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Post 11

JUNE 4, 2008

My day began somewhere over Europe, at about 7 a.m. Tanzanian time. We arrived in London about an hour and a half later. We entered the airport for our four hour layover, which was made more interesting than we thought it would be with the presence of a Fundamentalist preacher who engaged some of us in conversation.

I managed to stay awake for the second seven hour flight from London to Boston, and I did not feel tired at all when we disembarked the plane. My sister and my boyfriend picked me up the airport. It was wonderful to see them! They took me for an ice cream cone – dairy isn’t readily available in Africa, and that was one thing I missed.   We returned home, where I was greeted by my parents and my dog. It was strange to be home, with so many conveniences, like television, washer and dryer, cell phone and many other things.

The people I met in Tanzania, the places we went and the things we saw have touched me deeply, and I hope that I will never lose the connection that I feel with the country. I hope to carry the love and happiness the Tanzanian people inspired in me in my heart forever, and I know that I will never forget this life-altering experience.

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Post 10

JUNE 3, 2008

Last day in Tanzania. This fact seems more unbelievable to me than did the fact that we were arriving only a week ago.
To make the most of our last day, we had planned on leaving Boma Home at 8 a.m., but the bus was late, so we didn’t leave until after 9. We stopped off at the Zinduka Women’s Project to pick up Mama Beti and then we went to one of the ZWP’s groups, the Amani group (“amani” means “peace” in Swahili). It is composed of 10 women who make Masaai-inspired clothing and jewelry. They sang for us when we arrived. We sat on mats outside the hut while Margaret translated. This was one of my favorite visits. The women were so welcoming and polite, and I really enjoyed touring their hut (which was a seemingly more modern version of the traditional Masaai hut), which was much larger, lighter and airier than the hut we saw yesterday. The women each contribute 1,000 shillings a week to a collective pot, and then one woman takes the 10,000 shillings to do whatever she wants – many buy things for the group (as we were told by the nun who founded the ZWP). They are amazing women.

After Amani, we went to the Jesuit Novitiate (Gonzaga House) to visit one of Father Campbell’s fellow Jesuits, who had been working in Tanzania for the past seven years. We had a tour of the Novitiate, which was lovely, but while looking out at the scenic view from the balcony, we saw a pig being slaughtered. I actually couldn’t watch, but I was still able to hear the awful death squeal of the pig. Circle of life, I suppose, but still … shudder. We left the Novitiate and drove back down the bumpiest road we experienced during our trip. We packed our bags, my roommate and I took a nap, and we left for the airport. Margaret was on the same flight to Nairobi as us, so we said goodbye to Meg and walked across the tarmac to our plane – I felt like the president as we walked up the small stairs. When we arrived in Nairobi, I just kept thinking: “This isn’t how I imagined I’d be coming into Kenya, as a layover flight in the middle of the night.” I thought about what it would have been like if we’d been arriving in Nairobi in January instead of June, and again I felt sad for the opportunity lost – but so happy for an opportunity gained.

We said goodbye to Margaret and wandered around Nairobi airport. I changed my 15,500 shillings back to U.S. currency - $9. We left Nairobi at 11:45 p.m. to arrive in London at 5:30 a.m. (England is two hours behind Tanzania). Many of us slept!

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Post 9

JUNE 2, 2008

Sickness has struck! On the way back from Arusha yesterday, someone got sick alongside the road, but we thought it was just car sickness. This morning, we learned that about five people had gotten sick in the night. It was eventually determined that the chicken in our boxed lunch must have been the culprit (although I ate mine, and thankfully did not get sick). We conducted the day in thirds: if you were feeling sick, you were urged to rest and maybe try later for the next event.

The first activity was sitting in on a trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which is the only location for those involved in the Rwandan genocide to be put on trial. We had some trouble getting inside the building, however, because this was the site of the 8th Annual Summit that I mentioned earlier. There were thousands of people around – the line for admittance to the grounds stretched around the block.

