Since my last entry, detailing my experience meeting the new class, I’ve had the great joy of my family visiting. I didn’t have much down time after I finished up my sessions with the new volunteers as the only thing I had time to do upon returning to site was clean up my house and begin packing for my two weeks with the family. I arrived in Dar a day or so early since both the flights which my family and friends were coming in arrived at ridiculous hours of the night. However, everyone arrived safe and sound without any delays, which is quite a rarity for Tanzania. As our trip progressed, my family broke our trip down into 3 basic phases. Phase 1 was more of the roughing it part of the trip, staying in low-budget guest houses and visiting my village, Phase 2 was safari, and Phase 3 was relaxation on Zanzibar. Phase 1 got off to a little bit of a rough start thanks to my poor planning. When I booked rooms in Dar es Saalam for the first night that my family was in town, I only booked extra rooms for the night of their arrival. When booking these rooms, I neglected to look at what time the flight got in on the first day. To my surprise, the flight got in at 2:50am. This meant that when we got to the hotel at about 3:30am, all 7 of us had to cram into a room without A/C until about 8:30am when our rooms would actually be ready. At first I was a little embarrassed that I screwed it up so bad, but then eventually tried to play it off as “this is what a real Peace Corps Volunteer experiences, this is how I planned it”. For the first few hours, until about, oh 5:30am, everyone was fine. But more than 36 hours of travel start to catch up with everyone. My mom, sister, sister’s friend, and aunt all decided to push the two beds in the room together and try to sleep. It was fairly comical to watch as people were half on, half off the bed, accidentally kicking each other in the face, and trying to act like they were comfortable. My dad sat there for about 5 minutes before he decided that he’d rather go out on the porch and stand until the rooms were ready. I tried to post up in a plastic chair to sleep, but plastic lawn chairs aren’t meant to be slept in and after about an hour I gave up and joined my dad on the porch of the Econo Lodge, Dar es Salaam to observe the morning events. At this point the sun was just about coming over the horizon, and that beautiful early dawn light was spreading over the city. My dad was just soaking it all in. Apparently he saw some people in a building across the way performing some ritual where one person would throw oil into a fire, the flames would leap up, and another person who was standing behind would swing feather-looking items in circles. He also claimed that he saw rats running around down below the building that were as big as cats. It was quite the welcome to Tanzania. Eventually the continental breakfast opened up and we were able to grab a bite to eat along with my sister’s friend Marge who apparently felt it difficult to sleep 5 people in two twin beds pushed together, go figure. While the other ladies slept, Marge, my dad, and I took a walk around downtown Dar. I think both my dad and Marge were shocked at how busy things were. This was my dad’s first trip outside of the States (and no I don’t count Canada) but Marge had been to Africa before studying abroad, however I think both of them were surprised at how busy it was (even for a Sunday morning). After returning from our stroll around town, our rooms were finally ready. Needless to say, once everyone got settled into their rooms, we crashed for a good long time. That day in Dar we were able to meet up with another volunteer who came to Tanzania the same time as me and have lunch out in a nicer area of Dar as well as make the trip up to the rooftop of the Holiday Inn. The day before Marge and I were also blessed to be able to visit the subway in Dar es Saalam. I think Marge may have been questioning her decision to come on the trip after the first day because the only pictures on her camera were of me, her, and another overly anxious volunteer friend in front of the Holiday Inn and me giving the thumbs up in front of the sign at Subway for the “Chicken Teriyaki” foot long sub. Not wanting to disappoint Marge, I agreed to give her a taste of what real life in Tanzania is like and took her on the public transportation or “daladala to the main bus stand in Dar to buy my ticket for the return trip home. We were lucky enough to get seats on the thing, but that didn’t make sitting in traffic in 100% humidity after almost getting into 6 separate accidents any more enjoyable for Marge. About halfway through the trip, Marge put her head into her hands and uttered the words “I wish we were back at Subway.” I couldn’t help laughing and texting my Peace Corps friend who had told Marge, after she was complaining of coming to Africa to visit the Holiday Inn and Subway, that she would be begging for the air-conditioned goodness of the seating area of the Subway. We Peace Corps volunteers know how precious things are like a hot foot long from Subway and the lobby of the Holiday Inn when you’ve been in the village for almost two years. Anyway, after a lovely evening of sipping Safari Lager on the rooftop of the Holiday Inn, we turned in early so that we could get packed up for our journey via mini-van the next morning.
