Monday, June 25, 2007

June 24, 2007- Back to Arusha

This morning I caught the shuttle back to Arusha, and I was thankful for the opportunity to sit for five hours without moving! A chatty Filipino man sat down next to me, and after a few minutes of talking I found out that he worked for the United Nations, and was pretty important there! He was very interested to hear what I was doing in Africa, and engaged me in conversation until we both fell asleep. At the border another woman boarded our bus (who had apparently missed the departure in the morning but had now caught up) and sat down on the other side of my UN fellow. As it turned out she also works for the UN! I was able to go through immigration quickly because I already had my visa, but the other travelers took forever waiting for theirs so I was able to have a nice long chat with Rosemary, my new UN friend. She had just returned from visiting the US, as her son just graduated high school in Florida. I really enjoyed meeting both Rosemary and Sergeant Litto, and I hope to meet up with them again soon. They have both invited me to visit them at the Rwanda Tribunal so I’m pretty excited! I also met another woman from Dar Es Salaam on the bus who invited me to come visit her if I ever go to Dar. I love how friendly the people here are!

As soon as I got back to Arusha I scrambled around trying to find an open internet café so I could post this incredible backlog of entries, but it seems that everybody decided to take the day off. After being here for a few weeks I have an assortment of about six internet cafes that I vary between, and they were all closed! So I apologize for these being so late, but I really tried.

I somehow had missed breakfast and lunch so I went across the street to Raha Snacks, an adorable little restaurant a few yards from my guesthouse where the owner is always very happy to see me. He makes the best fresh-squeezed mango juice I’ve ever had—not that I’m an expert or anything, but I’m pretty sure it can’t get any better than this!

Daniel was anxious to hear about my trip to Nairobi so we went to another new restaurant and he listened to me tell stories for quite some time. Later, Joseph joined us for dinner which was kuku choma (literally chicken barbeque). I had it the very first night I arrived but I had forgotten how delicious it is! I’m becoming quite good at eating with my hands now, and Dad, you would be proud of how much meat I can get off those chicken bones now!

June 23, 2007- Hell’s Gate National Park

When Mario asked me if I liked mountain biking I said yes because it seemed like a really cool thing to do. I didn’t really think about the fact that I probably had not been on a bicycle since the ‘90s, let alone an off-road mountain bike. We set off this morning for Naivasha via matatu, from where we would catch a cab to Hell’s Gate National Park. We rented mountain bikes at the foot of the park and began the 2km ride up the park entrance. Let’s just say I was pretty terrible at riding this bike! Once Mario helped me adjust the seat and figure out how to change the gears it got a little better, but already my legs were killing me.

They gave us a map and pointed us in the direction that would take us to a gorge, about another 8km away. Okay, no problem. It’s just a bicycle. Little kids ride bikes, so can I. What a ride it was! We had been biking for maybe a kilometer through a vast valley carved out of the mountainside when Mario suddenly exclaimed, “woah there are zebras over there!” I nearly fell of my bike I was so excited! Just off the trail was a herd of zebras grazing in the grass. And then up ahead there were impala. And then there were warthogs. It was incredible!

When we arrived at the gorge they asked us if we wanted a guide and we hesitated, but finally gave in. Boy am I glad we did. The places Patrick, our guide, took us were places that Mario and I later decided were places we would have thought were off-limits had we been leading ourselves. There were many times when I needed all four appendages to get myself through! Patrick told us lots of great stories about the area, showed us where they apparently filmed part of Tomb Raider, and took us to several hot springs. One was so hot that they were boiling eggs in it!

The gorge was totally amazing, but after finally ascending back out I realized that I still had another 10km bike to get out of the park. I did my best but unfortunately my best was a little slow. I also seemed to have a problem starting and stopping. Once I got going it was fine, but twice when I tried to stop I ended up slamming into Mario. I’m sorry!! Somehow I made it out, with a little encouragement from Mario and a little self-peptalk that involved numerous references to Lance Armstrong. We managed to catch the matatu just before it got dark and were on our way back to Nairobi, very sore butts and all (why can’t anybody invent a comfortable bike seat?)