When we were finally admitted, we went to courtroom two, where a “witness” was being interrogated about his taxi route and the music he listened to on the radio as he drove. We could not see the “witness” – he sat behind a curtain, lest his identity be learned and is killed upon his return to Rwanda for providing information against someone important. We listened in for about half an hour, and then we went to a small conference room to watch an hour-long video about the tribunal and how it works.

We returned to Boma Home for lunch and then those of us who felt well went to the market. I liked the market in Arusha much better than the one in Dar Es Salaam, as there was less heckling. And even if we didn’t buy anything, but just talked with the sellers, they seemed happy. We did learn that they had been having a slow season in Arusha, which made it hard to say “no” to making purchases.

We returned to Boma Home again and walked to Masaai Boma, a local Masaai homestead. The homestead was a dirt village with about seven huts, three grandmothers, six wives and maybe 50 children. We took turns going into a Masaai hut, which could barely fit five of us at a time. The roof was made of banana leaves and the walls were made of clay. There were stalls for the calves and goats to sleep in at night, a small pit in the middle of the hut for cooking, and a wooden slat to sleep on (for the parents – the children sleep on the dirt floor near the fire). And it had no windows, which made it hard to see anything, and it was extremely hot.

We returned to Boma Home for dinner and reflection, and then headed to bed to be ready for our last day in this heartbreakingly beautiful country.

Post 8

JUNE 1, 2008

Today we went on safari. Mere minutes into our venture in Lake Manyara National Park, someone spotted an elephant nearby. We stopped to watch her (as she turned out to be a she), and she came right up to our van – we could have touched her, she was so close. We proceeded onward, and saw baboons, vervet monkeys, giraffes, warthogs, zebras, impalas, water buffalo, hippopotamuses, bison, wildebeests, flamencos, flamingos, a tortoise and dik-diks (which are small, reindeer-like creatures that mate for life).

We hoped to see a lion, but as the morning wore on, our chances were looking grim. But, then, miraculously, we saw them: two lionesses, asleep in a tree. They were beautiful! Wilfred, our van driver, told us we were incredibly lucky to have seen them, and we were – lions don’t usually come out until later in the day, around dusk.

Having passed the lions, we went to the Hot Springs in the park, which were literally steaming. When we tested the water, it felt like I was sticking my hand into a cup of tea. There were animal bones scattered throughout, giving the landscape the feel of something out of The Lion King.

We left the park after six hours and went to the Selian Lutheran Health Centre of Kirurumo. Doctor Simon Megiroo told us about the problem of HIV/AIDS. The health clinic treats many patients with HIV/AIDS, and offers special support to positive pregnant women. They consult with the women during all stages of pregnancy and make a point of seeing the children born there for at least two years afterward.

If a mother chooses to breast feed, there is a 10 to 25 percent chance that the child will get the disease. But many mothers do not want to feed their children with bottles, because everyone knows that a woman who doesn’t breast feed is positive. So they tend to breast feed despite the chances of it affecting their children because of the stigma attached to being positive (as Mama Beti told us, people can be shunned outright by communities).
Doctor Megiroo gave us a tour of the facilities, although we couldn’t see specific rooms because it is Sunday, and they don’t perform operations today. After touring the clinic, we made the two-and-a-half-hour drive back to Arusha.

We saw many Masaai huts on the ride back. We had learned earlier that young Masaai boys (at about age four or five) begin herding goats and cows as their chore, and so I wasn’t as surprised on the return trip to see many young boys on their own herding animals as I was on the trip to Lake Manyara.

We returned to Boma Home, had a small Mass conducted by Father Campbell, and went to bed early – there was a power outage, with only candles to journal and read by.

Post 7

MAY 31, 2008

It’s hard to believe almost a week has gone by since we began this journey. It feels like just yesterday we were nervous and excited to begin our experience in Africa. When we got on the bus this morning, we met a mzungu named Sarah, who worked at the rehabilitation center across the road from Boma. She is an amazing person – she had left her own practice as an occupational therapist in Australia when she was 25, and has been in Africa for four years helping children with disabilities. She truly inspired us.

