Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Long Way Home

The trip home was the same length, but it seemed so much longer. The travel there was full of excitement and anticipation, but the travel home was one of memories and transition. During the flight, and since, I have been listening to hear the sound of Swahili being spoken, or the desire to say 'Habari  za asabuhi'(good morning) to somebody. After a wait of 4 hours in the airport, an hour layover in Dar es Salaam, an 8 hour flight to The Netherlands, I had a chance to get out and about in Amsterdam, so I took a short bus tour from the airport . We saw a cheese and wooden shoe factory, a windmill, the canals, and the touristy spots of the red light district and the marijuana bars, along with the outsides of the beautiful museum area. I wish that I had more time . Finally, it was time for the last 8 hour flight back to Chicago. The flights were smooth and uneventful, just long. I now have my pictures and memories of a fantastic trip and an experience I will never forget.

Special Education in Tanzania

Since Special Education is an important part of our family ( I am a certified teacher of Special Ed, my wife is an Adapted PE teacher, my daughter is a Preschool Autistic teacher, and we have 2 adopted sons with Down Syndrome), I wanted to see some programs in the Moshi area that I had heard about. Many Special Ed students in Tanzania are hidden at home, or ignored, and they are mostly misunderstood. So hearing about a program that provides good services for them was exciting. The program is called Gabriella Center. It is housed in a farm house in the rural area outside of Moshi. A local doctor rents the property to the program. They are sponsored by a not-for- profit called Edpowerment, begun by 2 high school teachers from Chicago who went as volunteers to the area, and keep returning, as well as collecting money and searching for grants for this program and one other. The center has 2 trained therapists, 3 teachers and other staff. They have a day program, as well as a residential component for some of the students. They also do parent training weeks, parent and community workshops, and skills assessment. The center also has a rabbit hutch, chicken coops, and a garden to train the students in living and farming skills to hopefully become contributing members of their community. It is a model program, and one which should be emulated and replicated.

We also visited Kilimahea program which is like an alternative high school for students who had trouble taking the government tests for high school, many with Learning Disabilities. Through grants and donations, they have built a huge classroom and computer lab addition, and are building 5 large chicken coops for vocational training. They have also built a water supply, which they share with the community. Mama Grace is the coordinator and founder of the program, and they are also associated with Edpowerment. Mama Grace tells a personal story about her own son who has Autism.  The local shopkeepers and community members hired a person to hurt or kill her son as he was considered a nuisance and danger to the community. She held a town hall meeting to explain Autism, and finally the community got behind her and decided to assist her. Fortunately this story had a happy ending, but who knows how many others don't. If you are looking for a place to help to sponsor or donate, please check out Edpowerment, Autism Connects Tanzania, or Gabriella Center websites.

After these rewarding visits, it was time to head for the airport to leave. The time went too quickly!

Hanging with the Guys

Today the plan was to visit a Chagga village and a nice waterfall in the Marangu area. My guide was a Kili guide who was off for the day. He and the driver picked me up, and off we went. It was raining, so I was worried about driving on the rough dirt roads, but it went well. We visited the Marangu Gate, one of the starting points to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is called the Coca Cola route as it is the easiest. The Machame route is much steeper, and is called the Whiskey route. We saw wet people beginning their climb- not for me to be wet and cold and tired for the next 5-7 days, but more power to them!

The rain stopped as we parked in the Chagga area. We walked to a place that makes banana beer. We each had a big cup of the beer. Mine was in a calabash gourd, as the guest of honor. Theirs was in a plastic cup. They feel that metal transmits diseases. I am not a beer drinker, and was put off by the millet seeds floating on the top, so they drank mine also (both were young guys in their early 30s). We sat and talked and drank. It was just like hanging with the guys. We discussed many topics including the attitude toward 'muzungus'. The guide said his family always asks why he would spend so much time with 'those' people. We also discussed adoption, as 2 of my children are adopted, which they could not understand the concept why you would do that.

After the beer bash, we walked to the Ndoro waterfall. We had to walk down, and then back up about 300 rough stairs. It was a challenge for my poor knees, especially after fast walking with the Hadzabe a few days earlier. But the waterfall was worth it. It was beautiful. 