I decided to hire a mini-van taxi for our trip to Iringa from Dar for the simple fact that public transportation is downright scary here. I’ve been involved in 3 separate bus accidents here, thankfully never being hurt in them, but decided that I’d go the safer route with my family along with me. The beginning of the trip started out smoothly enough except for a bathroom mishap for a family member who had never used a “choo” (aka hole in the ground) to go to the bathroom before. Other than the small “choo mixup” things went smoothly until we started driving through the mountains. Before the first main rest stop the car started making strange noises. I politely asked the driver if everything was fine and he assured me that there were no issues. I’m no mechanic, so what would I know? I took his word for it. After continuing through the undulating terrain for another 45 minutes or so, the sound became substantially worse. I knew that shortly we would be climbing a mountain with a huge grade, so I asked again if things were fine (knowing full well at this point that something was broken, even without any auto mechanic knowledge). He again re-iterated that there was no issue. “Okay” I said to myself, as we started to slowly climb the huge mountain. As we started up the hill, gigantic semi-trucks were whizzing down at speed clearly too fast. That part wasn’t surprising. The part that finally made me demand we turn back is that the same huge trucks who were lumbering up the mountain were passing us. My mom and sister were holding onto the seats with white knuckles asking if we could return to the bottom of the mountain and diagnose the problem before running head on with a semi-truck. Reluctantly, our driver relented and took us back down the hill and pulled into the rest stop to see what the issue was. Apparently, the whirring noise that sounded like a transmission about to blow was to be solved by adding more oil and gasoline. I was skeptical, but he told me that he was sending a guy to the nearest town to grab the stuff, and that he’d be back in an hour. At this point I knew, having lived in Africa for almost two years, that when he said “one hour” that could mean, two hours, three hours, or never. I asked him what his backup plan was and he re-iterated that his plan of adding oil and gas would work. Fast forward 4.5 hours and several arguments with sleazy hotel owners and bus drivers at the rest stop trying to convince us to stay the night, I called two taxi drivers to come get us from Iringa town, which was only about 45 km away. Even though they also came an hour late, we were able to finally arrive in Iringa only about 5 hours late. It was ironic that we would have probably made better time had we taken the bus, but at this point I was too tired to care. Upon getting to Iringa and dropping our bags off, we climbed back into the taxis to get some dinner, since none of us had eaten much since the toast and fruit at breakfast. I had originally planned to do a traditional Tanzanian dinner, but at this point I wanted to give the family a nice meal somewhere. The place I wanted to take them turned out to be closed, and the only other place I thought was open was the Tanzanian place. My aunt’s friend, Peanut, asked “Do they serve beer at this place?” Unfortunately, they didn’t, so I was forced to think of another location. The last place I knew of was a restaurant/bar that would probably be open at 9:30pm on a weeknight. Thankfully when we arrived, they were open. We sat down and immediately ordered a round of ice cold Safari Lager. The food was delicious, and the cold beer was even better after the fiasco of a trip we had coming to Iringa from Dar. Thankfully, my family is extremely laid back, and we were all able to laugh about the situation after the fact. As we were finishing up our last round, a random guy stumbled into the room we were eating in and came up to my dad. He started leaning in, as if to whisper a secret, but was clearly drunk, and was using half English and half Kiswahili. At first I thought it was just a random drunk guy trying to strike up conversation, but after a few seconds, I realized the guy was describing women, and trying to sell them to my dad. I was horrified and had to call two of the waitresses over to the table to have the guy (aka the pimp) escorted out of the place. My family was still confused as to what happened, but after the guy was escorted out, I told them, and they all burst out laughing, my dad most of all. I think I remember my dad saying something to the effect that “man, I still got it!” All of us laughed until we cried, wondering what could possibly happen next to make the day any more interesting.
