Completely Unprepared

So you want to climb the Roof of Africa…

This is the true story of how a group of six extremely unprepared wanafunzi (students) managed to *spoiler alert* summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.

A step-by-step guide

  1. Go to a full moon party on a sandbank off the coast of Stone Town, Zanzibar the night before you are supposed to head to Moshi.  Trust me, you’ll feel great the next morning!

    And go SCUBA diving before the party!
  2. Actually wake up on time to catch your 7:00am ferry
  3. Realize that you still need to pack before you leave for the ferry terminal
  4. Get to the ferry in just enough time, thankful you bought your ticket yesterday
  5. After arriving in Dar es Salaam, talk your way into reducing the cost of a taxi to 20,000/= (Tanzanian shillings) to the bus station, arguing that it’s only a few miles away and that you could walk there
  6. Ride in the taxi for a half hour, realize you could NOT have walked there
  7. Arrive at the “bus terminal”, a sandlot with a bunch of buses and find one that is heading to Moshi, Tanzania
  8. Realize the bus you will be on for the next 12 hours has no bathroom and no air conditioning
  9. Listen to 12 hours of loud Tanzanian music videos and violent movies
  10. Text the Kilimanjaro climbing company you are trekking with that you will arrive in Moshi within the next hour
  11. Get a text back telling you that you weren’t supposed to go to Moshi, the office is in Arusha
  12. Thank your respective god that your bus is also going to Arusha
  13. Arrive in Arusha at 11pm and meet a guy with a sign and a bus with your name on it
  14. Get chipsy mayai (fries and eggs) at the one restaurant in Arusha since you haven’t eaten all day.  Apparently, it’s “the place to be!”

    No really, it says so right on the building
  15. Pass out upon arriving at the company’s office, luckily they have some beds you can sleep on for free!
  16. Wake up the next day, hang out at the office, then grab a daladala (public transport) to a local rental place because you have no hiking gear.  You’ve been living in Zanzibar for four months, what use would you have for warm clothes?

    The warmest thing I needed before was my black rash guard for swimming
  17. Realize that Arusha is a lot colder than Zanzibar and that you are extremely unprepared for this climb since you are cold before you even start
  18. Head back to the office for lunch, accidentally eat all the food that was prepared for the whole staff because you thought it was just for the six of you.  Zanzibari portions all around!
  19. Notice a large group of people outside the office
  20. Ask who they are
  21. Be told that those 21 people are your porters up the mountain.  They’re going to carry all of your stuff.  Why 21 porters are needed is still a mystery to me.
  22. Next day: leave at 8am to head to Kilimanjaro National Park.  It takes over three hours since you need to stop and let all the porters grab breakfast
  23. Arrive at the mountain, woo!  All the stress is over with!
  24. Haha, NOPE.
  25. Be told that your residence permits aren’t valid in the park since they’re stamped into your passport and you could easily forge a stamp (okay?).  You owe at least another $1300 in park fees
  26. Argue with park employees for an hour about how you ARE a resident
  27. Call your study abroad program’s academic director (who is supposed to be free of you by now – the program ended days ago) and ask for a HUGE favor – to have a different copy of your residence permit sent to Kilimanjaro.  Now.
  28. She tells you that today is a public holiday and that the immigration office that has the permits is closed
  29. Luckily, the park will let you start the climb, and informs you that you need to be willing to pay that extra money when you get back down the mountain if your permit doesn’t come through
  30. Start the climb, three hours later than scheduled

    Our “before” picture at the base of Kili
  31. Make it through a beautiful forest hike and emerge at the first hut of your stay: Mandara
  32. Sign in with your name and occupation…

    I am a tryer of new things, traveling with two explorers, an aspiring witch doctor, a pirate, and a prophet
  33. Pass out on your bed still kinda stressing over the last few days, but no worry, you’re on the mountain now, everything else can wait for five days!
  34. Wake up early the next morning (Day 2 of the climb) for tea and to start hiking.  You come out of the forest and into smaller shrubbery, but still very green.  The second hut, and your home for the next two days: Horombo

    The view from Horombo – beautiful above the clouds!
  35. Wake up even earlier the next morning (Day 3) to watch the sun rise while sitting above the clouds.  Absolutely breathtaking!
  36. Take a small hike, but ascend 1,000 feet, to Zebra Rock to help with acclimatization.  Come back to Horombo for the night to watch the sunset, equally as breathtaking

    Zebra Rock – aptly named. The colors are this way from a lot of mineral deposits that drip down the rock
  37. Start hiking early (Day 4) to reach Kibo Hut by the early afternoon.  Not as homey as the other two huts, but you’re not allowed to stay the night there.  Unpack your sleeping bag and try to get as much rest as possible before wake up at 11:30pm.
  38. Yeah, PM
  39. Have a very light “breakfast” and don all the clothes you brought, including your “If you can’t climb it, drink it” Kilimanjaro beer shirt
  40. Start your summit attempt at 12:30am, totally in the dark
  41. Cry a little bit at how beautiful the stars are up this high (about 16,000 feet above sea level, take that Colorado!)
  42. Are told that the hike to the summit will take 4-5 hours
  43. Take 8 hours to reach the summit, barely breathing
  44. Get severe altitude sickness (headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness), but stay up there long enough for the whole group to take a picture
  45. Congratulate yourself because YOU JUST CLIMBED MT. KILIMANJARO, ONE OF THE SEVEN SUMMITS AND THE TALLEST MOUNTAIN IN AFRICA.

