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

Kiswaspanglish?

Hamjambo!

Having been living in Zanzibar for over a month now, I’m starting to really use the language and learn a lot more about the Muslim culture here.  But I still constantly screw up with Kiswahili, hence the title of this post.  I guess I’m sort of tri-lingual now with English, Spanish, and Kiswhaili, so it would make sense that I get the three confused sometimes.  It’s been difficult learning the language, especially since I haven’t been truly introduced to a new language since I was about seven years old.

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Luckily I don’t need the language to see the fish!

Probably the most fun we’ve had with Kiswahili are the mistakes we’ve made.  In my Kiswahili oral exam, I spoke a full sentence of Spanish to my mwalimu (teacher) before I realized I wasn’t in either English or Kiswahili.  I gasped, covered my mouth, and apologized over and over again.  My mwalimu thought it was absolutely hilarious, and I still passed, so that’s a good thing!  I’ve made many other not-so-great mistakes though, and so have the rest of the wanafunzi.  See below:

Trying to say: I’ve had a good day (responding to a greeting)
Actually said: Banana

Trying to say: I’m drinking coffee
Actually said: I’m taking a poop

Trying to say: Brush your teeth before you go to bed
Actually said: Brush your teeth before sex

Friend trying to say: Hold him back
Friend actually said: Grab his butt

Friend understood: My husband is doing laundry
What was actually said: My husband is dead

Whoops!

I love the strong emphasis on language learning with my program, it really allows so much more to open up to you versus just relying on someone else to speak English, which is completely possible in Stone Town, but I feel so much like a tourist that I want to use Kiswahili whenever I can.  People tend to really open up to you when they see that you’re really trying to learn the language.  Combine that with dressing appropriately (long skirt or pants, loose-fitting, shoulders covered), and conversations will carry on until the sun sets.  That’s definitely a defining part of Zanzibari culture, always taking the time to greet people.  This is what is meant by “pole pole” culture (pronounced pol-ay.  In Kiswahili, all letters are pronounced).  Learning more about culture leads to religion, which has huge influences on the daily lives of the Zanzibaris.  Muslim culture is not as well known in America, so I thought I’d break a bit of it down.

Clothing: 

One of the first cultural differences I noticed getting off the plane in Zanzibar was all the headscarves that women wear.  The only time I saw someone’s hair in public was if she was white (aka not Zanzibari).  Women are generally covered from neckline to ankles in loose-fitting clothing with a headscarf to top it all off.  Depending on how religious the woman is, she will either just wear her headscarf when she leaves the house or she will add a baibui to it, which is the face covering with a slit for her eyes (just don’t call it a buibui, that’s a spider, and side note: the spiders in Zanzibar are MASSIVE OH MY GOD).

When women leave the house, many wear a black overcoat, so walking around outside, you wouldn’t think that these women have much style or care too much about what they wear.  But once you’re inside a home or office, everything changes.  The baibui comes off, the overcoat comes off, and the most beautiful, colorful, fun fabrics are revealed.  Women have such an amazing choice of fabric in Zanzibar – I recently had my first experience at the market which if I were to describe it in one word, that word would be “balaa”.  Go look that one up.  But that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, I love the fabric choices women can have here – and women are very proud of their clothes (I mean, I would be too).  They’re also very loose-fitting and flowy, one part because women aren’t supposed to show the shape of their bodies, and one part because it’s too effing hot in Africa to wear tight clothes.  Your body is only for your husband, and he’s the only one who needs to see it.  And by covering most of your body, you also protect yourself from the harsh African sun.  Some of the wanafunzi (students) have taken to wearing them in public, and we’ve gotten comments on how beautiful we look, another indicator of how much headscarves are respected here.  And I kind of like the look on me too…

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Prayer: 

I consider myself lucky that I’m not studying abroad in Saudi Arabia, where the call to prayer is so loud it wakes you up at 5:30 am every day to make sure you don’t miss your morning prayers.  In Stone Town, I usually hear the call to prayer while I’m awake, but it’s not so loud that it would disturb any non-Muslim.  My new favorite study spot is this rooftop bar that overlooks the ocean, and the call to prayer is a bit louder there since the tower is about 200 feet away from the bar.  But the sunset over the ocean is totally worth it.