We left Boma Home and made our way to Tenguru, where we went to Mama Gladness’ coffee farm. We saw how cow dung is turned into methane gas, and toured the coffee farm. I ate a coffee bean seed – which you don’t actually eat, but suck on like a hard candy. It was sweet, but it didn’t taste like coffee.
After we saw the plants, we made our own coffee. We broke off the shells by grinding them in a large stone bowl (like a large mortar and pestle). We then roasted the beans over charcoal, taking turns stirring the beans and telling stories. The roasted beans went back into the large stone mortar and were ground again, sifted, and then ground again. Hot water was added, and, voila! Coffee! It was delicious and didn’t even need any milk.

We left Tenguru and split up into two separate vans, embarking on a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Lake Manyara, where we are going on safari tomorrow. As I looked out the window at the gorgeous country we were driving through, I imagined arriving back in Boston, and I felt a profound sense of sadness. I’m not ready to leave. I’m not ready to return to America, where life is so fast-paced and we are very caught up in consumerist tendencies. I love being here.

We had dinner after we arrived at Jambo Camp, which is a hotel and campsite (three Irish girls who are backpacking around Africa have pitched a tent on the camping ground). Two of the girls from our group had a bat in their room, and as their cries of “animal!” filled the air, we all ran outside of our rooms, while a Masaai warrior ran up to their room with a large machete, thinking it was a large animal. It was pretty funny.

We watched some music videos in Swahili on the TV provided for us, and then we went to bed.

Post 6

MAY 30, 2008

We had a delicious breakfast this morning, which included crepes, scrambled eggs, fruit and porridge, which might be my new favorite breakfast food. We were supposed to leave Boma Home by 8 a.m., but the bus was having trouble making it up the bumpy road, so at 8:30 a.m. we gave up and went across the road to a rehabilitation center for children who have had limbs amputated, or who have other physical deformities (like “clam foot” or knees that turn inward). All of the children we met were born with these defects. The beds they sat on had no mosquito nets above them, and the woman in charge explained that she tried to get the children out in the sun for a few hours each day; otherwise, they were stuck in bed.

The bus finally arrived, and we were off to the first preschool of the day, Muriet. The schoolhouse was no more than a shack in the midst of a cornfield, and the students were crowded onto the few benches. When we arrived, Anya, a 20-year-old German volunteer, explained that she ran the school with Sofia, a 19-year-old German volunteer, with help from a local Tanzanian woman. Both spoke Swahili very well, as they had studied it a little bit before they arrived last August (they are returning to Germany to go to university this August).

After Anya had finished introducing herself and Sofia, the children came out into the yard and we sang songs together. Then we went inside so the students could eat their porridge. When the children had finished their porridge, it was playtime. We all returned to the yard, and the children ran amok! Holy Cross students were giving piggyback rides, children were riding on our shoulders, and some had our backpacks strapped to their tiny bodies and were seemingly not struggling to carry them.

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Post 5

MAY 29, 2008

Today we drove 10 hours from Dar Es Salaam to Arusha. When we stopped to buy oranges along the way, I had a scary experience. I was sitting by the window, which was partly open, and when we stopped, fruit sellers stormed the bus. One grabbed the window and shoved it open all the way. We had been told repeatedly in Dar Es Salaam to keep our windows shut because of pick pockets, so I thought I was about to have my bag stolen. The aggressiveness of the sellers shocked me.

We stopped for lunch on the highway, and as we neared Arusha we saw the Umbasara Mountains and Mount Meru. Before we reached Mount Kilimanjaro (whose top we could not see because it was a cloudy day), at a fork in the road, Father Campbell informed us that we were mere kilometers from the Kenyan border. As he said this, a hush of silence came over the bus, and we all turned in our seats as we drove in the opposite direction. We were so close to a place that we had imagined ourselves going to for over a year. And so much unnecessary, horrifying violence had happened there – it made my heart hurt to be so close, and yet still so far.