I’ve never needed a shower more in my life! After I removed the pound of salt that had deposited itself on my body, we went out to get some dinner with Samir. We hadn’t really eaten much all day so I had quite an appetite! We had nyama choma which is a traditional East African dish of barbequed meat. It’s served on a communal tray put in the middle of table and it’s really quite an experience! I’ve only ever eaten it with other guys, and last time one of them said, “wow, this really makes me feel like a man, eating meat with my hands.” Mario and I decided that we want to open up an East African restaurant in Boston. It would be such a hit! We just need to bring back a herd of goats to get us started.

It was an unreal day, both totally amazing and incredibly exhausting! I pretty much couldn’t move by the end of the night, but it was so worth it!

June 22, 2007- Off to Nairobi

I had been thinking about visiting Mario, another MIT student, in Nairobi but I wasn’t really sure when and if I would really go. He called last night to say that he had found a really great day trip for us this weekend so I decided to go for it! There are daily shuttles that run from Arusha to Nairobi at a pretty reasonable price (especially when you bargain for the resident’s rate!) The driver of my shuttle seemed excited to have me onboard, and asked me if I would be his co-pilot and sit in the front passenger seat. Not only do I have the world’s worst sense of direction (Mom, you can vouch for that) but I was clearly the only person on the shuttle who had no clue where we were going! Luckily Teddy, the driver, had been driving this route for 20 years so he didn’t need my help. It was a really interesting drive through ever-changing scenery which I really enjoyed. Crossing the border was a little chaotic. You have to get off the bus and file your departure form on the Tanzania side, and then you can walk across through No-Man’s Land into Kenya, where you file your arrival form and get your visa. When we crossed into Kenya Teddy told everybody to put their seatbelts on. I asked if this was because it was the law, or because the roads were so crazy and everybody just laughed! Hmmm.

Nairobi is so big! I was totally amazed at it’s size, and I was really happy to see Mario waiting for me at the station. We walked briskly through City Center to catch the matatu up to APDK, the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya, where he’s working this summer. The matatu is basically the Kenyan equivalent of the daladala, except it has a limit on the number of passengers each can carry so it doesn’t get nearly as crowded as it does here in Tanzania! But the roads are infinitely more crazy so it’s just as well.

I got to spend the whole afternoon at APDK, meeting the staff there and seeing what Mario has been up to these past few weeks. He and his group at MIT came up with some really amazing improvements to the hand-powered tricycle and it was awesome to get to try it out! We took the tricycles out for a spin around the compound which was quite entertaining to everybody who passed by.

After work we headed to Upper Hill Campsite where Mario is staying. It’s a really cute compound with tiny, individual cabins and lots of tents on the lawn. Many travelers and volunteers stay there so it’s a good place to meet people. We went to this adorable Ethiopian restaurant for dinner where they served us enough food for an entire family, but it was really delicious! After dinner we met up with Samir, one of Mario’s friends from the campsite, for a drink. From what I pieced together, Samir is a Kenyan, but lived in England for five years, and now travels to really crazy places to do freelance photography. So cool!

June 21, 2007- Finishing the Prototype

As soon as I arrived at Mobility Care this morning we got right down to business! Agnes taught me how to attach the upholstery using shoelace string and how to set the front castor wheel. Our mechanism was sticking a little at first because of the extra layer that the paint added, but after playing with it a few times it was okay. Beat helped me put the finishing touches and voila—we finished!

