Back in the States

Frankly, I don't want to be home. This whole adventure to Tanzania has really changed the outlook I have on my life. I came home to find in my closet tons and tons of clothes that are not necessary and that I don't wear on a regular basis, a pantry full of food that my family doesn't even touch, four televisions that I used to complain about, and more pairs of shoes than I even remember having. This does not equal a simple life. For the past year I have been longing to simplify my life, but I never knew how or even where to start. Tanzania has changed that. I no longer feel the need to buy the latest clothes to keep up with my friends, or even people who are not my friends that I used to feel like I needed to impress on a regular basis. I can tell you this honestly from the bottom of my heart- I am content with myself and do not care what other people think of me. This used to be one of my biggest struggles, and I am elated that I no longer have this burden. Yesterday I asked my mother what she would say if I told her I wanted to get dreadlocks. Her response, after being speechless for a minute, was, 'America will reject you.' To this I responded with, 'Why should I care what America thinks? Why should I live my life trying to please other people?' Our views on this subject are very different. She doesn't understand, and I cannot blame her because she hasn't experienced what I have, but I am trying to enlighten her that just because I try a different hair style and just because a few people 'reject' me because of it, does not mean it is the end of the world. The people who 'reject' me do not matter and should not care. That is my view on that. The focus of my attention, instead of being constantly on me and what other people think about me, needs to be on people less fortunate than I. I can sit around and mope to my mother (which I used to do with the majority of my time) about how I need to go shopping because the style has changed yet again, or how I need to go out with my friends every night because if I don't I will no longer be accepted. This is not true I have come to find out. I have grown up extremely blessed to be living in a nice house in the Memorial area in Houston. Very few people in the world will ever be able to live in such a nice house, and my house isn't even one of the nicer ones in our area. My family lives modestly compared to the families around us, and we still live better than the majority of people. My dream living situation would be having a house with 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a kitchen/sitting area, made out of brick in the middle of a village in Tanzania. I would own a couple acres of land. I would have 7 pairs of clothes (one for each day of the week), and two pairs of shoes (a pair of tire shoes and a pair of tennis shoes). I would have a closet full of clothes and shoes that I would give away if I saw someone lacking there of. I would have dreadlocks. I would have many kids and I would have even more adopted kids. My goal in life would be to help others who need it. I would build a school for local kids free to use, and teach English to them as well as normal school subjects. As long as I am making someone else's life better, my life will be worthwhile. A couple months out of the year I would love to travel all around the world and experience what God has given us to experience. This is my dream life, and in the words of Pete O’Neal, “As long as we are trying to do something right in the world, a way will make itself known to us. When you think it’s all over, something will happen, a door will open, and a way will be made.”


Friday, June 11
I am on the first flight going to Amsterdam on my journey. We will arrive in Amsterdam and have a couple hours layover, then we will fly straight to Tanzania. So far I have slept about an hour this whole time. I am not very good at sleeping on planes. All I have been able to do so far is watch a couple movies and eat. At the airport I made sure I bought a bunch of chocolate candy and sour candy, because I know I will be missing it very much in the next three weeks. Our flight attendant says she is from Holland, and she has an awesome accent. I think she is the first person I have met that is from Holland. I have been really looking forward to meeting a lot of new people from many different countries along this trip, and so far it’s going well! The person in front of me is watching his movies in some kind of Asian language and it is really intriguing. The idea that there are so many different ways to communicate in this world and the fact that they are all so very different really fascinates me. We are flying on a Dutch airline and the flight attendants speak to each other in Dutch I think. I have never heard anyone communicate in the Dutch language before and I really like listening to them; it is a pretty language. The person sitting next to me is Indian I think and speaks in a tongue that I still cannot recognize. By the end of this flight it is my goal to try to figure it out. This is my first time to be on a flight that has televisions for each person, and I really like it! I am catching up on all of the movies that I have wanted to see but have never had the chance to. Right now I am watching New Moon! It is the epitome of a chick flick, and I love every second of it. It is 7:34 pm and we still have about 6 hours left on this flight. Hopefully I will step off this plane sane!

Saturday, June 12
We just landed in Amsterdam and it is 8:18 am. In the United States it is 1:19 am. The toilet paper here is orange!!! We went into the bathroom and all the toilet paper is a neon orange color! I love Amsterdam already! I ended up passing out on the plane for about 4 hours, so I am very thankful for that. Everyone else is complaining about being tired because our internal clocks are still in the middle of the night. As far as my body knows I had a late night and an early morning. Typical. There are so many different kinds of people here at this airport! It is amazing, I feel like I am in the center of the world. One of the guys said that when they were in the bathroom an African lady was cleaning and singing some African song, and I thought that was funny. I never figured out the language the man next to me spoke; this will probably bother me for a while. Well, now we will wait for 4 hours until our next flight to Tanzania. I will be playing cards with Kylee and Camryn and most likely blogging some more later. Time to wait.