As we passed Mount Kilimanjaro, I wondered how many Tanzanians in Dar Es Salaam ever get to see this world-renowned geographic wonder. This thought made me realize once again how privileged we are, to see so much of Tanzania in just a week, and to see more of the country than some Tanzanians ever will in their lifetime. When I brought this up at reflection, Margaret responded that many people probably have no desire to see it, as it doesn’t do anything for them – it’s just there. Nevertheless, I still felt very privileged and humbled to have seen the great mountain (or, at least, part of it).

The Boma Guest Home, our home for the remainder of our time in Arusha (except when we go to Lake Manyara) is lovely, but accessible only by a very bumpy dirt road. It is part of a compound that has many homes, the majority of which belong to settled Masaai (who are traditionally a nomadic people). It is very cold here in Arusha, which is a welcome relief after the blistering heat of Dar Es Salaam.

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Post 4

MAY 28, 2008

Our day started at 6:30 a.m. We had breakfast and left TEC by 8 a.m., as we wanted to get to the market in Dar Es Salaam early. The market was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life. As soon as we disembarked from the bus, we were assailed by men and women selling their wares, and they proceeded to follow us as we did a walkthrough of the market. We were asked by our guides not to buy anything on this first go-around, so we had to keep telling the sellers that we would be back, while they all protested and promised us the best deals for their products. We were taken to the back of the market, where we saw men carving the wooden statues we saw for sale. One large carving took six months to make.

We shopped in pairs, with men following us from shop to shop, wanting us to come into their shop, or buy things they were selling outside the shop. At the last shop, I waited outside for my shopping buddies and I tried to fend off sellers. I began speaking with one seller, who reminded me that I had promised that I would come back to his shop. We chatted, and he told me about growing up in Arusha. Amiri was about the same age as me, and asked for a photo of us – when he saw it on my camera screen, he was thrilled. I found it difficult to bargain for items in the market, because these items make these men’s livelihoods, so it was hard to argue for a lower price knowing that the asking price wasn’t that much to begin with.

After the market, we went to Bagamoyo, which is about an hour from Dar Es Salaam (or more, depending on traffic, which is crazy here). Our first stop was the College of Tourism, which trains students to be tour guides, bus drivers, hotel managers – basically, any position that requires interaction with mzungu, which means “white person” and, more broadly, “foreigner.” The students were about the same age as us, and we each shared a bit about our culture.

We then went to the Kaole Ruins, which are from the 13th century, when the Arabs invaded. There was a giant baobab tree located near the ruins, and we tried to encircle it by holding one another’s hands, but it was too big.

We went to the Top Life Café for lunch, where we tried ugali. Ugali is made from maize, cassava flour (sometimes both), and it looks like mozzarella. It is cold, and you eat it with your hands. It has absolutely no taste. Tanzanians eat it because it is extremely filling and cheap to make.
We went from Top Life to the Slave Museum. Bagamoyo was the last stop on the slave circuit, before the slaves were shipped to Zanzibar and beyond. Many items in the museum reflected the German influence that existed on the country (at one time, Tanzania was known as Deutcsh East Africa). We went from the Slave Museum to the beach. We looked for shells and waded into the Indian Ocean.

Three volunteers from Jesuit Volunteers International (one from Holy Cross) ate dinner with us back at TEC. They told us a bit about what it’s like to live in Tanzania as mzungu (a white person), and after they left, we went to bed.

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Post 3

MAY 27, 2008

Wake up call today was at 6:45 a.m. I slept well, although it was hard to get to sleep because of the heat (and the mosquito nets made it even hotter). We headed over to the “Restaurant” for breakfast, which consisted of hard boiled eggs, porridge, toast, bananas and coffee.

The first stop of the day was at the University of Dar Es Salaam, where Professor Gaston Kennedy of the criminal law department gave us a brief overview of some aspects of Tanzania. We learned that women’s perceived place is in the home, and thus the country needs to offer incentives for women to continue their schooling. Primary school is compulsory, but secondary school is not. Teachers are in shortage, but one only has to have one more year’s experience than those s/he is teaching to be able to teach.

