Glorious Gombe, A Few Goodbyes – 8 April 2018

Hiking, swimming, luxury tent, wildlife watching, rain and sun, storms and blue skies, camping food, a place of significant scientific history, and of course chimpanzees / sokwemtu – 48 hours felt like a full week!

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Leaving Kigoma, I had beautiful weather – sunny but still cool. The ride was gorgeous, breezy, and calm. When I arrived at the dock with the National Park sign, I met my guide, Isaya, who has worked in Gombe for 9 years. I then decided on my lodging, splurging to stay in one of the luxury tents – the farthest one in the line along the beach away from the main guesthouse, kitchen, and offices (away from the other humans).

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After some food and baboon watching by the lake, Isaya and I set off down the beach. The goals for the afternoon: 1) try our luck finding a group of chimps that may or may not be findable, 2) climb Jane’s Peak, 3) go to the nearby Kasekela Waterfall – “Jane’s sacred place” or so Anton told me, and 4) visit the feeding station where a great many observations of the chimps were made throughout the years.

Who is Anton? The head baboon researcher at Gombe who started working with Jane Goodall in 1971 – an older British man who was quite a joy to speak with. After leaving the beach and before heading off into the forest, we stopped by Jane’s house, where Anton is staying and doing his research right now. We chatted for about 10 minutes, and then were on our way, to catch up with Anton later.

The hiking is difficult in Gombe, especially the area Northeast of the camp where we spent that first afternoon. Up up up, down down down, steep trails in every direction. I was soon sweating in the humid sun, but thoroughly enjoying the physical exertion.

Soon enough, and with unbelievable good luck, we found a group of chimps at the top of a hill we’d climbed! We watched for about 5 minutes, surgical masks over our faces (to protect the chimps from human illness), the sun shining, the chimps shaded beneath the trees. The two youngest were playing, hitting each other and others in the group, and then bounding away, hanging and twirling in the trees, wearing the biggest grins I’ve ever seen. The faces of the younger chimps – such a light tan, the color of the rocks in the Gombe streambeds – seemed almost unreal.

Soon the group was off down the hillside and we did our best to follow. The slopes off trail and down to the rivers are STEEP – like 80 degree angle steep. Plus, climbing down through branches, between vines, past thorns is slow going for humans! We caught up eventually and started to watch the group again.

Suddenly the sun slipped behind some rather dense clouds and it became quite dark. Then a storm rolled in. It started raining and thunder rumbled, echoing through the hills. An interesting thing that male chimps do when it rains and/or storms is their “rain dance” – actually what it is called, a display of strength, they race and jump around, grab and tear at branches and vines, hit trees and the ground, throw big rocks, and break things in general. Some think this is to make the rest of the group feel protected when the thunder rolls, but who knows for sure…

As the rains really started, the older female, Gremlin, made her way over towards us to sit beneath the thick branches of some low trees/bushes. Then the male in the group, Gimli, about 17 or so, started his rain dance. When “dancing” the males usually circle around their group, traveling the perimeter. Well, we were right next to Gremlin, so Gimli started his way up the hill in our direction eventually.

While we tried to scramble up and out of the way, the now very muddy and slippery slope was exhausting to navigate, and we had no choice but to stand our ground. Isaya told me to grab a sturdy root and hold on in case Gimli wanted to grab my leg and shake me like a vine/tree branch. Then he positioned himself between me and Gimli, sheltering me from the crazed chimp. Luckily that time nothing happened, Gimli passed by a few feet away and went to go beat on some actual vegetation.

As he continued further away, we continued trying to scramble up the slope. We didn’t get far however before he had made his rounds and was back again. This time I held onto a sturdy tree, and Isaya, just below me was on guard. Gimli came right up this time and smacked Isaya on the leg. He then went to grab Isaya’s leg to shake like a vine, but Isaya was too quick and delivered a solid kick to Gimli’s ribs. After falling back, Gimli bounded off down the hill as if Isaya’s kick had given him even more energy. Crash, bang, boom – rocks were thrown, trees shook, and we scrambled further up the hill. The rains soon ceased, and Gimli calmed down, much to my relief.

