Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Long Time Comin

Here is a brief summary of what I have been up to.

I took a two week vacation with five friends to Malawi, a fairly small country in southern Africa. Malawi is called the “Warm Heart of Africa” and lives up to its name with some of nicest people I have I ever met. It also sits on a very large lake which is situated in the Rift Valley (the same valley Rwanda’s Lake Kivu is in). Supposedly Lake Malawi has the best inland beaches in Africa too.

We left on August 7th, just two days before Rwanda’s presidential election, on a bus headed for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This is the same bus we took on our way to Zanzibar last December. It’s thirty five hours of mostly smooth pavement with about five hours of absurdly rocky dirt path that just happens to coincide with sleepy time. The bus did stop for about five hours around midnight in Dodoma (the capital of Tanzania) for the driver to sleep. I didn’t sleep though. Instead, a couple friends and I walked around and enjoyed delicious street food which is so tragically outlawed in Rwanda... along with seasonings I foolishly took for granted back home.

We stayed a couple days in Dar es Salaam waiting for our train and exploring the city. Ahhh, coconuts... lychee... and the best beer in East Africa, Tusker. The train was the highlight of the trip, for me. The six of us commandeered a second-class cabin and packed it with delectable subway sandwiches and drinks. The 1960’s era locomotive coasted us through some seriously rural areas in Tanzania including a nature reserve. Sometimes we’d catch a glimpse of a cattle herder clad in Massai warrior garb. At night, large tracts of the savannah outside were glowing like lava. It wasn’t like the kind of violent forest fires back home. It was a peculiarly tranquil burn. And inexplicably beautiful. Then after about twenty hours we stopped in Mbeya, Tanzania just north of Malawi and took a bus to the border.

We crossed the border and stayed a night in a small dark town in the north of Malawi and the next day we left it. After almost four days of traveling, we arrived at our destination (Big Blue Star Backpackers) in Nkhata Bay. We had our choice of stilted reed huts right on the water for only seven bucks per night. Incredible place! The best lodge I have ever stayed at by far. Now it was time to chill. We’d be here for a while.

Fisherman rowed around the lake in small carved out wooden boats and at night their kerosene lanterns would light up the lake like stars. Nkhata Bay has a small town and even a couple night clubs. We thoroughly enjoyed the chicken which is so much more tender and juicy than the chicken in Rwanda. We also, “enjoyed” a local alcoholic drink called Shake Shake. Basically if you left some milk in the sun for a day, then filtered it through a dirty gym sock, twice... you’d have Shake Shake. It’s a must try so you can at least say you tried it though. Or drank a carton of it. Yes, it comes in a milk carton too. Ingredients: Milk, Sorghum, Maize.

Some of us took a boat tour around the lake which included a fish eagle feeding session, cliff jumping and snorkeling. All which were very cool. I can now say that I have jumped from a mango tree into a lake too. We met a lot of really cool people around Nkhata Bay. Most days we just relaxed in hammocks or on the beach and partied in the night. It was just what I needed.

I ended up staying two extra nights after the rest of my group left and made my way back home alone. I managed to travel a lot faster alone too and really got to practice my Swahili in Tanzania. In Dodoma I shared coffee and ginger tea one night with a table full of Muslim guys who just got out of prayer at the Mosque. They also fed me Kachata which is basically a home made payday bar!! After Dodoma I went to Kahama (all this sounds like it is so simple but remember that each one of the spokes of traveling come with challenges such as the bus that passed me in Dodoma and the ticket for a window seat that ended up being an seat on the aisle floor, but I’m not complaining). In Kahama, I stayed at a sketchy hotel and got a bus the next morning to Rwanda.

Since coming back home I have been very busy with a host of activities such as:

  1. Camp GLOW~ Coordinating it this year has been challenging. It will be more than twice the size as last year and will be accompanied by a smaller boys camp directly afterwords.
  2. Perma-garden Project~ I’m working with a small group of farmers on building perma-gardens in each of their homes together.
  3. Health Fair~ Along with the other PCVs in Rwamagana we are planning a city-wide health fair in February.
  4. Peer-support Network- About 6 PCVs, including me, are setting up a peer-support network for future PCVs in Rwanda.
  5. Club GLOW~ With another PCV, I have been working with a club that we set up with girls who came to last years’ Camp GLOW.
  6. And playing music and learning many new songs with Emmett.

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