Sunday, February 1, 2015

Big Changes

Well, I'm not quite sure how to start this post so I guess I'll just come right out and say it.  As of this week, I am no longer a Peace Corps volunteer.  I've decided to leave Mozambique and not finish my two years of service.  Why did I decide to leave? The short answer is this: I wasn't happy and I decided I wanted to try and be happy.

This was not a decision I made lightly and was the product of many conversations, emails, journal entries, and prayers.  It was an incredibly hard decision to make.  On the one hand I knew I didn't want to be in Mozambique anymore.  I wasn't excited about the year ahead and found myself wanting the school year to start just so it could be over sooner and I could go home.  On the other hand I felt like I had responsibilities that I couldn't simply walk away from.  My school was counting on me to teach for them for another year.  I had a community library program to develop.  There were people in Zobue counting on me being there for another year.  So for the last month (probably more like 4 months) I've been stuck.  One minute I would think, I need to leave.  I'm not happy and I'm not going to be a good volunteer, friend, or neighbor.  And then literally the next minute I would think, no I can't leave.  It's only 10 more months. I can do it.  And then the next minute I would be back to leaving again.  I was stuck.

Last week the back and forth finally came to a head.  I emailed my parents, sister, and friends from home asking for advice--should I leave or should I stay? I also talked to a counselor while we were in Maputo for our mid-service conference.  Almost everyone had the same answer.  Do what makes you happy.  Don't think about what you think you should do, think about what you want to do.  Ten months of misery isn't worth it.  Take care of yourself first.

I took a few days to decide, but in the end I chose to leave.  I missed feeling happy and wanted to try and be happy again.  I am sorry to be leaving before finishing my commitment to Peace Corps and to my village, but I know it was the right decision.  I have felt such a sense of peace and relief since I made the decision and I have felt happier than I have in a long time.  It was hard to say goodbye to all my friends and colleagues and especially difficult to explain to people in Zobue why I was leaving, but through it all I knew it was for the best.

On Tuesday I fly to Berlin to visit some friends and then have no idea what the future holds.  I'd like to stay in Europe for a few months and do some travelling, but I'm open to anything that comes my way.  I'm excited to see what happens.

If you have any questions please feel free to email me and I will do my best to respond.  I don't really know how much internet access I'll have, but I'm guessing if I had internet in my rural village in Mozambique, I'll probably have it in Western Europe. :)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mail stop

More to come soon, but I just wanted to let you all know to stop sending mail to my Malawi address until further notice.  Thanks!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Zanzibar, Zanzibar

The day after our climb we headed back to Dar es Salaam for a night and then took the ferry to Zanzibar the next day.  The travel to Dar was pretty miserable and I had doubts about whether trying to squeeze in Zanzibar was a good idea, but once we finally got to the island all my doubts disappeared.  Zanzibar is truly a magical place.  We stayed in the heart of Stone Town, a part of Zanzibar city that is equal parts old European village and middle eastern town.  The island is 95% muslim so most of the children running around had head scarves and embroidered caps.  The island is semi-autonomous so we had to go through customs and get our passports stamped upon entry.  We spent our days in Zanzibar eating delicious food, riding bikes, snorkeling, going on a spice tour, and wandering the streets of stone town.  It was incredibly hot and humid, but we had A/C in our hotel room so we slept well every night.

The streets of Stone Town

Sugarcane juice with ginger and lime

playing dominoes and drinking coffee in the square

sunset on the water

Zanzibar mix! A delicious soups with falafel, fried potato balls, hard boiled egg, kabob, and veggies in a yogurt broth for less than $1! Yum.
 One day in Zanzibar we did two trips through the tourist office.  In the morning we went snorkeling and in the afternoon we went on a spice tour.  In total, we each paid $20 for the day.  This included everything.  Zanzibar is amazingly cheap.
Snorkel time!

approaching Prison Island for snorkeling
Prison island is so named because it used to be a quarantine location for people and ships on route to Zanzibar Island.  There is no one in prison on Prison Island now, but it is home to over 100 giant tortoises.  They were originally a gift from Seychelles in exchange for some rare Zanzibarbarian plants.  The oldest tortoise in the sanctuary is 191 years old!

but first, turtle.

and peacocks.
 On the spice tour we got to see and taste tons of fruits and spices.  Here are a few of the best ones:

Breadfruit. Our guide told us it is called breadfruit because when boiled the fruit is kind of like bread.

Turmeric.  Used as a coloring in curries.


Vanilla bean.