Apparently then it was time to hunt some monkey! In the trees above us there were some Red Colobus monkeys. Gremlin and Gimli climbed up slowly into the branches to observe the group. There was a baby among them, the target, and Gimli made a half-hearted attempt to grab it at one point, but soon gave up and just sat on a branch. Gremlin moved off, and we went downhill to reach a narrow trail near the streambed below.

We thought the show was over for the day and started away on the trail once we reached it, but immediately a younger female, Gaya, and her 2-year-old along with 7-year-old Google, hopped onto the trail with us. The started walking up the path towards us, and we did our best to get out of the way. Due to the fact that the trail was about two feet wide, and the slope below and above it basically like a wall, we only got about a foot off the trail, and the group of three passed by within inches. As they passed, the two-year-old, riding on Gaya’s back, calmly looked up and into my eyes…

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They settled onto the root of a tree just beside the path, then the young one started playing. He would hang from the tree by one arm, twirling back and forth, bouncing off the trunk, flopping upside down, hanging and twirling some more… He also went to cuddle with Gaya and she sorted through his hair, grooming. Google was also around, a bit more adventurous, up and down in the trees.

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Eventually, they saw Gimli making moves, and started back down the trail towards us. We got off the trail as best we could, and they passed by again nearly touching us. The 2-year-old ran and climbed up on Gaya’s back again, then another mother with baby joined from the forest, then one other female, Google trailing behind, Gimli in the lead… The last image of them: all 7 walking gracefully and slowly in a line away from us down the trail, the late afternoon sun shining perfectly down on their backs as they disappeared into the forest. Wow.

After that adventure, Isaya and I spent a good while climbing out of the valley to a trail above. We made it out of the brush along a stream coming from a little waterfall, then worked our way around and up to eventually reach Jane’s Peak. In that spot, she was first able to observe the chimps and their movements, and she first saw a chimp, Graybeard, eat meat (a monkey he had caught and brought into a tree to share with a female way back in the early 60s). It really was a great vantage point, and beautiful looking down into Kasekela Valley, and up at the rolling hills above, storm clouds building… time to go.

We made it down into the forest before it started pouring again. The thunder was louder than the storm earlier in the day, and I imagined Gimli at work. Hiking through those trees in the rain was beautiful, though rather slippery on the steep slopes. We made our way down to the waterfall eventually, which is about 25 meters tall, a narrow falls coming from a small opening in the cliffs above – quite a green and peaceful alcove for those pounding waters.

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After enjoying this spot, we started off on flatter ground through the forest and along the beautiful rocky stream to arrive at the old feeding station where the chimps were given bananas back in the day. Researchers made it more and more difficult for the chimps to get the bananas, and learned a great deal observing the different strategies different chimps used to get their sweet treat – figuring out latch systems, or faking out/distracting other chimps to get a banana for them selves.

That ended our action-packed afternoon! I took an ice cold shower in my fancy tent, cooked some dinner of rice pasta and baked beans (with hot sauce that was way too spicy – cleared out my sinuses!), and then fell asleep at about 8:30pm, listening to the waves wash up on the shore of Lake Tanganyika.

Day 2 began with rumbling thunder and rain. I made and ate my breakfast of oatmeal, then digested as the rain stopped, watching baboons again on the beach – so many of them! At one point as I looked off down the beach at the distant mountains along the water (Burundi way to the North), Anton came pealing around a curve in the beach about 150 yards away.

He was following three noisy baboons specifically, one male fighting another to reclaim a female, documenting with his camera. “Nasty business,” he said with his British accent as he reached where I was standing – click click click of his camera. The one male succeeded in reclaiming the female, mounting her frequently to emphasize the point. Anton and I chatted for a bit, but then it was time to head back into the forest to look for more chimps!

Isaya and I spent the morning searching in the same general area as the previous afternoon, but with no luck. It rained some more as we walked, and I was able to enjoy the glistening green leaves of the trees and bushes tipping as raindrops fell. I also totally zoned out to the deafening sound of cicadas, my senses succumbing to their shrillness…

After returning to camp for some food and more water, we set off to the South along a trail that followed the shoreline to search an area about 90 minutes away where another group of chimps live. It wasn’t raining when we left and we enjoyed the dark forest of wild mango trees, and palm nut trees, and trees with great buttress roots, etc. We nearly stepped on many “rivers” of ants – yuck – and a few vine snakes, deadly poisonous – yikes. Also found some blossoming aloe vera plants though!

