Asante sana Tanzania

imageThere is a saying that goes, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” As I boarded my plane late last night, this was the phrase I repeated over and over again. Despite my efforts to stay positive, I did shed a few tears as the plane took off toward Amsterdam, away from my new home.

Saying goodbye is a weird thing, especially when you don’t know when the next hello will be in the future. When my host sister asked me when I will be back, it truly broke my heart that I didn’t know the answer. But there’s a positive way to look at every thing in life, especially the idea of goodbye.

Let’s revisit my opening quote: Don’t cry because it’s over. Well that whole no crying idea went to hell the moment I started bringing my suitcases down the stairs towards the taxi. I had been so focused on not crying for the entire week leading up to that moment, that the sadness hit me like a wrecking ball (see what I did there).

My final week had consisted of goodbyes. I said goodbye to my friends who I had traveled to Zanzibar and spent most of my free time with. I said goodbye to my host family; the people who had created a home away from home. I said goodbye to my supervisor, Georgina, and the staff of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. I said goodbye to the city of Arusha, a place that was finally becoming familiar, a place that I call home.

Now like the average human being, I do not like saying goodbye, or kwa heri in Swahili. Back to my quote, don’t cry because it’s over. Well I did cry, but I think that it’s okay that I did.

In six short weeks, I fell in love with a whole new country, culture, and way of life. I made friends with people who I know will be apart of my life in some way shape or form even though we are no longer in Africa. I made memories that will last me a lifetime. I have stories that I will tell my children. I have changed for the better (at least I think so, you can judge that).

In six short weeks I made such incredible friendships that now as I am somewhere in the air over Europe, I am crying because I don’t know when I will see them again…. And it think that is a pretty cool thing.

Yes I came to Africa for an adventure. Yes I came to not only learn about the people here but also about myself. But no, I did not expect that my short time here would be so impacting on my life (and currently my emotions). Today, I am filled with a mix of happiness and sadness. I feel like I am the luckiest girl in the world. I have family and friends all over the world now, and I am so incredibly grateful for it all.

So why am I grateful?? Let me count the ways… (In an organized manner of course.)

What I’ll miss about Africa:
1. Chips mayai and pili pili sauce. Putting French fries (I mean chips) in an omlet is pure genius. Dear America, you’re missing out.
2. My host sister. Everyday I would go home and ask Vanessa, “How was school today?” And everyday without fail her answer was, “AWESOME!” I don’t think I’ve ever met a happier child. From playing cards, teaching her to braid my hair, or playing soccer, I will defiantly miss having a little sister.
3. Walking. This may seem silly, since I can walk in America too, but in Africa, Jenn and I would walk everywhere. We walked about an hour to work every single day. One time we even walked to our friend Phil’s house, which took us over two hours to do (not exaggerating)!
4. Corn! Here in Arusha, a popular thing to eat is grilled corn with pili pili sauce on it. Jenn and I would usually get some from the same woman on our way home from work everyday
5. Viavia! Whether it’s the 2$ beers or Jenn’s dance moves, I’m definitely going to miss going to the club on Thursday nights!
6. Random children on the street. In Arusha, all I would have to say to a child was Mambo! And they would burst out in laughter. They love Wazungu! I’m going to miss walking through a school yard and hearing them all say to me, “I’m fine” in unison, as if it was rehearsed. For having so little, the children in Africa are happier and more appreciative than many people that live far luckier lives.
7. Chipate! This is a flat tortilla like bread that is a popular food in Arusha. I’m addicted! The good news is that when we were in Moshi, the chef taught us how to make it ourselves so party at Ginny’s, I’ll bring the chipate!
8. The babies! Working in the maternity ward for two weeks was not enough for me! Every time I saw a baby take it’s first few breaths I was overcome with an indescribable feeling that I will certainly miss.
9. My supervisor. I don’t think that I have talked about my new role model, Georgina. While volunteering in Arusha, Georgina has been overseeing me and Jenn. Georgina is a phenomenal woman. She grew up in Tanzania and got her degree in something similar to social work. She is smart and talented and just wants to help her community. But she doesn’t want to just temporarily help others, she tries to set people up for long term success. After only knowing her as my neighbor and supervisor for a few weeks, I can honestly say that she is one of my role models, and I strive to help others like she has done.
10. Saying Shikamo. In Swahili, Shikamo is a way to greet elders and show them a sign of respect. When Jenn and I would pass elders we would always say Shikamo, and every time, a smile would spill across their face. I think that it is important to respect elders and their culture, especially when you are a visitor somewhere.
11. Zanzibar. White beaches, clear water. Need I say more?
12. My family’s maid. I think that Meriam, the maid in my house, may be one of my favorite people on this planet. Meriam didn’t speak much English, but it was always fun to try and talk to her in Swahili.
13. My malaria pills. They give me some crazy dreams, and I think that’s great.
14. Daladala rides. There’s something special about cramming 27 people into a white van. The best was always when people would talk to us during the ride. On my last dala ride I think I may have been the comedic relief for the people who were trying to talk to me in Swahili.
15. Fanta Passion. It’s delicious and I don’t think it’s in America.
16. My friends. I have met some incredible people in my shirt few weeks. Ready for some shutouts??? We’ve got Julia, the 16 I mean 17 year old German who is wise beyond her years. Johnny, the poly sci major who knows more about world politics than anyone I have ever met and will bring social justice to those who really need it. McKenna, my crazy friend who is climbing mt Kilimanjaro with her father and who will one day be her own version of Meredith Grey. Beth, my favorite English friend who won’t take no for an answer (especially on a plane back from Zanzibar)! Philipo, the future rap star, with one of the biggest hearts I have ever seen in a logical person. And last but not least, my travel buddy, Jennifer. From the jungles fever for her, to her terrible terrible Friday the thirteenth here, I don’t think I could have done this trip without my friend from home. When it comes down to it, it has been the people that I have met during this trip that have made it so memorable. But what’s great is I will have those people mentioned, and many more for the rest of my life.

