words of an over-opinionated travel addict

Category: East Africa

Old Friends, New Adventures

IMG-20150430-WA0001 It’s been a while since I have updated, but I’ve been moving nonstop! Stephanie came to visit and we had a very busy itinerary, and I’m happy to report that it all went very smoothly! Unfortunately, it also went very quickly – the past three weeks went by in a blur. We started our journey by meeting in Kilimanjaro Airport. I arrived 5 hours earlier than her and wasn’t allowed to wait in the actual air  rt, so I had to sit outside all afternoon, but it was all worth it when she arrived! We headed back to my old stomping grounds, a hostel in Arusha, and called it a night. We spent 4 days in Arusha, visiting my old friends Baba Jack and Baba Jerry, my home stay family, and touring the city. It was so amazing to see them all again and even more amazing to share it all with Steph. My ‘Mama’ welcomed us with open arms, served us an endless fried banana and chai afternoon snack, and updated me on the past few years. My Swahili, though still broken and basic, has improved significantly since the last time I saw her. We communicated a lot easier than I remembered before, and that was pretty cool.



Then we headed out on safari, introducing Steph to her first camping experience! 3 of the 4 parks I had done before but they were just as incredible this time as they were the last! We saw everything and more – including the extremely rare sighting of a leopard hunting and killing a baby warthog! (I wish I had a picture, but I don’t). I had never even seen a leopard before, so that was incredible. We started out in Arusha heading to Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti.  We did a budget safari, literally the cheapest I could find, and we were pleasantly surprised with how well everything went and how good the food was (although I did have to eat goat).

Safari car selfie

After 4 days on safari, we drove through the Serengeti, away from Arusha. I had arranged for us to be dropped off at the other end of the Serengeti, closest to Mwanza, where a JBFC driver came to pick us up and take us to Mwanza. We spent 2 nights in a hotel there, where we were able to relax and do some laundry (in the shower), plus my coworkers were able to come meet us one night for dinner and drinks. Next, we were off somewhere new for both of us – Kigoma!
Kigoma is a small city on Lake Tanganyika. We had a few options of how to get there, and in the end decided to fly. Though extremely expensive (it was a charter plane), with such a IMG_4410limited amount of time it made the most sense for our plans. So we boarded the smallest plane I had ever been in, and we were off. I knew I loved Kigoma the minute we landed. It’s a very small rural area, I’m not even really comfortable calling a city (no supermarkets, but we did find an ATM!). We hopped in a cab and headed for the docks on the other side of town, where I was told we would find water taxi’s heading out to Gombe Stream National Park – the place where Jane Gooddall lived with the chimpanzees, and still visits twice a year. After wandering around the small market attempting to stock up on fruit and bread to snack on, we climbed onto our boat. The boat was large, uncovered (yay for sunburns – the trip took 3 hours) and filled with about 40-50 Tanzanians, a few huge bags of rice, large crates of sodas, and a handful of chickens. We also had the pleasure of a few not-so-subtle photos being taken of us from the water taxi next to us, because what’s funnier than white people on a boat? We managed to kill time on our long ride by having a few conversations with the one person on the boat who sort of spoke English. Mainly we talked about Obama, Tupac, and Rihanna, because America.
The one snag we hit was upon our arrival in Gombe around 4pm. It’s $100 per 24 hours spent in the park. Apparently as of 2014, once you step off the boat you are officially in the National Park, even if you aren’t trekking or doing anything other than sleeping in the guesthouse. You can’t start a trek until the morning, and you can’t get on a water taxi until the morning. So in order to do a trek we would have to spend 36 hours total in the park, most of which we would spend sleeping. After about an hour of arguing with the employees, and having no way off the island, we were faced with the option to either a) pay $100 just to spend the night (not including the guesthouse fee or food) just to wake up at 6am and get on the boat back, b) pay for two 24 hour permits – $200 each, or c) hire a $300 private boat to come and get us. After quite a bit of arguing, we reluctantly agreed to pay for both permits. When in Tanzania, right? And when their credit card machine wasn’t working, we handed over the only USD we had – $100 each. They promised the machine would work the next day, and we crossed our fingers and hoped otherwise. At 8am the next day we started our trek with a guide. Another guide elsewhere in the forest sent a message to ours (via a loud whooping sound he made – no cell phones or walkie talkies here!) about a chimp sighting, and off we went through the jungle. We found one chimp, a young male off by himself high above our heads in a tree. We sat at the bottom for a while until he came bounding down, running right passed us. The chimps are wild animals, and they know no paths or trails, so when you follow them, you follow them through the bush – a real trek. He lead us to his mother, who was in a tree with her 5 year old son, as well as a one-month old baby on her belly. The family was un-phased by us, and as soon as the fruit they were eating looked better in another tree, they climbed down and walked directly between us – the 5 year old stepping on my foot as he bounded after his mom. We spent a while there watching them, and to surprise ran into two more tourists – a Canadian couple who had hired their own boat to take them for the day. After visiting the waterfalls, spotting another chimp family, and hiking through the forest some more, we packed our bags and jumped on their boat, our untouched credit cards still in our wallets. Take that, overpriced park fees!

