Kilimanjaro Pt. 2: Descent...and poop stories
wing
whatamiatailor
Honestly, I thought descent was WAY harder than going up…but then again, I would, wouldn’t I? (You'll know why in a minute.) It might even be harder, in truth. All told, Day 6 is just really hard. No question. As I mentioned in the main Kili post, you start out at midnight and climb for seven or eight hours. But when you’ve reached the top, snapped some photos, dropped your pants (you know—the usual), then you have to head back down the exact same distance. And THEN you head down even FURTHER—close to 3,000m more. All of it in a single day!

Arguably, down is harder than up. Each requires almost the same amount of energy but since gravity’s now on your side there are many, many more steps. For me, THAT day, it was particularly difficult.

The night before, worried over what the cold would be like, I had accepted a couple of hand warmers, offered me by Jaemie, which—they being HAND warmers—I immediately went ahead and stuffed into my boots. I don’t think they got quite enough air for the chemical reaction to take effect, as I didn’t really feel any heat coming off them. What I did feel though, upon returning from summit to basecamp, was those two little fuckers, stuffed into the toes of my boots, compacted solid by the weight of my climb. I didn’t even recognize what was happening until I was almost at camp; I just thought the downward angle was pushing my toes up against the front of my boots. But it was like having rocks the size of marshmallows stuck inside my footwear and by the time we got to basecamp, I could barely walk.


But that wasn’t my only problem. The altitude was affecting me—no, my breathing was fine and I didn’t have a headache. What I had was gas. Like, crazy gas. I told Jaemie and Jesper that it was a good thing the tent was pegged down because I could have floated a hot air balloon with what had escaped my digestive tract the night before. (And another one with what I’d produced on my way up the mountain.) All through the ascent I’d worried these intestinal musings would turn into something worse, something a little more…substantial, shall we say—a little runnier. Luckily the makeshift stones in my shoes weren’t the only things solid I managed to carry up the mountain.

As soon as I got back to basecamp though…oh boy.

We had a short rest, a bit of lunch, and then made our second descent of the day. I had hit the outhouse twice in the meantime. We had been hiking twenty minutes when I came to the realization that maybe it would have been better if I’d gone THREE times.

Another hour passed and, once again I found myself hiking in bodily agony (though for very different reasons than earlier in the day). Thinking ‘it’s only supposed to be a three hour hike, and we’ve been going at a good pace,’ I figured there’d be an hour left, an hour and a half, tops. So I asked innocent how much longer. “Three hours,” he said. THREE FUCKING HOURS! “But maybe four; we’re going to go slow because of your feet.”

My feet?! MY FEET!!? My feet were fine! I assured him of this but didn’t believe me. REALLY. IT’S. FINE! He wanted to take a look at them. Instead I kicked my toes down into the rock as brutally hard as I could to prove that my feet didn’t hurt now that I had the warmers out of them. I just really, really…REALLY needed to get to a toilet!

(Okay, here’s the thing. I would be perfectly willing to go behind a bush or something, but let me give you a quick list of things I won’t do:
- leave toilet paper on the mountain
- carry dirty toilet paper with me in bags not suitably designed for such purposes.
- go AL-natural and worry about it later.
If I had only had a shovel, it might have been another matter.)

Luckily there was another camp we would pass through on the way to OUR camp and it was only an hour’s walk. I decided I could make it.

For the next hour (and-a-half, I think), holding my insides together with a combination of stubbornness, careful breathing and functionally applied ass kegels, I followed the others, one step at a time, as best I could down the mountain.

Soon the bathroom camp (for this was how I thought of it) was in sight. Soon it was CLOSE even. But the closer we got, the rougher the path got. And the slower we moved. Many had described summiting to me in these terms. I could see the end of my struggles. It was SO CLOSE—not 30m away! But it might have been on the moon for how far it felt!

Eventually we made it. And I’ll tell you, I have no doubt that on this continent—in the palace of a king or corrupt head of state, or in a resort for billionaires maybe—somewhere, there is a bathroom decorated with platinum taps and artistic masterpieces, lit by crystal chandeliers, with a grand piano in the corner for atmosphere, but even so, this smelly, piss-puddled wood out-house, with its long-drop squatter toilet (which really, could be more accurately described if one were to omit the world ‘long’), I promise you, is—was, always has been, and always will be—THE BEST TOILET IN AFRICA! Maybe the world.

