BootsnAll Travel Network

The end of my travels

February 4th, 2009

Well, my time here in Tanzania is going to be cut short. The whole time I’ve been here, I’ve been suffering breathing problems and intense sinus pain/pressure. Probably an allergy. That, coupled with the fact that I’ve been permanently fatigued for the past 3 months, has made working here very difficult. I just don’t have the energy to do things and I feel like I haven’t been much of a help. I’ve done my best over the past four weeks and I’m going to hate leaving, but I need to focus on my health.

I want to thank every one that has been reading my blog for the past 7 or 8 months (has it really been that long?) I’ve had a good time updating it. I’m really sad that my gap year travels are over, but I’m also excited for another chapter of my life to begin. I’m going to take a spring college course in March, possibly get a job/internship, and travel with my family a little over the summer. Then in September, university in Seattle. I don’t know which one yet, but I’ll find out in April.

Wish me luck with life.

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February 4th, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve updated!

My dad arrived on the 25th. He’s been working nonstop on fixing computers (and determining that most of them don’t work) and figuring out how the school can have an internet connection in the future. He came up with a great idea but it’s going to need approval, funding, and someone who can eventually install it. It’ll happen slowly, but it’ll happen.

We went on a three day safari starting on the 29th. We joined a Swedish-speaking Finnish father-daughter pair (what a coincidence) and went to Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro crater, and Tarengere National Park. I can’t even describe how amazing it was to see animals that I’ve been reading about and seeing in zoos and had toys of as a child in the wild, in real Africa. My childhood dream come true was to see cheetahs in the wild. (As my family knows, I was obsessed with cheetahs.) We also saw lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, antelopes, a rhino, hippos, hyenas, warthogs, and so much more. If you ever get a chance to go on a safari, you must. Another great thing about our safari was I could finally take a shower, and a hot one at that. I washed my hair every one of those three days.

We got a lot of book burning done yesterday morning, and burned five whole boxes. I’m sorry if any one doesn’t think that books should be incinerated, but it’s quite honestly all we can do with them. They’re inappropriate (snowmobiles), dated (Soviet Union), and falling apart.

Tonight we’re eating out at the Snake Park!

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Education in Tanzania

January 19th, 2009

I haven’t explained the education system in Tanzania yet. One word to describe it would be insufficient. Primary school here is mandatory, and it’s ages 5-15. After that, a student can decide to either discontinue their education, or continue on to secondary school. Secondary schools in Tanzania, government or private, all require tuition. Therefore, a lot of kids can’t continue for monetary reasons.

For those that enter secondary school, they attend forms 1 through 6 and are taught in English. At the end of form 4 every one must take a national examination. If you pass, you can go on to form 5. If you fail, you’re done with school forever, goodbye.  Most students do not pass. Forms 5 and 6 are small at every school. At the end of form 6, there’s another national exam, and you must do well on it if you want to go to university. Something like 5% of Tanzanian students complete secondary school.

Maasai Girl’s School is a private Lutheran boarding school, and a lot of students here are on scholarships funded by sponsors. The school has more than 300 girls who all live at the school in dorms. Each year, the number of girls that qualify for forms 5 and 6 is increasing, and they’re at the 80th percentile for English.

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Another sunny day

January 19th, 2009

Today, like every day, is a perfect sunny day. Right now, it’s the dry season. It has rained a few times, but it never sprinkles. It only comes down in end-of-the-world style torrential downpours that last five minutes. Afterwards, it doesn’t look as if it rained a drop.

Last night we had a ‘big night out’, which involved going to the Snake Park for cheeseburgers and to fill our water buckets (still no running water). The Snake Park is pretty much everything combined into one- snake, bird, and crocodile exhibits, a restaurant, a bar,  a museum, camel riding, a gym, free health clinic, camping ground, Maasai craft stores, a free education center, you name it. On Tuesday, a lot of us are going there to watch the inauguration.

An average day here for me is like this: Wake up at the last possible minute and go to chapel at 7:10. Attempt to sing in Kiswahili with the girls. At 7:25, go back to the house and eat breakfast.  For the next 3 hours, wash laundry/wash dishes/go to the store/be lazy/sit in on classes. Then at 10:50 it’s chai time: all the teachers gather in the break room to eat chapati (flat bread) and drink chai tea so sweet you feel like you need to brush your teeth three times.  Then it’s library time, where we’re still sorting books and tidying up and making plans for things. At 2:30 it’s lunch with the teachers, ugali (corn/flower) and beans. Afterwards, either more library time or a trip to the store, and sometimes an attempt to use the internet. Around 5 is when we retire back to the house and entertain ourselves; I’m trying to learn Kiswahili. Soon, I’ll be tutoring girls in the evenings, most likely in math.

