Whatever is awesome

Sometimes I find myself missing campus. Usually these moments come in the form of insatiable cravings for trivia night.

Trivia night is my favorite school-sponsored event. Every Tuesday, dozens of students line up outside the doors of the Little Pub for a three-hour distraction from homework and other paltry responsibilities. Fierce competition and a lively atmosphere--trivia night is benign, silly fun (for more trivia night information, I refer you to my colleague, Ryan Karerat.)

I stumbled, in reading through a pamphlet on fun things to do in Dar es Salaam, upon a trivia night that takes place, every Monday, at a place called O'Willy's Irish Pub. Being an Irish-American trivia night fanatic, this place seemed exactly up my alley, so I went, with my fellow American students Cali and Eli and our Tanzanian friend Elvis, to check it out. What we found was an "Irish pub" that was Irish only in that it served Guiness (which, upon careful inspection of the label, had been brewed in Kenya), and was a pub only in that it served food and alcohol. It turns out that O'Willy's Irish Pub was a fancy restaurant on the deck of an expensive tourist hotel overlooking the Dar es Salaam Bay into the Indian Ocean. A nice place, to be sure, but not in our budget.

I foolishly assumed that anything billed as "trivia night" would be as high-energy as the Little Pub's trivia nights. Here I was unfortunately mislead, too. Our group of four was the only group that had showed up especially for trivia night; the other attendees were hotel customers who had accidentally shown up at the right time for a trivia contest. Disappointed by the lack of trivia spirit, and horrified at the prospect of having to pay a entrance fee (don't get any ideas, Paul Ryan), we left before trivia night began.

In no particular order, here are other things that I wasn't expecting to miss from campus, but do...

  • Commons snack time
  • Silent disco
  • CAB events
  • Waffles on Sunday mornings
  • Howard Diner grilled cheese
  • Outing club trips
  • The glen
  • All-nighters in the Science Center
  • Opus II Earl Grey
  • Having people who clean up after me (thank you Physical Plant)


Dar Vader (title doesn't make sense)

It's very hot here. Hotter than it is in Central New York. Also the North Star is not visible and the toilets flush counterclockwise. Most of the times, there is no water in the toilet, though, because the municipal reserve tank is empty. During times like these, you have to shower with a bucket of rainwater. Or you don't shower at all.

After spending the last week distributing surveys at the Ubungo bus station in Dar, I never want to see another bus station in my life. There are several reasons for this:

A. Bus depots are tarmacked, and tarmacked surfaces are so hot in the middle of the day.

B. When Tanzanian bus station ticket vendors see a white person, they immediately know (not presume, know) that said white person has showed up to the bus station because he or she is backpacking around the country and needs a bus ticket to Arusha. Or to Tanga. Or to Mwanza. The question is always, "My friend, where are you going tomorrow?" and is accompanied by a handshake that I have learned better than to accept, because they often won't let go for several minutes. In the middle of a crowd of 8 or 10 competing salesmen, distributing surveys to normal people can be difficult.

C. The sun is so bright.

D. It is so hot here.

E. It is really really just a stifling heat.

There are about 10 days of ISP left, followed by ISP presentations back home in Arusha. A little more than three weeks left in the program; it's hard to believe how quickly it's gone.

Yes, you can sit on my lap, but please take a shower first

They call it the tall man's burden. I think there is a book written about it. I think there is not a book written about it, but I think I could write one.

My legs are very long. When I am at home, I drive a 2004 Saturn Ion that I steer with my knees because my left and right knees are already sitting naturally at 10 and 2, and my hands are busy turning Cyndi Lauper up on the radio. I find often that seats on airplanes and buses have been designed for people whose legs are shorter than mine but that if I try to cope with the problem of them hurting oh my God so much by spreading them just a little to the sides, I get looks from the people sitting next to me, and I feel bad because I would be upset if I were them and my leg space was getting taken by someone who just couldn't stop growing when everyone else did.

