October 22, 2008

Back in the States!

I was just rereading our blog, reminiscing about Tanzania, and realized that we never concluded our trip!

As for our DATAE project, we accomplished more than we had thought for our first summer. We collected hundreds of pages of the diabetes records from three hospitals (both government-run and private) in the Kagera region. The records were pretty simple, but included basic information such as name, age, home village, type I/type II, and presenting symptoms. We are currently in the process of analyzing this data with hopes to find distinct trends in the prevalence of diabetes. We also spent a lot of time in the diabetes clinic, speaking with a diabetes nurse and nutritionist at the Kagera Regional Hospital. Both of these women gave us more information on how they treat diabetes, how the disease is detected, and diet and exercise issues faced by low income families in the villages. By compiling their thoughts and the information from the records, we have been able to fine tune our plans of starting a diabetes mobile clinic in future years.

Our key chain project has also been very successful! We’ve sold over 50 in the past two months and will be setting up a table in Moos Tower this Friday (10/24/08) to sell the key chains and present more information about BUDAP and our trip to Tanzania.

Unfortunately, we were not able to finish Habiba’s house due to our limited time in Tanzania. We did put the walls up and finished the floor, but the roof would have taken a few more days. I hope Habiba and her grandmother like it and have settled in. I’m really excited to see how well it’s holding up when we return this summer!

We also met a secondary school teacher, Tabitha, through our friends at COSAD. Prior to leaving for Tanzania in July, Anh met an 8th grade geography teacher from Wayzata who was interested in creating an African pen-pal connection for his students. We exchanged the information with Tabitha, so hopefully that project takes off because that would be a great experience for those students!

On our last night in Bukoba we stayed on the beach of Lake Victoria. Kiroyera Tours has a gorgeous place on the water with three little cabanas and a restaurant with the best fire oven-baked pizza! In the morning, we got up to watch the sun rise and had our last Tanzanian breakfast in a tiki hut. Ahh just thinking about it makes me want to go back so bad!

William and his wife drove us to Entebbe, Uganda that morning. I’m pretty sure we listened to Shania Twain’s “Forever and For Always? about a million times. Both she and Celine Dion/Titanic are all the rage in Tanzania. Anyways, our flights back to the US went very well, no delays or anything. We had to spend the night in the Nairobi airport, but it was fun nonetheless.

When we finally got to Washington DC, we were all so dirty; most of us bought new shirts in the airport. It was so weird to be back in the fast-paced American life. I thought it was going to be hard to adjust to life in Africa, but I think it might have been harder to come back. I remember putting my toothbrush under the faucet for the first time in over a month and it felt so… almost… unnatural! It was just a short flight then to Minneapolis and all of our families met us at the baggage claim. They were all really happy, and maybe even a little relieved, to see us!

I feel during that month in Tanzania, we not only became really good friends, but a little family. We went to the hospitals together, built the house together, cooked and ate meals together, took care of each other when we were sick, and together endured experiences we would have never encountered in the US. I’m so grateful to have gone with such a great group of students!

We’ve just started planning our trip for next year and hope to buy our tickets by early January. We have a few new members interested in coming along as well, which is really exciting! As we mentioned, we’re working to establish a plan to go to two cities, Bukoba and Arusha. We hope to keep updating this blog as our plans develop, so keep an eye out for new news!


Jenna

August 11, 2008

Sad but excited!

This morning we woke up at 6:00 am like we had planned. Kiran, Kayla, Jenna, Andy, and I (Ice stayed home to catch up on sleep) went hiking up a hill that I must say is comparable to Mount Kilimanjaro (just kidding). The elevation change made it really difficult and thus, a good work out.

After the hike, we went home to wash clothes (While washing our clothes, Kiran and I were attacked by lizards and a loose chicken.) and clean the rice. Back at home, the rice you purchase at the store is clean and clear of stones. The rice here is dirty and full of stones.

At 2:30 pm we went to Habiba’s home to begin the leveling of the ground since the house was on a hill (instead of building the roof). It was hard work digging dirt with crappy shovels and hoes (which looked like they were made from a stick and a piece of metal). Anyway, it was so much fun to level the ground because we attracted the entire village to help us. Leveling took two hours!

