Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Last Sunset

Sunday was our last full day in Tanzania. I can't help but wonder how the two weeks flew by so quickly... It feels like we just got here and there is still so much left for us to explore. Every single person we've met has been so kind and warm and open with us, even random people on the street who know nothing about us. It will be difficult to leave all that.

The last day was perfect, though. I didn't think we could end on such a high note.

We woke up on the later side (this whole Zanzibar leg has been like that though, wake-ups at 7 or 8 instead of 4am) and had a leisurely breakfast on the roof.  Then a short walk across the street to the ocean to meet the guy who was taking us snorkeling.

He took us out in the water in what felt like a giant canoe that could probably seat 15 (so it felt roomy with just us two). We crossed the bay to a nearby island, Prison Island, in a quick 15 minutes. I'd describe the water, but how can I do it without being disgustingly trite? It was blue, REALLY blue. It was clear. It was warm. It was the type of thing that probably makes people go home and look at whatever body of water they have near them with resignation, knowing now what the best in life is like and clearly seeing where they fall short. Revere beach, I'm looking at you.

Since it was high tide when we arrived, we went snorkeling first. Clear water, beautiful coral reefs with a wide variety of coral types, and lots of tropical fish made for excellent snorkeling. It was Erica's first time and they really give you zero instructions on what to do, but luckily I've been a few times so was able to help. Soon we were both diving under to examine a fish more closely or get a better look at some funny-looking coral. Everything was deep enough that there wasn't any need to worry about accidentally brushing anything with your fins, so it was really the perfect setting. 

When we decided that we'd seen enough, we pulled in to Prison Island to explore a bit. We were surprised to find that they have a tortoise exhibit with dozens of tortoises that you can walk with and touch. The older ones have their ages written on their shells in blue paint, and we were shocked to find mammoth specimens late in their 100s.  The oldest one we found was 189. We passed the cage of babies and I could see the glint in Erica's eyes - calculating if she could smuggle one home for her classroom. Alas, it was not to be.

We moved on, into the prison (now a posh hotel - figures), through an abandoned bar with Banksy-like art on the walls and into an abandoned courtyard facing the water. Again, it's hard to describe just because of its classic beauty. Trees hanging into the clear, bright water... It was just super serene, and since we weren't with a big tour group, we got to linger there for quite a while, soaking in the quiet when other groups left.

After we returned to the hotel, we decided to investigate a local authentic Swahili restaurant just around the block. The decor was incredible. It felt like being in Morocco with the beautiful rugs layered on the floor and the low tables surrounded by cushions. We took off our shoes before entering the room and sat on the floor to eat an incredible vegetarian meal. Stuffed eggplants, curried vegetables, seasoned potatoes, papaya chutney, spiced spinach and onions... It went on and on. We took our time too, lingering there for a few hours.

Then the shopping. Our last day here and it was time to wind through the twisting old streets of Stone Town, haggling with store keepers and trying to collect artifacts for our classroom and souvenirs for our friends without being entirely ripped off. 

As sunset approached, we were gripped by urgency. This was the last sunset and we had to make sure it was a good one. We raced to the hotel to drop off our haul and then set out again, map in hand, to find this rooftop restaurant we'd heard of with excellent views. The clock was ticking though, so we had to find our way through the maze that is Stone Town fast. There were a few wrong turns, but we actually got there exactly when the place opened and managed to be the first people there. The restaurant was gorgeous. Similar to where we ate dinner, there were layers of rich rugs, low, carved tables, and thick pillows all around against a short wall.  But this was open to the air and had a refreshing breeze coming through. And the view. All of Stone Town at your feet, plus the ocean, plus the sun sinking low. The sunsets here are amazing. The sun seems closer here and bigger, and it always goes through dozens of shades, most memorable of which are the neon pinks and reds.

Just when the sun was starting to slide into the horizon a cacophony of noise started. To the north, bells started enthusiastically tolling from a Cathedral. To the south, a siren of sorts that almost sounded like a tornado warning, but more quiet and less annoying. And to the west, the singing prayers of a mosque, broadcast on an intercom. It was overwhelmingly perfect.

