Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Last Incredible Days in Africa!!!

Hello again!

This may be one of the last blogs that I write about Africa and the amazing trip that I have had here.  Things are wrapping up so quickly here and I feel like our time is being cut shorter that it already is.  The day before our big presentations to the community, we had to meet in the morning and talk about what to expect for the full day of presentations.  We pretty much worked all day on slideshows that simplified the messages of our results of research so that the community could understand what we did and what we found in the process.  We had to practice the speeches in the afternoon, but it was literally a disaster.  We practiced with a translator that was not the best at doing so, so one presentation alone took over an hour.  Trying to words things in a way that the translator understands is harder than it seems, and we had to write down scripts of how to word things for the next day.  As soon as we got the presentation together, we hit the sack in preparation for what was sure to be a very full and very long day.

We woke up the next day, ate a quick breakfast, and started preparing for our guests to arrive.  We had to move tables and chairs all over camp to have enough room for the people that we invited.  We had to set up a projector in the dining hall, curtains to block out the bright sunlight and some heat, and food tables since we would be serving our guests lunch.  I also had to meet with the translator we would be using and go over the PowerPoint with him so that he would be able to make sense of it when explaining it to the community.  It was a very full morning, and by ten when the guests started arriving, I was so excited to get things moving.

My group was the first group to go and we all gave our presentation together because each of our studies supported one giant finding at the end.  Our presentation took a total of 45 minutes and I loved every second of it.  The translator we had was fantastic at understanding what we were trying to say, and I felt like it was so great to be sharing all this information we collected with the people who it affects the most!  I couldn’t help but be happy to see over 50 community members looking back at me and wanting to know what we had been working on for the last several weeks!  Never did I think I would have the chance to present research in a different country with a translator assisting me, and I was so thankful for the experience to do so, even though it was more difficult than I thought.  The community really seemed to appreciate the hard work we had done, and they asked great questions that we did a pretty good job answering overall.

There were 6 other groups besides us, so it was destined to be a really long day from the start.  We started our presentation around 11 and everything did not wrap up until at least 4:30 pm.  It’s really difficult because everyone is so excited about their study and every little thing that they found, but it was definitely necessary to summarize main findings to try and keep things concise and not dragging on forever.  As soon as we were all done, you could feel the sign of relief that fell over the room, and we were just looking forward to finally having lunch. 

Our guests went first, of course, but the kitchen staff did an amazing job cooking for that many people, and we were so thankful for everything they made that they knew the community would like and so would we.  I felt like I was at a summer barbeque and it made me look forward to hamburgers and hotdogs when I get home in a couple days.  It was so great to sit in the grass with all of the community members that had come to support us.

We finished eating, spent tons of time cleaning up the mess that was inevitable with so many people coming to our camp, and started a huge volleyball game.  By the time dinner came around, each team had around 9 people, including lots of the staff members!  It was so fun playing with so many people and you could just tell the weight that was off everyone’s shoulders!  After all, we were now officially done with ALL assignments and grades in Africa and now we just had time to enjoy the little time that we have left here!  That night, we had a huge dance party that every single person came and joined in on!  We danced for about two hours straight to the most ridiculous things like MC Hammer, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and Usher.  I am still amazed at how long it feels like I have known this group of people.  I don’t think there is anything I could do that would ever embarrass me in front of them, so I was dancing like a freak and everyone would just laugh and join in with me.  It was so great and carefree and a great way to celebrate DR being over and what a great group we really are.  We ended the night on a fitting Whitney Houston song and called it a night before the early hike we were having the next morning!

Unfortunately, the hike was cancelled because of the pouring rain, and I also slept half way through cook crew for the last morning we had it!  Oh welllllll!  Wouldn’t be the last cook crew without keeping up the tradition of one of us sleeping a bit through it (usually me hahaha).  After cooking a crazy breakfast with the most random concoctions we could think of, we had a few hours to start packing and getting things ready for us to leave in a few days.  Anyone that knows me knows that I hate packing more than anything, and I was dreading getting started.  I made a few strides, like picking out what to wear on the plane, but other than that, I was happy to just drink some chai and talk with some friends.  When it got to be lunch time, we had great chapati like always and got ready to once again leave and head into Karatu!

I was a little worried about all of the mud that would be in Karatu, but of course, my rain boots don’t fit on my gigantic feet!!!  When I first arrived, I had to run to the ATM to get a few more shillings out before I could get the last minute things I wanted in town.  My first task was to get a full shuka to use a beach blanket for the summer, and that was super successful.  I found one I liked in the first 15 minutes and got it for the price that I wanted!  Next, I found a few friends that were looking for random touristy things like I was, and we found the best cart on the side street to get a few little wood carvings and things.  I traded my shoes for a couple things and was happy to not spend as much money on them.  Finally, I found these amazing beaded sandals that were the first ones I have ever seen in my size.  My Yeti feet are even bigger compared to a lot of the local people, so when I found shoes that fit/would fit in the US when my feet were normal again, I had to get them.  I love them so much and even though I didn’t want to spend any more money, I had to get the one pair that I loved and that fit me!

After trekking through the mud for an hour or two in town, we were headed to Happy Days again.  It was my friend Jen’s birthday, so we were all excited to celebrate with her as well as celebrate being done with all classes and DR!!!  It was so fun to hang out with all 26 of us and drink our new favorite thing, Amarula!  I had a blast, but started getting so sad realizing that I wouldn’t get to spend every day with this group of people much more…  I had to stop thinking about it and enjoy every second that I did have with them in Africa!!!!