While we were leveling the ground I saw a little boy chewing on a sugar cane, a food that I ate in Vietnam. I asked the boy where he got it and he said down the street. An hour later, Habiba and her grandmother came up to us and gave us two huge sugar canes! That was very sweet of them. The sugar cane was our dessert that night. All in all, a good day.

Today, half the group will continue work at the Kagera Regional Hospital and the other half will meet with Father Peter to arrange transportation to three other hospitals. We can’t believe that this trip is almost over. It is sad but also exciting because upon returning, we will begin the planning of next summer’s trip. We hope to have two groups next summer: one group back to Bukoba and a second group to a new destination, Arusha.

Anh

Relaxing at the beach on Farmer’s Day followed by manual labor for a cheap price

Yesterday (Friday) we celebrated a local Tanzanian holiday known as Farmer’s Day…kind of like our Labor Day by 1) sleeping in 2) playing Uno while waiting for the rain to stop 3) spending an afternoon at the beach and 4) having pizza and chips mayai (chips with eggs) for dinner. The pizza was amazing because it was cooked in a wood fired oven. The pizza took forever to make (about 2 hours) but it was well worth it.

Today was an adventure. In the morning, we went hiking around town before our meeting with Father Peter, who is the church liaison with the government hospitals (namely Kidongo, Lybia and one other that I forgot). We met him at 10:00 am to talk about our diabetes project and about possibly collecting data from other hospitals. The meeting went great. We are meeting with him on Monday to arrange transportation to the other hospitals.

After the meeting with Father Peter, we spent a few hours visiting curio and gift shops. I took the group to the ELCT hotel (the hotel we stayed at last summer) and to my surprise, the receptionist remembered me! That was exciting! After visiting the ELCT, we spent a half an hour at an Internet Café before heading off to Mr. Raza to meet the fundi to begin the building of Habiba’s house.

At 3:00ish, we walked to the location of Habiba’s house. As we were walking, I realized that I visited her house last summer before leaving Tanzania. I remember her mud house and thinking how in the world can this house last a rain storm? Well, it can’t and that is why we are building her an iron sheet house. I don’t know how this house will last the hot summers and chilly winters but I guess we’ll see. Mr. Rutta (an assistant of Mr. Raza) showed me the financial breakdown of the house and it was surprising to see that the house cost a total of 810,000 shillings (roughly $800.00). That includes material and labor fees, which is only 60,000 shillings (roughly $60.00)! We, of course, are working for free.

At 4:00ish, we finally began building after the fundi laid out the shape of the house using wooden sticks and string. The house will be 12 feet by 12 feet! Then we began digging holes to layout the frame of the house. The best part was next….we had to use blades to chop up trees that were used to create the skeleton of the house. It was almost dark by the time the skeleton of the house was finished. We said goodbye to the fundi.

Tomorrow, we are waking up at 6:00 am to go out hiking. If time permits, we are going to church before heading back to Habiba’s to continue building her house. Our goal tomorrow is to build the roof…or at least help the fundi build the roof.

Anh

August 9, 2008

Our New Housing Adventure!

Over the past few days, our handyman abilities, resourcefulness, and survival techniques have been tested…to say the least! Although the new house that we are living in has spacious bedrooms, high ceilings, chandeliers, and a wraparound veranda, it has its own little quirks that take some getting used to.

Day 1:

So Anh, Kayla, and I had the bright idea of getting up at 5 AM to exercise on our incredibly hard, almost gym mat, bed. I went to the kitchen to fill a pot for tea/coffee and no water came out of the faucet, or any faucet for that matter. We woke up Andy, who we say is in “husband training? because we make him fix everything and has to put up with our whining (poor guy), and he went outside and started messing with the water tank, but had no luck. Not only did no water mean no tea or coffee, but there were no showers or flushing toilets and with six people who hadn’t showered in two days having to do both, it was a little disgusting.

The combination of being tired, dirty, and angry wasn’t exactly the best situation at 5 AM, but only to make it better was the dead cockroach outside of the bathroom. I had never seen a cockroach in my life, dead or alive, and that was the last straw for all of us at this point- we were moving out!

