Here Come the Goodbyes

This past weekend I left behind my short village life in Ludilo. I had to say an incredibly hard goodbye to two remarkable humans who had allowed me to disrupt their peaceful life in Ludilo and become part of their family. There are not enough thank you’s in the world for mama Ludija, Baba Calo and their children. To show my constant appreciation I tried to help around the house to the best of my ability, as well as gave them meaningful gifts on my last day in Ludilo. I will never forget the look on mama’s face when I handed her many of my dresses and skirts and I hope Baba Calo wears my Wofford College with pride that I was his daughter for a month and hopefully, I will be a part of their family forever.

The experience in the village is often hard to put into words. Most of the time, I did the same thing every single day (literally). However, that’s what made it so different from the past 20 years of my life, and especially the past three years of college. I  am the girl who always on the go— taking more classes than my mental capacity can handle, writing essays, on the way to a meeting, driving to work or to see my parents, visiting family, spending time with friends, and anything else that describes the hustle and bustle of my life. However, in Ludilo village, everyone takes their time; walking to the farm can take hours but they don’t mind. People often stop to say hello to someone and if a conversation goes on for hours, it’s okay because they’re never in rush. To be honest, in Tanzania no one is ever in a rush! Most of the time when I walked into the village, I would pass the five other people who had been walking in front of me. Not to mention I get very impatient when I get stuck behind someone and can’t walk around them—I’ve had to work on that impatience this entire trip.

On Saturday, we had “Community Day” in which all the families, research assistants, and village leaders were invited for speeches, thank yous, and presentations. Part of my experience in the village included implementing a research project that I designed called “Exploring Tanzanian Perceptions on Adolescent Mothers in School and Understanding the Cultural Underpinnings of These Views.” I learned so much through my surveys and interviews of Tanzania, not just about their views on teen pregnancy and their community but also about how they are understanding and patient people willing to learn more about the world around them, and willing to continuously educate themselves about how to create positive change. Although I presented preliminary results to everyone on Community Day, I am still working on the final results of this project and will have more to share about it soon (aka after finals!). After presentations, we held a soccer tournament where the winning team won a goat. I spent most of my time however face and arm painting with the kids. After an activity-filled afternoon, we said our final goodbyes to our families, returned to RDO for the night, then drove back to Iringa Sunday morning.

No Turkey in Tanzania

When we returned on Sunday, many of us spent the rest of our afternoon grocery shopping for our Thanksgiving dinner! Most of us had never spent a Thanksgiving away from family and Justin was kind enough to let us cook at his house and spend Thanksgiving together. It was an exhausting but meaningful afternoon. I proudly decorated the table to make it festive and look aesthetically pleasing (as my own mother would) and everyone present cooked one or a few Thanksgiving dishes. All in all our spread was complete with fruit salad and chicken (no turkey in Tanzania) thanks to Justin and Susan, mac n’ cheese, chicken rice and cheezy rice courtesy of my dad’s package from last month, green beans and rolls by Cat, apple crumble and cookies by Ellie and Erin, au gratin potatoes and broccoli casserole by Caroline, and quesadillas by Josh (not a regular festive food but he really wanted to cook them). As we went around the table and said what we were thankful for from this semester, I, of course, could not hold in the tears and sobbed uncontrollably as we could all hear the end of the semester nearing throughout everyone’s speeches. As much as I loved my time in Tanzania, I truly miss my immediate family. However, I am extremely grateful for all the new family members I’ve gained throughout this trip.

Only a few more blogs left…Tutaonana, Vera

An Open Letter to the Next Student Who Lives With the Mahimbi Family,

When you first arrive in Ludilo, it may be nerve-wracking and intimidating. It may just be baba, mama, and Lecho, your youngest sister at the house to greet you. Gilborn stays in the smaller house to the left but you’ll rarely see him—he leaves early and gets home around 10 from work. Baba is a farmer and Mama will help him most mornings, but other times she is watching over the store. You have three other siblings in school—ask Baba their names to start a conversation!

