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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The End

The most difficult part of a Peace Corps service is ending it…

Don’t worry, contrary to what the title of this post is called, this will not be my last post, but it will be my last post in Tanzania, as I am currently at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam.  A few big things have happened the last few weeks (chronological order):

  1. I finally did an interschool science competition with my favorite students (my Form IVs)
  2. I taught my last class
  3. Steve and I had a going away party at my house
  4. I was a host PCV for a few “shadows” (brand new PCTs from the Ed 2014 class)
  5. I said my final goodbyes to my village and school, which they made into a “sherehe” [party]
  6. I got my “R”

Science Competition

Before I left, I promised to do a science competition with my Form IV students, who I have taught since my first year as a PCV.  I wanted to hold to that promise, so I contracted a “traveling science man” for the job – Steve!  (As part of his extension, he went around to different PCVs’ schools and provided all of the necessary supplies and the planning for science conferences and competitions.)

Beth Behrens, another PCV in Tukuyu, also wanted to do a science conference since our last Critical Thinking Mbeya Conference, so this time we did one with just our two schools (my schoool, Mwatisi, and her school, Kayuki Secondary).  Steve brought the supplies and all Beth and I had to do was find a venue, which was easy since she teaches at an all-girls boarding school!  All was set, I took nine of my students (three females and six males) to Kayuki Secondary, and we had a two-day science conference for a total of 21 Form IV students!

We did the famous Egg Drop, Shika Express demonstrations, a Water Transport competition where they had to build a system that could transport the most water in two minutes using only a set number of supplies [awesome!], scientific method experiments, and science fair-type presentations.  The students LOVED it!!!  We even made sure to go over some NECTA topics in the midst of the activities.

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Egg Drop and Water Transport Competitions

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Science Fair Projects and Presentations

I also had the Biology teacher from my school, “Mwalimu” [teacher] Chawala, go with me so I could further promote the Shika na Mikono teaching and learning methods.  :)  And it definitely worked!  Now at least one more Tanzanian teacher will be trying to incorporate hands-on activities and LASM-made teaching aids!

The whole conference was a success and my students were thrilled to get to work with more students from a different school!  Many of them exchanged contacts on the last day, and all the students got a positive boost of energy before taking their Mock Form IV NECTA/Regional Exams.

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Last Class Day and Going Away Party

The last day of classes were jam-packed with practice Physics and Chemistry practicals.  I wanted to prepare them as much as possible for the NECTA, and one of the best ways is to go over practicals again and again, since they are worth so much.  On the last day of teaching for me, we talked about life and about how proud I was of them, and to me that was just as important as teaching them how to perform an accurate volumetric analysis practical.  When we ended class and I told them how much I would miss them, my heart had never felt so warmed by their kind words of saying they would always remember me.  I just about cried, but I didn’t…that happened a little later.  Haha.  I was honored to teach them and I cannot wait to see what they do with their lives.  :]

Immediately following my last class day, the Form IV students had to take their Mock Exams.  I again prepared the lab for Physics and Chemistry, and I got to wear my lab coat for the last time.  After that was said and done, the party started!

Steve and I had decided a while ago that we would do a going away party at my site before we left.  We had to give The Cabin one last hurrah, and that was the perfect opportunity!  We also knew we wanted to decorate the house, so we figured why not make it a themed party?  And the theme of the party was….
CHRISTMAS!  :P

Both Steve and I love Christmas, I had TONS of Christmas decorations from packages sent to me, and I was going to miss celebrating Christmas with a few folks in country, so we decided to just move it up a few months lol!  Besides, we cooked a feast big enough to be a Christmas feast and we just wanted an excuse to cut down one of the many pine trees that I had been surrounded by my whole service.

It was a great turnout!  Five other PCVs were able to make it and we cooked A LOT of food!  In the course of the two nights, we made and ate: hashbrowns, banana pancakes, guacamole with chips, hummus, pita bread, mashed potatoes, gravy, Thai pork spicy basil fried rice, fried eggs (Thai style), corn chili, fried sweet pork with rice, eggnog, kettle corn, and fried hotdogs.  If Steve and I could cook all those things in Tanzania from scratch, think of what we could do in America!  [I cannot wait to cook in America!]  Everyone was sick of food by the time they left my house lol.  I guess food-pushing really does run in the family!  ;)

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We also had a monstrous bonfire the last night, and we took PC family Christmas pictures by the Christmas tree which Steve and I made ornaments for and decorated before everyone got there!