We spent a while up here, having a glass of wine to celebrate the trip, reminiscing about the highlights. 

When we left, we went by the gardens one last time for one last samosa. In typical Tanzanian fashion, as we sat down two school boys asked if they could practice their English with us. We had a pleasant conversation where they taught us some of the island's history and asked what students their age study in America. It made me think about my students - is this what they're doing, taking risks, making connections, pushing themselves to continuously improve, even on their 'time off'?

And so it is on an introspective note that the night ended. The last night here.

In the boat on the way out snorkeling

The coast off of where we went snorkeling

Signpost on the island

With a giant tortoise!

Converted prison

Outside of the abandoned courtyard 

Lunch place

At lunch 

The streets of Stone Town

Our nighttime perch

The view of Stone Town.


Saturday, August 17, 2013


"It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar." -Thoreau 

Maybe true, but if you're already here, I think that it would be an interesting enough task. There are thousands of cats in Zanzibar. The place is a cat paradise with people feeding them scraps all day and letting them lounge with their families in the park.  The trash cans are overflowing with delicious morsels to scrounge. There must not be a single mouse brave enough to live in Stone Town.

We got in Friday afternoon on a bumpy flight run with a little propeller plane that seated 10. It was thrilling if we're being kind, but maybe Erica and I are a bit high strung because I definitely saw 3 children under the age of nine who looked super comfortable and relaxed the whole way here. Real pros.

Upon arriving in Zanzibar, it's easy to see that this island was its own separate nation from Tanzania until fairly recently (I believe they joined forces in the 60s).  Although the people are just as friendly and welcoming as their counterparts on the mainland, their attire is very different. I'm not sure about the numbers, but judging from clothes alone it looks like well over 90 or even 95% of the population is Muslim. The women seem to be on either extreme of super bright and patterned clothes to all black (with a large majority choosing exciting colors) and wear their hijab in a huge variety of ways, ranging from more loose to very tight and conservative. In an interesting note. We see fewer women in full burqa than we did on the mainland where the Muslim population is significantly lower (like in the 20% range).  A lot of the men wear white kanzu (floor-length robes), and even more were a kufi, a traditional flat-topped cap. In general, its recommended that Western visitors dress on the more conservative side, so Erica and I have been wearing long sleeves and our grimy jeans despite the heat. These are the same clothes we wore day in and day out in the bomas, which means that we're constantly the source of exciting new smells!

Some Zanzibar moments:

Walking from our beautiful hotel in Stone Town one evening, we wandered into the nearby Forodhani Gardens. At first we were lured in by the soft lights and the crowds of Zanzibaris walking sitting in small groups all along the paths. Then our eye was caught by a small crew of young men, breakdancing in a pagoda with a ring of enthusiastic children and adults cheering them on. No music, just a lot of attitude in the back and forth of moves that were ever-increasing in difficulty. When we wandered back later, the group was gone, but little boys had taken their place, eagerly trying to imitate the older guys while younger girls and boys ran around wildly playing tag.

In the gardens, it doesn't take long to notice the food stalls (or the cats who benefit from the scraps tossed by the many humans who eat here). There are maybe 100 stalls packed into a maize-like square displaying all kind of aromatic tidbits to eat. The cooks all make an effort to tempt every passerby to at least stop an admire the food: grilled fish and meat kabobs, samosas, root vegetables, fruit, pressed cane juice, and an interesting eggy crepe-like contraption that they call a Zanzibari pizza.  The vegetable samosas were my clear favorite, although I'm looking forward to sampling their version of naan tonight and have high hopes for it.

The whole garden is on the water's edge, and it's nice to sit with your food and just watch the boats and the night fishermen while listening to the ebb and flow of the Swahili spoken all around.


Yesterday we were swept out of our hotel by Mohammed, one of Bob's contacts who we're meeting with to check out his animal preserve, ZALA, and the primary school he runs next to it.