In America, this is not such an issue, because seats on buses are usually built in with excess leg room for most people, ie adequate leg room for me. In Tanzania, the main form of urban transportation is the daladala, a 16-passenger van which is only at half capacity with 16 people inside of it. I have ridden daladalas on other people's laps and with other people on my lap; I've ridden them sitting facing backwards and forwards, crouching on the inside and standing with my whole body out the door; I've ridden them with livestock and 50 kilo bags of rice flour and women sleeping with their heads on my shoulder as their children breastfeed.

There are buses that travel to rural areas and between cities, and these are equally crowded, just on a much larger scale. I took a bus last month from the small town of Mto wa Mbu (literally, river of mosquitos) to the smaller town of Engaruka--a 60 km ride that took three hours. Imagine a school bus on a dirt road in the desert. Put 70 full-grown adults on that bus, turn the thermometer up north of 90 degrees, and press play.

I'm researching public transportation in Tanzania for my independent study project, which officially began yesterday, because it's a world apart from the public transportation that I am familiar with at home. I will be living for the next three weeks in Dar es Salaam, the biggest city in Tanzania, with my two American friends Eli and Cali and our Tanzanian friend and Kiswahili translator, Elvis. My time will be spent distributing questionnaires at the bus station in the morning and the evening and trying to beat the heat in the afternoon. We're right on the Indian Ocean, and you could drown yourself in the humidity.

Until next time.


I met a man whose name was Potato

I also met a man whose name was Chicken. I then found out that there is an ethnic group in Tanzania that names babies after the last thing the baby's mother ate before going into labor. What if we did that in America? What would be the most common name? I recently spent three days in the Ngorongoro Crater, which has the highest density of predators of any place in the world, then spent four days in Serengeti National Park and, among other things, spent three minutes "in class" taking notes on the different behaviors of seven lion cubs who were lounging on a dead tree twenty yards from me. I also lived for four days in a house made of cow dung and herded goats with my 32-year-old host brother Raphael, who meant well but had enough of a temper to get himself thrown out of a friendly checkers tournament. I had never experienced culture shock until I lived with a family who bulldozed the language barrier by grabbing my hand and leading me around for four days like a child. They dressed me, told me where to sit (it was always the one stool), washed me, told me what to say, and worried constantly about my mood. My host mother, whose name was Naramatisho and who talked at eye level to my belly button, asked, without exaggeration, every two minutes whether I had a problem. It's a nice sentiment, it really is, but I didn't know enough Kiswahili to tell her to stop asking me, and that level of attention, around the clock, is irritating to an independent 20-year-old from a country that recognizes the existence of personal space. My Maasai homestay was too much of a surreal experience for me to have actively enjoyed it while it was happening, but I am tremendously thankful, in retrospect, that I got to see so much. It is finals week in Arusha and the independent study portion of the semester starts on Friday when I get on a bus to Dar es Salaam. I don't remember what it felt like the first time I got on the bus to kindergarten, but I can easily imagine myself in three days standing with my backpack, staring up the stairs at the bus driver, hoping, among other things, that I just don't get picked on.

Quick, to the Land Rover!

None of the campsite at Tarangire National Park are fenced, and none of the noctural animals (re: predators) give a second thought to wandering into camp in the wee hours of the morning to see if anybody has left anything tasty out in the open. Baba Jack, our academic director, gave us this advice our first day: "If you think you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you don't." Whether a nylon tent was going to keep any of us safe from a pack of hungry hyenas was up for question in my head, but we arrived with 24 and left with 24, so overall, safari successful.

Our days were loosely structured with field research in the mornings and game drives in the afternoons. Earlier in the month we all signed up for one of four field study teams: ruminants (animals that chew their cud), non-ruminants (animals that don't), birds (animals that have wings), and elephants (animals that are elephants). I am in the non-ruminant group, so I spent my mornings doing follows and scans of zebras, baboons, vervet monkeys, warthogs, lions, warthogs eating near lions, lions stalking warthogs, lions chasing warthogs, and warthogs narrowly escaping getting eaten by lions.

