Friday, June 29, 2012

Mnambe Waterfall and Coffee Roasting

 Hey y’all. On Wednesday we got to go see some of the Africa Volunteer Corps volunteers in their placements. It was great to hear from them as to how things are going. One kept saying how proud he is to be helping the kids in his school. Another showed us the booklet of AIDS patients he goes to see. It was amazing to see the kids in class and one class sang us a song. I’m so proud of Caitlin and what these volunteers are doing.

Yesterday Julia and I went on a day trip into the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro. After taking it easy for a while I was so ready to explore. Our guides Alfred and Ibrahim picked us up and we drove north slowly climbing up the mountain. We passed the Chagga people (the tribe that inhabits the foothills) going about their business farming, carrying bananas to town in baskets on their heads, or standing to watch us go by. Kids waved and smiled among fields of banana and mango trees. We reached a windy road with amazing views of Moshi town below. Unfortunately, Momma Kili (as Ibrahim called the Mt) was shy and hiding in the clouds.

View of Kili from Caitlin's house

We met up with our Chagga guide who led us from his house to the waterfall. Our hour-long hike through the forest and farmland was amazing. The land is rich and fertile and grows all kinds of produce. Just on our hike we saw mango trees, papaya, apricot, passion fruit, coffee, tree tomato, banana, stone potato (which grows on a vine in the air) and yam plants. I recognized the eucalyptus tree, jasmine, hibiscus and even a houseplant I have back home that I now know where it comes from. We saw a huge colorful grasshopper that the guides said has good protein (didn’t try it), beautiful butterflies and even a fresh water crab. But the coolest were the chameleons! They are so cute you guys! When we were done looking at them closely on a stick, our guide said, “ok, lets put him back to nature”.

 View of Moshi below


We followed the pristine river formed of glacial runoff and reached the towering and majestic 245 ft waterfall. The force of it’s own drop created such a wind blowing the mist towards us and soaking us head to foot. Our guides scoffed at us for not swimming, but we were already wet! We ate our lunch in a little hut with a view of the falls and heard its legend. Apparently as early ago as 170 years, the Chagga, believing the water is God’s tears, would sacrifice their firstborn son by dropping him off the falls.

After a steep hike back we stopped at our guide’s house to roast coffee. We took beans that had dried in the sun for a few days and de-shelled them before roasting them in a pot over the fire. The smell was amazing. We then ground them in a huge mortar and pestle before adding hot water and sugar. It was the freshest coffee I’ve ever had and was delicious.

 'Winding' the coffee beans

It was such a fun day. I really enjoyed our guides who were very informative, the sweet people we met on the trail and the connection to nature I’d been craving. Mt Kili really reminds me of Mt Rainier and has the same comforting feeling of watching over us.

Tomorrow we go on Safari!!! As our guide said, “Are you ready for the animals?” Yes, yes I am.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I’m learning a little Swahili y’all. Pole, pole – slowly. It was important to learn greetings right away because everyone here says hello. So far I stick to Mambo (what’s up) and Poa (cool). The people often just tell us, ‘say asante’ – thank you – and laugh when we reply like parrots.

We’re still in Moshi taking it easy on ourselves and our jet lag. After our yoga, tea and breakfast at Caitlin’s we head into town. Today we actually made it before noon. Yesterday Julia and I ventured a little on our own. We were both nervous (it’s hard for us to not speak the language), but I knew once we were out there we’d figure it out – which is actually my favorite part of traveling. Caitlin let us go like a worried, but confident mother dropping the kids off at the mall and we headed for the central market. A bustling and colorful maze of souvenirs, fruits and vegetables lined the outer edge of the market. Shopkeepers tried to get us to come into their stalls as kids pulled carts through the traffic. Open bags of dried beans, rice and spices filled the inside. (I’m painting a very romantic picture here, there was also of course the noise, dirt, honking, dust, hanging meat carcasses and haggling). After a quick walk through we paused to collect ourselves. I really wanted to go back in and take photos but I was nervous. People here are very wary of photography and either don’t want their picture taken or want money in exchange. But we made a plan and I refreshed my memory on how to ask to take a photo. I didn’t photograph any people and asked to shoot one woman’s bags of beans. All in all it was a success aside from one woman saying no photos allowed in passing. At least I got some good photos of Julia. Bartering has been a challenge since we don’t know numbers in Swahili and can’t exactly demand a certain price. So we overpaid for a papaya on the street, which was both embarrassing and totally fine with me. 