Shadow Week and School Sherehe

Everyone, including myself, left my house after the party on Sunday early morning because it was time for SHADOW WEEK!  Mbeya got a crazy number of PCTs this year (13 total) and I was shadowed by five of those shadows.  Luckily, I had some help the first couple of days from Beth with the two sites near Kyela (a town near Malawi), so I only had three shadows going back to my site with me.  Yes, THREE, because one PCT (Allison) will be replacing Steph and a married couple will be replacing me!  Yay!!  My headmistress and I requested a married couple and we were so thankful to get what we wished for.  Their names are Chris and Ali Spangler, and they will be teaching math and science subjects!  :D  I love all three of them so much and we all got to know each other quite well before I left.  I am sad that I only got to know them for a short time (one week) but I am sure that we will definitely keep in touch until they get back to the states too!

Allison is from Arlington, Texas, which was so exciting for me because she and I got really close, and the Spanglers are from Jersey.  I was so glad to have them be in Mwakaleli village and I already know that they will do great!  I feel so glad that Mwatisi will be left in such good hands.  :)

During shadow week in Mwakaleli and Kandete, not only were the school and village communities welcoming the new PCTs, they also took that time to say their last goodbyes to me.  I would be leaving my site for the last time on the same day that I went with the PCTs back to Mbeya.

That week of welcoming, saying bye, and packing was such a blur for me, but parts of it were very vivid.  One of which was when my school surprised me with a whole sharehe to say goodbye, which included performances, speeches, awards, and food.  There were two performances from my students, drums and a song in ENGLISH by two of my Form IV students.  I couldn’t help but shed a tear during their thoughtful song that they made up themselves to say thank you to me and sorry that I was leaving.  The water works actually started when I was giving a speech in Swahili to my school and my students.  I got emotional when I said that I was going to miss Mwatisi because it was my home for two years and that I felt so proud of them.  I also told them that each and every one of them were champions and that they can do whatever they want to if they just believe.  I looked straight at my Form IVs when I said that, and I meant every single word of it.  They were the reasons I was here and they were what kept me going on low-tolerance days.  And I thank them for my amazing experience here.

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Drum performance and me giving my speech

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My school and my students  :)

Another memory that stood out among the blur was saying goodbye to the Mwakibambos, my family in Kandete.  I hadn’t seen them in a while, but I knew I made the right choice to bid them farewell with guests under my wing – it prevented anyone from crying.  I knew I would not have been able to take it if Baba or Mama Mwakibambo started crying.

Baba and Mama loved Allison, Chris, and Ali and they were so thankful that I brought them to their home.  They said such lovely words about me as their daughter and their gift to them the past couple of years, and we said our goodbyes.  I know that my shadows loved them as well, and I am sure Baba and Mama are going to take such good care of them.

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I said my goodbyes to a few other villagers and community members, and the presence of my shadows definitely eased the pang in my chest as we drove away from my home and down the mountain.  Once we got to Tukuyu and met up with more shadows, the pang was gone entirely.  I gave a quick tour of Tukuyu to the seven Tukuyu/Kyela PCTs, we hopped on a coaster to Mbeya, toured Mbeya with the rest of the Mbeya region PCTs, and I sent them off to Iringa to go back to training.

All there was left to do was wait for Steve to fly to Dar and get my R.

Getting My R

Getting your R means that you are no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer – you get your “R” and become a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV).  It used to be that once you were done with your COS checklist (final VRF, closing grants, getting medically cleared, administrative paperwork, closing your bank account), it was very anticlimactic.  You would get your COS checklist signed and paperwork turned in, and that was it.  You got your R.

Now, once you get your paperwork done, you get to triumphantly and vivaciously ring a splendid bell in the main office, which reverberates off the walls as you become surrounded by ringing.  Then everyone who is at the office hears it and comes rushing up the stairs to give you congratulatory hugs and handshakes.  It was pretty cool.  :)  It was EB’s (our Country Director’s) touch to make it more obvious when another PCV closes his or her service.

Steve and I got to ring the bell together on Monday, September 15th and that was when both of us officially got our R’s.