We spent four full days in Tarangire and one morning in Lake Manyara National Park, a forested ecosystem adjacent to Tarangire where my fellow non-ruminant team members and I spent two hours recording the behaviors of individual hippos. There were three recorders in our group and three observers who each chose a hippo to observe between 8:08 and 10:08 am. Our data table, at the end of two hours, read:

  • 8:16 Ear twitch
  • 8:21 Bird lands on hippo
  • 8:23 Bird leaves hippo
  • 8:33 Ear twitch
  • 8:34 Ear twitch
  • 8:40 Double ear twitch

Etc, etc, etc. None of our three hippos lifted their heads out of the water, moved their bodies, or made any sort of noise. If it weren't for the ear twitches, there would be no way of being sure we were not collecting data on dead hippos.

Now we've returned to Arusha and we have one more week of Kiswahili classes, living with our homestay families before our midterm portfolio is due next weekend. In the distant future looms the Independent Study Project, a month-long research project on the topic of my choice. Some ideas are stirring, but the prospect of spending a month alone in northern Tanzania is still somewhat intimidating.

Arusha... for now

Good morning Hamilton College.

Sorry I've been relatively MIA, but I've found that you have to look between couch cushions and underneath large rocks in this country to find the internet.

Three weeks of culture shock is really too much to sum up in the remaining ten minutes of internet time that I paid for fifty minutes ago, and the grid is coming out from under me again in about three hours for the next week, so here are several run-on sentences: My group of 24 arrived in Kilimanjaro International Airport on August 26 and my first conversation with a Tanzanian was about why my luggage (around 2000 American dollars worth of camping gear) was still in Amsterdam but I couldn't wait around for it to arrive so we piled into a bus and rode three hours to Ndarakwai Ranch for three days of camping orientation where we saw giraffes, elephants, zebras, wildebeast, gazelles, impalas, and dozens of species of birds within the first 24 hours. I've spent the last two weeks living in the peri-urban settlement of Bangata with my host family, the Agustinos, and taking Kiswahili lessons every morning. Tomorrow, we go on our first safari to Tarangire National Park, a week-long trip followed by a third week in Bangata.

I know that's not very meaty, but it's the best I can do for now.

Take care.

Why Tanzania?

In trying to articulate how and why I picked Tanzania as my home for the next four months, I'm realizing that I don't have one big reason or even a dozen little ones. Contrary to many students, I haven't been dreaming of a specific study abroad program since I matriculated back in 2008; I didn't actually know for sure where I was going when the last day of classes came and went three months ago. But here I am, sitting in the airport 50 minutes from takeoff wondering what on Earth I've gotten myself into and whether I'm as prepared as I hope.

I'm going to Tanzania to study wildlife conservation and political ecology on a School for International Training (SIT) program run by the Institute for World Learning. I will be part of a group of about 20 other students from around the United States, and we will travel around as a unit in Tanzania, reading, listening to lectures, and visiting sites around the country that are significant to current ecological issues in Tanzania.

I am an Environmental Studies major with a focus in anthropology, so this program is a perfect fit for me. I am very interested in the ways that wildlife conservation efforts interact with ecotourism, and Tanzania's current dilemma is a fascinating case study that will offer me a new perspective on global environmentalism. Tanzania is one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world and is home to the Serengeti National Park, one of the world's last great refuges for large, indigenous African mammals--lions, zebras, wildebeest--think of Simba's friends in Lion King. While Tanzania is fortunate to sit on such an ecological hotspot, the wealth of tourist attractions is spelling disaster for fragile ecosystems. The Tanzanian government has had to balance two opposing factors--the eco-centric concern for environmental well-being and the potential to invigorate the struggling economy by promoting ecotourism.

The program itself is not located at one university; we are very much a traveling show. There are several short homestays (including one three-week intensive course in Kiswahili) and many excursions to national parks for field research. The program is officially based in Arusha, a booming tourist town located close to the Serengeti and at the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

A few of my friends have done semesters abroad in Africa and enjoyed them, and I based my decision as much on their recommendations as anything else. I wanted to take the opportunity to spend time in a place where I may never have another chance to live. I have done readings and watched movies and I know that my interest is real and my knowledge base is sound. But as the days slowly ticked away towards my departure, I found my excitement being replaced by nervous anticipation. Now I'm sitting in the airport trying to swallow the last of my butterflies and reminding myself that no matter what happens, I will come back having been glad that I went.

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