After leaving Happy Days, we got back and enjoyed the amazing popcorn the staff made for us, complete with random cookies on top! Hahaha  Then we had a giant volleyball tournament that was staff versus students.  Usually the staff is not the best at volleyball here, but surprisingly they brought their game today.  We went all the way to three games to determine the winner, but after all of that, the students came out on top!  It was so fun because we had music blasting, the sun was out, and everyone was having a great time.  Our WE professor had it out for me though, and would switch places with the other staff to get right in front of me so we could have spiking battles.  It was so fun and I think we all loved a little friendly competition!  We played until we couldn’t see the ball anymore, and went straight in for dinner and birthday cake!  We even had some closing activities to help us get ready to go home, and it was a great feeling to know that we are all in the same boat with one another in the ways we are feeling about going back to the US.

After that, we had our last cook crew clean-up of the entire trip and we were all excited to get it done and over with.  But when I walked outside to see the load of dishes that we had waiting for us, I was completely shocked!!!!  It was by far the most dishes I have ever seen that needed cleaned.  They had let some of the dishes sit from the day before when they cooked for all of the people we presented to and we were somehow supposed to get burned rice off that had been stuck there for two days.  We ended up asking if anyone would help us because it would have easily taken 3 hours if only the five of us were out there.  Luckily, a bunch of people jumped up and helped us, and I have no idea what we would have done without them.  Thank goodness for all of the amazing people that I have in this group as my best friends here with me!!!

The rest of the night, I turned up my ipod as loud as it could go and got all of my packing done!!! I was so proud of myself because I really didn’t think it all would fit.  As I finished up all of the last little things, I knew I could sleep soundly and was happy that my last full day in Africa could be enjoyed as opposed to dreaded because of the packing!

The next morning, I woke up with excitement of everything that the day would hold, but also with dread of it being our last full day in Africa.  I woke up at 5:50 am to do a sunrise hike with one of our camp assistants and the few other students that woke up in time!  It was still super muddy out from the rain the few days before, so throughout the hike, my shoes gained about 10 pounds in weight in the stickiest mud ever from here.  The hike was to the top of Moyo Hill, which is the hill that our camp is named after, and it is about a 40 minute hike at a normal pace.  But because we knew the sun was rising, we pretty much ran up the entire hill!  I think we made it in less than 25 minutes and when I made it to the top, I had to catch my breath before I could really admire the view.  The view was incredible though!  You could see all the way down to Lake Manyara and Mto wa Mbu, and across the rolling hills to the left and right of town.  It was so beautiful, but kind of cloudy so we couldn’t see the sunrise to its fullest.  The sky was still glowing this amazing peach color and was so beautiful.  But my favorite part of the morning was the amazing fog.  It would come out of nowhere and one second we could see for miles and miles, and the next time I looked up, I couldn’t see three feet in front of me!  It was incredible and I loved the amazing weather that we could see from the top of the hill.

We climbed back down, taking our time a little bit, and then I took an hour nap before it was time for breakfast!  We had one of our last two breakfasts, and then we had the rest of the morning to get our things together and make sure we were all packed.  Since I was all packed, I spent the morning making preparations for later that day!  The biggest task I was in charge of again was making cards for all of the staff to let them know how much we appreciate them.  I decided to make coloring sheets for all of the staff and then use my huge supply of crayons to color them.  Luckily, because it was such a fun activity and took people’s minds off of packing, I had a lot of help!  We colored all 13 sheets and then started passing them around the bandas for everyone to sign!  We also got to plant trees in the morning!  It was our way of giving back to camp and making it more beautiful for the future students that come here.  We planted a lot of little acacia trees to help plant indigenous plants in the community as opposed to exotics!

The rest of the morning I spent checking my flight reservations to make sure everything was good for the next day and hanging out with the other people that were done packing.  Finally it was time for lunch, and I was happy to get my regular seat in the dining hall surrounded by all of my friends.  We had lunch, talked about cards, traded pictures, and kept packing until it was time for the part of the day that I was looking forward to the most: The staff versus student soccer game that we had planned.  Our camp director rented us one of the big fields down in Rhotia with real goals and nice grass!  AND they got us these amazing jerseys to play in.  If I told you that the name of our team was the Pepto Bismols, I am sure you can guess the color of the jerseys.

Our jerseys were hot pink, with lovely black stripes, while the professors had blue jerseys that were quite boring compared to ours!  We got down to the field, and to our surprise, we had a referee and everything.  And by the time we started, we had a huge audience that had come to watch us!!! We had enough players to play 11 vs. 11 and still have subs, and it was the best game ever.  Surprisingly, we kept up pretty well and I got a major workout in the process.  Not playing on a normal size field started to wear down on us quick though, and we ended up losing 3 to 1.  Not too bad against a country that is obsessed with their soccer!  Out of nowhere after the game, a truck showed up with 5 cases of soda for all of us!!!  We all got fantas and cokes and everything in between and sat in the warm sunshine drinking our sodas and hanging out with the staff and local community.  I couldn’t have been happier at that moment.  What else can you ask for on your last day than an amazing game of soccer with the staff, a cold soda, hot sunshine, and some amazing friends to enjoy it with?!