Now although I am so sad that this incredible adventure must come to a close, I will not sink into a depression upon arriving in the states. Why? Well let me tell you!

Things I am excited for in America:
1. Ice cubes
2. Being able to drink tap water without fearing for my life.
3. Western toilets… Squatting is not fun.
4. Cheese… It’s a foreign concept in Africa.
5. My puppy!
6. My family and friends!
7. Driving…. On the correct side of the road.
8. Being surrounded by people who wear deodorant.
9. Cellular data.
10. Hot showers.
11. Being allowed out at night.
12. Not standing out in the crowd.
13. New Jersey. Yes the whole damn state.
14. Just being an American in America. I feel my experience will give me a newfound appreciation for my home country. Yes Gina, I love America!

So that’s all folks. I am about to get on my last flight home (I’ve traveled for 15 hours already). I will walk in my door with both tears of sadness and happiness when I finally make it to Lumberton. I hope you have all enjoyed my rambling and bad grammar.

Until the next adventure… Kwa heri!

Zanzibar!!

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My dear fans,
I know it has been too long since my last post and that you are all dying to know if the Africa tattoo on my back is real or not (translation; mom I’m finally posting a blog for you and no I would never get a tattoo… in Africa). In my last few weeks here, I have done more than terrify my parents with the pictures I’ve been sending. I have been swimming in the Indian Ocean, drinking Sugarcane juice, and trying to cherish this incredible place as my time here is slowly coming to a close.

But guys guess what… While I wasn’t blogging I found this place called paradise.. Aka Zanzibar!! One of the most beautiful places that I have ever been!!

Last Wednesday, I flew to Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania! I went with some great people too!!

Johnny, Julia, McKenna, Beth, Jenn, and I all boarded the plane together and set off to paradise. We got to the island around 8:00pm, so it was very dark. We all piled into a taxi and buckled in for yet another terrifying ride… I will never listen to anyone ever complain about Jersey drivers again! I shut my eyes and held Julia’s hand the entire ride!

When we arrived we were exhausted yet excited to see our temporary home. We were staying at a hotel called Mustafas in Page. Now if you we’ve go to Page, you MUST spend a night at Mustafas. I felt like I was in a movie or a fairy tale. Whatever it was, it was too good to be true. Mustafas was an open area covered with sand that had different huts for people to stay in spread throughout the property. We stayed in the Round Room. It had three beds and then an upstairs loft. After a some chacula kitamu (delicious food), we lala salama’d (slept peacefully).