Jackfruit.  It is the largest fruit in the world.  These are still babies, but the big ones can be up to two feet long.

Nutmeg. The red stuff on the outside of the seed is mace.

Removing the is a really weird texture. Kind of like plastic.

The mace separate from the nutmeg.  Apparently the mace has a more delicate flavor than the ground nutmeg seed.

Harvesting cinnamon by peeling off the bark.  The wood is then used for firewood.  Best smelling fire ever!

A man climbing a coconut tree.  All he used was twine between his feet for gripping.  He then just used friction and leverage to climb straight up!
Visiting Moshi and Zanzibar gave me a whole new perspective on Africa.  These towns showed me that there can be functional places in Africa that understand tourism and offer quality services.  After a year in Mozambique I had the impression that all of Africa was like Mozambique, but that is definitely not the case.  It is easy to forget how young Mozambique is as an independent country.  The truth is that Mozambique has only been a country free of war since 1992. Visiting a more developed country in Africa helped me realize that Mozambique just needs more time to develop.  I can't expect Mozambique to be in the same place as Tanzania, a country that has been peacefully independent for 50 years.  I am hoping I can remember that as I face all the daily frustrations of living in Mozambique during my second and last year of living here.  I am part of the process of increasing development in Mozambique and I can't wait to come back here in 30 years and see how far the country has come.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Travels to Tanzania

Now that I've documented the climb up the mountain, now I'd like to share with you the adventures of the rest of the trip.  I set out from Zobue with my friends Emma (not my roommate Emma, a different Emma) and Aleesa and Alicia, a Peace Corps volunteer from Namibia who happened to be travelling through.  Alicia went on to the lake and we met up with our friend Nick at Doogles Lodge in Blantyre, Malawi.  After a day of enjoying Blantyre (eating ice cream, shopping at Shoprite, etc) we set off for Lilongwe.  Our plan was to catch the bus for Lilongwe to Dar that evening, but when we got to the bus station the bus for that day was already full.  We bought tickets for the next day and set off trying to find the Peace Corps Malawi office.  After asking for directions from a few friendly police officers, we found the office and got some advice for where to stay from some Peace Corps Malawi volunteers.

We spent our day in Lilongwe hanging out at the Peace Corps office, drinking coffee, and eating delicious food.  We even found a knockoff Chipotle restaurant with real burritos, good coffee, and delicious pineapple juice.  The next evening we found ourselves on the bus to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

It was winter solstice when we ate at the Chipotle knockoff restaurant, so we made a solstice man out of the foil from our burrito wrappers.

Waiting for the bus to Dar

Easy Bus--our bus to Dar

We're on the bus! So clean and idea what is in store
The first night we spent on the bus was uneventful as we traveled north through Malawi and by dawn we found ourselves at the border between Malawi and Tanzania.  Miraculously we found our friend Justin just walking along by the border and he joined us on the bus for the rest of the trip.  By this point we were already pretty tired--the bus rocked so much I hadn't been able to sleep at all--and we had discovered that a sooty grime covered everything on the bus so we were pretty filthy by this point too.  My fingernails were black, my skin was covered in a black dust, and all my possessions were gradually getting more filthy. And we still had 16 hours on the bus.

Views of Tanzania from the bus window.  Here Justin bought a whole plate of bananas for 1000 shillings, about 60 cents.

Tea plantations in Tanzania

So green!

We finally made it to the bus station at Dar es Salaam at 2 am and our plan was to wait in the bus station until 6 am to get the bus to Moshi, the town from which we would depart to climb Kili.  This was a rough time.  We were exhausted, filthy, and sweating in the 2am humid heat that is Dar.  The first man we talked to about tickets to Moshi tried to charge us way too much so we walked around trying to find someone who spoke English (Tanzanians, it turns out, don't speak much English unless they deal directly with tourists).  It was pretty dark so we decided our strategy would be to follow the lights and hopefully find the ticket offices. We found ourselves sitting in lit area near the ticket offices at 3 am waiting for them to open and wishing for nothing more than to take a shower.  By 4 am Nick had befriended a police officer named Daniel who promised to help get us tickets to Moshi.  The problem was that it was December 23rd and it seemed like everyone in Tanzania was travelling to Moshi that day.  We couldn't find a bus with 5 empty seats.  Long story short, at 9 am we ended up finally finding a bus to Moshi and paying way too much for it but we didn't even care because we just wanted to be out of the Dar bus terminal at that point.  Just before dark on December 23rd we finally made it to Moshi, found our hostel, took the best showers of our life, and went to sleep.