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We celebrated the moment by eating frozen yogurt that day and boy was it delicious!  ;D

We were officially done and it still hadn’t hit us quite yet, but it is starting to become a reality now that we are sitting here early in the morning waiting for our flights to Ethiopia to start our trip around the world.

I will probably write a couple more posts on this blog once I get back to America, and maybe I will realize that my two years are up then, but regardless, this end is just the start of a new beginning.

One of these new beginnings can be followed here (belleandstevesexcellentadventure.blogspot.com) at mine and Steve’s new blog about our adventures around the world for two and a half months before we return back to the United States of America.

The greatest trip in the history of history!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bittersweet

The past couple of months have been riddled with goodbyes.

It all started with COS (Close of Service) Conference in May in Dar.
At every COS Conference, Peace Corps always takes the time and opportunity to “repay” us for our hard work, so they put us up in a beachside resort with free wi-fi, all-you-can-eat buffets, and air-conditioned rooms.  It is also when we do our final LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) so we know how our Swahili has progressed, recognize and thank the PC staff for their help through our service, do a quick “heads up” on what we will need to do when we actually close our service, pick our COS dates, and most importantly, figure out how to adjust back to America and say goodbye to our friends.

Although it’s not the final goodbye to everyone, it is the last time our whole class is together in one place.  Unfortunately, there may be a few people that I might not see again, not even when we are back in America (or wherever people end up).  :(

No matter how close or not so close you are to people in your Peace Corps class, you love all of them because you were in it together, for two years!  And it’s true – I will miss everyone so much!

One thing PC recruiters don’t really talk about during interviews is about the bonds you create with the widest variety of people.  I can definitely say that there are some people in my class that I do not think I would have been close friends with otherwise, but Peace Corps changed that.  And I love it!  Everyone comes from such a different background and has such different personalities, you all all have something in common – you served in Tanzania with the Peace Corps together.  I guess that’s also why PCVs tend to gravitate towards one another regardless of the country you served in – you can relate!  :)

At COS Conference, Kristine, my awesome twin, revealed our finished class T-shirts!  IT WAS WICKED!  (Many PC classes will design a T-shirt exclusive to their class and she was the designer of ours.)  She took everyone, including those who were no longer in country, and made a personalized stick figure to represent each person!  It was hilarious trying to figure out who was whom.  :D  We also did an awards show with nominees and different categories of superlatives like “Best Male Dancer” or “Site Rat” or “Most Likely to be Country Director” haha.  I was an announcer, which was pretty fun, but the best were Ben and Kyle as the MCs.  Fantastic!  :]

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We even Skyped-in some of our “lost brothers” during the awards show!  Ethan got “Best Dressed” so I was happy to get to give him his award via Skype!  :P

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As for the choosing of COS dates, which was the most anticipated thing all week, I bypassed the chaos of trying to COS first because I wasn’t in a rush, so I took the last possible date to COS.  (You can COS between 30 days before and 30 days after your swearing-in date.)  Since we swore-in on August 15 and it is required to have three consecutive week days for COS-ing to do medical appointments, I chose September 12th.  I wanted to stay a little later to give myself time to leave my site, stay long enough to see the new PCVs that just arrived in country on July 8th [HUZZAH!], be able to COS with Steve, and give myself time to travel after PC (on a slight budget).  Therefore, I will be the last person in my class to COS, excluding extendees.  Most of my class is actually leaving this month!

I’ve bid farewell to SO many people this month, including my twin, Ryan, and pretty much all of Mbeya…  I still can’t believe it!  (Luckily Ben isn’t leaving until the first week of September!)  I just wished Steph “happy trails” earlier last week (and her cat, “Parachichi” [avocado]).  Crazy how quickly everything wraps up.

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Our time here really does go by fast.  It’s just like what Tanzanians like to say, “Time is running!”  It is too true, and before I know it, September will be upon me like an avalanche, and then I’ll be off traveling for two and a half months!  I’m super excited to get to travel with Steve, but at the same time, I don’t know if I’m ready to leave my students, my school, my home…

It really is my home and I think I am a little afraid to leave it and a little afraid to go back to how my life was before Peace Corps.  I don’t want it to go back to how it exactly was though, so I don’t think it will be.

I am sure I’ll bounce back and forth the next few months between the bitter and the sweet, but all in all, I will never forget these past two years.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Update

I know I haven’t updated you all much since the last post about pests around the house, so I’ll make this one quick.