After that it got easier. A few more hours wobbling on tired wobbly legs [sic] and we made it to Mweka Camp. The last on our trip. We slept the night, exhausted (having traversed close to 5Km of vertical distance in just the one day). The next day we hiked down through the rainforest once more to Mweka gate where we caught a bus back to civilization. All told we were on the mountain for 7 days. We all agreed it felt more like a month or two. Experience of a lifetime.

Here are some descent pictures.

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Kilimanjaro Pt. 1: The Mountain At Last.
wing
whatamiatailor
The first thing you need to understand about Kilimanjaro is how crazy big it is. Holy God, is it big. Literally AND figuratively, it’s one of the largest THINGS I have ever had the opportunity/misfortune to contend with. I have been in Africa now, for over two months, only seven days of which were on The Mountain; in my head though, easily half the trip has was spent on Kilimanjaro.

It was raining when we arrived at Machame Gate. At the hotel Jaemie had noticed that another person, with the same tour group would be starting at the same time as us. My first thought, being the unsocial bastard I am, was, ‘man I hope we don’t end up having to hike this with some random person.’ (Sorry Jesper.) Then, waiting below the gate for the porters and guides to get everything organized we met this cool Danish guy who was racing his friend up the Seven Summits, beginning with Kilimanjaro. (He was two mountains behind.) We hit it off right away, and immediately I was glad for the extra company up the mountain.

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We had not one—not two—but THREE guides to deliver us to the top Mighty Kilimanjaro. Innocent, we met the day before, an upbeat, funny, knowledgeable fella, who filled us with confidence in both him and ourselves. Shaffi, Innocent’s assistant guide, was more the quiet type (not a lot of English but he made up for it with enthusiasm); he was the one actually walking in front of us as we made our way up the mountain. Then there was Joseph, Jesper’s original guide who we actually kind of started ahead of and then didn’t really see for the first few days. He was a good dude too though.

Left to right: Me, Joseph, Jaemie, Shaffi, Innocent, Jesper
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Day 1
Machame Gate (1,800) – Machame Camp (3,000m): The Rainforest

A quick shot of Konyagi (schnapps) for luck and we were on our way.
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Innocent happily joined us in our pre-mountain ritual.
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Hiking an ever-narrowing track, we passed through a particularly beautiful mass of vegetation and greenery. “Pole pole” [poe-lay poe-lay] (Go slowly), Shaffi, compelled by our overly enthusiastic gate, was heard more than once to remark.

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Look, dragon glass!
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We made it to camp, worn-out, damp with rain water and sweat, 12,000m higher than where we’d started, and filled with the alarmed realization that it was only day one.

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We invited Jesper to join us in our mess tent, making it official. We were a three-man team.


Day 2
Machame Camp (3,000m) – Shira Camp (3,840m): The Moorlands

The second day was shorter and easier than the first but it started steep. Climbing, quick-as-you-like, through the last remnants of shaggy green trees we entered the low brushed, rocky terrain known as the moorlands.

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Innocent and I traded backpacks.
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Me hamming it up a bit for the camera.
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After a short, five hour hop we landed just above the cloud wall.
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As evening fell the fog rolled back up over us, leaving everyone cold, shivering and damp.

But high in spirits.
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Day 3
Shira Camp (3,840m) – Baranco Camp (3,860m): The Desert

Day three was a confusion up and down. All day, we had a net gain of only 20m. But man did we EARN them.

Leaving behind the very last traces of vegetation we passed over boulders and crags up, up, up, well above the clouds now, to The Lava Tower (4,590m) where we stopped for lunch.

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The ravens made poor dining companions, always calling out for scraps. But the mice were pretty cute.
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I took the highest pee of my life thus far (a record, which I knew, none of us would have opportunity to break for at least two days). Then we headed back DOWN the mountain, all the way back—almost—to the same elevation we started, where we made camp for the night.

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Hello Meru!
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Doing a bit of exploring I found a cliff, jutting out over the cloud wall. I went for a closer look but just as I came to it, the fog rolled in once again. The ground beneath me was all that I could see.