    I take your ’14er and raise you 5,000 feet to 19,341 feet above sea level
  46. Go get a Kilimanjaro beer to celebrate.
  47. And have your residence permits work, so you didn’t have to pay more

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

Kim, DUSA Blogger

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The Post You’ve Been Waiting For: Foodies in Zanzibar

Hamjambo!

So if you know me, you know I love everything about food: the smell, restaurants, cooking, and especially eating.  I know that once I come back from Zanzibar, after friends and family tell me how tan I’m getting (which is pretty tan if I must say so myself), they’ll ask me about what I learned to cook.  Meals in Zanzibar are different than anywhere else I have visited, so I thought it would be cool to, instead of just saying the food I’m eating, to take you all through the steps of a Zanzibari meal.

Firstly, you are invited to a friend’s home for dinner.  Dinner is eaten pretty late here, anywhere between 7 and 10 pm (that’s 1 and 4 usiku in Swahili time), so you show up around seven thirty because Swahili time is never on-time.  The most important thing is that you take your shoes off when you enter – in Islam, shoes are considered dirty and shouldn’t be worn in the house.  Also, if this is a formal occasion, you should dress for it.  That means full headscarf and makeup (and for the mzungus, makeup to make you look Arabic).  For Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday celebrating the end of hajj (the pilgrimmage to Mecca), I had my makeup (over)done by my host mom.  See below.

Anyway, back to the meal.  You need to greet your host with a handshake (people use the “limp fish” handshake technique or just a low high-five basically) and you hold on until you’ve finished multiple rounds of greetings.  There’s no appetizers set out, no glass of wine (Muslims don’t drink alcohol), just a floor mat and pillows or if you’re lucky, a couch.  Eventually, you hear “Chakula tayari!” (food’s ready!) and you head for the dining room.  You’d expect a dining room like at home with miscellaneous paintings on the walls and a table and chairs in the middle.  Wrong.  There’s an eating mat spread out on the floor with some plastic on top for food spillage, which will definitely happen.  No chairs, no table; you sit on the floor cross-legged around all your friends and family.

The food spread out before you is like nothing you’ve ever seen: breads, beans, some veggie things, something that looks like a fat pyramid, mounds and mounds of rice, potatoes (the potatoes here are incredibly sweet), fruits, and that one thing you know you love – chapatti.  Chapatti is a wonderful food, it’s a flat bread that’s buttery and flaky and I almost don’t want to know how it’s made because I know it’s going to be extremely unhealthy.  You do a second count of the people in the room and look at the amount of food for those people and think that there’s no way that double the amount of people could finish the meal in front of you.  Wrong again.

Those breads: chapatti, coconut bread, and boflo (bread loaves)
Beans: I hated beans before I came here, now I love them.  Still have no idea how to make them.
Veggies: peas in a curry coconut sauce, pilau which is a soup with potatoes, meats, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and whatever else you want basically
Fat Pyramids: they’re called samosas and they’re incredible.  They’re usually come in beef or veggie form, and they’re basically the meat and veggies wrapped up in filo dough, similar to what they use to make baklava in Greek recipes
Rice: a staple of a Zanzibari diet.

One of the first things I learned in Zanzibar was to always serve yourself, don’t let a Zanzibari do it because you will get your dinner plate covered in rice with the top of the mound rising about six inches off the plate (and that’s no exaggeration), and then you get pilau and other stuff on top of it.

Oh, and did I mention that Zanzibaris don’t use silverware?  It is common and accepted to eat with your hands.  It is both a cultural and religious belief – that Mungu (God) made us to eat with our hands and he gave our hands something that makes the food taste sweet that you lose if you use silverware.  My first time eating with my hands was an absolute disaster, there was rice everywhere but in my belly.  I’ve picked up on some of the techniques now though, and I can almost finish a plate like a Zanzibari.

So you’ve been eating with your hands all these foods you’ve never seen before, and are ready to birth your food baby when your host grabs your plate and you think you’re finished.  Haha, NOPE.  An equally huge portion of rice, pilau, meats, and everything else gets piled back on your plate.  Your expression just drops as you realize that you might actually throw up if you keep eating.  A helpful phrase is “nimeshiba”, meaning “I am full”, but that actually means nothing to Zanzibaris and you have to eat more food anyway.  And once you’re actually done and there’s no more food to be piled on your plate, it’s time for chai!  Chai (communal name for all tea in Kiswahili) here is delicious and spicy and served extremely hot, which is great on super hot and humid days!

And by the way, cooking is done on the floor as well.  So hope your leg muscles are ready for a bunch of squats!

Anyway, once you’re finished with absolutely everything, it’s time to head back home, so you thank your host with goodbyes that are longer than the greetings, put your shoes back on, and pass out on your bed from all the food you ate.  Time to do it again tomorrow night!

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

Kim, DUSA Blogger