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Julia's Travel log

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Thanks for checking in on my travels. Please check out my pictures and visit my guestbook when you are done.

Log entries 1 - 10 of 21 Page: 1 2 3

Dec 06, 2006 09:00 PM Mt. Kilimanjaro

No I didn't climb it but I lived on it in a small village for about two weeks. I was there to volunteer for a small (one man) organization. I ended up doing research for him on establishing his nonprofit and helping him organize his efforts. The village where I lived was very beautiful - rolling green hills, the snow capped peak of Mt. Kili visible sometimes, coffee and banana trees everywhere, a truly idyllic setting. Unfortunately the people are very poor. The coffee market for them has dropped out so they don't get much money anymore for their main cash crop even though the coffee there is reputed to be the best in the world. I bought some to take home - the person I bought it from roasted it for me in a pan over a fire.

The roads to the village are very bad and when it rains it is impossible to get to the village. Bob and I went into town for one day and couldn’t back for three because of the rain. No public transport goes to the village itself. You have to take a bus or a dala-dala which is a minibus crammed full of people with maniac drivers to one of two places from which you have to walk 30-45 minutes to the village. The houses are scattered throughout the hills. In a few places there are “dukas” which are little stores that sell a small variety of household things and sodas and beers and people often stop to have a drink. There are no restaurants and no grocery stores, only markets twice a week where people bring their fruits, vegetables and meat to sell.

I enjoyed talking to many of the villagers…the older ones speak English quite well and I was invited to some social events as described below. Other people and children don’t speak English well but they learn “good morning” as a greeting though they don’t understand the meaning of “morning.” I was often greeted with an enthusiastic “good morning” at all hours of the day and night. I often said it right back even at 7:00 p.m. What difference did it really make, in the end we were two people from different worlds greeting each other.

The children liked to follow me wherever I went, always greeting me with beautiful smiles. Sadly, the children truly have nothing, no toys except for what they make. One day I showed them how to cut pictures out of newspapers that Bob had. I was going to help them make collages but there was no glue. Then I noticed they were happy just cutting out the pictures even if they didn’t do anything with them. I think they are starved for things to be interested in. That was very sad to me.

When I said good-bye to people I had met I received the same request over and over, “please don’t forget me” either in English or Swahili. How could I ever.

Dec 06, 2006 09:00 PM Social calendar (read Mt. Kili entry below first)

I was invited to a wedding in the village by Flora, the cook where I was staying. The ceremony was in a small church further up the mountain – it was a beautiful setting. During the ceremony, several different groups of people sang and danced and there was a brass band. After the wedding it is customary that the wedding procession go through nearby towns. The cars of the couple and the families were decorated with balloons and crepe paper and I rode in the car with the groom's family. The band rode in the back of an open pick up truck and played on leading the procession. People along the way and in the villages came out to watch and cheer. There were several shouts of "Jambo Mzungu!" as I passed by.

The reception was held outside at a hotel. The couple was presented with a traditional "cake" which was a whole (head, fur, everything) roasted goat in a standing position. This "cake" is then cut into pieces and the bride and groom feed each other and then feed the members of their families. Later, six small modern cakes are presented to the bride and groom and their families but not served to the guests. After dinner came the presentation of the gifts. The bride and groom stood at the front and people brought their gifts to them singing and dancing up the aisle in a long procession. It was very joyous.

I had gone to the wedding with Flora in a bus that was hired to take people from our side of the mountain. Normally to get to that area you have to walk 1/2 hour and then take a dala-dala for 15 minutes. On the way home the bus drove around for 1 1/2 hours and then couldn't go any further and we all had to get out and walk for 45 minutes in the pitch black. Luckily I had my flashlight with me - an absolute must in my backpack at all times. The people on the bus had been singing during the whole bus ride. After we got off the bus and started down the road the singing continued. On the way we stopped at the groom's mother's house and had the cake that she was presented with at the wedding and then everyone continued on to their homes. I never got a clear answer on why the bus went where it did. A lot of things in Tanzania are not logical and never get explained. You just go with flow…

The next day I went to a post-funeral gathering. After a funeral, family members and friends sit together at the family's house for 4 days visiting, eating and drinking. At one point the oldest son was presented with the hat, cane, and shirt of his father representing that he was now the head of the family. The man who died was buried in his yard which is quite common.

Dec 06, 2006 09:00 PM Tanzania Safari

After my stay on the mountain I went on a five day safari through several national parks in Tanzania: Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti and Tarangire. This was by far the best safari I have been on. In Tanzania there are no fences around any of the national parks, the animals come and go and move between them as they need to to find food and water - they are completely free. We drove through miles and miles of vast open spaces with huge herds of animals - particularly wildebeest and zebras which migrate at different times of the year. The Ngorongoro Crater is the most amazing place I have ever been. It is a mountain that collapsed thousands of years ago forming one of the largest calderas in the world. You descend down the slopes onto the floor and it is like entering into a different world, it has an almost magical feel to it. Driving around you see all sorts of animals out and about just living their lives in an incredibly beautiful setting. We were lucky to see many animals that are very difficult to see including leopards, cheetahs and rhinos. We also were lucky to see several lions right by the side of the road - I could have reached out and touched them which of course I didn't!

