Sunday, December 12, 2010

Time flies

Well my time here is almost over. I can't believe it, its gone by so fast. It's weird to think East Africa will be a memory in just a few days. This last week has been pretty relaxed. I got my research paper draft back and I didn't have to make too many changes on it, which was a pleasant surprise. I got my final research paper back and got an 'A' on it (yay!), which made it a good day. A few days ago I went to the Karatu market, which happens once a month. It was a huge market! People mainly sold used clothes from the 90's, which was perfect for finding a costume for the performance later that day. You see, I've recently joined the dance committee and we've been memorizing the dance routine to Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance'. Let me tell you, that's a hard dance to learn! We've been practicing it for over a month and finally got the whole dance down. After getting our costumes at the market, we preformed the dance after dinner. It was quite the entertainment, if I do say so myself. 

On Friday we had our big community presentations where each directed research group presented their findings to the community members. The school invited community members from council chairmen to street vendors. Each group put together a powerpoint and presented their findings. We were told that last year over 100 community members showed up, so I was a little nervous to present to that many people. The turnout was way smaller than I had expected. It was around 50 people, which made me wayyyy less nervous to present. The presentations and Q&A took all afternoon, but it was so nice to be done with directed research and my 20 something page paper and community presentation! During the presentations we had a translator translate everything into Swahili, which made the presentations SO long. After all three groups presented, the dance committee performed the 'Bad Romance' dance. Now, it was suggested by the teachers that we perform afterwards, which we thought was kinda weird but we went along with it. We had to take out a few booty shakes and replace them with less vulgar dance moves haha It was one of the weirdest things i've ever done. Here we were performing our 'Bad Romance' dance right after we gave a serious academic presentation to a crowd full of village council members and community leaders (!). Some people in the audience were recording it and seemed to enjoy it, but they all had looks of confusion of their faces hahaha

Yesterday we had a Christmas party at camp. There was a Charlie Brown like tree with one strand of lights on it, it was really cute! The cooks prepared an amazing dinner, without a doubt the best meal i've had at camp. There was grilled cheese, vegetable samosas, pineapple cobbler, pizza, and sooo much more, it was a true feast. It was so much fun to have a holiday party on our second to last day at camp. Today is our last day in Tanzania, which is super weird to think about. It doesn't seem real. I'm ready to get cleaned up back at home in nice showers and sleep in a bed without a mosquito net, and not be paranoid of bugs every second of the night. The other day one girl here woke up with a mouse in her bed!!!!! So scary! I would have screamed my head off if a mouse was in my sleeping bag.... 

I recently found out about another fun insect here, the Nairobi fly. It's this little ant like bug with a red butt that can give you second degree acid burns! If you kill it or accidentally squish it, its skin lets out toxins that gives your skin second degree burns. A girl here had one in her bed without knowing it and woke up with burns on her legs. I'm ready to go back to Michigan were it's wintertime and all the bugs are dead haha 

My last day at camp was spent packing and eating at the Artz Gallery for lunch. Tomorrow i'll be getting up early and driving to Arusha to catch a plane to Nairobi. It's gonna be weird leaving this camp and the 27 people i've been around for three months. I mean, i've been inside a fence with these people for so long, spending every moment with them, taking every class with them, eating every meal with them, it's gonna be strange not to see them any more. I'll definitely miss a lot of the people here. 

After I fly to Nairobi with some people on the group flight, we'll stay at a camp in Nairobi for the night and than leave for London the next day. From London I'll fly to Newark, New Jersey and spend a night there. Finally i'll catch a plane to DETROIT and be home! It's gonna be a long couple of days filled with plane rides from Arushu to Nairobi to London to Newark to Detroit. I'll be traveling for three days straight but with the time difference I'll gain 8 hours back at home. 

For my last night here I walked up Moyo Hill with a group of people and marveled at the spectacular view of the surrounding areas. I truly am going to miss this place, the people, and the wildlife. Kenya and Tanzania have changed me in ways I can't even begin to describe. I feel so lucky and grateful to have lived in these countries and study the breathtaking wildlife here. I'm only a few plane rides away from being home, which is SO so SO so dang weird to think about! I will miss Kenya and Tanzania, but I am beyond excited to get back to Michigan and be with my family, my dog, my friends, wonderful food, snow, wintertime and Ann Arbor :) 

So I'm not sure if i'll write another blog post after this, maybe, maybe not. I'm pretty awful at this whole blogging thing so we'll see... Thanks to any and all family and friends who read this blog :) Asante sana! (Thank you, in Swahili)

Lala Salama (Goodnight), 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Well fieldwork is officially over and it's been a tiring week of interviewing people and asking our questionnaire. I felt like a broken record asking the same questions over and over again. It was really fun to talk to people, but I'm glad to be done with that questionnaire. On the last few days of fieldwork I got to explore Karatu a lot and eat lunch at the Artz Gallery for three straight days in a row. I've discovered that they have the absolute best oatmeal cookies ever made. On the last day of field work I pretty much just went around to fancy lodges and got to live a day in the life of an extremely wealthy tourist. In the morning I went to interview people at the most amazing lodge I've ever seen. It was like one big garden in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by hills and tropical palms and flowers. It wasn't overly fancy, but it was breathtakingly beautiful. If I ever came back to East Africa I would make sure to stay at this lodge. The lodge served us watermelon juice and gave us hot towels when we walked through the door (fancy huh?), I felt like I had entered a dream. We got to tour the entire lodge and see the rooms, which had outdoor private showers that overlooked the gardens and landscape of the area. We also got to sit down and enjoy the complementary coffee and cookies. I felt like such a freeloader haha We went to interview a few people and ended up staying for an hour or so, drinking coffee and enjoying the magnificent views of the lodge. After that, we went and ate lunch at the Artz Gallery and got some of my fav oatmeal cookies which are SO addicting. Then we went to the Lake Manyara Serena lodge, interviewed a couple people, and relaxed of the deck drinking iced cappuccinos. It was a great way to end our fieldwork. 