We had to trot to keep up with his fast, no-nonsense pace, punctuated only by short "Salam walekum"s to people we passed. In no time we were the only wazungu we saw, having clearly left the touristy side of Stone Town and entered something a bit more raw and authentic. Mohammed wound us through twisting alleys without a moment's hesitation about our destination. I was hopelessly lost within 30 seconds, but was thoroughly enjoying the beautiful hybrid architecture of the old city. It felt like we had left our century completely.

Soon we broke into the market, where we took a fast-paced tour in and out of the stalls. You can find everything here, fruit, vegetables, grains, all types of proteins, clothes and of course, spices. Pungent and sweet spices dominate the smells as you walk along until you reach the fish stalls.  Burlap sacs bulge with tiny dry fish, brightly-colored pastas, rice, and dozens of grains and legumes. Heads of garlic are stacked high next to spicy peppers and mountains of bright red, hairy lychees, still on the branch.

After an intense negotiation over the price of some fruit, Mohammed plunged us into the traffic to cross over to the bus station. With each busy road that we crossed, it was clear that the best strategy for survival would be to stay as close as possible to this old man who fearlessly glared down buses and cars that got too close.

It was then that we were introduced to the Dala Dala. A covered truck bed that serves as a bus, at first this seemed like a pleasant mode of transportation. That's because we were some of the first people on this thing. As more and more men, women, and children crowded on, I felt myself moving from casual interest at how many would fit, to a sense of admiration at the ambition of the Dala Dala drivers, to finally an uncertain panic that this was too much! With an overweight woman half sitting on my lap and a pleasant but unbudging man crushing me from the other side and nowhere to put my hands and then another woman sitting on my unprotected, flip-flopped foot, I hoped that it would be a short ride at least. Couldn't be more wrong. And once we started out, I also had the added interest of hearing the rickety creaking of the whole structure. Fascinating.

As we drove around, people chatted easily. The woman on my lap sometimes turned my way and said things, although I have no idea what she wanted to tell me. I imagined all kinds of things that she might be trying to communicate, like "You unwashed muzungu, do you know that you reek of goat pee and smoke?" (true) or "If the roof of this bad boy falls in on us, I'll do my best to throw myself on top of you and shield you from the worst of it as thanks for the ride on your comfortable lap." (probably less true) or "I totally saw you crack your head on the roof as you were crawling in here and it was definitely funny." (sadly true - everyone laughed).

It was a relief to climb out when we got to ZALA.


The school is a short walk from ZALA. It's a pre-school and the lower grades of primary school with about 180 students in total. The students wear color-coded hijab or shirts depending on gender to differentiate between each grade. The children were ridiculously cute and we were continuously bombarded with 'Jamboooo' in high-pitched little kid voices. Lots of giggling followed.

We met the various leaders of the school and went through the long list of things they need and want to improve the school. This ranged from computers to create a computer lab for the kids, to supplies like pencils, paper, crayons, and textbooks. Students study math, environmental science, English, Arabic, and gym (theory of sports only though due to lack of equipment), so there's lots of subject areas where books would come in handy. A pump for the well which runs dry in the summer was mentioned, as were supplies to build a playground for the kids. The needs are great, but the growth of the school from a one-room class of 20 kids to this sprawling, mid-construction school over the last 14 years is impressive.

The view from the top of our hotel

Food stall in the gardens 

A good place to stop and eat some food while people watching 

Mohammed, haggling fruit prices

Lychees at the market

Students at the school!

Friday, August 16, 2013


Building stoves

Taking Kisioki's family portrait

Buying beads

Women and children watching the warriors sing and jump

New family

On safari!

Animals came this close to us!

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! (Or Something Like That...)

Sorry for the long delay in posts.  We've spent the last few days camping out in the Serengeti Plains where, as you can imagine, there isn't any internet or cell phone reception.  At least, not for us muzungu with our foreign networks.

So much has happened since the last post that I'm honestly not even sure what to write about in the short amount of time that we have before we need to get to the airport.  I'll try to cram as much in as possible.