We called the landlord a few hours later and he sent over the fundi, which is Swahili for anyone who fixes something (I think). He forgot to mention this when we moved in, but apparently there is a little valve inside the tubing that directs where the water goes, whether it be to our house or to the neighbor’s, so all of our water went next door. He told us that it would take essentially all day for our tank to fill up and that the city water shuts off at some absurd time like 5 PM, so we would probably have normal running water the next day.

Anh and Andy went to the hospital around 9 AM to meet with Christine, the diabetes nurse. She gave them even more data, around 80 more pages from three other hospitals in the Kagera region! We’re all pretty excited about that and we can’t believe how well our projects are coming!

We came back for lunch and to maybe take a shower, thinking there would be some water in the tank. When we turned on the faucet the water was BLACK! It was just disgusting but there was nothing we could do about it. We all had to take showers because like I said, it had been a while since any of us had bathed, and we had to be in town for 1:30 to go to the orphanage. So we boiled the dirty water, let it settle, and used the cleaner water on top to bathe (what an experience…). As the night went on, the water was becoming clearer and clearer, which was good. Thank God for bottled water because 24 hours without water would not be good! That night we all went to bed happy, semi-clean, and a little wary of cockroaches.

Day 2:

Since we couldn’t exercise yesterday morning, we decided to get up at 5 AM again today only to find that we had no electricity! The water worked fine and was clear, but I guess it’s either one or the other! We got the flashlight and started searching for the circuit box, but no circuits were broken. Again it was too early to call the landlord so the three of us just sat in the living room and complained. Living in this house makes me feel like I’m at camp (or cabin to you Minnesotans) and it’s hard to get used to, but I guess it’s how a majority of people in Bukoba live.

At around 7:30 the lights magically just turned back on. We don’t know if it was a power outage or if the city decided to turn off the power during the night like the water, but it ended up being O.K. because we had to be at the hospital around 9.

Day 2.5:

While walking to the hospital, we got caught in a downpour. Good thing we brought our rain jackets, otherwise we would have been soaked. Even though I looked like a giant blue marshmallow, my $1 Wal-Mart plastic poncho kept me nice and dry ? We were supposed to rebuild a little orphan girl’s home today, but the rain would have made it really difficult, so we postponed it until Saturday. Since those plans were cancelled, we decided to head back home.

I’m not sure if we’ve kept you posted on our terrible luck with cars in Tanzania. Anyways, we’ve had five incidents so far where we were in the car when it broke down; we just must be bad luck. The fifth break down happened today when our friend William’s driver was bringing us home. We were at the beginning of our dirt road and it’s really rocky. We aren’t too sure what happened but we just heard a big “boom? when we were going up a hill and we ended up having to walk back to our house, which was only 10 minutes but it was pretty muddy. When we arrived home we put all our shoes outside to dry, but the house inevitably became dirty and I decided to get the vacuum and clean up. After vacuuming our room, I started in the hallway. It wasn’t really picking anything up and it was emitting a little heat so I decided to slow down, but apparently I should have taken the heat as a warning sign because the vacuum essentially blew up and fried! I can’t really explain the sound it made but I dropped it and ran and hid behind Anh and Kayla as the vacuum billowed smoke. So, our house, minus mine and Kayla’s room, is still a little dirty, but we can manage for one more week.

Tonight we had dinner at William’s house, BUDAP’s coordinator. We’re all really excited to work with him over the coming years! He has a really nice family and his wife is an amazing cook. Everyone but Ice, our vegetarian, tried eating our first grasshoppers, a Tanzanian delicacy. I’m not sure if I would eat like a whole bowl of them or anything, but they weren’t too bad- kind of tasted like a crunchy, smoked piece of chicken.

It’s been an adventure living in this house and we all got a few good laughs out of it. I keep telling myself that it’s all part of the experience and we should embrace it. We all would like to come back to Tanzania next year, possibly against our parents’ discretion (at least mine maybe!), but we all are really enjoying ourselves here! Now that our projects are essentially put in place, we’re going to take some time and absorb the culture. Tomorrow is Nani Nani (not sure how to spell it), which is a community-wide holiday where businesses shut down and farmers set up a market to sell their produce for cheap- kind of like our Labor Day maybe? Depending upon the weather we hope to make it to the farmers’ market and maybe go on a hike in the villages.