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Book burning

January 15th, 2009

I finally found an internet connection!

It has been a very busy week. Now that Diane’s here, things are getting on track. We found the keys to the library and unlocked the door, and walked in to a mess. A thick layer of dust coated everything- the books, the shelves, the tables. We went straight to work by sorting through the bookshelves, weeding out books that are of no use to the girls.  There was a whole row of encyclopedias from the 1940’s, children’s books from the 50’s (Cowboy Sam), poorly-written snowmobile guidebooks (why?!), contemporary non-fiction on Soviet Russia, sunday school pamphlet cast-offs, and painfully useless human resource manuals. I even found a Latin-English dictionary from 1880 (pretty awesome).

What are all of these books doing there? Who donated them? This school gets most of its books from a charity called Books for Africa, but the majority of them are of no use to the students or teachers. Which leads me to my main point: if YOU wouldn’t read or teach your own children from an outdated and pointless book, WHY would you think it would be even the slightest bit helpful to someone in Africa? It’s useless. It costs hundreds of dollars to ship crates of books to Africa, and it takes a lot of work to distribute them to schools, so why waste time and money like that? Bad books deserve to be thrown away or recycled. You don’t have to donate brand-new or expensive books, but if you have something good you’ve read and don’t need, or if your school is done with text books no more than 7 years old, it would be amazing to donate those to a charity.

Diane and I are starting a giant Book Bonfire. We’re going to rid the school of useless books by dumping them in the flames. I’ve never burned books before, it should be fun.

I know this post is just a huge lecture, but let me end with one last point: SUCKY BOOKS ARE SUCKY ALL OVER THE WORLD.

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Tanzania at last

January 8th, 2009

I meant to update my blog much sooner but there’s no internet connection where I am!

Christmas at home was amazing. All seven of my family members were reunited succesfully despite the six+ inches of snow (very unusual for us) and good times were had. It was great to be home and rejuvinate and just be reminded how convenient life back home is.

After two flights (one which was delayed three times for fueling, unloading luggage they put on by mistake, and de-icing) I landed in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. I found a taxi driver who I know overpriced me but I didn’t argue with for sanity’s sake, I wound up at the bus station and got on the 12 hour bus ride to Arusha, and then finally took a 45 minute bumpy van ride to Maasae Girl’s School, located just outside the teeny village of Monduli.

I’m going to be here for two months, volunteering at the library (does that make me a volunteer librarian?) and tutoring students in the evenings. The past four days have been spent conquering jet lag, meeting people, and exploring the school. The school itself is tiny, and is surrounded on one side by the Monduli mountains (supposedly inhabited by rude elephants), and vast plains on the other.

I’m staying in the guest house with two bedrooms- the other library volunteer, Diane, is arriving tomorrow. Once she gets here we’ll start tackling the books. The guest house has an abundance of creepy crawlies and I spent all of yesterday with a bug spray can labelled “DOOM” and a broom to get rid of all the spiders. I cook some of my own meals, which has turned out disappointing given that I have no recipes, no variety in ingredients, and an oven labeled in celcius.

To get to the store, it’s a 20 minute walk up the dirt road into Monduli. Along the way, its common to pass loads of people and you’re very much expected to greet all of them in correct terms. To people my own age, the word is “mambo”. Along the way there’s a computer lab that supposedly has an internet connection but hasn’t been working every time I tried (good thing my dad’s coming here later this month to try and get an internet connection for the school.)

The nearest “city”, Arusha, is a 45 minute drive away. It has a decent grocery store and some internet cafes. Jean and Marv, the school owners, drove me in today so we could all run errands.

I’m running out of time, so I’ll post more as soon as I can! There’s so much to talk about.

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December 6th, 2008

I suppose my blog would be more interesting if I updated it regularly, but I’m pretty lazy when it comes to writing. Especially when I’m somewhere I love, I’d rather do other things. But I try.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my time  in Sweden (as always), and I’m sorry to be leaving it tomorrow night (but excited to get home). Over the last 2 weeks I’ve gorged myself on Swedish pancakes, curled up with good books, and been asked daily by Mormor if I had any laundry to be done for me (apparently, people in the normal world don’t wear shirts several times in a row without washing them.) On the first Sunday of advent, Mormor and I went to light candles for graves of family members. Almost every grave had a lit candle- it’s a strongly upheld tradition.