After we wrapped everything up, we had a present to take to the tailors really quickly with scraps of fabric and pens and pencils and things.  We were so excited to drop it off and you could definitely tell how thankful they were for everything!  We walked back to camp for the last time, and when we got back, it was crunch time for everything else we had to get done.  Our bags had to be packed by 6 pm and in the car, we were cooking another big feast with a bunch of random foods, and we needed to decorate the dining hall for our last meal!  We immediately got to work, and a lot of people were so willing to help with everything!  The dining hall looked amazing by the time we were done with it!  We tied balloons everywhere from every place possible and hung up streamers both in celebration and to thank the staff for everything they have done for us!  It made the dining hall look so great, and really added to the festivities the rest of the night!

We had our amazing feast, including barbeque chicken pizza, black bean burgers, snickerdoodles, brownies, cake, and lots of other good things and by the time I was done, I thought I was going to explode!  We then had our final RAP, including a reflection about the entire trip, and then several announcements.  We talked about what time we would be leaving in the morning, and then the staff thanked us for being here with them and being one of the best groups they have ever had, which is definitely true hahaha!  Then our SAM was presented with a cake to thank her for everything and a gift from the staff.  Patrick and I decided it was a perfect time to give out the cards, so we ran to my banda and handed out all of the staff cards.  They were thankful, yet questioning of the weird North American animals that we put on them, but started to laugh when they realized how ridiculous the pictures were.

The rest of the night was spent in looking back through the semester.  Katie made this amazing video that was a combination of pictures and videos all wrapped into one.  We set up chairs and the projector and watched it like it was movie night.  We also had yearbook pages that we were all signing for each other to take home with us for the next few days that are destined to be pretty tough leaving everyone.  It was a really great night spent with everyone, just talking and reminiscing about the semester, and it made me realize that maybe I wasn’t ready to go home as much as I thought I was.
Our flight tomorrow is out of Arusha at around 6pm, but we are heading out early since Arusha is a little bit of a drive and we want to make sure everything is running smoothly.  I plan on writing one more blog entry to close things up, but it will definitely be back in the United States.  I want to thank you again for still reading my blog throughout this semester.  It has been honestly the most amazing three months of my life and I am so happy that I was able to share it with you.

Talk to you from the US!!!

Mollie Ann

Saturday, May 5, 2012

DR, Coffee, and Bike Rides!!!

Hi again!

I am working to finish off all of these blogs before returning back home to the US, so I am sorry that this one is so long!!!  So after working and working and working on our DR research collections, we had another day off that I was so excited for!  Our first stop was this farm/lodge that is completely self-sustaining!!!  They have a huge farm that grows vegetables, fruits, coffee beans, wood for energy, and they have their own barn that they raise a lot of different kinds of animals!  Everything they grow and raise there is to feed the guests that come and visit the lodge and they do not rely on any other resources from the towns nearby!!! They are seriously an inspiration compared to the other lodges that seem to ruin the environments around them.  When we arrived at the lodge, we were greeted by our tour guide for the day, who immediately started us on our tour around the grounds.

Our first stop was an overlook where you could see all of the coffee plants that spanned far into the distance!  Literally, their farm lands were so huge and kept going and going that it seemed like they would never stop.  They went over rolling hills and almost all the way back into town!  It was so gorgeous and green and healthy and it made me so happy that they were making the efforts to conserve the area!  The next place we were headed was the barns where they had tons of huge pigs.  One of the pigs was by far the largest pig I have ever seen in my life!  The cages came up to my shoulders, and this pig was looking over the top of it while still standing on all four legs!!! It was literally comparable to the size of a donkey, accept with a lot more meat on its bones!  All of the pigs were so friendly though and seemed like they were posing for our pictures.  The smell was terrible, but it was excusable because they use all of the manure to do the same sustainable natural gas collection from the manure fermenting that we had seen on our field lecture a few weeks before!

Next we wandered through their fruit and vegetable garden!  They were growing everything from mangoes and papayas to huge peppers, beans, onions, and tomatoes.  And on top of all of the healthy veggies, they had huge flower plants growing everywhere in between.  They were every color from red and purple to blue and orange and yellow and every combination in between.  It literally felt like I was in the secret garden and I would have loved to get lost walking around through all the rows of plants.  Finally we came to this big concrete bench area, and when I looked up to one of the large trees nearby, it had a really cool tree house in it!  Of course, I ran up to the top and overlooked the entire farm and all of my friends down below!  It was so pretty up there and I am a huge fan of tree houses, so I couldn’t have been happier.

We had to keep walking, but I was excited to what awaited us at the end of the tour.  They had fresh roasted cups of coffee for us and coffee beans that we could buy that were roasted that day!  We got to see the entire process of how they were peeled and processed and roasted to become the coffee that we were being served.  We all sat down on a huge couch and enjoyed the first good cup of coffee that we have had in Africa since we arrived.  The smell alone was amazing and I was happy to get a bag to bring home with me!  I enjoyed just sitting with everyone and our coffee and didn’t want to leave.

