Pamela's stories from Africa

- for the Grateful Web

Hi everyone!  Hawajambo wote?

I returned to my village 6 days ago, and have been adjusting well despite a few struggles.  Being in the States ruined me in some ways!  I had a fabulous time there, enjoying all the luxuries that are so often taken for granted, such as daily hot showers, driving, a vast variety of food, comfortable chairs, clean stuff, wine and GOOD BEER.  And of course above all else, I immensely enjoyed spending time with family and friends.  Other volunteers that have gone back to the States warned me that everything would be so strange and that I might have a hard time relating to people.  However despite having felt a bit repulsed by our greed (which repulsed me before I left) I otherwise did not at all feel out of place.  With family and friends, I felt more connected to them than ever before.  Everything felt so comfortable and so much like HOME.  
The two weddings I was lucky to attend were very special times.  My friend Lori had a very simple yet elegant wedding set in an old mansion bed and breakfast, catered with Indian food and a scrumptious chocolate strawberry cake that she made herself!  My sister had the big traditional wedding, quite extravagant yet earthy, with gorgeous yellow and orange roses, a hummer limo, huge gourmet buffet at a country club and a raging dance party.  Good times all around, with so many friends and family in town!  Time of course flew by way to fast.
The Wednesday after my sister's wedding, I got on a plane again for Tanzania, reminding myself I have only 8 months left.  All my flight connections went smoothly, even having a 3 hour emergency landing in Goose Bay, Quebec to let off a sick person.  I spent Friday in Dar taking care of business related matters, and all day Saturday on the beach, where I ended up sleeping off most of my jet lag.  A great place to do it!  Sunday I took a bus to Mafinga, and Monday returned to the village.
I returned to find my house and everything in it intact, except there was dirt everywhere that had fallen from the ceiling or blown in, my clothes cabinet and all my clothes inside and my bed and bedsheets were infected with mildew, weeds had overtaken my garden, one of my (thought to be) hens turned into a rooster, and my cat was missing!  She later turned up; I discovered she had kittens in the forest behind the house because she apparently was scared of my guard who slept there every night.  On Thursday she finally brought them (4 of them!) to live with us.  I love having kittens!  Other things to be happy about (after cleaning and washing everything)  is returning to the awesome natural beauty I am surrounded by, the peaceful solitude, being out on my bike again, and my very welcoming village friends. 
I brought back almost as much stuff as I brough to America - all gifts - but to America I brought baskets, wood carvings, batiks, and fabrics, whereas to Tanzania I brought M&Ms, sweaters and sweatshirts (thanks Mom and Dad and Vic!), potholders, calendars, candles, jewelry, and bubbles.  They LOVE everything I brought for them, especially the jewelry and bubbles.  Even the adults have never seen bubbles before and get quite a kick out of them!
My last 8 months here I'm sure will go fast, because I have plenty to keep me busy!  This month I'll continue teaching English at the school, organize a second beekeeping seminar, begin making fuel-efficient stoves, and track down another place to buy modern breed roosters.  The Rhode Island Reds I brought a few months ago are not getting it on with the local hens!  (Any advice in this area would be much appreciated!  My uncle suggested country music, but I haven't tried this yet.)  The first week of May will be Girls' Empowerment Camp, same as last year but this year at an Italian convent (= good food!).  Then mid-May I'll head to Dar to pick up my friend Jamie from Alaska.  She'll be here for almost a whole month and we're doing everything there is to do here - safari, village, Zanzibar, and most exciting, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro! 
I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who donated money for my students.  I now have enough to take (maybe 30!) primary students on safari, buy several books for the new library, and pay secondary school fees for at least 3 maybe 4 students.  I'm still in the process of organizing everything now, but as soon as I can I'll be sending you pictures of the students and hopefully letters from them.  *** If you haven't donated but would still like to, it's not too late.  You can still send checks addressed to me (my mom has power of attourney) at my parents' address.  They'll deposit them in my account there, I'll withdraw the funds from an ATM in Dar, then deposit them in the account I am setting up here.  Wanafunzi wanawashukuru sana!  The students thank you very much!

Mt. Kilimanjaro!

Mount Kilimanjaro- for the Grateful Web
Pamela at Lake Kihanga, Africa- for the Grateful Web

Hamjambo!  Habari yenu?

I'm doing none other than fabulous after 3 weeks of vacation!  My friend Jamie arrived on May 18th, and we went directly to the beach so she could sleep off jet lag and be baptised in the Indian Ocean.  We then headed south to Iringa town, where we stayed for a stopover on our way to Ruaha National Park.  Ruaha National Park is one of the largest and least visited parks in Tanzania, but also one of the most scenic and diverse.  You can check out good pictures of Ruaha and other Parks in Tanzania on this great website:  As soon as we arrived in the Park, we were welcomed by a breath taking Kudu buck running across the road. Kudu are large elk like animals, light grey with a few white stripes on their sides and the bucks have huge spiral black horns.  They are absolutely magnificent animals!  We then encountered a group of giraffes, who at once took off running then stopped to stare back at us.  If you've never seen a giraffe run, it is a quite surreal sight. They are surprisingly graceful, and appear as if they are running in slow motion.

