Okay my little hiatus is over, folks. I’m back! Three weeks in Tanzania was a great experience and, while my return to Kibungo has meant four days of dodgy stomach, it can only mean one thing…..my body is ridding itself of all the varied and wonderful food I had a chance to eat in preparation for another eight months of Rwandan-style cuisine (ie. Carbs, carbs, carbs, a few beans, carbs, some meat and more carbs). Now, three weeks of no writing means my creative energy is just waiting to spill over onto this page. So, if you’re more of a visual learning you may wish to skip the next four pages and wait for the photos which will be following shortly.
We left Kigali at 6am on the Taqwa bus line (which I think means “spider” in Kiswahili and while I hate spiders it was a much better name than the unfortunately translated “Southern Cock” bus line I saw rolling along the Tanzanian country side). Taqwa’s reputation is about as dodgy as my stomach and since my arrival back in Tanzania I’ve heard since that they’ve had a fatal crash in both December and January (and we’re only 10 days in). Still, we lucked out because our drivers were safe (for African standards) and we managed to safely avoid hitting cows, dogs and people the entire way. I only witnessed one cash transaction between driver and police on the way back and what it was for, I don’t want to know.
Dar es Salaam proved to be the hottest place I’ve visited in my entire life. Luckily with had “air-con” and so sleeping was comfortable but we started to sweat the moment we left the room and didn’t stop until we returned. The city is busy and while the traffic doesn’t quite match that of La Paz, it certainly is a far cry from Kigali and an even farther cry from little ole Kibungo. The danger is not the number of the vehicles on the road, however, it’s the fact that they drive on the left and I continually looked the wrong way when crossing the street. Christine and I took to following Karen across who is from Ireland and used to driving the wrong way….. Immediately when we crossed the border at Rusumo (two hours from my house) I engaged in one of the best activities of the whole trip – eating in public!!! Unlike Rwanda, you can eat on the street when you’re hungry. This continued in Dar and on the island. So great. The food in Dar was amazing. We were only there for two days but we ate Indian food – the best of which we found at a Badminton Institute of Dar. Honestly…it’s not just its name but it’s an actual place. Like a golf club or a curling club, the Badminton Institute serves great dishes and the muzungus are few and far between. One night we headed over to the Kilimanjero Kapinski Level 8 bar to watch the sun set over the harbour. We paid too much for drinks but got free appetizers. We then remember that we were volunteers with a limited budget and headed elsewhere for dinner.
On December 23rd we hopped on the Flying Horse slow ferry to cross the sea to Zanzibar. All recommendations suggested taking the slow ferry but the fast ferry (shorter by an hour) has a reputation of causing even the best sea traveller to loose their lunch over the side. Once on board we settled in and met two other VSO volunteers from the UK who work in Tanzania. Karen knew them already so we made plans to meet up later in Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar. The swells of the water started to make me feel my lunch and so I took a Gravol and laid back for a rest. I woke a few hours later (to a cockroach paying me a little visit) and the island slowly coming into view. We got off the boat and made it through the crowds to our hotel. The island has not had power for a month ever since the cable to the main land power source blew up but most hotels were running on generators and the budget ones that we were staying at would have power from sundown until midnight. It made for hot nights when the fans shut off. Hot like I’ve never felt! I’m sure the temperature reached 40 or so during the day! Nothing like a heat rash to cover up the bed bug bites from Kibungo.
Stone Town is a great little place full of alleys and corners and turns that you could easily get lost. It’s predominately Muslim and while we wanted to walk around in tank tops and shorts, we couldn’t so we continued to sweat – all in an attempt to respect local culture. For dinner we enjoyed Fordani Gardens which combined two things I’d been missing – great food and eating it outside!!! We met the other VSO volunteers and a Zanzibar VSO for drinks at a local Rasta bar – because in addition to Muslims there is a strong Rasta culture alive and well- and then to another local haunt with banana trees growing next to the bar. The next morning we caught a Dalla-Dalla to the northern beach town of Nungwi. This local transport (which is essentially a flat bed truck with seats in the back and roof over top) cost us about $1.50 compared to the $10 private taxis that were available. AND they were much more fun. We met a bunch of locals who gave us free Kiswahili lessons on our way.
We arrived to Nungwi guesthouse and was greeted by Ayisha, the girl that helps the owner – Bakhtim – as well as three British girls on a gap year who were working in Arusha. They convinced Bakhtim to go into Stone Town and shell out for Christmas decorations and even a tree, as well as a bunch of food for Christmas dinner. He was so welcoming even if he was permanently stoned. We got our bearings and without even unpacking, put on our swimsuits and bee lined through the ritzy British owned resort hotels filled with Italians, the to crystal clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Ahhhh….this is good! Christmas Eve was spent eating a great dinner on the white sand of the ocean. We went to bed that night without heading to Mass, leaving cookies for Santa or reading “The Night Before Christmas”. As sad as this sounds, it was awfully hard to remember that it was Christmas Eve. Without my friends and family and snow on the ground, my parents gigantic nativity scene and “Joy to the World” playing as the priest leaves the church at Mass, it just isn’t really Christmas……
The next morning we woke, peered out at the street blow to a ground covered in white, fluffy snow! I threw open the shutters and asked to a boy walking along what day it was. “It’s Christmas Day!” he shouted and I danced around shouting “I haven’t missed it! I haven’t missed it!” So I threw the boy a few pence to go a fetch the biggest turkey he could find……
Okay, no. Wait. None of that happened. No snow. No throwing open the shutters. It was raining. Heavily. Pouring. All morning. Santa had delayed his arrival until later on in the night. We lazed around until the rain stopped and when the sky cleared we headed to the beach. The day was spent doing a lot of nothing which I’m sure it was for most of you back home, albeit with a few differences. Christine had a refresher dive because we’d planned to forego Boxing Day shopping at the nearest malls (ahem, there are none) and go out on the water. After which we met the dive instructors for a beer and an annoying Brit who felt he was hilarious by insulting all of Quebeckers to Christine. Hilarious. Back to the hotel to shower and change and exchange Christmas gifts around the Christmas tree my mom sent me from Canada and which I packed ot the coast. I had my Ipod and Christine had speakers so we put on “Christmas in Killareny” for Karen from Ireland and “Il est ne” for Christine. Dinner was put on by Bakhtim and his lesser stoned friend, who’s name escapes me and it was a feast! Red snapper, chicken, vegetables. Chips, Zanzibar donuts and a miread of other tasty treats. A day of swimming and lying around reading tired us out and we headed to bed early for a big day following.
