Touring With Kelsey

Stone Town door

Stone Town door

It’s a couple days after Christmas and Kelsey and I are at a resort on the East Coast of the Unguja island of Zanzibar. We spent two days in Stone Town experiencing the literally falling down buildings and plentiful shops. An average of six buildings collapse each year in Stone Town due to a combination of neglect and being made of limestone (thus the town’s name), which deteriorates when exposed to moisture.

The House of Wonders held up by a crane

The House of Wonders held up by a crane

This year, one of the largest and most famous buildings in town, the House of Wonders, had the back collapse because a toilet had been leaking for 10 years and was never fixed. Finally, the drip, drip deteriorated the limestone enough that the back of the building collapsed. In this photo, you can see the crane that is currently holding it up. Ahhh, Africa!

In the infinity pool on Christmas

In the infinity pool on Christmas

But now we are on the coast and it is absolutely gorgeous here with turquoise waters, white sands and tonight, a full moon. We are staying at a lovely small resort called Shooting Star. However, so as not to neglect the challenges, it’s also hot and humid and I’ve gotten thoroughly munched by a variety of bugs.  I’m afraid my skin is not really cut out for this sort of paradise.

For Christmas, there was a band playing.  After Kelsey headed off to bed, I danced a couple songs with some of the resort staff and was instantly bathed in sweat.

Female Sex Tourism
Zanzibar is known for its female sex tourism, meaning foreign women come here looking for African men. The reverse is not true, I gather, because the 90% Muslim population restricts the women too much to receive that sort of attention whereas it restricts men not at all (I highly recommend Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel about her Muslim upbringing in Africa).

Stone Town sunset

Stone Town sunset

The men seem primed for this sort of behavior and though I was only interested in dancing for a few minutes because it was Christmas and I like dancing, I quickly had a fellow gyrating suggestively in front of me. It was an interesting experience but I extricated myself, thanked him, and headed to bed (by myself). The fact is that most of the men only come up to my chin so I’ll need to wait until Holland opens up for female sex tourism (the Dutch are the tallest people in the world). It could be a long wait!

Diving Up a Storm

Kelsey sunning herself on the roof of the dive boat

Kelsey sunning herself on the roof of the dive boat, Mnemba island in background.

After having an amazing experience diving off of Mafia Island last week before Kelsey arrived, including snorkeling with whale sharks, I’m now diving off Zanzibar while Kelsey learns. She is finding it exhausting but she successfully completed her Open Water certification this afternoon. Yay!

The sea life here is not as plentiful as around Mafia but there is still a lot to see. Yesterday, at the end of my second dive, I saw a male and female frogfish. The guide insisted that the female was pregnant though how he could tell that, I have no idea. What incredibly odd looking creatures!



They are quite ugly and have a slightly human look to them around the mouth. To me, it’s a real treat to get up close and personal with such beings but I hope I don’t come back as a frogfish in my next life. I’m still a bit too vain for that!

Safari Njema (Safe Travels)
Our next stop will be our Northern safari and we are excited. However, a guest at this resort showed us the bites she got from the tse tse flies in Tarangire Park which is our first stop. They looked pretty serious, big welts with red circles around them, so we are on high alert and know not to wear the color blue or grey as it attracts them. This woman had not been informed and was wearing blue, immediately becoming a target for these huge, biting flies.  I’m hoping we can dodge that bullet. Stay tuned!


Language Lessons

Last Saturday was the year closing celebration at Sega. There was dancing by the girls and an appearance by and speech from the Member of Parliament from Morogoro.

On Sunday, the first day of my month off, I drove 4 ½ hours West to Iringa to do 4 days of intensive Kiswahili language training at the Iringa Language School and to stay at the Rivervalley Campsite with whom they have a partnership. Their full program is 4 months long but I only have time for 4 days. Oh well, better than nothing I suppose. Tomorrow is my fourth and last day and I’ve really enjoyed it.

For one thing, Iringa is at a higher elevation than Morogoro and is, therefore, cooler. It is green and hilly and there are huge boulders strewn everywhere. If I knew anything about geology, I’d have something intelligent to say about this but I don’t, except that it makes for pretty and unusual countryside.

Rivervalley is on a meandering, muddy brown river with giant boulders (and by giant, I mean some of them are as big as a house) strewn around the property.

My classroom banda at Rivervalley taken from nearby boul

My classroom banda at Rivervalley. Photo taken from one of the many giant boulders.

Many of the buildings are made of stone, a material that is easy to come by, and all the buildings have wonderful thatched roofs. The owner of the camp, a white, native Tanzanian man, died earlier this year and his wife and daughter are now running Rivervalley. Kerrie, the daughter, also runs her own safari company, Warthog Advenures, which takes tours to Ruaha National Park. I hope to go there sometime next year.

Despite it being called a camp, I am not camping. I am staying in a new, three-unit banda (building) constructed of stone and wood and each unit has a generous bathroom with modern fixtures including a huge shower with HOT water (yahoo!). The water is heated using a solar hot-water heater even though the building is hooked up to the ever-unreliable Tenesco grid.

Inside my room at Rivervalley

Inside my room at Rivervalley

However, some people do come here to camp and a yesterday, I met a group of teenage boys and their two leaders from New Zealand who were camping as well as two families from South Africa, also camping. Both were on month long trips – people who come here to camp aren’t fooling around! I couldn’t help but think, rather wistfully, how unlikely it is that Fraser, my son, would seek out a trip like this as these kiwi boys have. He’s too busy playing beer pong, or studying for his CAD final, or possibly both.

