Thursday, April 29, 2010

Felicum Tibi, Natalem Diem

Dear Bethune,
Even though the date at the top says April 29th, I am fairly certain today is May happy day of birth. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

We Decided Against Mild and Went Wild.

Dear Amanda,
This year for your day of birth, I decided to jump from 145 feet head first in to the Nile River. I thought of you on the way down. Happy birthday!

For my last full weekend in Africa, we decided to take a break from work and head to Jinja, a town on the coast of Lake Victoria about a 2 hour drive from Kampala. Reason for the trip: white water rafting on what we had heard to be some of the best waters in the world. We arrived on Saturday morning to the Adrift company site on the shore of the Nile. After a quick briefing, we locked up our belongings and suited up with helmets and life jackets. Four groups of rafters were made based on the preference of “wild” or “mild” rafting, and that was that.

The only other time I have been rafting was in Colorado at the ripe age of 10 or eleven, and I can assure you this was a whole new ballgame. Ha! I can still see my parents forcing me onto the raft that I was just sure would be the point of my demise...Dear Family...sorry about that...

So we loaded up and headed out. The first 30 minutes was spent practicing different scenarios such as falling out, getting back in, flipping the raft, flipping the raft back over, being rescued by a rescue kayaker, and the riding safely down a rapid sans raft. Practice for the last one came down a class 3 rapid, and it was a bit scary to be in the water at first, but I managed to block the thought of crocodiles from my mind.

I am getting bored of proper writing, so we’ll take it back Safari Style and learn some more fun facts:

Fact: There are crocodiles in the Nile River. Oh but the good news is that only a few locals each year are eaten.
Fact: If your guide’s name is Josh, he will be way more honest than necessary and tell you such things while rafting.
Fact: 9 out of 10 people cannot get themselves back into their raft after falling overboard.
Fact: The 1 person out of those 10 people who can perform the act solo will spend most of their day pulling the other 9 lame ducks one by one back into the raft by their life jackets.
Fact: This person becomes quite efficient, and from afar it may give off a domino effect.
Fact: Sitting in the back left corner of the raft will most likely make you fall overboard while everyone else does not.
Fact: The Nile is not crystal clear, but the underside of your raft can be seen even in gushing water.
Fact: While this underside is lovely, it is a happy occasion when you are spat out a few feet down the river to see the people on the upside.
Fact: Sun in the morning does not mean sun all day.
Fact: Thunder and lightning followed by 2 hours of pouring rain on the Nile makes Africa quite cold.
Fact: White water rafting is a pretty accurate term; There are many times when all you see is white water.
Fact: Rafting for a full day with a short lunch break in the middle leaves you too exhausted to think about bungee jumping the next day. I highly recommend this particular order of events.

We spent Saturday night in dorm accommodation back at the Adrift site, and I awoke Sunday morning to the sound of monkeys running across our tin roof. Because it was raining, and it must be dry to bungee jump, I spent the morning waiting for it to stop, but not hating that it didn’t...

Finally it stopped, and we were soon all weighed in and heading up the tower that hangs over the river. With only coffee in my stomach I was feeling pretty good...

Fact: If one wants suspense, he or she should definitely climb to the top of a bungee platform only to wait for a Dutch girl, and American girl, and two Swedish girls to take their turn.
Fact: 145 feet on a global scale is not too much.
Fact: When it finally is your turn to jump, that scale becomes personal.
Fact: Your feet will be strapped in by a black belt type contraption and a towel that prevents loss of circulation.
Fact: This will not feel like much until you get up and have to hop your way to the edge because your feet are tied so tightly.
Fact: Listen to the guy in charge of the bungee’ing.
Fact: If he tells you two things can happen, he is right. When he says “if you jump far out you will just miss the water, but if you dive straight down, you will hit the water” he means it.
Fact: I did not jump straight out.
Fact: I did however dive straight down.
Fact: To my utter surprise I entered the Nile in a perfectly straight dive position.
Fact: It was an utter surprise.
Fact: And very an explosion...with lots of my ears...and up my nose...

...And just as fast as you submerged, you emerge...

Fact: When this happens you will start laughing hysterically, but your body will shake uncontrollably because it too is quite surprised, and will be the remainder of the time you dangle in the air.
Fact: Do not fear: the guys in the raft below you are very used to this strange behaviour, and they will not judge you.
Fact: They will instead just offer you up a paddle and lower you down into the boat to unhook you and bring you ashore.
Fact: You will want to do it again.