Welcome to the family, and I hope you love them as much as I do. In the morning, unless you wake up earlier than 7 am, you’ll find your hot water sitting outside your room waiting for you. Make sure to take the bucket back outside (once you’ve transferred your shower water to your bucket) to be polite. The first week or two, mama may try to sweep and wash your floors for you—tell her nitafagia but if she insists on washing the floor just say asante sana! She won’t ever let you carry the buckets either; if she sees you carrying a full bucket from outside the house, she will snatch it out of your hand. She’ll treat you better than you ever deserve, and part of it is because she’s a lot stronger than us, but also because she is a kind soul. You’ll probably never wash your clothes because if they catch you doing it mama will literally take the clothes from you and wash them herself; except you’ll do your undergarments in the bathroom of course. Oh, and buy bar soap! Don’t you dare buy the powder soap in the bucket from Iringa—it’s terrible for hand-washing and just trust me on this. Also, if you ever buy soda and they see you drink it, they will remember that and then buy you one eventually (you heart will fill with joy when this happens).

Cook more meals with mama. Even if you can’t understand her, spend time with her and Lecho in the kitchen. You can offer to clean dishes before dinner, but you have to be home by 4 pm to do so. If you enjoy ugali like I do, she may have you help her. I almost spilled the ugali out of the pot so if you do too, don’t feel bad. She’ll laugh at you for a good try then take the spoon and finish flipping the ugali in the most amazing way. This is when you’ll realize, mama is a superwoman.

Lunch will be simple. The first few days you’re there, they will ask you what time you want it (keep in mind lunch-hour is a bit later here) and from then on lunch will always be ready by that time (I told you she was a superwoman). Mama most often eats while she cooks so she can return to the store afterwards, but Lecho will often be home from school while you eat. Hopefully, dada mdogo and kaka mdogo will come home from the break while you’re still in Ludilo. If you’re luckier than I was, you might meet dada mkubwa who is at the university.  Having most of the siblings home fills the home with happiness and love. The laughter I hear every night in the living room makes me smile endlessly, and I cannot wait for you to experience it.

I know I’ve talked mostly about mama, but I wanted to tell you how lucky we are to have baba too. He spends most of his mornings at the farm and by the afternoon he takes over at the shop. I saw him almost every night and always called to him and waved as I walked home from Cat’s house (another mwanafunzi) up on the hill. I spent my first two weeks often studying Swahili in the living room and if he came home early enough to catch me, he would ask me about my day and help me with my Swahili words and grammar (just wait until you learn about noun classes). He knows some English, but don’t depend on that! Learn Swahili and learn the Kihehe greetings. Not only did baba care enough to ask me about my day, but he also sat through painfully slow conversations with me and made sure to correct every grammatical error I made because he wanted my Swahili to be correct. I appreciated this every time and most of the words and phrases I picked up during my stay in the village are things I learned from him. Another thing I loved about baba is how excited he was when I wanted to take family pictures and he made sure the pictures came out good! Mama also made sure everyone looked nice for these pictures—I’m telling you, I really love this family and everything they did for me.

Now, let’s talk really quickly about language and communication (aka the hardest thing about the whole experience). As long as you listened to Paulo throughout the semester and tried your best to study and remember Swahili, you will be able to communicate well enough with them about basic topics. If sometimes you are unable to pick up a single word in a sentence, it’s okay because I am convinced they spoke Kihehe 60% of the time or often switched between the two languages within their sentences without even realizing it. Baba is really good about speaking slow, but everyone else often forgets. It is okay to ask them polepole tafadhali. If you still don’t understand it, it is not the end of the world (however most times I asked them subiri, then looked to my red or blue book for words, and if that didn’t help I typed it into google translate and waiting for the explanation). They don’t mind if you choose to do this, as they know our Swahili is limited. They want you to learn and be able to understand them, and they were always so patient with me so I know they’ll be the same to you.

One last thing: the children (aka my whole heart). Paulo and Justin may tell you that you do not need money for the village, but if you did not bring a pound of candy with you from the U.S., I suggest (and would LOVE if) you bring shilingi to buy pipi from the town center for the children living across the street. I don’t recommend giving them candy though until the 3rd week because once you start, they’ll come every day, or you’ll hear them say “naomba pipi!” anytime they see you from afar and it’s incredibly hard to tell them no, unless you really don’t have any candy on you. The neighbors would come over twice a day (in the morning and afternoon) but after about three days I told them I ran out so they could only get it in the afternoon. Oh, and they love their dance parties! Any song with a beat will basically get them dancing and they love it if you record it then show them the video—the laughter and giggles will be music to your ears. Keep it on your phone for you and them only; I don’t recommend posting it on social media. Also, the older kids, like Lecho’s friends may come over a few nights for an English lesson. This semester, I taught them a few greetings in English and nouns like school and church. You have to be outside the house for them to come over—so spend time outside (cell phone service is a lot better outside than inside so that’s something to do while you wait for the children to spot you).