If you want to read about my last few months, just click on these links below to Steve’s blog entries about Pi Day where we get to meet the Vice President of Tanzania, a Shika na Mikono crossover training in Morogoro at PCV Alice’s school, and a World Malaria Day event at my school.  I was with Steve the whole time during those events, so his words are as good as mine, and we had a blast doing them!  :)  (He tends to be much better at posting blogs on time…whoops!)

Pi Day and Shika Training:  http://safaritanzania-steve.blogspot.com/2014/04/pi-day-and-sega-science-day.html
World Malaria Day Event:  http://safaritanzania-steve.blogspot.com/2014/04/world-malaria-day.html

As for the pest issues in my house, I have been getting REALLY annoyed with RATS!  I thought I rat-proofed everything during my vacation in June, but boy was I wrong!  They completely demolished my Blue Band (ish-butter), as well as a few other things.

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But the worst of all was them eating two whole packs of my kettle corn!  Sad day…  :(  Luckily, I still had one more.  Not to worry, I have rat-proofed everything and placed all my most precious snacks in thick plastic buckets.

Seriously though, those rats were NINJA RATS, and I don’t mean like the awesome Master Splinter…

They jumped from my water filter/hand-washing area onto my hanging baskets and ate my fruit, and that’s not an easy jump!

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Anyway, I think the ninja rats have died from the rat poison I placed about a month ago, so only a few rats to go.  Hope I can get rid of them completely before they get their hands on green ooze…

That’s it for now, but I’ll be posting another entry very soon!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Pests

WARNING:  This post may cause some unpleasant visual images, so if you have an uneasy stomach for pests, you may want to skip this one.

Before I came to Tanzania, I had a very unreasonable fear of cockroaches.  Now that I have lived in Tanzania for almost two years, my unreasonable fear has morphed into indifferent disgust mixed with the occasional extreme discomfort.  I don’t know about you, but I’d say that’s an improvement!

I did expect that cockroaches and other pests would be living amidst me here, but the certain experiences I encountered have definitely let some mark (though not as big of a mark as Goliath the Bat in Panama)…

Let’s take a look at the timeline:

September 2012

I first arrived at site and was still sharing the house with Eric.  He was at the nearby village while I was alone in the house (or so I thought).  There are a few gaps in the house – spaces between windows, doors, ceiling, boards, etc. – and it is impossible to keep everything sealed shut.  Using one of these gaps, a sneaky cockroach decided to crawl into the warm house and fly around a bit near where I was sitting, talking to Kaka Ben.  I started FREAKING OUT, yipped into the phone, and practically made Ben go deaf.  [Yes, I “yip” instead of scream; it sounds similar to a dog being kicked.]  I mean, not only was this a gross, disease-infested cockroach, IT WAS FLYING!!!  So I ran for my broom and as I was still on the phone, I talked through my plan to Ben, and finally worked up the courage to smack it.  And it kept crawling!  I then yipped again and smacked it again, but it still wasn’t dead!  (I kept Ben on the phone the whole time for moral support.)
After a few more yips and smacks, it finally laid lifeless against the cold concrete floor, and I could sit down and relax.

I apologized to Ben for bursting his eardrum, thanked him for putting up with my ridiculousness, and hung up.  Just as I put down my phone, Eric ran into the house asking what was wrong.  Apparently, he heard everything (my yipping) as he was walking up the hill to the house.  After I assured him it was just me freaking out about a cockroach, he calmed down and looked incredulously at me and said he thought it was something serious.  I know I seemed like a complete wuss in his eyes (and even my own) but I couldn’t help it.  Give me snakes or spiders, and I’ll be okay (maybe uncomfortable, but okay), but NOT COCKROACHES.

A few more of those icky flying cockroaches came into the house those next couple of months but I eventually stopped reacting frantically so much and just killed them before they flew on me.   Luckily, that only happened once…about a year later.

October 2013

Over a year had gone by and most of the time when I saw a cockroach, I would nonchalantly kill it.  I would definitely still be disgusted when I saw it and would usually comment on it being around, and then either I would kill it or I would try to feign ignorance but keep my belongings closed or sealed.  Insects and arachnids of all types and sizes would be found in various places: the choo [“bathroom”], closets, tables and chairs, cars, even buses.  I for the most part “got used” to them, though I would still sometimes become very uneasy if I new they were around and would still bother me – by “they” I specifically mean roaches.

