Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Another Weekend, Another Waterfall

Hi there!
Here’s a rundown of what’s been going on since the safari. It’s sort of chronological but not exactly.

School - I’ve continued working with the head math/chemistry teacher, mostly in his Form 4
Pinel, the head math teacher, and
I with the new books.
(~grade 11) class. It’s been nice to see how he teaches, as his style is similar to mine. It’s also been fun participating in some chemistry classes seeing as it’s been so long since I’ve been in one! It will certainly be helpful next year seeing as The Martian, the book we are starting our ChangeMakers program with, contains a fair amount of chemistry. I even think I’ve figured out a way to work balancing chemical equations into a lesson on equivalent algebraic expressions. Additionally, I was able to purchase 12 textbooks for some of the math classes that didn’t have any! The teachers and students were very grateful and it felt good to be able to do something that will have a somewhat lasting impact at the school.

The Girls Foundation - When there was some uncertainty about my placement when I first got here, I went on Google Maps looking for secondary schools I might be able to go to. While searching, I found something called The Girls Foundation Tanzania, an NGO founded by an
The Girl’s Center common area
American volunteer (who lives in Maine!)  and I had reached out to them to see if they had any volunteering opportunities available. When the responded the next day, my original placement had been straightened out, but I asked the director if I could come in to see what they’re about because it looked like a great program. So last Wednesday, I walked to The Girls Center to meet with Estahappy, the director of the foundation on the Tanzanian side. The foundation sponsors 3 girls each year who are in the top of their 7th grade equivalent class and come from severely impoverished backgrounds. They pay for them to attend 6 years at a really good private secondary boarding school (as long as they maintain their top grades) and then pay for them to attend university for up to 4 years if they get in. When the girls are on break from school, they live at The Girls Center, a house in town. There they teach them essential skills like reproductive health, writing skills, job hunting skills, computer skills, leadership skills, etc. They have one on one tutors for them (often foreign volunteers who come stay for a week) and they set them up on internship and volunteer opportunities during the months between some of the school levels. It’s an amazing organization and I am hoping to somehow set up a partnership between them and our ChangeMaker’s program at Waltham. We’ll see how it goes!

Hot Springs Trip - On Friday a big group of volunteers went on a trip to some hot springs that are about two hours away. Because we had such a big group (12) the hostel was able to arrange a private bus to take us. It certainly beat the overcrowded dala dalas! (A dala dalas are the minibuses that are the public transportation around Arusha. While they are very cheap and convenient, they are always incredibly overcrowded and a bit of a stressful experience) We were driving on sand roads essentially in the middle of a desert (well, not exactly a desert of the Sahara type, but similar to the landscape in my village in Namibia) and suddenly we see a small area with quite a few trees and other greens. We pulled in and saw this pristine lagoon of incredibly clear
water surrounded by these big trees and ferns. There was even a rope swing! While the water wasn’t hot by any means, it could barely even classify as warm, it was nonetheless a very pleasant temperature for swimming. It also had those little fish that eat your dead skin and if you stopped moving, they would come and feast on you! (They don’t really hurt, only tickle a little). We had an awesome time swimming around, lounging, and playing on the rope swing. We were even able to get one of our favorite local meals, chipsimayai, for lunch. Chipsimayai is essentially a cheese-less omelette with French fries in it. It’s delicious. When our arms and legs were thoroughly exhausted, we piled back on the bus and slept the whole way home.