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Yup.  I win for best study spot, sorry Colorado

Hajj:

Last week I was able to see the beginning of a big part of Islam – making the hajj.  The hajj is something that every Muslim must do if he or she is financially and physically able, and that is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.  The trip is full of religious understanding  and Muslims are considered very pure when they return.  Our group of wanafunzi visited a director of our program who left for hajj a few days later.  She invited us all to her home and we presented her with a new headscarf she can wear on her journey.  While excited, she knows that there is a small chance she will never come back from hajj.  Every year, with the massive crowds at Mecca, people, especially smaller people, are trampled to death, and it is recommended that before making hajj you get your affairs in order just in case something were to happen.  When she told me this, I thought about how morbid it was and why anyone would want to risk a terrible death in the name of Islam.  Then I caught myself.  This same kind of thing happens at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican when a new pope is elected.  This same thing happens every year at Walmart during Black Friday, a “holiday” that celebrates the accumulation of material goods.  I later was very upset with myself for mentally criticizing someone’s way of life before thinking about how my culture views similar things.

Food:

The only part of Islam I’m not the biggest fan of is the restriction on eating or drinking things that are considered “dirty”.  This includes consuming alcohol or drugs as well as consuming pork.  And with the population of Zanzibar being more than 99% Muslim, pork is a rarity on the island.  So yes, I sincerely miss pulled pork, pork in the crockpot, pork on the grill, and I definitely miss bacon.

Also, y’all seemed to like my dolphin video, so here’s another video of our group of wanafunzi painting the side wall of one of our accommodations in Mangapwani, Zanzibar.  Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq0BbxG89gA

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

(Thanks for reading!)

Kim, DUSA Blogger

I am NOT a Mzungu

Hamjambo!

Before I came to East Africa, I would have greeted you with “Jambo!” like in Mean Girls.  Now I know better – Jambo is a tourist greeting and is not proper Kiswahili.  The proper way is to say “Hujambo”, to which you respond “Sijambo”.  Or if you are greeting multiple people at once, like now, you use “Hamjambo”.  The more you know!

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The view from the beach only a 5 minute walk from where I live

So I’ve been living in Zanzibar for some time now, and it is finally starting to sink in that I’m really here and will be here for the next four months.  When it really sunk in though, was when I saw the stars.  The night sky in Zanzibar is absolutely stunning and has almost brought me to tears on more than one occasion.  I am living in a very dark part of the world, away from a lot of development, so the number of stars I can see is incredible since there’s very little light pollution.  And being in the southern hemisphere, the night sky looks different than it does at home.  When I finally had time to just look at the stars, that was when it really hit me that I’m actually in Africa and this beautiful island is mine to explore for four whole months.

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The moon (look really hard!  Just left of the palm) in Paje

Since I arrived here my days have been packed with intensive Kiswahili instruction (4 hours a day plus homework!), special lectures about the culture and expectations of the program, and water time.  After a few days in Stone Town, the main town on the west side of Zanzibar, we headed to Paje (pronounced pah-jay), a resort village on the east side of the island.  This was when I realized how small Zanzibar actually is – the drive from one side to another only took 45 minutes.  The beach at Paje is gorgeous and the tides are incredible.  Low tide can have you walking out over a mile until you see the ocean, and at night, you can see bio luminescent plankton washed up during low tide.

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These photos were taken 6 hours apart at high and low tide

While in Paje, we were assigned to visit a local village, about a five minute walk from our hotel, and my group’s personal assignment was to learn about local employment opportunities the locals have.  Using as much of the Kiswahili we had learned as possible, we walked right up to people and started asking.  One conversation we had really made me rethink the entire tourism industry.  We talked to a man not much older than us who worked for an excursion company (kitesurfing is very popular in Paje), and while he loves having tourists come and spend money, he isn’t the biggest fan of the new all-inclusive resorts that have been popping up on the island lately.  These resorts make their money by keeping guests at the resort.  The guests almost never leave and spend money in the community, and business has gone down in the past few years in the island.  He also made a good point about visitors going back home saying that they went to Zanzibar but they never talked to the locals or learned about the culture or did anything but stay at their hotel so did they really see Zanzibar?  All I know is, I’m going to think twice about booking an all-inclusive vacation in the future.

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We were able to see the poorer side of Paje, just a few minutes walk from our hotel.  It’s incredible the stark difference between the resorts surrounding this village.