Finally, we visited a Chagga traditional house, and some caves, where the Chagga hid and attacked the Maasai when they fought over the area and over cattle. It was fascinating. On the way back to town, we had a flat tire. As they worked to change it, some children came out from a farmhouse and I talked with them and we took pictures of each other. Hopefully they got to see that muzungu aren' t so bad after all.

Shopping Spree

Today we have a long drive, as we need to get from Karatu to Moshi, but we also have time to make some stops along the way. As the trip is coming closer to the end, I hoped to pick up more souvenirs and presents. We stopped at the small souvenir shop area in Mto wa Mbu, right across from the souvenir carts named Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama shops. As soon as you stop a tour car in a town, you are surrounded by street sellers. It was interesting that I knew some of them from my visits to the other markets in the area, as I began my trip. This time I had specific things I was looking to buy, as I had scoped things out along the way. As I mentioned some things, they all spread out to find the items for me at the various shops. One seller went into a shop and found what I was looking for, but the shop owner was not around, so he decided to sell them to me anyway. That seemed strange, but I found out they all work together and cooperate. He wanted $25 dollars for 2 basic bracelets, which sent me looking elsewhere. He kept finding me to lower the price, but not enough. I found other bracelets for less, and some other cool items that I had not expected to find. I have learned to go into these places with limited money, so I spent what I had, and started to head out. As more sellers tried to show me what to buy, I showed them that I only had 1000Tsh left (about 50 cents) . One seller sold me a nice bracelet for that, just to make a sale. As I got to the car, the original bracelet seller ran up to sell me the 2 bracelets for $5- it pays to wait and haggle the prices.

My driver knew that I am interested in artists and meeting the artist who actually makes the pieces, so he took me to a special Makonde carver on a backstreet. The carved pieces there were amazing, and I got to meet and take pictures of the carver working.I bought a carved gazelle that was so delicate that I was worried to carry it home (side note: it made it home safely, and it is beautiful!). We found out from the carver that there was an orphanage two doors down from him, so we walked over. The children (about 20), were so excited for us to visit. They just wanted to hold our hands or hug us and pose for pictures. They didn't ask for candy or money, they just wanted some attention. This was the perfect place to leave the supplies and some toys. The women who run the orphanage were very appreciative. It made me smile for the rest of the day.

From there, we started off for Moshi. I had hoped to get a view of Mt. Kilimanjaro , but it was cloud covered as usual. We passed the clock tower in Arusha, and I found out that is placed at the north-south center of Africa between Cairo and Johannesburg. Crispin commented to me that he feels that I saw the real Tanzania that many tourists don't get to experience. I agreed with him. He volunteered to take the rest of the school supplies that I still had, and deliver them to needy schools as he travels in the next few weeks. I gave him some gifts for his family and a good tip for his excellent job. We arrived at Springlands Hotel, which is owned by the Zara Tour Company which specializes in local trips and Kili climbs. It is basic accommodations, but comfortable, although on a very poor side road.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Into the Volcano

The best time to enter the crater is early in the morning, so we left early, braving the fog which usually covers the crater rim. As we got to the floor of the ancient volcano caldera, the first thing we saw was a cat alongside the road. My guide got very excited, as this is one of the animals that he has only seen twice in his 20 years of guiding. It was a caracal, or the African lynx, which is usually nocturnal, not seen during the day. After this experience, we drove around the crater and saw many zebras, gazelles, ostriches, wildebeest, and birds. Twice, we saw lions just walking down the road. When this happens, many vehicles swoop in and crowd around. The lions in the crater are so used to these vehicles, that they come right up to the cars and even lay down in the car's shade for a while. It almost seems like they are tame animals in an animal park, and somewhat looses the adventure aspect of animals in the wild. It is still cool to get a close up view, but not the same feeling.

We searched everywhere for the rhinos, but they were nowhere to be found. There are only 16 rhinos left in the crater, and this is the one place to still see them, so everyone was asking around to see if anyone had seen them, but no such luck. So I guess I failed in finding the "big five", but that was not my main goal, so the disappointment was minor. We also saw flamingos in the salt wate lake, and hippos in the fresh water lake. You could even get out of the car and go right next to the fresh water lake near the hippos which seemed a bit strange. There are no impala or giraffes in the crater, so we did not see them. As a finishing touch, as we were driving out of the crater, we saw a serval cat, which is also nocturnal and rare to see, so I began and ended my trip to the crater in an exciting way.