Backtracking a little to Thanksgiving, I was bummed to be missing all the yummy food, but we had our own African thanksgiving celebration. A lot of students spent the day in the kitchen making mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey, and other classic thanksgiving dishes. We even got to get lettuce and cheese! It was such a good dinner! Some people even put up decorations. Earlier in the day we went into Mto Wa Mbu and had painting lessons. We got to see some artists do the knife paintings that are sold everywhere here. The artists did a beautiful painting in less than five minutes, it was really interesting to watch. After he showed us how to knife paint we got to paint our own pictures. Mine was, of course, the best. It kind of looked like a three year old painted it in the dark haha. It was really fun though. I also did a little more shopping in the Maasai Market in town. I feel like I know Mto Wa Mbu like the back of my hand and I recognize all the people i've talked to from the street vendors to the duka's owners.

Now a few random occurrences to note: Over the past couple days I have heard the most ungodly screeches, coming from our neighbors pigs. I recently found out that one of our neighbors likes to have pig roasts often, so I can hear death screams coming from pigs on a regular basis and it is so disturbing. The pigs squeal for so long I feel sick to my stomach. Another not so pleasant thing to report- I recently saw a baby black mamba on my porch. The baby snakes look EXACTLY like worms, except they have a very distinct slithering motion unlike worms. A few girls actually picked it up because they thought it was a weird looking worm! Fun fact: baby black mombas are even more dangerous than adult black mombas because they don't know how to properly use their venom, so they often bite and release more venom than adults.

This past week has been full of data analysis, SO BORING. I spent some time making graphs and what not out of the data gathered from our questionnaire. It hasn't been to eventful. I started writing my research paper, which is harder than I expected. It has to be written scientifically, which I am the worst at. Writing scientifically means I can't write with opinions, descriptions, or observations, only the facts (zzzzzzzzzz). I am starting to get tiered of the science world and their silly way of writing and looking at everything, it's got no spice. Yesterday was spent finishing up my research paper draft and turning it in, at the moment it's around 18 pages of pure data analysis and dry facts. This whole week i've been cooped up at camp working on this paper, but I finally got to take a break and leave the fence. We had a shopping day in Mto Wa Mbu and than visited the Watoto Care Orphanage again. Those kids have endless supplies of energy. Being at camp all day long everyday makes the time go by so slow.... however, I can't believe I've already spent 3 months here in East Africa. Only a week left at Moyo Hill camp and three days of plane flights and i'll be home, not like I'm counting or anything. I love it here in Tanzania, but I'm ready to be back in Michigan with cold weather! It's been SO hot these past days, yesterday it got up to 87 degrees, wayyy to hot. I'm a total winter person, I need some snow in my life. It's gonna be really sad to leave though, this experience has shown me a whole other part of the world and a different way of life from my own that is endlessly fascinating and wonderful.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

I should probably major in professional list making...

Making lists is one of my favorite hobbies/pastime activities, so this blog post is pretty much a compilation of the lists i've made.

Soooo i've been in East Africa for 11 weeks now and I'm finding that the initial things I thought were different and odd are completely normal now. Things that are now weird to think about are:
-traffic jams are not always caused by cows and goats crossing the road
-not all public toilets are holes in the ground
-there is such a thing as weekends. no class on saturday and sunday?? how odd.
-stores have set prices and these prices are not up for bartering
-there is such a thing as trashy television (Real Housewives of D.C. here I come!)
-not all beds have mosquito nets (!)

I spend a lot of time thinking about food, since the food here gets real old real fast. I have compiled a list of the foods I want/crave from home. During class sometimes I get board, so instead of doodling in my notebook, I make lists of food I'm hungry for haha
FOODS that I think about roughly eighty times a day:
buffalo chicken pizza from NYPD
Chipotle burrito
Pumpkin ice cream
Thai red curry
Candy cane ice cream
Mom's cheesy potatoes
Apple Bees buffalo chicken wings
Panera Bread soup and bread bowl
German food from Metzger's
Baseball game french fries with vinegar
Siggie's delicious rhubarb cake
toasted bagels with cream cheese
T-Bell potato taco
French bread+roasted red peppers+goat cheese
Olga's soup, salad, and snackers
Java Joint soup and grilled cheese
Aloe juice
cupcakes from Zingerman's 
Starbucks green tea latte/frappuccino
Vernors ginger ale

Here is yet another list of website links that I though might be of interest to some people (specifically Mom and Dad, haha). The first link is to a slideshow on the NY Times website that quotes Bernard Kissui, my Wildlife Management professor here! The second link is to an article on the NY Times site about the proposed road through the Serengeti, which also quotes my professor. The third link is to my study abroad programs website and gives an over view of the program I'm in at the moment, incase your curious to find out more about the School for Field Studies. The last link is to a slideshow of all the students in this program and their mini bios, including Me! 



about the program-

meet the students-


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Oh em gee, I, like, hate bugs.

So the bugs here have decided to come out of hiding and are in full on attack mode. Over the past few days I have encountered hundreds of insects and it is freaking me out. At night the bugs are EVERYWHERE. There are FLYING crickets here and beetles that fly all over the place and occasionally decide to land in my dinner plate. The other night there were roughly 10 huge crickets hopping around my banda and on my lap. My way of dealing with them is throwing my notebooks in their general direction and hoping it hits them. One time I threw my notebook at a cricket and clean cut its head right off its body, it was a shining moment. 

[Sidenote: Most people here tell me not to kill the insects and sometimes stop me from chucking my notebooks at crickets. I find this completely silly, since I see no moral dilemma in killing any and all insects. Ironically, most of the people that preach about not killing bugs are fine with piling their plates with animal products. Now, I don't care what people decide to eat, but I don't think they should be telling me not to kill little insect monsters. Would it be justifiable if I ate them after killing them? You can eat meat, but don't tell me not to kill bugs. Just sayin']

The other night I witnessed a cricket ATTACK. A cricket maliciously jumped down a girls shirt! It was terrifying. The beetles here come in all different sizes, some are small and can be found everywhere from my dinner plate, to the bathroom, to on my computer. There are also HUGE beetles that wander around and make me want to vomit. But worst of all, the most disgusting things i've ever seen in my entire life- flying ginormous cockroaches. They always appear out of nowhere and full on attack me. By attack I mean they fly around and look creepy and make possibly the most annoying noise known to man. I had one in my banda the other night and I could not sleep. The flying cockroach would run into my net over and over and over again. It would wake me up with the annoying buzzing and hissing noises it makes. I was paranoid the entire night that it was in my net, so I slept with my sleeping bag over my face and could barely breathe, it was one of the scariest nights of my life. Another bug attack happened the other day when I was minding my own business and typing away on my computer, when all of a sudden a big spider crawled right out of the cracks of my computer! I didn't go near my laptop for the rest of the day. 