Stephanie with the mama chimp!

With 2 days still to kill in Gombe, we found a nice little hotel to stay in. For $10 a night each, we got a double bed, mosquito nets, our own bathroom and refrigerator, and free breakfast. Not too shabby. Each day we hopped on a bajaj and headed for beach on the lake. It’s the off season, and the beaches were quiet. We were lucky enough to pay $3 a day to lounge around in our own private cove. It was beautiful, and exactly what we needed. No seagulls here, however we did have to fend off monkeys trying to eat our food! Finally, we flew back to Mwanza and hung out around JBFC for a few days before Stephanie headed back home.

our private cove on Lake Tanganyika


It was a successful vacation, and I’m sad it’s over. Stephanie being here and then leaving has made me pretty homesick. However, I’m reaching the halfway point of my time at JBFC and feeling both happy and nervous for the summer to start. It’s my first summer ever away from home and I’m hoping that it’s going to be a good one!

During the annual migration, there are 2 million Zebras and 4 million Wildebeest in the Serengeti


The coolest photo I’ve ever taken – not zoomed in and right next to our car!


A hyena hangs out in the road


Overlooking Ngorongoro Crater


Stephanie with a herd of Elephants


Waterfalls of Gombe Stream


A Trip to Kenya and My 23rd Birthday

            On Tuesday afternoon, a coworker and I decided to catch a bus the next morning and head to Nairobi for a few days away. And by bus I really mean: A bus, walking across the border, a lot of harassment and bargaining, 1 large van, and a taxi. After 14 hours of traveling and a hit and run with a man on a motorcycle (Yes, we hit him with the van and kept driving), we had arrived at our ‘hostel’. We stayed in one of the nicest campsites ever: Wildebeest Eco Camp. The tents aren’t your typical ones, as they are large luxury ones with beds inside. We had booked a dorm, but they ended up being full so we were upgraded to our own private tent – no complaints there!

IMG_20150416_132117After a good night’s sleep we headed out
on our first adventure – the Kibera Slums. Our guide, Joshua, was born and raised there. He led us through narrow walkways, and I spent most of my time watching my steps as to avoid sewage, mud, and trash, which was impossible. As I slid my way down hills, dodging people, and waving hello to the children yelling, “mzungu how are you!” in a chorus of giggles, Joshua told us all about his home. Kibera is located right in the city of Nairobi, home to over 1 million residents, making up one fourth of Kenya’s entire population. It’s the largest slum in Kenya, and the second in the entire continent of Africa. The smell was distracting, as each breathe I took contained waves of trash, pollution, and sewage. The children were welcoming, excited, and eager to say hello to us. But with adults, I felt hesitant to say anything. It’s difficult to know what the appropriate thing to do is when we both know the reality of it all, and how far our differences divide us. As we crossed a narrow bridge, a dying woman was sandwiched between two women half helping, half dragging her as they ran across. Her face was filled with pain, and I tried to avoid making eye contact with any of them. Joshua explained how far away the one hospital in the slum is, and how most sick people never make it there in time. As I looked out from the bridge I could see children in the extremely polluted and trash-filled water, splashing one another and laughing. Usually when I’m around extreme poverty, I find relief with the children. At least they find entertainment, even if it is in a muddy river. But this was different. These kids wouldn’t know how important they were, and they probably wouldn’t ever get out of the slums. I was ashamed and horrified by how much I had been blessed with, and how little these children were.