I was so excited I had to take the chair out for a spin. So Daniel accompanied me on his wheelchair and we ventured out in search of some rough terrain. Luckily you don’t have to go more than 20 feet to find the potholes of your dreams. I wheeled that chair over the biggest bumps and down into the biggest holes that I could find and it was as sturdy as ever. We rode up and down the road for quite some time, until my arms were thoroughly exhausted. Throughout the day I road the chair around Mobility Care in a variety of conditions to see how it felt, and it was really quite comfortable! Early next week we will be giving it to somebody to test, and I’ll be anxiously awaiting his feedback.

Wenxian left to go back to Singapore (via MIT) tonight, so we were also very busy saying goodbye to him and making sure he got off safely. We really had a lot of fun working together so now I’m going to have to get used to doing this on my own. Luckily I still have Mr. Daniel to look out for me!

Daniel and I had dinner at Florida 2000 tonight. There are a bunch of restaurants around town named by American cities so we decided that we have to go to all of them! Next is Washington D.C. Bar. I absolutely love this place!

June 20, 2007- Wednesdays in Moshi

There’s no way I could possibly describe everything that happened today, because there was honestly never a dull moment, but I’ll try my best…

We set off this morning for Moshi and boarded one of the big buses. There were a lot of guys walking around the bus station with books of tickets, and I’m pretty sure most of them weren’t real. One of these fake conductors got on our bus and tried to charge me 6 times the usual price for my ticket (which is how I knew he wasn’t real). Once he understood that I wasn’t going to fall for his trick he gave up and left. Once the bus was mostly full we finally left the bus station. Wenxian and I were seated in the fourth to last row, and all the rows behind us were suspiciously empty.

A few guys came to the back behind us and were all whispering and looking around suspiciously. This is where my very creative imagination came into play. I dreamt up a few crazy situations, which mostly all ended up with my face on a milk carton. At this point many other passengers were turning around to look at the back, and the guys in the back continued whispering. At the intersection where we should have gone straight to go to Moshi, we suddenly turned right, which only fueled my imagination more. Next we pulled into the police station which I totally didn’t see coming at all. A policewoman boarded the bus, walked to the back, said something in Swahili to the whispering guys and got off.

At this point a friendly guy with very limited English decided to sit down next to me and try to explain what was going on, because I clearly looked very confused. Apparently there was a man lying down in the last row, and according to my new friend he was “dirty.” Dirty, dirty? Maybe the whispering guys were smuggling drugs? My new friend then explained that we were going to Mt. Meru Hospital, and started waving his hand across his throat. Maybe he was trying to say that the man was dead? No way. This cannot be happening. When we pulled up at the hospital a few more policemen and a United Nations security guy came onboard, whispered a few things, and left. The next thing I knew they had opened one of the back windows and were passing a man through the window to some other men on the ground. Shortly after that the bus started up, we were off to Moshi, and I never really found out what happened to the man who was laying in the back. What a start to the morning!

When we finally arrived in Moshi we headed straight to the workshop at KCMC. After chatting for a bit with all the guys, we left with Abdullah and Sam to go see Richard who had been testing our chair for the past week. After 10km on one of the bumpiest, dustiest roads I’ve ever been on, we arrived at Richard’s house and all his children came running out to greet us. Overall Richard really liked our wheelchair! He took it on the daladala on Sunday and his experience was much better than when he has tried with his old, rigid wheelchair. Usually he is turned down by several conductors, but when he told them that his wheelchair could fold he was picked up by the first one that stopped! Before we left he asked if we wanted to trade—he would keep our folding chair and we could have his rigid one! He tested the chair in some really rough situations and he was very happy with how it performed. There are a few small things that we can improve on, but I’m really happy that it’s working out so well! Abdullah is busy rounding up more people to test the chair, so next week I’ll likely be going back to Moshi, and probably once a week every week thereafter.

The guys at KCMC are really great. On the way back to town Abdullah stopped because he wanted to buy us gifts! He bought me a really cute necklace with an elephant on it, and in return I treated him to lunch. He had to go to class so I met up with the other guys from the shop for a drink before making the trip back to Arusha again. They always want to know when I’m coming back again and have asked repeatedly if I can stay longer, instead of just making a day trip. It’s really quite cute!