(later) We just arrived at our compound in Maji ya Chai! It is midnight here, and in the States it is 4:21 in the afternoon. On the plane I slept when I was supposed to and stayed awake when I needed to get my internal body clock on Tanzania time. Boy am I worn out! When we first arrived at the airport one of the members of our group lost some luggage so we were delayed for about an hour. When we stepped outside we were graciously greeted with two bright smiling faces which belonged to our National Geographic leaders! Their names are Erin and Peter, and I like them already. From the airport to Maji ya Chai (which directly translates from Swahili to “water and tea”) it took us about 40 minutes by bus ride. Our driver’s name is Rajibu and he really liked us. When I introduced myself he started smiling and saying a bunch of words that I couldn’t really understand so I just smiled back at him and nodded, and then towards the end of our conversation (if you could call it that) he informed me that he has a sister named Rachel. He also invited me to stay with his family sometime and I could fit in and be a part of it because I had the same name as his sister. I am not sure it exactly works that way, but he was nice so I’m not complaining. We are staying in this old house thing that is just plain white and very simple. Our rooms are divided up by gender and there are bunk beds in each. Immediately we all started setting up our mosquito nets around our beds which looked very complicated, but Camryn and I teamed up and I’m pretty sure we went about it in the most complicated way, but we managed to set up both our nets successfully. I am very proud of myself. Once we set those up we washed our hands and attempted to find the kitchen. You have to go outside first because it is not connected to the bedrooms and let me say, that 20 foot walk in the dark is scary when you can hear all the bugs around you. Our compound is surrounded by a huge fence and right at the gate there is a little building that our guards stay in. We have around three guards I think and they are there to make sure all of our stuff is protected and to make sure we are safe. I talked to two of them and one was named Dominique and the other escapes me right now. They were both very nice and could barely speak English, so we had fun trying to ask them where the kitchen was using hand gestures and sounds to communicate with them. They laughed at us. When we finally found the kitchen, an array of delicious food awaited us. The mamas had prepared a feast for our arrival, but had already left to go back to the village where they live. They made us pasta, chipati (a flat pancake/crape), some chicken, an avocado that a local lady gave us, and tons of fresh fruit which consisted of pineapple (the BEST I have ever had in my life), mango, and bananas. Tomorrow morning we get to go to the local church! I am so excited to! Peter and Erin said it is a great way to get to know the local people and immerse ourselves in the community right away. Also, Peter said that when we first go we will be flabbergasted and amazed. I am very curious about what he means by that and I can’t wait to find out! I am already loving it here, and I can’t wait for my first real day in Tanzania! I can hear the crickets outside. I am not missing home yet. My adventurous spirit is in full swing right now and I can’t wait to go experience a totally different life than what I am used to!

Sunday, June 13
Today we woke up around 7 and ate a wonderful breakfast that consisted of eggs and pancakes. We finally met all of the mamas! There is mama Killerai, mama Latifah, and Marsha (she’s not old enough to be a mama). After breakfast we put on our church clothes (a skirt) and walked to church. It took us an hour on foot and along the way we met tons of villagers! To say hello you say “jambo”, pronounced like ‘jyahmbo’ and they respond with “jambo” or another greeting. When you greet an older woman or man you say “jambo shikamoo mama” or “jambo shikamoo baba”. Baba is the word for father and mama is the word for mother. You add shikamoo as a sign of respect and to let them know that you are putting yourself under them and that you respect them a lot. They respond with “mara haba” which means that they acknowledge that we are below them. Also another really cool thing they do here is hold hands if you are friends with them. One of our guards is friends with us and walked us to church and back and randomly he started to hold a guy’s hand in our group. At first he was weirded out because in the states if two men were to hold hands it isn’t really customary; here men sometimes hold hands if they are good friends and same with girls. Walking to church we passed two teenage boys that were sitting on a tire and I greeted them with jambo and they said jambo back. Then one of them yelled out “I love you!” to me and they both started snickering and laughing. I told our leader, Peter, and he said that the local boys love foreigners and want to date us and be our boyfriend. I thought this was really funny, and just responded with ‘asante’ which means thank you. To this they laughed again. We met and saw so many different kinds of people on our walk to church and all of them fascinated me. What is funny is we fascinate them too. When we would walk down the road a big group of kids started running and screaming and following us because they have never seen white people before. They loved us! Also we met this woman who was carrying a huge log on her head. When we met her she insisted on showing us the way to church even though our guard was already taking us. As we passed this field she showed us her orange tree and was really proud of it. I told her it was "pendesa” which means beautiful. She smiled. When we arrived at church there were about four old women and the preacher. The building was old, made of concrete, and had a tin roof and dirt floors. There were a bunch of wooden benches set up inside as well and the church was decorated with some fabric in the shape of a cross and there was a wooden cross in the middle of the main wall. They sang for us and danced for us and told us that we are welcome here in their village and at their church. We came back to the compound after church around 12 and had a Swahili lesson! A really nice man with an incredibly hard sounding name that I believe is something like Mkalla, came to our house and taught us some basic words and phrases. We will have more lessons tomorrow and many other days so we can communicate a little bit with the native people. I am getting pretty good at speaking Swahili now! After the lesson we were able to go out into the village in groups of three and talk to the people and explore and pretty much do whatever we wanted to for an hour and a half. I went with Camryn and Kylee, and we walked down the road a ways and these men started talking to us and one had a tiny turtle in his hand. He knew little English and we knew little Swahili so we managed to keep up a pretty decent conversation with him. I brought with me two soccer balls and I took one with us on our walk. They have a soccer field set up in the middle of the village and there were a few kids hanging around it. We walked up and asked them if they wanted to play with us and all of them immediately sprinted toward us and started kicking the ball with us. Most of them were around 10 and they were amazing! I love that I play soccer because it is one of the easiest ways to become friends with other people, especially those who you can’t communicate with well, because soccer the language of the world. Within about a minute we were laughing and playing with the kids and they felt more relaxed around us and weren’t as afraid. I made a bunch of new friends! There were these two girls that would not let go of Tracy’s hands the whole time we were out there, and all they did was laugh and laugh and laugh. We also met some teenage boys that knew some English from the National Geographic students that came last year, and they informed and invited us to watch their soccer match tomorrow. Their names were Hajj and Felix. We are already being welcomed and accepted into the community! This is so exciting!