The Sunday Highlights:

Saw the construction of a few more stoves.  It's incredible how efficient and exact the women are when they're building these things.  This time, I actually watched the installation of some solar panels too.  They're pretty easy to install through the thatched roofs of the homes.  Solar panel is lodged on top and wires are snaked in through the dry grass/straw.  One goes to an LED light bulb that hangs from the centre of the home and thus can light all the rooms because the walls don't go all the way up to the ceiling.  Another wire is to charge cell phones.  It takes about 20 minutes to put the whole thing together and then voila: instant lighting and communication. Pretty cool.

Kisioki then took us to another village in the Rift Valley.  This one, Selela, was especially important for us to visit because it's where Kisioki grew up!  We got to meet a small part of his enormous family including his father, mother, a few of his father's other wives, four of Kisioki's brothers and dozens of half-siblings.  After a photo shoot directed by Erica of Kisioki and his family (the whole family, him with his parents, with his brothers, there was no end to the configurations possible), his mother and some of the other women were kind enough to bring out some of their bead-work so that we could buy some to bring home.  It was incredibly beautiful and choosing what to take and what to leave behind was hard.  Everyone crowded tightly around us so that we were pressed in from all sides, hands shooting into the circle from time to time to showcase work that we should pay special attention to. We wound up cleaning them almost entirely out (not going to name any names, but Erica definitely is coming home with heavier bags than she left with).  Figuring out the complex system of who received how much money for what was pretty entertaining, with Kisioki creating a complex accountant's spreadsheet to track the numbers.

When we paid up for the goods, the sun was near setting.  We drove just a few minutes over to the nearby boma where another circumcision ceremony was happening.  The actual circumcisions had happened in the morning, so we got there in time for the party.  The dancing here was very different from what we saw last time.  The warrior men were especially more exciting to watch as they crowded around in a tight circle and chanted a deep and primal song.  As they sang, they jumped together as a group, with single men breaking off into the middle and jumping much higher than the rest.  It was incredible to watch from the outside, heads and shoulders popping out way above the rest.  The younger, newer warriors (not yet in power and waiting for the older group to retire) tried to form their own little group that mimicked the song and dance, but it was nothing like the older, more experienced crew.

In the meantime, Erica was shanghaied by the older women, who decked her out in their wide circular necklaces and tried to get her to do the women's dance - a slow, sinuous bob that makes the necklace flap up and down.  A little tipsy, they were all crying with laughter as Erica tried valiantly to do the dance.  She's more brave than me, when I saw what was about to happen, I quickly ducked out and hid behind a group of men to watch the warriors.  Erica especially charmed one older woman, who kept hugging and kissing her, and who tried many times to kidnap her away to her home in the next boma.  There was lots of cheek pinching, shoulder smacking, and forehead kissing going on, and I think that Erica was pretty tempted to sneak out and become the adopted granddaughter of this feisty woman.

And just for fun, we totally found Snoop Dog's doppelgänger in the village.  When we post the pictures, you'll know exactly which man I'm talking about.  The killer was that as we were about to leave, he asked Erica to take a picture of him and pulled out a pouch of gin to pose with. It was too perfect.

Monday - Thursday

Not too much on Monday.  Just waking up at dawn, packing up the tents and the Jeep, and heading out on the long and BUMPY ride (think unpaved roads ravaged by hundreds of Jeeps and bad weather) to the Serengeti.  Lots of waiting for hours while we tried to buy tickets at banks.  Now we know what real bureaucracy is; I'm going to find it hard to complain about any amounts of waiting in line in the US.

An interesting moment:  Before we headed out, I tasked Erica with finding me an elephant on this trip since we weren't going to the national park famous for its elephants in order to go to the Serengeti instead. I threatened that if we didn't see an elephant, she wouldn't be allowed to come home.  So as we're entering the Ngoro Ngoro park, where pretty much the only animals you'll see are baboons, we were stunned to see an elephant hiding in the trees!  Kisioki, with his eerie, animal-spotting sixth sense pointed it out in surprise.  It was the first animal of the trip!