We walked and walked, climbing back into the hills, and then heard a few chimp hoots. Soon Isaya spotted one chimp through a window of leaves, sitting in a tree. Then we saw others as well, all huddled on their branches. We watched, it started to sprinkle a bit, and they soon made their way down the tree trunks into the valley.

It then promptly started pouring. We thought we may be able to find them again, but the slopes were far too steep and dangerously slippery with the mud, so we simply started back to camp. I was not disappointed – any view of the sokwemtu, even from afar, was magical in my book.

When we returned to camp, I requested some hot water for a bath, and then went swimming in the rain. The thunder was far off, so I enjoyed myself, watching the dark gray clouds wrapping the hills, and the way the raindrops hit the surface of the lake… When my hot water came, I took a nice long bath, dressed warmly, and then cooked some more rice noodles with baked beans.

After that I returned to my tent to sit on my bed and look out at the water as the light of the day faded. The rain slowed. I drank some red wine from the plane, had some chocolate, and read my kindle until my eyes could no longer stay open. Then I once again fell asleep to the peaceful water washing up on shore.

In the morning, I awoke to the hoots of baboons on the beach. It was a relaxing morning of oatmeal, reading, and watching the lake. Anton passed as I was leaving my tent with my bags, and we said farewell. Then I was in the boat and on my way back to Kigoma. It rained as I departed, shrouding the hills in beautiful shades and tints of gray. All-encompassing nature – the sights and sounds, the smells: so peaceful. It was an exhilarating, but such a relaxing adventure for me – 48 hours I will never forget.

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I enjoyed my evening in Kigoma when I returned with an old friend from my village who there. We grabbed some dinner and reminisced. The following morning, I left my hotel at 4:30am to get to the bus stand and head to Mwanza, the city of boulders on Lake Victoria. The ride was long. 9 out of 12 hours were on dirt/mud roads. And my seatmate was a mother with 4 children – don’t ask how that works… I don’t have an answer. But we made it eventually, the ride ending on a ferry across part of the lake.

I spent the next two days wandering the city, eating good food (especially the fresh tilapia), hanging out in coffee shops writing and reading. I also wandered down to the boulders by the well-known Bismarck Rock – the city’s icon – where I met a family of three who were taking pictures and of course wanted a few with me because I’m famous didn’t you know. There were quite a few lake birds around: Marabou Storks (they are massive!), Black Kites, and the lovely little Pied Kingfishers.

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I flew back to Dar last Monday. My week of adventure felt like a full month, the worries of work forgotten, my mind revitalized. This past week, while back at the office, was lovely. Some of my best friends closed their service, and we spent some quality time together, though not enough, never enough, in my opinion.

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At least this time after saying goodbye to my friends, I will soon be following them! I have about one month left of my own service, and then I will head out
for two months of travel. These next four weeks will fly by…

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Words, Quotes, Sentences, and Mystery – 5 March 2018

“You can’t stop time. You can’t capture light. You can only turn your face up and let it rain down.” – Kim Edwards (The Memory Keeper’s Daughter)

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Things have been busy, and my mind as of late has been in a million places at once. That’s the joy of being at pre-service training, of being at the end of my service, of being in the few months leading up to great adventures and great unknowns… What to do? Embrace it, turn my face to the sky, see it all as it passes, feel it from skin to soul.

“Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.” – Brian Andreas

Deep breaths, day by day, embrace the ups and downs, embrace the others who also feel them, and recognize that all important things will come to pass with a little more patience and a little less worry.

I’ve also felt of late like a feather blown between worlds, and between lives, to observe the different corners of human experience. People can see their corners in so many ways, with varying levels of optimism. Some face their corners, see the intricacies, the cracks in the surface, the play of shadows. Others look out from their corners, see the world from their specific perspective, whatever that may be.

At times you are led away from yourself, and while that can be a valuable thing, and others appreciate your willingness to see from their perspective, it can take some work to find the ground again. I’ve been working to find my ground, to feel like myself again. Luckily, I know the things that can bring me there.