              Eventually we arrived at a modern two-floor building that offered laundry services,
toilets, internet, and showers for 5 Kenyan Shillings  (10 cents). In the lobby, beautiful artwork hung all around the walls. We learned that they were done by resident children, selling them in order to pay their school fees. I bought a beautiful painting done by a 16-year old boy named Joseph for $70. While I thought the center had the right idea, attempting to change the lives of the slum, I couldn’t help but wonder how much good it could really do when most of the community can’t afford to go there. We continued along until we reached the office of the Kibera Community Empowerment Organization, where Joshua informed us of all KCEO does. KCEO runs a recycling program, where residents can go out and collect plastic and be brought to them to sell, where they have a machine that crushes the plastic and creates building materials. He also showed me a binder explaining every topic you can think of, from anti-corruption to sex education to personal hygiene. These are taught in a youth behavioral change program. Joshua is one of the co-founders of KCEO and it was moving to see his passion. He has been able to set up a local organization that was making a real difference in his community. His story was inspiring and gave me a sense of hope. If he could make such a change, so could others. After returning back to our hostel we reflected on what we had seen that day. I’ve experienced rural poverty before, and it’s always been difficult for me to put into words. I’ve constantly struggled with how to make people at home understand that this isn’t just something you see on TV. But this time was even harder to grasp, and as I tried to write in my journal I wasn’t even sure myself what I was feeling.




The next day was a day full of tourist activities, and I was more than okay with that. We started in the morning for the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – Kenya’s haven for orphaned elephants. It was incredibly muddy and rainy, but once we saw the elephants it made it all worth it. We arrived in time for their feeding, where their keepers lead them out into a ring. We watched along with many other people as the elephants devoured their bottles before running around and playing. They came bounding over to us, let us pet them, and one even attempted to pull my hood off of my head, resulting in him spraying me with mud and water. I was covered and soaked, but couldn’t stop myself from smiling. Anyone who knows me at all knows how skeptical I am about tourist attractions like these and how the animals are hurt from this much interaction with humans. However, this organization seems to be one of the good ones. After a certain age the elephants don’t participate in these feeding viewings, and are reintroduced to the wild, but it’s a long and hard process and a lot of times babies are rejected by other herds. The Wildlife Trust rescues them from all over the country, and works hard to promote anti-poaching and education on the effects it has on these animals. Our next stop was the Giraffe Center, where we were able to feed and kiss some resident giraffes! The kiss was a little gross, but an experience for sure!

Finally, our driver recommended that we visit the Kazuri Bead Factory. We took a tour and learned how their jewelry was created. They make the clay on site, and then there are multiple stations. The first is where women shape the clay, each by hand with little to no molding or shaping tools, and leave them to dry for days, sometimes weeks depending on how large the item is. Next, they are each painted individually by hand and put over a fire for about 12 hours, before they are repainting and put back in the fire. The final step is to string them into beautiful bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and adorable animal figurines. They even make pottery, but that’s an even longer process. Of course by the end of the tour I was obsessed, and I still haven’t decided if I was lucky or unlucky that they accepted all major credit cards in their shop.

              On my 23rd birthday, I woke up to the sound of rain on the roof of our tent. I bundled the covers around me and waited for an alarm to go off in the dark before starting our 14-hour journey home. I spent my birthday in two countries, with good company, and although the journey was hard and stressful at times, I was happy to have a few drinks back in Tanzania, and to be back in my bed at JBFC that night.


IMG_20150416_105624                    Wall mural with the word “peace” written in 42 different tribal languages

He loved this shovel!
Having a moment with the giraffe
IMG_5089Anna & I hanging out with this guy!
IMG_3673Kazuri Bead Factory
IMG_3679Some of the beads

April 12, 2015

  Written April 12th, 2015

I basically traveled over 8,000 miles to escape the never-ending parade of jobs I had in restaurants. Yet somehow, I ended up back in one! The on-campus restaurant here, Papa’s, needed a little revamping. So for the next month and a half while no guests are here, I’ve taken over. I am helping incorporate a POS system on an iPad and retraining the staff. The goal is to open a vocational training school here by the end of this summer so that local youth can learn a trade in hospitality and service. Between my years of experience at home and the research project I did on restaurants in Arusha, I am up for the challenge. Although, this is not New York. Things run very pole pole around here.