I apologize if this letter was a bit long, but I wanted to give you a heads up on what to expect. I enjoyed being able to figure out different parts of the experience, but there were also times where I wish someone had prepared me for a few things or given advice or suggestions. I hope this letter helps you in some way, but most of all I hope you have an amazing, life-changing and happy experience here in Ludilo. The Mahimbi family has been a true blessing to me and I hope they become the same to you.

Please feel free to reach out to me at any time! Justin and Paulo have my contact info, and Baba Calo has my whatsapp!

All my love, Vera

Dear Baba and Mama,

 I do not want to say this is the end of my stay with your family because the thought of that makes me extremely sad. However, that is what is happening. You have all been so kind to me, and there is nothing in the world I could give or do to repay you for your hospitality, kindness, and love. You both have made me feel like a part of this family and have also made my stay here in Ludilo extremely enjoyable. I am extremely thankful to have gotten to know you both and your family over the past month. Your hard work and dedication to your family inspires me.

Mama, everything you do every single day for yourself and the family amazes me and I am extremely thankful for everything you did for me while I lived here. You treated me better than I deserved and I wish I could repay you somehow, however I know that being caring, helpful and responsible is simply who you are and you’ve inspired me to work towards becoming more responsible and independent. I am extremely sorry if I did not help enough, I was honestly just scared of making a mistake or not being able to understand you and not do something well. I pray that I was never an inconvenience and that somehow I brought joy to your life this past month.

Baba, I would like to thank you for your patience and care with me anytime we had a conversation. My Swahili was rarely perfect but you tried your best to understand my Swahili and hand motions, and always corrected my grammar– and for that, I am extremely thankful. You taught me how to accept mistakes as a part of the learning process and whether you know it or not, you motivated me to want to learn more so I could have better conversations with you, mama, and my siblings.

To Gilborne, Ali, Beatrice, and Lecho Thank you for accepting me as your sister and making me feel welcome. Thank you also for all your help throughout this past month. I pray that you all, and Joyce (I wish we could’ve met!) continue to work hard and do well in school, and most of all graduate, continue to do amazing things in life, get good jobs, and make your parents proud.

Check the Clock, We’re at the Halfway Mark

It’s our second week in the village, and I’ll be honest it has been rough. I see my friends a lot less, but on the bright side, I’m busy making new friends with the children next door.  I brought a few toy cars in case my host-family had young children—but we don’t. So instead, I gave the toy cars to the kids that live around me and come over most mornings and afternoons to yell “mzungu” at me until I remind them I’m not a white person/foreigner, and I tell them my name.

On an average day, I wake up around 7 or 8 am to the roosters crowing. My mom wakes up at 6 am to clean the pots, make chai (tea) and breakfast, and other things. Some mornings she joins baba at the farm, while most afternoons she is watching over their store in town (and by town I mean five minutes down the road). After I enjoy a nice cup of chai, either in our dining room or outside on the front steps,  I take a bucket shower with the hot water my mom boils for me every morning. As I type that sentence I realize how privileged it may sound but in all honesty, warm showers are more comfortable as it is very cold here in Ludilo, and it’s not something special done solely for me – my family boils water for their showers too.  Afterward, I get changed (outfit of the day most likely includes a skirt), and wait for my research assistant to arrive from her village, Ikanga, 30 minutes away when she takes a motorcycle. After breakfast, I wait for my assistant outside because I know the children who live near us are here playing. The past few mornings the children and I spend about an hour just exchanging waves, and they giggle and whisper to each other. Recently I started buying candy from a shop in town to give to them when they’re outside.