Monday, June 14
This morning we started our community service project! We are digging a really long ditch from a water tank to run pipes underground to reach more villages. Munisi and Dominique helped us and about 5 other guys were working with us as well. We accomplished so much! We made it so much further than they expected, and they are extremely happy! We ate lunch and then went back out to work some more and went a lot further. When we came back we had some free time to go out in threes and explore the village and take photos. I saw Hajj on the road and another boy that introduced himself (I don’t remember his name) and they walked with us. Hajj is 17 and has one more year of secondary school left. He told me that’s where he learned English. We walked by the soccer field and took some pictures of cattle that were in the middle of the road (that is very common) and a bunch of men started yelling at us from further away. They were telling us not to take pictures of their cows (ngombe) and Hajj told us not to worry because they are drunkards and he told us that we should just walk away. He is so nice and really likes taking care of us and looking out for us. It started to get dark so we had to get back to our house because it is not safe to be out when it is dark. Hajj and the other boy told me that they would escort us back to our house, and on the way a motorcycle was coming really fast and Hasan took my hand and pulled me out of the road. He told me that he would look out for me so that I would be safe and he is one of my really good friends now. One day I will play soccer with him and I can’t wait!

Tuesday, June 15
This morning we ate breakfast and then walked back to our work site to continue our ditch digging. We made huge progress! The underground pipe started to turn and run through the brush and the digging started to get a lot easier because the ground was so much more fertile. All of the workers kept on asking “where’s Rachel?” to everyone. I have no idea why either. Every time I meet someone here and tell them my name their face lights up and they go ‘ohhhh, Rachel!’ They really seem to like my name. After we were done working for the morning, we walked back to our house for lunch to eat chokula (food). The walk from the worksite to our house is about 30 minutes and we walk past a soccer field. There are tons of kids that always stay around there and hang out there and every single time we walk past them they run up to us and greet us and grab our hands to hold them. Then they proceed to walk with us all the way to our house until we have to go inside. (These kids are 10 years old at the most.) There is this one 2 year old that Kylee loves and he takes the cutest pictures! We ate lunch and then headed back to finish our work. As we passed the soccer field again the kids ran up to us but we told them we had to hurry and that we would see them bodai (later that day) so they didn’t latch on like they usually do. Right next to the soccer field is a house and a man started yelling to us and walking towards us. One of the girls said he was crazy, and he was the same man that Hasan told me was a drunkard yesterday. He followed us all the way to the worksite and started helping us dig; for a drunk he is a mighty fine digger. We made it all the way to the main road where our goal was! It is so rewarding to reach a goal like that. While we were working this old man came by and shook every one of our hands (shaking hands is custom as a greeting) and started going off on how much he appreciated what we are doing for them and how we are doing really good things. He told us that we and Africa are one, and that we are peaceful people and that we are uniting Africa with the world. He also told us to tell Obama that they are peaceful people (as if we know him personally). I am really glad that the people here appreciate us and love what we are doing; that is definitely the MOST rewarding thing to me. I came here to make an impact in a positive way and we are accomplishing that and I could not be more thankful. When we came back from working, we washed up and Mkalla brought in woman tribal drummers for us! I took over 490 pictures of them. They were dressed up in traditional clothing and sang and drummed for us their traditional songs. They also would scream a recognizable scream that woman only do if there is a death or they are celebrating. It was definitely an amazing, unique experience.

(later) Six kids from a school called UAACC came to visit us today! It is a school for kids from Maji ya Chai that show some good potential and they learn about computers and photography and sewing there. One of the girls’ names is Digna and I became really good friends with her. She knows a lot of English and she is helping me with my Swahili!

Wednesday, June 16
This morning we split into two groups and half of us went to the Upendo Leprosy Home. (upendo means love) The people there used to have leprosy and have been cured, but the disease has left them bad nerves and they are unable to feel things so they can hurt themselves without knowing it. A lot of the people there had fingers that had fallen off or toes that had fallen off. The Upendo Leprosy Home gives these people a place where they can live in peace and be taken care of and live a normal life. One of the men was talking to Peter and told him he was blind in both eyes and asked Peter if he could give him eyes so that he could read again. That was really hard for me to hear and watch because this man was so happy even though he was blind and all he wanted to do was read. Experiences like those really make me think about how blessed I am to have a pair of working eyes because they aren’t always guaranteed. Every day we take for granted the small things, and that is so cliché, but it is for a reason because it is very prevalent in America. After we visited with the people for a little while we went into their gift shop they have there and I bought a really cool looking African purse and a bracelet! Most of the items in the shop were hand made by the people living in the leprosy home. There were many beaded bracelets and necklaces, belts, and even a tie made out of beads. I felt really good buying from the gift shop because the money benefits the home and helps fund this great cause. While we were at the leprosy home, the other group was about 15 minutes away in Usa River, a small town a little down the main road. After our visit we walked back to the house and switched with them. Driving down the main road is kind of scary because there are speed limits (about 50 km/hr) but they are rarely abided and almost never enforced. It is a two-way road, one lane for each direction, and you can always pass someone. On our way there we were passed by this truck and that same truck passed 3 cars at once. We passed this slow truck in front of us once and we were inches from hitting another car going the opposite way. We stopped in Usa River and went to an internet café to update our blog. This was when I posted my last blog post. Right next to the internet café (where the internet was still dial-up let me have you know) was a bank. There were about 7 police guards with AK47s chilling right outside the bank and in the building. Every single police has an AK47 in Tanzania, and at first it surprised me but I soon got used to it. We exchanged our money at the bank and when we were finished updating our blogs and exchanging our money we headed back to our house. A little while later seven kids from UAACC came to visit us again and we got to walk around Maji ya Chai with them. I walked with Digna and Munisi. It was good to walk with them because they know their way around Maji ya Chai and we were able to explore different areas of the town that I have yet to explore. I didn’t get many good pictures because everyone wanted money for their picture. Digna said it is because they are uneducated. I saw Hajj down the road that we went to! He was with a bunch of his friends and I was crunched for time so we didn’t talk long; it was just a ‘mambo, poa’ encounter. I was extremely tired, so I went to bed pretty early, around 9 o’clock. Lexi’s voice woke me up. I heard her say, “Rachel, wake up. Wake up now, people are here.” I didn’t know what she was talking about and I was still half asleep so I didn’t really move or do anything. She again said to me, “Rachel you NEED to get up right now people are here, get up.” At this point I knew something was up by the urgency in her voice. I still wasn’t sure exactly what was going on but I knew I needed to listen to Lexi. She told me to get my passport and I told here where it was in my bag because I was trapped in my mosquito net still. A lot of the girls were freaking out and told me that there were about 15 men with machine guns outside our house in our yard. It was 11 o’clock at night. Peter and Erin were outside talking with one of them and they had told us to stay inside, turn off all of the lights, and to be quiet. Mrs. Bottoms and Ms. Hartman were in the room with us, Cade, Jacob and Travis were in their room, the other girls were in their room, and Kevin was standing outside of our door to protect us. He acts like such a big brother to all of us girls. Frankly, he couldn’t do anything against 15 men with machine guns, but it’s the thought that counts. Everyone was silent as we listened to the conversation going on outside of our room. The man kept on asking Peter if anyone knows that we are here and who we would go to if anything went wrong. Peter told him that Munka knows we are here and we go to him for problems. Then the man asked Peter why there was pipe in our front yard, and all he replied to that was all he knows is that it is in our front yard. The man then asked if we were working in Maji ya Chai and getting paid and he replied with a no because we aren’t being paid to work. Throughout this conversation, Peter kept asking the man why they were here and he would just say, “That isn’t important, you don’t need to know.” This went on for about an hour, and finally the men left and as they were leaving our gate the man that Peter and Erin were talking to the whole time told them that the men were the police from Usa River and they were just making sure we were safe. It was a very interesting way to approach that concept, but we were safe and nothing bad happened so that is all that matters.