Turns out the next day was slightly less eventful (in a good way). We woke up early enough to get some breakfast at Mama Chapatti’s place. After getting some grub in our bellies, we loaded up into two taxis out to my village to visit for the day. Unfortunately we’d only be staying until the afternoon, simply because I really didn’t have enough space for everyone to sleep comfortably. I know this disappointed my villagers, but after putting my family through the first day of travel woes, the prospect of making them sleep on paper thing mattresses on the floor with crusty old mosquito nets, wasn’t something I thought they would enjoy. Nonetheless, my reliable taxi driver and his friend who rescued us the day before agreed to take us out to the village, wait there while we walked around, and drive us back. The first stop on the village tour was the school. It just so happened that my Form 4 students were still in class during the break studying. When they saw us approaching, they all started to run back to the classroom, giggling and whispering to each other. This is mostly because I’ve talked up my families visit for no less than 6 months, and for them to finally get to meet them was quite an exciting experience. Unfortunately, they were much more shy than normal, and would only speak Kiswahili to me. But I was able to introduce everything and take a few pictures with all of my over eager students, before we stopped by the office to say hello to the teachers who were there over break marking papers (I got to escape those duties; thanks family!), on our way to the second stop on the village tour,my house. I think that my family was fairly impressed how nice it is, considering the condition of the houses (mud huts) that mostly surrounded my house. After taking pictures of just about everything in my house (my shoe collection, my Michigan Football Schedule that was hung on the wall, the student who was watching my house), we decided to take a trip down to the Italian mission that operates behind my house. The mission, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts is really pretty beautiful and has by far the most ornate buildings of any in the area. The doors to the actual sanctuary were closed, but I figured we could just walk around and they could get a feel for how large the place was. As luck would have it, we ran into Farther Angelo, who is the father who helped to found the orphanage and has lived there for 32! Years. The guy is not just a local legend, but people as far as Dar es Salaam know about him. The guy is completely fluent in Kiswahili as well as the tribal language of Kihehe. He was happy to see us, and was most gracious is offering to take us on a tour of the orphanage. As we walked around the complex, Farther Angelo would point things out and explain them in Kiswahili, and I would translate everything into English for my family. At first I didn’t think anything of it, but halfway through I felt this immense sense of achievement as I realized that I was talking to an Italian father in Kiswahili (not the native language of either of us) and I was translating it into English for my family, who actually made the trip out to Africa. It was one of those existential moment that I have every so often here, and really realize what I’m doing is absolutely amazing, not in an egotistical way, but more like this is something I always dreamed of doing and I actually went out and did it. But as we walked around the orphanage houses (which, by the way have electricity, running water, and washer and driers) the little kids were just leaving for lunch time. When the kids saw us, and Father Angelo in particular, they ran up and hugged us and wanted to walk with us holding hands. I’ve gotten fairly used to things like this, but for my family and for my mom and dad who have never been outside the United States, it was a surreal experience. I could tell that having the kids just run up to you like that without asking any questions or looking at your skin color, and hugging you, is something you can really only experience in Africa. I learned that every single one of the 40 or so kids who live there had parents who were killed my AIDS. In addition, half the kids were also HIV +, which when I heard it really shocked me. I had lived so close to the orphanage for so long, and never knew this. It really got me, as well as my family, pretty emotional, to think that these kids, through no fault of their own had been born into this world diagnosed with this killer disease. Despite that fact, you would have never guessed that there was anything wrong with any of them. The smiles on the kid’s faces as we walked into the dining hall is just not something that you forget, the images of those little kids faces etched into your brain. After escorting the group of kids off to the dining hall, we went with Father Angelo, who was gracious enough to open up the sanctuary for us to get a look around. Even for a church in America, it would have been stunning, but for something like this is exist in the middle of the African bush, just amazes me everything I see it.
The final stop on my village tour was Mama K’s, the mama who feeds me and keeps me alive. All of the dada’s were smiling and laughing hysterically as I introduced my family. We ordered the standard meal of rice, beans with coconut, and kisamvu (local green veggie). At first, my family was a little hesitant, and they all wanted to split a plate. However, after about a half of a bite of each thing, they all wanted their own portions and I had to order 3 more plates. As you can imagine, this made the mama’s who cook for me more than delighted. My sister especially had taken to a liking of the Tanzanian cuisine. After eating our fill, we started our walk back to the taxi’s but not before getting flagged down by my chapatti mama in my village. She had prepared us roasted sunflower seeds, bags of fresh peanuts, and a fresh papaya. As we road back to Iringa, my mom especially, left feeling happy that I was being so well taken care of in my village. She also had me thank all my mama’s for keeping me alive and feeding me. After getting back from the village, we needed to, well more like the ladies in the group, needed to go on a shopping blitz. We hit up all the best shops in town and loaded up on gift for people back home, as well as cases of beer and wine for the safari the next morning. However, I should note that my father wasn’t exempt from the shopping fever, as he did buy two full size “khanga’s” for himself as well as souvenirs for the neighbors back home. After getting back to the guesti and relaxing a bit, we went back out to my favorite 24 hours Tanzanian food place, Baba Nusa. It was here that I introduced my family to every type of Tanzanian fare that was available; pilau, kuku, chipsi mayai, jegere (peas), maharage (beans), pili pili, and ugali. After this 8 course meal, we went out to a local Tanzanian watering hole called “The Luxury Pub” for a couple cold (or warm) ones to let them get a feel for the Tanzanian bar experience, which quite honestly, is quite special.