Moshi - When we were on safari, the rest of the volunteers did one of the hostel trips to the city of Moshi, near Kilimanjaro (and the hot springs). We wanted to see Moshi too, so Jamie, Dajon, Liselot and I decided to just do our own Moshi trip, hoping to save a bit of money by doing it ourselves. We didn’t have too much a plan and were just ready for a fun adventure. We woke up and made our way to the bottom of Mianzini corner where we could catch a public bus that would take us to Moshi. (Mianzini is the neighborhood the hostel is in but we’re about a 15 minute walk up the hill from the main corner.) The bus is the size of a short greyhound bus but only costs 3000 shillings, about $1.50. We were hooping it wouldn’t get as crowded as the dala dalas but we were wrong. Luckily we managed to grab the 4 seats in the back and hoped that they wouldn’t try to squeeze anyone else back their with us. This worked for most of the trip but towards the end we
had to switch busses for some reason and lost our good seats. Oh well. When we arrived in Moshi, we found a taxi that would take us up to a waterfall hike. The hike in was about an hour and a fairly easy hike. We reached the waterfall, which was extremely tall and powerful. The spray
Safari Squad takes Moshi
was incredibly strong and we all got absolutely soaked, but it was worth it! We hiked back out and took the taxi back to town where we went to a nice restaurant for lunch. We loaded up on some American favorites (pizza and mac ‘n cheese) and took advantage of their free WiFi. After lunch we walked to a bookstore to get the aforementioned math textbooks. We were struck by how much quieter and cleaner Moshi was compared to Arusha and we enjoyed not being called ‘mzungu’ every ten seconds. We made our way back to the bus station and got on a bus headed to Arusha. As usual, drivers were yelling at us trying to convince us to get on their bus, but we just got on the one that had the four back seats empty. We started to back out of the station when, despite everyone yelling at the driver, we backed right into another bus! Luckily no one was hurt as we were going slowly, but the other bus had a minor dent and we were not feeling so great about driving the rest of the way with this driver. Another driver got on the bus and told everyone to get off and come with him, so we compiled! Hey, we wanted adventure, right? We made it home without any further incidents.

Aside from those adventures, I’ve just been enjoying hanging out with the other hostel guests and volunteers around the hostel and around town. We’ve had some delicious lunches, gone to a local
The luxurious spa!
club for some dancing and karaoke, made several trips to the Maasai craft market to bargain for some souvenirs, went back to the cinema, and even got a massage and pedicure at the spa for less than $30! It’s hard to believe that I only have a few days left here, but we have a few things planned for these next few days so I’ll go out with a bang. I’m also super excited to go to Zanzibar and see Rachel get married!

Till next time,

Here are some extra assorted pictures for you to enjoy!

Mianzini corner with Mount Meru in the background

Squished in a dala dala

Another view of the hot springs

On the hike to the waterfall

The epic waterfall

A chameleon 

Twinning - it’s a Jamie thing

A delicious (vegetarian) meal at the Themi Living Gardens

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Safari Squad

Hi there!
I need to start this post by saying that when I came here, I was not intending to go on a safari. They are relatively expensive (even the super budget ones) and since I had already seen the majority of the safari animals at Etosha National Park in Namibia, I didn’t think it was wise to spend my time and money doing it again. For that reason, there were some items that I consciously did not bring with me such as camping gear (headlamp, warmer layers, etc) and my good camera. (I actually remember seeing it while packing and thinking ‘Should I bring that? Nah, my phone camera is fine,  it’s not Iike I’m going on safari or anything…’) Now fast forward to me actually being here. Here I am, in Tanzania, home of the Serengeti - the epitome of picture perfect African savanna. Can I really be *this* close and not go? Of course not! It took my friends a grand total of about 3 minutes to convince me to drop $700 and join them on their four day trek to three of Tanzania’s most famous parks: Tarangerie, Ngorongoro Crater (though to be the birthplace of humankind), and Serengeti. I will now do my best to give these parks their justice while also not writing the longest blog post ever. Here goes nothing.

On Wednesday night, the safari tour operator came to hostel to brief us on the plan for the next four days and to collect our payments. I only mention this because, due to the exchange rate (USD$1=2280 Tanzanian Shillings) and the fact that the largest bill they print is Tsh10,000, we were each holding a large stack of bills totaling about Tsh1.6 million. We obviously had a blast fanning our money around and pretending to be super rich haha. We also learned that in addition to the five of us (me, the other Jamie, Dajon, Liselot, and our volunteer coordinater Rosie), we would be joined by another couple to fill the other two seats in the car. Thursday morning the car came to pick us up and after getting the other couple and making a quick stop at the car, we were off.