Thursday, June 17
This morning the UAACC kids came and we walked around different places that we have yet to see. Digna took me to the next village over, Larai, where she grew up. I rode a donkey!!! As we were walking down the road this boy was walking with his donkey carrying water for him. He rode it for us and then asked if one of us wanted to ride it, and of course I jumped at the opportunity. I was wearing a skirt so it was kind of difficult climbing up on it, but I made it and it was so fun! It would run/jog then walk then run/jog again and the whole time everyone was taking pictures of me laughing. The donkey ride was the highlight of my morning and when I would pass other villagers on the road they would all laugh at me. I’m glad I helped a couple people laugh. We came back for lunch, the UAACC kids left, and we all piled up into a bus and headed to Arusha. We met Mama Killerai at the market in the middle of the city and she took us around to the best shops with the best deals. It was extremely overwhelming at first because there were about a million people crammed close together and every single one of them would stare at us as we passed. The mzungus have arrived. A lot of people bought pangas at one of the shops, which are machetes in Swahili. After the market we loaded back up into the bus and went to the Masai market that was pretty close. Every single person would scream ‘Sister! Sister! Come look in my shop! Only five minutes, looking is free!’ This proved to be very annoying after about 20 seconds. Then one time one of my friends said my name to me and one of the shop vendors overheard and started yelling ‘Rachel! Come look at my shop! Rachel!’ This proved to be very annoying after about 2 seconds. When you wanted to buy something and asked for the price, you would offer half of what they said. I was very good at bargaining. One of the things I wanted the owner asked for 38,000 shillings (which is about 30 dollars more or less) and I kept bargaining and reduced it down to 12,000 shillings (which is about 9 dollars more or less). Later the same guy was selling the same thing to Lexi and wanted 42,000 shillings for it and I went up to him and said to Lexi that I bought it for 12,000 and the look on the man’s face was priceless. I got Lexi a good deal. After the market we went to a Greek restaurant. It was a bar/restaurant and it had a huge projector that projected the World Cup! I was so excited because I haven’t been able to keep up with the World Cup the whole time I’ve been here, and I finally got the chance!