Kwaheri ya kuonona! We’ll write again soon!


Jenna

August 4, 2008

Photo update!

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Group photo at Maasai Mara camp back in Kenya.

Diabetes Keychain

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As you may know, one of our main goals is to raise diabetes awareness in the US while financially supporting the disabled community of Bukoba (BUDAP). Above is the diabetes key chain with a touch of African culture that BWB and BUDAP have created. They will be sold in the US to raise awareness with all proceeds returned to BUDAP.

So in Africa, tomato sauce is really ketchup…

This is Kiran writing the blog today, and it has been another interesting day in Tanzania. We spent our first night in our new house and it feels wonderful to be settled in our own place for the next two weeks. Our morning started with serenades from howling dogs that sounded like they were possibly being attacked by a lion or some other fierce creature. After finally waking up, we took a scenic walk into town while munching on our Cliff and Luna bars as we headed towards the regional hospital. Jenna, Kayla and I spent the morning in the HIV unit, specifically in the Prevention of Maternal Transmission Center, while Andy, Ice and Anh left to schedule a meeting with the Regional General Secretary of the Kagera Region to confirm our diabetes research project. In the end, we fought drooping eyes due to a lack of coffee and tea this morning to see four negative HIV tests—great news!

In the afternoon, the six of us met up for peanut butter and pineapple jelly sandwiches and then marched from the cyber café to Kiroyera Tours, where we would work on the beads project. During our wait before leaving for BUDAP to see how the beads project was progressing, we bought some garlic, a wooden spoon, and some bowls so that we could make our first home cooked meal, spaghetti and tomato sauce. At BUDAP, we finalized the key chain designs and were excited to see how the diabetes awareness products were being made. We also got to watch Anh chase a duck around the yard.

Dinner was interesting. That is really the best way to say it. Anh and I tried to make spaghetti in water that would not boil and make spaghetti sauce from scratch. Apparently, tomato sauce in Africa is not tomato sauce. It is ketchup. The onions, garlic and green peppers were fresh and smelled amazing, but the tomato sauce did not taste like sauce. We tried adding chili sauce but it still turned the noodles pink. In the end, we ended up eating pink, soggy, ketchup noodles. Everyone but Andy ended their meals early due to loss of appetite. The best part of dinner was the fifty cent fresh pineapple. After dinner, we were serenaded again, this time by the toilet and the cow outside our house. Let us just say that we have all learned how to “hold it? until we absolutely cannot anymore and how to use a toilet in the dark. All in all, it has been a good day.

Kiran

August 3, 2008

Kwa Nini?

Today has been eventful. At ten this morning, we went to the ground breaking ceremony of COSAD. They had invited their partner organizations- Global Citizen Network, Biology without Borders and government officials. COSAD had also organized choirs from surrounding villages to sing as part of the ceremony.

The speech given by the officials were in Swahili and we could not understand much of it. However, we could appreciate the music and the culture of the people of Tanzania. The choir was different from one we were used to since it contained singing and dancing and was very expressive. The choir singers swayed to drum beats. It was surprising to see young boys playing drums and providing drum beats for the choir. The whole community from a particular village was participating in the choir- including the children.

Anh was invited to give a speech about our organization and mission of the trip as part of the program. She was able to give part of the speech in Swahili and the rest in English. Everyone laughed when she explained why (Kwa nini) we love coming back to Bukoba.

The ceremony went on until about 2:30pm after which lunch was served. We were grateful to have good food since we were getting tired of eating Luna bars and Ramen noodles.

For the rest of the afternoon we finalized a house to live in. We decided on living in a house closer to the town to save money on gas. We will move into the house tomorrow morning. It will be nice to have independence since we will be able to walk to work and not rely on someone to pick us up.

Andy

Update from Ice!

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Hey, peeps!