“It’s worth making time to find the things that really stir your soul. That’s what makes you really feel alive.” – Roy T. Bennett

So what have I been up to this past week? (Besides regular work at the office…) Puzzles and music, and also reading and writing. Whenever I am able to look at some of my favorite quotes and passages written through the ages, and to look back at the words I have written as well, I feel a better sense of myself in the world.

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I just finished reading The Master by Colm Toibin – a fictional account of the life and relationships of the writer Henry James. At the end of the book, Henry James is talking about the next stories he wishes to write. He explains the basic plots, and is then asked what the moral of the stories will be. I loved the response:

“The moral is… that life is a mystery and that only sentences are beautiful.”

Of all the art forms I think I appreciate words the most. Words can weave worlds, and every world weaved is different in the imagination of every individual. That is magic. That is mystery. That is what stirs my soul. That is what I find most important in life. That is what I feel when I turn my face up and let it rain down…

Contemplating the Yin and the Yang – 18 February 2018

This world is a big place, and it is full of both beauty and darkness; love and hatred; peace and violence. I believe if there is a benevolent balance of light and dark we’re doing okay. I also believe the Ubuntu principle that people are only people through other people. We would not be who we are without those others around us who shape our day-to-day, our lives, and therefore our selves.

But sometimes it feels as if the balance is heavily skewed, that life itself is swathed in a black sheet, and the lightness barely shimmers as minute faraway stars boldly resisting total domination.

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Humanity can be so beautiful. The simple love in the eyes of a Mother as she watches her son playing on his own, lost in imagination. The sense of gratitude that ripples through the air when a stranger says hello with a smile to a homeless woman sitting in the street – because we’re never really alone. The look of recognition, of deep down knowing, that passes between friends as they watch the sunset from the balcony of a high rise, in solitude together in the middle of the masses, where the world feels small.

We wouldn’t be able to make it through life without others there by our side – family, friends, strangers: we are all connected and we all need each other.

But humanity can also bring such devastation – devastation to the environment, devastation to other human beings, devastation to our individual hearts… Sometimes we forget the beauty that is there every day because humanity can be truly horrific. And I hate that the horrors have the tendency to more heavily shape our societies and our cultures. That’s only natural, though.

People are only people through other people – that will always be true. It’s just sad when humanity has the power to bury itself.

This is why generation after generation of people escape to the wilderness. There is no good or evil there. There is only life and death – a much simpler matter. Humans were once a part of the wilderness – but then we weren’t. We made life more and more complex as our brains became things that can both believe in beauty and harbor hate.

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And now so many of us walk the earth without feeling it beneath our feet. We are wrapped up in the dramas of humanity, and we forget our own scale. We think we matter so much, and that lack of humility causes the benevolent balance between beauty and darkness, love and hatred, peace and violence to sometimes only exist just beyond our reach.

Love can be extraordinarily complicated. But it can also be the simplest and most beautiful thing when we forget the necessity of angst, of anger, of hate, and of the self-doubt that inevitably sits at the core of all of those feelings…

Humanity doesn’t have to bury itself in its own imbalances. We need to recognize our own magnitude, or lack thereof, and understand humility – our own insignificance. All men and women are created equal, and we are all just small specks in this world. We must unleash and focus on the simple acts and feelings of love that exist between people in those moments when we realize that we are only ourselves because of those surrounding us.

We have a choice: we can be who we are because of the destruction that others may bring to our lives, or we can be who we are because we forever feel that thread of connection that runs through each and every one of us, tugging on our hearts, bringing us together…

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Just a few thoughts as violence and hate still run rampant in our world. Some days I can’t handle the disgust I feel towards other human beings. But then I remember that life can be unbearably short, and you never know what tomorrow may bring. Why waste the minutes of our lives in anger towards those who think of themselves as gods and lack the ability to realize that their hatred is unnecessary?

I’m certainly not a Saint, though, and still at times wish I could stick a pin in the inflated egos of all those who aggressively forget their scale.

In other news, I’ve been swept away into the whirlwind that is Pre-Service Training (PST). I don’t know which is easier/preferable: being one of the many swept away into the uncertainties and anxieties of training, or being one of the few trying to direct that whirlwind for the others – the trainees… Certainly interesting either way!