On our last day in Paje, we rose before the sun to leave our hotel at 5:30am (which is 11:30 usiku in Swahili time) to head to Kizimkazi, about a 20 minute drive north.  We arrived at the beach as the sun was rising and piled into two wooden boats so as not to harm the creatures we were following.  As we headed to deeper water, we were told to be ready to jump in the water at any second in case there was a sighting so we all got our fins, mask, and snorkel ready (and in my case, my GoPro camera as well).  We heard a “GO GO GO” and we rushed into the surprisingly warm water and I stuck my camera in front of me so I didn’t miss anything.  After the bubbles cleared, I saw some dark figures swimming below me, so I followed their path, and before I knew it, I was swimming less than twenty feet away from a pod of bottlenose dolphins!  It was incredible to get that close to a wild dolphin and they were so peaceful and strong and just beautiful.  I didn’t even know that it was possible to swim with wild dolphins – I thought it was just a Discovery Cove thing.  I took plenty of footage, which you can check out below!

This was absolutely incredible.  The dolphins weren’t afraid of us, they were just hanging out with some small humans watching.

I had a truly African experience a few days ago.  We had an assignment to take what’s called a daladala to different places in Zanzibar and our project was at some old Arabic ruins next to the ocean.  Those were interesting and all, but the really interesting thing was the daladala ride.  Daladalas are basically open-air buses you can take for 300/= (about $0.18) but they pack you in more than sardines, so good luck if you’re even the least bit claustrophobic.  But people are more than happy to move over to accommodate someone else so they don’t have to crouch on the ground.  We ended up sitting in each other’s laps (good thing there were four of us).  Deciding to study Kiswahili on the daladala was actually a good idea because many of the people on the daladala wanted to help us out, especially when we were asked to pay twice.  The kindness of the Zanzibaris is without end, and I’m grateful to each and every one that has helped me in my short time in Zanzibar so far, and I’m sure I will owe them big time by the end of my time here.

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This is a daladala
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The inside of the daladala.  This was not even close to how packed we were on the way to the ruins.

And lastly, feel such a sense of belonging to this town and my group of sixteen.  We are recognized walking on the streets of Stone Town and asked how our Kiswahili language class is going and if we’ve learned anything new since we last saw each other.  And one specific experience was when I was at the site of the ruins.  I finally learned how to tie my khanga (a single piece of fabric you tie around your waist and wear as a skirt), and when I walked up to the beach bar, one of the women working there told me “You tie your khanga just like a Zanzibari!” and that was the moment that I realized that I’m no longer a mzungu.

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The long yellow skirt I’m wearing is a khanga

My first few weeks here have already been unforgettable, and I’m really coming to understand the meaning of “experiential learning”, and not just having lectures.  Stone Town is beautiful and has so much history, which I will be posting updates about regularly.

As always, thanks for reading,

Baadaye! (until later)

Kim, DUSA Blogger

Waka Waka

I now have just one week until I leave for study abroad! In just one week I’ll be living right next to the ocean (not so different from home, but it’s a different ocean) and I’ll be 9,000 miles from Denver on the beautiful island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, Africa.  I’ve watched some of my friends leave already, and this is just making me more excited! And with the juniors leaving, it’s left me with the start of the abroad blogs! My favorite procrastination technique during the fall is starting, and I still can’t believe that it’s starting now!

Really the only thing I’m not looking forward to is the flight there. I love to travel, to see new places, meet new people, and try new things, but I detest the actual traveling part of traveling. Sitting down for a long period of time is like my own personal torture, and combining that with airports, sitting next to people I don’t know, and feeling gross from not showering makes traveling the actual worst. My longest flight is from Washington DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a trip of about 13 hours. And that doesn’t count the flight from Boston to DC, Ethiopia to Zanzibar, and layovers. I leave at 6am on August 21st and get in to Zanzibar at 3pm on August 22nd, local time. But I know it will all be worth it when I land and see that crystal clear ocean!

With that, since I get asked so often both “Why Zanzibar?”, and “Where’s Zanzibar?”, I thought I’d break down some simple demographics of the island. This is one of the struggles of studying abroad in Africa – nobody seems to know where exactly you’re going (and to be honest, I had never heard of Zanzibar until I applied for the program there).