Marvelous Mai
My teacher this week is named Mai (May).

Teacher Mai

Teacher Mai

What a coincidence that student April was assigned teacher May. Mai is 30 and has two sons, ages 6 and 1. She has been wonderful to learn from and, in addition to teaching me some Kiswahili, we have had many interesting talks about life, her plans for the future, what bothers her about Tanzania, and so forth. I have learned a lot from her.

Insect Delicacies
Today, I had the opportunity to sample two insect delicacies. The first was Senene, crickets that are fried with some curry powder, becoming crispy and delicious. Mai’s mother has a food business and one of the other language teachers had bought a container of them from her and let me try a couple.

Crickets - yumm!

Crickets – yumm!

Very tasty! Apparently, they are a popular delicacy among Hawa, the tribe of both Mai and the teacher who purchased them. At lunch, I also had some kombi kombi, a plentiful flying insect that is in large supply in my room this evening (and very annoying since I cannot figure out how they are getting in). Abel, a missionary fellow staying here at Rivervalley with his wife and three young children, collected them. When I asked him how he found so many kombi kombi, he responded, “By being awesome.” They were tasty too but I prefer the meatier crickets.

Lovely Lizards
My favorite siting this week has been the lizards that hang out on the boulders. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe male version of these lizards is the most incredible color. His head is bright orange while his body is a brilliant turquoise. It’s not easy to get a photo as he scares easily but I learned to sit very still in one place until he forgets about me and today I was able to snap several shots of him as he came out from the crack in the boulder. The female lizards are the color of the rocks so blend in and are totally uninteresting in comparison. The guys are the show offs. No surprise there!

Tomorrow, I have my last 4 ½ hours of private language lessons and then jump in the RAV 4 and head back to Morogoro to get ready for my next adventure.

Fun In The Sun!

What To Do?

So, what does one do for fun in Morogoro? Well, there’s not much on the cultural front – no movies, live music, theater, hot new restaurants or any of the other activities I frequent in the Bay Area. There are lots of pubs for drinking in the evening but they are generally full of young, Tanzanian men so not that inviting for a middle-aged mzungu (white) woman like me. There is nice hiking so that’s an option on a weekend. But, in order to really enjoy the good life, it’s important to go to some of the beautiful places around the country and there are many.

Off To The Beach

A few weeks ago, four of us volunteers headed to the beach just North of Dar es Salaam for the weekend.

Gazing out to sea from the banda.

Gazing out to sea from the banda.

On Saturday morning, we took a 20-minute boat ride to Mbudya Island, part of the marine reserve off of Dar.  On the boat with us were 5 Chinese fellows who are here working on the railroad that goes from Tanzania to Zambia. I told them I hadn’t seen a train since I’d been here so I thought they had some work to do.

Once there, we staked out one of the thatched banda’s to keep the sun off.

Coral Reefs and Warm Water

Hot African sun burns fast!

Hot African sun burns fast!

I rented snorkel, mask, and fins and went snorkeling on the reef just off the island. The water is the perfect temperature for snorkeling, almost too warm, and the fish and the coral were beautiful and varied.

We ordered fried whole fish and chips for lunch and it was tasty. There are interesting looking boats that I assume are used for fishing and they reminded me a bit of some I’d seen decades ago in the harbor in Hong Kong.  They come out soon after the sun rises in the morning at 6am and I saw them both at Mbudya and from our hotel on the mainland.

Reminds me of Hong Kong somehow.

Diving for Shells

Walking on the beach looking for shells, I met a fellow named Samuel who had gone out in his kayak and found several sea animals including these sea snails. He was selling them for 2,000 shillings each (about $1.30) so I bought one thinking what a wonderful souvenir the shell would make.  He cleared the snail out and gave me the shell but warned me, using hand gestures, to put it in a bag.  I thought his warning was in order to protect the outside of the beautiful shell.

Samuel, the diver

Samuel, the diver

When I got back to our spot on the beach, I carefully wrapped the shell in my scarf and tucked it in my bag. By the time we got back to the mainland, after the two fellows operating the outboard motor scared us all to death by having it die offshore and taking forever to re-start it, my snail shell was stinking to high heaven.

Stinking Snail Slime!

Back at my hotel room, I saw that the snail slime had leaked onto my scarf and was almost impossible to remove. Now I understood that he had been telling me to put the shell in a bag not to protect the shell but to protect anything that it might leak onto. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I then put it in a plastic bag and dutifully carried it all the way back to Sega on the hot, crowded, sweaty 4-hour bus ride the next day. Once here, it continued stinking so badly, even from outside the house, that I had to go and hide it under a tree 50 yards away from my window. That was a couple weeks ago and I hope it’s still there but, if not, it might be a blessing in disguise.  I learned after telling a friend about my purchase that most of the coral reefs off Africa have been destroyed by explosives, used to mine their goodies.  Now I feel bad for having contributed to any further denuding by buying that shell.

My Next Adventure
My next fun in the sun will be in two weeks when I go to Mafia Island with Polly, Sega’s founder, and her husband and young daughter. We will fly there from Dar in order to snorkel with the whale sharks and do some diving. Then Kelsey, my daughter, arrives on December 21 and she and I will have 6 days on Zanzibar including some diving followed by a safari to the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro crater in the North of Tanzania. I can’t wait and neither can she. It’s snowing in Montreal!