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Alone in the sky and lost in clouds, I stood on a pillar of stone and looked down into drafts of swirling nothing.
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Day 4
Baranco Camp (3,840m) – Karanga Camp (4,200m): The Wall

I noticed that my camera was starting to lose juice here so I left it off to spare power for the last day. Unfortunately, between the three of us we have—pretty much ZERO pictures of our climb up the Baranco Wall.

That cliff face in the middle, that’s the wall.
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This was the climbiest part of the entire route but it was actually fairly easy. One of the easiest parts of one of the easiest days, actually. There was a bit of scrambling, there was the kissing stone in which the path narrows so much you’re literally shimmying along, mouth pressed into the face of the cliff, and there’s a nice long rest at the top.

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THEN we went down into a river valley. And up. And down again. And up again. These climbs, we all agreed were harder than the wall but it was a short day and we made it to camp by lunch time. There was even time for an hour-and-a-half acclimatization hike uphill that afternoon. We invited A 60 year old Scotsman (who sounded very English to me, actually) that Jesper had met at the airport. (For that matter, Jesper sounds pretty English himself…huh.)

The view standing on the shoulders of a Stone God.
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That night we had a bit of fun with Jesper’s camera.
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Jaemie tried to write boobs.
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My signature.
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Jesper went for something really original.
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And Innocent’s name proved just a little too long.
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Day 5
Karanga Camp (4,200m) – Barafu Base Camp (4,600m): The Valley

Karanga Valley was maybe the easiest day. It was three hours tops. We only ascended 400m; a bit of up and down but not much. But things were getting serious. Uhuru Summit loomed upon us. We would not sleep well that night—or much. Our guides would come to wake us, we knew, before midnight to begin final ascent.

The view from base camp was unbelievable.

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Night 5
Barafu Base Camp (4,600m) – Stella Point (5,685m): Night Ascent

We all managed a few hours’ sleep before they came and woke us. We put on our warmest clothes, had a spot of tea and a light breakfast, then guided by the light of our headlamps (and our guides as well) (and THEIR headlamps) we started up the sharp, switchback path that would put us on the highest elevation we had ever known.

Seven hours passed.

There was walking. We took breaks. There was walking. We had snacks. More walking. Talk of being cold. Walking. Jackets lent. More snacks. Walking. Walking. Drinking water. Walking. Walking. “Hey, look at the moon!” More walking.

It all seemed to blend together…

Until we looked up and saw The Mountain, this massive entity that had stood so high above us for so long, seeming to come to an end not 20m up.

And just as the sun had begun to paint the eastern horizon, there we found ourselves—Stella Point—atop the mountain itself, on the rim of the crater to the volcano that IS Kilimanjaro.

But we still hadn't come to the highest point on the African continent.


Day 6 (Sunrise)
Stella Point (5,685m) – Uhuru Peak (5,895m): The Glacier & Final Ascent

Over the next 45 minutes we climbed the last few hundred metres to the roof of Africa.

A lunar eclipse hanging over sunrise, as viewed from atop the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.
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We arrived!

We were giddy, and tired and cold and rushed because there were so many other people wanting to take turns taking pictures.

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And, of course, THIS happened…
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Another shot of Konyagi at the summit!
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But it was beautiful. It was one of the truly Great and Profound experiences of my life.

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That's not it though. I've still got to tell you about descent. (You'll laugh.)

Safari
wing
whatamiatailor
Went on Safari. Here's some pictures of lions and shit.

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Side-Quests and Mini-Games
wing
whatamiatailor
Okay, I would like to write about some of the interesting littlte experiences I’ve had and some of the quirky things I’ve seen in Arusha. These were the ones too small to make full posts about. I’ve compiled them all together here for one super massive omnibus post. Here goes:


Mambo-Jambo Jumble (mini-game)

Arriving in Tanzania, you immediately learn the standard way to greet another human being: “Mambo,” you say (‘How are you?’). And then they say, “Poa” (‘Cool.’). There are other possibilities;, you could say, “Habari,” (‘What’s the news?’) and they say, “Nzuri,” (‘It’s beautiful’) but this is mostly for older people to whom you should be a bit more formal. Or SOMETIMES people say “Jambo,” (‘Hello’) and to this you just reply “Jambo.” Mostly it’s Mambo-Poa though.