I am still waiting on IRB approval for my research project, but another assignment I have is a history paper on Ujamaa, the economic and social policy of socialism enforced during the presidency of Tanzania’s first president Julius Nyerere (1963-1964). The rest of the second week here, I conducted oral interviews with some of the elders in the village. A few of them had a lot to share about Ujamaa, and one elder thanked me for asking him these questions because it helped his memory. Another elder was so excited when we told him we had questions about Ujamaa, and he even showed us a book that showed pictures from Nyerere’s time in politics. Although my research assistant translated everything the elders said, I loved watching them talk about their past. Their faces lit up as they shifted through memories from their younger days, and all of them liked Ujamaa as in their opinion it made everyone equal and no one was “poor.” It did make me a little sad though, as I know they remained as the few people who lived through and were old enough in the 1960s to remember the impact of Ujamaa on Tanzanian society. A few men whom we interviewed had wives who could barely remember Ujamaa because of their age at the time.

Around 1:00 pm,  I head home for lunch—which is most often potatoes, pasta, or both. I spend the rest of my day cleaning my room or bathroom, typing notes from interviews, then spending time with Cat and Caroline at Cat’s house (truthfully because we get the best signal at her house that is perched on a hill). However, their company provides me with a sense of stability.

Once the sun begins to set, that’s my cue to go home. I walk past my host family’s store and wave at baba who is talking to customers; he waves back. When I arrive at the house, I greet my mom and ask how her day was, then I take my stuff inside then try to help bring the pots of food into the house. Dinner is ready around 8 pm (yes, 8 pm), and they watch tv while we all eat. I say they because it’s in Tanzania and I mostly just stare at the television pretending like I understand, or trying to hear words that I know in order to piece together what’s going on.

After dinner, I help take some of my dishes back to the kitchen if my mom lets me. Sometimes if she’s still in the house when I try to leave, she tells me no and that she or my sister will do it, and I can’t argue. Around 10:00 pm, baba comes home, and I peak outside my room to greet him and ask about his day. Some nights, if he comes home while I’m still eating dinner, we talk a lot more and he ends up teaching me a lot more Swahili. It’s stressful, but I am thankful for the language lesson and bonding experience. Eventually, when my head feels like it’s going to explode from the overwhelming amount of new Swahili words that I know I’ll have to write down in order to remember, I tell him uziku mwema (goodnight).

Around 10:30, I get ready for bed. I either watch a few downloaded episodes on my laptop or phone, listen to an audible book then read my bible. I get inside my mosquito net and under my thick, soft blanket. I fall asleep knowing that tomorrow will be another day to live out of my comfort zone, learn new Swahili, strengthen relationships, and learn more about myself along the way.

My First Week in Ludilo

It’s been a crazy two weeks with limited internet, new experiences, and a newfound love for Ludilo village!

On Sunday, November 2nd, we packed almost everything we owned into a suitcase and our shower bucket and packed into two separate safari cars. As we exited Ruaha Catholic University’s campus, I prepared myself to leave behind the small town of Iringa that I had just spent two and a half months getting used too.

It took approximately three hours to reach the district of Mufindi, where our villages are located. We stopped at RDO, a nonprofit that began with the mission of helping farmers. Now their project focus also includes helping HIV orphans and access to water in the village. RDO is where we will spend our weekends to discuss our research or internships (as the other 6 students are completing internships and need-based assessments for the month) and where Justin and Paulo will be staying (near to us in case of any emergencies!).

After about thirty minutes, Paulo our coordinator said it was time for us to go. The first group was mine—Cat, Caroline, and I, the only three researchers this semester were driven to our village called Ludilo. It was just us, our driver Sarafino (the same person who took us on our safari) and a worker from RDO who knew where our houses were. Cat was first. When we arrived at her house, no one was there. We helped her unload her stuff from the car and suddenly a woman started running towards the house. Immediately we knew this was her homestay family, and other members of the family came and helped her take her belongings inside. We didn’t stay long and pretty soon Sarafino was saying bye and had us on our way to drop off Caroline. When we arrived at the next house, a group of kids crowded behind our car to watch the two wazungu exit. I helped Caroline carry her stuff in, mainly because I was not ready to separate from my roommate and because her mom was the only person at the house. After what felt like only two minutes, Sarafino said it was time for me to go. Ever heard of a hit and run? Well arriving at our homestays felt like a drop-and-run.