We drove to Karatu to stay again at the Country Lodge. I had hoped to stop at an orphanage in town to donate some medical and personal hygiene supplies, but we could not locate it. I stopped at Gibbs Farm again to use their Internet, but it was very spotty. They said that they had been having problems, as there were new government restrictions on the bandwidths prior to President Obama's visit next month.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

To the Crater (sorry the creativity has flown)

The morning was spent on our last game drive out of the Serengeti. We saw many of the same animals as yesterday, including the same 3 leopards in the tree, but remarkably, no lions. We did see dikdiks and Coke's Hartebeest. I took many videos but ran out of battery- it seemed short. It turns out that my converter cord on the iPad is not working, as well as the converter to charge the video camera. Maybe the difference in the electricity has damaged them. The other chargers work fine. I have also noticed some strange spots on my point- and-shoot camera, and it seems like dust has gotten into the lens. It is mostly noticeable when I use the zoom- I must be careful to store the cameras in airtight bags when not in use. I hope that it does not mess up my pictures.

After launch at Naabi Hill, we left the park headed for the Ngorongoro area. I met a waiter at Ikoma who is from the Maasai tribe at Ngorongoro. He actually goes into the crater with his herds right next to the wild animals! I asked him if there is a Maasai boma (village) to visit that is not just a tourist trap, but is actually fairly authentic. He suggested Longoku Cultural Boma,  right next to Oldupai Road. It was a good choice. Pictures are welcome for the admission price. The residents come out to dance and sing for you, with the women in one line and the men in the other. They then take you into the boma and the men have a jumping contest, then show you the inside of a house and explain its use. They took me to the village school, which only has Kindergarten students, as the other students go to the public school. They have to walk about 10 miles to attend school. The students sang a song for me, and I said hello to the teacher and saw their chalkboard work. After this, it was the money pitch to sell their goods. The money you spend goes 1/2 to the maker, and 1/2 to the community fund so it helps to sustain the community.

I stayed at Rhino Lodge for the night. It is nice, but basic accommodations. Animals often wander through their grounds. I was glad that my guide got to eat with me to keep me company. It does not have a view of the crater, but is on the rim, within an easy drive of the entry road of the crater, and it is economical.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Good Gnus

This was to be another day of adventure and excitement. I am learning that Crispin has a knack for sighting, and also for being in the right place at the right time. We saw herds of zebras yesterday in a mini migration in the Central Serengeti, but very few wildebeest. We decided to head to the Western Corridor or Grumeti area. Crispin asked the park staff the best way, and was told he could cut through the private sanctuary near Faru Faru Lodge. An American has bought up a huge area of land from the government, which had previously been used for hunting. He wanted an area to use for other tourism. It is very private and expensive. We found the wildebeest migration there! They were as far as the eye could see. After driving through and around them, we were stopped by a security guard who turned us back, but at least we were one of the few tourists who got to see them.

When we got back in the park, the first thing we saw was a cheetah crossing the road- beautiful and graceful. We saw a lot of the usual, and also saw an eland and some hyenas. I got some good shots of a group of hippos out of the water.

We stopped to watch a group of zebras who were approaching a waterhole, but were a bit skittish. As we watched, a couple of lions jumped out and grabbed a zebra. More lions came to help- 14 in all! They killed the zebra and dragged him into the bushes. For the next 15 minutes, you could hear the growls and ripping sounds. They then drank their fill and wandered off or layed down to rest.

After this, we found 3 leopards sleeping in a tree with their kill hidden in the branches. Crispin said this is rare to see. As we continued to drive, we saw a group of 2 lions, then 1, then 4, then 2. It was remarkable. We also found another lion who had already killed a zebra, and was busy eating. I guess I should have titled this day the Big Cat Diary!

Big Cat Diary

The plan for today is to explore the Seronera or Central Serengeti area. The first thing I noticed is that we finally found the tsetse flies. They really pester you, and bite! Right away, we saw a cheetah in the long grass. Soon we saw more elephants, both Thompsons and Grants gazelles, ostriches and other birds (roller, bustard, hawk, eagle, shrike, goose), giraffes, vervet monkeys, buffalo, and a Coke's hartebeest.