At first, when someone says “Mambo,” you find yourself saying “Mambo,” instead of “Poa,” but after a week or two you come to master these basics. Then they start switching it up…

I’ve gotten pretty much all of these:

Mambo? – Poa.
Jambo – Jambo.
Habari asubuhi? – Nzuri.
Mambo? – Poa. Vipi? – Poa.
Mambo? – Safi. Vipi? – Poa.
Karibu. – Asante. Mambo. – Poa.
Mambo? – Poa. Vipi? – Safi. Habari asubuhi? – Nzuri.
Jambo. – Jambo. – Habari jioni? – Nzuri sana. Vipi? – Safi.
Hi guy. – ‘Sup.
Mambo? – Poa. Wewe zima? – Zima. – Karibu. – Asante.
Mambo? – Poa. Vipi? – Safi. Ploe. – Asante sana. Habari? – Nzuri. Habari wewe? – Nzuri sana.
My nigga’ – …uuuuuhhhhh… [This only happened to me once.]

These really all are just saying ‘hi’.

There are two special greetings offered only by children. 1) “Muzungu!!!” (‘White person!!!’) (often chanted as one might for an encore), to which you respond with a smile and a wave, a friendly ‘Hi!’, or even just drop back to the standard, “Mambo?”. 2) The other greeting is simply to run up grinning, and without a word, attack-hug you, invariably at crotch level. …that was never really a thing back home.

STATUS
Conversationalist
LEVEL REACHED
Difficult
ACHIEVEMENTS
6 volleyed greeting reached
100+ greetings initiated
20+ crotch hugs
Greeted 10+ scary dudes
TROPHIES EARNED
The Chatty Matty Trophy
The Stained Local Tooth Award


Food Quest (side-quest)

Travelling, I’m always excited to taste the best of the local foods. When I got here I was glad for the home-cooking we got at the volunteer house, but while there are local dishes on the board, most were very much catered toward Westerners. So restaurants. But then…where’s all the LOCAL food joints? You want a truly awesome burger (not good for Tanzania, good for anywhere), go to Wraps. Or Mango Tree’s pretty good. Want a decent pizza? Try TGT; you can watch the sunset while you digest. Indian food? How about Njiro Complex; they have everything. But what about LOCAL FOOD???

Well I and a few of the more adventurous volunteers have on occasion visited one or another of the run-down little, side-of-the-road establishments. We quickly learned that Tanzanian restaurant food is pretty basic fare—for the most part, meat seasoned with salt and grilled over fire. Fatty? Yes. Tough? Oh sure. Tasty? It’s not bad. Now ask me I felt I was getting a uniquely Tanzanian experience. Sadly, no. We did have some pretty good fish heads though.

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But then we went on the Moshi Tour where we ate our fantastic guide’s fantastic mother’s fantastically local, FANTASTIC food. And that was that.

STATUS
Chagga Gourmand
LEVEL REACHED
Expert
ACHIEVEMENTS
Ate unidentified animal
Ordered in sans-English restaurant
Ate unidentified organ meat
Ate eyeball
Expedition leader
TROPHIES EARNED
The Golden Chipati
The Fish-Eyed Lens Award
The Guacamole Cup


Crazy Dala (mini-game)

I mentioned the dala dala in a previous post. Remember that van that drives around stuffing in as many people as humanly possible for about $.30 a head. At the time, I think I’d peaked at twenty-one people and a chicken but there’s been plenty of opportunity to break that personal record and I have since maxed out at twenty-six human souls in a unit with only sixteen seats. (Honourable mention goes to nineteen and a goat though.) The condas (conductors) are so focused on filling up their Barnum-and-Bailey-esque vehicles I have seen them physically drag people off the street (sometimes through a thin cloud of protests) to shove them through their waiting doors; I’ve seen condas push and fight each other (always usually playfully); I’ve seen them block passage into competitors’ vehicles; one even drove up beside another which I was about to board, so close I had to jump out of the way, completely eclipsing the first dala’s door. One important lesson everyone should learn though is: WE decide who gets to drive us. (Sometimes you want an empty one because it’s a long ride and you want a good seat. Sometimes you want a full one because the empties will sit there forever until they fill up.) I’ve gotten pretty damn good at saying ‘no’. I can peek my head into every dala, passing through the hordes of condas as if they were ghosts of my imagination and find the one that suits me best. This skill is a MUST in Africa.