Friday, June 18
This morning we went to an orphanage! The name of it is the Happy Watoto Home. The kids were so excited to see us it was crazy! We definitely made their week. After talking and playing with them for a couple minutes the director and one of the teachers got out a soccer ball and gave it to some of the kids and a majority of them ran out to the soccer field with it. Of course I was soon to follow. Cade, Kevin and I played a pickup game with all of them and then some other people came to join us. Most of the kids were boys, but one or two adventurous girls would join for a little bit. One of the kids was so good I couldn’t believe it. I think he was about 10, and he ran circles around everyone. It makes me sad to see them though because some of them have loads of talent, but most of them won’t ever have the opportunity to play professionally or at a higher level because of their situation. I would love to adopt some of them just to give them the opportunity to make something of themselves. After we sadly said goodbye to the little nuggets we headed off to the Masai food and animal market. Dominique walked with my group through the market and we met his mama! She was selling beans and she was so cute! Dominique loves taking pictures more than anything and he asked for my camera to take pictures with it. I like when he takes pictures because even though the quality of them aren’t that great he can take pictures of anyone and they won’t get mad. Most of the people would ask for money for their picture or scream at us if we tried to take it, but Dominique would just prance around and point the camera at random people and snap pictures of them. If they said anything he would just say ‘no problem’ and take a bunch more pictures of them. I definitely have some good random pictures of the villagers that I would have never been able to capture and I thank Dominique for that! We walked around for about an hour and then went to lunch at a place in the market. We had traditional Tanzanian food which consisted of rice, beans, a banana dish, a spinach dish, and a beef dish. It was delicious. When I was standing with Peter and Erin outside by the ngombes a Masai warrior came up to us and started talking to Peter. After a couple minutes he started laughing and then informed us that the man was trying to trade Erin for some Tanzanite and a couple of cows. He was a persistent one too. When Erin heard this she immediately said hapana (no) and the man started laughing. Peter told him that Erin wasn’t for sale and then he left and we had a pretty good laugh after that. As I walked through the market two guys said hi to me and made kissing noises at me. Peter laughed and told me that I had two more boyfriends to add to the list. Oh joy. Peter and Erin went off to buy two goats for our party that we are going to throw tomorrow for the village officials and the rest of us went back to the bus to wait. While we were waiting this kid came up to us that spoke English very well and started talking to us about how he wants to go to America because Tanzania is a very poor country and corrupted and that America will give him more opportunities. His name was Barrack and he informed us as if we didn’t know that our president was named Barrack as well. He told us that he wanted to be like Bob Marley and change the world with music and make songs about his life so that people can know what it’s really like to live in Tanzania. He was interesting and he wrote his name down for me. Peter and Erin came back with the two goats, which we named Appetizer and Entrée (Appy and Trey for short). There wasn’t room in the bus so we shoved them in the very back under the bus in this space that was just big enough for them both to fit. Interesting and kind of sad, but that’s how they treat goats here and it was normal. We dropped them off with Munisi and Dominique’s son on the highway by the road that leads to Maji ya Chai and they almost got away on the highway. Thank goodness they didn’t, and we headed off to our next destination, a waterfall! We had to drive up this very steep mountain and our bus couldn’t get up a couple times, so each time we all had to get out and help push it up. I didn’t prove to be much help but I helped as best as I could. We finally made it up to the general vicinity of the waterfall and we all got out and started walking up to the actual waterfall. We met Dominique’s brother! He is one of the park officials and took us up to the waterfall. Today was definitely a day of Dominique. We made it up to the waterfall after about half an hour of hiking and it was breathtaking! The sight of it was for sure worth all the trouble of getting up to it. We stayed for a while and then headed back down to meet our bus where we left it. Going down would be much easier you would think, and it was, until the driver got a little too confident and started driving really fast. We lost control and ran into the side of the mountain. It was funny. No one was hurt and it wasn’t that bad of a crash, and it was fun while it happened. We all climbed out and all the village people ran out to come help us push the bus back onto the road. They were very nice and we gave them a good laugh. A bus full of mzungus crashed into the side of a mountain in the middle of their village. What a site. Homeward bound we were finally and it was very refreshing to finally get home after such a long, adventurous day.

Saturday, June 19
Today is a “chill day”. We are updating our blogs and starting to pack for safari. We leave tomorrow morning! I am so excited! I will miss Maji ya Chai and all of the people here so much, but I am really excited to get to see wild animals here in Africa finally! We killed the two goats by slitting their throats, and Mkalla did the honor. After the killing Baboo hung them up in the tree and started to skin them. All the kids helped wash the fruit and vegetables for the party while Baboo finished skinning the goats and cooking them by the fire. People started to arrive and the party officially started around 6! Our party, if you could call it that, consisted of the village officials and that’s about it. My friend Hajj and one of his friends has a business where they go places and do acrobatics for people. They came to our party! They were really good too. Hajj could do back flips and a lot of other crazy things. I believe they were the hit of the party. After the performance we ate dinner and sang for everyone our Deep in the Heart of Texas song. They loved it. The party officially ended and we cleaned up and went to bed. Off to the Serengeti tomorrow!

Sunday, June 20
This morning it was my group’s turn to cook breakfast, and since it was our last day in Maji ya Chai we decided to cook the rest of our pancakes. Cade came in to help me cook them faster and a coke bottle fell out of his pocket and fell on my toes. It hurt really badly but it wasn’t that major and I felt fine. Cade asked me if I was okay and I said yes, but all of the sudden I got light headed. I don’t remember anything after that. I remember hearing Kylee’s voice saying ‘this has happened before at school just lay her on her side, she’s fine’. I couldn’t open my eyes. I was on the cold, stone ground. The only thing I felt was this stinging on the corner of my lip. I remember hearing more voices asking me if I was okay, and all I could manage was ‘did I burn my face?’ Kylee said no I didn’t and that I was fine and I knew that I had burned my lip because it hurt too badly. Peter came in and helped me up and sat down so that I could sit up and lay back on him. They gave me peanut butter and water and I started feeling a lot better. Erin and Peter got this aloe stuff to put on my burn and Erin put in on my chin, across the left part of my lip and all the way up to my left eye and then some above my right eye. I was really confused because all I felt was the burning on my lip, but apparently I was burned all over my face. Dominique came in to make sure I was okay and wiped the tears from my face. Later someone told me that he had been in the room next to the kitchen talking with people, walked out, and then a couple minutes later hurried in saying ‘Rachel, Rachel, where’s Rachel?’ Kylee told me that my face looked fine and that it was all okay. After Erin put the aloe on my burns I started to feel them all over my face, not just the part on my lip. I genuinely felt normal besides the burning on my face and I walked over to my room to finish packing all of my things for safari. Kevin came out and said that he had packed all of my things for me and that he was disappointed in me because I had promised him that I would not pass out on this trip. I laughed and said sorry. I talked to Cade after that and he told me that when he asked me if I was okay after he dropped the coke bottle I closed my eyes like I was concentrating really hard and I fell straight onto the frying pan in front of me. As soon as I did Cade grabbed me, pulled me off and laid me on the ground. He told me he was really scared and that’s when Kylee, Erin and Peter came in to help. That’s when I woke up. I walked into the bathroom to look at my face and gasped when I saw it. I had this bright red mark about half an inch thick running from the very bottom of my chin up my lip up until about an inch from my left eye. Then I saw a big burn right above my right eyebrow. Kylee came in and told me I looked legit and the burn made me look really cool, and that made me feel a lot better because frankly I agreed with her. Kevin kept telling me how jealous he was. Dominique helped me get my things into the big truck and then when we said goodbye to each other we hugged for a really long time and he kissed my cheek. He also made sure that we had his phone number so that we could call him when we are on safari. He is so precious and I will never forget him. I kept looking for Munisi but Peter said that he already left for church. Someone told me that when I was in the kitchen after my accident, Munisi was outside pacing back and forth worried about me. I love him as well and I wish I could have said goodbye. I will for sure never forget him either. After a week with each other, Dominique and Munisi were genuinely worried about me and I can’t ask for better friends than that. True rafikis. After goodbyes, we loaded up in the truck with our two guides, Simon and Killerai (which is Mama Killerai’s first son), and headed off to the Serengeti. We left around 8:30 in the morning, had an 11:00 o’clock cookie break, and then drove a little off the road to set up a picnic for lunch. We ate sandwiches in the middle of the Serengeti. Not many people can say that. When we finished we packed up again and began the final part of our drive to our campsite. On our way we saw a bunch of vultures on the ground so we drove off the road to see if there was a dead animal. We found a wildebeest! Its whole body was eaten and one of its eyes was as well. The only part left was the skin, bones, its hind legs’ meat, and the half of its face that was ground side down. Killerai decided to cut off some of the meat that was left on its legs so that we could have it with our dinner. I was so excited to try it! Peter told me he has had it once before and that it is really good. Almost to our campsite we drove by a dead zebra on the side of the road. It was really sad to see a zebra dead like that because they are such beautiful creatures. I think zebras are one of my favorite animals, besides the giraffe, and the first zebra I saw in Africa was dead. We arrived at the campsite to find our tents already set up for us and dinner already started. We unpacked and set everything up in our tents and then headed to the campfire for dinner. The cook we have was amazing! He makes really good westernized food for us and I was really excited to have food that reminds me of home. We had the wildebeest too and it was AMAZING! It is definitely one of my favorite types of meat now. Killerai seasoned it with salt, black pepper, and homemade mustard. It is a winning combo in my book.

