you’re stressed and you’re never gonna find better prices (I got a full body massage for $10!)

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Buy those touristy pants! You know the ones I’m talking about. I call them my Africa pants. I don’t just love them because they’re comfortable, but also because they remind me of the country (and continent) I love so dearly. As a bonus I get a gazillion compliments whenever I wear them. (Check them out in the photo, that’s me in those crazy red pants)

Eat all the delicious food. Really though. I love street food, but sometimes you just gotta go to those places you would never go to back home. You know, the ones where there’s a “traditional” Moroccan band and the decor is just over-the-top cultural, but at the same time new looking? How did that happen in such an old city? I’ll tell you how – it’s a tourist trap, and that’s totally ok. You can eat the salad here and not worry about it. Don’t stress over the bill because it the grand scheme of things it will all be ok.

Part of loving to travel is having a good balance between exploration and relaxation. It is still a vacation after all. Be a tourist and live it up, because you have been saving for so long! Schedule in those “me days” while traveling in order to really enjoy yourself on those days where you maybe hiking up a mountain or eating rice and beans for eight days straight. In the words of Donna and Tom, from Parks and Recreation. TreatYoSelf.

Eight Tips for a Successful Suitcase

Image1. I know its overplayed but its seriously true!… After you’re done packing go through your suitcase again and take half out. Trust me you won’t need it.

2. To add on to #1, after you take half out and you suddenly have extra space pack things that remind you of home or “comfort” items especially for long trips! Bring pictures and box mac and cheese! That is probably the best advice I could give anyone. As silly as it made sound when you suddenly feel home sick and you are very very far away from home you are going to so grateful to curl up with some great pictures of home and a bowl of artificial cheese with some macaroni on the side. Seriously.

3. Categorize your suitcase with ziploc bags. Put all your health care stuff (advil, aleve, immodium, BENEDRYL) all in one bag. Put all your makeup in one bag. Put all you jewelry in one bag. You get the picture… It will really help you be able to find stuff after you finally arrive at your destination and you just want to change out of your smelly, sweaty “I’ve been on an airplane all day” clothes. For realzzzz.

4. Benedryl. One of the most vital things for any frequent traveler to pack. With so many changing time zones and strage exotic animals which can sometimes be heard from a hotel room benedryl is a life saver. Whenever I was having trouble sleeping (like for example when I found four lizards in my hotel room) I would just pop in a benedryl and sleep great! It is especially important on flights when there’s that crying baby in front of you… trust me on this. The only catch is don’t take it too too often or else your body becomes increasingly more immune to it and you won’t get as tired!

5. Along the same line as comfort items, bring some DVDs that you will never get tired of because you’ll be watching them a lot. When I went to Tanzania I only brought season 6 of The Office. I can honestly say I have memorized every episode in that entire box set and I’m proud of it.

6. Carry on at least one complete outfit. Although I have been lucky enough to never lose a bag (knock on wood!) I certainly know people who have and sometimes they don’t even have a change of underwear! It is not fun trying to purchase underwear in the middle of nowhere Africa!

7. Use a reliable AND easy to carry suitcase! Pick carefully! My dependable best friend aka suitcase is an awesome rolly suitcase made by the brand Ricardo (whatever that means)… you can purchase one here: (Ricardo Beverly Hills Luggage Roxbury 21-Inch Expandable Freewheel Wheelaboard, Brushed Silver, Small).

8. Also think about where you are traveling. Don’t bring those new booty shorts to Saudi Arabia. Do some research before you leave to find out vital info about whatever country you are visiting. Don’t forget to check weather too!

Remember traveling doesn’t have to be perfect to still be a great trip and packing is a skill. It does take time to master the art.

Ifrane, Morocco

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Think about the Poconos in the US – that’s what Ifrane is. It’s a small town in the middle of Morocco surrounded by the popular ski slopes, which are mostly a tourist destination for Moroccans. When I stayed in Ifrane, however, it was in between summer and winter – picture absolutely unexpectedly freezing nights and oddly hot days. All at the same being surrounded by a ghost town. A ghost town except for Al Akhawayn University. I was only in Ifrane for four days while presenting at a conference on the Muslim World, but at all times of the day I was fairly freezing.

I thought – oh I’m going to Africa, it’s going to be so warm! I also made the mistake of checking the weather but only looking at the highs. Warning: always check the full weather report, don’t just be optimist like me and only bring a light-weight fleece.

This beautiful, remote, and extremely developed town smack right in the middle of Morocco is only a few hours from all the major cities (and Spain). It’s a great stop for a trip to Morocco and some of the sites will make you forget you’re technically in Africa.