The safari cars are modified Land Rovers. There’s a seat next to the driver in front and then three rows of two seats in the back with an aisle in the middle so that everyone gets a window seat. They also have a roof that lifts up so that everyone can stand up to see out of the top of them. The first park we went to was Tarangerie, which was about a 3 hour drive away. We pulled in and put the roof up. The first thing I noticed were a large number of massive, ancient baobab trees. We
soon started seeing some animals including a group of mongooses, some zebras, and lots and lots of gazelle and antelopes. As we drove on we saw some elephants and giraffes as well. One thing that you quickly learn is that when a bunch of safari cars are driving and passing each other on sandy roads while your head is sticking out the roof of a car, you end up inhaling a lot of dust! Oh well, it was worth it. We drove on for a bit longer and then stopped at a picnic spot for some lunch. All the food is included, so we had an nice boxed lunch while looking out over a gorgeous vista. We also had to fend off the bunches of cheeky monkeys that were not at all shy about stealing everyone’s food! After we finished eating, we drove around some more, hoping to spot some lions. At one point we saw a group of safari cars congregated, which is usually a good sign that there’s something particularly interesting to look at. We heard that there may be a lion, but we couldn’t spot it. Soon enough there was a HUGE line of cars blocking the whole road—talk about a traffic
Tarangerie Traffic Jam
jam! Eventually we got a the right angle and through a pair of binoculars we could
just see some shadows on the bank that were probably lions, though it was hard to tell. After a bit more driving around, we left to drive a bit further on to the shores of Lake Manyara where we would be spending the night. Because this was a budget safari, we knew that we would be camping, so imagine our surprise when we pull in and find lots of little cabins with actual beds, bathrooms, and showers in them! It was a lovely surprise (though we were assured that we would be really camping for the next two nights). We had a nice family style dinner, spent some time around the campfire and then went to bed early as we knew we had an early morning and a busy day ahead of us.

We woke up around 6 and had breakfast before packing back into the safari car, this time with our additional camping supplies loaded on the roof. We set off for our drive to the Serengeti which would take us around the the edge of the Ngorongoro crater (though we wouldn’t go into it until the last day). Fairly early on in the drive, we stopped at a large souvenir shop (a typical stop, though none of us were actually planning on buying anything as it was all ridiculously overpriced). We did spot a family though that was decked out head to toe in matching khaki safari outfits and we could not stop laughing about it (we would run into them at other places on our trip and the giggles would resume every time). We soon started winding our way up the mountains, spotting lots of baboons. At the entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we even saw an elephant right outside the window in the bushes! We kept winding up the steep, narrow road and eventually came to a lookout spot where we got our first glimpse into the massive crater 2000 feet below. The crater is actual a volcanic caldera with an area of about 100 square miles. We snapped some pics and continued to drive. As we drove around the rim, we were passing through Maasai tribal lands. We spotted men and boys hearding cattle and women carrying water on their heads. One village was perched on a slope over looking a pond with mountains in the background. The sunset over the lake (on our return trip) was one of the most breathtaking sights I have ever seen. After a very
Looking out over the Serengeti.
Photo credit: Jamie Katz 
long, bumpy, and dusty ride, we entered the Serengeti.  For a long time, all we could see around
us was flat grasslands spotted with the occasional gazelle or zebra. Not a tree or a hill in sight, save for the mountain range a hundred miles away. Turns out the name Serengeti - Maasai for “endless plains” is spot on. As we drove closer to the center of the park, there were more trees, small ravines, and kopjes (small rocky outcrops). As the sun started to set we saw some more zebras, a few hyenas, a group of hippos in a mud bath and even some giraffes on our way to the campsite. We arrived at our campsite, which was right in grasslands with no fence around it or anything. It was just some flat area for tents, a bathhouse, a big kitchen building for the chefs, and another empty building where groups set up their tables and chairs to eat. We pitched our tents, had some dinner, played some cards and fell asleep to the sound of hyenas barking.