When it was finally time to get out of the way of the lodge staff and coffee makers, we headed into Karatu town again to walk around, explore places we hadn’t been before, and get snacks and other things we could find!  I decided to stick with Patrick the whole day, and our main mission was to find some really cool hand woven baskets made out of the palms here.  We walked through the fruit and veggie market in Karatu that I had no idea existed!  It is enclosed from the outside by walls and is slightly lower in the ground than the rest of the town.  Its like a little secret market, but as soon as you find the entrance, it seems bigger than you could have imagined.  It opens up into 10 rows across and 10 rows wide lined with vegetables, beans, herbs and spices, fruits, and other random food items.  They had tons of baskets too, but the problem was that I could have fit inside of them, and that was not quite what Patrick was looking for to take home on the plane.  On top of all of the colorful items in the market, everyone in there was so happy to see us and say hello and ask how our day was.  I swear that 95% of the people we walked by said hello, which is not very common in this area, and I was loving wandering down every row and meeting all of the shop owners.

When we finally had wandered down every possible row in the market, we ventured back into the sunlight and decided to head to this café called Bumpz that our SAM had told us about when we arrived in Tanzania.  It was about a 25 minute walk to the other end of town, but it was absolutely worth the effort in the hot sun.  They had the most amazing chocolate chip ice cream that I have ever had, and Patrick had some amazing chocolate cake.  We were both sitting back, happy with our purchases and enjoying the nice, cool, and very modern décor of Bumpz.  The owner was even from Colorado and came to Tanzania after marrying a Maasai man!  She had quite a story of all the places she has lived, but she was very busy and we didn’t want to keep her too long.  We paid and walked back to where the car was.

We decided to take a different way though, and see what other stores we could find off the beaten path.  Suddenly, Patrick ran into a Maasai Mama that he knew from Rhotia and wanted to find our other friend Becca and introduce them.  I was suddenly on my own in the middle of the main market.  At first, I was scared to be completely alone, but after the initial shock of not having a buddy, I was so excited.  In this program, we don’t really get a lot of alone time.  We all eat together, live together, have class together, and enjoy our days off together.  Don’t get me wrong, I love these 25 other people more than anything, but it was kind of exciting to be by myself in the middle of town!  I went into a few stores and was greeted kindly by all of the owners.  Before I knew it, it was time to leave and I walked back to the cars at Paradise Café and loaded up.

I decided to join the group that was going to Happy Days for a little bit.  When we got there, one of the big soccer games was on TV near the bar, so I sat with my friend Karen, ordered a Tusker, and we decided to split some Macaroni and Cheese!  I didn’t even pack a lunch that day in anticipation of getting food at Happy Days, so I was happy to find someone to split it with!  I loved sitting with Karen and just watching the game and talking about what it was going to be like going home and what we both would be doing in our awesome internships this summer.  Karen has this awesome research position in New York City and I cannot wait to hear about everything she will do this summer.  We even met some Americans that had come to this area to start a lot of primary and secondary schools.  It was so funny to hear people speak English with no accent whatsoever.  It was such a relaxing day after the hectic Karatu town and I enjoyed the one on one time I had with Karen!  After getting back to camp, I worked on our data a little bit, and then finished watching the Bourne series with Chelsea before heading to sleep!

The next six days in a row were dedicated completely to working on Data Analysis for DR and writing the draft for our huge DR paper that makes up a huge majority of our grade!  We all worked on the raw together to make sure it was clean and nothing important was missing.  After that, we were on our own.  My partner, Jen, and I got the data and deleted everything that we didn’t need for our study.  We worked with Christian a lot because our paper will be published and we wanted to make sure we were doing everything right!  Its so great having a professor here that understands Excel and SPSS and knows exactly what he is looking for in our research.  I became more and more thankful for this as time went on and I heard about all of the issues others were having in the other two DR groups. 

These six days were literally filled with a combination of working on data, writing the paper, and doing anything else that would give us a mental break in between.  The rainy weather didn’t really help either.  Every morning we woke up, it was cloudy and rainy and it made me never want to get out of bed.  I think I watched more movies in these six days than I had the entire trip.  I tried to find any excuse to get out of camp, and would join anyone that was leaving.  I had to force my rain boots over my swollen feet to walk anywhere though because the mud was so intense everywhere we went!  I went to the girl tailor for the final time to get another pair of pants made and a beach tote for this summer.  I almost fell five different times in the nasty mud at the bottom of the hill, but it was worth it for the things I got back!  The best part about the pants I had made was that a week before, I had a hoodie made out of the same material.  AKA I now have a FULL Shuka outfit.  I was so excited to wear it to dinner that night and it was quite the hit as soon as I walked in the room hahaha.

These six days really started to get me in a slump.  I was so sad that we weren’t out exploring Tanzania in the little time that we had left here, and my days revolved around lots of work, working out, and watching movies.  It got so repetitive and at one point, I thought I was going to go crazy if I walked out of my door once more and it was raining.  Luckily we had a few things in between to keep that from happening, like Chelsea’s birthday and skyping my lovely parents!  At the end of the six days, I had worked so hard and finally turned in my 17 pages draft.  It was such a relief and I was counting down for our day off the next day!

The main activity for this day off was a bike ride!  I literally cannot tell you the last time I rode a bike, so I was slightly nervous to 1) not be on paved roads 2) deal with the crazy busy town of Mto wa Mbu and 3) the aches and pains from the bike seats that we had been warned about.  We had to leave bright and early to get down to town and start the bike ride to be done in time for lunch and to meet with the rest of the group that didn’t join.  We had guides named Sunday, Good Luck, and Kelvin who rode with us just in case any issues with the bikes arose.  We picked our bikes, and of course I ended up with a hot pink one with a really low seat and small handlebars.  When we first started peddling, everyone was laughing at how awkwardly I was crouched over the bike, and the guide quickly helped me raise the seat a little which made all the difference.  We took off across the main road and on to one of the back roads that we had done some of our DR research on.  The road was made of huge rocks and tons of bumps, and I quickly realized how bad these seats were really going to hurt.