 Next, we saw 3 lions sharing a tree sleeping, then 3 lions next to a herd of elephants, who just walked off. Later we saw a male lion in the grass, and another in a tree. We also saw a lion stalking a zebra. They seemed to be everywhere.

We visited a hippo pool which smelled horrible. They just swim in their toilet area. You couldn't see much as they were mostly submerged, you just saw the tails flick water to keep their backs from getting sunburned, then the heads pop up for a few minutes. There was more field burning along the way also.

 I was so glad we had a pop top type roof. The people in the open tops seemed to be baking in the sun. I get many jealous looks as I drive by with only me in a large vehicle, when they might have 6 people squeezed into a smaller vehicle. It is great for me. I can spread out my equipment and move from side to side.

I considered a night drive, but there were not enough people signed up to run it. What a great day!

Serengeti-the Endless Plains

Today we drove to the Ngorongoro Conservation area gate, which is the last of the paved road heading west. From now on, we will be on bumpy, or worse, roads with much dust. It was very overcast and foggy. This is the usual circumstance for the rim of the crater in the morning. It was a bit harrowing on curvy bumpy narrow roads, when you can't see far in front of you.

We passed many Maasai bomas (villages) in the distance, with the Maasai herding their cattle and goats, then also saw some near the road, which are set up as cultural bomas for the tourists. Some are more authentic than the others.

I wanted to stop at Olduvai Gorge, since the work here piques my interest as an amateur archaeologist. The Leakeys and others have excavated this area for over 50 years. They have found 5 layers of evidence of human occupation here. The oldest is Australopithecus , then Homo Erectus, Homo Habilis, and finally Homo Sapiens. They have a small museum and gave an interesting talk. I unfortunately, did not have time to visit the gorge. Some museums still send archaeologists to excavate in the summers, June through August.

The landscape has changed greatly today, from forest/jungle, to brush/few trees. We entered Serengeti National Park. We immediately saw a group of vultures fighting over some road kill. As we drove through the park on the back roads, we saw elephants, impala, baboons, zebras, gazelles, wildebeest, 2 hippo pools, Kori Busters and other birds, and a lion in a tree! They were doing a controlled burning of huge sections to get them to grow back stronger.

We finally arrived at Ikoma Gate, and made it to Ikoma Tented Camp. This camp is larger than the other 2 tented camps I visited. The tents are similar, but the bathrooms are fancier, and the dining hall is impressive with 4 course meals and choices. My tent overlooks a plain, and I see wildebeest and zebra passing by. You must have a guard walk you around after dark, as wildlife can enter the camp. Welcome to the Serengeti.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Meeting new People

 Today we took off in the dark, which is hair-raising on the bad roads. We picked up a guide who knows the Hadzabe and Datoga languages and culture. We drove through the back country over very faint car tracks, barely visible, over rocks and sand. Finally we reached our destination. The guide walked with me back into the bush. He taught me a greeting, and we met the Hadzabe tribe. There were about 4 women, 5 men, and 6 children, in addition to a dozen dogs. We visited their grass and twig huts, which are temporary. They are nomadic throughout the year, following game, or hunting for fruit and roots. They do not have any permanent shelter. They sat around a fire, staying warm and discussing the day. The men stay separate from the women and children. I got scolded by the granny for walking in the wrong place. They were very open to new people visiting and taking pictures. We were the only ones visiting that day. There are about 1500 Hadzabe today, scattered around the Eyasi are in small groupings. They took off hunting and we followed. They moved quickly, and it was hard to keep up with my bad knees. After not having much luck hunting, they found a bee tree. They started a fire and tried to smoke out the bees. After getting stung many times, the young boy pulled out some honeycomb to share with the others. At this point, they continued, but I turned back. They showed me how to shoot their bows (without the poisoned arrows, of course) , and I even got close to the target. Finally we took our leave. This was a fantastic view into a vanishing civilization.

We next drove to visit a Datoga family group. We saw their house, and their workshop. They are metalworkers, and also supply the spearheads to the Hadzabe. They were melting metals, using a hand pumped bellows over the fire. They made some beautiful bracelets and arrowheads, and I bought some souvenirs. This was an interesting day, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in different cultures. For anyone interested in the tribal cultures of Tanzania, I highly recommend the book "Ways of the Tribe", available at Arusha bookstores, or online.