After the jump the three of us headed a short distance to the source of the Nile where we pretty much showed up, snapped a few photos, and called it a day.
Back to work on Monday and it is now Tuesday evening, meaning only three more workdays to go...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gitch'ur Boots On

The rainy season is officially in full swing here in Kampala, and I have a feeling it is a bit different than the rainy season we were supposedly starting to experience in Tanzania. We have finally learned to wear our runners to work instead of sandals, but even the ol’ Nike’s can’t keep me out of the five inches of mud that is our road to the workplace. It rains almost every day, though not all day, but the grand finale thunderstorm in the evening is to be expected.

Other than that, things are going pretty smoothly in capital city #2. As mentioned before, I am working with Uganda Youth Development Link, an NGO started in 1994 that focuses on the rehabilitation and replacement of youth on the streets. It is quite interesting, and we have had a number of different experiences thus far. I am working with two particular outreach centres in Kampala, but have also attended community meetings held by UYDEL, which focus on different topics such as child trafficking and the prevention of such.

Last Sunday, we were invited to the graduation party of one of the girls working with UYDEL. It was such fun! We arrived late afternoon to chairs set up under small tents, and country music blasting over speakers. I may have been the only one to know all of the words of all of the songs, but people seemed to like it was hilarious.

Lots and LOTS of speeches were made about our friend, Janette, and her sister whom was also graduating, and even though we didn’t understand a word of them, we were made to feel most welcome by each person translating their own speech into as much English as possible. Just in case no one had noticed us before, the direct translations accompanied by obvious eye contact with the three of us definitely put us on the map...also hilarious. In all seriousness, we really were so appreciative for everyone including us.

After speeches, we presented the graduates with their gifts, had cake..before dinner..then ate a delicious traditional meal. Then came the dancing. These. People. Can. Dance. Men, women, teenagers, children—you name it—they were all shakin’ it. We tried to avoid the dancing, but you better believe our friend Eunice was having no part in that. Before long we were cramping the style of every person at the party. By this point the country music was long gone and replaced by traditional I couldn’t even hang on to the occasional line dance. Cha cha slide was a no-go, as was the cupid shuffle, and before long only the kids would be seen with us.

Monday at work the UYDEL director, Rogers, told us he wished he could have another party just so we would have to dance again. Perfect.

The rest of the week brought more community meetings and time with the youth at our centres, and Saturday we visited our friend Denis’ centre. He started a club for HIV/Aids post-testers about 6 years ago, and they meet every weekend. It was so much fun, and the kids there were quite clever! Friday we went with the drama group of one of the centres, called Masoli, to a slum area where they did a drama and dance performance relating to child trafficking and HIV awareness. It was brilliant!

Not much else is happening in Kampala, so I will leave you now with a few photos of the UYDEL centres, the graduation par—oh! Haha one more thing...We were at an office of UYDEL in a slum called Kilarwe, and kids flocked the door the second they saw muzungus. We ended up playing with them for a good hour, and by the end of it, I am pretty sure we had lost all respect of the adults watching. I suppose that the banana song, follow the leader, and put-your-hands-on-your-face-and-scream-as-loud-as-you-can-while-running-away-from-the-muzungu-then-chasing-the-muzungu-in-the-other-direction...have that effect on people...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities...

I am writing to you from Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, but will take the next few minutes to give you a briefing of Kigali, capital city of Rwanda.

As said before, we arrived in Kigali just after a 36 hour bus ride, and were ecstatic to see the city even if it was raining and especially because our bus was leaking. Our friends from Moshi had told us that we would know when we had hit Rwanda when we saw hill after hill, and they were right. I kept expecting to look out and see gorillas just doing whatever it is gorillas do. To attempt to describe the scenery would be close to impossible, but in a word: pre-historic. The hills were endless, and erosion had added some to them some unique patterns and shapes. Palm trees were spotted throughout, and small rivers and streams connecting somehow to the Nile were scattered. Even the token Irish girl was quite impressed with the valleys and what sat above them.

Now, remember Mr. Alpha from Dar Es Salaam? Yes, yes, silly question--how could you forget? Well people, prepare yourselves for: MR. BERTINE! A bit taller than Mr. Alpha, Mr. Bertine descended down into our lives at the Rwandan-Tanzanian border. He first came to us to point me in the direction of the Forex Bureau, and the rest is history.

Brief Biography: Mr. Bertine (Mr B.) was born in Rwanda, left a few years before the genocide in 1994, and spent 3 years in the bush fighting against the corrupt government during that time. Meanwhile, his family was in Tanzania, and they all returned to Kigali shortly after in 1994. He is a professor of microbiology at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, and while he and his wife reside in the capital city, he has two children studying in Kampala, two in university in Kigali, and a 7 year old grandchild. Like Mr. Alpha, Mr. Bertine is in his mid-sixties, and for whatever reason we had the pleasure of meeting him.