STATUS
Navigator
LEVEL REACHED
Expert
ACHIEVEMENTS
30+ minutes standing in a dala
5+ awkward conversations with other passengers
Successfully napped on 20+ person dala
100+ trips without being robbed
Expedition leader
TROPHIES EARNED
-The Golden Sardine
-The Usa River Trophy
-The Brass Goat Idol


Big Bill Break (mini-game)

There’s a charge to withdraw money from your bank back home so most people draw the maximum amount then live off it for as long as it will last them. The problem is, since your money comes in the largest possible denominations, at times it can be difficult to actually spend it. Change (small bills) as it turns out is somewhat of a rare commodity. If you try to use a large bill on the dala, the conda ends up shaking people down to change out some of his bills in order to break it for you. At restaurants you often find yourself bargaining with your friends and fellow customers to pay off the odds and ends and make sure everyone is paid up and square with each other. I went to the movies the other day and had to get my change for the ticket, not from the box office but the concession, and not in money but an equivalent value of bottled water! It’s a semi-regular occurrence that you will actually have to give somebody change on the change they give you.

This all was a larger problem at first but I came to realize that there is a tiny shop near our place that usually has plenty of change. Whenever I need small bills for the dala (or whatever else) I just walk over and buy a bottle of water.

STATUS
Casual shopper
LEVEL REACHED
Completed
ACHIEVEMENTS
Broke 10,000 Tsh on dala dala
Paid 1,000 Tsh+ in coins
Received change after Maasai Market bargain
TROPHIES EARNED
The Chop My Money Trophy
Golden 50 Tsh Award


Bargain Wrestling

The game is simple. Winning is difficult. Buying most things (souvenirs), they charge you three to ten times what it’s worth, you offer to pay a quarter of what they say and then you wrestle to meet in the middle. I’m not great at this one. Once I’ve got it down to a reasonable price I have a hard time caring over the last $3-$7 ($20 for something really expensive).

STATUS
Sucker
LEVEL REACHED
Beginner
ACHIEVEMENTS
Paid ½ offered price
TROPHIES EARNED
Maasai Market Participation Ribbon
Bleeding Heart Award


Bed, Bar or Beyond (side-quest)

As seems to be my lot in life, I am surrounded by young people. I do quite like the volunteer community into which I’ve so recently sprung but so many of my peers are filled with excitements and youthful enthusiasms for things, which I simply cannot share. Namely ‘going out’. Yes, Den friends, I know, I know; I—even in my advanced years—do enjoy the occasional all night constitutional, but even you who know me well, must admit that when I go out, it’s invariably socially, I’m usually the first to leave, and I would ALWAYS rather be spending time with the same people but at MY house. So when I face the question, “Are you coming tonight?” two or three times a week, I am fairly comfortable saying, “Nope,” with a warm smile wrapped around my chin.

Here’s the thing, Dear Reader, I’ve met some pretty decent people here, people whose company I’ve enjoyed, people who have enriched my life for having briefly shouldered their way into it. And it’s ALWAYS somebody’s last day. So when someone says, “You have to come, it’s my last night,” Yes, on occasion I will agree with them; yes I DO have to go. But not always. Sometimes the only place I HAVE to go, is bed. On these nights, I’ll tell you, I am as happy a pig in shit to smile and say, “I’m not going.”

Avoiding going out is always a win.

Last week was different though. That was the Colombians’ final week in the house. Darling little Juanita, and adorable, spritely Maria (both of whom had been in the house for six months and are beloved by all) were leaving us. So yes, I went to the shitty Karaoke night on Wednesday—sang Bust-a-Move (even though they didn’t have a karaoke version of the song and my voice was drowned out by Young MC’s)—I went to the outdoor Thursday night dance club, and I went out to the final going away dinner at TGT on Friday.

Friday. That was something else. Sixteen of us stuffed ourselves into a cab and bumped and jolted our way to the restaurant. But it wasn’t there. We circled around a few times (on a very rough road) but all we found was this massive outdoor cocktail bash (a wedding?). We stopped to ask for directions, accidentally crashed a party for tourism companies with free food and alcohol, and spent the rest of the night hobnobbing with our social betters.