After these visits, the plan was to wind our way back to Karatu, stopping at some of the rural schools that we passed on the way, to share some of the school supplies that I brought. That turned out to be futile, as we found that the schools are now on a monthlong holiday after their exams. The only students in schools now are Standard 7 (Seventh Grade), as they have to study hard for their end of year exams to enter secondary school. We will have to check with other schools along our way.

Into the Countryside

Today, we drove toward Lake Eyasi, as I wanted the chance to visit 2 more groups of people who live in this area. They are the Hadzabe, who are one of the only tribes of bushmen living today in Africa, and the Datoga people who are metalworkers.

As always in Tanzania, it takes a long way to get anywhere. This is because of the roads. There is only 1 paved road going in each direction, and once you get off this, you are traveling on dirt and rocks. There are almost no level roads to go anywhere. They are extremely bumpy, and very dusty, and it takes a long time to travel, as you can' t go very fast. I always feel sorry for the many people who are walking on the roads who get the cloud of dust in their faces for every vehicle which passes. There is a layer of dust on all nearby plants or homes also.

I love to see the variety of different homes along the various roads we have traveled. Most are very small, but are made in different shapes, from different materials, and constructed differently. Most have no electricity or running water. You often see people or donkeys or bicycles carrying jugs to go get the water. Some towns are getting modern conveniences, mostly because of the tourist trade.

Today we passed into farm country. We passed many millet and bean farms. When we got closer to the Eyasi area, there were large onion farms. It was fun to wave at all of the children as we passed by. They hope that you will stop to give them pipi (candy) or money, but I just waved. The environment in this area was much different from either Tarangire or Manyara. I did not see any animals, but was told there are some smaller ones around.

We arrived at Tindiga Camp, another tented camp similar to Whistling Thorn in the setup, but set in the middle of onion farms and filled with cacti. This area is very dry. We went down to Lake Eyasi to view the nice sunset, and watched fishermen. It was extremely windy. This lake is also saltwater, and what looks like a sandy beach is actually made of salt crystals. Early to bed tonight, as we need to be gone by 5:30 in the morning to meet the tribes.

Manyara and more

Just an aside, I forgot to mention that I am traveling in a huge,newer, 7 passenger Landcruiser. It is great to have all of the extra room, especially as I see some travelers squished 5-6 people in smaller vehicles. Also, Crispin, my driver and guide is fantastic. He is flexible, helpful, and very knowledgable. It does go to show you that cheaper is not always worse.

Another aside, today I saw my first African mosquito- yes, only 1! And no tsetse flies yet.

Today we headed to Lake Manyara for safari. Just a comment, some people say that you should always stay in or near the parks, and never Karatu, but I am finding that the drives to the parks and other places can be just as interesting and informative as the parks themselves. You really get a feel of the people and their ways of life, and this enriches the whole experience of being here. As I stated in the beginning, the wildlife is only one of the reasons that I am here.

Some people counsel others to not bother with Manyara National Park, but I totally disagree. You can never get a full feel for Tanzania without seeing its different landscapes and ecosystems-they are so varied. Manyara has a totally different look from Tarangire. While Tarangire is known for its baobab trees and open areas, Manyara is more forest or junglelike. There is a large saltwater lake.They also have lizards and snakes here. The entrance is a bit of a mess, as they had a flood and rockslide there recently. One great diversion is to watch the antics of the large groups of baboons here. I also saw many eagles, cranes, and other birds to add to the checklist. Some of the same animals were seen with some new ones added-blue monkeys, wildebeest and gazelles in the distance, a large herd of buffaloes, and hippos that were fenced off and in the distance. The most interesting things today were the 2 large monitor lizards we watched for a long while. We saw many ALTs, which is Crispin's acronym for Animal Looking Things- many rocks and branches fool you into thinking you are sighting new animals.I was also interviewed by a local tv station that is doing a documentary on this park-I might be a Tanzanian celebrity now??? The exciting moment of the day was, as we were heading out, we saw a large bull elephant running down the road toward us. Not wanting to challenge him, we backed up quickly, and we took another path-a close call!