I couldn’t believe what a difference being on a bike made in the way I was seeing things.  I no longer took advantage of all of the really cool plants and trees and all of the shoats and dogs resting along the side of the road.  The kids would run out of everywhere like the munchkins in the Wizard of Oz and it was almost like an obstacle course to avoid them and all of the chickens crossing the road hahaha.  We had to be careful to avoid the grass because of the huge acacia thorns that would be sure to flatten our tires. After making it out of the thick woodland with lots of mud, we flew out into the clearing of the huge open grassland.  We quickly turned off of the main road and headed straight toward the hippo pool.  On our way there, we got amazingly close to zebras and wildebeest, and it was crazy to think that there was no car in between us and them!

We stopped for a minute while they gave a short lesson about the hippos and the area we were in, and then we continued to the edge of Lake Manyara!  There were a ton of bikes lined up from all the fisherman that were out on the lake, but no one to be found.  The best part of stopping right by the lake was all of the flamingoes!!! When we had stopped there two weeks before, the Flamingoes were too far away from the shore for us to really see, but this time, they were within 30 meters of where we were standing.  It was so funny to watch them walk through the water and catch fish.  Their body proportions still amaze me and I have no idea how those tiny little legs hold up their awkward bodies and necks.  We took tons of pictures of course and then hopped back on the bikes to the next place.  It was at this point that I realized how badly the bikes hurt and I was dreading all the bumps that I knew were to come on the bumpy road back.

We took the same main road back through the woodland and the bananas and town and turned out on the paved road toward the escarpment of the rift valley.  We kept going along the road, and then turned near a curio shop to see one of the local spots that all of the wood carvings are made.  As we got off of our bikes and walked into the little shop they had set up, we saw at least a dozen guys sitting on the ground with all these carving tools.  They were making some of the coolest carvings I have ever seen and I wished that I had more money at that point to buy some of the things they were carving at that point.  It was really neat to learn about all of the woods they use for the carvings and the process they use to get to the final product. They even had a really cool little shop with all of the best carvings that were some of the shiniest things I had seen.  They literally reflected the lights back at you!  It was fun to look around, but no one really had the money at this point to buy anything because we didn’t know we were going there.

We loaded the bikes back up and took off back into town to another stop in the tour.  This time was to a local families house that brews their own banana beer!  They use this huge process that goes through a lot of similar steps as regular beer does, but the beer looks completely different.  It has all of these pieces that lay on the surface of the cup that when drinking it, you have to blow them out of the way.  These pieces are important for the beer to have its flavor, but it looked so weird.  We all tried a tiny sip, but I was not a big fan.  It was super bitter and I got a lot of those little pieces in my mouth.  You could definitely taste the banana in it though and I was glad I gave it chance!

Our final stop was a local factory that they make a lot of the paintings in the marketplace at.  It’s sort of hidden behind the main road, completely surrounded by a thick fence.  There were two people in the middle of paintings when we arrived and I was amazed at their use of oil paints and how they looked when they hit the canvas.  Some of the pictures were so vibrant in this place, and I completely fell in love with one that had a gorgeous blue sky, the Maasai, and Kilimanjaro in it.  I should have just bought it right there because for the rest of the day, it was all I could think about!  We got a quick lesson about the types of paintings, and after looking around for a bit longer, it was time for us to take the bikes back to the shop and meet up with the rest of the group!

When we arrived back, we found one of the cars that had brought the other students and we asked them to take us to the pizza shop one last time!  No one else wanted anything but a soda after the long bike ride, but I loved the pizza so much and hated packed lunches enough that I was all for getting the last pizza here!  When we all finished up, we took our picture with the owner of the pizza point that was so welcoming to us throughout all of DR.  I hate saying goodbye to everyone here, but I am so happy to have had the chance to meet so many people in so many different areas.  We somehow managed to get a ride back into the main part of town and went back into the market to look for any last minute things that we wanted to take home with us.  After learning about all of the different kinds of wood they use in the wood carvings, I was on a hunt for a small wood carving of an elephant made of rosewood because I love the color of it.  I finally found one I liked and managed to trade one of my flashlights for it with barely any problems!  I was pretty happy with that trade!  Then I realized how badly I wanted the painting I had seen earlier in the factory.  We somehow managed to make our way back with the help of one of the local guys that try to sell us necklaces, and I bought the painting at a great price and was soooo happy that I was finally able to get it.  Now I just need to find a place to hang them when I get home.

After leaving town on a good note, I got back and drank tons of water because of the heat that day and then walked down to the t-shirt shack in Rhotia.  I have really wanted this awesome shirt that I saw some of the staff wearing in Kenya, so I finally just decided to buy it.  I even found this awesome little blue change purse that is covered in guineafowl, probably one of the most awkward birds in this area.  I still love them though, and where else would I ever find a change purse with them on it!?!  It was such a great day I was so happy to go to bed early and rest my aching butt and muscles from the bike ride.  I loved it so much though, and just like the hike near the end of our time in Kenya, this was a great way to start wrapping things up in Tanzania!

The next couple of days were once again dedicated to finishing up everything related to DR, including our papers and our final presentations that we would be giving to both the community and our professors.  The first day, we got our papers back and talked to Christian about what needed to be fixed, but after that, a majority of us decided to take another day off.  I slept all morning to keep recovering from the hot and tiring day before and having cook crew so early that morning.  After lunch, we worked on this giant 1000 piece puzzle of random flowers.  I don’t know what it is about puzzles, but when you are avoiding doing other work, they seem like they are one of the most fun things in the world.  I literally couldn’t stop until it was done and everyone else was in exactly the same boat!!!  That day, we also went on a walk to the tailors to pick some things up that other people had made.  We were also looking for somewhere that sells bows and arrows because a lot of people wanted to take one home with them.

The next day was so bright and sunny and I literally didn’t want to do anything but sit in the sunshine.  It seemed like I hadn’t seen the sun shine in a month, so I spent every second possible outside.  I worked on my paper outside, ate meals outside, walked to the tailors again with friends, and took a nap outside.  This day was actually a Tanzanian holiday, so walking downtown was kind of scary.  Tanzania has a real problem with alcohol consumption, and this holiday gave people all the more reason to drink.  At one point, we were being chased by a drunk guy through Rhotia and had to take a secret way back to camp so that he wouldn’t follow us!  It was kind of scary, but being with a group of friends made it a lot easier to laugh at than it would have been if I were alone. We got a big game of soccer going that night with Christian and Marta, my favorite askari, and played until we couldn’t see the ball anymore because it was so dark! 

That night, we were all hanging out in the dining hall, when Marta came in holding something in her hand.  She told me it was a special present for me and that I had to take it.  It made me so nervous because who knew what it could be.  She started to open her hand and I could feel little legs moving in my palm.  I assumed that it was a frog or toad because it was raining out again and that is when they always come out.  I couldn’t get the courage up to finally take it from her, and I am soooo thankful I didn’t.  She dropped it on the floor and it was one of the GIANT beetles that I am terrified of here!  They are literally the size of a computer mouse and make this awful hissing noise.  Plus they are stupid and get stuck on their backs anytime the run into anything and fall to the floor.  I hate them so much and I couldn’t believe that was what was almost in my hand!  But as a pleasant surprise after that, the other askari, Yuri, found an adorable hedgehog and let us play with it.  I seriously want one for a pet so badly.  I cuddled up with it and kept it near me as I finished up some of my paper!

The final day of work on our papers, we were required to give a short presentation to our advisor about what we had been working on and they could ask us any questions that they wanted about our study.  I don’t know what it is because I can stand up in front of 100 people and talk without a problem, but talking face to face with someone that knows my project as well as I do, made me so nervous.  I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, but for the rest of the day, I kept working on my paper and tried not to think about it!  By 6pm, I was completely done with my paper and thrilled to turn it in and be done with all 16 pages of it!!!

That night, as a celebration for being done, we played a huge game of Sardines, which is basically reverse hide-and-go seek.  One person hides and everyone looks for them, but when you find them, you hide with them until one person is left.  I usually get so scared in those types of games, but it was a blast playing with all my best friends here in the mud and rain.  I was laughing so hard when I had to climb into a bush to hide from other people!  It was a nice mental break from DR that we all desperately needed!

Thanks again for reading!  I know this is a long one so I apologize!
Mollie Ann

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

DR, DR, and more DR!!!


So after we finished up in Manyara Ranch and had our day off, we had six more days of research to go.  We would spend the next three days in Lake Manyara National Park and the three days after that in the community areas around Mto wa Mbu.  I was so excited to be in the park because of all the elephants that we usually saw when we were there and all of the animals we might not have seen yet in the ranch.  Lake Manyara has a permanent source of water, so animals that are dependent on that water are more likely to stay in the park!

In Lake Manyara, Ninah was once again our driver and we had the same group of 5 people in the car.  We had sort of put a plan into place about which car would cover what areas, but the map that I was given to help navigate was probably worse than the one in Manyara Ranch.  The black and white map that was given used to be in color, so the rivers and roads looked exactly the same on the map.  Every time that I thought I knew where I was, there would be a river instead of a road and I would be all turned around again.  We were in charge of the part of the park that contains mostly woodland, but some grassland as you approach the lake.  And the roads in that area are all loops.  There is not ever just one way to get somewhere, but usually three or four!  I had to try and figure out a route that would save us both time and effort and keep us from doing the same area more than once!  Trying to communicate this to a driver with very little English in his vocabulary got extremely frustrating.  And on top of everything, every issue we had, I had to call our professor, Christian.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind calling him to clarify what was going on, but when the questions had nothing to do with me or with our research, our driver would still make me call!  I felt so needy and silly calling over and over.  Not to mention, the park is home to more freaking tsetse flies!!!  I got a bunch more bites and blisters from them, which just took away from the fun part of the experience! Hahaha

Those were the only frustrating parts of the entire time in the park though!  The rest of the time was so fun and we saw things that we never thought we would see in the park.  There was a giant group of elephants, nearing 40 or 50 with lots of little babies.  They were always in the same area by the lake, and I loved having them surrounding our car.  Our driver was scared of the elephants though because this group had a lot of really protective males that would start to get nervous if we got too close.  We had to count them as we were moving so that we would not get them angry.  At one point, we heard two males trumpet in the distance and then the collision of their tusks together, clearly in a fight.  We had to get out of there quickly to make sure their anger was not taken out on us!