The bus to Moshi.  The man between us has an office chair on his lap and that in completely ordinary.

Almost there!

We want to get off this bus!!!

Washing our filthy bus clothes at the hostel.

It took at least three rinses for the water to not be black.

We spent the next few days recovering and exploring Moshi.  Moshi is a small town at the base of Kilimanjaro that is full of amazing coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores.  Our first day there we learned how to count in Swahili and used our skills at the local fruit market to buy fruit for an amazing fruit salad.  We made some new friends, a young woman from Australia and a 65 year old Peace Corps Tanzania volunteer, and shared Christmas dinner with them.  We made salad, guacamole, fruit salad, and mango pasta.  And of course, a christmas melon.  After dinner we had a white elephant gift exchange and ate candy canes. The rules for the white elephant were that the gift could only cost 2000 shillings (about $1.30) and that you had to buy it off the street.  The most popular gifts were three raw eggs and a lighter/flashlight. I ended up with a Tanzanian shell necklace.  It was a good Christmas.

The hallway at Backpacker's Paradise. They had flags from all over the world, but no flag of Mozambique.

On the rooftop patio of Backpacker's Paradise.  After so much travel, it really was a paradise.

Moshi even had a fully stocked grocery store.  Look at all the vegetables!

The view of Kili from the rooftop patio.

Breakfast at Union Coffee.

With passionfruit cheesecake of course.  The best cheesecake I've had so far in Africa.  Not as good as Montana Mom's, but still pretty good.

COFFEE!!!! The best thing about Tanzania was that everywhere had REAL GOOD COFFEE! Not instant ricoffy chickory stuff--real, ground, strong, coffee. YES.

Making the christmas guacamole.

Christmas salad time.

Merry Christmas!

On December 27th, we began climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.  We got down the mountain on January 2nd.  In the next blog installment, I'll tell you about our travels after the mountain, including our trip to Zanzibar.

Mount Kilimanjaro

During my long school break in December I traveled to Tanzania with a few Peace Corps friends to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Mt. Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa at a height of 5,895 m (19,341 ft).  We booked a 7 day trip--5 days up, 2 days down.  Our group consisted of 7 Peace Corps volunteers from Mozambique and one volunteer's brother from Chicago, three people from Japan, a man from Syria, two women from Australia, a woman from Russia/London, another man from Chicago, and a couple from Italy who have been doing humanitarian work in Angola and Somalia for the past 5 years.  We were a very diverse group of 18 and I'm proud to say we all made it to the summit on day 6.  Before getting to the mountain I wasn't sure if there would be other people in our group besides the 8 of us from Mozambique, but I'm glad we were joined by other people.  It was fun to hear all the languages being spoken as we hiked: English, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Arabic, Russian, and Swahili.

In addition to the 18 hikers in our group we were also accompanied by eight guides, two waiters, three cooks, and 54 porters.  In total, we were a group of over 80 people.  The company we went with was called Nyange Adventures and I was completely surprised by the level of service we received on the mountain.  We had booked one of the least expensive trip options so I wasn't expecting much from the food or other services while we were hiking, but I was pleasantly surprised.  We received three large meals every day, tea and snack time in the afternoon, coffee delivered to our tents in the morning, and warm water to wash with twice a day.  It was amazing.  I barely ate any of the snacks I had brought during the trip because I was so well taken care of.  I would definitely recommend Nyange Adventures to anyone who is thinking of climbing Mt. Kili.

Overall, the hike was gorgeous.  We hiked through rainforests, heath and moorland, and alpine desert.  With every passing day we gained more altitude and lost more oxygen.  By the time we reached base camp at 15,000 ft, I could barely walk without my heart racing.  We all felt giddy from lack of oxygen and didn't have much of an appetite.  Drinking water left me breathless.  The summit at 19,000 ft was the hardest of all.  We all walked so slowly it took us 30 minutes to go .5 km.

The only downside to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is the crowds.  I usually like to camp and backpack because it is a chance to get away from people and spend time in the quiet of nature, but that was impossible on Kili.  On our route there is no quota for the number of hikers allowed so an unlimited number of groups can be hiking at the same time.  There were at least 10 other groups of 80 people at each campsite with us.  And that was just on our route, Machame.  Once we met up with some of the other routes there were even more people.  On the narrow sections of trail traffic jams were common and the path up to the summit was just a continuous line of people.  Fighting the crowds is definitely worth it, but it's not something I would want to do again.  I think that if Tanzania wants to preserve the ecosystem of Kilimanjaro for future generations they need to impose quotas for how many people can climb the mountain at a time.