On the way back to the lodge, we stopped at a fancy gift shop and I learned about the rocks and minerals of Tanzania- an interest of mine. Then I stopped at Gibbs Farm, another lodging, to beg  to use their wireless, as my lodge has none. That is where I am typing this blog. More tomorrow.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Feeling like a Local

After breakfast, a Maasai set up a shop of locally made carvings and jewelry. I got a Maasai necklace, a beaded talking stick, and a fly whisk made from a zebra tail-very cool! Then we took off for the school through the bush. Again, we got lost twice but finally made it. It is a 2 room school, of only Kindergarten and grade 1 and 2. They are building more rooms for when the children move to the next grade. Before this, children had to go many miles to school or stay home. It is still hard to get the children at school, as they help their families herd the cattle and goats. There are only 2 teachers with 40-50 students in a class. There are few materials. Students have 2 books of lined paper to do all of their work. They showed me their books. I left my supplies, and they were very excited.

After this, we were back to Tarangire Park. We saw more of the same, as well as warthogs, ostriches, zebras, and many new birds. (Hornbills, rollers, pigeons, starlings, guinea fowl, storks, vultures) we stopped at an overlook of the river and saw a giraffe drinking. Water is so important in this ecosystem. The great baobab trees and acacias are fascinating and beautiful. After a picnic lunch, where the monkeys drove the tourists crazy, we headed out of the park.

We passed through the town of Mto wa Mbu,  into Karatu, where we leave most of the Maasai behind and see more of the Iraqw people. We found that they were holding a huge market which is held the 7th of each month. People come from Arusha and beyond. It was so big! Again, as I wandered, a couple of guys in their 20s latched on and guided me around. At this market, in addition to the livestock area, and beer making, there were goods displayed like a flea market in the states. They showed me the BBQ area over open fires, and I bought some local cloth for gifts. They helped me haggle, as the local tried to take advantage of the muzungu (white person). Again, I bought an item from each to thank them, then as I was getting swarmed by sellers, seeing my money, we took our leave. We arrived at Country Lodge in Karatu. It is very beautiful and fancy, with a large room and stone bathroom, and 5 course meal. It actually seemed a bit awkward to have this level of luxury when I was used to the camp, the park and the market all day. I decided that I prefer tented camps to feel more a part of the culture and the area. Plus there is no interaction with the guide here, which is a change from last night having dinner together.

Just a side note, I have been having fun trying out my greetings and phrases in Swahili. My guide says that my pronunciation is very good. Using the Swahili gets surprised reactions from the people you meet, and a different level of respect and acceptance.

A Day of Adventure

Well, today was a day of adventure. After waking up to rain, I worried about my plans for the day. I was picked up by my guide and we headed off. Because of the rain potential, we were not able to go to Tarangire the back way through Lolkisale, plus Crispin found out that the market is a different day. Luckily, he found that there was another local market at Kigongoni towards Mto wa Mbu, so we headed there. The rain stopped and it became a beautiful day.

The market was fascinating. There were cattle and goat auctions, and many things for sale. Two of the local guys gave me a tour showing me the homemade beer area (from bananas, millet, or maize), as well as the shed where they bleed and butcher the goats. I got in trouble for taking pictures there as it is culturally sensitive. I thanked the guys by buying an item from each. It was a great adventure.

From there, we went to Tarangire National Park. We saw so many animals, it was remarkable. We saw giraffes, impala, bushbucks, vervet monkeys, elephants, and many birds. My apologies to birders, as I am not knowledgable about birds. I did keep a checklist, but I could not match them to their pictures. The most exciting encounter was a group of elephants, who started circling around their babies, and we saw the grasses moving from the passage of a large cat (lion?leopard?). The cat finally gave up.

Our second adventure happened as we tried to find a shortcut to the Whistling Thorn
Tented Camp. We were following a barely-seen rut through the tall grasses for a long time. After 2 wrong turns, we finally made it. The camp was great. I stayed in a basic large tent, but it had beds and a flush toilet. The water for the shower is brought by hand and put in your bucket-wash fast or you have to ask them to do it again! We had a great dinner under the dining canopy, then Maasai warriors showed up. The local Maasai tribe owns the camp, and proceeds go to them. They come to put on a song and dance show each night. As I was the only guest, I got to dance with them. Pictures will be added later! I had to go to bed early, as the generator is turned off at 10:00 . I highly recommend this camp, as I was made to feel at home. I was told that they recently opened a new school for Maasai children nearby, so I knew this was a good place to leave many of the school supplies I brought.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Welcome to Arusha, Tanzania

Well, the flights were long- a total of 20 hours. I arrived in Tanzania very tired. Since I had never visited Europe or Africa, I enjoyed at least getting a bird's eye view of countries like England, the Netherlands, Greece, Egypt, Ethiopia , and landmarks like the English Channel, the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Nile, and much more. The layover in Amsterdam was short, but I hope to get in a short sightseeing excursion on the way home. 