Probably the biggest reason I continually am asked questions about Zanzibar is that no one from the University of Denver has ever studied abroad there. Being the first DU student to go on my program is so amazing, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to pave the way for other students to study there in the future. But why Zanzibar in particular? I’ve done the Europe thing, I’ve done the Australia thing, and I’ve done the Central America thing. Each trip was life-changing (and I mean that literally, I came back a different person than when I left) and breathtaking and I learned so much, but I wanted to travel someplace completely off the map, someplace I knew I would probably never have a chance to visit again. And the places I’ve visited have not been very different than what I’ve grown up knowing. Since my first tour at DU, I knew I wanted to study abroad in Africa. I wanted to live somewhere with a completely different culture than my own, and also somewhere I could study marine biology, which has been a passion of mine since I was a little girl. When the official packing list for my program stated that I was required to have my own mask, snorkel, and fins because I would be in the water every single day, I knew I found the place for me!

First question: Where is Zanzibar?

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Second Question: Is it even a country?

Not quite – In 1964, the island of Zanzibar joined with the nation of Tanganyika to form what we now know as Tanzania. So no, it’s not its own country, but Zanzibar does have its own flag, much like the US states have their own flags! Below is the flag, and then my copy of it I painted onto my sorority letters (of course!). The Zanzibar flag, while it is for the island, incorporates the flag of Tanzania in the upper left-hand corner to show their merge with Tanzania.

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Third Question: How big is it?

Zanzibar is only 1,023 square miles. That number means nothing to me, so I looked it up in comparison to what I do know – US states! To put it in perspective, Rhode Island, the smallest US state, is 1,212 square miles. So in conclusion, the island is TINY. Which is going to be awesome, because that should mean a constant sea breeze, right?

Fourth Question: (I’ve actually been asked this) Is that where they speak the clicky language?

While I am traveling to a third-world country, it doesn’t mean that there is no development. Although the population of Zanzibar is more than 99% Muslim, the three main languages are Kiswahili, English, and Arabic. What’s Kiswahili? It’s the same as what we call Swahili, but the word Swahili encompasses the entire culture, not just the language. However, the indigenous music is this awesome combination of African and Arabic influences, and I’m excited to listen to it live – but for now I have to settle for YouTube:

Fifth Question: Do you have to wear one of those things that covers your head?

There is a large amount of Arabic influence on the island, and is reflective in the people and the architecture around Zanzibar. Native women can choose to cover themselves fully if they wish, but it is not required of visitors. However, visitors are strongly recommended to be more covered than what Americans are used to. This basically eliminates my entire summer wardrobe: sundresses, shorts, and tank tops. But it has given me a great opportunity to buy some new clothes! So I subsequently went out and bought a few maxi skirts, loose-fitting shirts, and the coolest pair of pants I have ever owned and probably ever will own. See below.

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Sixth Question: Anything interesting ever happen there?

In my perusing of the internet for fun facts about Zanzibar, I came across this little tidbit: Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar. Um, yeah, THE Freddie Mercury. Having been a Queen fan for as long as I’ve been a music fan, I’m extremely excited to study in the birthplace of such an amazing person and someone who was part of a generation of music that I sincerely wish I was alive to see.

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Seventh Question: Is it safe for Americans to be there?

Now this is the question I’ve gotten from every parent I’ve talked to about studying abroad in Zanzibar. I always reassure them that my university would not send me to somewhere that wasn’t safe. The worst thing I have to worry about is pick-pocketing. One of my biggest fears, though, is offending the culture of the natives. A big point my program made was that the two biggest complaints they get about their American students is that they dress inappropriately and drink too much. The absolute last thing I want to do is offend someone, and have that be the lasting impression of all Americans. And being a white person, I will be a minority (something I have never experienced), and I don’t need to draw negative attention to myself. I have traveled twice as a student ambassador with People to People International with the goal of changing viewpoints of Americans. I hope I succeeded then, and I hope to succeed during my four months in Africa.

I had such a fun time compiling all this info and I learned so much, so I hope you did to!

Thanks for reading!
Kim, DUSA blogger

Works Cited

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/tz.html

http://www.africaguide.com/country/zanzibar/culture.htm

Becca’s Blog: Tanzania and Kenya

Wow, yet another GORGEOUS blog from a DU student studying in Africa.  Becca is studying in a School for Field Studies (SFS) program in Tanzania and Kenya this semester, and her blog could make just about anyone want to go and fall in love with Africa as much as she has!  Don’t miss her blog at http://beccahollmann.blogspot.com/!