Face update: stinging like crazy and still really red

Monday, June 21
Today we hiked a mountain that was near our campsite. I would consider it a small mountain, but a mountain none the less. I forgot the name of it but in English it means ‘the striped mountain’. The head Masai warrior led us, Paolo, then Killerai, then our whole group, and at the back was Simon and one of the younger teenage Masai warriors. Both the Masai men carried spears to protect us and Killerai had a shotgun. I felt really cool being protected by legit Masai warriors with spears. The climb was kind of challenging but really fun. While we were climbing we saw a bunch of baboons running on the top of the mountain, and I would say there were about 30 of them. It was crazy looking and it reminded me of the movie Planet of the Apes. Some of us were struggling on the way up the mountain, but we all helped each other out and made it to the top! Right before we reached the top we had to climb through this rock cave and literally straddle each side with absolutely nothing under us but a black abyss. Killerai helped each of us climb through it and we all made it! That was the hardest part of the climb, but it was definitely the most fun. When we finally made it to the top we could see for miles and miles. Killerai took out dried bananas, peanuts and cookies for us to have as a snack, and they were delicious! We have a cookie break every day around 10:00, and I expect to continue this tradition even when I return home. We stayed on the top of the mountain for a pretty long while, ate, and took pictures, and then we started our decent. Literally 3 minutes into our decent Sarah twisted her ankle so Peter had to wrap it and walk with her the rest of the way down. Even though we were going really slowly down the mountain, it took us probably half the amount of time it took us to ascend the mountain. Going down was much, much easier. We headed back to the campsite, ate lunch, and then had rest time. I fell asleep immediately. After my nap we walked around a nearby watering hole to see if we could find any animals. All we found was poop everywhere, and Killerai knows WAY too much about poop. Now I know way more about poop than I ever thought I wanted to.
I think about Munisi and Dominique every day.

Face update: Still stinging but I am putting aloe on it every day and I think it is starting to help. On the mountain Killerai showed me an actual aloe plant and I used it on my cuts. It turned it a yellow color but I got the legit stuff and I’m sure it will help the healing process immensely.

Tuesday, June 22
Today we walked 8 miles. What an adventure. Actually I should phrase it: what a non-adventure. We walked 8 miles through the Serengeti and saw only poop, a tortoise shell, and some termite mounds. I am not complaining though because during that 4 hour trek I thought about anything and everything. It was so peaceful, the temperature was comfortable, and everyone was quiet. This adds up to perfect thinking weather. After our walk we started our drive to a Masai boma in the middle of nowhere. A boma is a complex where a Masai family lives. There are many houses in the boma, each one belonging to a different wife. In the Masai culture it is okay to be polygamous, and the more rich the man is the more wives he takes. They have more wives because they need more people to take care of their belongings and land. There is one main wife and the rest are just secondary wives, but they each get their own house. The more children they have, the more people there is to work and take care of everything. The Masai boma that we visited today had around 100 people in it, and that is just one family! The main leader died last year and left 7 wives, and when he died one of his sons took over. There were kids running around everywhere! A couple of the Masai brought a goat to kill for us in honor of our company. Instead of slitting the goat’s throat the Masai believe in suffocating it. Apparently suffocating is way less painful for the goat than slitting their trachea. Another custom that Masai people practice is they drink goats’ blood. Killerai informed us that we would be able to try some if we wanted to and I immediately told him that I wanted to try it. I think Cade and I were the only ones excited about it, and I’m pretty sure Cade wasn’t as excited as I was. After the Masai men killed the goat, they started to skin it and put a bunch of blood into a bowl. Killerai told us that we needed to drink it quickly because the blood would start to clot. Cade insisted on trying it first, then Travis had some, and then I took a swig after him. It was still warm which was very weird for me, and it tasted salty. Personally I kind of liked it. After the goat blood was tried by everyone who wanted to try it, we took a tour of the boma. After the tour we sat by the campfire and had dinner, then questioned the head man of the boma. I learned that the men can take wives as young as 13 even if they are 50 themselves. Gross. Also I learned that a man could visit another boma and if he saw a young girl, even a toddler, he could ask the father if he could take her as his wife once she became old enough. If the father agreed then the daughter would have to marry that man when she became 13. I could not imagine one- having an arranged marriage, and two- marrying a man 4 times my age. What a thought. When the questioning wrapped up some of the Masai men danced for us! I loved it because while one guy was singing the others would make random loud noises and it was really funny to listen to. After they danced and sang for us a couple of songs, we returned the favor and sung to them Deep in the Heart of Texas. They insisted we sing them another song since they sung us more than one, and we collaborated and chose The Hokey Pokey. The man that was next to me LOVED it and was laughing the whole entire time we sang and danced. All of them joined in and followed us too!
Mental note: The Hokey Pokey is a great way to make Masai warriors laugh.