We toured the university, which boasts 14,000 students. The campus was like a city in and of itself, it was so large – we only toured the main dorms and buildings by the University of Law building.
After the university, we drove to a widows’ group, where a group of widows and women of the poorer class live together as a community. When we went down the steep hill (where I was sure the bus was going to tip over), we found a group of children waving, yelling and jumping up and down. They could barely contain their excitement that we were there, and this touched me. We didn’t know these children, but they welcomed us nonetheless with happiness, as did the widows. We entered a room attached to the church, and they sang songs for us. We clapped along, as we didn’t know the songs, and it felt really good to be able to share our excitement to be there with them.

We had lunch with the widows (rice and chicken again) and sang (or, rather, clapped) with the women for two more songs. Then Mama (one of the older women of the community) told us about batik, which is the process of using wax to draw pictures on fabric, which is then dyed in multiple colors. The women sell these batik and crocheted hats and cell phone holders, as well as jewelry, in order to provide for themselves and for the community.

We saw the designs for the new church they are building, and the women told us what it means to be a widow. When a woman’s husband dies, she does not inherit anything, and usually must leave her home. Men do not leave wills (it was joked that a woman handing a man a will makes the husband think the wife wants him dead), and therefore the women are left with nothing. This community of women was thus established to provide support for those who are struggling, both financially and emotionally.
We said “asante” (“thank you”) to the women and returned to TEC for long naps, dinner and reflection, before going to bed.

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Post 2

MAY 26, 2008

It’s been over a year since I first learned that I was going to Africa, and I’m finally here! After so much waiting, I am now on African soil. After 25 hours of traveling, we made it!

We are all exhausted -- flying took a lot of energy out of us. We arrived at Dar Es Salaam around 8:30 p.m. Tanzanian time (which is about 1:30 p.m. EST, as Tanzania is seven hours ahead of Massachusetts). It was very hot and very humid in the small airport where we waited about 30 minutes for our visas. I was the last one to receive my visa, and as the man handing me my passport smiled and said of my visa photo, “The last picture to have been taken, but the best one,” it really hit me that being in Tanzania was a reality, and no longer just a long-imagined destination.

We took one bus to the Tanzanian Episcopal Conference Center (TEC), where we had our first Tanzanian dinner: fish, chicken, vegetables, rice, soup and pineapple. Very simple fare, but it was delicious.
Meg Chuckran (who graduated from Holy Cross last year and is currently working for International Partners in Mission) introduced us to our other tour guides, Ruth and Margaret, who are both from Kenya and would have led us on the Kenya trip.

After dinner, water bottles were distributed, while those of us with Nalgene bottles filled them from a large container. This water is our drinking water. It isn’t safe to consume the water here, so hand sanitizer comes in handy.

Around 11 p.m., we all went to bed under our mosquito nettings, anxious to begin our experience in Africa.

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Post 1

MAY 25, 2008

IT IS HERE. The trip that I have been anticipating since May 2007. It is TODAY.

We started our morning at 9 a.m., with a mass for those of us attending the trip. That was followed by brunch and packing, and heading to JFK for our first flight. I had said goodbye to my family, boyfriend and friends the night before, which was surreal. So much has happened between January (when we were originally meant to go to Kenya) and now – my last semester at Holy Cross, the job search, my last finals, Cape week, Senior week and graduation. Graduation was only two days ago, and my emotions are awhirl. I feel almost unprepared for this trip in comparison to how prepared I was to go to Kenya – the thought of being in Africa in January was ever-present in my mind first semester.

Not that I am less excited to go to Tanzania. Not at all. It’s just that there was so much else to focus on that Tanzania seemed more like a dream than a reality. And, silly as it is, part of me was afraid to imagine myself in any part of Africa – Kenya had been a reality for me for seven months, until New Year’s Eve, when we received the email telling us the trip would be postponed until the violence in Kenya had ended. My heart was broken for the Kenyan people, and my hope for ever reaching the continent was temporarily shattered.

But here we are, heading to the airport, a smaller group than we were in January, but filled with excitement and nervousness nevertheless. The dream is finally becoming a reality – but I don’t think I will truly believe we are there until I am off the plane

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Images

Selected Images from theTanzania Immersion Trip

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