Dec 06, 2006 09:00 PM One week left

For some reason the computer is posting the entries in reverse order today but oh well. So one week left in Africa. My plan is to go to Dar es Salaam tomorrow (via a ten hour bus ride, ugh) a coastal city and spend one day there and then one day in a small historical town close to Dar and then to go to Zanzibar, an island off Dar es Salaam to spend my last days on a tropical beach before heading off to winter in Brussels to spend Christmas with my brother and his family. Hard to believe my trip is nearly done but I can't complain as I have had a truly wonderful time. I appreciate everyone who has read my blog and kept in touch while I have been gone. Even if I haven't always been able to respond, I have always appreciated everyone's messages here and on my email account. I will try and post more either next week or when I get to Brussels.

Dec 06, 2006 09:00 PM Mzungu - that's me

In Tanzania most people speak Swahili and some also speak English. The word for white person in Swahili is "mzungu." It is not derogatory at all and is used to greet us wazungus (plural for mzungu) Tanzanians have lots of beliefs about wazungus one being that we aren't used to walking because we drive everywhere and another being that we are loaded with money, which compared to most Tanzanians we are, relatively speaking. This results in "mzungu" prices which are prices jacked up just for wazungus. Sometimes this happens even in restaurants. I bought something at a market in the village and when I got home Flora asked me how much I paid and she said "oh you paid the mzungu price." That was fine as it amounted to about $.75 more which is not much to me but a lot to them.

Wazungus are highly regarded in many places in Tanzania. I am often greeted with "karibu mzungu" which means "welcome." In the village I was treated as the guest of honor wherever I went. At the wedding it was requested I sit with the family and I was thanked profusely for coming to the wedding by the groom and his family when truthfully, to me, the honor was all mine. An older Tanzanian who spoke English well explained to me that Tanzanians, who know they are very poor, consider it an honor to have people visit their country, particularly when they go off the beaten path and interact with the locals.

It is interesting that there are no qualms here about what to call people. White people are wazungus and Africans are Africans or black. I was telling a Greek man I met how you could never say "hello black man" to someone in the states but saying what translates to "hello white person" is perfectly acceptable here. It is actually kind of nice even though it sounds funny.

I have learned some Swahili so I can say more than "jambo" which is a greeting reserved for wazungus whom Tanzanians assume don't speak Swahili. I don't know much but what little I can say is always appreciated.

One of my favorites is "lala salama" which literally translates to "sleep in peace" and is used for good night. So if you are reading this at night....lala salama.

Nov 21, 2006 09:00 PM So about the train...

I've been off the train for almost a week and it still makes me laugh just thinking back on it. For starters I had wanted to get a first class ticket but when I went to the train station the day before it left they were sold out so I ended up in second class. The main difference between first and second class is that first class has 4 people in a little compartment and second class has 6 (same sex people). Oh well. I got to the train station early the next day and basically sat there the whole day waiting for the train at 4:00. Someone at the station told me they had also gotten second class but when they got to the station they asked again and were able to upgrade to 1st class. So I tried doing that but had waited too long so I was left in 2nd class. As luck would have it I actually ended up with an entire compartment to myself while the first class people were crammed in 4 to a car as everyone who could had upgraded so I was quite lucky in that regard. When I bought my ticket, the man at the counter told me he put me with someone "of your color" which really didn't matter to me. I only saw one other white woman on the train and informed her if she hadn't upgraded it would have just been the two of us. Instead she shared her car with, as she described it, three very large and often naked women who constantly harrassed her about not being married.

Now for the other differences between first and second class which I learned from comparing notes with a Canadian guy I met in first class:

They got a welcome gift of a bottle of water and mints each and a roll of toilet paper to share amongst themselves. No gifts in second class.

Their mattresses were much 6 inches compared to basically a flat board with a cover on it.

The first class bathrooms were actual toilets for the most part while us lowly second class passengers got a hole in the floor!

Their compartment doors could be locked from the outside, ours couldn't leaving luggage vulnerable if you went to the dining or lounge cars but that ended up not being a problem.

Our "lounge" was two tables with folding chairs next to a very limited bar while theirs had couches and numerous tables and a much bigger bar.

And now for my favorite...they had light switches to turn on the light in their compartments and we had two raw wires that you had to splice together to turn on the light! That totally cracked me up.

The good thing was that second class passengers could use all the facilities of first class so sometimes I went to the better bar, lounge and bathrooms. We shared a dining car which actually had decent food though the service was very slow (African time as they say here).

The ride was long and hot at times (no a/c in either class) and the train broke down numerous times amounting to an 11 hour delay but that ride was an experience unto itself. The scenery was very beautiful particularly through Tanzania and included going through a game park where we saw lots of animals. Each village we stopped at the locals all came out to sell every food item imaginable to the passengers, walking by the windows with their goods either on their heads or raised up high on their hands and people wanting to take the train came running out of their homes with their luggage as they know you never know what time the train will arrive. Children loved waving at the passengers hoping to get treats or money. You could tell that the train coming to town was a big event.