It feels amazing to be able to do all these things I’ve been missing for 5 months- accessing the internet for free, when ever I please, reading books that I haven’t found for free in hostel “book exchanges” (I’ve read some pretty terrible books on this trip trying to save money), not having to fear using the bathroom, eating home-cooked meals, not having to worry about needing to pay for everything from my bed to my water, and, most of all, being able to interact with someone I’ve known longer than a couple of days. Being with people you love and who love you is one of the best things in life.

I’ll be in Washington on the 8th! I’m incredibly excited. I’ll be home for 3 1/2 weeks, then I leave on January 2nd for Tanzania to volunteer at a Massae girl’s school. If I don’t update before then, have a Merry Christmas!

For fun

Countries I’ve visited: 8

Times I’ve been personally congratulated on Obama’s win: 6 (I didn’t vote)

Times I’ve gotten sick: 1 (heck yeah!)

Germans I’ve met: dozens upon dozens. Why does such a small country have so many foreign travelers?

Planes I’ve been on: 18

Planes I almost didn’t make: 2

Times I’ve almost been fined/arrested: 1 (watch who you hang out with in Laos *cough* Canadians *cough*)

Hours I had to spend in London’s Stansted airport with no sleep: 34

Books I lost before I could read the ending: 2

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Winter Wonderland

November 25th, 2008

I have finally made it to Sweden! Our plane had the pleasure of landing in a snow storm (after almost having to go to a different airport 200 km away because the runway wasn’t cleared). It was the roughest, scariest descent I’ve ever been on, and when the plane touched down it bounced around so much that half the plane literally yelled out in fright. When we stopped, every one broke out in to applause.

Obviously, it’s freezing cold here. The snow comes up to my knees. I’ve visited Sweden almost every year of my life, but never in so much snow. Of course, I’ve been traveling in warm climates for 5 months so the thickest item of clothing I own is a light fleece.

I’m staying with my wonderful, loving, amazing Mormor (grandmother) in her house in Uppsala, about an hour away from Stockholm. I’ve been making good use of her sauna to warm me up! My main goal of these two weeks is to not gain 90 pounds from her excellent cooking. On Thursday, it’s my uncle’s birthday so we’re going to fight our way through the snow to Stockholm to celebrate with dinner.

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November 25th, 2008

Finally, a post on Morocco.

Morocco is a remarkable country. It’s where the Middle East meets Africa, and it’s a traveler’s paradise full of mosques, markets, tajines, and couscous. I spent the most of my 11 or so days in the city of Fes, north of Casablanca. Fes had the most amazing old quarter where you could wander around for hours and it felt like you were in the middle ages. French was widely spoken in Morocco so I had a chance to brush up on my high school skills, and I’m glad to say that I was understood most of the time.

The only downside of Morocco was that it was even more difficult being a single female there than it was in Egypt. I often felt uncomfortable and annoyed walking alone. After traveling for 5 months, ending (for now) in Morocco was wearing on my nerves, so I decided to go to Sweden a week earlier than planned so that I could spend a longer time relaxing with my relatives, and maybe even get a start on my college essays (gross).

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November 21st, 2008

I’m on the edge of my wits. I’m in London Stansted airport, after flying from Casablanca to Madrid to Heathrow. I haven’t slept in 24 hours. I’m cold. I have no where to go.

Basically, I decided to make my way to Sweden a week early for various reasons, and now I can’t get a flight to Stockholm until Monday. So I’m stranded in London for 2 days and all I have is the number of one of my brother’s friends, Jacob, who I hope I can stay with. I’m all alone and stressed out. Traveling is fun. My stress level wasn’t helped when the passport control man at Heathrow was for some reason highly suspicious of me. He started questioning me vigorously once he read that my intended address in England was “Stansted Airport”. It didn’t help that when I get intimidated my face turns red and I forget vital details and basically sound like I’m lying. I couldn’t even remember the airline I was going to take to get to Stockholm- I just called it the “really cheap one”. He demanded to see proof of an onward ticket but I had no hard copy. He demanded to see proof that I could pay for a ticket and seemed skeptical when I said I lost my credit card in Egypt and I handed over my Moroccan dirhams, which he counted three times and then looked up the exchange rate so he could find out how many pounds it was. I had no idea I was such a dodgy-seeming person.

I’ll write a decent post on Morocco when I can think properly.

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