We awoke early for a light breakfast and then rushed into the car to catch the sunrise. We saw
some Cape buffalo (one of the Big Five) and the most spectacular sunrise I have ever seen. It was
like a picture out of National Geographic. Though I was able to get some decent pictures of it on my phone, I really wished I had my good camera with me. Though not having it probably meant I was able to actually enjoy the sights more rather than worrying about taking the prefect photo. We drove around for the whole morning, but unfortunately, didn’t see all that many animals (aside from the literal thousands of gazelles that are *everywhere*). We were able to see a cheetah that was sunning itself on a rock close to the road which was really cool. At one point we saw a group of cars and found out that there had been some lions in a tree but they had climbed down and were now strolling away though the tall grass almost out of sight. We kept driving and looking for other animals but we were running out of time before we needed to leave the park. We went back to the campsite for brunch and then hit the road again. Funnily enough, we saw lots of animals on our way out! We saw a group of elephants, some more giraffes, and best of all, a group of about 9 lionesses napping under a tree on the side of the road! After snapping a million pictures, we
continued to drive. I was able to listen to all of the podcast The Habitat that we will listen to with our students for ChangeMakers. (For anyone interested in space travel at all, I highly recommend it!) It’s about a group of people who volunteer to spend a year in a Mars simulation dome in Hawaii. One year in a 30 ft diameter dome with 5 strangers and you can’t even go outside unless you’re together and in a space suit. It was fascinating to listen to, especially while sitting in a cramped safari car with 7 other people while outside a vast, foreign landscape stretched out around us. We encountered a few more giraffes on the way, and one even crossed the road right in front of us! We drove back though the Maasai lands, past the gorgeous pond and then arrived at a our next campsite on the rim of the crater (unfortunately by the time we got there, it was too dark to get a good view). We set up camp again and waited until dinner, frantically charging out devices that had all died over the past 48 electricity free hours. We had a late dinner and even a little bit a of
wine from another safari goer who offered the rest of her unfinished bottle! It was really cold up in the mountains, but a perfectly clear night, so after stargazing for a bit, we snuggled into our sleeping bags to prepare for another early morning.

Another 5:30 wake up. Another quick breakfast. We piled back in the car one last time for our decent into the crater. After a really slow ride down (not complaining, it was STEEP and a little scary at times) we reached the bottom. You could see sunbeams shining though the clouds and herds of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle everywhere. It is very flat and there are very few trees in the crater, and those that are there are along the edge, so it’s pretty easy to spot animals. We soon saw a couple of lionesses resting in a patch of grass and some ostriches grazing. We drove up a hill that is believed to have been the summit of the volcano before collapsing on itself and from there were able to spot three elephants and a rhino way off in the distance below in some bushes. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get a closer look as there was no path to drive on. We were able to drive around pretty much the whole crater. We stopped at a hippo pool where you could see the eyes and ears of about a dozen hippos peaking out the water and then a little further on, saw another group of them out of the water. Man,
those things are HUGE. We saw some zebras fighting (a male was trying to mount a female and she kicked him in the head before running away haha!) and then saw another large group of cars. At first we heard they were looking at a rhino but we could only see a faint gray blob in the distance, even though the binoculars. Then we heard someone mention lions and we saw a small clearing in the grass where a male and a female were laying together. It was the first male lion we had gotten a good look at (there had been some others earlier but they were lying down so it was hard to see) and we tried to take good photos through the binoculars, but they were so far away, it’s hard to make them out. I got a sort of decent one though. We completed our circuit of the crater and started our ascent. To our relief, it was on another paved road so it wasn’t quite as terrifying driving out as we had anticipated. In fact, it offered some stunning views. We settled back in for the long ride back home and arrrived at the hostel a few hours later dusty, dirty, sweaty, and exhausted but grinning ear to ear. It had been a great trip and I don’t regret a second of it.

Well I’ve now written a complete novel, so I’m going to sign off now. I’ll write another post in a few days with some more updates from around Arusha. Here are some more safari photos. It’s a bit of a pain to put them in order and add captions so I apologize for the randomness but if you have any questions about what/where they’re of, just ask in the comments! (The other Jamie had a good camera and will share her photos when we’re all back in the states, but these should be good enough for now!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Week Two in Arusha: Starting School

Hello again!
It’s been a pretty busy week since my last post, so I’ll do my best to recap.
I have officially started my placement at the Ngateu Secondary School and have been helping out in some of the math classes. Ngateu has two math teachers and they each also teach another subject (one teaches Chemistry and the other teaches Physics).