That is one train ride I will not forget!

Nov 16, 2006 09:00 PM Moving right along...

It has only been 11 days since my last entry but it seems like so much has happened since then, such as being in two more countries. I left Namibia via another 20 hour bus ride to Livingstone in Zambia. The bus ride wasn't as nice as my other long haul but I survived. Livingstone is near Victoria Falls which is a huge waterfall considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. It wasn't a great time to see the water falling because it is the dry season but it was interesting to where the water would be if it were there. Zambia also has the Zambezi river which is considered one of the best white water rafting rivers in the world. I've never done that before and was quite scared of it but everyone kept telling me I had to do it and so I did. It was quite fun but kind of scary when we flipped over. From Zambia I also did a day trip to Botswana to a game reserve known for its elephants and boy did I see elephants...hundreds of them making their way from the plains to the river with days-old young ones in tow. Quite spectacular. From Livingstone I took a 6 hour bus ride to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia and stayed for a couple nights and then took a two hour bus ride to a town where I caught a train to Tanzania. The train is notorious for running late and breaking down but it is supposed to be quite the experience. The train went 1 1/2 hours away from Zambia and then ran out of gas. Off to a good start! Technically it should take 40 hours but 51 hours later I finally arrived in Dar es Salaam...many train tales to be told which I will try and update later. We got in late and I shared a cab to a hotel with an American and a Canadian I met on the train. Only 1 room was available so we shared it for the night. I'm staying one more night with the American and then its off on an 8 hour bus ride north where I will meet "Babu Bob" who will take me up to the village on Mt. Kilimanjaro where I will be doing some volunteer work for the next few weeks or so. So that's the update for now. More later...

Nov 05, 2006 09:00 PM 13 Day Culture and Nature Safari (Tour)

The below three entries are some of the highlights of a two week tour I did through northern Namibia called “Culture and Nature” that visited with several tribal groups as well as natural sites such as the Namib desert and Etosha National Park for game viewing. We had four nights of lodging and eight nights camping. I have created a photo album of some of the pictures I took. Most of the pictures say they are in the Namib National Park which isn’t accurate but this program requires you to put in the location of the picture but it is only accepted if it is in their system. As we were in small towns, they aren’t in their system. Also, I can upload pictures faster (which is still very slow) if I leave the location the same. One of the really interesting things about this trip was to see Namibian tribes transition from traditional life into modern. Some still cling to traditional, some have gone mostly modern but there is a sense of having one foot in both realms. It is not uncommon at all to be in a city where most people are dressed in modern clothes and then see traditional Himba people and Hereros (women dress in what look like dresses from the 1800’s). As for animals, I was happy to finally see lions, and hear them roaring in the night – wow! Also saw rhinos at the watering hole.

Oct 28, 2006 06:00 PM Owambo kraal visit

The best part of my tour through Namibia was staying at a kraal of an Owambo family. A kraal is an area fenced in by sticks standing upright that contains the living structures and other structures needed by a family. Sometimes one family is in a kraal sometimes more than one. The kraal we stayed in had an older woman, Meme Loide, who was a widow, a relative of hers and several children – a few nieces and nephews and her granddaughter. She was of the same tribe as our guide and he acted as our interpreter as she didn’t speak any English. The young girls at the kraal showed us how they grind and sift millet. We each had our hand at it and they had a good laugh at how clumsy we were. They make a porridge called Mahungu out of millet and eat it for every meal. Sometimes mixed with wild spinach and sometimes with ground nuts that they grow. Kraal life is the traditional life of some native Africans but it is quickly fading out. Meme Loide has 3 grown sons – 2 live in the capital of Namibia and one was given funding to go to the U.S. for surgery he needed and he has decided to stay there. But all the older people we met said that modern life was not for them – they find the kraal easier. Also, all the younger people we met said that even though they may live a modern life – home is still back at the kraal. We had a wonderful conversation around the campfire with Meme Loide. She wanted to know what was going on with AIDS in our countries and said she feared for the future of her country and Africa due to AIDS. She also told us she considered us all one in the eyes of god and would continue to think of us after we left and pray for our safe journey. We talked about many other things as well. There was a very peaceful feeling inside the kraal. It was quite an evening.

Oct 24, 2006 06:00 PM Cultural Faux Pas

My travelmates on a tour I did through northern Namibia were four retired English women ranging in age from 60-70. At one point during the trip, our guide, who was a native African, told them they looked like they could each be his grandmother. All of the English women were very good-natured and chuckled at his comment while feigning offense. He said he thought he was giving them a compliment because in his culture calling an older woman “grandmother” is a sign of respect. We let him know for future reference that Western women do not like to be told they look like they could be someone’s grandmother. Our guide told us at the beginning of our trip that he usually learns something from each group that he guides. We think he learned something important from us!

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