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The trainees arrived on the 7th, and we spent a solid week and a half together, which felt like a month 🙂 At both training centers – in Dar and in Morogoro – they were of course full of excellent questions that allowed me to reflect on aspects of my own service that I haven’t thought about for quite some time.

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They are now living with their homestay families. It was so fun to see them meet their new family members – awkward handholding (cultural), uncertain/failed attempts at communication, and smiles all around… Then they were off to their homes for the next few months – the true beginning of PST. I think they’re all ready for the challenge… And I am ready for challenge of being a PCVL at PST: leader, mentor, all-knowing, ever-optimistic but still realistic, and still a volunteer after all…

Wonderful Whirlwinds – 21 January 2018

The holidays have come and gone, and somehow it’s nearing the end of January already – 2018. Kumbe. The office prior to the holidays was wonderfully calm and peaceful, and I was able to get a good amount of work done. People slowly filtered out for their own vacations, and then I too had my final day before a three-week break.

Christmas in Dar was a blast. A good crew arrived to stay at my house. We watched the sun beat down outside while making food, listening to music, and watching Christmas movies in the blessedly functioning AC. I even made a Christmas tree out of paper, because why not.

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Mimosas with brunch, a chat with the fam, Secret Santa, a Harry Potter movie marathon, homemade gnocchi, and the excitement of a trip to Madagascar made Christmas Day extra special. And then we were off! Up up and away to an island I only thought I’d be able to visit in my dreams.

We started the trip really well: getting stopped by police on our way to the airport for putting five in the uber when there were only four passenger seats, but then paying a little bribe to get off the hook. Can’t blame the cops for their corruption… doing paperwork for a driver’s fine made payable to the government versus getting a little pocket change without any additional work – sometimes people just want a Christmas bonus.

Before we knew it, we were through security and awaiting our departure over exorbitantly priced airport cappuccinos. Cheers. And then a hop to Nairobi, and a hop to Antananarivo. We did not get the plague. We did get giardia, or something quite similar. We did not get stuck in the cyclone. We did have to reroute our trip and even then made it back to Tana as roads were flooding behind us.

Some of the highlights:
Fancy French food for sooooo cheap, rainforest bungalow, women in shorts, rice paddies on rice paddies on rice paddies, cries of the Indri, gay lemur sex, lemurs on our heads, crocs way too close, chameleons, pousse pousse cruisin’, excellent local live music, bountiful breakfasts with real coffee, a full day of transforming landscape, the ugliest ocean coastline, heat and humidity worse than Dar, frisbee on white sand, pool play, bulbous baobabs, more lemurs just a few feet away, sleepy lemurs, extremely curious lemurs, baobabs at sunset as a full moon rises, New Year’s with mock pina coladas a bit of drumming and cheek kissing, 4am brousse, sick friendis, yummy food and hat shopping, volcanic lakes, swimming to flying fox cave, attempted rock climbing from the water, change of plans, private cars, visit to cute French abode in a village by a lake, stormy hike through teletubian landscapes to powerful waterfalls, hocho mofos, stormy night with stormy dreams, passing through flooded roads and rivers that were once rice paddies, lemur island with ringtails, dance party in a mansion of a room, Tana walkaround, more fancy French food, spending every last Ariary, traffic, traffic, traffic, mad dashes in the airport(s), back to Dar and cockroach carcasses, but umeme upo…

I took the rest of the week off after our return – a good idea to plan a vaca from the vaca. It was an excellent adventure with some excellent friends, and such a good break from Tanzania (and Peace Corps even). Then it was COS conference time!

It was a pleasure to help out at the 2016 Health/Ag close of service conference – I was able to spend some quality time with my adopted class at a very nice beach resort. I helped to organize and lead a few things, but also took advantage of a second time through the info I’ll need when May comes around – May and beyond.

The beach was beautiful, the pool refreshing, the company unbeatable. Then the week concluded with a hard night of dancing – 3.5 hours nonstop – and a movie the following day – The Shape of Water.

Next week will be spent at the office organizing things for the TOT (training of trainers) and PST (pre-service training) – the final training events I’ll work before the end of my time here. Things are indeed wrapping up, and just a little less than four months down the road, I will be outta here.