At the entrance fee gate waiting for our lodge driver to pick us up, we watched hippos wading and swimming in the river.  That game Hungry Hippos - their mouths really look like that!  We arrived at our place to stay, the beautiful and luxurious Ruaha River Lodge, where we could view giraffes, elephants, hippos and many different birds from sitting right on the front porch of our cabin!  In the morning we woke up to the the singing of birds and grunting of hippos.  We went on a driving safari one afternoon and the following morning where we saw all the typical safari animals, elephants, zebras, giraffes, warthogs, waterbuffalo, but also saw lots of lions! (three females laying by the river and a pride of about a dozen or more females with cubs and one male laying in a dry river bed), several very impressive species of birds (like the lilac breasted roller, saddle-bill stork, african fish eagle,......), croccodiles and a waterbuck.  In one scene we saw a hippo in the river, a croccodile laying on the bank just beside it, and a waterbuck stanking near in the grass!  It was an amazing experience, and we so wished we could have stayed longer! 

But we continued on to the village, where we spent 2 days walking around getting the full village experience (minus drinking the local alcohol, fermented bamboo sap.  Not a good idea for newcomers since most often they become ill after drinking it!).  Despite the difficulty of getting to my site and travelling in Tanzania in general, we decide to venture to Udzungwa National Park on or way to climb Kili.  (Pictures of Udzungwa are on that website also.)  After one long day of traveling, ending with a long 2 hour ride on a bumpy dusty road in the back of a truck, we finally arrived at our destination, the Mountain View Hotel at 8:00 at night.  The accomodations were nice enough, but the scenery made all the trouble worth it.  The Udzungwas are very well preserved because the tribes in the area held such reverence for the forests and mountains, and it is now one of the most ecologically rich and diverse areas in East Africa.  We hiked to the top of Sanje Waterfall, where we swam in a refreshing pool.  Along the way we saw three species of monkey - the blue monkey, the black and white colobus monkey and the iringa red colobus monkey, which is endemic to the Park (meaning it is found nowhere else in the world!).  We also saw several spectacular species of butterflies!  My favorite had brilliant purple-blue wings tipped by bright orange-yellow.

The next day was another hell day of travelling - 12 hours in buses until we arrived in Moshi, again at 8:00 at night.  We met up with our guide and the next day began climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro!  We ascended on the Machame Route (aka the Whiskey Route), summitted on the Western Breach and descended on the Mweka Route.  Most people climb the Marangu Route (aka the CocaCola Route) but this trail is said to be like a highway of people and littered with trash.  No thanks.  The Machame-Mweka Route is said to be more difficult, but also of course the most scenic.  The first few days of hiking, although we were climbing, were completely enjoyable.  We began hiking at 6,000 ft then first night camped at 9,000 feet and second night 12,000 feet.  We passed through serveal very different ecological zones beginning with lush damp rainforest full of lichens, mosses, and flowers.  Then on to the Moorland, with large heathers, everlastings, and giant lobelia.  Third day and night is when it  began to be more challenging.  We entered into apline desert with mostly rock and gravel and just a few sparse tough flowers.  Oxygen became thin and are breathing became more heavy.  We camped at 14,000 feet.  Fourth day was a short day of hiking, mostly for acclimitization, and we camped at 15,000 feet.  I'm glad we didn't camp any higher than this because it was freezing cold!  At 1:30am that night we began summiting on the Western Breach Route.  Most of the guide books say this route is technical, requiring ice axes and ropes, which scares most people away so they climb on the other side, up the scree slope.  But it was only technical when snow dominated the slopes (the glaciers are melting rapidly due to global warming).  It is now virtually snow free and any though we had technical equipment with us, we did not use any of it.  However for four hours we were mostly scrambling up the 3,700 ft rock face.  The moon was out when we began, but then set by the time we reached the rim and it's probably a good we couldn't see down what we just came up!  The Western Breach Route although is the most difficult is also the most successful summit route because you can't really go back down the way you came, it is too steep!  So there is no idea in your head that well I'll just turn around.  Nope.  You're going up and over the top. 

After the rock wall we walked across the glaciers near the rim of the crater and arrived at the bottom of the last bit of climbing - 600 more ft up scree and rock to the summit.  At this point Jamie and I probably would have turned back if we could.  Every step took every ounce energy and will, trying not to pass out or throw up, with a aching head, pounding heart, burning lungs and freezing fingers and toes.  Our guides would not let us stop to rest as often or for as long as we would have liked because of hypothermia.  But that's why they're guides, to help and encourage us along!  They really were great.  Very enthusiastic and strong.  They carried all of our stuff for most of the way, including our heavy jackets when we weren't wearing them.  Thanks to them we made it!  All the way to the top, 19,344 ft.  The highest mountain in Africa and the highest free standing mountain in the world!  The summit at sunrise was absolutely euphoric, with the rays lighting up the glaciers and clouds.  I hope I got some good pictures!  On the way down we suffered tremendously from nausea and headache, but once we got down to 9,000 feet again we were fine. We camped there and the next day ended.  6 days total.  It was amazing but definitely the most difficult thing I've ever done and ever hope to do in my life!

This last week we spent relaxing on Zanzibar, and I'm sure I don't really need to tell you how wonderful that was.  Pure white sand, bright turquoise blue water, hardly any people.....paradise!  We went snorkeling with the fishes one day and spent other days walking or just laying around.  It was great to be back at sea level!

I'm headed back to site tomorrow, and have lots of work to do to finish up my last 5 months here!  I hope you're all doing well and are enjoying many adventures this summer.

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