A Form 4 (juniors) math class.
I have been working with both of them, sometimes co-teaching and sometimes teaching on my own. I even got to bring my now patented Adding and Subtracting Integers lesson (featuring “Same Change Change” from the original Mrs. Long!) to a Form 2 (grade 9) class. It’s been an interesting experience because in some ways it’s similar to teaching in Namibia but in others it’s very different. First of all, the student’s English skills are lower than those of my Namibian learners, which is a challenge. Additionally, I’m not there for very long (in fact, due to the delayed start and their schedule, I’ll only be there about 9 days) so I don’t have time to get them used to a radically new style of teaching/learning. I’m doing my best to more or less follow what they’re used to and just put a bit more emphasis on conceptual understanding instead of rote memorization. I’m lucky that one of the teachers I’m working with really does seem to be trying to get his students to think more than the traditional schooling system here requires. He has lots of energy and a good rapport with the students. I got to see one
Chem Lab!
of his Chemistry classes and the kids were working on an experiment to see how temperature affected the rate of chemical reactions. It was cool to see the kids working together and communicating (even though they were speaking Swahili so I couldn’t understand them) and using their critical thinking skills. Contrast this with another class I saw where the teacher spent the first 30 minutes of a 40 minute lesson silently writing notes on the board while the students silently copied them down. I’m sure almost none of them knew what they were actually copying. He then proceeded to read through the notes they had just written, adding only marginal explanations as he went. The lunch bell rang when he was only part way through and the kids sat obediently in their seats for another 20 minutes while he finished. While a very small part of me was jealous at how well behaved they were, most of me was screaming on the inside, knowing that this is exactly the opposite of what good learning looks like. In the whole hour or so I was there, the only words I heard out of students’ mouths were a few
The schoolyard
responding ‘yes’ when the teacher asked “are you with me?” (I get the feeling that responding ‘no’ isn’t really an option). Seeing this made me more determined than ever to dive headfirst into ChangeMakers next year and see what our kids can do when we give them the freedom and license to think outside the box and use their brains in ways they’ve never been asked to before.

Ok, enough about school. Now for some other updates. Most evenings are spent hanging out at the hostel with the other volunteers either watching movies or playing cards. On Friday though, a bunch of us went out dancing which was really fun. Saturday morning I woke up and went to a yoga class with Tizia (the woman who co-owns the hostel with her husband) and another volunteer. It felt really good to stretch a bit and reminded me that I should start doing yoga at home again too. Later in the afternoon we went to a lodge down the street that caters to a large mzungu (read “white”) population going on safaris. You can get a pass to use their pool for the day, so a few of us headed there to lounge in the sun and take a dip in the
pool. It’s absolutely gorgeous and the towels are particularly luxurious. Sunday we went to a brand new mall outside of Arusha to see the Incredibles 2 at the cinema and get a bite to eat. We explored the mall for a bit and then sat down at a table outside a pizza place. All of a sudden about 7 people descended on us giving us menus from all the different restaurants. It was super overwhelming but really funny. It was cool that we could all order from different places though!

Now I am relaxing with other Jamie and Liselot at a different lodge that we checked out today (the schedule at the school has no math classes on Wednesdays and Fridays, so they said it didn’t make sense for me to come). It’s unfortunatly cloudy and cool, so we aren’t using the pool today, but we are relaxing outside by the river and have heard that the food here is amazing…
Rivertrees Lodge

Tomorrow a few of us are departing on a four day safari to the Serengeti, Tarangire, and Ngorongoro Crater! I wasn’t planning on doing a safari here since they’re a bit expensive and I did one in Namibia, but the Serengeti is supposed to be the epitome of an African safari and I figured I couldn’t be this close and not do one. Therefore it didn’t take too much for the group to convince me to join them.

I don’t know what the service will be like out there, so I’ll update the blog when I get back. Fingers crossed that I have some fun stories and amazing photos to share!

Here are some other photos from the last week.
A view from my work

Turns out school buses are yellow here too! 

We saw this in the mall— a portable toilet seat for your safari!