One morning in October on a school day, I was sleeping peacefully when I felt something on my cheek.  I wasn’t exactly sure if I was dreaming it, but I absentmindedly brushed it off with my hand and rolled over as it made a soft sound of the floor.  Just then, I woke up with a start, realizing that it wasn’t a dream at all and something was actually on my face!  I cautiously looked over the edge of my bed and saw the culprit – a brown, hard-shelled cockroach!  I silently panicked, took my sandal, smacked it hard, and immediately got up out of be to wash my face vigorously.  UGHH!!

That whole day I felt sick to my stomach and had to refrain from gagging, but I did what I could to distract myself…I got over it after a little while, but I had to leave my house for a trip into town that weekend.  And that, my friends, is why you always sleep with a mosquito net even if you live in a house with no mosquitoes year-round!

I arrived in Njombe and the next day I got another unappetizing happenstance, literally.  That was a bad week for me…

I go and eat lunch with Steve at our favorite little mgahawa [“small food stand/restaurant”] which serves satisfying, balanced meals for only 500 Tsh. (about 30 cents).  We finish our meal with full bellies and order fresh juice from next door.  The juice was great!
…Until I take a sip and get a weird texture in my mouth, spit it out, and see I just had a small dead cockroach in that gulp!!  [I honestly don’t know why these things happen to me…]  Yes, I once again silently panicked, showed Steve, felt uneasy again, and washed my mouth out with orange soda and a piece of gum.  Bleh!  Of course for me, when it rains, it pours.  It felt pretty unsettling but I spat it out so quickly that it didn’t really linger in my mouth at all.  I was mainly shock by all this and the previous morning’s cheeky culprit more so than scared or petrified.  Fortunately, this was my last horrible experience for a while.

After the disgusting duo in October, the only bothersome pests were the usual spiders around my house (which I liked because they ate other tiny insects), small beetles and ants that Apollo loved watching and sometimes eating, and the noisy rats that live in my ceiling.  The rats were only annoying because they would eat through my ziploc bags and get to my sauce packets (sent from America) and they would always steal my soap!  Who knew they liked soap so much??  I would come home from a trip and my slightly used soap (still in a partially opened box) would be missing!

The last two experiences with pests that were noteworthy happened after my visit to America.

January 2014

Immediately after EST in Dar, we had to travel back to site and it was the first time I’d been on a bus or any type of public transportation for a long period of time since getting back to Tanzania.  I think I may have been exhausted from the night before with cleaning up Shika stuff at the training center and stressed because four of our travel mates were late and still hadn’t gotten to Ubungo bus stand.  Steve and I were saving their seats on the bus and stalling the driver from leaving the bus stand, and during all this, I saw what I thought were half a dozen small cockroaches crawling around me.  I started getting extremely uncomfortable and very claustrophobic.  I just sat there, half-delirious, half-crying in a little ball on my seat until Steve finally calmed me down.

I think that moment was when I realized the full extent of my culture shock of being back in a developing country after being in a developed country for a few weeks, in addition to missing my family.  It kind of hit me all at once and compounded my discomfort that was triggered by the roaches.  After taking a few deep breaths, I gathered myself, killed a couple roaches, and could relax again.  People don’t tell you how much culture shock can really get to you at times, whether it’s going from here to America or back to Tanzania again.  I was affected by both!  I was not too affected by it when I first arrived in country, but I think that was masked by the excitement of getting here initially.

Anyway, I got over the uneasiness after I let myself miss my American home for a bit and felt much better after the other PCVs arrived on the bus in the nick of time, literally as we were pulling out of the stand.  Phew!

February 2014

This encounter was actually with a snake instead of roaches, which I was incredibly thankful for, so I handled this one WAY better than the rest.  I was at Steve’s site taking care of him per doctor’s orders because he was incredibly ill, and they (PCMOs) wanted to make sure he wasn’t alone.  They were worried it was malaria because of his symptoms, but don’t worry, it was just a nasty stomach bug and he got exponentially better once he got the right medication.  Unfortunately, because neither of us had Cipro, we had to go into town to get them.

