May 28, 2015

Northern Tanzania and Southern Kenya are known for being the space inhabited by the Maasai. On my study abroad trip I had the opportunity to meet with and learn about many Maasai individuals, which was an incredible experience. Many Maasai have left their villages and live in Arusha, the city in which I lived while I was in Tanzania, so I met many while I was dancing at our favorite bar on Thursday nights, perusing tiny stalls and shops, or just walking around town. We also spent an afternoon visiting one of their villages and learning more about their culture during an epic camel safari on Mount Meru, which is when these photos were taken.

A far-from-nuanced description: Maasai dress in bright sheets, often red, and colorful, beaded jewelry. They use cattle as their main food source, and they build amazing, circular wooden structures to protect their villages and cattle from lions — they are well known as warriors and lion-killers, although the practice is dwindling. Another beautiful piece of their culture and history is their tradition of music and dance, which was a sight to behold.

We also visited an NGO dedicated to educating Maasai women and men on female genital mutilation. I had learned about FGM earlier in college but did not realize the prevalence for the practice in this particular community. Maasai culture is patriarchal in nature, and circumcision is an important rite of passage for both women and men; women who refuse FGM are ostracized by their communities. There are many Maasai individuals, nonprofits, and NGOs that are working to eradicate the practice, and it is technically illegal both in Tanzania and Kenya. To learn more visit here.

I feel very lucky to have met, danced with, and learned from some of the Maasai women and men near Arusha. The United States is built on slavery and genocide — we have done our best to destroy our indigenous populations and stamp out the many African traditions originally brought over by slaves. It is important, if possible, to experience cultures so ancient and traditions so sacred. To stand in awe and wonder at life so rich and sustaining. To walk among Maasai individuals while I lived in Tanzania for a few months was an honor, and one of my most enriching experiences.

Tanzania   Uncategorized
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April 8, 2015
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A few weeks before I returned home to Tennessee from my study abroad trip to Arusha, Tanzania, a program-mate Arielle and I took a four-day trip to Mombasa, Kenya. It was our vacation from our vacation.

In a move completely unlike me, I didn’t do any planning. A few grad students in our program had gone to Mombasa months before so I got the names of two hostels and one restaurant and wrote them on a white, square napkin. I wrote the phone numbers of the hostels on the bottom. We bought our bus tickets and left.

Arielle and I rode the 8-hour bus from Arusha to Mombasa, and after getting off the bus we immediately bought our return tickets home for a few days later. We then took a taxi to our first hostel in Mombasa. We hated it. Its exterior was gorgeous but it had a very strange vibe and the lack of air conditioning made the night unbearable. Arielle got a stomach bug from dinner and spent the majority of the night in the dirty water-filled bathroom. It was completely miserable.

The next morning we woke up determined to have a good day. We made our way to a shopping plaza and had a huge American-style breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and fruit. I hadn’t had food like that in months; it tasted like heaven. After breakfast we headed to the Nyali Beach District where we snuck onto the grounds of a gorgeous hotel. We sunbathed and swam in their pools all morning — there was even a swim-up bar in one of the pools. We felt like honeymooners.

After lunch at the hotel we took a bus to Haller Park, a gorgeous nature park right on the coast. At times it felt like we had the place to ourselves, and animals were wandering around without enclosures. We hand-fed monkeys and giraffes, watched the crocodile and hippo feedings, and held leopard-print tortoises and millipedes (well, I did – Arielle wasn’t into touching). I highly recommend Haller Park to anyone visiting this area of Kenya. Only $10 and definitely worth the time and money!

That night, in a wild and dangerous story Arielle and I will never share, we made it to Stilts Backpackers, the most wonderful hostel in which I’ve ever stayed. Each room is an individual treehouse right in the jungle. I had grown used to seeing monkeys so it didn’t surprise me to see them the next morning, but it was a shock to open my eyes in the morning and see two monkey eyes staring back at me. Before Arielle woke up I journaled on the porch, and as I journaled the monkeys crowded around me, watching me and, I soon learned, plotting ways to steal my things and cause general mayhem. The list of items stolen by the monkeys is long, but my favorite story involves one monkey who really wanted my pack of Skittles. As I ate I placed them on the table for him to take, but he wanted the full bag, which he quickly snatched from the table 6 inches in front of me. He watched me as he ate each individual candy, throwing the bag and licking his fingers after he was done. When we came back at the end of the day they had unzipped my backpack, eaten my bag of Pringles, closed them back up, and defecated in the middle of my bag. I wouldn’t have known but for the smell.

Our last full day was spent lounging on Diani Beach at Forty Thieves Bar & Restaurant across the street from the treehouses. We sipped apple martinis and watched the camels walk past on the beach. The water was clear and warm and there were wooden benches with rope and pillows strewn across the beach. We took two and napped all day, pausing only to eat and take quick dips in the water. It was one of the most relaxing days I’ve ever had.

Despite the food poisoning, the harrowing night-time adventure of which we do not speak, and our bus breaking down on the way back to Arusha, Kenya is, in my mind, one of the most perfect trips I’ve taken. We managed to find our way around a new city in a new country with only my napkin and broken Swahili (I still have that napkin). There are so many human interactions during those four days, meeting people on ferries and on buses and in hostels and on the beach, that still make me laugh or make my heart swell. Even when we became extremely lost late at night with no idea where to go or what to do, people wanted to help us. People wanted us to find our way. Do you hear the metaphor? The people of Kenya taught it to me.