So, naturally, our timing was more than perfect, and we arrived on Thursday evening...just in time for Easter holidays. Mr. B pointed us in the direction to St. Femille hostel, where we stayed for $5 a night per person. Only a few 6-legged visitors were had, but the showers were usually hot and each room came fully equipped with a sink and crucifix. We intended on only staying 3 or four nights, but ended up having to stay 6 nights because the holiday weekend closed all of the memorials and museums.

Most of the weekend was spent in a coffee shop where wireless was included with the purchase of a drink. It was nice, and I would say if anyone is interested in visiting Kigali, DO! However, be prepared, because you will feel like you have stepped out of least when you are in the city centre. Paved roads, skyscraper banks, people in suits, no dirt...and TRASHCANS were such a change. The 24 hour supermarket threw us all for a loop, and speed limit signs were just almost too much to handle. Really, the upper side of the city has such a western feel, and it was nice for a while, but almost too different for comfort. 30 minutes walk outside of the city centre took us back to Africa, and the contrast between the two was shocking.

Easter Sunday brought our first organized activity. Until this point we only walked around, mostly searching for the Hotel des Milles Collines, the hotel that inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, only to find that it could be seen perfectly from our coffee shop.

Finding a Methodist church for Sunday seemed unlikely, so we inquired at our hostel about her parish church, and decided on Easter mass for 9:00 am. We figured this was safe, because there was another mass at 11:00 am, and services in this part of the world tend to be a bit lengthy. So, we put on our cleanest clothes, and headed up the hill to church. I arrived to a group of boys—possibly boy scouts—playing huge bongo drums in the parking lot with 200 people listening, waiting for the 9:00 mass, taxi drivers waiting to take the 7:00 massers home, and some street vendors selling biscuits and the like. Even better was the semi-circle of kids around the three muzungus, so you better believe when the great changing of the congregation began, we were quick to enter.

Inside the service was pretty easy to follow...except for the actual speaking part. Atleast communion is pretty universal...

We ate Easter dinner at the Hotel Rwanda hotel, as it is now a 5 star establishment, and even the cheapest sandwich on the menu was tasty. Happy Easter.

Monday brought Mr. B to our hostel at 8:30 in the morning, as he was going to take us to the genocide memorials for the day. On the way, we inquired about busses to Kampala, and within 20 seconds he had turned towards the bus park where he walked us in, marched to the counter, got us tickets for local—-not muzungu—price--and that was that. Bless him.

Stop number one was Kigali Memorial Centre, which was built specifically for the genocide victims. Outside one can find mass graves, surrounded by gardens of many meanings, and inside are three separate exhibits. The first is dedicated specifically to the Rwandan genocide, the second to other genocides in history, and the third is to the children lost in Rwanda’s tragedy.

The 4 hours it took to get through seemed like forever, and Mr. B passed through patiently with us, waiting as we read each excerpt, ready to answer any questions. At one point I was pushed along by men in suits, and Mr. B told me that it was Kenya’s prime minister on a visit. (He was the only man not in a suit, but donning a flowered shirt with newsboy cap).

We left the memorial, thinking Mr. B was probably bored with us, when he said he wanted to take us to a church just outside of town. We had planned to visit the church on Tuesday, but as it was about 30 km away, we were not sure how we would get there. After we stopped to get snacks, Mr. B’s treat, we headed to a church which was one of many churches to be the site of a mass murder. Stepping inside the church, we stood in the presence of the clothes of 10,000 people who were killed inside over the course of 2 days. I was actually relieved to step outside to visit the mass graves, as the “sanctuary” left me feeling quite sick. I really only noticed one thing when we were underground. Because only a few bodies were identified and placed in caskets, and they are waiting on funding for proper burial, skeletons of forty-some thousand were stacked on shelves. It occurred to me that their skeletons look just like my skeleton and every other person’s as well.

Leaving the church, I wondered how the volunteers go there day after day to give tours, but it was nice to hear our guide say as we left that no one is Hutu or Tutsi anymore, but they “are all just Rwandans.” It is amazing to see the progress of Rwanda, as a tourist would never know if it’s past at first glance. However, Wednesday morning we packed up and caught a bus to Kampala, noticing on our way out of town that the city was even more hushed than on Easter weekend. It was the beginning of a 7 day period of mourning and remembrance.