Time for a new update from your favorite travel-volunteer group, Biology Without Borders! So, we have lots more news to share, but we’ll tell you mainly about the advancements we made on our DATAE project! This morning, we spoke with Mr. Hussein of the Bukoba Lion’s Club and had an incredibly productive meeting. Through him, we hope to acquire more information and data from the different hospitals in the Kagera Region. He helped set up meetings for us with different doctors and health-care providers. Along with that, we’ve successfully managed to acquire permission to execute our project from almost all of the officials here in Bukoba.

Now to go more into our other projects, we spoke to a gentleman named Mr. Raza yesterday. He coordinates several projects in Tanzania and abroad. He owns an orphanage as well and there is a young girl named Habiba who lost her home to a heavy storm recently. Since we’re learning to be careful with our money, we decided to do more meaningful work with Mr. Raza and will start helping build a new home for Habiba starting next week! It’s going to be a small hut—originally thought to be of mud, but now with iron sheets. Yup, that’s right! We’re going to be doing some full-blown manual labor, getting muddy and sweaty! Most of us have already saved some of our dirty clothes to wear so we don’t have to worry about having another laundry-day episode! Hopefully, we’ll be able to post some pictures for you guys to see and laugh at!

Next up: updates on the town. There’s no better opportunity to get a queen/celebrity treatment if you’ve ever craved it. Everywhere we go, infants to seniors are always staring at us. A couple of school boys stopped by the street today, pointed at Jenna and said, “Mzungu!? (“white person?). We couldn’t help but laugh. It’s so precious how the children clutter on the streets just to get a wave or a piece of gum out of us. We all bought gum and candy to give to the children but you can never have enough of a supply. You only wish you can see those brilliant smiles every second of the day.

It’s raining very heavily today! We returned to our home much earlier than we usually do and settled down with a nice mug of tea. We will be having dinner with COSAD tonight and will help welcome their guests who are also coming here from America to help out with the community. We have the usual chores still left to do—boiling water being the most important—but we decided to take a break and write you all a little note. After tonight, though, it’s back to business. We have several meetings planned all next week—with doctors, nurses, administrative figures, patients, etc. I know I’m speaking for the rest of the group when I say I’m very excited for next week.

We hope you’re having as great of a time there as we are here.

Ice

July 31, 2008

Diabetes Projects Underway

Today was awesome! So we came to Tanzania with a goal of collecting patient data to determine the prevalence of diabetes in the Kagera Region. Before we left for Tanzania, we thought that the chance of us collecting proper data is probably rare. However, our hard work paid off today. We were granted access to the data by Chrystal, the diabetes nurse, and a doctor (a name that I can’t spell). Andy and I spent 3 hours today looking at patient records and documents. These are the records that we have been hoping to find to determine the demographics of diabetes in this region. Tomorrow, we are creating surveys for diabetes patients, nurses, and doctors to help us understand more about diabetes in this region. We are sooo excited! On Saturday we are interviewing a diabetes nurse and next Thursday we will be interviewing the dietician/nutritionist.

On a different note, the diabetes beads project to raise awareness back home is also going great. Our partnership with the Bukoba Disabled Assistance Project (BUDAP) is starting to become a reality. We met with them today to see how our two organizations can be incorporated. We have decided to help them create a market for a diabetes key chain that they will make. All proceeds will be returned to them. This project fulfills a few things 1) raise diabetes awareness in MSP/St. Paul region and 2) helps the BUDAP people create a form of income. The best thing, however, is that this project is sustainable!

We are soooo sorry for not uploading any pictures yet. The Internet is soooo slow (even though we have wireless)! We’ll try to update again soon.

Anh

African Life

The Daily Life in Africa!

I have always known that life in America is pretty easy, but I never knew just how easy we have it! Big grocery stores, laundry machines, and hot showers are very hard to come by here in Africa, therefore our group has been spending a lot of time boiling water. For instance, hot showers are generated from boiling water. We add a pot of boiling water to a bucket, add some cold water, take a pitcher and wash away. I don’t think that any of the females have completely rinsed out the shampoo and conditioner out of their hair since we have gotten here. On a positive note, at least we know we always smell good (although we probably are attracting more mosquitoes). It is amazing, however, how much less water we use by the bucket method, even though I think we will all go back to our showers once we get back home (I am unsure about Andy though…haha…just kidding).

