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

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