I have managed once again to exceed my writing space, so will leave the tale of the other city for another time. For now, I am in Kampala and have just started another project with Uganda Youth Development Link. My friend Denis has really looked after us, and we are already quite comfortable here. If you want to look up the organization, the website is:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


So from where has all of this extra time been coming? It has been coming from Kigali, Rwanda, that’s where. We headed to Zanzibar after 6 weeks of working with KYGN and TCC schools, as they both had exams during that time. For Easter holiday and a break between terms, each school was scheduled to have the next two weeks off, so we decided to figure out a plan of action. Long story short, Maura and I have a friend in Kampala, Uganda, who runs a youth centre, and who has extended many invitations for volunteer placement opportunities. As most of the placements with which my hostel in Moshi was affiliated were either on Easter holiday or full of volunteers, we decided to contact Denis in Kampala. (He visited Barretstown last summer in Ireland during our orientation and first camp session to get some new ideas for his centre).

Friends from the Hostel Hoff in Moshi had gone on holidays to Kigali and Kampala, and they strongly urged us to stop in the Rwandan capital on our way to Kampala. Once we were in Dar Es Salaam, we sought out bus trips first to Kigali.

Enter: Mr. Alpha. Standing at an impressive five feet 4 inches and weighing in at just above 215 lbs, the 65 year-old man whom we thought was just our taxi driver from the harbour to our hostel in Dar became our saving grace. Approximately 3 million people live in Dar, and the bus station may actually be the worst place in the entire world, housing 3/4 of them. Mr. Alpha came through in the clutch, to be expected really, and we picked up our tickets for the “24 hour bus ride” to Kigali beginning the next morning at 6 am.

I use quotations around 24 hour bus ride because it actually turned into a 36 hour bus ride. No bus trouble, traffic, or anything of the sort—that’s just how it goes here. Time is literally the least of people’s worries. And so we rode, on dirt roads, paved roads, through rain and shine, without air conditioning, to the Rwandan border. For whatever reason, Americans do not need visas for Rwanda, so the border crossing was quite simple, and just like that I was stamped out of Tanzania, walked over the bridged border between countries, and was stamped into Rwanda.

It’s a potluck here, and everybody’s bringing something to the table...French, Kinyarwanda, and English. I brought my best English, and thankfully Maura decided to bring some decent French. Sara’s Swedish is a nice seasoning but pretty useless. Now I am sitting in Kigali, but I am trying for a short entry, so will wait tell you all about Kigali later...but just a preview: it is gorgeous!

Photos: Our bus, and the nicest of our rest stops.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

On a Midnight Train...

Much to our dismay we left Zanzibar on Monday evening to return to the mainland. It wasn’t midnight, and it wasn’t a train, but the overnight ferry to Dar Es Salaam was definitely something Gladys could have put to music.

We opted for the cheap seats on the ferry, paying 20 dollars to have only a mattress or air conditioning. We purchased these tickets back in Stonetown and then wondered to the gardens near the harbour for some cheap dinner, as we had a couple hours to kill before the 9:30 departure. Earlier in the week we had dinner at the same spot, and for about 3 USD, one can be made into a stuffed turkey. It is all street food, and when we were finished, the general consensus was that on average we each consumed between 4 and 5 bugs, but what can you do...

After we ate, we moseyed back to the ticket office to collect our backpacks for boarding time. The guard at immigration was having the time of his life stamping our visas and passports and any other form of paper with us...and was loving every minute of it!

Finally we made it to the ship, and when we climbed up to the main deck, we started to look for our seats in the cheap section. For whatever reason, a worker came to us and quickly ushered us in a different direction, up some stairs, to an air-conditioned room with chairs and tables. Look out. We still are not sure how it happened, but we were not about to question it.

Keeping a short story short for once, we basically found ourselves asleep on the dirty floor until at about 3 am someone offered us a sleeping twin mat onto which Sara and I squeezed ourselves for the remainder of the trip. Dawn brought the harbour of Dar Es Salaam, and that was that.

We tried to look miserable in the photo, but I think some other look was achieved decide. See below for Zanzibar.

No Shoes, Just Snorkels

Forgive the lack of blogging. The good news is that for the next few days I should have a considerable amount of down time, and you, good people, are looking at a possibility of 3 or four different entries. I can explain why in a few entries down the road. For the moment, I will tell you of Zanzibar Island so that you can read this and then make your arrangements.