The morning before we left for town, we found an uninvited visitor in his courtyard.  It was a dark grey garden snake slithering by the door of his living room.  Steve’s site has more tall grass and fewer trees than my site, and this was actually Steve’s second snake sighting.  The first one he found in his house outside of his tent and he killed it with his grass slasher.  From his description over the phone and thanks to my Kindle, I told him it wasn’t poisonous.  Thank goodness it didn’t bother him while he was sleeping, because he sleeps in his tent in his house every night – both a protective barrier from snakes and a mosquito net.

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That morning when we saw the snake, Steve was still weak from his stomach illness and really didn’t have the energy or will to kill this one, so I said I would.  Neither of us was sure yet whether it was poisonous, but I didn’t want to take that chance to get a closer look, and we wanted to make sure it didn’t slither its way into his house while Steve was gone.  No one likes to be surprised by a live snake in their house.

I took his slasher, positioned myself as best I could, and started slashing its body.  It was not happy (I wonder why), so it started to strike back a little, but I finally got a better hack and it was badly injured.  I hacked at it for a while until I was sure it was completely dead and until Steve told me I could stop.  >.<  I know that sounds inhumane, but I really did try to make its death be quick and merciful, but the blade on the slasher was not sharp enough and the snake was in a weird crevice that made it difficult to get a clean slash without getting super close.  It was a bit gruesome, but at least Steve would be able to sleep more easily after he returned home…  And we did confirm after it was killed that it was indeed a non-poisonous snake.

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All in all, I do believe this country has made me a lot tougher than I was when I arrived here, and I have learned a lot about my own limits.

So the moral of these anecdotes is to always sleep with a mosquito net or tent to protect yourself from unwanted guests, either look before you swallow or just ignore it, sharpen your slasher, and kill snakes before asking questions, because it could be a black mamba.

::Sigh::  Third-world problems…

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Vacation

Arriving back in Tanzania after being in the states was accompanied by whirlwind of thoughts and emotions.  It was hot, humid, the shuttle cab driver was lost and late, Steve had been waiting for my flight to get in and slept at the airport overnight…yes, talk about a cultural whiplash!  Luckily, Steve and I made sure to ease our way back into Tanzania, so I gave myself an early birthday present to stay at a safi hotel that night before we headed to Mafia Island to swim with whale sharks!!

This was leg two of my vacation.

Mafia Island is the southern island off the coast of Tanzania.  There are two main ways to get there: 1) by cargo boat/ship which takes about 4-5 hours of rocky current which is cheap (about $20) and you have to leave from a small town outside of Dar, and 2) by plane which takes 1-2 hours from an airport in Dar to an airport in Mafia for $120 and was only a 20-minute walk from our guest lodge (Whale Shark Lodge).  We definitely opted to take the flight, which I am now very thankful for because we were only there for a couple of days and the next morning we were going snorkeling with whale sharks.  I wanted to be primed and healthy when we swam with whale sharks and not recovering from a bumpy, seasick ride.

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Whale sharks, unlike their name, are neither whale nor shark.  They are actually fish, the world’s largest fish!  They are filter feeders, which means they eat only plankton and not fish (or humans), which makes them very safe to swim with.  Their mouths are very wide (about 1.5 meters), which makes it look like they are constantly smiling and reminds me of the Pokemon, Ditto.  Adult whale sharks are on average about 10 meters in length and weigh about 9 tonnes (20,000 lbs.) – WOW!!!  Each whale shark also has a different and distinct pattern of spots (like a fingerprint), which some researchers are starting to use to keep track of migratory patterns instead of the usual tagging.  In Tanzania, Mafia Island is the only place you can find them.  They tend to be in Mafia during the months of November to January.  Whale sharks also have photoreceptors, notably at their heads, so the guides told us to keep our distance from both the head and tail when we swim with them.  If you get too close, they may get spooked and swim into deeper water, or they could smack you with their tail fin, which is very strong.