Since we are college students, we are naturals at trying to save money and even though everything is much cheaper in Tanzania, we still find ways to cut the cost. Some of us acquired blankets through Ethiopian Airlines which we will return during our trip home. Thanks to Anh, who had to bring her pillow with everywhere, we stuffed a few in the pillow case and let me tell you, those blankets have been handy! We have used them everywhere including the 12 hour wait in the airport, camping out on our safari, and I personally use mine every night since I didn’t bring a blanket.

Our grocery shopping skills have also come into use. First of all, and anyone who saw us pack can second this, we brought a lot of food. Luna bars, ramen noodles, oatmeal, Ice’s Indian food, peanuts…we have had quite the variety of food just from our suitcases. We also decided that it would be smart to pack lunch everyday. Our lunch has consisted of bread with Nutella and, to go along with our diabetes theme, sugar-free fruit jam. It is quite the interesting combination and the bread reminds us of the crusty bread one feeds to the ducks at home. We have managed to make ourselves stand out even more in town by walking around eating our delicious sandwiches. For some reason, everyone sits down to eat. We are trying to get the courage to go into the market and bargain on some fresh produce, but we will have to write about that experience another day.

Tonight was an exciting night for us because it was the first time we’ve been able to wash clothes. Anh and Andy strung up the clothes line and we all took turns scrubbing up our dirty clothes. We all figure that our parents would be proud and we took plenty of pictures to prove how hard we are working here. All of us are going naturale, especially Andy, who uses a rock to clean his under garments.

Even though we are roughing it a little, we are all having a great time and this has been a great experience for all of us. But I don’t know if our new ways of living will come back to America with us…only time will tell.

Kayla
(Andy comments by Anh)

July 30, 2008

Finding our place

After meeting with the medical staff at the Kagera Regional Hospital and the volunteer coordinators of BUDAP (Bukoba Disabled Assistance Project) and IZAAS Medical Project, we finalized our schedule. Here it goes:

On Monday through Friday from 7:45-12:00, we volunteer/shadow/conduct research at the hospital. Andy and Anh will observe the diagnosis and check up of HTN/DM (hypertension/diabetes) patients and interview doctors, nurses, and patients with DM. Jenna and Kiran are volunteering/shadowing in the HIV center while Icey and Kayla will spend most of their time in pediatrics and surgery.

On Mondays and Wednesdays between 2-6 pm, we are working with BUDAP to plan and create the logistics and organization of the beads project, a project that focuses on raising awareness in the US while creating an income for the disabled men and women of BUDAP.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays between 2 and 6 pm and all day Saturday, we are working with IZAAS Medical Project and a fundi to build a small house for a girl and her mother whose house collapsed after the rain this past summer.

On Friday afternoon and all day Sunday, we are working with the local Lion’s Club and COSAD (Compassionate Solutions for Africa’s Development) to begin the planning of a diabetes on wheels mobile clinic.

As you can see, our schedule is packed, which is a good thing. We hope to get as much of this accomplished as we can in the next 2.5 weeks.

On a side note, coming back to Bukoba has been unreal. I never imagined myself traveling back here again. It finally hit me when I entered the hospital and certain areas of Bukoba that reminded me of our trip from last summer. In any case, I am glad to be back and I am excited to finally be able to begin collecting data for the diabetes project! Yesterday, Andy and I sat in on the HTN/DN and observed how diabetes is diagnosed. Today, we will be looking through medical records of nurse Chystal for any trends in DM.

Anh

July 29, 2008

Update!!

We’re sorry it’s been so long- the internet has been a little rare so far. To catch everyone up, we’ve been all over East Africa in the past week! I’m going to break this into several entries so it isn’t so overwhelming!

By the way, this is our story but Jenna is writing all of these blogs so the little commentaries are mine!

Uganda and Bukoba

When we returned to our hotel we used the internet and found out that our flight to Entebbe, Uganda was delayed from 9 AM to 8 PM. This posed for a little inconvenience since our driver was coming at 7 AM to bring us to the airport, but it ended up being O.K. At the airport we found that the check-in for Air Uganda was at 5 PM so we had about a nine hour wait in the Nairobi airport lobby, but it was still fun! We did a lot of people-watching because people from all over the world were flying out of Nairobi to various places and it was just really interesting.