There were man more adventures to our trip that I will describe in another blog post, but here I'd just like to take you day-by-day up the mountain and back down again.

Day 1: Machame gate (1800m) to Machame Camp (3000m)
The first day of hiking was primarily through the rainforest.  We were antsy to get moving and the pace seemed agonizingly slow.  When we got to camp, we were surprised by popcorn and tea, warm wash water, and a delicious dinner of fish, potatoes, and fruit.

Peace Corps Mozambique is ready to hike! (photo courtesy of Sam Krueger)

While we waited to start hiking we had to be careful not to lose our snacks to the monkeys.

A member of our group, Sam, lost his sandwich to one of the monkeys.
photo courtesy of Sam Krueger

The porters carried 20kg in addition to their own gear.
Day 1 hiking

Porters carried the bulk of the weight on their heads, but would switch it to their shoulders when they got tired.
At 3000m, it's chilly enough to put on layers--very exciting.
Our first campsite at the edge of the rainforest.

Morning coffee in the tent.

Day 2: Machame camp (3000m) to Shira Camp (3850m)

Our group hiking on day 2.  Nick and I spent a long time practicing counting in Swahili: moja, mbili, tatu, nne, tano, etc.

Day 2 views

Just before getting to camp on day 2 we were hit by a huge rain/hailstorm.  I got completely soaked, including my boots and was freezing cold.  I was worried because I didn't think my boots would ever dry and was afraid I wouldn't be able to summit with frozen boots.  Luckily, the guides dried my boots in the kitchen tent overnight and the next day I was able to hike.

The remnants of the hail

Many, many tents

Morning view from my tent at Shira Camp.  Life above the clouds with Mt. Meru in the distance.

With my dry boots, I'm ready to hike on day 3! 

A sneak peek of the peak!
Day 3: Shira Camp (3850m) to Barranco Camp (3940m) via Lava Tower (4600m) for acclimitization

Braced against the incoming hail.

Waiting to sign in at Barranco Camp

Our guides and porters greeted us with a Swahili welcome song as we arrived at camp on day 3. 

Barranco camp was my favorite--it had the best view.

Day 4: Barranco Camp (3940m) to Karanga Camp (4000m) via Barranco Walls (4250m)

Day 4 hiking was great--we hiked up the Barranco walls and then back down to Karanga camp.  There was a major traffic jam going up, but that's what happens when 800 people are all trying to go to the same place.
See the line of people heading up the walls? So many people!

Waiting for the traffic jam to clear...
At the top of the Barranco walls (photo thanks to Sam K.)
Day 5: Karanga Camp (4000m) to Barafu Camp (4600m)

Day 5 was a big day.  We hiked to base camp (Barafu), had a hot lunch, then napped for a few hours before being woken up again at 6 pm for dinner.  Then we slept for a few more hours before being woken up at 11 pm to get ready for the summit.  We briefly celebrated the beginning of 2015 (it was new year's eve) before setting out for the summit.  After 5 hours of inching up the mountain we reached Stella Point right before sunrise.  

Stella Point: 18,885 ft
The first sunrise of 2015

Glaciers of Kili.

After a few pictures and warm tea we continued on to Uhuru peak, just 30 minutes away.  Uhuru is the tallest point on the mountain and of course we had to get there. 

ALASKA flag on Kili!

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Day 6: Barafu camp (4600m) to Mweka Hut (3100m)

After the summit we went back down to base camp, rested for a few hours, and then packed up and headed down to Mweka Camp.  For me, the downhill was harder than any of the uphill.  My toes hurt from being slammed into my boots and my legs were tired from having to control them so much on the downhill.  Once we got to Mweka Camp we were exhausted and ready to get off the mountain.  Only one more day!  AND we could breathe again without struggle--amazing!

Me and my main porter, Andrew.  He was one of the three porters who came with us up to the summit.  His strength is amazing. I gave him my gloves and hat at the end of the trip.

Day 7: Mweka Camp (3100m) to Mweka Gate (1800m)

On the last day we woke up and hiked out to the Mweka Gate.  We had made it!  After receiving our certificates and signing out we went back to the hostel, took showers, and drank masala chai.  Yum yum.

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro has been a goal of mine since high school and I still can't quite believe I've actually done it.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to complete the climb and to do it with such amazing friends.  I can't wait for the next adventure.