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STATUS
Party Crasher
LEVEL REACHED
Expert
ACHIEVEMENTS
Went to bed after 5:00am
Went to bed before 8:00pm
White-guy rapped in Africa
Dodged pressured night out
Invented a fake tourist lodge for free booze
TROPHIES EARNED
The Priceless Gin Bottle
The Colombian Via Via Best Dancer Award
White-guy rapper trophy


Werewolf Hunt (side-quest)

Werewolf is a game we play religiously in the volunteer house. I’ve played a simpler version of it before and it was really fun. But this…this is something else. You need at least twelve people to play but it’s better with fifteen-seventeen. There are two werewolves but nobody knows who they are. Each round the werewolves kill a village person. Then the villagers try to find out who the wolves are and vote someone else to die. If both werewolves are killed, the villagers win; if the village people are whittled down until there’s as many bad guys as good, the wolves win. There are other characters; some help find the werewolves, one is on the werewolves' team and there are a bunch who make the game both more complicated and more strategic. Werewolf is so important a part of Simba House, it’s featured on our house flag.

Simba House Flag

STATUS
Narrator
LEVEL REACHED
Too Dangerous to Live
ACHIEVEMENTS
Won as village person
Won as werewolf
Played 50+ games
Played as all nine character types
Invented and integrated new (tenth) character
Rigged 3+ games
TROPHIES EARNED
The Golden Wolf
Village Elder’s Cup
Narrator’s Murder Chair


HEX (mini-game)

I would like to introduce you, Dear Reader, to my roommate, a charming young man by the name of Chris. He is by any measure a truly delightful person—a little awkward at times perhaps (the poor boy’s all elbows and knees) but his company is always a welcome addition…EXCEPT, there is a HEX on our friend Chris. Wherever he goes BAD THINGS HAPPEN.

Chris went with some other volunteers to the hot springs
-Their tuk tuk broke down on the way back into town, stranding them in the middle of nowhere!

He went to Zanzibar with a few good companions…
-They were almost killed by a street merchant!
-They missed their bus coming back!
-The bus they caught left one of their group at a rest stop!

He went with a few of us to a restaurant at night…
-Our taxi broke down on the way to pick us up but didn’t tell us, stranding us for over an hour in downtown Arusha after dark! (It’s ill-advised for muzungus to be out in African cities at night.) (A clearly crazy woman kept calling us over and trying to get us into her car.)

I went to take a picture of him for this very blog post, put him in frame and focus…
-AND MY FUCKING CAMERA BATTERY DIED!!!

But really, could you stay mad at this face?

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STATUS
Witness
LEVEL REACHED
NA
ACHIEVEMENTS
Diagnosed hex
TROPHIES EARNED
The Broken Taxi Award

Moshi Cultural Tour (and then some)
wing
whatamiatailor
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Last weekend I went on a cultural tour of Moshi (a small city east of Arusha, just south of THE MOUNTAIN). I can honestly say that so far, it was the best money I’ve spent in Africa. Godfri, our excellent tour guide (see my post about the Arusha Waterfall Hike) picked us up early to start the trek between cities. Miranda (a volunteer here with whom, over the last few weeks, I’ve developed somewhat of a connection), having foolishly gone out the night before slept the whole way there. We picked up another friend, Victoria, with whom I had worked at the orphanage (see Orphanage Rockstar). She had just come down from summiting THE MOUNTAIN. My excitement levels skyrocketed as I grilled her on her Kili experience.

What followed were more fantastic sights and interesting stops than a poor, forgetful boy like myself could possibly recall. Luckily I had a camera.

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The Marangu Gate. This path ends at the summit of the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.

We visited a coffee plantation.

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Unripe coffee beans.

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This adorable man taught us how to shuck, roast and grind coffee.

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The final product.

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There were Chagga Tribe cultural sites

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And underground war tunnels,

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Complete with giant ants and penis slugs.

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Then another waterfall.

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See how hard I’m trying to look cool?

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Not everyone had that problem.

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Then, exactly one month after touching down in Tanzania, living beneath THE MOUNTAIN’S endless shadow, I finally caught my first glimpse of Mighty Kilimanjaro.

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Then later,

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Pictures could never do it justice. THE MOUNTAIN'S size is to be conceived in the way we think of God as big. Subsuming the entire northern horizon, it filled the sky in front of us.