Tomorrow we get to see Caitlin’s program. For those of you who don’t know she has started an NGO here. Not a small feat and something that makes me so proud when I remember her saying at age 20 in Paris, ‘someday I want to start an NGO in Africa’. Africa Volunteer Corps is a sort of Peace Corps for local Tanzanians who get placed with local NGOs needing volunteers. Check it out:

Right now I’m sitting at a cafĂ© drinking passion fruit juice (my FAVORITE flavor on earth), editing photos and people watching. La vie est belle.

Asante sana

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hello from Moshi

Hi Everyone! I'm in Africa! I still can't believe it. I'm at a coffee shop in Moshi, Tanzania where Caitlin lives. We got here last night after staying in Nairobi for two nights. We had very gracious couch surfing hosts  and were able to catch up on our sleep. The three of us met in Nairobi- Julia flew in from Cairo after spending a week there, Caitlin came in from Atlanta, and I from New York via Amsterdam. I had 12 hours to walk around Amsterdam. It was a sunny warm day and I walked and walked amongst the winding canals and beautiful architecture. I got lost a lot (which is not too typical for me) and quite often walked the in the exact opposite direction I thought I was going in. I stayed in a sweet little hotel with a view of a canal. I found Dutch people as amazingly beautiful as the city, but I didn't feel very welcomed by them. Maybe it was just my jet lag or I'm possibly rusty with this whole traveling in a country where you don't speak the language, but I felt a certain negative attitude toward my existence. Needless to say I was happy to move South past the equator. 

 View from hotel window

It's been so amazing to be with Caitlin and Julia again! The three of us met while studying abroad in Paris our Junior year and shared one of the best years of our lives together. It's so nourishing to laugh together again, sharing our recent stories (while being jet lagged in a apartment in Nairobi or on a long bus ride from Kenya to Tanzania). On our night in Nairobi our hosts invited us to go see an African Slam Poetry competition in an Ethiopian bar. It was an amazing experience that quickly gave us a feel for Kenyan culture, expression, music and art. Half of the performances were in English and half in Swahili. There were a lot of hilarious American pop culture references, some of which were even too current for me. It was the perfect thing to do when you have one night in a Nairobi. 

 Groceries in Nairobi: mangos, avocados, little bananas, honey, bread, tomatoes, cookies and cheese

 Julia and Caitlin

A little boy who asked me to take his photo

So yesterday we took a six hour bus to Arusha where Caitlin's business partner Jafari sweetly picked us up. Another two hour drive and we safely made it to Moshi. Dad, you'll be so glad Jafari was driving. He drove slowly and cautiously and even signaled to let people behind know when it was safe to pass or not (something all drivers were doing and just symbolized to me how nice Tanzanians are). So here we are! This morning we slept in, had a lovely breakfast of tea, avocado and bread and the most delicious mango I've ever eaten! Seriously, the best. We did some yoga to restore or sore bodies and ate a home cooked Tanzanian meal with our hands (rather right hand only-thanks Dad for the heads up). It's incredible to be here and I can't wait to see more. 


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Africa Here I Come

Next big adventure here I come! I'm off to Tanzania where I'll be traveling with two girlfriends for a month. I can't believe it's finally here. After weeks of frantic preparation, vaccines and working all the while, I'm getting on a plane tomorrow. That is, with a pit stop in New York City where I get to spend a couple days. Stay tuned as I keep you posted on my adventures! Ciao,