Of course the trip back to Arusha had to be another adventure. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until all of a sudden the bus just pulled over onto the side of the road and stopped. People started clamoring in Swahili and then about half of the bus just got off. At this point it was actually pretty dark, so I stuck my head out the window to see what was going on but really couldn’t figure out anything. Should I stay on the bus or should I get off? What if I get off and then the bus leaves without me? Just as my patience was really starting to wear thin and I was getting pretty concerned, the engine started up again and everybody climbed back on the bus. I still have no idea what happened, but I’m glad that I finally made it back to Arusha safe and sound!

June 19, 2007

Before going to work this morning we ventured into town to do some shopping. Wenxian will be leaving on Thursday and wanted to get some gifts, and of course I would never turn down an opportunity to go shopping. It was fairly quiet when we first got started as it was still pretty early, but by 9 the streets were bustling with people. It was really quite an adventure to say the least!

Mr. Beads had come into town to pick up fabric to make a shirt for me, because apparently the fabric in his village isn’t good enough? I had left him with a few special orders on Saturday, and I had written everything down in his notebook so he wouldn’t forget. So for example, for my bracelet I had written “bracelet: Tish TZ 2007.” I was really excited that he had finished my bracelet, but when he handed it to me it seemed like there was a lot written on it. I guess Mr. Beads likes to follow his directions very exactly, because my bracelet read “Bracelet – Tish – TZ – 2007.” It’s absolutely priceless. I wonder if my shirt is going to have “shirt” written across the front of it…

I can’t remember the last time it rained here. Now I’ve never been a fan of rain, but the roads are getting so dusty! I just did my laundry and I swear my jeans are an entire shade lighter now that the dust has been washed out.

Emmanuel came with another child from Sibusiso to be fitted for a wheelchair. He usually stays for a bit after the fitting to talk with us which is always entertaining. At one point everybody was talking in Swahili and the only part I could pick up was “Pork House” which kept being repeated. Somehow we ended up in a big conversation about pork and where the best place to get it is in Arusha. (Daniel’s favorite is Pork House.)

Even though Daniel is Christian, he has this Muslim cap that he likes to wear (just for the aesthetics I think). It was really funny listening to him talk about pork in that hat. I asked him if he has ever inadvertently gone into the Pork House with that cap on and he just laughed, which means “yes” in my book.

Another note about food (because I can never have too many culinary experiences in one day): I always see people on the sides of the streets with big wheelbarrows full of oranges that they peel and sell, but they’re always this light shade of green. I finally gave in to temptation today and bought an orange from one of the guys while my daladala was stopped and waiting for more passengers. First he peels the orange so it still has some of the white skin, but all the green rind is gone, and then he slices it in half. It was one of the best oranges I think I’ve ever had! Once the daladala got going the wind started blowing my hair into the orange, so the woman seated next to me took it upon herself to hold my hair back while I ate. Where else could you eat a delicious, fresh orange while a total stranger holds your hair?

Back at Mobility Care, Beat put the finishing coat of paint on our wheelchair, and it’s hanging in the storeroom to dry. Everything should be ready to be assembled when I get back from Moshi on Thursday. I can’t wait!

June 18, 2007- The start of week number three

There must be some special ingredient in the rice here, because I honestly cannot get enough of it! Cooked rice is called “wali” in Swahili and it’s probably one of the most commonly used words in my vocabulary here. Agnes made wali for lunch today at the shop, and then I ordered it again when we went out to dinner tonight. I’ve yet to meet a wali that I didn’t like! According to Wenxian the rice here is made from longer grains, and not to be racist but he’s Asian so I trust pretty much anything he says about rice.

This morning we showed Mario around our workshop and filled him in on everything we had been doing the past two weeks. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it up to his workshop sometime to see how he’s been doing on his tricycle too!

