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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mzungu...Mzungu...

Ok, where was I?  That's right, after getting help from may local Tanzanians I was able to find my hostel for the next few nights, Kilimanjaro Backpacker's, formally known as Da Costa Hotel.  Luckily enough, upon arrival I was greeted by two girls from the UK, Carole and Sophie.  After securing my lodging for the next two days I made a beeline to the travel agency where I would book my climbing expedition.  

At the travel agency, Angus Safari and Adventures I booked my Mt. Kilimanjaro climb for the Machame route-also known as the whiskey route.  The reason for this is that it is known to be the hardest route to take up the mountain and thus, upon a successful summit, whiskey usually follows as a way of celebrating the arduous climb.  Not to be confused with the much easier route, Marangu-or the Coca-Cola route.   After completing these tasks for the day I began exploring Moshi.

Moshi by far is one of the cleanliest cities I have visited in Africa to date.  It's funny because I just realized today that almost everyone in Moshi is an entrepreneur-either they own a business or are trying to sell something, which really amazes me.  From the moment the sun breaks through the cloud filled-horizon a once tranquil, quite city becomes busting with life.  From the dalla-dalla's (also known at matatu's or busses) to street vendors, everyones ability to support not only themselves, but their families is dictated by the many tourists who consistently flood the streets week in and week out.  I was on of these tourists at first, but slowly as each day passes the tour companies, more specifically, the front-men for the companies begin to hassle you less and less and instead seek to learn more about the traveler and not the tourist.  It is this transition that I look forward to.  

After some looking around, I met up with my new friends to have dinner. This is where I learned that I happened to hit the jackpot!  For all of you who know how clumsy I am and how often I seem to break bones…well, luckily for me, they were doctors!!  In five weeks anyway-close enough.  It was at this point that I decided, beside having someone to share the  experience of the climb with that it would be good if we grouped up, if at least to entertain each other.  That night we talked for hours, me- learning how they spent their last 5-6 weeks traversing Zambia, climbing Table Mountain in South Africa, working in a hospital in Rwanda, and white-water rafting in the nile.  And this wasn't even scratching the surface, they also trekked the rain-forests of Rwanda in search of Gorillas, babysat Lion cubs for a day, and went shark diving off the coast of South Africa.  For most of the night I sat in awe and listened, remembering to pay close attention to any trouble that may have arose during their many adventures.  

One thing is for sure, life is meant to be lived, shared, and experienced, and if at any time during this process, one falls victim to the divide that we ourselves have created (be it-living beyond the means of basic necessity) remember- the things we collect are overshadowed by the places we go and the people we meet; where carefully placed footprints don't become erased, but merely filled by those seeking a more meaningful life.  This makes me think a lot about my parents.  For them, they too never had a choice, the course of their lives took a direction that slowly shaped and molded three children into reflections of what they could have done, what they would have accomplished.  I truly am grateful for all things life has brought me.  

The night ended after a few more stories and the next day was spent trying to haggle for a lower price between tour companies.  After a long day, the girls and I finally secured our booking with Angus and so we went to collect supplies for the trek to begin the following day...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Part I There's Kili-or wait….There's Kili! No…that was just one very big hill

The one thing, among many, that I love about Africa is how everything happens when it is supposed to.  With this said, I have finally Arrived in Moshi, Tanzania! This just wasn't any arrival however, the 7 hour bus ride from Nairobo to Moshi zig zagged between jettisoned mountains where the grass lined hills beckoned for a proper sit-down.  

The bus ride turned out to be quite fast as I met a friend along the way.  He is a Welsh fellow by the name of John who just so happens to be the Head of Programme, or as what we would call in the states, the CEO of Solar Aid.  Soalr Aid is a non-profit grass-roots organization based out of Nairobi whose goal/mission is to provide inexpensive solar PV cells to all children's schools in Africa.  They currently have offices in 5 countries in Africa alone and have provided solar polar to hundreds of schools in Keyna and Tanzania.  Quite Ironic considering I am currently involved in a project in Musoma, Tanzania that deals with providing solar lighting to an all girls school.  Definitely a rafiki to maintain contact with and a good way to start my research.  

 I don't know what it is about Northern Tanzania, but life seems to take on a different persona here.  From the way you are greeted to the conversations you have, Tanzanians I am slowly learning  are very humble people.   A few hours after departing Nairobi I got my first glimpse of Kilimanjaro's  main peak, Uhuru.  White, voluminous clouds slowly revealed the snow barely covering it's peak.  At times, the magnificent peak would became trapped within a web of clouds only to leave me wanting and hoping for it to be revealed again.  

