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

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