Tuesday was all safari.  We saw a stunning array of animals, and I think that the stories from here will be better when Erica is able to post some pictures. But let's just say that lots of animals came up extremely close to our open Jeep, and that we saw EVERYTHING that you would expect to see on Safari, including elephants, lions, giraffes, hippos, leopards, cheetah, warthogs, zebra, hyena, mongoose, ostrich, wildebeest, water buffalo, antelope, and a ridiculous assortment of gorgeous birds.  That is to say, everything except the ultra-rare black rhino which we would need to find if we wanted to spot all of the Big Five.

Wednesday, the plan was to leave the Serengeti and drive to Ngoro Ngoro crater (the only place to spot a rhino) before coming back to Monduli.  Unfortunately, a broken ball bearing in the tire left us stranded for 5 hours in the middle of the Serengeti until a mechanic was able to drive out and bring us a spare part.  We took naps and had entertaining conversation though, so it was actually a pleasant interlude.  And luckily, the hyena that we saw walking down the road about half a mile away never got to where we were.

I want to give Thursday's part of the trip more justice, so I'll write it up next time.  But expect: Ngoro Ngoro crater, lion and rhino stories, and visiting a local boarding school.

Lots of love from Tanzania!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Rift Valley

Yesterday we drove a few hours west of Monduli to the Rift Valley where we'll be until Monday. As we get further and further from the city, Arusha, you can see differences in the Maasai. As Kisioki put it, these guys are more purely Maasai. You can see it in the clothes they wear. The Maasai in Monduli mix traditional Maasai clothes with western clothes (or as they say, Swahili clothes). A t-shirt covered with a wrap, a parka over the bright Maasai cloth (that's right, a PARKA. It's pretty cold in the more mountainous part that we've been staying at), tennis shoes... It's a hodgepodge of cultures. But here it's different, just straight Maasai clothing, and its beautiful and bright, especially in contrast to the dusty, monochromatic landscape. The women wear mostly red, blue, and black wraps. A long black wrap goes around their waist while the torso is covered by two crisscrossed wraps. All of it is covered by a shawl over the shoulders; frequently used to sling a baby or toddler onto their backs. The men wear similar clothes, but their waist wraps are never black, and they're much shorter than the women's. They also belt their wraps on so that they can hang a belt from them. Finally, their shawl is more blanket-like and looks super warm and comfortable, especially when it's cold out. 

One of the coolest parts of driving through the villages (besides the thrill of the bumpy, non-existent 'roads', more dirt paths than anything and filled with ditches that even our Jeep struggles to climb through at times) is seeing the stove chimneys peppered throughout the bomas. They're everywhere.  Similarly, at night you can see some lights dotting the landscape and you know that these are lights powered by the solar panels installed by International Collaborative. There must be a sense of pride in seeing the work spread tangibly amongst the Maasai. While we were in Esilalei (a village by the huge lake Manyara) where another stove was being installed, four Maasai men walked into the village to talk to Kisioki. They had seen the Jeep drive by their village and ended a meeting to come speak to Kisioki about buying a stove of their own. Word must spread fast. 

A funny moment in Esilalei: Erica and I were watching Kisioki climb up on the thatched roof of a house to repair a solar panel wire that had been chewed through by a rat. The women of the village were standing with us too, but they were fascinated by Erica's blond braided hair. They were touching it an admiring the color and how soft it was. One of them, in sort of a consolatory way, patted my head, as if to apologize for not being as impressed by me as by Erica. Since she was feeling the texture though, I decided to take my hair out of its bun so that she could get a better feel. When I shook my hair out though, everyone immediately moved over to play with it. I think that they were surprised by its length because Maasai men and women shave their heads. The best moment was when one of the women took my hair and draped it over her head. Everyone was dying with laughter, even Kisioki.