We dined that night at Godfri’s home, where we were made honorary members of the Chagga tribe, and courtesy of his absolutely lovely mom, tasted some local food so good it put anything I’d had in country thus far to shame. (More on food in my next post.) Sadly we’d dropped our bags at the hotel and I didn’t bring my camera so I must forever rely on my own limited capacities to recall the evening.

The next day was pretty tame. We checked out an abandoned railway station in town and made a trip to the hot springs (which two of us had been to before but was still awesome).

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Orphanage Rockstar
wing
whatamiatailor
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Starting placement at the orphanage, you feel like a rock star. People chant your name when you show up in the morning, scream to catch your eye as you leave. Your presence energizes whatever room you’re in—electrifies the air itself. By all accounts, your attention is the most valuable commodity there is. It’s a joy which everyone should have a chance to experience. It’s intoxicating.

And make no mistake, it’s a bad thing.

I’m not saying my presence has been less than a positive affair in the lives of the kids. I’m sure I’m doing good (most days), but that such a small thing as the attentions of a stranger could so earnestly affect so many, must to any rational, reasonably empathetic person, be seen as fucked. Not only are these kids attention starved, they’re clearly wanting for basic stimulation.

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I realized this late last week when my placement partner and I brought in some skipping ropes and soccer balls. (Well done Victoria Tor for bringing the ropes and thanks a tonne to Eric Ly and Give A Kick for donating the soccer balls!) All of a sudden, what had been the site of a minor cult, dedicated to the pale-skinned foreign teachers (each with their own desperate entourage and an honour guard whose loyalty was beyond question) became an unaccountably ordinary school yard. Kids were playing with other kids, making up games, running around, falling in the mud, crying, fighting over toys and sometimes even sharing them. Victoria and I (Victoria being my placement buddy) were still the objects of unreasonable affection, but at least now we weren’t the only toys in the schoolyard anymore.

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Honestly, I suspect bringing those few toys might be the biggest ‘good’ I have, or will have, offered those kids. Which I suppose I’ll still mark in the ‘W’ column.

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(Not everything has been so good. Yesterday I was trying to break up a fight between two of the bigger boys, while simultaneously failing to convince half-a-dozen smaller kids that now was not a good time to climb on top of me. Amidst the chaos and frustration of it all, I pushed up through the crowd and managed to knock one kid squarely (and hard), face-first into the dirt. Obviously I felt terrible. I held him while he cried for the next hour or so. He was mad at me today but I managed to get a couple smiles out of him. Hopefully this will complete any requirements I’ve apparently had for hurting children in Africa.)

Waterfall Hike
wing
whatamiatailor
There's a waterfall at the base of Mt. Meru. Last Saturday a bunch of us hiked out to go have a look.

Heading out through the suburbs of Arusha.

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Through the muddy streets.

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Africa is pretty.

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Some local kids helping us clumsy Muzungu across the river

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to…











THE WATERFALL!

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Just kidding. That was but a trickle along the way. It’s coming up though.

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Through here…

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Waterfall.

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The road back up.

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Godfri, our fantastic tour guide.

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And we saw monkeys! Look close…

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At the Orphanage
wing
whatamiatailor
Alright, loyal readers, I know you like pictures. Lord knows, I do. And I know you’d like to see pictures of waterfalls and African exoticness. And I have even have these. But not yet.

For now let’s talk volunteering.

My placement at the orphanage (ages 2-6) is a really interesting experience. Most of the actual work I’m doing is teaching (much of that is actually just writing exercises into notebooks (they don’t have photo copiers and the younger class isn’t proficient enough to write them in themselves.) Really, I think the actual teaching is a bit of a write-off. As far as educating goes I don’t think we really do that much. (Although, teaching the older kids the other day, I ran through the given lesson in about five minutes and then had a bunch of time to kill, so I started switching it up—asking them the same questions out of order, asking them in reverse, putting them into teams and then having them answer questions etc.—and the next day, I saw the teacher using some of the exact same techniques, so I may have actually taught her by example!) (But I digress.) Really, I think we’re there just to let the kids experience something different, something from a different place, a different culture—also just to put a bit of fun in their lives (they love just being near the foreign volunteers, holding hands, touching an arm or shirt, just saying ‘hi’, eating beside us, and they LOVE being picked up!