We woke up very early so that we could watch the sunrise on the beach. The sand was white and the view was incredible. We walked about two minutes from our hotel to the beach ad just sat down and took in the moment. The water was incredibly clear. Once again my pictures truly couldn’t captivate the beauty of it all.

After the sun rose, we had some chacula cha asubuhi and then went back out to the beach. While we were sun bathing a woman came up to us and gave us all henna tattoos. Well we thought it was henna but apparently it’s Chinese hair dye… The good news is none of us had the allergic reaction that other Wazungu have had to it. Oh well it is what it is.

After I got tatted up, Julia and I went on a walk on the beach to collect seashells. I got a bunch because they were absolutely gorgeous and I just love shells… Also free souvenirs right :). We spent the rest of the day laying on the beach, relaxing, and taking in the day.

For dinner, we had some big plans. If you haven’t heard of the Rock, please take the time now to look it up. Don’t worry I’ll wait…. The Rock is literally a restaurant in the middle of the Indian Ocean, so we had to take a boat to it. Dinner was delicious too! I also had a cocktail called the rock… Fitting right?! (Ginny you would have loved it!)

The next day we woke up early again. We didn’t want to waste any daylight!! We had booked a dolphin tour the day before, so at 6am our tour guide picked us up. Once at the beach, we all got on this small boat and headed out to where the dolphins were. I’m very surprised that the 40 min boat ride on rocky waters didn’t make me sick!! We saw two dolphins jump out of the water and then swim right underneath our boat! It was incredible!! Unfortunately, right after that is when my friend started to get sick. So we decided to head back to shore and solid land.

After the tour we did some research on something to do for the night. Jenn earned her title as MVP of Zanzibar when she found this place called the Mtoni Palace. We decided to go there for dinner and a show! We journeyed to Stonetown, which was on the other side of the island and met our friends Phil and Steve there.

After getting lost (which is common in Stonetown), we arrived at the ruins. After a round of shots to celebrate my country’s independence, we went on the tour. Following the tour was dinner and a show. They sang for us and danced while we ate dinner. It was quite the experience and a very different way to celebrate the Fourth of July.

On Saturday, we spent our time at Prison Island, which apparently was never used as a prison. We took some selfies with the tortoises on the island, explored the sand. After we went snorkeling off the coast. I saw Marlin, Dory, and the rest of the cast from Finding Nemo. I think that swimming with the fish was my favorite part of our whole trip.

Saturday night was a girls night! Wooh! The five of us decided to check out Stonetown’s famous Night Market. We didn’t know what to expect but being out and about at night was a big deal. We got there and the place was set up with tons of tables. At each table there were different kinds of chacula (food). They had skewers of fish, fruit, bread, and Zanzibar Pizza! We all tried as much as our stomachs could hold. The best was my second Zanzibar pizza, which had peanut butter, Nutella, and bananas in it. (Taylor flats, it was almost as good as your pizza tacos, but not quite!) We spent most of the night trying to convince the chefs that we were from Arusha (it didn’t go so well) and fending off locals (were just that pretty). One or two marriage proposals later we headed back to our hotel to lala aka sleep.

Our last day in Zanzibar was spent on a spice tour. We were shown all sorts of different spices that were native to Tanzania. Our guide had us guess what they were before he told us, but my sense of smell failed me as I didn’t guess any correctly. McKenna on the other hand came up strong guessing most of them. I think the best was the liquid bandaid that they showed us, aka Marijuana. Nah just kidding, ( no they really use weed as liquid bandaid) but my favorite was the cinnamon. It reminded me of Thanksgiving and more importantly, home! During the tour, our guide made us bracelets and necklaces and princess crowns to wear! The tour finished up with a performance! One of the men climbed a coconut tree and sang a song. Now as someone who can barely walk and chew gum at the same time, it’s safe to say I was thoroughly impressed! And don’t worry, Jenn and I are working on memorizing the lyrics to that song, so stay tuned for a mind blowing performance.

With the conclusion of the tour came the conclusion of our trip to paradise. With our princess crowns on, we boarded a plane to Dar and then to Arusha Airport.