The initial goal was to begin climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro on May 17, but according to Africa it will be tomorrow.  Okay, for all of you who do not know what Africans, well East Africans call white people, it is Mzungu.  It's funny because you will be in the middle of a conversation with someone and a group of Tanzanians will walk by you  and you'll here this word thrown around as if it were an old dish towel or something.  The best part, they are all laughing when they say it.  Luckily, along my travels I have gotten quite good at Swahili, so I only look and smile.  Where was I, Ah… okay, so when I arrived in Moshi, my bus driver wanted me to stay on the bus.  I should highlight that this is not standard practice.  Actual Conversation (to my Swahili speak followers, forgive the spellings):  

Bus Driver:  Wewe (You)
Me:  Ndiyo (Yes)

Bus Driver:  Where are you going?
Me: (Looking over my shoulder at the ATM across from the roundabout) hapo (There) pointing to the ATM 
Bus Driver:  Hapana, Kwanini? (No,Why)
Me: Eh? Nini? (What?)
Bus Driver:  You stay here, I will take you to the guy you are going to meet
Me: Ehh?
Bus Driver: Ehhh?

At this point I am semi-concerned and genuinely confused

Me: Nini Rafiki? (What friend?)
Bus Driver:  (Smirking as though I should know who this friend of mine is) Please…aka (sit)
Me: Eh? Rafiki Iko hue Wapi? (Where's this friend?)
Bus Driver:  Still smirking…Eh….Funga…Sawa (close…okay)
Bus Driver:  Rafiki…Hakuna Matata, No worries (Friend…No worries)

This conversation carried on for another 2 or 3 minutes until I managed to say my goodbyes and eventually managed to step foot off the bus toward the nearest ATM.  I don't know exactly who it was I was supposed to meet, but apparently they really wanted to meet me.  Was I overly skeptical?  Probably, but you never know.

Now comes the funny part….well interesting to say the least

I make it an effort when I travel abroad to always no where I am going or at least appear to know where I am going.  I failed at this my first few hours in Moshi.  After departing the Matatu (Bus) from Arusha to Moshi I made my way to the first ATM I saw.  Sadly, the network was down, so as I stood on the corner of the roundabout, I spotted a Mzungu, wait-not one Mzungu, but two Mzungus!. Excitement begins to fill the confused look on my face with assurance.  I've got this and so I assuredly began to follow the non-backpack carrying Mzungus…with proper distance of course.  I mean I don't want to seem like a creep or something.  For some reason during the crossing  of the roundabout and avoiding the many buses and cars I lost sight of my golden ticket to finding the hotel I made reservations for.  They literally just disappeared.  Here I am walking up and down and these streets knowing full well that the longer I appear lost, the more dollar signs begin to form overhead.  And so…as usual some street kids appear.  Normally I would be excited to be offered the help, but these kids are..how do I say it quite the business men; they somehow manage to get you to stop by every other shop while directing you to your hotel.  That's not it however, when one kid appears before you know it there are 4, each wanting you to go somewhere so eventually you can tip them.  Which I do, while finally arriving to my hotel..Kilimanjaro Backpackers.  There is much more to add..but pressed for time at the moment, I am officially Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro bright and early tomorrow (May 20).  Will add the rest once I am finished! 

Part II He was one Crazy Mzungu

Monday, May 16, 2011

Look! A Giraffe and Zebra. Oh no...that's one hungry looking lion.


I must admit, my initial reasons for writing this blog are quite selfish, to not only highlight the next three months of my travels, but also to serve as a guide to understanding and addressing many of the problems that continue to plaque Africa today.   In doing so, I hope to gain greater understanding while visiting many of Africa’s underdeveloped countries.  So…sit back and enjoy the ride!

3 months after booking my ticket and starting my fundraising efforts for an all girl’s school in East Africa, I have finally arrived.  The plane ride as usual seemed to take no time at all.  Movies and food…I think the airlines know just exactly how to keep my attention.  One of the biggest things I look forward to apart from actually arriving in Africa is the airline food.  I don’t know if it is because I am cruising at 33,000ft and glued to the television for the first time in months or that the food is just that good, but let me tell you-the chicken and eggplant with a reduced cream sauce that I had should be served in a restaurant somewhere.  And that’s not even the best part, the moment my fork ends its journey uncovering the many different levels of flavor immersed in this simplest of dishes, it just as quickly makes its way along the foothills of chocolate moose. Ah…airplane food.

Stepping off the plane to one of Africa’s busiest airports, one would expect the air to have an aroma consistent with the running zebra and acacia that seem to fill the horizon in every direction.  Off in the distance the seasonal rains give way to contrasting hues of amber and orange, where the setting sun serves as a welcoming to a place I have grown to call home.  A place where the simplest of gestures, can have a resounding effect on a person’s life.  You see, Africa I have learned has a way of humbling a person, breaking them down to the very basic elements from which they were created.   Where the truth of a person’s words, can sometimes mean life or death. 

The past couple of days I have spent my time catching up with friends in a small community just outside of Nairobi called, Buru Buru.  Here I have managed to collect some long overdue reading material, supplies for the next two and a half months, and food…lots and lots of food.  The bulk of my supplies consist of a phone and minutes, necessary toiletries, and important contact information for my journey ahead.  Nairobi as usual is an expansive place.  With a population of over 4 million, there is an endless supply of vendors and always something to do.  Tomorrow, I will begin my trip to Moshi, Tanzania.  Moshi is a city located in a neighboring country southeast of Kenya.  This trip will begin with securing transportation around 7am and then taking an eight-hour bus ride to the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro.