Last weekend the iSTEP team (plus a couple friends of ours from the hostel) took a trip to Mikumi National Park. Mikumi is about 200km west of Dar, so the drive probably should have taken about two and a half hours. We set out on Saturday morning, around 8:00AM, and although traffic added some time to our journey, our drivers’ liberal use of the accelerator took that time back off. We only stopped for breakfast, gas, and to discuss traffic laws with a local police officer.
Even before we got to the motel where we were staying, we saw baboons and giraffes. I had, until that point, never seen a wild giraffe before, so I already thought this was really cool. Little did I know what I was in for. Following lunch and a much needed nap, we left for our first game drive. The first day we saw Thompson’s gazelle and impala, wildebeest, giraffes, zebras and even elephants. It was kind of surreal looking out of our Land Rover and seeing a bunch of giraffes, or a family of elephants casually wandering through the savannah. It’s a totally different experience from seeing those same animals in the zoo.
After sundown we returned to our motel. I would describe genesis motel as a passably nice place. The food was good, but not stellar. The beds were clean, although a little short for my lanky frame. The showers had hot water, but almost no water pressure. To us, though, it was heaven. I hadn’t had a hot shower in seven weeks, and the one I took at Genesis Motel, low water pressure and all, was one of the best showers I’ve ever taken.
At dinner we got to know our guides, Kathleen and Innocent on a friendlier, less professional basis. They were both very nice and fun to be around. They also had some (hilarious) comments that I can’t reproduce here, since we’re trying for a PG rating on this blog.
Early the next morning – and by early I mean really early, like 5:30AM – we left for our second game drive. En route to the hippo pond we got a real treat: simba. Not only did we see lions, but two of them even walked right in front of vehicle, maybe ten feet away. And there were cubs too. Lion sightings are not rare by any means, but they’re definitely not a given, and we were extremely lucky to get one as good as we did. The rest of the day we had a few other good views: the hippo pond, a bull elephant who decided he didn’t really like us and lots more gazelle, giraffes and zebras, but nothing could compare to the lion sighting.
Following our morning game drive we took a brief trip to the Genesis Motel’s attached snake park. In addition to a wide selection of snakes, they had some tortoises, a few crocodiles and a small guinea pig farm, presumably for feeding the snakes. I’ve owned three guinea pigs in my life, and it kind of broke my heart to see them as future snake food, but the snakes need to eat to live, and so it goes. The snake park operator took it upon himself to repeatedly poke the largest crocodile with a broom, which he would furiously snap at, for our viewing pleasure. I felt bad for the poor crocodile being bothered by the broom it could never quite get, but it was amazing to see (and hear) its powerful jaws working.
After the snake park we headed home, stopping in all the same places as we had on the way there, even talking with the same traffic officer. By the time we worked our way through Dar traffic (which is brutal), and found our way home, everyone was tired and in need of a shower, but we all agreed that the trip had been awesome.
Last weekend’s trip to Zanzibar was, in a word, awesome. Even though we were only there for two nights, there’s a ton to talk about – from stumbling around in Stone Town to mysteriously running into fellow UDSM students from Georgetown at Nungwi – but I’m going to focus on Sunday.
Sunday we woke up early to a packed day: a trip to Jozani forest followed by an excursion to the north coast at Nungwi. Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, Zanzibar’s only national park, is home to plenty of wildlife, including two species of mongoose, squirrels, pythons, antelope and two species of monkeys. As I excitedly pointed at the various fauna on the board and asked our guide which we would see, I learned that they’re pretty much all nocturnal. Bummer. On the plus side, he assured me that we would see monkeys. And oh, did we ever see monkeys.
The highlight of the trip was definitely the monkeys. We saw two species: the Zanzibar red Colobus monkey, which lives only on Zanzibar (although there are other species of red Colobus monkey elsewhere), and the Sykes’ monkey. The Colobus monkeys spent most of their time jumping from tree to tree, which was not always entirely graceful. In fact, I saw one land on a branch, which promptly snapped off, dropping the monkey a good seven or eight feet to the ground. He seemed fine.
Besides the monkeys, we were treated to a few other sights, including, but not limited to, lizards, giant African land snails, mangroves, tons upon tons of crabs, and me furiously scratching my leg after I brushed up against a stinging nettle. As we left, we all agreed that Jozani forest had been a great idea.
Next up: Nungwi. Nungwi is a town on the north coast of Zanzibar, roughly and hour away from Jozani or Stone Town. Upon our arrival, the weather was a nice shade of overcast, and the resorts apparently abandoned. We went to lunch at a local joint, where a drunk man proceeded to eat some of Hatem’s food before being reprimanded by the restaurant owner. Following lunch Brad and I set out on our quest to go snorkeling.
After almost five minutes of walking on the beach, we found a place that agreed to take us out for 17,000 Tsh (or about $15). Sweet deal. They rig up a Dhow (a traditional sailing boat) with an outboard motor, invite us on board, and we slowly but surely make our way out to a local reef. Twenty minutes later, Brad and I are in the water marveling at the fish and the coral.
After thoroughly checking out the first site, we move to another, complete with an entire school of zebra fish (a good two hundred of them all by the boat). Oh, and I almost forgot, they let us dive off the top of the Dhow, which is about eight feet high. On our return journey, our fearless captain forwent the outboard motor and chose instead to rig up the sails. As such, the journey took a bit longer, but it was cool to be sailing on a real Dhow.
And that was our Sunday in Zanzibar (well, there was a little bit more about how we got lost trying to find our way home from the night market, but that’s a story from another day). The next day we went home (also a story for another day), and Tuesday back to work. This week we’re meeting with the ISW to hopefully schedule interviews for our needs assessment team, so we can figure out exactly what the challenges are and how we can best address them. Of course, I’ve been working hard (and continue to), developing a product that we think might be useful based on our current information, so that hopefully we can get some feedback on that too (that’s a little further off, hopefully next week).
PS – I’ll get some pictures up later today.
Okay, so we’re all hard at work on our various projects over here in Tanzania, and those are going really well. But in my free time, I’m busy trying to see how much I can resemble Dr. Livingstone. Here are the pictures; you be the judge.
Can you guess which one is me and which one Brad snapped at the National Museum? Oh, also, I would like to note that Brad, being destined for a career in model photography as he is was giving me directions such as “sterner, sterner! You’re in Africa! Africa is full of elephants! You hate elephants! Sterner!” I think I look pretty stern.
Oh yeah, and last weekend was my birthday, which was pretty awesome. We celebrated with a second trip to Kipepeo beach, which was as awesome as ever.
So, I understand that not everyone is as obsessed with monkeys, mongoose and wildlife in general as I am. That being said, I took these pictures a couple days ago, and I really wanted to share.
So I’ve been really impressed with the Tanzanian public transportation system so far. The main mode of transport is dala dala buses. Well, bus might be a bit a misnomer, they’re more like large vans. Dala dalas generally have four rows of seats, including the driver’s row, plus one row that faces backwards located directly behind the driver’s seat. They look well used, but also (usually) well maintained, and my best guess is that they are never retired from the fleet, just repaired again and again. Painted around the bus is the route, e.g. “Ubungo / Mwenge via Choo Nyikenii,” as well as the words “Power of God,” “Jesus Loves You,” or something in that vein. I’m still not sure why the dala dalas are so religious.
So how are the dala dalas different from the PAT buses or other systems you might be used to? (Besides the “Power of God” bit, that is.) Well, for one, they’re far more crowded. I know that most of you have had the experience of riding a 28X to the airport for Thanksgiving break, or catching that 59U to the waterfront that you’ve been waiting for for an hour and a half, but trust me, the dala dalas make you wish the bus were only that crowded. Once you think the dala dala is full, the conductor can probably fit about five more people in. At least. Of course, not every dala dala is that crowded, but it can take a while to find one that has at least some room.
Which brings up another difference: the conductor. At least in Pittsburgh, buses are operated by just one person, the driver. Here, it’s a two man operation. The driver does all the driving, and the conductor gets out at every stop and tries to convince passers-by that they want to ride the bus, the conductor collects the fare, and the conductor is responsible for stuffing all those people that you thought wouldn’t fit into the bus. Also, note that the term “stop” isn’t quite the same as you might be used to. The dala dalas are more than happy to stop anywhere – and I do mean anywhere, even on a crowded highway – if they can pick up another paying passenger.
Dala dalas get their name from the Kiswahili slang, “dala,” meaning five. When the system first began, the fare was usually five shillings, so the conductors would shout out “dala dala” along the way to try and attract passengers. Since then, the fare has risen a little bit, to 250 shillings, or about 19 cents American, but the name has stuck.
This past March, I took a trip to the Dominican Republic, just for fun. They had a similar system of buses their, called gua guas. I thought I had gotten my craziest, most crammed bus experience for a lifetime when we encountered a gua gua so full that I rode standing on the lip of the doorway, and holding on to the roof, with my body hanging outside the gua gua, as we barreled down an 80 km/h highway. Tanzania forced me to reevaluate this, when we caught an Ubungo / Changanyikenii dala dala that was so crowded it made me wish they would have let me ride that way. Dala dalas may have some disadvantages versus Pittsburgh buses, but they’re cheap, they get you from place to place, and you can count on some excitement when it comes to trying to fit into the things.
So we arrived in Dar es Salaam on the afternoon of May 24th (around 3PM local time). Dar es Salaam is seven hours ahead of Pittsburgh right now, so this was about 8AM back home. We cleared customs and collected our bags largely without issue (although we did accidentally take someone else’s suitcase along the way), and then met with our host from University of Dar es Salaam, Eric.
Eric took us to our residence, at the East African Statistical Training Centre, on the enormous University of Dar es Salaam campus. After giving us some time to unpack, we went to a local chain, Chicken Hut, for dinner. Everything was great, but for me at least, my excitement at being in Tanzania – meeting all the people and seeing all the sights – was counterbalanced by my exhaustion. Despite having slept through all three flights nicely, I really just wanted to go to sleep.
The next day, Monday the 25th, was absolutely packed. After a good night’s sleep, we started out bright and early to meet some of our partners. We went over to our partner primary school where we hope to develop our literacy tools, and briefly met with the headmistress. Afterwards we headed on over to the Institute for Social Work, and met with our partners there, who sounded very excited about the prospect of our involvement. We even started to talk about some of the details of our project. It was around this time, roughly at noon, that I (and probably some other iSTEP folk) was starting to feel the effects of the jet lag. As interesting as these meetings were, and as important as it was to pay attention, meet the partners and make a good first impression, I was having a hard time staying awake and focused. Fortunately, these feelings passed as we went on to meet people running some related projects, the WAMATA project – which focuses on HIV/AIDS related issues in Tanzania – as well as the Capacity Project, which works with the ISW on evaluating the effectiveness of the parasocial-worker program. As far as the projects went, Monday was mostly about introductions and getting to meet the partners. We had some preliminary talks about the social worker project, but we’re going to need to do a lot more work, even on needs assessment, to really pinpoint the problems and challenges at hand, before we can even start working on a prototype.
After the meetings, despite the fact that it was only 1:30PM, I was absolutely exhausted. This probably had a lot to do with the jet lag, but I’m also going to pin some of the blame on the temperature (hot) and the humidity (high). Since we were already downtown after our meeting with Capacity Project, Eric took us to a local restaurant there. I had a delicious local dish, the name of which I can’t remember (I have a lot of trouble remembering Swahili names for things). The dish consisted of chicken and cooked, unripe bananas, which I thought tasted a lot like potatoes, all in a sauce. I wish I remembered the name so I could order it again sometime.
Lunch time was followed by shopping time, at the local mall. We bought some necessary supplies, like a water kettle for sterilization, as well as some less necessary supplies, like some Twix and Snickers, and we got our hands on cell phones. Cell phones are everywhere in Tanzania, and they’re cheap and easy to get. Mine cost 45,000 Tsh, or about 35 USD, and although lacking any frills, is definitely functional. The nice thing about buying a phone in Tanzania is that, unlike in the U.S., there are no contracts to sign – you simply buy prepaid minutes (which are sold nearly everywhere) as you go. I was impressed with how easy it was, and how quickly I got the phone up and running.
Now, coming back from the mall we were treated to a real Tanzanian experience. We rode two dala dala busses, the first along the Ubungo line, and the second on the Changanyikeni line. Dala dala busses are an inexpensive and common form of public transportation. The upside is that they cost usually 250 Tsh, or about 19 cents American. The downside, is that they tend to be very, very crowded. The first one we rode – the Ubungo line – we were able to get seats, and all was well. The second one – along the Changanyikeni line – we were not so fortunate. I have never been in a vehicle so crammed full of people before in my life (and I’ve made some pretty epic squeezes in my day). I was struggling to not fall on anyone, and by the end of the trip my back hurt quite a bit from bending over to fit in the thing. On the plus side, it got us home.
And now today, Tuesday the 26th, we got set up at our office in the University Computing Center. We’ve got another full schedule today, including a visit to our partner school for the Braille tutor project. Before I sign off, and head out for lunch, I’d like to note a few unrelated but interested things I’ve seen so far: a cow fleeing through the city as two men tried to catch it again, the people who sell goods to drivers and passengers when they’re stopped at intersections, the city’s many feral chickens, Boyz II Men Hair Cutz Salon, and even the monkey fleeing across campus this morning. No single scene or blog post can communicate the experience of being here, but I believe I speak for the entire team when I say we all think it’s pretty cool.
PS – I’ve got a few good pictures, in addition to this one shot of Brad and me in our new office, but I don’t have my camera on hand at the moment. I’ll put them up when I get the chance.
PPS – Sorry for the funny faces. We can’t help it.