My whole trip to Zanzibar seems like a dream now. Every single part of it was incredible and will be engraved in my memories forever. And although snorkeling was one of my top moments, I think the best part of the trip was the friends that I spent it with. It’s crazy to think that these people who were strangers to me a little over a month ago have quickly become my family. With my days here numbered, I keep counting my blessings ( and shillings) and reminding myself how lucky I am to have these people in my life.

Ain No mountain High enough

Ain’t no mountain high enough…

Except for Mount Meru. And Mount Kilimanjaro. They are high enough. In fact they are too high for me to climb. I think all mountains are just out of my league and I should stick to hills and bumps in the road.

This past weekend I learned another fact about myself, and that is that I do not like hiking. Up the mountain, down the mountain: hapana Asante, no thank you.

So how did I come to this conclusion you might ask… Well this past weekend Jenn and I went on a hike up Mt. Meru. We only did a day hike up the mountain, but a day was just enough. We climbed up and up for 3 and a half hours before we reached our waterfall destination. All that kept me going was the fact that bikini season is soon for me (Zanzibar here I come!) But as much as by butt and thighs hated me the way up, I was in complete amazement. The entire journey was beautiful. We walked through farmland the whole time. These farms put Johnson’s farm to shame. I felt like I was walking in a post card the whole time, the scenery was literally picture perfect.

When we got to the waterfall the view was breathtaking. We had to climb down these steep steps which were terrifying with the level of exhaustion I was at, but the sound of our final destination kept us going. The waterfall was gorgeous, and so was the area around us. The water was so cold too! And our guide told us that it was safe to drunk, so I pulled out my handy dandy safety straw and Jenn and I took turns drinking from the river (If we get sick we get sick, TIA)

After enjoying the view and some chipate (it’s kind of like a tortilla) we hiked some more…. Uphill again. This time there really wasn’t a path, we were climbing through a jungle. It was during that trip that Jenn and I took a tumble (don’t worry we stuck the landing!) While hiking I was making a list in my head of all the poisonous creatures that could be hanging out in my pathway. Our guide was kind enough to point out to us which plants were poisonous (all of them), so I just pretended that I was immune to them. We kept walking through the jungle hoping to see monkeys, but luck was not on our side that day, so we headed back to the main road. It took only a few extra hours to get there because our guides were so kind enough to get lost on the way down. In the end we made it, exhausted, but in one piece.

The next day we had another trip planned with the same tour company, Hakuna Matata (catchy name right?) this time we were going to a Massai Village…. I still don’t know if were spelling it right. After a few crazy rides on the dala dala, we finally reached the village. First we got yelled at by the people in the village for taking picture a of them. A lot of people here don’t like photos to be taken of them so it is always polite to ask first.

After being berated in a different language, we went into our guides mother in laws home. She was so incredibly happy to welcome us into her home. We all sat in her dark hut and she gave us a tour. Most homes are just one room that has the bedroom, kitchen and a sitting area all tucked inside.

When we finished visiting the mother in laws home, we continued walking. We were going to climb this hill to get a good view. Clearly I was stoked because I LOVE climbing. The whole walk up this little boy held my hand. I gave him one of my bracelets that I have been handing out that says, smiling is my favorite. When we got to the top, the view was amazing. McKenna, Julia, and I even broke out into a great rendition of ” the hills are alive, with the sound of music” (we would have made the Vantropp family proud!)

After lunch and our short musical, we headed down the hill to visit a Boma. A Boma is a group of mud huts in a Massai Village. While there we met the children and the chief who all lived in the Boma. They were very inviting and showed us their homes. The children all wanted to know our names and kept practicing their English with us. It was adorable.

But as all good things do, our visit for the day had to come to an end ( and we decided it was over when they started asking for money). We walked back to the main road to catch a daladala home… Only there wasn’t one, for miles. And if one came by, it was too full. So I did what anyone would do in the situation, stuck out my thumb and hopped in the first car that stopped by…. Mom you said to always trust strangers right? Nah I’m just kidding guys. I did try and hitchhike but a reasonably empty daladala came before I got the chance to hitch a ride. ( it would have made a good story though).

So as you can see, Jenn and I are staying busy here in Tanzania, just trying to fit in as locals (I think were almost there). It’s sad to think that our days here are numbered. What’s weird is I’m finally starting to feel like I’m home here. I guess home really is where the heart is… And I guess I can have my heart in many places.. So Jersey, Gettysburg, and now Tanzania.