Later we walked down to Sibusiso, the center for mentally disabled children on the same road as Mobility Care. As many times as I had seen children from the center come in to be measured for wheelchairs, I had yet to actually visit. As we walked in I was struck by how beautiful it is. It’s set on a large piece of property that used to be a coffee plantation, and all the buildings have perfect thatched roofs. We got to see our friend the occupational therapist in action, working with some of the youngest children, and then we got to tour around the complex. Among my favorites was a wonderful playground where some of the mothers were playing with their children. It’s hard to explain, but it was terribly sad and at the same time extremely heartwarming to watch. And somehow it reminded me of Patch Adams.

After our wonderful visit we headed back to Mobility Care, enjoyed a delicious lunch of wali and beef, and said goodbye to Mario. Then it was back to work on our chair. Daniel taught me how to put the finishing touches on the upholstery, which involved using a punch and hammer to cut holes and then fastening eyelets in their place. He’s always very amused when I turn out to be handy with the tools! In the meantime Wenxian finished grinding the chair and Beat painted it with the anti-rust primer. We’re almost there!

June 17, 2007- More Exploring in Arusha

I was hoping to sleep-in this morning but I think my body is just used to getting up around 7 so it wouldn’t let me. I lazed around my room trying to go back to sleep, and finally gave in and just got up when a rooster started cock-a-doodle-dooing outside my window. It’s a good thing I got up because just after I came out of the shower someone started banging on my door. I was actually kind of frightened because I couldn’t imagine who would be looking for me so early, but when I opened the door I found a small, harmless woman with a bucket and a towel. She didn’t speak a word of English, but I quickly gathered that she wanted to clean my room which I certainly didn’t object to! The floor had gotten quite dirty from all my dusty clothes and especially my shoes. I hastily grabbed my laptop and headed out to the internet café, leaving my new friend to clean.

I finally figured out how to post pictures on here so I hope you’re enjoying them! I came back to my spotless room (which I was very excited about!) to drop off my laptop, and then headed out with Daniel to do some exploring. Since it was Sunday the streets were fairly quiet and it was really nice to just walk around. We went to a small music shop where I got a CD of Bongo Flava, which is basically Tanzanian hip-hop. The locals usually get pretty excited when they find out that I know about Bongo Flava so it’s always good for a laugh!

On our way across town we passed herds of people on their way back from church. It was really beautiful to see everybody in their colorful Sunday best. We ducked into a few craft shops where I negotiated some pretty good deals, if I do say so myself. And the list of things I want to buy just keeps growing!

After a few hours of meandering around town we realized that we had completely missed lunch, so we headed over to another new restaurant to get something to eat. I think our goal of 60 restaurants in 60 days is definitely going to happen!

Wenxian and Mario arrived back from their safari just around dinnertime, so we met them back at the guesthouse, and were just deciding where to go for dinner when I got a call from my friend Joseph (who picked me up from the airport). We hadn’t seen each other since that first weekend so he was hoping that we could meet for dinner. The more the merrier! He and Daniel debated in Swahili for a few minutes, and suddenly we were off. We went to a place called Triple A, which is a large restaurant/bar with a DJ. We were totally in luck because tonight they had a bunch of live dance performances too! There was a group of acrobats that did amazing cirque de soleil-esque stunts, a group of break-dancing/hip-hopping guys, and even a disabled guy who danced on his hands! I think there may be some incriminating photos of me dancing somewhere….


JKM said...

Brilliant as usual...How many times a day are you terrified????

Dad said...

Wow! What amazing adventures. Mango juice--you've been holding out on me! I say we go there first . . .and pick up a few oranges on the way. I know the people are shy about photos, but do you think you could get photos of the orange sales person and the mango juice maker? I can't live without them! And the zebras--I love zebras! Is there a link to Mario and his project? We want to read about that too!

Alex said...

See this is exactly why I don't like busses! Although, I do think we need a ride on the DolaDola when we come to visit :D I can't wait!