I thought that coming to East Africa would help me get rid of my fear of insects, but it has made me even more paranoid of them. They invade my space and have no sense of personal boundaries. I loath them. Anywho, I realized I just spent the last hour writing about my hatred towards insects, so I'm going to stop now. I promise, my next post will be less negative haha I just had to let out my hatred for those little devils.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Life's extra sweet in this African heat.

So it's been a pretty busy week and directed research has just started so i've been consumed with working on my DR proposal. I've finally decided to look at how much food lodges and hotels get from local farms and explore of how farms can indirectly benefit from tourism and, in turn, be involved in the wildlife conservation tourism draws in. Anyways.... I haven't talked about expedition to the Serengeti, so I'll backtrack to a few weeks ago. We left early on a Friday morning and drove to Olduvia Gorge, which was amazing to see! I've read so much about Olduvia in my archeology texts books and I couldn't believe I got to visit one of the most important archeological sites in history. 'Olduvia' I learned is not the proper name for the site, it's actually called Oldupia, which is a Swahili word for a specific type of plant. The area was the site of some of the first hominid footprints and where parts of the hominid trackway were discovered, as well as many other tools and skeletons of our early ancestors. It reminded me how interesting archeology is and how I miss studying anthropology, cultural and archeological. 

We finally arrived at our campground after the bumpiest ride I have ever been on, the roads to the Serengeti are so bad it messed up some of the jeeps and they had to be fixed back at camp after expedition was over. The camp was really pretty and I couldn't believe how close we where to wildlife. Our camp was literally in the middle of the Serengeti National Park. Our first day we saw elephants and buffalos walk right past camp. Later on in the day we went on an evening game drive and saw baby lions, elephants mating (!), and lots of hyenas, it was a very successful game drive. It's not every day that elephants are seen mating and it was quite a sight to see. The first night was a little uncomfortable, especially because I didn't bring my sleeping pad since it has a hole in it. Instead, I folded out my crazy creek chair and used that as a sleeping pad, which felt the same as sleeping directly on the ground. At night I heard this hackling noise, which I soon found out was the sound of hyenas wandering around camp. At night we brought in a Tanzania Wildlife Services guard who watched the camp along with one of our Askaris. They both stayed by the campfire all night and at times had to chase away hyenas by hitting them with sticks. Hyenas make the craziest sounds, I could hear them so clearly it sounded like they were right next to my tent. Oh also the most important thing to note- there were actually toilets at this campground!!!!!! My standards of bathrooms has changed so much while i've been here, if there is a toilet it is a nice bathroom no matter how dirty it is. When I get home I'll probably think rest-stop bathrooms are the nicest thing ever haha

On the second day of expedition (Saturday) we woke up super early at around 5am and went on a morning game drive. In the afternoon we went on another game drive and did a Wildlife Ecology assignment where we had to count all the animals we saw. I have never seen so many Thomsons gazelle! There were hundreds of them. We also saw a cheetah that was super far away. Later on that day we visited a lion station where people were doing research on carnivore dynamics between lions and hyenas. The researchers there had set up cameras all over the Serengeti that took pictures of any animals that passed by and had all these candid pictures of wildlife. We went on a game drive back to camp and dusk game drives are the best! During dusk game drives the sun is setting and the sky is a purple, pink and orangey color, and it gets a little chilly. There are also more hyenas out when its dusk. I've decided hyenas are my fav African animal, they are so sassy and scruffy. Fun fact: hyenas are more closely related to cats than they are to dogs.

It was raining on and off most days we were camping. Some nights I would roll over in my tent and sleep in a puddle of rain. But i'll take rain over hot weather any day, so it wasn't too bad. On the third day of camping (Sunday) something absolutely incredible happened.... I got to use someone's extra sleeping pad, which made camping a little more comfy. That night I heard hyenas making strange noises and lions growling, it sounded like they were right next to my tent. I found out the next morning they had walked right through camp (!). In the morning we had another Wildlife Ecology assignment to do on elephant behavior, of course the one time we had to observe elephants we didn't see any. We drove for hours and there were absolutely no elephants around, every other time we've seen dozens of them! Later on that day we had a lecture at a tourist visitor center and learned the in's and out's of management in Serengeti National Park. At the tourist center we saw these cute little rodents called Hyrax running around and they were completely unbothered by people. They look exactly like giant guinea pigs! They would walk right by us and just stand there and let us get super close to them, we were told not to touch them but they are so cute I just had to pet one. We than had yet another dusk game drive, which are the absolute best. We finally saw a group of elephants (with the cutest baby elley!) and observed them for an hour or so. 

On day 4 of expedition (Sunday) we had a bird observation exercise in the early morning, 5:30 to be specific, and had to record all the different bird species we saw, which was extremely hard to do. In the mists of watching birds we ran across lions mating! It was a pretty goofy sight to see. After that we went to the Serengeti Serena Lodge which was beautiful and I ate grilled cheese and vegetable samosas by the pool. We had a game drive back and saw some lion cubs. That night I went to bed at around 8:30pm because I was so sleepy and we had to wake up at 5am the next morning to head back to Moyo Hill camp. My normal bedtime here is always before 10:00pm, i've turned into such a grandma haha

Later on in the week we went to Happy Days, which is a campsite/restaurant and a really nice place to relax and eat grilled cheese.. It's in the town of Karatu, which is a quiet little town with some fabric stores and duka's (little shops that sell the randomest things). We also visited an orphanage that week and got to play with some adorable kids. They were full of energy and so much fun, but also exhausting! The next day we had final exams for our classes, I'm so glad to be done with classes! Now on to Directed Research....