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Steve and I were incredibly lucky on our trip because there was only one other person at our lodge and he didn’t want to snorkel, so it was like we had our own private whale shark boat.  Once we left the beach, the guides gave us a very brief introduction and some guidelines about the whale sharks and where not to swim, had us try on snorkels and flippers, and DSCN5512asked if we knew how to snorkel.  I said I did and Steve said he had once before, and they said okay.  Steve had told me earlier that he was a little nervous because he didn’t have the best experience the first time, so I told him that I would help him out once we got in the water.  We got to the main area where there had been a sighting and found another boat/tour group (way more expensive than ours) there, and before we knew it, they told us to jump in the water, practically without any warning!  I saw the whale sharks and started swimming towards them, but was really worried about Steve so I looked back and tried to help him out but I couldn’t find him until a few moments.  Those few moments were all it took to make me swallow a few large gulps of sea water.  Once I caught sight of him, I looked back toward the whale shark, and it had swum away, so we swam back to DSCN5450the boat and went on to following it.  When we were back on board, I told him I freaked out about where he was and if he was okay, but he surprised me by saying that this was actually less nerve-racking than the first time, which I thought was peculiar because he was just in still, clear water.  I guess that works for him, but I wish I’d known or else I wouldn’t have swallowed so much water.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t swum in ages anyway so I was exhausted just after the first jump, and the sea water started making me feel seasick.  I definitely wanted to go back in, because I still hadn’t gotten a good look yet, but I couldn’t bear swimming yet.  After a few minutes of drinking water and concentrating on breathing, we sighted another one and I was ready to go back in this time.  We were both prepared this time, jumped in swiftly, and started swimming immediately without taking our faces out of the water.

DSCN5408This time I got an amazing view of it and IT WAS HUGE!  It’s spots were so cool and it’s mouth was almost as wide as my body was long!  They swim very slowly, but it was still a feat trying to keep up with them!  Once they got too far out, we hopped back in the boat and went to another location.  The morning kept going like so for about 3-4 hours and once we had our fill, we went back to the shore.  I couldn’t go in as much as Steve did because of my initial jump and stomach DSCN5436full of sea water, but I still got quite a few good jumps in!  I also got some awesome pictures, thanks to my underwater camera and the help of one of the guides.  We never got pictures of us directly with the whale sharks, but it was still awesome!  I even swam by a jellyfish once.  Despite the low visibility due to the concentration of plankton in the water and my on/off energy level, I had so much fun and was so glad Steve had such a blast!!!  :D

We got back to the lodge, paid the guide our 40,000 Tsh. (about $25) per person, and went back to shower.  Usually people have to pay over $50 per IMG_8348person for going out to swim with the whale sharks, and apparently the other boat we saw charged $100 per head, so needless to say, it was a steal for us!!  That evening we paid for our two nights and meals, and we figured that our total Mafia trip minus the flight was less than $80 per person for everything, including transportation from the airport to the lodge and a bajaji to and from town.  A true Peace Corps vacation!

From Mafia Island, we took a slight detour to Zanzibar before heading back to Dar.  We met up with a few Baby Eds, whose sites are on the large island, and spent a couple of nights in Stonetown.  Per suggestions from other PCVs, we stayed at an apartment owned by a Tanzanian that he rents out for tourists for only 24,000 Tsh. or $15 per person per night!  It was at a great location, included a plentiful breakfast of fruit and toast with peanut butter, and each room had a working fan and self-contained bathroom and shower!  If I ever go back, I will definitely call James up again!  He also put us in contact with the spice tour guides.

While Mafia Island is still like Tanzania, Zanzibar is like you are stepping into a different world, let alone an island!  The architecture is entirely different, with a more Islamic and Western feel to it since the island’s IMG_8386majority is Islamic, and Stonetown is a hot tourist destination.  I have never seen so many tourists in one place before.  There seemed to almost be more tourists than Zanzibarians every where we walked!  Of course, that also meant prices were much higher, though because Steve and I spoke Swahili, we were definitely less hassled and we got better prices for everything.  We looked like tourists, for once, but everyone was so much more friendly to us than any other Tanzanian stranger in Tanganyika (continental Tanzania).

The first full day we were there, we went on the spice tour (only $15 per person), which included going to a spice farm, trying out the different spices and fruits while on the walking tour, getting accessorized by the guides with banana leaf crafts (for free), having the opportunity to buy spices, getting fed a wholesome meal, going to the slave trade caves, and going to a private beach for a quick swim!  Best $15 I have spent yet!  It truly felt like a vacation for the first time in forever because we were actually letting ourselves be tourists for once!  The best part of it all was getting to speak Swahili with every guide, because no one else on the tour could.  As we were walking through the spice farm, the whispers of us knowing Swahili spread like wildfire and soon we had every guide come and greet us.  They loved it, and so did we!  Haha.