Eventually we boarded our flight and Air Uganda (along with Ethiopian Air which brought us from Washington D.C. to Nairobi) had such a nice flight crew! I feel like overall everyone is so nice here! Anh tells me I’m too trusting, which could potentially get me in trouble, but everyone keeps me in check. I just feel so bad some times and want to help them out by buying something or whatever, but I’m beginning to realize that some people just can’t be trusted!

We love Uganda! It’s a little bit more developed than Kenya and it’s b-e-a-utiful! Their airport was brand new and the bathrooms were so clean! (a slight change from our previous living arrangements, haha) Again, the hospitality was awesome. The security people knew we were coming and called Smart, the founder of COSAD, our partner, and our Tanzanian/American friend, to pick us up. Smart and our driver, Mattson, brought us to our hotel in Kampala, the “economic capital? of Uganda, and we spent the night. Kampala was crazy! We didn’t venture downtown or anything because it was late, but Smart says that it’s very, very crowded. Maybe on our way home we can drive through and see the city.

On Sunday we finally reached Bukoba, Tanzania, our final destination. Bukoba is a gorgeous city! The city itself is set in a valley along Lake Victoria, which is the world’s second largest freshwater lake behind Superior. Our house is way up in the hills and the walk to downtown is about 45 minutes but the view is so pretty and we pass many children on our way down that it makes it go by pretty fast. The city is pretty big and there seems to be a lot going on in the streets. I feel really safe and everyone is pretty friendly overall and they’re so relaxed. In Africa it seems that time doesn’t exist; there is no such thing as being busy like Americans are. It probably is a healthier, less stressful lifestyle, but now that we’re in Bukoba, our projects will keep us very busy!

Safari, the Maasai, and African Culture

The safari was AMAZING and we want to do another one! It took us about 5-6 hours to get to Maasai Mara, which was pretty much straight south of Nairobi and about 45 minutes from Mount Kilimanjaro (we found this out after). Like Addis, Kenya had many mountains and valleys so the drive was just gorgeous! We were driving down this mountain and I’m pretty sure my life flashed before my eyes about five times. On our left was this cliff about 14,000 feet down and the shoulder was 3 feet wide without a guardrail. This, with the crazy Kenyan driving, was a little nerve-racking, but still so fun and all part of the adventure. Eventually, the roads became dirt and it was really bumpy but the scenery was awesome. We passed so many small villages, each having a one-room hotel, curio shop, and bar and butchery (a weird but common combination). It was so cool because there were so many people just standing on the side of the road and everyone waved to our van and we would yell “Jambo!? out the window (“hello? in Swahili). They must be putting in a fence along the road because there were men for miles digging a trench. I had so much respect for those men and their hard work because in America that would have been done in a couple days with a machine. The differences between here and America are countless and it’s almost hard to believe, but it’s real.

It was like being on the safari already because we saw so many animals. Also, the Maasai people were bringing their cows, goats, and sheep to pastures so animals were just freely crossing the roads and we had to stop often so we didn’t hit them. Their cows are so skinny we could see their ribs! It was easy to spot a Maasai because they wear bright red cloths and contrast greatly with the sandy terrain. It was amazing to see miles and miles of land, untouched by man. We were asking ourselves, where in American can you find something so beautiful, yet wild?

Our safari was two days and consisted of two game drives, one in the evening and one in the morning. We also tented-out which I absolutely loved! I hadn’t slept in a tent in so long and it was awesome being in the African wilderness with all of its sounds. A lot of other people who were on safaris stayed in tents by us and there were people from all over the world there! I’m beginning to get used to the bathroom situations over here and actually kind of like it; squatting is way better than sitting. However, I did drop my $10 bracelet (we also are learning how to barter, haha…not) that said Kenya on it in the toilet, a very sad event. Well, I actually shouldn’t call it a toilet because it technically is a flushable hole, but we like them. So two necessities that must be brought to Africa are toilet paper and hand sanitizer… and lots of them.