This past week was spent coming up with a Directed Research topic which was a little stressful and uneventful. I went into Rhotia a few times and hung around camp. For our non-program day we went to the Artz Gallery, which is a little restaurant and art gallery. It is one of my favorite places here! I absolutely love it. There is a gift shop that is filled with beautiful things and they have AMAZING food. In Kenya and Tanzania salads are not a popular food item and are no where to be served, with the exception of the Art Gallery. I stuffed my face with their food to the point of feeling a little sick from it all haha. I also had some of the best ice cream- RHUBARB ICE CREAM! After the Art Gallery emptied my wallet, we headed to Gibbs Farm which is a lodge, farm, and coffee plantation. It was like a magical place. The lodge grows all their own food and has a ginormous farm with rows and rows of every fruit and vegetable that there is. It was stunningly beautiful and fascinating to see. Afterwards we tried the coffee that they grew there and it was SO delicious. I also met a guy at Gibbs farm that had a project to make elephant poop into paper and got local youths involved in making the paper as well. He was so nice and I got to see the studio where he made the paper and the process of it. I also found out that he sells the paper he makes to the fair trade store Ten Thousand Villages, where I used to volunteer at. He told me how involved they are in his project and how much they support and buy the paper he makes, it was really cool to hear. 

On Saturday we put together sample questionnaires to ask people and get information for our environmental policy directed research. Later on in the day we went out to Ngorogoro and Karatu and tested how well the questions worked. We interviewed lodge managers, tour drivers, tourists (who aren't the friendliest people), street vendors, and shop owners. We came up with a list of questions each of us need for our specific project and questions related to conservation and tourism in the area. The first day of field work was spent going to all the curio shops, which are the stores for tourists that sell woodcarvings and paintings. It was really interesting to go to all the curio shops in the area and also to see how expensive things were there. The prices there are outrageous! They would not bargain very low and I couldn't believe the prices they set for tourists and expect them to pay. We talked to a lot of people and they are really nice about letting us ask them three pages of questions. I swear, everyone here is way more friendly than any where else i've been. They are so easygoing, welcoming, and sincere. 

On the second day of field work, Sunday, I went into the town of Untawambu, which might just be my favorite place here in Tanzania. It is such a busy and interesting place. It is full of people and the streets are always busy. It also has the most incredible Massai Market and is full of painters and friendly people, some trying to sell you whatever they have and some just wanting to say hi and find out where you're from. I love Untawambu. We walked around and interviewed all the shop owners and than wandered around their shops. This Directed Research is so bad for my wallet, all day long we talk to people who sell beautiful carvings and paintings. We met this one young painter who owns his own little shop filled with all his paintings. The paintings here in Tanzania are all practically the same, because they paint whatever the tourists buy and whatever sells. Most of the paintings are not really my taste, but I absolutely love this one guys, they are really simple and he uses different colors than a lot of the other painters. I've bought so many paintings from him within the past few days! The prices are so good here I can't help myself. For example, I bought a huge painting for around $15. The second time I went back to buy more paintings from the same guy he gave me a great deal, I got two huge paintings for 10,000 shillings each, which is around $7. 

Sidenote: the money here is in the thousands and I always feel so fancy saying I paid 10,000 shillings for something haha. 1,400 shillings is roughly $1, it's really fun to look at all the money and see 10,000 shilling bills. On Monday and Tuesday I went back to Untawambu and talked to any and all people working in duka's, curios, and street carts. We also talked to farmers. I feel really comfortable in Untawambu now and I've started to recognize all the people I've talked to and they remember us. I've become a daily customer of the young painter and also a regular at this little pizza restaurant. We came across this amazing pizza place that made homemade pizza in a stone oven and serve the most delicious pizza with some of the best tomato sauce ever made. It's been a really fun few days of research and interviews so far. I love getting to know the different towns and talk to the people in them. It is also really exhausting! We leave every morning for fieldwork at 7:30am and get back around 4:00pm, spending most of the time walking and talking to everyone we run into. By the end of each day I'm dehydrated and the sun has made me delirious haha but non the less I enjoy the field work.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

leaving for the SERENGETI!

On Monday we had a traveling lecture in the morning and later in the day went to Lake Manyara National Park. It was so lush and green compared to the other parks we've been to. We've been on so many game drives (aka safaris) that they almost seem like ordinary events and animals like zebras, elephants, and giraffes have become so common (I feel so lucky to even be saying that). The next day we went back to Lake Manyara National Park and had a wildlife ecology assignment to do there where we observed baboons behavior every five minutes for two hours. It was really fun to watch and record their behavior. We saw so many baby baboons and they are SO adorable!! On Wednesday we went to Ngorongoro Crater which is a main tourist attraction in Tanzania and is filled with wildlife. We drove down a mountain into the crater and it was so pretty, mountains surrounded it and the vegetation was really green. In the crater there were SO many wildebeest, along with hippos, zebras, hartebeest, warthogs (and baby warthogs which are possibly the cutest lil' babies i've ever seen), hyenas, and around 5 lions. I also saw two black rhinos for the first time! They were kinda far away, but it was really cool to see them, especially since rhinos are fairly rare. Now I have officially seen the 'Big 5' animals of Africa which include the elephant, rhino, leopard, lion, and cape buffalo. For lunch we stopped by a hippo pond and ate outside. While eating there there where these hawks circling around us and one flew right by my head trying to get my food. A few students even got scratched by the hawks. Afterwards we drove around and continued looking at all the wildlife in the crater.

Today (Thursday) we found out the directed research (DR) topics and I'm so excited that the Environmental Policy (EP) topic is really interesting. The DR topics switch every five years, so we are continuing the research from past DR topics. The EP DR is all about the role tourism plays for communities to participate in wildlife conservation in the Tarangire-Manyara ecosystem and in what ways tourism enhances or negatively effects communities and wildlife conservation. I'm so excited to start DR and get the chance to interview community members and hear their perspectives on the wildlife, tourism, and conservation of the area. After the DR topic introductions we had a surprise traveling lecture which we didn't know about. We loaded into the jeeps and visited a school that was working to grow trees and plants. The rest of the day was spent packing for expedition to the Serengeti!! I'm so excited, i've heard so much about the Serengeti from books and television, I can't wait to actually go there. We will be camping for four nights, which I'm not particularly looking forward to, but we get to go on a lot of game drives and apparently lions commonly walk through the campsite we are at (how cool is that!) We are also making a stop at Olduvai Gorge tomorrow! In my archeology classes back at school I've heard so much about Olduvai and the fossils of early hominids found there, I'm so excited to actually see it for myself. Any who, it's getting late and I have to wake up at 5:30am to leave for the Serengeti bright and early tomorrow. 