Driving through the brush out to our camp at night, we were overwhelmed by the sky. As the sun set, we were first able to see the moon, and next to it was Jupiter, brighter than any of the stars that came out later. But when the stars came out, they were even more impressive than the planet. There were so many that it didn't feel dark outside because of their collective light. And the Milky Way was incredible. It was bigger and more visible than I would have thought.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Building a stove

We picked up some mamas and went to Enguiki in the Jeep, taking several tries to make it though some parts.  It was a pretty remote location.  We thought we were going to watch a new stove being installed.  But when we got there, we were thrown right in.  It was easy to see that the mamas knew how to train people, because even with the language barrier they were able to show us exactly what to do.  We mixed med.  We leveled the bricks for the base.  Then we started to build up, layer after layer.  It didn't take too long for the chimney to reach the thatched roof.  We had to cut a hold in the roof to install the metal top of the chimney, and build the base of the chimney out as a support for he stove itself.  It was a really messy process... as I sat on the embers and ash from the original open fire and my back rubbed against the soot covered walls the remainder of the time, I was pretty dirty when we finished.  I don't know how the mamas were wearing their beautiful clothes and jewelry!  But in the end, we had a stove!  The woman who lived in the home seemed really happy when we finished and asked me to take her picture with the new stove. It was really satisfying to leave knowing that this woman and her children would be able to live a little healthier!

Stoves, Circumcisions, Weddings, and Births

Friday afternoon.  It was a long day of installing a stove and solar panels in Enguiki, and we were looking forward to hot showers to wash off all the mud, dirt, and dried cement (not to mention maybe some food), when Kisioki told us that the women were walking over to the next boma because a woman was about to give birth.  Did we want to join them?  At first I didn't believe that we would be welcome at such an intimate moment, but I couldn't have been more wrong.  That's the one thing that has surprised me most on this trip - how incredibly warm and welcoming and open everyone here has been to us. Erica was really excited about the birth, and her excitement was contagious, despite the language barrier.  We were immediately swept up arm in arm with the other women and started walking across the dusty hills.

When we arrived at the boma, there were dozens of women outside of the hut and everyone was smiling and chatting excitedly.  Then a woman's face poked out of the entrance to the hut, and we were told "Karibu" (welcome), and pulled into the dark and smokey home.  We were gestured at to sit on the tiny little wooden stools against the wall right next to the fire which was low and thankfully not producing the levels of eye-stinging smoke that a full fire would.  As our eyes adjusted, we could make out a few older women stripping down and bathing themselves in a bucket of water just taken off the fire.  Through a doorway into the bedroom (which is really just a very tiny room with an elevated platform stretched wall to wall that people sleep on), we could see some activity, and assumed that that was where the mother was.

Suddenly, one of the old women who had just been kneeling on the bed started ululating, and the cry was picked up by the women outside.  Erica and I were completely mystified as to what was happening, but were overwhelmed again that we were invited into this scene.  We were curious when a bag of sand was opened and deposited at the entryway to the bedroom, but we later learned that the purpose of the sand was to bury the placenta.  It turns out that the call we heard was to celebrate what the Maasai call "the second birth", when the placenta is discharged.

I thought that we had already been allowed to see so much, and so you can imagine that I was shocked when we were invited (and then when we hesitated pushed) onto the bed with the mother and some other women and then given the swaddled newborn to hold.  Everyone was clearly pleased as we oohed and ahhed over the baby, and I was torn between feeling overwhelmed at how adorable and perfect this baby was and awe at how calm the mother was after having given birth without anything to help with the pain. 

Incredible.  And PS - the baby was a boy.


It can be hard to realize how necessary these stoves are that the International Collaborative is building until you've been in a home without one.  The homes in the bomas are circular structures with thatched roofs and walls made of wood and then patched over with a mud that is strengthened with cow dung.  Then the women make a traditional fire, set within three large stones so that they can cook on it, things can get pretty smokey.  From the outside, you can see smoke leaking out through the thatched roof, and it's easy to wonder how the roofs don't just burn down at times. 