I also decided that I would be willing to eat one of the chickens on campus if I slaughtered it myself. I made the attempt, which ended with both myself and the chicken being completely traumatized. I made the initial cut and then had to hand the knife over to a coworker. I’m hoping to go though with it another time. Worst vegetarian ever? Probably. But for whatever strange reason, I want the experience. However, I did scale and gut a fish. I didn’t kill it, but that was still something.


With two international staff members in America, things have been quiet around here. I’ve spent a lot of time relaxing, and preparing for my vacation at the end of this month! I also attended my first church service in Kitongo this morning, and it was not like any I had been to in Tanzania before. We sat outside in the shade from the trees, while the JBFC girls choir performed various songs and dances. Despite it being a long service that I understood less than 5% of, I found it beautiful.


I want to end with a quote I read recently, one that I think is important to share. Baadaye!
“I beg young people to travel. If you don’t have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack and go to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown, eat interesting food, dig some interesting people, have an adventure, be careful. Come back and you’re going to see your country differently, you’re going to see your president differently, no matter who it is. Music, culture, food, water. Your showers will become short. You’re going to get a sense of what globalization looks like. It’s not what Tom Friedman writes about, I’m sorry. You’re going to see that global climate change is very real. And that for some people, their day consists of walking 12 miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of that flight. A lot of people – Americans and Europeans – come back and go, ‘ohhhhh’. And the lightbulb goes on.” – Henry Rollins.
IMG_3404Papa’s – Restaurant
IMG_3518My attempt at slaughtering a chicken
IMG_3513Anna gutting fish with some of the girls
IMG_3436School Assembly
GOPR0719Giving Esther a ride in the pool!

One Month in Country

You know you’re no longer a tourist when you are in a gift shop of one of the most famous national parks in the world, and the only thing you are even a little tempted to buy is a Snickers bar! Once again I have made it to the Serengeti, only this time it was in a JBFC car and not a safari car. It was just a day trip; the gate is just about an hour from where I live. We saw quite a few animals, but it was a weird feeling to be there without my friends – especially when at a hippo pool.

Also this week, we all went to dinner at a Tanzanian staff member’s house, and it was lovely. The first I’ve been in since I lived in a village home myself! I’ve also been camping on my boss’ farm about half an hour from campus. It was a nice night with his sons and my coworkers. Plus his farm dog had just had 2-day old puppies! It was really cute, and a new experience for me to watch them nurse.

Last weekend we went to the Yaht Club in Mwanza that my boss partially owns the restaurant in – and it was ex-pat city. I don’t understand where all the white people even come from. It was really out of element for me, but we had fun nonetheless!  Had my first taste of Konyagi this trip… brought back some lovely, yet painful memories. I was really happy to wake up yesterday and spend the entire day with the girls – including getting my hair braided, and walking into Kitongo Village and buying some fish as an afternoon snack.

As far as work goes, I’ve had a bit of down time this week, but I’m working wherever and however I can. I’m using this time to research longer safaris, because Stephanie is officially coming to visit for almost 3 weeks, starting at the end of April!!! This also means I get about 4 days in Arusha with her, get to see my friends, and hopefully my homestay family. To say I’m looking forward to it is an understatement.

 IMG_2768Sakuma Dancers

IMG_2824Daisy nursing her puppies!

IMG_2831Camping Trip

IMG_3088Me and Lucy

IMG_2901 Hippo Pool




Working Hard or Hardly Working?

AH! I did not take advantage of my one week of rest before the school group came! It’s been nonstop, but I’m enjoying it. Days turn into nights really quickly around here. The student group that is volunteering this week is a big sponsor of JBFC, and they had a lot of projects planned to do during their two week stay. It’s been my job to get them where they need to be, get their supplies ready, and document their progress. They went on safari yesterday, giving me two days off, and I can’t say I’m not enjoying having some time to myself!

The other day, one of the high school chaperones asked two of the students to come have a meeting with the adults. It took me an embarrassingly long time to understand that she was referring to me. Am I an adult?! When did that happen? I think the biggest struggle I will have to overcome with this job is trying to relate more with the chaperones than with the actual students.