Lala salama (goodnight),


Tanzania or BUST

(So now that I'm in Tanzania my blog name doesn't really fit haha, just ignore this 
minor detail)

On Tuesday we had a day to pack for Tanzania and relax, sort of. The group from Tanzania arrived at our camp later that day for the student switch. As apart of the SFS program students spend half the semester in Kenya and half in Tanzania. My time in Kenya has gone by faster than I ever imagined. I have come to feel really comfortable at KBC (Kilimanjaro Bush Camp) and in the town of Kimana. I'm really sad to leave Kenya and all the staff here. I'm so attached to the staff! They are all incredible and some of the nicest people i've ever met. I'm also gonna miss the Maasai mamas pushing their jewelry at the market. And I'm gonna miss the amazing view of Mt. Kilimanjaro from camp on a clear day, someone at camp described it as "Kili in high def." which could not be truer. I am really gonna miss KBC, but I'm also extremely ready for a change. A change in food and surroundings is definitely needed. When the new group got to camp we had to spend an hour on introductions and it was a little strange. We had to line up and shake hands with everyone and than stand in front of the classroom and introduce ourselves. The other group seemed super nice, but it also made me appreciate everyone in my group and realize how well we mesh as a group. The Tanzania group got to stay in our bandas, so we slept in tents for two nights. I swear I am not made for camping, at least not without a sleeping pad or in hot weather. It was strange to see other people move into my banda and take over camp. It was like giving up my home, but I was also excited to get to the new camp. We got to hear all about the Tanzania camp and the american food restaurants they have in town!

On Wednesday we had to get up at 5:30am and pack up any last things, eat breakfast, and leave for Tanzania. I was surprised at how sad I was to leave, it was so sad to say goodbye to my home in Kenya and everyone there. To get to our new camp, we took a bus that was straight out of the 70's, it almost looked like a VW bus and had a lot of charm. Crossing the boarder into Tanzania didn't take long and right after crossing the landscape changed drastically. Tanzania is GREEN and filled with trees, it looks like a tropical forest and has so many banana trees. It is amazing how different Kenya and Tanzania are, considering they are right next to each other. Kenya is dusty and has almost no green vegetation where we were at. Driving through Tanzania was so beautiful and so completely different than anything i've seen in Kenya. There were sturdy cement houses and large buildings everywhere and paved roads. Where we were in Kenya, many of the houses were made out of scrap metal. Tanzania looked much more "developed" in a sense of having big buildings, stores, and paved roads. I was in shock at how different everything was. We stopped in the city of Arusha which was filled with tourists and cute little shops and restaurants. And best of all-- a grocery store! It was so overwhelming! It made me realize how removed I have been from the simple things I'm used to, like grocery stores, restaurants, public bathrooms with toilets, and tall buildings. Everyone went a little food crazy in Arusha. I got some chocolate, a smoothie, and cheese. The shopping center in Arusha had the cutest little coffee and pastry shops. There was even a Thai restaurant and a French cheese shop. After an hour or so we loaded back on the bus and drove another two hours to our new camp. We finally arrived at camp after a ten hour journey from Kenya to Tanzania.

I was in complete shock when I saw our camp in Tanzania! It is extremely different from the camp in Kenya! The Tanzania camp was just built so it looks brand new and the bandas look like mini houses. The camp is like a small subdivision neighborhood, it's so cute! The camp is located right in the town of Rhotia, which is a pretty relaxed, quaint and nice town. I do have a special attachment to Kimana though, but I'm trying hard not to compare the two or favor the one I know better. I can't even describe how much I love the Tanzania camp, which is called Moyo Hill Camp. It's like a luxury resort-- there are bathrooms INSIDE the bandas so I don't have to walk outside at night to get to the bathroom. There are also sidewalks and no scorpions here! At night the camp is lit up so I don't have to use my headlamp or be scared of running into random things on the path. The only negative thing about this camp is that there are HUGE spiders here. Now normally I slightly exaggerate about how big insects are but seriously the spiders here look like prehistoric dinosaur creatures and are ginormous. The other night I saw the biggest cockroach in my banda and totally flipped out.

The whole atmosphere at the Tanzania camp is just so different, I have no idea how to describe it. I absolutely love it here already. The food is a nice change, it's pretty different than the food at KBC, which was good, it's just that after 7 weeks of the same thing it gets repetitive. They also have CHEESE here! SO GOOD. I also love the bandas! They are a lot brighter with more windows and have desks in them and a lot more storage space. When we moved into our new bandas we where assigned the same banda mates (who I liked a lot), but it worked out for a few people to switch into different bandas. I now have two new banda mates who are so much fun to live with! Chui East banda represent! Another nice thing about this camp is that we can walk up this hill called Moyo hill and at the top there is a fabulous view of the entire landscape filled with mountains and farmland, it is breathtaking.

On Saturday we had our first day of classes and I really like all the professors here. Our classes get done in a few weeks and than we start working on our directed research projects, which I'm so excited for. On Sunday it was HALLOWEEN!!!! One of my favorite days of the year! It made me miss home a little and not getting to celebrate Halloween or see the changing leaves in autumn made me sad, but we had our own Halloween celebration-- Tanzania style. Halloween morning I woke up and the dining hall was filled with Halloween decorations, it was really cute! It was non-program day so we didn't have any classes, but there was an optional nature hike in the morning. Now, my interpretation of a nature hike is walking through the woods and enjoying the nature along the path. I was in for a surprise. When we got to where the hike was all I saw was a huge steep hill. Upon arrival I was told it was a three hour climb up this steep hill and than a short walk to a lodge, where we were going to spend the rest of the day. I am really tiered of climbing steep hills with gravel paths that have no nature views and are stressful because I'm always scared of completely falling down the hill. It's funny because most areas around here are pretty flat, so it's like they go out of their way to find random hills for us to climb haha. That day I just wasn't in the right mood or mindset to keep climbing. After 15 minutes or so of slipping up this hill, another girl and I decided to turn back and get picked up by one of the drivers (since the 'nature hike' was optional to begin with and the lodge was a close drive away). This random little choice would later turn out to be one of the best decisions ever. 