We had an opportunity to enter a house like this.  The second we walked in, the smoke hit us.  The acrid smoke was so intense that our eyes immediately started watering.  When we came back out, the old woman sitting outside asked us what we would do if we couldn't find a good house to stay in and had to sleep in a home with that much smoke.  She told us that she had eye problems because of being in that smoke her whole life.

The stoves that are installed by International Collaborative make an enormous difference.  Although you can smell a smokey smell, the air is much clearer and easy to breathe.  There is no discomfort in the eyes, even when the stove is going at full blast. Earlier this week, we went with Kisioki when he installed a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide monitor in a home with a stove installed.  This morning, we collected the detector and got to take a look at some of the data.  It was pretty intense but unsurprising to see the difference that the stoves make.  Kisioki's mother's home pre-stove had carbon monoxide levels up to 200 PPM (parts per million) - well over the UN's safety limit.  The home that we had recorded this week showed almost no carbon monoxide particles at all for most of the day.  Just a spike of about 90 PPM at the very end of the recording period for about 20 minutes.  Other homes that we saw data for were even better, with levels below 30 PPM.  So you can see that the stoves make a huge impact in the quality of air breathed in the homes.


It seems like we keep setting out to do work, and then as we're wrapping up something amazing happens in the last moment.  Our timing is pretty spectacular, to say the least. 

This morning we woke up before dawn to pick up a smoke and CO2 detector from a woman's home to add it to the data that IC is gathering.  As we were downloading the data on a computer, Kisioki took a look outside, saw that dawn was breaking, and asked us if we wanted to go see a circumcision ceremony happening in another part of the village.  

We raced over and got out of the jeep to see a circle of men next to the central focus of the boma - the wooden pen where cattle is kept.  Women aren't allowed to see the circumcision ceremony, which is the focal point of a boy becoming a man, but they gather around outside the circle of men and ululate as each circumcision is completed.  Through the crowd, we could see the boys being brought out one at a time, stripped of the black wrap they were wearing, splashed with a bucket of water (and let me add, it was VERY cold up in the mountains where we were at), at which point they kicked the bucket away and were led into the waiting circle to be circumcised.  The boy is not allowed to move at all while the circumcision is occurring, otherwise he'll bring his family shame.  The mothers, outside the circle of men, are all crying in sympathy for the pain that their sons must endure, but everyone understands that this is a test, that the life of a warrior is hard and painful, and that by being brave through this moment, that the boys are proving themselves.

We only caught the last few circumcisions, at which point I thought that things were over and that we would leave.  Wrong.  We were immediately steered over to a nearby home where two costumed girls and some older women were singing and dancing rhythmically.  After a few songs, the older men came out and sat in a semi-circle, drinking honey beer while the women continued dancing and splashing the women with the drink. One of the men offered Erica his glass which she took a sip of.  The people around us were clearly pleased, because they all smiled encouragingly as she drank. It was at that moment that I realized that Erica is significantly more adventurous than I am, because I was completely intimidated by the suspicious-looking fluid that we had originally thought was urine.  The dead bees floating in it didn't help. 

Again, I thought that the ceremony was over, but what we hadn't realized was that a wedding/engagement was also about to happen.   

A group of warrior men came out stomping and changing and formed a pressing semi-circle around the home that the girl had retreated into with her mother and some other women. As they chanted and stomped their spears into the ground, individual men would jump into the circle and then jump back out.  Erica and I had the most incredible view of this show, because we had been pushed to the front of the watching crowd.  The husband-to-be, dressed in full costume with feathers on top of his head and a decorated spear, accompanied by a similarly attired friend of his, started advancing towards the house in an intimidating way, shaking his spears.  One by one, the man and his friend entered the home and came back out.  The ceremony ended after the women came out and danced their way over to the men.

Before we left, we watched some of the men bleed a cow so that the recently circumcised men could drink its blood and then lead it off to slaughter for a feast.

And this all happened before breakfast.

Some pics!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Nane Nane Festival and Cows Gallore!

So after 18 minutes of trying to get to this webpage at Karibou Cafe, we're finally ready to post.

Today was the first full day in Tanzania.  We're staying in a very small town called the Monduli District that is a central point of a lot of villages.  It's about an hour away from Arusha, the nearest city.  That's where we spent most of the day today at the Nane Nane Festival.  The festival is for the districts in the Arusha area to showcase various agricultural and technological innovations that they're trying to spread in the area.  We went with some Maasai women who were there to demonstrate the effectiveness of the stoves that they build vs. just using an open fire. It was pretty cool to see the side-by-side comparison; there was hardly any smoke escaping from the stove, while the open fire was pretty difficult to stand by because it was soooo smokey (and this was outside, so imagine what it would be like inside someone's home). Even when the stove top was open with a pot on top of it, it still didn't leak smoke.  You could also tell that the stove used a lot less firewood than the open fire; I think that the number is around a third of the amount needed for the open fire.  Earlier in the morning, we also got to see the area where the stoves are constructed.  More on that in the next post.

The place was PACKED with people, especially school children in uniform.  They were pretty enthusiastic about asking me to take their pictures and very modelesque in their poses.  The kids also really enjoyed practicing their English - we were pretty much hit with "good mornings" and "hellos" from every side all day.  People here are clearly very friendly.  But that's not to say that we didn't also get a lot of surprised calls of "muzungu" (basically means white person).  To be fair, we were pretty much the only muzungu in the whole festival, so I can see why we stood out a bit.

We've been learning (trying to?) a lot of Swahili while we've been here.  So far we've got Jambo (hello), asante sana (thank you very much), karibu (welcome), and a few more. Stephanie's basically fluent at this point.  Some of the Maasai women who build the stoves have been especially patient teachers, feeding us word after word that we have no clue about the meaning of but repeat back.  It's actually a successful method.

Kisioki, the project manager and our host here is pretty incredible.  He's made us feel super karibu and has taught us a lot about the stove building process and the local culture.

Pictures to come in the next post, (hopefully).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Safe in Kilimanjaro

About to go through immigration. Met some fascinating scientists on the plane and got lots of helpful tips. 

More tomorrow!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Amsterdam Layover

At the Amsterdam airport! Spending a few hours here before our flight to Kilimanjaro.

Here's Erica taking a nap in the epic children's lounge (seriously, we're next to a "kids forest" and I keep hearing wild animal calls coming out of there):

It's time...!

We're here at the airport, last American meal in our bellies. I'm trying to get Erica to have fun, but she won't stop lesson planning! Kidding. But we are really excited to see what this crazy adventure has in store for us.

We'll be flying to Amsterdam and then after a layover, off to Kilimanjaro! 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Thank you Fund for Teachers and International Collaborative!

Before this whole thing starts tomorrow, Erica and I would like to give some shout-outs to the two organizations that are making this trip happen.

First of all, big thanks to Fund for Teachers.  Fund for Teachers supports educators' efforts to develop skills, knowledge and confidence that impact student achievement. By trusting teachers to design unique fellowships, Fund for Teachers grants validate teachers' professionalism and leadership, as well. Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has invested $20 million in more than 5,500 teachers, transforming grants into growth for teachers and their students.  You can check out their website here:

While we're in Tanzania, we're going to be researching the implementation of smoke-reducing, energy efficient stoves in Maasai homes.  The plan is to bring back primary sources and develop an engaging cross-disciplinary, problem-based unit about sustainable practices for our students.

The only reason that we're even able to consider doing this research is all thanks to International Collaborative.  The International Collaborative aims to provide a better, healthier life for the rural world and a cleaner environment for all.  They reduce indoor smoke in the homes of pastoral people in the developing world, caused by the use of indoor cooking fires.  International Collaborative replaces the fires with stoves and chimneys that use ninety percent less wood, benefiting families and the environment.  Read more about their work at their website:

Thank you so much FFT and IC! 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Getting Ready!

The big trip is finally happening!  Just two more days until we leave Boston.  Visas have been acquired, dozens of vaccines have been endured, malaria pills have been started.  Just need to pack our bags and we'll be good to go.

Tanzania, get ready for us!