Face update: starting to scab and is now brownish

Wednesday, June 23
This morning we woke up early and drove to Tarangire National Park (sp?). Once we were inside we saw a bunch of elephants, tons and tons of zebra, some impala, a couple water bucks, a lot of giraffe, some ostriches, some cape buffalo, a leopard, vultures, and many other birds. It was a great day for pictures! We arrived around 12 and stayed until it became dark around 7. We had a flat tire so we had to stop and fix it, and luckily we were able to take great sunset pictures while this was happening. When the sun ascended and the tire replaced, we headed to our new campsite in the national park. Massimo, our assigned National Geographic Professional photographer, greeted us upon our arrival to the campsite. He is awesome! He is from Milan, Italy he has a ponytail, and he has an awesome accent. We introduced ourselves immediately and he was really nice to all of us. When we ate dinner around the campfire Massimo pretty much summed up his whole life and we were able to ask him questions about himself as well as photography. I am extremely excited to be working with him the next couple of days because this is a real privilege to have him around specifically to work with us. He flew all the way from Italy to Tanzania just specifically to spend 4 days working with us. I am definitely taking advantage of this because I know that very, very few people are able to even contact someone with his prestige.

Face update: healing and scabbing up quite nicely

Thursday, June 24
Today we drove from Terenire National Park to the Ngorongoro crater. It was mainly a driving day and we saw a few animals along the way. We did not go inside the crater today, but we will be able to tomorrow morning. We are staying at a public campsite near the crater tonight and Massimo reviewed our photos before bed. He liked most of my photos and had great criticism and suggestions for me. I am so glad I had the chance to get his opinions and now I know what to work on tomorrow in the crater.

Face update: scabbed and itching now. Blech.

Friday, June 25
This morning we woke up at 5:30. Not fun. By 6:00 we were headed to the Ngorongoro crater in three different land rovers. It was pretty boring for awhile, then we saw about 30 cars in this one spot and on our radio we heard that a lion had just killed a zebra and was eating it by the road. We drove over there immediately. At first we couldn’t see the lion, but we waited and when it started to clear out we made our way up to the front. A lioness was chewing on a zebra’s face less than 20 feet from our land rover. At the beginning of this trip I told Camryn and Kylee over and over how much I wanted to see a lion kill/eat a zebra. I told them that would make my trip. Luckily enough I was able to! I am sad I missed the kill, but I am so glad that we were able to catch the lioness still eating. There were two hyenas waiting for her to finish eating and there were vultures flying above her and the zebra waiting as well. When we acquired a sufficient amount of dinner photos, we headed off to the next big attraction- two cheetahs spotted on a hill (no pun intended). At first we could not see them at all except for small white specs halfway up the hill, but then we used our binoculars and saw that two cheetahs were lying on their sides just lounging. Right after we saw the lioness and right before we heard about the cheetahs Camryn and I told each other that we were satisfied, but if we could see a cheetah we would be extra satisfied. Well, five minutes later we were both extra satisfied. Cheetahs are gorgeous animals. When we were finished looking at them, we drove around the crater some more and we saw four lions sun-bathing by a watering hole. There were three lionesses and one male lion, which made my trip even more than before because I had wanted to see a male lion as well. The crater definitely proved to be the location that made my trip animal-wise. It was starting to get late, so we began our drive out of the crater. In the middle of the road we caught sight of a little bunny hopping along. We looked in the sky above the bunny and saw an eagle flying around, obviously aware that the bunny was right below it. The eagle swooped down and missed the bunny by a couple inches and flew back up into the air. It then came from the other side and swooped down again just missing the bunny again by an inch this time because the bunny hopped to the side right at the last second. Our whole car was freaking out. When we caught up to where the bunny was, we looked about a foot into the grass and saw the bunny there shaking real badly. We could tell it was terrified to death, and I was glad our car acted as a sort of barrier for it. Massimo wanted to see it get eaten on the other hand, so we backed our Land Rover up to see if the eagle would come back. It flew off a ways and met up with another eagle because I think it lost sight of the bunny. I am glad it didn’t get killed, but watching the eagle swoop down to grab the bunny was definitely really cool to see. Closer on our way out of the crater we found a dying hyena about 5 feet from the edge of the road. It was lying on its side panting and could barely lift its head. We inspected it closer and noticed quite a few bite marks all over his legs and paws, and overall he looked pretty messed up. Hyenas are so much bigger than I thought they were, and being able to be that close to one was amazing. Killerai told us that he would probably live unless another hyena found him, then the hyena would probably eat it. When we arrived to our campsite we were greeted by a group of students from an international school in Switzerland. They were all really nice and again I made some new friends! Massimo wanted to see our pictures that we took today while we were in the crater, so we all uploaded our top 5 into one folder and viewed them on a projector as a group. A lot of the Swiss students joined us in viewing our work. Massimo gave us all criticism and compliments and gave us advice on how to make our pictures better. This helped immensely again.

