By Erin Kesler, Boston College
The last two days have been a real whirlwind. The Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS) program is structured to provide two full days of orientation and as a first time international traveler, I can say it’s much appreciated. On Sunday, we were provided a brief overview of the home base, our available amenities, daily schedules, and took a tour of the two houses on our guarded property: Kibo and Mawenzi. Mawenzi is my house – and though I may be partial – the nicer of the two.
I had no idea I would have such comfortable living conditions while in Africa. The living room has a TV with a VHS and DVD player to watch movies. There’s a resource center with books, flashcards, and materials for the volunteers teaching in schools – most of the CCS volunteers. Along with a phone, a weighing scale (thank goodness), and an ironing board, there is a computer with a very good internet connection (once again, THANK GOODNESS). After the house tour, we chatted and got to know each other a little bit before going to bed. A flight of over 20 hours can really take a toll on you.
My first night in Africa was memorable to say the least. Luckily, I’m rooming with three volunteers who have already been here three weeks so they are very helpful. I showered using borrowed toiletries and changed back into the same outfit I had worn on my overnight plane flight. I hand-washed my only pair of underwear in the shower, and hung them off my bed to dry (Note: Erin’s luggage did not make it to the airport in Kilimanjaro). I took the only available bed left in the room – the top bunk. The ladder is not properly connected and swings whenever I try to climb into bed, making a very loud and irritating noise for my roommates. Once in bed, the mosquito net is a top priority I soon learned. The net hangs from hooks on the ceiling and must be tightly tucked in on all sides to keep out the malaria-carrying insects that buzz around inside of the house. Surprisingly, I’ve been fairly lucky with the mosquitoes and haven’t found them to be the disturbance I thought they would be. I think I only have one bite! I slept for two hours and than woke up. Oh, jet lag.
For the next four hours I laid in bed staring at the ceiling and peeking out the window. The sounds were outrageous, yet amazing: roosters crowing, barking, howling, the 5 a.m. Muslim call to prayer, footsteps of the guards, and sounds of the cooks preparing breakfast. I could already foresee myself not having much difficulty waking up early throughout my stay.
Breakfast was delicious. I had scrambled eggs and a muffin that tasted like cake. I hope this is not a sign that maintaining my weight will be a struggle in Africa. After breakfast, I proceeded to change into the outfit I had packed in my carry-on thanks to my persistent mom. I went to get my underwear to iron, to ensure there were no fly eggs (a common problem in Tanzania), but they were still soaking wet. I got the idea to use a blow dryer to dry the underwear and ironed them with my hair straightener because I couldn’t figure out how to plug the house’s iron into the wall. As I put on my underwear, I really hoped that I hadn’t missed any fly eggs. The thought of fly eggs burrowing into that particular location didn’t rest well with me and made me glad that I had packed 21 pairs of underwear in my suitcase.
Following my underwear debacle and a brief introduction to the program, we loaded into the CCS vans for our town tour of Moshi. As we drove toward town, I expected to see Mount Kilimanjaro towering over the town, but learned that cloud coverage over the peak is common. Two main roads run through Moshi, which is structured around two traffic circles, known as the Water for Life roundabout and the clock tower roundabout. The town is nicer than I expected, but still a culture shock unlike anything I have ever experienced. There were bars, restaurants, and hotels but they seemed otherworldly compared to the view of the Boston skyline that I’m familiar with. Everything has a run-down, dusty look, but from the standpoint of a “Mzungo,” it was truly awe-inspiring.
One of the first things I realized as we stepped out of the van was the hoard of men following us, selling Tanzanian souvenirs. During the two-hour city tour, the vendors tried to sell bracelets, jewelry, and etchings on banana leaf paper. They followed us to the building where we exchanged our American currency (USD) for Tanzanian Shillings (TSH) – and never left our side.
I have no idea what the conversion rate between USD to TSH is, and assuming prices were inflated because of our “Mzungo” stupidity, I avoided buying anything the first day. Women lined the street selling fruit, vegetables, shoes, clothing, and fabric. People were also seen begging along the side of the road with unidentifiable health conditions and deformities. I immediately felt guilty of being unable to help all of those that looked at me with a look I could only interpret as desperation.
After the exhausting town tour (I discovered the sun in Africa puts the sun in Florida to shame), we went to a visit an art gallery. I never thought I could be as hot as I am on a muggy, sweltering afternoon in Orlando but I was wrong. The artist gave us a brief lesson in the creation of his paintings which involved a process using wax and dyes. The artwork was beautiful and featured African landscapes, animals, and people. We will get a chance to make these ourselves later in the trip.
Dinner was delectable. It’s a relief to know that I won’t be eating protein bars, almonds, and cheese crackers for the majority of my meals. The dinner consisted of rice, vegetables, and pork which were in a curry-like sauce. Eating at CCS is a bonding experience and gives everyone a chance to sit down and talk about the day together at long tables under the pavilion in between the two houses. It’s comforting to be surrounded by people who are all very different, yet share similar outlooks on the world and what they hope to accomplish in their life.
After dinner, we were picked up by a tour company – Pristine Safaris – for refreshments and a safari information session. Nearly our entire group booked a three-day, two-night safari to Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara. We will leave this Friday after lunch and am already so excited, that I’m having trouble sleeping! We also started preliminary planning for our trip to Zanzibar for the following weekend. At the information session, I was also informed about a one-day Kilimanjaro hike that allows you to gain tremendous views and get acquainted with the mountain when you are working with a limited time frame. I hope to get the opportunity to squeeze in the one-day climb as some consolation for not being able to summit.
Catch Part Two of “Orientation in Moshi” next week!