We took the group on a walk to the village public school, and it’s amazing to see their reactions to it. They’ve paired up with our Form IV kids to work on a community service project there, which is pretty incredible. They are all going to go back and volunteer this week and I’m excited to see how it turns out. The one thing that does worry me is that most student groups don’t go far from campus. JBFC is amazing, but being inside of its bubble is a false representation of Tanzania. Sometimes I feel guilty for the way I am living. Today I came into Mwanza (“the city”, as everyone calls it) and one of the JBFC drivers took me. No public transportation, and when I arrived at the market expecting to do some shopping and haggling on my own, he escorted me everywhere and did the bargaining for me! I felt like a true mzungu tourist, and next time I’m going to work up the courage to ask him to leave me on my own.

I also feel my relationships with the JBFC girls growing closer as time goes on, and I’m really looking forward to knowing them better. I know most of their names already, which is quite a challenge. Last night I accidentally wore yoga pants to prayer instead of a skirt, and they all laughed at me. It was surprisingly embarrassing, and I don’t think I will make that mistake again!

After this group leaves, all of April and part of May are “blacked out dates” aka, no volunteers allowed. I’m really looking forward to having the freedom to pick up some projects around campus and be as involved as I can be. There is a restaurant on campus where they sometimes hold events, and I’m planning to do some work there. I can’t seem to escape this industry!

I also learned that the “Maasai market” in Arusha burned down a few months ago. It was the go-to place for souvenirs and cool handmade things for anyone passing through. They are in the process of rebuilding it, and I am really hoping it’s back the way it was when I visit.
Since I’m in the city today, my internet was faster and I’m able to share some more photos!
IMG_3743 Esther, Nyamalwa, and I hanging out at the girls home.
IMG_1910One of my favorite people on campus! Bibi Nyamalwa having a dance party while cooking at the Joseph & Mary School’s dining hall.
 IMG_1765Visiting Kitongo Sima Primary School
IMG_8397Sunrise over Lake Victoria, my front yard.
IMG_3348A couple of international staff members, the dining hall crew, a few JBFC girls, and I!


IMG_1895 I love these girls! Salome being silly with a volunteer’s hat and glasses!
IMG_8298Great quote in the library at JBFC


IMG_2375I love this photo of Zai, a JBFC girl who is visiting America next month!


IMG_2394Salome and Zai dancing with some of the volunteers!

Week One

 I’ve been in country one week and I can’t tell if it went fast or slow. Part of me feels like I’ve been here forever, and another part of me feels like I just arrived. The long trip over here was slightly traumatic, and I found myself crying while FaceTiming home from the airport in Istanbul. But after taking a Xanax and catching up on some sleep, I was ready for anything. Even after breathing in that East African air, obtaining my visa, and arriving in Mwanza, none of it seemed real to me yet. But people say nothing brings back memories like a familiar smell, and that’s the truth. Driving down the road to JBFC, the smell of burning garbage filled my nostrils and a smile formed on my face that didn’t let up for hours.

I have spent my first few days learning about how the campus works and what permaculture is, getting to know the girls in the refuge, and trying to make friends with my international coworkers. So far, so good. However, my job as Volunteer Coordinator is still a little unknown to me, as the first student group arrives tomorrow. I am both nervous and excited for the craziness to begin and for my job to really start. I’m also happy to report that Swahili is returning to me as the days go on, and I was even able to remember some of the Kimaa I learned and can greet the Maasai guards here in their own language.

I can’t help but compare most of the experiences I have had so far with my previous ones from my last time in Tanzania. I thought I was well prepared, but this is actually much different. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m here, or at least not the Tanzania that I know. My home now sits on the shores of Lake Victoria, with a nice breeze passing through. Sometimes it feels more like I am on a vacation rather than working in a developing country. My life here is much more luxurious than it was last time, as I have my own room with a bed, electricity, running water, plumbing, and western style food available. I even have most of my laundry done for me. But in terms of food, I’m finding it a little more difficult than I expected to be a vegetarian here, because the international staff cooks a lot of meat. I have decided to eat fish for the time being, and even so, I am anticipating eating a lot of rice and beans with the girls for dinner.

Last night my housemate and I were sitting in the living room when a bat appeared flying over our heads in circles. After ducking down and hiding under cushions while screaming and laughing, it landed and we called for help. So all in all, it’s been an exciting fist week away from home.
The internet here is a bit temperamental, but I’ll do my best to keep you all updated!

 IMG_1532Esther, the youngest JBFC girl, braiding my hair
IMG_1407Afternoon Snack


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