After much worry about the flight, the luggage, and the pickup at the airport, everything went smoothly, and I arrived at Tumaini Cottages, a peaceful refuge on the outskirts of Arusha. The owners are very helpful and friendly, the rooms are very nice, and the gardens are beautiful- a perfect place to relax.

Today I used a driver to help run errands. I got a SIM card, exchanged money to Tanzanian shillings, met the owner of Shidolya Tours and Safaris and made my final payment, and picked up extra water for the trip. I also spent some time at the Maasai Market/Mt. Meru Shops. I looked around at what items were available, for later purchase. I expected a hard-sell, but the owners were welcoming and friendly, and encouraged without being pushy. I especially enjoyed seeing woodworkers demonstrating their craft. I did purchase one carving that was very unusual. I think I did well with the price haggling. 

The highlight of my day was a visit to Shanga Shangaa. As an ex- Special Education teacher, I was very impressed with this craft workshop for deaf and physically challenged individuals. For the most part, special needs individuals are not serviced well in Tanzania, but this place makes up for that. They have the workers doing glass blowing, metal work, weaving, and much more, using mostly recycled materials. They sell these in their shop, making it a self-sufficient enterprise. It is a model program that other places should emulate.

Well, tomorrow I am off to Tarangire, by way of the back roads, stopping at a local market- it should be fun!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Today's the day!

Well, it's finally here. I fly out this afternoon. There are many mixed emotions. Of course, I am very excited, but there is also a nervousness. There are so many questions and things I wonder or worry about. But...that is me. Sometimes I think that is how I get so much accomplished in my life-the worrying, the attention to detail, the focus and determination. But...sometimes it drives me crazy also. Here are some of the many worries going through my head:

What will the long flights be like? Will they be on time?
Will the luggage make it through on time?
Did I bring enough stuff with me, or did I forget something important?
How will it feel to be in the minority as a muzungu?
How well will I deal with touts/street people?
Will my safari company come through with a quality trip?
Will I get picked up at the airport?
Will I find a good place for my donations to actually do some good and help others?
Will I have a good guide?
Will I have a good safari vehicle?
Will my special food needs be accommodated?
Can I handle the dust/being dirty?
Will the weather be good?
Can I handle the bad roads/African massage?
Will I understand any Swahili and will my Swahili be understood?
Will my wife be right to fear for my safety from the wild animals?
Will my daughter's fear of hippos come into play?
Can I make a difference in anyone's lives?

I am sure that most of the worries will not come into play at all, and I will have a wonderful, memorable trip. I am taking good advice to not have any special expectations. I just want to see some amazing wildlife and meet some fascinating people, remembering the phrase "hakuna matata".

Well...I'm off on my amazing adventure!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Getting closer

Well, bags are finally packed, with help of suggestions from Tripadvisor posters, many final questions have been answered, and I have about 50 Swahili phrases under my belt. Even though I love languages, and have played with, although not fluent in, Spanish, French, Japanese, and Sign Language, I decided to just learn phrases this time, rather than actually learn the language structure. I started with the usual greetings and respect, and included some important ones such as:
(I hope these are correct, as I got them from many sources)

ni sawa nikipaga picha ya wewe ( Can I take a picture of you?)

ni bei gani? ni ghali mno. punguza bei. (How much is this? That's expensive. Please lower the price.)

chakula kitamu.  nimeshiba (That food is delicious. I'm full.)

nasema kidogo Kiswahili. tafadhali sema pole pole. (I speak a little Swahili. Please speak more slowly.)

-----------------------------(There's a lion in my bed-just joking!)

and so on-I hope I remember them when actually in the situation.

If you want to learn some Swahili on your own, try the Jambo Bwana song recommended by many Tripadvisor posters: