The Vast Continent of Africa

We first meet Pat and Ann in no-man’s land, the space between the border crossing from Zimbabwe to Botswana.   They load their luggage and climb aboard. Dad waits a moment before he starts introductions. We learn their names and where they are from.  We establish the fact that we are indeed on the same Letaka safari together. I am relieved that our travel companions are not a young married couple on their honeymoon.  That would be too much for me, as I am in my 30’s and traveling with my parents. I secretly hope that these two happy Brits are a lesbian couple. I look for signs either way.  The only thing I notice is that Ann, the blonde one, wears a rainbow bracelet. This is not enough evidence. I will have to wait to learn more about them.

 

We drive to Kasane where we will take a boat on the Chobe River Front.  Our guide tells us we will meet the rest of a group; 2 more people. Maybe they will be single brothers in their 30’s! Instead we meet Jim and Margaret, a British couple with grey hair and warm smiles.  I am disappointed, but not surprised, that I will not find love on this safari.

 

It is with these travel companions and our guide Nkosi that we will explore Botswana.   

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Nkosi has a serious face with focused eyes.  At 49, he is a former instructor at a guide school and has been guiding since the 80’s.  I am surprised to see his massive camera the first time he takes it out. He has a knack for maneuvering the land cruiser to ensure the best possible light for each and every photograph.  It is evident that he enjoys tracking animals, he regularly drives ever so slightly off the road in order to interpret what animals are nearby, how recently they were here, and what direction they went.  During game drives, tea time, and dinner he informs us of the latest controversies and policies in Botswana related to wildlife, conservation, and hunting. We discuss the complicated problem of the overpopulation of elephants in the country at length and do not come to any sort of viable solution.

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Nkosi looking for tracks as he prepares to drive over a bridge.
At 70, dad loves taking photographs.  He takes hundreds each day and uploads them to his iPad for better viewing each evening.  He takes pride in his best ones and shows them to mom who lovingly admires what he captured.  He goes straight for the coffee in the morning. Like me, he hates being rushed to do things, and likes things to be organized.  I am so impressed and proud with how well he has adjusted to such rustic accommodations. Dad is flexible and selfless. He is willing to sit anywhere at the table and in the Land Cruiser. This aids to the ease in which the group moves about each day.

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Dad, back right, is focused on capturing the perfect picture.
 

 

Mom’s love of colors is a topic of conversation each day.  We tease her about this, but she is right. The colors are incredible.  I can only imagine how the views we have seen on this landscape will inform her upcoming weaving projects.  Mom delights in seeing wildlife. It is as though each time she falls in love with the animals again. Typical to my mom’s behavior, she is quick to make friends and put others at ease.  She adds to the group’s love of laughter by cracking jokes and gently teasing others.

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Mom and me, stretching our legs at tea-time during a morning game drive.
Ann has a creative soul and sees the world through an artist’s lens.  I love viewing wildlife with her. Each time we see an animal she exclaims in joy, “How brilliant!”  Her attention to detail has informed my own perspective of the animals, in particular taking the time to view the feet.  As an artist, she sketches every opportunity she has. I am impressed by her talent and extremely touched that she shared a fable she wrote about me and a warthog.  I love watching her drawings come to life. When Ann smiles, her entire body beams with joy. She is quick to laugh and is a true empath. It is evident she has a big heart.  

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Ann, the artist, used pencil and paper to capture her pictures. 
Pat self-reports that she loves chocolate ice cream, something that we all miss.  Each morning she puts on a beautiful shade of light pink lipstick. From my observations, it seems as though her favorite word is, ‘darling.’  Almost every time she says it to Ann with her beautiful accent I giggle. Pat’s eyes are warm and focused. When speaking to her, it’s as though she is listening not only to your words but to your entire being.  She has an incredible command of the English language and remains shockingly calm in frustrating situations.

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Ann and Pat and their radiant smiles.
Ann and Pat’s friendship inspires me.  These two women, friends for over 40 years, clearly care deeply for each other.  They are both quick to laugh at each other and themselves, as well as give each other honest feedback in a loving way.  I adore how they laugh together; it’s as though they are school girls on the playground with an inside secret. They encourage each other and support each other.  If we could all be so lucky to have a friend like they have in each other.

Jim, 79, and Margaret, 73, are the oldest on the trip, but you’d never guess their age by their actions.  I am surprised to learn that they are newlyweds. Both widows, they started traveling together and married less than 3 years ago. Their interactions with each other are extremely kind and respectful.  I love the way that Margaret quietly helps Jim, like how she prepares his tea and brings it to him. It seems as though their love is timeless. They remind me of Auntie Belle and Uncle Garnet, my dad’s aunt and uncle who very much served the traditional role of grandparents to me.  Although they both passed when I was in grade school, my memories of them include their loving relationship with just the right amount of teasing to keep each other on their toes.

 

Margaret loves bird watching and helps me identify the birds that still stump me. Jim is quick witted and charming, a wonderful combination of traits!  They are the first to breakfast each morning. As world travelers they report that they frequently take S.K.I. trips: Spending our Kids’ Inheritance. I laugh at nearly every thing Jim says, including his idea of S.K.I. trips.

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Newly-weds Jim and Margaret in front of a termite mound. 
I have come to learn that our 4 travel companions are all widows.  That means that 5 out of the 7 of us have lost a loved on with whom we lived.  I am not a widow and can’t imagine the emptiness that it leaves in your heart. But I lost Karen and no one can relate to late.  Perhaps coming to this vast continent is appealing to those who have felt so lost in their grief. As though we a drawn to a place that makes us feel so small and removed from everything we know in order to lose ourselves or find ourselves.  

 

Pat speaks of her late husband Robin with love and warmness.  She remarks about how lucky she was. She tells me that I would have liked him because of his way with words. It warms my heart to her such fondness in her voice. I think of Erin Klasen when I hear Pat’s words. Erin reminds me how lucky we were to have known Karen.  It continues to be hard for me to focus on her life without thinking of her death.

 

I think of Karen everyday.  Sometimes it’s when watching a beautiful sunset.  Other times its when I see something that reminds me of her.  I use her carabiner for my solar lamp each night. My binoculars have a label on them that says ‘Vortex.” (Ask Becky Turner about that one if you don’t get the reference).  It still amazes me how shallow the tears are that I shed so easily for her. She would love the fact that I am here. This is my first time out of the country since she died over 3 years ago.  She died while abroad, one of the many facts about her death that has been hard for me to accept.  As an avid traveler, I can’t believe it has taken me this long, but I am proud that I did not rush the process.

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Karen at our house in March 2014.  She died in April 2014.
Perhaps grief has played a role in each of our journeys to this continent.  However, maybe it is part of my  story and it is not fair to project my feelings on others.  Either way, I know that life is short. I also know how lucky I am to be here. I am thankful that Nkosi, Ann, Pat, Jim, and Margaret have become part of my story.  They have enhanced the trip with their laughter and insights. I look forward to being older and being able to say, when I was 33 I quit my job and traveled to Africa for 5 weeks with my parents and it was wonderful.   

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*I wrote this entry back in October, but am only posting it now.  Don’t worry.  I have many more stories and pictures to share from Botswana that focus on the wildlife and adventure.  But I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experience with these lovely people. I read this post to our travel companions after dinner on our last night together.  I asked them for their permission to post it, to which they all agreed.   So much of traveling is about the people you meet along the way.  Mom, dad, and I were lucky to travel with this crew!

This post is also more personal than my other posts, as I’ve kept my journey through grief  rather private.   Karen’s close friend, Amy Hatch wrote a beautiful tribute about Karen.   So many of the stories that were printed about Karen were about her death. Amy focused on her life, for which I am grateful.   Amy paints a beautiful picture of her here: Live like Karen Colclough, say yes to opportunity.  If you knew Karen and your heart still misses her smile, know you are not alone.   

As for me….To know my story of Africa, is to know my to know my whole story, which includes the sadness that I’ve carried.  The weight of that sadness was one of the many factors that caused me to go to the vast continent of Africa.

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Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

I have a childhood memory of watching my maternal grandparents’ slides from Africa.  Although PooBah, my  grandfather, was a talented photographer he purchased one slide to include with his own.  It was an image of Victoria Falls from above.  This image was captivating to me as a curious child.  This childhood memory led to my agreeing with my parents that a stopover between Tanzania and Botswana safari would be worth while.

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PC: Lion World Travel

We left the Northern Serengeti and said good-bye to our guide and friend Alex from Access2Tanzania.   We flew from the Serengeti to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania then to Nairobi, Kenya for the night.  We departed Nairobi the next morning and flew to Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side.

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We arrived at out hotel, the Bayete Guest Lodge, and settled in.  Tired from our two days of travel and a stressful night in Nairobi, Mom and I took a dip in the pool to rejuvenate.

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Then we set out to explore Victoria Falls.  May-June is when the falls are at their highest flow.  The lowest flow occurs between October and December, and we were there September 28.

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Whereas the falls were not at their fullest, they were still remarkable to see.  Being there at the end of September also meant that the area was not crowded, allowing for plenty of selfies with mom and dad.

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The falls are one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  It is no wonder why.  They are breathtaking. Wikipedia states, “Victoria Falls is classified as the largest, based on its combined width of 5,604 ft and height of 354 ft, resulting in the world’s largest sheet of falling water.”

The following quote is at one of the overlooks.  It provoked a moment of reflection and gratitude. I am incredible thankful for protected land and water that exists around the globe.   I hope that we all can be stewards of the natural world and protect it for generates to come.

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While there, my parents and I realized that together we have seen the three waterfalls that are regarded as the best waterfalls in the world.  Niagara Falls when I was a kid, Iguazu Falls from both the Argentine and Brazilian side when I was studying abroad, and now Victoria Falls as an adult.

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Being around so much water made me miss my friends and river trips.  My friends have cultivated my love of water and my enjoyment in water activities.  I was envious when I spotted a small red raft in the water below.  I bet they were about to have an amazing paddle!

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Smith River 2016
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Middle Fork of the Salmon 2015

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We had lunch overlooking the falls, and enjoyed watching warthogs roam the area.

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We asked for a recommendation where to dine for dinner.   The concierge suggested a Thai restaurant, but informed of the need of reservations.  Mom, dad, and I laughed throughout dinner.  We were the ONLY people there.  The laughed served us well, as the next day we had another travel day.  Destination: Botswana.

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Snake Bites

It was my second to last day teaching at Amahoro Secondary School.   It was hot and sunny. I arrived on time, as usually. Surprisingly, my Tanzanian colleagues did too that day.  The normal morning chaos ensued. Students swept the floors of partially furnished classrooms. Teachers hunted for sacred pieces of chalk.   The headmaster met with curious parents.

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“No English, no service” is a phrase that is often said in secondary schools throughout western Tanzania.  The intention is to immerse students in the English language in order to increase their proficiency. Thus I was surprised to hear a teacher speaking Swahili to a student when I walked into the staff office to confirm my teaching schedule for the day.

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Amahoro teachers: Faustine is the fourth from the left.

Faustine, one of the other English teachers, has broad shoulders and serious eyes.  He dresses professionally, always wearing long sleeved button down shirts tucked into spotless dress pants tied together with a matching black leather belt and shoes.  His face quickly breaks into a smile when he cracks a joke but his eyes return to a frown when he talks about anything remotely serious, especially his favorite topic: politics.

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A from two student (Not Abdul, but it shows you the school uniform).

His eyes were serious as he stood beside the form three student in the corner of the office.  The student, Abdul, stood as still as a statue. His dark blue uniform pants slightly shorter than his growing adolescent legs.  His matching navy tie barely distracting onlookers from the fact that his shirt was also too small. Their voices were hushed and sober as they talked.  

 

At this point in my short tenure at Amhoro, I was past the point of concealing my interest in teacher-student interactions.  I had developed a reputation of being kind and fair, and of intervening when students were treated poorly by adults. I had students tell me that they felt safer when I was at school.  Other students confided that they would not enter the staff office if I was absent. Their feedback was an outcome of my efforts in eradicating the use of corporal punishment at school.

 

Expecting a discipline issue, I was not discrete or apologetic when I interrupted the teacher-student conversation.  A wave of relief washed over Faustine’s face as he welcomed me into the conversation. It was only then that I noticed Abdul’s right arm was wrapped in a bandanna.  He extended it as Faustine and I observed the injury. The middle finger of the student’s right hand was swollen to almost triple the diameter of his other fingers and there was a deep cut in the shape of a bracelet forming a ring around his wrist.  He winced in pain and guarded the injured limb.

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This is NOT Abdul.  Photo from: https://haunsinafrica.com/2008/01/05/snake-bites/

Like so many things I experienced in Mgarganza, I understood the English words that that were being used to translate the story to me.  However, their literal meaning and implications confused me. From what I gathered from Faustine’s retelling of the story and Abdul’s interjects in broken-English it all happened the previous evening.  Abdul was doing chores. He reached for a tool that was in the grass beside his house. Before his hand could grasp the end of the tool, an unseen snake bit him. Alarmed, in pain, and scared Abdul sought treatment from a witch doctor in the village.   The witch doctor used a knife to cut Abdul’s wrists, creating a centimeter wide bracelet around the boy’s limb. Now the boy stood in front of me, his black face looking pale and exhausted. I realized there were some gaps in the story and some of the information was incongruent.   Yet, I knew it was prudent of me not to focus on the details but instead to focus on the immediate needs of the child in front of me.

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Scanning the rolodex of information in my mind, I accessed the mental file of “Wilderness First Response.”  Snake bites. Prevention. Assessment. Treatment. Scene safety. Patient assessment. Vitals. Decision.  What to do? What to do? What am I supposed to do right now? I started my patient assessment. I documented his vitals.  I made the decision, in alignment with my training; evacuate.

NOLS Case Study: What to do about Snake Bites

I asked Abdul if he could go to the hospital.  He said no for had no money for transportation or for medical care.  I asked Abdul if there was anyone at home who could go with him if I gave him money.  He said no. He rented a room in the village so that he could attend school, his family lives very far away in a different village.  I asked if he had a friend or a classmate who could go to the hospital with him. It is common for students to escort each other to the hospital, as parents are often far away and there are never enough teachers.  He said yes. He gave the name of his peer to Faustine, who in return went to fetch the friend.

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I had my thin grey wallet in my hands when Faustin and Abdul’s friend returned.   I gave clear and concise directions to them. Take two motorcycles to the nearest hospital as fast as you can.  Do not leave until you are treated by a doctor. When you return to the village, one of you come to Mama Mike’s house to give me a report.  I handed over all of the money I had with me: $22,000 shillings ($9.65 USD). The boys said thank you and left.

Snakebites: Here’s What to Do

I was worried sick.  My training is in Wilderness First Response.  I know how apply risk management strategies to keep groups of students safe.  I know how to manage scene safety. I am confident in my ability to complete a patient exam.  This seemed different. This seemed so foreign, so real, and incredibly scary. I felt underqualified and ill-prepared to help this student.  I hate that my reaction was typical of many Americans’ reactions: throw money at the problem to make it go away. On the other hand, I used the resources and skills I had.  I went through the ABCs (airway, breathing, circulation, decision, environment). I took his vitals. I concluded that immediate evacuation was necessary. And yes- I threw money at it because if $9.65 could save this child’s life or limb, that is money well spent.  

Hours later I was inside playing with baby Catherine when Ashula called my name from the yard.  “Katherine, visitor.” I was so relieved when I saw Abdul standing in front of me as I existed the house.   He didn’t say anything. He unzipped his backpack and handed me a stack of papers, a clear bag of yellow pills, and an IV administration set.  I leafed through everything and noticed the receipt from the hospital and another one from the pharmacy. He handed me change in small folded bills and said thank you.  

Guidelines for the Prevention and Clinical Management of Snakebite in Africa

He stood quietly as I reviewed the doctor’s handwriting that detailed the evaluation and treatment.   They had cleaned both the puncture wound as well as the blood bracelet left from the witch doctor’s knife.  They also administered pain medicine and an antibiotic. Abdul gestured for me to keep everything that he had handed me.  I explained that I did not need any of the receipts or documents, I simply wanted to know if he felt better. He exclaimed that he did.   

He had been gone from the village for many hours and it was late. I asked if he had eaten, he said no.  The majority of the youth in the village do not venture into town. When they do, they certainly do not have the money to buy a meal at a restaurant.  Whereas when I go to town I spend $2,000 ( .88 cents) for a full meal, but that is more than a student would spend in over a week. There are no restaurants in the village, but there is a market.  I gave him another $5,000 ($2.20 USD) and told him to go buy himself some food.

This story has a happy ending.  Abdul received the medical care he needed and lived to see another day.  Yet, this singular story is telling of the realities of villagers throughout sub-Saharan Africa.  

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I didn’t even know witch doctors were real.  I thought they were like dodo birds, something extinct from a long time ago.  They are real. It’s not that they are bad people, that is not the case at all.  They are good people with good intentions. Nevertheless they, and their patients, lack basic health literacy which leads to more complicated health problems.  I wish I could have done more to improve health literacy in the school and in the village, but I am comforted by knowing I made a difference in Abdul’s life.

 

 

The Next Chapter

The past month has been a whirlwind. The first two weeks back in the States were seen through a lens of reverse culture shock and jet lag. I am thankful for my family’s understanding and support as the transition back was not as smooth for me as I had hoped.

In my absence, Lisa and Chris took exceptional care of Ellie. Ellie discovered new hobbies. She enjoys watching squirrels and birds. Mind you, she does not chase them. She simply watches them. I am so happy to be reunited with my sweet pup.

My parents took me to Port Saint Joe’s on the Gulf of Mexico. This quick trip gave me a captive audience to talk about my time in Tanzania practically non-stop. It was also wonderful to see our dogs play in the ocean. Thanks mom and dad!

My heart is filled with pride! Lisa invests so much in her profession and Chris invests just as much in his studies. FSU is lucky to have both of them. Congrats Lisa & Chris!

After celebrating Chris’ graduation, I left Tallahassee for a road trip on my own. My goal: to find a new place to call home. I drove throughout Tennessee and North Carolina. My thinking was that various communities in these two states fit my criteria, but I wanted to see them for myself.

My Wish List:

  • Good mountain biking
  • Affordable housing
  • Sunny
  • Mild, short winter (in comparison to Jackson, Wyoming)
  • Small town to small city
  • A day’s drive to my sisters (Lisa is in Tallahassee, Jane is in Raleigh)
  • Job opportunities
  • Dog friendly
  • Mountains, rivers, and lakes (not ocean, nothing flat)
  • Yoga studios that match my style (laid back, not agro)
  • Strong sense of community
  • Vegetarian friendly vibe and restaurants

I’ve found some places that I liked, but I’m still open for suggestions. If you have ideas as to where I should move, write a comment below!

After the road trip, I headed to the mountains. I flew into Denver and was quickly reminded of how much I love the West. If you ever need a wedding date, look no further. Erin Crow is the best. Crow picked me up in Denver and we drove to Salida for Martha and Ned’s wedding weekend. Time in the car with a good friend is just what I needed! After months of language barriers and broken Swahili, being with a friend who can finish my sentences was good for the soul!

The drive from Denver to Salida was bittersweet. I kept thinking, “Why am I leaving the West?” Then the temperature dropped and I found myself wearing long-underwear, jeans, a dress, a fleece, and a down jacket for the wedding reception. I hate being cold. That is reason #1 why I left Jackson. For anyone who has been around me when I am cold, you know that it is a valid reason for me.

Here I am, prior temperature drop, with the bride. Best wishes to the happy couple! May your marriage be as joyful as you are!

Extra bonus: I got in a couple of mountain bike rides on borrowed bikes during the weekend including a pre-wedding ride with the bride and groom and their friends.

Whenever I am in Denver, I make a point to see my dear college friend Emily and her wonderful husband Devin. Emily and I celebrated our 22nd birthdays together (12 years ago). We continue to be close friends. This visit was particularly special. I got to meet her 3 day old daughter.

Time with good friends and family, as well as witnessing such important life events (graduation, marriage, birth) has filled my soul with joy and love.

I’m still settling back into life in the States. I constantly think of Africa, specifically Tanzania, even more specifically Mgarganza. At times it feels like I have one foot in the States and one foot in the Village. The contrast between the two is stark.

Somethings that I appreciate in a new way:

  • Running water
  • Hot water
  • Electricity
  • Toilets
  • Refrigeration
  • Driving
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ease of communication

Somethings that I miss about Tanzania:

  • My friends
  • My students
  • The environment: red dirt, palm trees, blazing hot sun
  • The sounds: Tanzanian music blasting from the motorcycles
  • Walking around the village
  • The children
  • Meaningful work; making a difference every day
  • The pace of life

I have a list of blog entries that I plan to write about my time in Tanzania.

  • Infant Mortality
  • Health Literacy
  • The Cycle of Poverty
  • Corporal Punishment
  • Malaria
  • Learning Swahili

Are there other topics you want to learn about? Leave a comment below if you have questions about my experience. I’m happy to add to the list of future topics. I’ll keep this blog going until I’ve run of of things to say about my time in Africa.

Now, back to the job search!

The Village Soundtrack

I thought the village would be quiet. And in some ways it is, but there are so many sounds to take in. First, the constant “hodi,” the word one says when they are entering someone else’s house. The response is always, “karibu” meaning ‘welcome.’ There are always people coming and going. Neighbors, friends, relatives. Privacy and alone time do not exist, nor do scheduled visits.

Then there’s the sounds of the animals. I have a theory about why roosters crow. I think that roosters realize how annoying their sound is and they are determined to make a different sound for the sake of humanity. They exhibit grit and determination in trying to sound better yet, their annoyingly loud and poorly timed crows persist at all hours.

Whereas I am happy to report that Teddy (the adopted dog) has found her true calling in life, it is stressful how much noise it creates. Teddy is a personal trainer, or so she claims. She specializes in exercising chickens. The hens do not like to run, but Teddy assures them that running is good for their health and she chases them. Thus causing a huge commotion which always results in someone yelling at Teddy to stop, making the exercise routine even louder.

Mama and Baba Shula, the neighbors, keep goats. They have at least 20 goats. Whereas the newborns goats are adorable, none of them are quiet especially when they are hungry. I can’t blame the little ones, but geez they are loud.

Add in the mix of children. It never ceases to amaze me how many children are around during every waking hour. But like anywhere else in the world, if you have a bunch of kids of different ages playing together someone ends up crying. Not only do I know their names now, but I can also easily identify their real cry from their fake cry. Sifa’s fake cry is the least convincing, but perhaps the most commonly used. Armani’s real cry breaks my heart. He is a sensitive child who at the tender age of six has experienced multiple traumas. He is quick to cry, so much so that people no longer try to console him.

Then there is the pounding. There’s is always something being chopped or hit. Palm seeds are broken open with stones. Palm branches are cut down with machetes. Somehow these sounds combine to create an echo of “bang, bang, bang” at all hours.

In the background of all of this is something that surprised me my first day in the village: the unmistakable sound of a soccer game being broadcasted. Due to the loud volume, poor sound quality, and foreign words screamed by announcers it sounds more like a recording of Hitler addressing Nazi youth than it does a national game between Yanga and Simba. If there is a match, it projected from the market and echoes throughout the village. I am baffled by the fact that there is no electricity and yet the local (men’s) priority for using valuable solar energy is to listen to the game. The games usually finish by 11pm, when I eagerly wait for their ending so that I can go to sleep.

I’m desperate to go to sleep because wake up time is 5am. You see, the village is split almost 50/50 Muslim and Christian. The prayers from the mosque are projected through the speakers so that all practitioners can hear them. This starts at 5am and continues for approximately 45 minutes. I do not understand the words that are spoken and yet I respect the discipline of this practice.

During the day there’s always music.

Mama Mike loves music. On good days, when it’s sunny and there is enough solar power, she will hook up her phone to the speakers and crank up the volume. Perhaps I have sensitive ears, but in no circumstance is that high volume necessary. And yet, it brings her so much joy as she goes about the chores around the house.

When Lucas stayed with us while I was adjusting to life in the village, he did the same thing. For far too long, I permitted this behavior without voicing my frustration. Then one day, I snapped. You see, I love music. I love listening to music. I love singing along. I love dancing. That is not the problem. The problem is when there is a bad DJ.

I had to teach Mama Mike and Lucas what a bad DJ is and what a good DJ is. You see, when they plug in the phone and turn up the volume they listen to the same song on repeat for hours. This is not ok. This is especially not ok in a small shared space. To make matters worse, the song is played on repeat not only for hours, but often for days if not weeks on end. This is decidedly not ok with me.

Lucas’s favorite song…. Michael Jackson: We are the World We are the Children. Wonderful song. Charming to hear while living in a rural village. If I never hear it again, it will be too soon.

When not playing music, Mama Mike’s phone rings all of the time. To this day, I can’t fathom having that many people to talk to or that many things to talk about. Her ring tone is her favorite song: Celine Dion: My Heart Will Go On. Never in a million years did I expect to hear Celine Dion as much as I have living in a rural village in east Africa.

When I finally took control of the situation, I taught Mama Mike and Lucas how to use the shuffle feature on her phone to play all of the songs at random, with no repeats. I was highly entertained to find this gem in the process: Nelly: Dilemma.

Mama Mike’s phone has an eclectic lists of songs: a lot of Celine Dion, various American musicians ranging from Justin Bieber to Nelly and a lot of traditional Christian Tanzanian songs. To be honest, it is not these sounds that I will miss.

On the rare occasions that Ashahadu is home and plugs his phone in, I delight in the different sounds. Ashahadu introduced me to the world of Congolese music. He claims that there are very few Tanzanian musicians but that many Tanzanians listen to music from the Democratic Republic of Congo, despite it being in a different language: sometimes in French (the official language of DRC) and sometimes in Lingala, a Bantu language spoken throughout the northern part of the country. Of his favorites are: Roga Roga, Papa Wemba, and Koffi Olomide. I do not tire of these sounds.

Then there is the soundtrack of the streets. The music that roars from the motorcycle’s speakers as they speed up and down the village hills. The music that exits the dalla dalla speakers like tidal waves. The songs that are projected from villagers’ MP3 players and cheap phones. The voices of Tanzanian musicians. These are the sounds that have best marked my time here. Aslay: Nibebe, Diamond Platnumz: African Beauty, Rayvanny: Chuma Ulete, Alikiba: Mwana.

Much like American pop-music the songs are often about love and the music videos are suggestive, if not explicitly sexual, in nature. Watching the videos can give you a glimpse of some common sights throughout Tanzania. They also show how women are objectified. However, without watching the videos or understanding the words, they are fun to listen to. I smile when I hear the sounds and can’t help by dance regardless of who is watching. This is my soundtrack of my village.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: Product Reviews and Packing Tips 

Rural Tanzanian is the opposite of a consumer society. People here can not afford basic needs, nevertheless luxury items. As I packed for my adventure I had to be strategic about how to bridge the gap between my life in the States and village life. I wanted to have a balance of things I would need and things that provide just the right amount of comfort. Below is my review of my favorite things.  

First and foremost: malaria medicine. Malaria is extremely common here. There is no vaccination for it. Whereas locals are not immune to the disease, they make frequent trips to the hospital to be tested with a quick blood sample and then are put on medicine. I have no interest in relying on the local health care system and am happy that I have been taking the preventative medication. Thank you to Dr. Shlim from Jackson Hole Travel & Tropical Medicine for the prescription. Also, thanks to the pharmacist from Smith’s in Jackson, Wyoming who recommended I check GoodRx for a discounted price. His recommendation saved me thousands of dollars. 

My sister Jane accompanied me on some last minute errands when I was in North Carolina visiting her prior to leaving the country. We stopped at the Vitamin Shoppe in Durham where Dave Goshorn provided excellent service. I needed a probiotic that did not need to be refrigerated, was vegetarian, had a long shelf life, and would help my digestive system while living in a developing country. I have been very pleased with this product. I believe that it has helped me stay (relatively) healthy. 


I became a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) in 2008 upon completion of a course offered through National Outdoor Leaderships (NOL) Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI) I have maintained my certification since then and have frequently used the skills I gained through it. For my trip abroad I purchased a new med kit. In addition to what came with the kit, I added extra supplies. I have used these resources, knowledge, and skills on myself, kids, adults, and dogs during my time here. 

The staff at Skinny Skis were incredibly helpful prior to my departure. I came in with lots of questions. They were patient and accommodating. For example, one staff member went out of his way to order a pair of shoes for me in the right size and color. Meanwhile, Scott O’Brien offered his knowledge and advice about solar power options. Ultimately, I went with Goalzero’s Nomad 7 and their flip 10 power bank. The combination of these two devices has been perfect for my needs. One down side is that my iPhone does not charge directly from the Nomad 7. Thus, I have acquired a second power bank so that one can be soaking in the sun while the other can charge my phone.  

Inspired my by friends on a backpacking trip and confirmed by the staff at Teton Mounteering, I decided to get the SteriPen ultra. This genius contraption has provided me with clean drinking water for 6 months. I recharge it using my Nomad 7 panel and then its ready to go again. It is easy to use and transport, and has provided me with peace of mind that my water is safe to drink. It has also provided endless entertainment to the local children who delight in watching me fetch water. 

Luci lights are great for backpacking. I have also used them everyday here and have been very thankful to have them. However, I see three problems with them. 1) durability. The plastic straps have torn so that they no longer can hang from things. 2) sanitation. In order to increase the light they produce you are supposed to inflate them by blowing them up. Maybe I hate germs more than the average person or maybe there have been too many kids playing with my stuff, but I stopped inflating them months ago after I watched multiple children in a row inflate them. 3) deflation. Upon being inflated (now by the children) they now deflate within a couple of hours. All of that said, they are waterproof and produce a great amount of light.  

I did not bring my yoga mat, but I did bring my yoga strap. Not only does it service as a visual reminder to maintain my practice but as a prop it has helped me continue to work on my flexibility. A special thanks to Vanessa Sulzer from Akasha Yoga and Shoshana Kobrin from Teton Yoga Shala for years of encouragement and inspiration in my yoga journey. 

After 27 extended journeys as Journey School staff, former colleague and dear friend Olivia Wheeler gave me the parting gift of my own journey journal. It is filled with quotes from students and faculty at Journeys. I have used it as my gratitude journal each day. Maintaining this intentional practice of gratitude is fundamental to my self-care. Thanks, Olivia! 

I love to sleep. I have come to learn that despite the rural setting, this village is not quiet. Roosters crow. Children scream. Neighbors visit. Rain falls. Also, houses do not have ceilings, rooms go straight to the roof. So, any sounds that is made in the house is heard by all. Any solar light used in the house is seen by all. I am thankful I brought my eye mask, eye pillow, and ear plugs. I use all of them every night. (Princess and the Pea anyone?!?!) 

When I purchased luggage for this trip, I thought about the travel days. What would be comfortable to carry my 44lbs of property? I also wanted multiple compartments to keep my belongings organized.  

The Eagle Creek 60 L Cargo Hauler duffle bag has served as my dresser since I arrived. I also use it to carry my water bottles when I fetch drinking water. I highly recommend it. (For full transparency, the duffle bag I used before this one I acquired in 1997 to used as bag for basketball. I was long overdue for a new bag.) 

The folks at Patagonia wouldn’t replace my R5 layer that caught on fire while on a trip with students, but they did help me out with my purchase of the Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L. This bag is hands down the best. It was comfortable to carry on travel days, has many compartments to keep my things organized on safari days, and has served as my safe and medicine cabinet while in the village. It is versatile, durable, and water resistant. 

I purchased the Mountain Smith small shoulder bag years ago when a student’s family gave me a gift certificate to Teton Mountaineering. The bag has traveled with me everywhere since then. It continues to be the perfect day bag for me. It has various pockets inside of different shapes and sizes which allow me to have my passport and electronics in different pockets so that they are not exposed when I open the bag to get out a pen or extra layer. I am constantly amazed by how much stuff I can fit into this tiny bag. It makes me feel like Mary Poppins. 

One of the many things that motivated me to spend time in Africa was to be in a climate where I could wear flip flops everyday. I hate shoes. I love warm weather. These Chaco flip flops have served me well. Just like my dream, in reality I wear them everyday. 

In conclusion, here is some packing advice for extended travel to a developing country.

Packing Tips:

* Pack less than you think you need

* Bring clothing that is versatile and dries quickly 

* Pack clothes that are comfortable and forgiving as your weight may fluctuate (positive or negative) 

* Roll, don’t fold clothes

* Remember that if you are going to a place where people live, anything you ACTUALLY need can be purchased locally

* Ziplock bags are great for organization, storage, and waterproofing things

* Bring one or two luxury items for your comfort. For me, my eye pillow is an example. I know my mom’s luxury item is a nice bar of soap. Whatever it is for you, bring it to help you stay grounded. 

* Use a luggage lock. The reasons for this are obvious on travel days, but I also use the lock to secure my passport, electronics, and medicine everyday. I am not concerned about theft of personal property but living with children it’s my responsibility to ensure that they cannot get into my medicine supply.  

Happy travels! 

Boda Boda, Bajaji, Dala Dala: Transportation in East Africa

My third time ever on a motorcycle was in the dark, during a light drizzle, up and down multiple steep hills, on a muddy and rutted dirt road in a rural region of Tanzania. I was handed a kayak helmet that did not have a clasp to close it. I did not know where I was going, how long the ride would, or how to say “stop” in either the local or national language. 


The first time I ever rode a motorcycle was with a friend on Ditch Creek in Kelly, Wyoming. The ride lasted about five minutes. I spoke the language. I trusted the driver. I knew where I was. 

 The second time was up Teton Pass to shuttle a car a mountain bike adventure. I wore a full face helmet, a leather jacket, and closed toed shoes. Both times scared me and neither fully prepared me for the amount of time I would spend on motorcycles in Tanzania.

My home in Mgaraganza is a two minute walk from the market. There is a motorcycle stand at the market that operates like a bus stop. The drivers quickly learned my habits. If I approached the market in the morning with a bag over my shoulder, they knew that I was going to town and they would compete for the chance to give me, the foreigner, a ride. As much as I have not liked this attention, it has been convenient that I can always get a ride.

The motorcycle ride from Mgaraganza to Mwandiga is about 25 minutes. There are parts of it that wind through the outskirts of the village, other sections sweep you through farm land that is lined with palm trees. As you enter Mwandiga, the population density increases with rows of houses lining the street.  

The roads are poorly maintained, if maintained at all. They are narrow, rutted, and bumpy. They easily get washed out with a heavy rainfall and I have been here during rainy season.   

Once in Mwandiga, I navigate the busy market to board a dala dala. These refurbished 15 passenger vans serve as the main mode of transportation in the region. They are affordable with a cost of about 35 US cents. However, they often break down, do not have a set schedule, and are always overpacked. It is common to have more than 30 passengers in one vehicle. The risk management side of me cringes when I think about all of the things that could go wrong.


(I pass through Mwandiga market every time I go to town.) 

There are always babies on the dala dala. Instead of giving seats to new moms and their infants, mothers willingly hand their offspring to the person with the best seat. It does not matter the age or sex of the passenger, everyone comfortably holds the child and the babies do not cry. This cultural practice amazes me. It also makes me question some Western beliefs about children.  
I do not like using the dala dala. I suppose partly because of my own upbringing (using private vehicles not public transportation) and my cultural beliefs about personal space as well as my desire for efficiency and schedules. Even when I do not have anything else to do, I do not like to wait for a bus that may or may not come in the next two hours. I do not like to be jammed into a hot vehicle so close to other people that I can feel them breath and they unfortunately have my sweat drip onto them. It is during these uncomfortable moments that I sometimes imagine that I am at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on the tram, holding my snowboard in one hand, packed in tight with other skiers and snowboarders. This day dream lightens my mood and reminds me just how privileged I am.  

(My village recently got second dala dala that seats 22 passengers. This is fantastic news for the villagers!) 

To travel the distance from Mwandiga to Kigoma takes about 35 minutes. That is on a good day, but there are very few easy transportation days. Between multiple stops, loading and unloading passengers’ goods, trying to avoid the numerous goats, sheep, and chickens that dart in front of the vehicle and navigating the erosion in the road it usually takes much longer than 35 minutes. 
When in town, I mostly rely on my own two feet for transportation to and from places. I now know my way around and with my limited vocabulary can ask basic questions if needed.  


(I took this picture walking from Lucas’ house back to the main road in town to wait for the bus to go home.) 

Town has much more traffic than the nearby villages. I have witnessed and heard of many accidents in town. As a result, I avoid using motorcycles in town. They scare me. They are also more expensive then the other transportation option: the bajaji. 

If you have traveled in South East Asia or watched Bollywood films, you have seen these three person motorcycle powered vehicles. In Kigoma, they go anywhere there is pavement and sometimes venture onto the dirt roads. They are readily available, affordable, and keep you mostly dry if it is raining. Also, when traveling with another person using a bajaji is convenient because the conversation can continue.
I now feel comfortable using all modes of transportation. I can take the dala dala directly to and from Mgaraganza, but I usually choose to take a boda boda. I have come to love the wind on my face and no longer have white knuckles when rounding the bends. Sometimes, I don’t even hold on. (Sorry, mom.)  
I like watching the scenery pass by, perhaps that’s a result of years of road trips from Pittsburgh, PA to “out west” as a child. I like seeing the colors of the flora and fauna. I like hearing the sounds of the children giggle with glee as a white foreigner passes by. I like hearing Tanzanian music blast from the motorcycle ‘pimped out’ speakers. I have even been tempted to learn how to drive a motorcycle here, but decided that the language barrier could cause significant problems with serious consequences. Perhaps I’ll learn when I return to the US.   
Until then I will continue to think of Che Guevara and his memoir the Motorcycle Diaries each time I’m on a boda boda. Che, an international symbol of rebellion, is honored here and connects my understand of Latin American politics to those of developing African countries. While on a motorcycle, I can feel Che’s spirit of freedom, resistance, and revolution. I embrace those feelings.