Kenya   Uncategorized
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April 2, 2015
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The whole reason we traveled to Uganda was to raft the Nile. I was terrified.

The beginning of the rafting adventure didn’t bode well for me. I was terrified of river water, terrified of crocodiles, terrified of flipping and hitting my head and drowning. Right when we boarded the raft our guide went through some instructions and chose me to model them. “Jump into the river, you’re going to demonstrate,” he said to me. “No,” I said. “Yes. Go on.” “Oh my god.”

I jumped in and thought, this is it. A crocodile is going to snatch my leg and pull me under. But I paddled around the murky waters and demonstrated how to let the guides in kayaks help us back to the raft if we were separated. I was still terrified.

We started down the river and not five minutes later our raft flipped over a rapid for the first (and definitely not last) time that day. I flew into the air, crashed into the water, and when I tried to surface for air my head banged into the bottom of the raft — I was stuck in the water below the enormous, heavy raft. I panicked for the three seconds it took to get out from under the raft and again thought, this is it. Death is upon me.

We flipped a few more times, each less scary and more exhilarating than the last. We screamed and laughed and I felt so acutely alive.

Mid-day we stopped for lunch on a little forested island in the middle of the river. I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having and how far away the fear had fled. We continued our journey down the river, the rapids exciting and raucous and electrifying. As we were going through some minor rapids, the right side of the raft – my side of the raft – bumped and the three of us on that side flew into the air and landed in the water. The raft sailed past, carried by the rapids, and the other girls in the water floated in the direction of the raft. I found myself just out of the path of the rapids and my body drifted away into the shallow reeds, the raft growing smaller and smaller in the distance. I couldn’t believe it. I was all alone in the Nile, now in the shallow, still water where the crocodiles lived. There was very little sound. I could hear my heavy breathing and I could feel my skin tingling out of sheer terror.

Needless to say, I survived. We also skinny dipped at one point, saw an enormous Monitor lizard swimming towards us, and one member of our group lost her bikini bottoms in a rapid. At the end of the trip I felt like a new person. When I think about this day, it is still one of the best days of my life. I remember the color of the trees and the earth and the water so vividly. I remember the way the air smelled. I remember the emotion in my stomach, a mixture of fear and excitement that evolved throughout the day, the excitement slowly overcoming the fear. It was, in a word, remarkable.

Uganda   Uncategorized
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March 7, 2015

A few weeks after our epic Zanzibar vacation, a group of us decided we wanted to spend a long weekend in Uganda. We loaded up our backpacks, bought bus tickets to Kampala, and headed out for an adventure!

Before I left for Tanzania, I had never left the country. And honestly, I had never really traveled at all. An ex-boyfriend lived in Charleston, South Carolina, so other than visiting him I never went anywhere. I was scared of the ocean, scared of rivers, scared of heights, scared of climbing things, scared of falling, scared of getting hurt. I certainly never dreamed that one day I would hop on an 18-hour bus ride through Uganda with four other girls to raft down the crocodile-infested Nile and sleep in hostels. I debated with myself for days — should I go? I’m scared. I want to go, but I’m scared. In the end I was afraid of missing opportunities and leaving Tanzania with regrets, so I bought my ticket and told my mother very few details about my plans 😉

We took the overnight bus, which was admittedly uncomfortable. We only stopped a few times for bathroom breaks, and those toilets are just holes in the ground so Uganda began my tradition of peeing on the side of the road in every African country to which I’ve been.

When we arrived, we took a cab to a bank to transfer our money, and I experienced my first travel fiasco — I thought I didn’t need to call my bank to let them know I would be in Uganda since I was already in Tanzania, but I did, and they locked me out of my account. It was the middle of the night in the US, so I had no way to access my money. My sweet friends spotted me cash until later in the evening when I could get the situation resolved, but I learned a huge lesson that day.

We decided to take an afternoon trip to Aero Beach to see Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa. We had heard from a friend in the graduate program that Aero Beach was one of the weirdest places ever, and she was totally right. There were old, broken down airplanes strewn across the beach, camels were walking around everywhere, and the restaurant looked like it was inside an abandoned boat. We spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach, exploring the airplanes, and laughing at the children visiting on a break from school — I especially loved one little bespectacled boy dancing alone, away from the others, without a care in the world.

The next day was spent rafting the Nile (coming up next!), and then on our last morning we visited a Kampala craft market where I loaded up on gorgeous Ugandan scarves, drums, bracelets, and gifts for my family and friends before we caught a bus home. Those three days were a blur of no sleep, sweat, and a ridiculous amount of fun. The weekend opened my eyes to the joy of traveling and I saw a part of East Africa I hadn’t seen before, the big city part, the part that feels like home even when things are so different, the part that reminds me we are all the same, really. It was the start of my life of adventuring,  the start of a new me — a me with less fear and more joy. My heart will always have a special place for Uganda.

Uganda   Uncategorized
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February 26, 2015

The second half of my photos from my week in Zanzibar, a group of islands off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. See A Week, Part I for more photos and information about the area and trip.

My best friend and favorite adventurer Cassandra (who I met on this study abroad trip, coincidentally) and I are planning a week-long trip to sunny Belize for late April. As we finalize our itinerary I can’t help but remember the last time we took a tropical vacation together and how absolutely perfect it was. Although getting to Zanzibar from the US is pricey, I can’t recommend it enough. It will take your breath away.

Tanzania   Uncategorized   Zanzibar
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