My kids at both schools in Moshi had exams the last week of March, meaning that there was essentially nothing for me to do, so I and three other friends from the hostel decided that Zanzibar was calling. Maura and Amanda, (Kili climbers), and Sara, a girl from Sweden, and I planned to bus to Dar Es Salaam on Monday the 22nd. When the Dar Express office was closed for several days, we decided that flying one way was not a bad idea. Great news: Maura and I are quite consistent in our airport misfortunes, as once again we somehow managed to almost miss our flight. To update the screen of flight happenings would be ludicrous, but this time it wasn’t as dramatic, as there are no loud speakers at Kilimanjaro airport for Dutch women to call and mispronounce names, so notification of our plane preparing for take-off came in the form of a woman wondering up to us to ask if we were possibly supposed to be on this particular flight. We made it and enjoyed air conditioning for the first time in 6 weeks. 1 hour of heaven...complete with locally grown cashew nuts.
Our plane landed in Stonetown, a city on the west coast of the island, where we planned to stay for 2 nights at the Flamingo Hostel; $10 a night, and they throw in a breakfast of fresh fruit, coffee, bread, and an omelette.

Stonetown is an immediate different feel from Moshi, as it is a predominately Muslim community, with architecture that creates a much more European-Indian-tropical feel. Other than shopping, there is not a ton to do in Stonetown, and the only thing we wanted to accomplish there was a spice tour. The island grows an abundance of different spices, and for $20 we were taken through a spice farm, sampling all the different spices of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, lemon grass, vanilla, and 20 others. After this we visited the baths of a former Zanzibar royalty, took a trip to India as we ate our lunch barefoot on the floor of some random shack/shelter, eating only locally grown rice, vegetables and spices, and then visited a slave cave. The cave connects to the sea, and hundreds of people were hidden in the natural cave before being forced into ships waiting at the end of a tunnel. It was a sombre experience, but our guide who kept singing a song he made up about Barack Obama—complete with a dance—kept the mood somewhat light...and odd. After this we had an hour to spend at a beach...which we were told was the least impressive of the Zanzibar beaches. It was hard to believe at the time, but we headed up north the next day to spend the next 5 days on the proper Zanzibar beaches, and upon arrival, the myth quickly became fact.

Nights 1 and 2 were spent at Kendwa Rocks, in two rooms with a tiny ceiling fan, two twin beds, and community bathrooms. Cheap was the name of the as usual. When our friend Amanda had to head back to Moshi for a presentation, we checked pricing down the beach and found a beach hut for three people, complete with a private bathroom, and for just 5 extra dollars a night...prepare yourself...air conditioning. Jump. Up. And. Down. We took it and never looked back.

Maura took a open water diving certification course that lasted for four days, and Sara and I spent the days on the beach watching the locals in their small wooden fishing boats among many other things. Quite a variety to see there was, what with the frequent traditionally dressed Maasai, the men with the monkeys, and the other mzungus (white folks) passing; perhaps the biggest novelty of all... The sun was the hottest I have ever felt comparison even to Mexico...and in one week I used an entire bottle of sunscreen. 12 hours a day on the beach left me under the thatched awning for most of the day, unless in the water. Is my body still moulting like a snake? Ndiyo (yes).

Anyhow, Sara and I took a break from our strenuous beach life for a day trip of snorkelling at Mnemba Island. About a two hour boat ride away on the eastern side, we reached the protected island which is breeding ground for sea turtles and coral, and more fish than I have ever seen. Because it was a two hour boat ride, and I was quite conscious of the heat, my efforts to stay hydrated left me jumping over board to, in the words of the instructor, “make high tide,” before we actually reached the reef. As I jumped overboard in the middle of the Indian Ocean I realized that it seemed a bit odd to not have been asked my swimming capabilities, and though lifejackets were apparently on board, no hard proof had been offered. Anyhow, we all had a good laugh at my situation and soon we were in the water over the reef with masks and snorkels. I just cannot stress enough how blue the water was, and visibility lasted for at least 12 meters below the surface. Needless to say, it was a pretty okay day.

That night I put on shoes to go to a shop just down the street for more bottled water, and when something didn’t feel right, I realized that it was the shoes. Let this be a fair warning to you future Zanzibar goers: There is no real anything off of the beaches in northern Zanzibar, and before you know it you haven’t left the beach in days. Supermarkets with anything more than some biscuits and beverages...forget it. If you think there are ATM’s up north, or anywhere other than in Stonetown...think again. Oh and if you assume this means your beach accommodation will take any form of are sadly mistaken. They instead will drive you to Stonetown when your stay is finished, you will take out cash, hand it over to the driver, and that will be that. Trusting people these islanders...

Geeze Louise, two nearly two pages...when it rains it pours, eh? I’ll leave you with a few photos of the island and a promise of several more entries to follow.