Boxing Day usually meant for me getting up early and arriving at Sport Chek (ie. The store from hell) to sell jackets from two seasons ago for ridiculously cheap prices but that would still make John Forzani able to make his mortgage payments for his ridiculously large house. We’d work for 12 hours, never get overtime and only short breaks but the commissions were good and I could usually make it last until the end of January. But today….no Sport Chek! No crazy malls. No cranky customers complaining that this or that should be cheaper because they saw it in the flyer only to be told that there was actually one left in the entire city and it was at another store across town and surely sold by now…..No, none of that.
We were going diving. Okay, the girls were going to diving and I was going snorkeling for the first time. The water was clear, the sun was hot and my sunscreen was SPF 50. No lie. They got in and I eventually worked my way into the water. I was nervous and scared but managed to see a few schools of fish, a snake and a jelly fish in my face that caused me to panic and come up for air. I snorkeled with a crazy Brazillian lady who was adamant that she didn’t need fins but she just flailed away holding on the boat and freaking out whenever any of the guides touched her. We saw dolphins (and dove into follow them, with no luck) and an island called Mtembe that has nice diving near by but if plan on stepping on the island it will cost you about $1000. It’s where the rich and famous stay. I pretended that the boat at the dock belonged to Brad and Angelina where they would go after slumming it trying to save the continent of Africa and where they could spend thousands a night for some luxury. They day went on and the heat started to get to me. The experience was good but I woke up the next day with heat stroke and spent most of the day in bed. Awesome.
The next few days one or two of us happened to be always sick and so we really didn’t do a whole lot. Christine and I managed to sneak in some kayaking and we eventually had to move to the “Romantic Bungalows” which included a jerk of an “owner” who asked for a $100 deposit, which we refused. I’m sure the place has been closed for months but Eddie (no really, that’s his name) just opened to cash in on the high season. He was rude, the place smelled of mildew including the bed and pillows, they wouldn’t change the sheets, when we inquired why the generators wasn’t working and when it would he only made excuses, there was no power, the breakfast was crawling with ants, we had to finally change our own sheets, the power was never fixed and the last straw was when the water went out for good. When we found what looked like mouse crap on the bed and finally got Eddie around to look at this he laughed at us and told us that only white people would think it was mouse crap but it’s cotton and that we didn’t know anything. At which point my voice raised and explained to him in less than a friendly way what I actually thought about his Romantic Bungalows. About the only thing romantic was the elderly Russian couple next door who would return from the beach each afternoon for a mid day romp and would exit to share a cigarette on our shared veranda. Eew. Although,when they heard me getting sick they were kind enough to give me some medicine as he was a doctor, and in broken English give me instructions. Instead, I had a local doctor come visit give me a malaria test (negative) and tell me it was just bad dehydration. My nurse maids, Chrsitine and Karen, took great care of me and the next morning I felt good enough to find us another place to stay for New Year’s Eve and Christine and I left the Romantic Bungalows refusing to pay for the second night to which Eddie replied “You won’t get away with this at another hotel.” To which I replied “Another hotel wouldn’t smell like mildew and lie to us about having power and water.”
New Year’s Eve was great! We got a bungalow near Mang’s bar (the hangout in Nungwi) and feasted on a great meal, met a Canadian, some New Zealanders and a muzungu raised in Kenya. We ate on the beach under a full moon with a bonfire in the distance and a fire dancer at about midnight. I was treated to texts from my friends in Kibungo and even a phone call from Patrick, my moto driver. Christine and Karen headed to another bar at about 2am but I had hit my limit and went to bed.
The next morning we headed back to Stone Town on another dalla-dalla for a few days. We managed to sneak in a trip to see Red Colobus monkies in the Jozani forest and Christine and I took a dalla-dalla and met man on the road who gave us a tour of a spice farm near Stone Town. Christine was an expert at guessing from the smell only. We saw ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, lemon grass, vanilla (who know something so wonderful was a parasite?), jack fruit, start fruit, coconuts and the darling of Zanzibar, cloves. Back to Dar for a few days and one more meal at the Badminton Institute and then another 30 hour journey home on Taqwa which continued its tradition of bad Swahili t.v. shows or loud, bass thumping African music from 7am until 11pm and again at 6am. Crossing the border at Rusumo felt like coming home and when the bus pulled up in front of my house at noon I was welcomed with open arms – literally – by the gang at the motor cycle co-op. I’ve since been enjoying my home, my town and my friends in Kibungo. It was a great trip and the first time I got to see clear blue water. See, I’ve never been to Cuba or the Dominican or Mexico…..no folks, Zanzibar was my first taste of clear, warm sea water. And while I don’t think hot, tropical islands are for me (sea sickness, heat rash, sun stroke and dehydration…..) I didn’t mind floating, in the warm water and watching the sun set in the horizon for the last time in 2009. No, there are worse ways to spend the holidays, that’s for sure.