Saturday, June 26
This morning we loaded all of our things and headed off to the O’Neals. Pete and Charlotte O’Neal are part of the Black Panthers and when Pete got convicted of carrying a gun over state lines (which he did not do) he and Charlotte fled to Africa. They fled in the 60’s and have been in Tanzania ever since. On our way to their house we drove to many curio shops to try to spend the rest of our money that we exchanged. We stopped in Arusha and went to the Masai market again; this time everyone was ready for it and knew how to bargain. After that, we headed straight to the O’Neals. The UAACC students that met with us several times in Maji ya Chai are from the O’Neals. The complex they live in triples as their home, the school UAACC, as well as an orphanage. Before we arrived at the O’Neals Simon, our driver from the safari, gave me a Masai name! He named me Namplok, which in the Masai language means sweet. When we had to say goodbye to Simon and Killerai I cried. I told myself I wouldn’t but when I hugged Simon, he picked me up and swung me around and I could not stop myself. I had known him and Killerai for a week and we had developed such a close bond. I love the feeling you get from friendship, you can’t compare it with anything. When we were finished with our goodbyes, we all grabbed our bags and went into our rooms to put our stuff away. Then we congregated into the main eating area and I saw all of my friends from UAACC that visited us in Maji ya Chai! Digna was there, Babuu, Joe, Naomi, and so many others! I also met one of Babuu’s friends, Kamau, who was really nice. All at once about 20 children ran for us and started holding our hands and playing with us. They were from the orphanage in the complex. Let me tell you, these little watoto are just about the most precious human beings you will ever see in your life. There was one baby that was there that Kylee went and grabbed immediately of course whose name is Boka. I stole him from her after awhile and he ended up peeing on me. I was just holding him rocking him back and forth and all of the sudden I felt warm and wet on my side. Everyone laughed at me and I thought it was really funny. After the watoto went to lala (sleep) Cade and I posted up in front of the television to watch the USA vs. Ghana game. Cade bet 4 cokes on USA winning against Babuu and Kamau. We were definitely on the wrong continent for this game. The game started at 9:30 Africa time, so I became tired by half time and went to bed. When I woke up I heard that Ghana had beat the US and I was really disappointed, but I laughed at the same time because Cade was so cocky and trash talking Babuu and Kamau the whole time we were there. It was all in good fun and Babuu and Kamau were trash talking us too.

My Last Meals

I just got home from a last-minute food run. In case we are off somewhere where we don't have access to food I am taking some bars and other foods that I love. On my way back I stopped at Sonic for a final Route-44 Ocean Water, which I know I will be missing very much on my trip! Tonight I am also going to bake homemade chocolate chip cookies and eat at Hunan Inn to get in my favorite foods before I leave. I am very excited and anxious about seeing what food the "mammas" have in store for us! I have been informed that we will have 2-3 native women, also called "mammas", who will be cooking for us throughout our escapade. We even get to take turns helping them prepare our meals! This will be such a great way to learn about their culture and learn about what foods they eat and how to prepare them. This is one part that I am really looking forward to! I love cooking, and hopefully I can take a recipe or two to bring back home to share with my family!
I have less than 24 hours until I am officially on my way to Africa! Today a friend of mine informed me that he will be on the same flight as I on his way to Greece! We both take a connecting flight through Amsterdam, so I am really excited that I have one more person I get to see before I leave for Tanzania!
I have been lugging my camera around everywhere I go and I think I have finally gotten the hang of it! I have been practicing shooting in different lighting, shooting moving objects, and also trying to take 'artsy' pics; successful or not, I am learning!
Tonight I will finish putting all of my belongings in my backpack and duffle bag. I will also have a trial run to see if I can even carry it all by myself; I hope I can! I feel like tomorrow cannot come any slower. I have been anticipating this day for over a month now and it has left my mind not once this whole entire week. Friday, come sooner please!

The Final Stages

Today in class we will be going on a "neighborhood hike" to get used to carrying our camera equipment and backpack. This will be awesome practice for how it will be like in Africa. I have two days left in Houston, Texas, then I am off to Tanzania! This trip would never have been possible without the help and belief of my parents. At the beginning of this year I was in the process of convincing my parents to let me study abroad in Italy for about 8 months. Then at school I heard about this photography trip to Africa, and I immediately switched gears and started working on convincing my parents to let me go on this trip. Well, I have to say I make some good arguements, and I am now 2 days away from the grasslands. My dad is a photographer in his spare time and loves taking pictures of sports, so he was on board pretty early when I introduced my parents to this idea. I have made it abundently clear over the years that I love going to new places and experiencing new and different ways of life, so I believe my parents are one hundred percent in favor of this trip for me. They are making my dreams come true and I couldn't be more thankful! We found out yesterday that we will be able to witness a sacrifice of a goat in honor of us visiting this village we will be staying at. Be looking out for pictures of that! I am really excited for this, and I can't wait to experience more of this people's culture. Also, we will be able to befriend and play with the native children and give them gifts! I am SO looking forward to seeing their faces when we show up with those silly bandz that are in shapes of animals and different objects! I see how it brightens up faces here in the United States, and I cannot imagine how it will impact the children in Tanzania! I love french-braiding girls hair and we are bringing over a bunch of hair rubber bands, so I can't wait to do their hair as well! Even if I impact just one person in this village, it will be so worth my time and I am so looking forward to impacting even more than one person! Wish me luck!

Getting Ready

3 days until we leave! This is unreal! I am in my second day of class learning about my camera and all the computer programs, and reality is finally setting in. I will be travelling to Tanzania, Africa in three days. This will only be the second time I have gone out of the country and I am extremely stoked. I love immersing myself in other cultures and experiencing life in a different way than my comfortable "memorial bubble". I am planning on coming back from this trip a new person and taking from it a new outlook on life. This is my dream. 3 days!!!