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Life talks, mountain hikes, and alligator pears: ‘tis the season – 21 Nov 2017

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I wrote a letter to a few friends today and realized that it’s getting to be the holiday season, though it doesn’t feel like it here in hot and sweaty Dar es Salaam. But while the weather won’t bring the sentiments of the season, time with my close friends/Peace Corps family certainly will.

I’ll spend Thanksgiving on Zanzibar with the few friends from my training class who remain in country. Then I’ll spend Christmas with friends from my adopted training class here in Dar – a cozy couple of days filled with delicious meals, baking, movie marathons, peppermint patty shots, dance parties, and lots of laughs. Together with three of those friends, I’ll then go to welcome the New Year in Madagascar!

In my letter, I wrote a few things I’m thankful for. I think I’ll continue that list here, just for a bit…
-Large and solid glass windows
-Hot chocolate
-The sound and sight of beach grasses waving in the wind
-Incense
-Black on white
-White on black
-Thimbles of strong street coffee with a bite of kashata
-Inspiration
-Hula hoops
– The ingenuity of airplanes
-“Howl”
-The stars when it’s time for the moon to take a step back
-The moon when it’s time for it to shine greater than the stars
-Quiet and solitary Sundays
-Creative liberties
-Rain and sun
-The inside and the outside
-The deepening of friendships
-Music
-Feeling
-Ubuntu
-The flight of birds
and
-Alligator pears – aka avocados!

…The alligator pears are what started this all… I wrote the letter mentioned above on a postcard with the painting Alligator Pears in a Basket by Georgia O’Keeffe on it. The painting looks more like a couple of blueberries encircled by a black ribbon to me. But I know how Ms. O’Keeffe loved to paint flowers and they actually look like vaginas, so I can’t say I’m surprised, and will simply change the focus of my imagination to humor her. (And then will let it run wild again to see the blueberries…)

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Anyway, how about some pictures of my own! I recently traveled for about one week to do four site visits up North – beautiful, expansive country that I had the privilege of seeing from way up high in the Pare Mountains. I was able to follow up on project progress after the bees and chickens training conducted back in August, attend an HIV/AIDS education event at a secondary school (118 students attended!), meet some awesome teachers and Counterparts of Volunteers, hike hike hike, and have some excellent discussions about life as a PCV – the decisions we make, the priorities we set, the strategies we use, the challenges and successes we have…

Here are a few pictures from my adventure:

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The Comoros Comparison – 21 Oct 2017

Calm and peaceful, black rock white sand, bananas/cassava/bread fruit/soursop, big ol’ bats, bonjour/ca va, Swahili!, warm ocean waters, tiny nation, HOT, houses of painted cement/warn cement/wood/iron sheets, kebabs with spicy chili sauce, electricity, running water, narrow but paved roads, community libraries, spiced fish, mosques, calls to prayer, trash trash trash, slow goin…

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Grande Camore, the largest of the Comoros Islands (a set of volcanic islands between TZ and Madagascar). I went for a Peace Corps workshop on Information Resource Centers and Library Development, which was extremely well organized, informative, and had us doing some good projects and action planning – hats off to the organizers and facilitators from HQ.

Not only did I have the opportunity to walk around and explore during the week of the workshop, I also stayed for the weekend following. Saturday held an ocean adventure – a boat ride to a calm and beautiful beach, and then a real ride back as the winds grew strong and threw massive waves at us to climb and fly over (so much fun!).

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Sunday was filled with non-stop walking – to the market, to the downtown Medina streets, to the other side of town, to old mosques, to the wood carvers and boat makers, and along the coast to a delicious sunset dinner and mojito with the freshest mint I’ve had in a while.

There are quite a few similarities between life in Tanzania (especially coastal TZ) and life in Moroni and the Comoros in general. There are also some pretty extreme differences… The Comoros are at least a few years behind TZ in terms of development, although they now have electricity, and there is running water in a lot of places, and some of the roads are paved (though often quite narrow).

There is no corn, and very few people grow beans – a big difference from TZ. They import rice, and grow bananas, cassava, breadfruit, and sweet potatoes (not the orange kind Americans are used to). Goats are common, and a few people have chickens, but a lot of meat and eggs are also imported.