We drove to the Serena lodge and relaxed under the shade with a spectacular view of mountains and baboons wandering around the lawn. The Serena lodge was so beautiful! It looked like a cute little hobbit village and it was ultra fancy. I ordered delicious pasta and a fancy drink, and relaxed watching the baboons and lizards scurrying around close by. More than a few hours later the group met up with us at the lodge, covered in dirt, sweat, and scratches. They had gotten lost on the way to the lodge and had to walk miles and miles, and said it was a extremely intense hike. I was so glad the two of us had decided to stop the hike and go to the lodge, because there's no way I would have enjoyed that hike or getting lost for hours. The group had also ran out of water so they were all dehydrated and said they had to practically climb up a cliff to get on to a road and than walk for miles to find the lodge. Apparently they had gotten lost because no group has ever done that hike before and no one knew exactly where to go. I could not have been more happy that I randomly decided to skip that hike. After the lodge we went back to camp and got into our Halloween costumes. It was a little tricky to think of a costume with such limited access to outfits and using only what I had brought in my suitcase, but I decided Snookie (from Jersey Shore) would be my best bet for a costume. I borrowed pink sweat pants, put my bangs into a huge poof, and wore a ridiculous amount of eyeliner and bronzer. Most of the group dressed up in really great costumes and candy was set out on the banda doorsteps and we got to carve pumpkins! At dinner we lit the pumpkins and I couldn't have been happier to be having Halloween in Tanzania :) That day was also the presidential election in Tanzania and so we had to stay out of Rhotia and the surrounding towns in case anything where to happen. 


Friday, October 29, 2010

that time I went CAMPING and found a SCORPION in my tent...

(Still trying to catch up with this blog! This post is mainly what happened last week and the week before that....)----

On Wednesday it was non-program day and we finally had a day with no schedule, well kinda. There was jewelry making that day which was so fun. Maasai mamas from the local village came to camp and helped us make bracelets like the ones they sell. It is such hard work, but really relaxing. We all sat on blankets in the yard and beaded for hours. That day we also went to the Kimana sanctuary were they have captive lions whose parents were killed by farmers. We got incredibly close to them! There was literally just a fence between us and the lions. We visited the sanctuary right before their feeding time, so we got to see them eat and it was such a sight! They were scratching up against the fence a lot of the time and were so close I could have put my hands on the fence and touch them, but of course I didn't. It was very tempting however.

On Thursday we packed for our week long expedition to Tsavo-West National Park and the Chyulu hills. We had an expedition introduction to explain what we would be doing and the dangers we have to be aware of. Apparently a few years ago tourists got dragged out of there tent by lions, but weren't hurt badly. Also, some SFS students have had encounters with lions at the campground, but we weren't told about what had happened. Last year a hyena walked past some girls going to the bathroom and they were in a complete panic. We were pretty much just told to be aware of the wildlife around the camp. That day we also ran into Kimana to get beads for jewelry making and I also paid around $7 to have a skirt made for me with my measurements. I got a little lost in Kimana with another girl, so we wandered around the town for a little bit, and I was extremely surprised at how safe I felt wandering around in Kenya. Everyone seems to know everyone and is so friendly here. 

On friday we left for expedition early in the morning and drove for around two hours to get to Tsavo-West National Park where are campsite was. The ride to camp was beautiful and the Chyulu hills could be seen off in the distance, it was a wonderful sight. The Chyulu hills are spectacular. On the way to our camp we stopped at the Shatani lava flow and Mzima springs, which are big tourist attractions. We saw A LOT of French tourists there. Most of the tourists here in Kenya seem to be very unfriendly. Our camp ground was actually in a national park,Tsavo-West National Park,  with no gates or fences around it. As we drove into our campsite we saw elephants right down the road and had some walk right next to our camp. It was so cool to camp in a national park with wildlife roaming freely. The first day we set up tents (which were not that big but somehow managed to fit five girls and all their backpacks), unpacked, and hung around camp. There was a shower, which was pretty nice, and the bathrooms were holes in the ground, which took a long time to get used to. Apparently hyenas and lions stroll through camp at night often. Because of all the wildlife, it is required to have KWS (Kenya Wildlife Services) guards with us at all times. To go to the bathroom at night we had to get one of the guards to walk with us, incase wildlife was close by. The KWS guards carried huge guns around with them at all times and dressed like military men. 

On day two of camping (Saturday), we had such a busy and wonderful day. In the morning we drove a long ways away to the Chyulu hills. The roads we drove through were the bumpiest roads EVER. I seriously mean EVER. It was crazy! We drove through such intense terrain and through magnificent rainforest like vegetation, with the Chyulu hills in the backdrop. The day had a stressful start though. So, midway through the drive we got out to go to the bathroom on the side of the road, like we often do since bathrooms are hard to come by. It is also hard to find trees or bushes to go behind, since there is mostly just dust and little shrubs on most roads. Anyways, so I went to the bathroom and had my camera in my pocket and then got back in the car. A few minutes later I couldn't find my camera in my pocket, so we stopped the car and I went back to look for my camera in the spot I peed, thinking it fell out there. It was kinda funny because me and a few of the staff members were frantically going around looking for the spot were I peed. It took awhile to find the spot, but we eventually did, after looking at many other pee spots haha. My camera wasn't there, so I was starting to freak out a little. But eventually, after 20 minutes or so of looking, someone found it in the trunk of the jeep, which probably should have been check first haha. That off tracked the morning a little, but the rest of the day was full of adventure. 