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Steve and I also wanted to take advantage of being by the ocean as much as possible, so we ate street seafood and chicken shwarma at Forodhani Gardens both nights we were there.  Many volunteers have had very bad experiences with street food, but we knew we would be there for a couple of days so we tried our luck the first night, and it was worth it!  It was so good and so cheap, we made sure that our food was cooked and heated properly, and neither of us got sick the entire time we were there!  We had shrimp, tuna, barracuda, spiced lobster, swordfish, chicken shwarma, sugar cane juice, and Zanzibar pizza over the two nights.  SO GOOD!

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Forodhani Gardens and Zanzibar Pizza (Dessert style)

After our vacation of being an ish-tourist on two islands, we took a ferry back to Dar from Zanzibar, and I spent my quarter century birthday with Steve, Fo, and Nick!  It was technically my birthday eve, but the next day Steve and I had to go to Kurasini Centre again for training, so we celebrated it on the rooftop of Holiday Inn eating sushi!!!  It was so sweet, and Steve even surprised me and told the waitress that it was my birthday, so we got a free slice of cake with a candle!  ;D  It was positively scrumptious!

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The next afternoon, Steve and I got a ride from Peace Corps to Kurasini Centre from the PC office and we got to work on our Shika sessions for the Baby Eds’ and their counterparts’ EST (Early Service Training).  Remember my IST (In-Service Training) that I had in Morogoro the December of 2013?  This is the same thing but for their Ed class.

This would be our last official time for all of the Shika Team (Ryan, Willie, Steve, Ben, and I) being together doing a training, so we wanted it to go off with a bang!  We all got there a couple of days before our day of Shika sessions to prepare, and we had a great presentation in store for them.  This time, the theme was a game show/combination of many game shows –it was to be called, “Whose Lab is it Anyway?”  Our sessions would mainly be the same, but there would be a twist because each session would be a different round.  There would be approximately three teams for each subject, one coach/judge for each subject (Steve – Math, Belle – Chemistry, Willie – Physics, Ryan – Biology), Ben would be the host of the show, and there would be three rounds.  But most importantly, there would be an exciting introduction to the show, which we once again spent most of our time preparing.  Willie created a hydraulics contraption using syringes and IV tubing to synchronize explosions and fire to Fall Out Boy’s “Light ‘em Up”, while he hid under a table.  I was in charge of the music and sound effects for the entire show

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As for the actual sessions, Round 1 would be the usual Box of Fun where each team, which consisted of both PCVs and counterparts, would have to make a teaching aid out of locally available science materials, using each respective coach’s subject, present it in two minutes, and each coach would DSC05164choose one team to move on to the next round.  The coaching part of this resembled The Voice.  Round 2 would be the winning teams from each subject (four total teams) now having to teach a more complex, quick lesson to the audience and the judges (four judges), this time using anything from our Shika supplies.  After each presentation, each judge would comment on the team’s performance, and they would be scored.  This was the American Idol part of the game show, so I pulled out my British accent for this bit.  Although I was technically the Brit, Steve was the Simon with his tough scoring.  After all teams presented and scores were given out, the top two teams would move DSC05196on to Round 3.  Round 3 originally was supposed to include the two teams going to a duka with a Peace Corps car and driver to buy what they could using only 5,000 Tsh. to make and teach an activity to the judges to do; however, the PC car never came and we had to get on with the show.  Instead, we gave them a limited list of things they could use, I tried to keep it in the probable price range, and they presented their activity to the audience while using the judges as the students.  This time, the audience voted for the winner!  It was all in all a great plan and incredibly fun to be a part of, but I think the five of us were still hoping it was going to be even bigger.

While the teams that continued on to Round 2 and Round 3 were preparing for their presentations, the rest of the group had a quick NECTA practical lesson with Ben and Ryan in Round 2 and did a science competition with Steve in Round 3.  There were a lot of bodies to keep track of all at once, but we did have more Shika members this time around.  Although it was A LOT of work that day, I think we pulled it off and everyone, PCVs and counterparts alike, enjoyed the theatrical value if not for the actual sessions.

It was kind of bittersweet to do our last session together as a Shika unit.  I cannot describe how much I love working with this specific group, and all of us just played off of each other so seamlessly, it will be hard to finally let go…but when it does, our time will have been glorious.