Another similarity is they also have mishkaki/kebabs, and homemade chili sauce, although theirs is much spicier than in TZ. Speaking of spices, they use them! more than just salt or sugar, and their fish curries and spiced fish are delicious meals… They also make extremely flavorful juice out of soursop – mmmmmmmm.

Comorans speak a mixture of French, Arabic, and their local languages – for Grande Camore that’s Shingazidja. Surprisingly, there are a lot of Swahili words mixed in there!

The schools are pretty nice, and community libraries are actually present – that is not so much the case in TZ.

The houses are this interesting collage of painted concrete, fading concrete with the shade of black volcanic rock showing through, wood, and shacks made entirely of sheet metal.

Pollution is an issue in many developing countries, and I’ll never get over how people just throw trash out the bus windows and into the fields and down on the streets here in TZ. The issue is even worse in the Comoros – there is trash everywhere, and there is trash burning everywhere, and it is a somewhat startling contrast to the lush tropical vegetation and flowers.

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The trash doesn’t stop the fruit bats from flying, though. The flying fox/fruit bat species are huge in the Comoros, even bigger than here in Dar. And apparently on one of the islands, there is one species that can have a wingspan of about one and a half meters! Terrifying… but also pretty cool.

All in all it was a very relaxing visit – the low-key, slow goin way of life there certainly helped with that. It is important to embrace the fact that no one is going anywhere fast; it’s best to simply stop to smell the ylang ylang, feel the slight ocean breeze, and look out along the coastlines of white sands mixed with black and rugged volcanic rock (and trash).

Unfortunately, the journey back was taxing…
-I stood in the slowest moving airport lines I have ever experienced
-My flight was changed to involve a trip down to Antananarivo before retracing our path to Nairobi to then retrace the path again back down to Dar (see the map below)
-After boarding our flight was delayed because they accidently loaded “dangerous cargo” aboard (?!)
-We took longer than expected in Tana so I then had to run to make the change in Nairobi
-When I arrived in Dar at long last (2am) the taxi my office arranged for me was a no-show
-The taxi driver I was able to get from the airport of course tried flirting with me so I made up a story about my imaginary husband who was waiting for me at home and proceeded to invent quite the back story for him despite the creative struggle it was for my tired mind…

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The little dot of land along the green line above Dzaoudzi is Grande Camore. We went along that green line South to Tana, then followed the green line up to Nairobi passing directly over Dar, such a tease, and then yes returned along that green line to Dar… I took this pic just as we were landing in Nairobi and thought the route was just too ridiculous not to take a picture…

At least there were good views as we took off from Moroni… of the volcano and the coast line…

And I made it home eventually, safe and sound, then showered off the hours of sweat and slept hard.

On the Road – 1 October 2017

I’ve been living the life of the nomad these past few weeks! While it’s been tiring, it has also been great fun. I certainly feel my most useful as a PCVL when interacting with other PCVs, and two plus weeks of technical assistance site visits have given me a sense of fulfillment. I was able to return to my old stomping ground of the Southern Highlands – a cool high-altitude and pine-filled wonderland of either pounds of dust whipping through the air, or foot-deep mud in which to slip and sliiiiiiiiiiiide, depending on the season… oh how I miss it…

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I was able to explore Ludewa a bit – a hillier (and dustier) land further south from my previous home in Njombe. Beautiful. And I also returned home! While visiting a volunteer who lives about 13 Km from my village, we took a day to walk over to greet my old friends. It was certainly not enough time, but it was still great to be back and see familiar faces.

I saw some gutters and gardens, and all but one of the wells are working (they’re contacting the water engineers to fix the one – it’s more of an issue than just a broken rope). I gave a speech at the village meeting that was just ending as I arrived, shared meals with my best friends, and even ran a little bit with the neighbor kids – just like old times, a happy day.

During my site visits, I mostly assisted with project planning, helped prepare for and implement trainings, and was just there to see, experience, and help digest volunteer life with those volunteers living it. I must say it was motivating and impressive seeing these volunteers in action: the different ways they navigate their communities, the different projects and activities at every stage, and the different methods they all have to navigate the Peace Corps experience.

It’s good to be back home, but it was even better to get out of the office on my own for a little while to visit these volunteers. Asanteni wote. There’s nothing like a little time on the road to put things back in perspective…

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