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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February 23, 2015
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As I mentioned previously, included in my study abroad semester in Tanzania was a week in beautiful Zanzibar.

I knew next to nothing about Zanzibar and didn’t expect much — if I haven’t heard of it how good could it be!? *shame* — but what I discovered was a breathtaking island rich with intricate architecture, incredible seafood, gorgeous beaches and snorkeling spots, flowers on flowers on flowers, and a somber history of slave trade with touching memorials and museums as reminders.

Zanzibar is just a short ferry ride off the coast of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the Indian Ocean and can also be accessed by plane. It’s comprised of several smaller islands and two larger ones, the largest known simply as Zanzibar, which is where we stayed for most of the trip. Known primarily for its spices, you can imagine how great the food is, and the spice farms around town are sights to behold. There are Arab, Portuguese, and British influences before Zanzibar joined with Tanganyika to form Tanzania, which can be seen in the ornate and delicate architecture — it felt like we had left East Africa for the week.

The university had planned a full schedule for us that included snorkeling in the Indian Ocean, visiting a tortoise sanctuary with 185-year-old tortoises, romping through a spice farm, and listening to traditional music. We had a couple of free days in which we headed to what were described as the best beaches on the main island, and there we found soft, creamy sand; warm, turquoise water; and all the fruit smoothies our hearts desired. The food was fresh and cheap and nothing was ever crowded. It truly felt like paradise, the best kept vacation spot we’d ever stumbled upon.

I often think about the week and wonder if I dreamed it. If it weren’t for my photos I’d probably believe I did. It was special — all of us together, vacationing in this unbelievable place I never thought I’d see, never thought to dream about. It’s funny the way life works out, if you let it.

Tanzania   Zanzibar
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January 25, 2015

Remember when I wrote about reflecting on my motives for studying abroad in Tanzania? Reflecting on my motives for volunteering twice a week at an orphanage for children with AIDS is even more complicated and often painful, particularly when I consider the language I used to discuss the orphanage, the children, and my experience. Despite unintentional condescension and, I suspect, harm on a subconscious level, I try to remind myself that these were positive, enriching experiences for me and for at least a few of the children with whom I spent time.

During our study abroad experience we all had the option of earning a learning certificate through volunteer work and research. I was developing an interest in public health and wanted to work with a population affected by HIV/AIDS to learn more about the systems involved in causing the spread and treatment of HIV to be so difficult to handle in East Africa. I stumbled on the opportunity to volunteer with the orphanage and jumped at the chance.

In reality, volunteering at an orphanage is hard. The children were very sick. They couldn’t afford their medicine. They were dying; some died while I was there. All I knew to do was to scrub their clothes in buckets in the yard, raise money for a toilet, hold their hands and tiny feet, and share their joys and sorrows. I tell myself now that it was something good and kind. I know, though, that I was proud of myself. I know that I wanted to post a photo of me with a cute Black baby. I know that I was just another white girl who stayed for a few weeks. I know that I acted as though they were a bunch of poor, broken kids who needed my white girl Western “help.” I know that, in many ways, I devalued their experiences on this earth. It was unintentional; it is always unintentional.

Teju Cole wrote, “The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.” I had such an experience, and my privilege was validated. These issues are layered and complex. There is no easy answer, as there never is. All I know is the truth I have slowly discovered in my experience. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing, but everything has changed going forward.

My months with the children left deep imprints on my heart. I met a little boy who made me feel that I knew more about love when I left. Every December 26 I fast to honor his memory and the fact that he died on that day because he did not have enough to eat. I will live knowing that I made the choice to give him food one day, and I chose to leave the next. It shook me, and even now, four years later, I sometimes stop, take a breath, and feel the pain wash over me, just for a moment. Part of me is glad to know it. It is a reminder of what I have and what I don’t have, what choices I have made, and what truths I have learned.

Read more about the White Savior Industrial Complex in this piece by Cole that is powerful, thought-provoking, and important even as it puts forth uncomfortable and perhaps arguable ideas. I often wonder what would happen if we strove to cultivate a culture of listening — listening to others, first, and then listening to ourselves, the thoughts deep in our hearts, the motives and ideas and truths. Listening to our lives in a way that values and affirms the agency of each human, the ability of each community, and the interconnectedness of all life.

January 1, 2015

The second day of safari we woke up bright and early and drove to the Ngorongoro Crater. The crater isn’t actually a crater; instead, it’s a caldera, a “cauldren-like volcanic feature usually formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption” (thanks Wikipedia). Chinga navigated our jeep down the side of the caldera, a steep descent that was actually mildly terrifying.

When we arrived at the bottom we were immediately greeted with so many animals. Although there were plenty of trucks in the space, we rarely spotted them (except when everyone gathered to observe two lions mating). The caldera is preserved beautifully, and it is actually home to a group of Maasai who have been living in the caldera for hundreds of years.

To describe safari in words is to fail spectacularly. There is an unspoken communion between the animals and the earth that we as humans are able to glimpse but perhaps only partially understand. I think we humans often forget the cyclical nature of the world, the tension between life and death. We often take from the earth as if we are the only ones living. Watching this vibrant, abiding ecosystem reminded me of the delicate balance in which animals and plants participate, and it is a cycle where giving is just as important as receiving. It is beautiful and it is holy, and it makes my emotional heart cry tears of wonder and joy.