We reached our destination eventually which was a small hill. We climbed the hill and had environmental policy class there. The hill was covered in gravel so it was extremely slippery climbing up and going down, but that was only the least of it. After that, we walked to one of the Chyulu hills and climbed it. It was the most strenuous outdoor activity I have ever done, ever. We climbed a series of three hills to get to the top. While climbing the huge hill (mountain) I thought we had made it to the top and was so relieved, when seconds later I was told we weren't even a third of the way done (!). I honestly didn't think I could make it to the top when I heard that. It was the biggest hill i've ever seen. Walking with us was a KWS guard to watch out for wildlife. It was so straining and I thought my lungs would explode from my asthma, but I made it to the top eventually. It was such a breathtaking sight. The surrounding mountains and hills looked like a mixture of Jurassic park and a Dr. Seuss book combined to make the most beautiful scenery. The hills had peaks, some were slanted, and some were caved in, it was so pretty. I was so so so so relieved to get to the top, but honestly I have no desire to climb another hill/mountain anytime soon. But I can now say that I have climbed a Chyulu hill. When climbing down I fell completely on my butt, two times. The grass was slippery and there was nothing to hang on to going down, so I was grasping at tall grass and slowly slipping down the hills. On the drive back to camp we stopped at a gas station and got ICE CREAM! Ice cream is not very common or popular in Kenya, so we were so excited to get some. That night we had a campfire and had a competition to see who could do the best teacher impersonations. It was one of the funniest things, I could not stop laughing. The teachers here all have very distinct phrases, accents, and mannerisms which makes them hilarious to impersonate.

On day three of camping (Sunday), we drove around and looked at vegetation. Afterwards we discussed practical solutions to conservation in the area and whether conservation can ever successfully be achieved. It's a very fascinating topic to think about, I feel like i've spend the majority of my time here trying to answer these conservation questions and not having the answers. That night we had another campfire and a very entertaining talent show. That was also the night I found a scorpion in my tent!!!!!! Scariest thing ever! It all started because a girl in my tent and I had noticed the zipper to our tent was slightly opened and we were warned about all the scorpions, snakes, and beetles around our camp ground, so on a whim we decided to check the entire tent to see if anything had crawled in. We lifted up our backpacks and sleeping bags, and when we lifted up one girls sleeping pad out ran a little scorpion that was almost a clear color. I screamed my lungs off, and the other girl and I were in the corner hysterical and both screaming for help! I was frantically trying to open the window of the tent and crawl out, but I was too panicked to unzip it. It was a pretty funny sight to look back on, but at the time my heart dropped and my lungs hurt from screaming. Eventually a boy walked by our tent and got a KWS guard to come over. The KWS guard came and got the scorpion onto the sleeping pad and lifted it out of the tent. He said that it was very dangerous and apparently it was the same type of scorpion that sent one of the staff members to the hospital and the bite was so painful it required a morphine drip. I could not believe the one night we decided to check for bugs that we found a scorpion in our tent. After the whole incident, we asked if anyone had heard us scream, and no one had! Our tent was practically right next to the campfire where everyone was, and no one heard us screaming, which was not comforting to know. That night it took me a looooong time to fall asleep. On the fourth day of camping (Monday) we went to a rhino sanctuary and had a wildlife ecology class there. While there, KWS guys talked to us about their efforts to conserve the black rhino, how they track them, and how they are working to get their populations up. After that, we had a game drive for hours and got kinda lost, but it was still really fun. We also got to see a leopard for the first time, which was pretty cool.

On the fifth day (Tuesday) we drove around in groups for a few hours and counted all the wildlife we saw, recording the species and habitat. We got fairly close to a group of hyenas, which are one of my favorite animals here in Kenya. They have the most distinctive walk, I just love watching them. We also saw A LOT of dik dik's, which are small antelopes that are the cutest! So far my favorite animals i've seen here are hyaenas, warthogs, elephants, and dik dik's. Warthogs are super cute, they have a prance in their walk and a bounce in their step. After the wildlife count we drove to a lodge and spent the day relaxing and eating. It was spectacular! Yet also really weird going from camping to a five star lodge. It was almost like culture shock, going from peeing in a hole, sleeping in a tent, and being covered head to toe in dirt to being in a lodge with actual toilets and extremely fancy decor and food. It was one of the nicest hotel/lodges I have ever seen. I can't even imagine how much it would cost to stay there a night. The lodge was placed by a watering hole in Tsavo-West National Park, so we could see wildlife coming for water while we were sitting down drinking our tea. There was a open ledge with a magnificent view of the Chyulu hills, wildlife, and the blue sky. We ate the buffet and it was some of the best food i've had here, mainly because I am extremely tired of the food at camp. I have to force myself to eat it some nights. It was so nice to have a different variety at the buffet, I ate SO MUCH. Also, cheese is not common here in Kenya and we rarely have foods with cheese, so at the buffet I practically ate a block of cheese! It was delicious. After lunch, I hung around the pool and than got a massage, which was desperately needed. I was so warn out from camping and my back hurt from sleeping on the ground (since my sleeping pad had gotten a hole in it on the first night of camping). After that we headed back to camp and spent our last night in Tsavo. Apparently hyenas were wandering close to our camp that night and some students could hear them from their tents.

On Wednesday we drove back to camp early and were thrown back into classes and homework. The next few days were spent swamped with HOMEWORK and STUDYING. Exams here count for 40% of our grades in Kenya, so I spent a lot of time studying. The atmosphere around camp was a little stressful and quiet, because of everyone in study mode. On friday it rained for the first time while we've been here. It was so exciting! It seriously was pouring rain for hours, a lot of us got on our raincoats and took some rain pictures. Some people played volleyball and frisbee in the rain. It was definitely a stress reliever. The next day it also poured for hours. Our camp is starting to bud little green sprouts after the heavy rain and the dust is not as bad around camp now. Sunday and Monday were exam days. Exams were fine, considering the material on the tests were very science based and included biology calculations way out of my realm of study. We got grades the day after exams and I'm very content with them. Oh also, backtracking, I was MOD (which I found out means Mwanafunzi (student) of the day) on Thursday. For my RAP I recruited six other girls and we choreographed a dance/fashion show. We got dressed up just like the Maasai mamas, wearing cloths and covered in jewelry. The girls all wore my jewry, which is an extensive collection. We practiced for days and finally had it down. It was hard to keep a straight face when dancing, because our choreography was so ridiculous, but it was so much fun to perform!


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

it's been a while...