We also got to see lions in the park too!  Lake Manyara always uses their “famous tree climbing lions” as an advertising technique, but of all the days in the park, we had never seen any lions, let alone any in the trees.  As we were looking at the same group of elephants, all of a sudden we saw three HUGE female lions walking gracefully behind them near the bushes separating the elephants from the lake.  They were so peaceful and not bothered by the elephants at all.  And the elephants didn’t seem too nervous either!  They both just went on with what they were doing with no mind to each other.  It was a=so neat to see because when you think of lions, you assume that every animal fears them and moves away when they are around, but this was not the case at all with these elephants!

Later that day as we were finishing up the last transect, we were in the middle of the really dark and dense riverine woodland.  This woodland is amazing.  It literally makes you feel like you are in the middle of a rainforest in Costa Rica!  The leaves are huge and green, the air becomes moister, and barely any sunlight penetrates to the forest floor.  It’s probably one of the coolest features of this national park.  In less than a kilometer, you can be driving in a rainforest, then giant open grassland, and then a huge acacia woodland covered in small leaves and thorns!  As I was saying, this area of forest is probably one of the most dense parts of the park, and suddenly, as we were looking ahead hoping to see some monkeys or something in the trees, another huge female lion gracefully strutted across the road around 60 meters in front of us.  We were all so excited, but by the time, only a few seconds later, that we were even with where we had seen her, she had disappeared!  I literally could not see one trace of her.  It was almost an eerie feeling to know that she was right there in the woods near our car, but we would have no idea unless we happened to see her than one time!  We stayed there for a few minutes, hoping to see her climb a tree near us or something, but after complete silence and no movement, we had to keep gong and finish the transect!

The last day in the park, we had to switch up the cars a little bit so that my group could see other parts of the park!  Unfortunately, I had to stay in the same car because no one else would have any other idea how to read the map and follow the same transects that we had done the two days before.  It was so hard to work with another group because they had been doing things different in the way they recorded and worked together, but by the end of the day, we had it down and finished everything we needed to.  We had to wait for the other group that had a few more transects and were really far from the entrance of the park.  We went into Mto wa Mbu since it is really close to the entrance and walked around for any random presents that we wanted to get!  By the time the other group found us, we were burned out and ready to go back.  We had to meet with our local guides for the next three days in the community area, but as soon as we met them and Christian established where he wanted to go, we headed back to camp for the rest of the day.

When we got back to camp that day, I suddenly realized that my feet were GIGANTIC!!!!  They have been really swollen the entire time I have been in Africa, but this was by far the worst they had ever looked!  They were giant and puffy, with my toes sticking out like they didn’t belong.  You know when you take rubber gloves and blow them up like a little kid and the fingers stick out of the giant hand?  That is exactly what my feet looked like!  I couldn’t fit any shoes on them, including my huge flip flops I have here!  I kind of felt like I was in a freak show the way that everyone was gathering around and taking pictures!!! hahaha  The blisters from the tsetse fly bites weren’t helping either!  We soaked my feet all night, but literally nothing was helping.  On top of everything, our SAM was out of town for her days off, so there was no one here that knew how to help me!  It was so scary to see part of my body not look like it belonged!  I somehow convinced the fill in SAM to not take me to the clinic because they had already told me there was nothing they could do until I go home.  I went to bed so early with my feet on top of my sleeping bag trying to get the swelling down.  The next day wasn’t much better, but they have slowly been improving since then, thank goodness!

After wrapping everything up in the national park, it was time to start all of our transects in the community areas surround Mto wa Mbu!  The first day was quite the adventure of the entire data collection period.  The night before, it had poured from the moment I went to sleep and continued to rain even when I woke up the next morning.  We knew we were in for a muddy day, but we had no idea what it was going to be like when we got down off the escarpment of the rift valley.  As soon as we picked up our local guide, we started down our first transect.  This transect was terrible at the beginning because in addition to recording all of the wildlife we see, we also had to record people, dogs, livestock, and houses!!! Our first transect was literally right off the main road in Mto wa Mbu so you can only imagine the number of all of these things there were.  The first kilometer of our transect took over half an hour because we had to count all of the silly houses and people surrounding them.  We were so happy when finally the developed area stopped and we were in the midst of a giant banana plantation!

This area is very well known for its bananas, and you would not believe the size of these plantations where the bananas were grown.  We were completely surrounded by bananas with no sign of human settlement anywhere!  It’s so green and healthy and a nice change from the barren areas on the other side of Mto wa Mbu.  Suddenly, as we made a sharp turn in the bananas, we realized that the road was almost non-existent because of the huge amount of water that had flooded it!  We had to keep going with our transect, so our driver got out of the car, put the four wheel drive on, back up, and floored into the huge muddle puddle!  This mud puddle literally kept going and going.  We had driven almost half a kilometer before we finally made it out safely, but I think that the car was literally sliding for 90% of it!  The wheels were spinning so fast, yet we were sliding around and not moving very fast.  At one point, we hit this huge yet hidden speed bump and started fishtailing through the mud!  It was so fun and at one point, three of us let out a squeal because we were flying so fast through the mud!