Both game drives were awesome and we saw so many wild animals! All of the animals were migrating from Tanzania to Kenya and it was like seeing zebras for miles. We also saw elephants, wildebeests, warthogs, hippos, giraffes, oxen, colorful birds, hyenas, lions, gazelle, elands, and impalas. During our first drive, we saw two lions mate…twice. It was so interesting and almost funny how much they acted like humans; like an old married couple that you see on TV. I’ll leave the rest to your imaginations, haha. The morning game drive was the best though- I could wake up like that every morning! The sun just peeking through the clouds and the rolling hills with the mountains in the background were breathtaking. I can’t even begin to explain how beautiful Africa is! The consensus was that all of us were going to return to Africa at some point in our lives and bring our families.

We’ve all fallen in love with African food, too! Our cook on safari, Camillo, was an amazing cook and we were all well fed and got to try some new foods. My personal new favorite is cabbage. I’m going to find a recipe online and probably make it all the time in the US! Other new foods that we like are chapati (not new for Indians, but it’s a flatbread made of wheat that’s a little sweet), ugalli (rice, flour, and water that are mixed into a cake-like formation), and matoke (plantains that are mashed like potatoes). Beef is also huge here. For those of you who know me well know that I rarely eat beef but I’ve come to like it! It’s not nearly as fatty and almost tastes like venison. Ice, our vegetarian, is also having some luck with the vegetables. Every meal has some sort of cabbage, potatoes, or vegetable medley in it whether in a stew or just cooked (they’re usually picked up with chapati or ugalli). I think we’re all a little dehydrated though because you have to buy bottled water and we seem to underestimate how much we use for drinking and brushing our teeth. This will change hopefully in Bukoba when we can boil and filter our own water.

Before leaving Maasai Mara, we were given a tour of a Maasai village. I would consider this to be the coolest and most humbling experience I’ve ever had. The village was a group of huts made with cow dung, branches, and grasses enclosed in a homemade fence. Our tour guide, a Maasai who was fluent in English, started us outside and introduced a warrior. He was like the other Maasai we had seen- skinny, tall, and was wearing red. He also had stretched out ear lobes. He and about 10 other young warriors then did the welcome dance for us where they jump around and make this weird humming sound from deep in their throats. One then grabbed me from the group, gave me his stick, and kept telling me to jump, and so I did. Eventually all six of us were immersed in the group of warriors and were doing the welcome dance.

We then entered the village and a bunch of kids ran towards us. They were so cute but I felt so bad because there were so many flies inside the village and they all needed Kleenexes- we all wanted to wash their faces with our wet wipes! The women then gathered together and sang us a song that is usually used to welcome a new baby. We gave the women and children gum and the children were all excited.

The village consisted of about 25 huts all in a circle. The ground was dirt but was dotted with large piles of cow dung. This is because at night they bring all their cows, sheep and goats into the village for protection and the dung is then used to re-smear their huts. The tour guide took us inside a hut and it was bigger inside than we thought! Each hut was exactly the same and had a kitchen/bedroom and two other rooms for baby goats and calves. There was a fire inside and it was amazing how well the dung keeps the heat inside- we were all sweating! The Maasai are also a polygamist tribe and the number of wives a male could have depended upon how many cattle they had. Each family had it’s own hut, so a male has more than one hut, and the particular hut we went into slept seven people. Our guide told us that during pregnancy and infancy, blood is drawn from a cow’s jugular vein and mixed with milk and sugar for nutrients like iron.

They then showed us how to make fire using two different types of wood (hard and soft) and some dry grass. It was amazing how fast they could do it! They gave the tools for Andy and Ice to try it but they couldn’t get it started. It was pretty funny! Then they tried to sell the tools to us, and we found out that this tour was essentially done to try to get us to buy something from them. Although they did make very nice jewelry and we would have liked to buy something, it was just a little overwhelming and we all just wanted to get back in the van!

Our time with the Maasai made us all realize how little you need to live and the main focus is just surviving. I mean, all they really have is probably a few changes of clothes, a couple pots, and the land to survive off of. When I think back to coming on this trip, I was worried about making sure I had a camera and my iPod was charged! This entire trip has just been a realization experience, and maybe the beginning of a transformation, for all of us. We are seeing now that life isn’t all about what you have, it’s what you do with it.

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