(I wrote this like three weeks ago, i've be horrible at keeping up with this blog, but I swear I will get better! Or at least try haha):

Sorry i've been a little lazy with this whole blogging thing. I've been busy, busy, busy with homework and fun. I suppose i'll start off talking about last Friday when we visited a Maasai cultural manyatta. A cultural manyatta is like a village open to tourists. It is a place where a community of Maasai live and give tourists tours of their homes. It was honestly one of the weirdest experiences. It seemed a little like exploitation of a culture and of the Maasai, but it is also a way for the community to make money from tourists. The Maasai in the cultural manyatta danced, sang and gave us a tour of their homes. It was interesting to compare visiting this tourist Maasai village to the experience of visiting Maasai villages not open for tourists. At the manyatta, our guide led us to a group of children who performed songs about Jesus and answered math problems for the tourists. It was so bazaar. It seemed like the children were put on display and had to put on shows for the tourists. It was extremely weird to see. Overall going to the cultural manyatta was a very fascinating experience, to say the least. After that, we went to a lodge and ate at a amazing buffet, it was so nice to eat some different food. The food at camp is always the same and it gets real old, real fast. The lodge was SO NICE, there were actual toilets there and not just holes in the ground! There were also Maasai walking around for tourists, which seemed very odd. It was really weird to see other tourists, or mazungus (white people) as they call them here. The lodge was such a nice change and it was breathtaking how fancy it was.

So on a side note, I have build up a reputation around camp as a shopping addict. I just love the jewelry so much here! Every time we enter Amboseli National Park mamas swarm our jeeps and sell such pretty necklaces and bracelets. It's funny because they say things like "Support mama" and if you say no they say "You're killing mama". So I always joke that I'm buying jewelry to help "Support the mamas".

On thursday we had class riding around in the jeeps all around the local Kimana area, where our camp is. We would drive to one location and one of our teachers would talk about the issues in that specific area, and then drive to another location and a different teacher would talk about the issues in that area. It was really interesting having a traveling lecture and being able to view the actual problems being discussed in this area. Thursday, friday, and saturday consisted of mainly homework and classes. I have so many classes a day! I'm used to having two classes a day at college, but here I can have three classes a day, each two hours long. Sometimes i'll have four hours of Environmental Policy in one day. The homework load here is not that different than what I'm used to at Beloit, but it's the whole science aspect of it that is extremely hard for me. I have no idea how to write or think scientifically, so most of the homework assignments for Wildlife Management and Wildlife Ecology are over my head. However, for my Swahili and Culture class I've had to write three essays this past week, which was actually enjoyable. It's so funny talking to all the biology majors in this program and hearing them complain about the cultural essays and how hard they are to write, when that's the only homework I understand and like doing. Also, most of the group doesn't like our Environmental Policy class, which is my favorite class! I find it endlessly fascinating how people can think and learn so differently. I love the policy and cultural aspects that go into conservation, while most of the people here love the science aspect of it. I'm glad I add a little spice to a group full of science majors haha.

In Tanzania we spend most of our time working on the Directed Research (DR) class, in which we get to chose our focus of either wildlife management, wildlife ecology, or environmental policy. I'm excited to get to focus more on environmental policy, which will be the DR I chose. My time here in Kenya is going by so fast! it's already been over a month, i can't even believe it. in a few weeks we will be moving to the other camp in Tanzania. Apparently the camp in Tanzania has great internet, hot showers, huge bandas, and American restaurants in town. It pretty much sounds like a resort! I'm excited to change things up and experience something new in Tanzania, but I'm also gonna miss Kenya! The staff here are incredible and hilarious. I feel like I know the in's and out's of camp and I love everything about Kilimanjaro Bush Camp, well, minus the bugs and snakes.

Anyways, on sunday we went to a local church, which was soooooooo much fun! There was a lot of singing and dancing! It was wonderful to see what church was like in Kenya. The church we went to was in the process of being built, it had rows of plastic chairs and only half a roof. There was a DJ with a soundboard to mix music on. Kids would dance down the aisle and had the coolest dance moves. After church we went to Club Kimana (club K for short) and had a absolutely absurd and fun time. Monday and Tuesday were filled with classes. Wednesday we went out into the field and interviewed farmers again for Environmental Policy. It was super interesting to walk around to all these small farms and interview farmers about the issues they are facing with wildlife. That day we also slaughtered a goat at camp and roasted it. There's no way I could have watched it, I heard afterwards that it was extremely gruesome, so I'm glad I hadn't witnessed it. On Thursday it was community service day so we went back to the local school and painted a classroom with pictures of wildlife. Some of the kids got to help paint and one picture they painted was of a child working, with the caption 'Child labor', while all the SFS students painted lions, giraffes and happy things haha. After painting we got to hangout with the kids. They are so adorable, there was the cutest girl following me around, I wanted to take her back with me. She was seriously the cutest little button ever. 

The next day was spent at Amboseli National Park and than hanging out at a beautiful lodge again. On Saturday we had non-program day, so we went to a market in a nearby town and than to an orphanage. (Side note: so since Obama's grandparents are from Kenya, everyone in Kenya loves Obama. At the markets they sell Obama shirts, belt buckles, gum, bags, and other ridiculously silly Obama things, it's so funny!). Anyways, after the market, we drove to the orphanage. I was expecting it to be a little sad, but the kids were so sweet! I hung around the girls and they were all around 13 or 14 years old. They all wanted to go to college and work, and when I asked if they had boyfriends they told me they had "No time to entertain boys", which cracked me up! The orphanage was more like a boarding school. Most of the girls still had families but chose to go to the orphanage for reasons such as not wanted FGM or if their families wanted to marry them off early. On Sunday and Monday it was more classes and homework. On Tuesday we went back to the Kimana market and were swarmed by mamas selling jewelry, but i've gotten better at handling them. And not to brag, but I am pretty great at getting the prices I want.

So a few random things to mention- first, my banda has been invaded my mice. The other night I was sitting in my bed reading and I could see four or five mice scurrying around the floor, hopping onto suitcases, digging in the garbage can, and going under the beds. The staff said that there has been a recent "MOUSE EXPLOSION" (quoting the exact words they used to describe the recent infestation) in Kenya over the past few weeks so they are going to put poison in the bandas since mice attract snakes, and we can't have snakes coming inside the bandas. Also the other night, one of the askaris (the camp night watchmen) killed a huge black mamba by the bathrooms. SCARY. Also, on my way to the bathroom one night as I was opening the door the biggest spider ever attacked me. By attacked, I mean it crawled onto my hand as I was opening the door and I freaked out and ran back to my banda without going to the bathroom. Any who, it's getting late but tomorrow I will write about the expedition to Tsavo and camping, and have it posted ASAP :]