The thing is…

Tanzanian teachers are VERY strict. And as a result the kids are quite well behaved under their watchful eyes. But if one of them—say the teacher of the baby class—were to—say, leave the room. HOLY FUCK. It was like the first teaching scenes in Kindergarten Cop. It was like trying to herd cats…on the freeway! If I say don’t climb on your desk, climbing on your desk becomes a game. If I say don’t throw that across the room, they throw something else. If I say stop hitting…they keep hitting! This is not my first time teaching, not my first time wrangling a classroom by myself, not even my first time with a monster class, but man-o-man, I was in over my head. Those kids respond to the threat of a stick and nothing else (don’t worry; it really is a VERY small stick). And they know the foreigners won’t use it…

But all that doesn’t matter. I’m still really enjoying my placement. Playing with the kids is a lot of fun and you can tell how much just having you around means to many of them.

First Week Contd.
wing
whatamiatailor
Friday was orientation. All the new volunteers crowded into Symba house for a meeting. Then after lunch we went into town…Arusha is CRAZY. There were cars and people everywhere (somewhere around the levels of Ueno in Tokyo or Fremont St. in Las Vegas) but as far as I could tell no rules governing where people drove or walked—only, stay out of the way of anything that can run you over. Parading through the crowded street, we stopped outside a phone store to secure cell phones, sim cards and internet sticks for some thirty or so volunteers.

Understandably this took some time.

But so many faces, so many shades of white and pink, would not go unnoticed. We caught the attention of nearby street merchants. Before long we were facing the full on assault of a peddling armada, selling bracelets, paintings, prints, watches, sandals and who knows what else. The longer we stood there, the greater their numbers and tenacity grew, each offering ‘a special bargain, just for you!’ Our stand was valiant but we were forced to make a tactical retreat. One of the organizers stayed behind for our phones.

On Saturday a bunch of us headed off to a hot spring way out of town. We took a dala dala* to the bus station and a bus out toward Moshi (to the east). The bus conductor (a different guy than the driver, who takes the monies and tells the driver where to stop so passengers can get on or off) didn’t really listen when we said where we wanted to go and none of us were quite paying attention (I was actually, but nobody listens to wing) so we over-shot our stop by 10Km. We found a dala dala to take us straight to the springs and back for a reasonable price so it actually worked out better…only the driver didn’t know the way. We stopped three times to get directions and were eventually led there by a guy on a motorbike (presumably for a cut of the monies).

It was my first real look at the African countryside.

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We eventually arrived at this tiny, hidden bit of paradise.

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I tested out my underwater camera…

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I really was trying to take a picture of her face. I only realized after the fact that I wouldn’t be able to see the screen while we were both underwater!

*A dola-dola is basically a bus. Only you can get on or off anywhere—just flag one down—and they come every minute or so, so you never really have to wait. And it’s really a van. They stuff as many people on as humanly possible (The most I’ve seen is 21 people and a chicken). To get off, you bang on the side and yell for them to stop, then you have to climb over everyone between you and the door. It’s actually a pretty good system. But watch out for pickpockets.

Back Online!: First Week in Arusha
bullrilla
whatamiatailor
So we’re back! Sorry for that interruption of service folks; had a bit of a technical difficulty, but rest assured all bugs have been cleared from the system and we are ready to roll. So, let’s get you guys caught up…

On my flight across the Atlantic, I watched the sun set over the North Pole and spend the next three hours struggling to rise again.

Sunset.

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Three hours later. It never actually got dark!

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Our plane actually dodged around the night entirely. Weird.

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I had hoped to see Kilimanjaro bursting up through the clouds on the way in to Arusha but night did finally hit us (the following night, that is) somewhere over Kenya and all I could see was black. (I did manage to enjoy the sharp line of the African coast and long stretches of the Sahara desert though.) We hit the airport late (on time but after a nineteen hour flight with no sleep (and a near-sleepless night before) anything counts as late) and then faced the hour ride into town. Needless to say, there was little chit-chat offered or received upon our arrival.

Here’s our house!

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There are bugs.

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Our view of Majestic Mt. Meru.

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Our street.

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And just some of the awesome people I’m living and working with.

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There’s more to talk about, of course—our trip to the hot springs, my volunteer placement at the orphanage, the irregular splinters of insanity that, pieced together, make up downtown Arusha, and who knows what will happen tomorrow. We’ll get there though. We’ll get there.

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