After we successfully made it out of that transect, we had about 4 more to do that day, mostly without as much mud as we had seen on the first transect.  It was crazy the difference between the banana plantations where we were and the giant dirt areas in Maasailand with almost nothing green at all!  As we were finishing up on of the last transects, we were getting ready to turn around and go back to the main road when we stopped and asked two older Maasai men if there was a quicker way to get to our last transect.  They pointed us in the right direction, and we turned off the main track we had been following.  We didn’t realize what a mistake this would be as we started this turn.

We went about 5 meters, and suddenly felt the car sink quickly into the ground, ground that looked so solid from the car, but was apparently a mud trap!  The car was instantly stuck in the ground and we had to get out of the car quickly before our weight made it sink into the ground any farther!  We all jumped out and looked at the damage that had been done.  The back two tires were at least three feet deep in the mud and there was almost a stream of water filling in the holes around them.  I knew this time was going to be a lot tougher to get the car out of the mud, but I was ready to do anything that we could to help.

Our first task was to gather as many rocks and branches and other materials that were solid that could be stuck under the tires.  At one point, we were cutting giant thorny branches off of the acacia trees to try and put under the car.  We got the jack out and had to try and balance it on a giant rock because otherwise it would sink straight into the mud like the wheels had.  Our driver was working so hard, and finally he got the car jacked up enough that we could throw rocks and whatever else under the left back wheel.  He let the jack down and then we moved to the right tire and did the same thing!  We were all down on hands and knees working to get the car out, and when we finally had all of these things under the tires, it was time to try and see if we could back the car out of this mess.  We all stood on the side, hoping to avoid getting sprayed with mud or the car sliding too close to us.  Our driver climbed in, took a deep breath, and punched it in reverse!!!  The wheels spun 100 miles per hour, but nothing happened other than the car lurching back and forth.  We all got really bummed at this point because it had almost taken an hour and a half at this point and we had made no progress.  We all decided to sit on a rock while our driver pondered what to do next.  We called Christian to let him know what was happening and he said he would come save us in a bit if it was still necessary.  Our driver continued to work with the rocks and branches, but at this point, we all knew it was pointless because the tires just kept getting deeper and deeper in the mud.

We had one more idea, and that was to try and help push the car when he got it moving back and forth a little bit in the mud.  And let me tell you, movies where people get sprayed with the mud do not lie hahaha.  By the end of pushing the car, we all had mud covering our arms and legs and clothes.  Thank goodness I had my rain jacket on!  And the worst part was that it didn’t help at all!  It was so slippery where we were trying to push that our feet kept slipping out and we would hit the ground with our knees!  We finally gave in and decided it was time to call Christian to get us out. He came about half an hour later and we got the cars hooked up together, but it still took a lot of force to get the car out!  When the tires finally slid out of the holes, we all cheered and threw up our hands!  After two and a half hours, we had gotten the car loose and finally got to eat the rest of our well-deserved lunches! Haha We finished up a transect and were happy to head back and take a nice shower to get all of the lovely mud off!

The next day in the community area was probably one of the best days of DR!  We had all new transects to explore in the community area!  Our first transect took us deep into Maasai land, where we were attacked by the flies that infest the bomas!  I literally had to have my legs covered the entire time we were on that transect because the flies were tickling so badly!  And then on top of it, the Maasai people kept stopping us and asking what we were doing!  The Maasai in this area are very used to tourists, so anytime they would see our binoculars or range finders, they would tell us that we needed to pay them because we were taking their pictures!  We had to prove to them several times that we were looking at the cows in the distance and not taking pictures of the actual Maasai people!  It was so frustrating because the transects took a lot longer after we had to stop and explain to every single Maasai man we saw! 

Our last transect ended up near the hippo pool that was a part of Lake Manyara National Park.  The Park ends at the hippo pool, so the road right on the other side is considered the community area! We were in the middle of this giant grassland and our local guide said that we were allowed to get out of the car and see if we could get close enough to the hippos to see them!  We walked from around 100 meters away, but as we got within 50 meters, the ground was so muddy that our shoes were getting stuck!  At one point, I completely lost one of my flip flops in the mud and had to dig and find it.  We decided that if we needed to run away from the hippos, it would not be possible in the mud, so unfortunately we had to turn back before we got too close.  We still took tons of pictures in the middle of the grassland running around like crazy people. I absolutely loved it out there because the town of Mto wa Mbu was completely hidden by huge woodlands and there was nothing around us except zebra, wildebeest, hippos, and grass!  I was skipping around like I was in The Sound of Music!  Finally, our driver told us it was time to go, so we went and got pizza with one of the other DR groups before heading back to camp for the day!  It was such a fun day filled with excitement and it made me realize how much I loved Tanzania!

On our last day in the community area, we had to repeat all study areas that we had done the two days before, so we were really rushed!  We had to drive really fast and write down GPS coordinates as we were moving!  For once, we didn’t stop for the Maasai at all and we kept trucking through the entire day.  Not getting stuck in the mud with our feet or the mud saved a lot of time, and we ended up being done earlier than we had the other days!  We celebrated with a soda at the pizza point and then walked around Mto wa Mbo because we didn’t want to head back to camp yet!  It was so exciting to be completely done with DR research and packed lunches until the end of the semester!!!  What a weight off of our shoulders!

Thanks for reading!!!
Mollie Ann