The following day, we said goodbye to Iringa town and headed out on safari. Since we had so many people, we were able to get the 8 person open air safari truck, which was awesome. We were able to make it out to the game park in time for lunch, which at the lodge was fantastic. I won’t go into details about the lodge because I think I expanded on how great the food and rooms were in a blog post last year from when my friends came. However, I will say that the highlight was probably unknowingly coming upon the pride of 20 or so lions. As we approached the area, we all started noticing that the number of flies was getting to be unbearable. Just as we were complaining about an awful stench, my sisters friend jumped back from the side of the vehicle and yelled “Oh my god!! It’s a dead giraffe!” After looking at the dead giraffe for a second, we realized there were about 6 lions ripping the last meat off the bones. Another 4 or so were sitting nearby panting heavily, unable to move due to a food coma. We were literally no less than 5 feet away from these 10 lions. I’ll admit, I’ve been on several previous safaris, and this was the most scared I had been. To be sitting in an open air vehicle, with 10 of these huge creatures just staring at you, really makes you realize how small you are. The driver assured us that they couldn’t do us any harm because they were so full, sort of like me after a large domino’s pizza. As we slowly drove past, we saw another 3 lions walking towards us, which sort of made me question our drivers assertion that “they couldn’t do anything” when they clearly had enough energy to get up and walk this way, what would stop them from jumping into our car, having a bite to eat, then lapsing back into food coma? Anyway, we nervously continued through the open area, we realized there was yet another huge lion, this time, the big daddy and a few of the cubs. All the other lions were females, the ones without the manes, while this was the real live king of the savannah. It is no understatement to say that he was HUGE. The cubs were jumping around him, and when one of the cubs sufficiently annoyed daddy, the king let out a roar that prompted us to tell our driver that, thank you very much, we’ve seen enough and that we’d like to head back to camp to make it for OUR dinner. We were lucky enough to see lions on all three days of our safari as well as ostriches, elephants, jackals, hyenas, giraffes, hippos, and water buffalo. All in all, it was a huge success. The last day, we drove to the airstrip to head out to Zanzibar, where we learned that our family was the only people on the flight. So instead of sharing the plane, our family had an entire bush plane to ourselves, which was absolutely amazing.
The final leg of our trip took us to Zanzibar. First a night in Stone Town, then 2 days in the Matemwe beach area then 2 days in the Nungwi beach area. The first night in Stone Town, my good Danish friend from Iringa happened to be there with her sister. We were able to meet up for a few beers on the balcony overlooking the Zanzibari sunset over the Indian Ocean, then head out to dinner. Our first two choices happened to be not available, so we ended up at an Indian place that my friend Cecilie had recommended. My family, most of them having not really tried Indian food agreed, I think for the simple reason they didn’t want to offend Cecilie. I know for a fact that it was my dads first experience with Indian food. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I watched him read the menu, finally giving up and asking for recommendations. In the end though, everything we got was absolutely delicious, and I think most came away being fans of Indian foods. Again, I can’t tell you how much credit I give to my family not for just jumping in feet first and coming to Africa, but once being here, just completely going with the flow and soaking it all in, both the good, the bad, and the different. Although it probably did help that the place had a good supply of ice cold Safari Lager, which kept us hydrated throughout the meal. Our final stop for some after dinner drinks was called “Mercury’s” after the lead singer of the classic rock band Queen, who was actually born in Zanzibar. The place turned out to have a live band, and after a little bit of talking with them, my dad was able to convince them to sing “Happy Birthday” to my aunts friend Peanut.
The following day in the morning we had a delicious breakfast on the quaint rooftop area of our hotel before heading out for a Stone Town walking tour and Spice Tour. After the morning at long last, we boarded a taxi and headed out to the beach. Not much to say about the last phase of our trip, but as you can imagine, relaxing on the white sand beaches of Zanzibar was the perfect end to an amazing trip. As I mentioned before, we had two days at one resort and two days at the Doubletree Hotel in another part. Both were immaculate, but I’d say my highlight was the “all-you-can-eat-all-you-can-drink” all inclusive deal we had at the Doubletree. After about 4 days of stuffing myself at the afternoon pizza kitchen, I was actually relieved to get back to site. Obviously the sad part was having to say goodbye to my family yet again. However, we parted knowing that it would be only about 4 months before I was back in the states to see them again.
On my way back to my village, I again had another going away party. It seems as if these days, people are on the move. All the Peace Corps volunteers who came in 3 months before us were on their way out and another couple were leaving for Denmark. As I wind down here, I guess I should expect this though. Even myself, just last weekend, I received my official COS date. I will officially be finished my Peace Corps service on the 25th of October. I’m still letting that sink in, but in the meantime, I’ll be making arrangements for my friends to escort me(Michigan jersey in hand) directly from the airport to the Michigan bar for the game on against Nebraska on October 27th…..