Also at Rivertrees: a river and some trees

Till next time!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Settling In and a Slight Delay

Hello again!
I have spent the last few days settling into a nice routine at the hostel and trying to get the details of my placement figured out. Secondary schools here do not normally take volunteers, as most of the volunteers have no teaching experience or background in the subjects. My placement was arranged specially for me by the former volunteer coordinater who has since left Tanzania. It also happpens that it was arranged when the owners of the program were back in Germany having their baby, so neither they nor the currrent volunteer coordinater really knew much about my placement. I was told Sunday night that the school I was supposed to be at was no longer accepting volunteers. Oh ok. So they said I could go to a different project with some other volunteers on Monday while they worked on finding an alternative placement for me, likely in a primary school. 

On Monday, I went with two other volunteers, Jamie and Liselot, to Pippi House - a shelter
The entrance to Pippi House
for women fleeing trafficking and domestic abuse. There we played with some of the children and taught them some card games. Jamie had raised money to send one of the women to college, so she left to help Glory pay the fees and register for classes. Liselot and I stayed with the kids. When we returned home, Tini and Tizia, the couple that runs Viva-Tanzania, told me that I could start Tuesday at St. Pius Primary school, which was a 5 minute walk from the hostel.

Tuesday morning Tini, Rosie (the volunteer corrdinater) and I departed for the short walk to St. Pius. The school was much smaller than I imagined, with the upper grades (6 and 7) only having about 5 students each. While the teachers were kind and welcoming, I wasn’t sure what my role would be there given the small class size and the fact that this was not the level or content I am used to teaching. Apparently on their walk home, Rosie was thinking the same thing and asked if there was at least a larger primary school I could go to and Tini confirmed that there was. He would spend the next day coordinating it, so Wednesday I stayed at the hostel. Jamie and Liselot were also there in the morning, as they were going to Pippi House later in the evening. We were going to check out a pool in town but the weather was cool and cloudy, so we decided against it. They worked on their presentation for the evening and I managed to get some school work done, which was nice. In the afternoon Tini and Tizia came to talk to me again and said that they had made the arrangements for me to go to the original secondary school that I was supposed to be at! 

This morning I left with Didi (another Tanzanian who works at the hostel) and we walked
Walking to the school
about a half hour to the school. I met with the headmistress and explained who I was and what I wanted to do at the school. She introduced me to some of the teachers and each of the classes. It’s a pretty small private school, so there was only one class of each grade. Not all of the students had returned from holidays yet, but it seems that there will be between 20-30 students in each class. They didn’t have a syllabus with them to give me so they told me to come back tomorrow and they would arrange a schedule for me and I could start working with some of the students. Though I am not entirely clear yet on what my role will be there, it seems that I might be working with students to help them prepare for their National Examinations. I guess I’ll find out more tomorrow. Even though things didn’t get entirely sorted today, I feel much more comfortable at this school and I am confident I will be able to carve out a niche for myself while I am here. When we entered one of the classrooms, I saw a big algebraic expression on the board for the students to simplify and I couldn’t help but smile—this I knew. (Yes, I know I’m a huge nerd). 

On the walk back (were were only there for less than an hour), Didi asked if we could stop to see his family. We took a short detour and he took me to his house where his wife and infant son were. He introduced me to them and showed me the bigger house that he was
Didi’s house in the process of being built
 in the process of building. Houses here get built very slowly, one step at a time as they can afford it. He had been working on his house for three years and the brick walls were all up inside and out. He walked me through the layout and I could tell he was proud of his work (and he should have been-the house looked great!) He said the next step would be the roof, and then the windows and doors, followed by the floor. After showing me where his mother and brother lived (in houses very close by to his) we continued back to the hostel.

I am excited to go back to the school tomorrow and figure out the details of what I will be doing there on a daily basis. The students and teachers seem very excited to have me there as well, so I hope that I will be able to do some good and help them in any way that I can. 

That’s all the updates I have for now. I’ll end with some pictures of the hostel in case any of you are curious as to my current living situation. Also, if you want to look it up on Google Maps, it’s Nyumbani Hostel in Mianzini, Arusha, Tanzania.
The dinning room/card table


My bunk

The shower even has (a little bit of) hot water!

Nala and Kimba (two of Rosie’s dogs who stay at the hostel)
Aren’t they the cutest? I’m also convinced Nala is an Australian Shepard like our old dog.
I had always wondered what Gretchen would look like as a puppy and I think I found out!