When we got to my house, I had my mom and sister help me take my belongings inside. They showed me my room, welcomed me home, and allowed me to settle in. The house was simple—it had three couches, a table with chairs for meals, a tv, and a total of four rooms. Our program directors did inform us that we would be staying with the wealthier 1% of the village, as we would need access to certain levels of sanitation regarding food and water, as well as electricity. I arrived in Tanzania at the beginning of this program with zero expectations, and I arrived in Ludilo with the same outlook. I was ready for anything, but to put my parents and other friends in America at ease: Tanzanian village life and where we are staying is nothing like how they stereotyped or pictured.

By that I mean, I have access to hot water and electricity. I have a comfortable bed and so far, my stay here has also been comfortable. The food is nothing out of the extraordinary; I have eaten boiled greens, rice, plain pasta, eggs, fish, pork, and beef. I have finally been introduced to ugali, which is a dish made of cornflour and water. It essentially takes the place of rice in a meal and people use their hands to eat it: we peel a small part of it apart, ball it up in our hands, and either dip in soup or sauce, then eat it with the rest of the meal. Personally, I like it, whereas most of my friends here do not. It is extremely filling though, and probably not the healthiest dish.

Our first week here consisted of getting acquainted with the town, accustomed to our family and home, and getting prepared for research. I’ve spent the last week and a half making adjustments to my research proposal to receive IRB approval (Institutional Review Board) which is a committee of professionals in the scientific or research fields who ensure that the methods proposed in my research are ethical and the procedures ensure the protection of subjects’ rights and confidentiality.

On Tuesday afternoon, my mom and her sister-in-law invited me to church. Cat and I went together and I had a very lovely time. The church service was two hours long, which is surprisingly shorter than most Sundays my home church, Tremont Church of God in South Carolina. They had an hour of song and dance and their routine was different but in the best way. I did notice at one point that one of the melodies sounded familiar but I couldn’t remember the worship song in English. Afterward, a woman preached on Matthew 5:38-48. I only understood a few words here and there, but as a Christian, I loved being able to experience a church service in a different country. It’s amazing how universal religion can be regardless of any language barrier.

One night of the first week here, I watched and attempted to help my mom cook ugali. I wasn’t very good at it, as some of the flour spilled over, but I enjoyed watching her flip the ugali once it was almost ready. This blog is already getting a bit long, so I’ll reserve the family introduction for the next blog!

Asante sana for reading!

Friendships Abroad!

Local Friends

Tanzanians are known for being extremely welcoming, and they say the word karibu (welcome) often. Everywhere we go, locals invite us into their homes and their stores by essentially saying “you are welcome here,” karibu Tanzania!

As we were moving into RUCU, local students were moving out for a break. So, our first few months at the college consisted of just the nine mzungus (foreigners) in the dorms. This made finding and making local friends a bit difficult, however, we often ate at the same restaurants in Iringa and we were able to form friendships with the employees there. I also volunteered at daycare at the Matumaini Center, which is a craft shop, workshop, nursery school, and vocational training center located in Iringa, Tanzania. The mission of the center is to support young mothers, girls who can’t attend school, orphans, and other women in need by providing education and vocational training. Women are trained in sewing and create a wide variety of homemade sewing products. While volunteering at the Matumaini Center, I got to know some of the girls who took classes, and I definitely formed relationships with the children in the daycare center. One of the two moms who worked in the center could speak a little English, while the other mom only knew very specific words. We often traded stories about our lives and they helped me learn and better my Swahili. Since we’ve moved into the village, I’ve missed my Matumaini kids and moms a lot– thankfully I still have two weeks in Iringa after our month in the village to see them and say our official “see you laters.”

By the end of November, local students began to move back in. Some students often visited our rooms to “greet us,” which is the term used for when locals simply come and say hello and get to know someone. A few of us girls traded WhatsApp numbers with the locals, but we left for the village about two weeks later so we were not really able to get to know other students very well. However, I’ve learned a little bit about the lives of the different employees at the restaurants we frequented– for example one of the waiters Adam, who works at our favorite restaurant Mama Iringa, (the only Italian restaurant in town) recently applied for a job in Las Vegas and he wanted to get advice and tips incase he was hired and moved to America. Even though I may have not been able to form solid friendships with locals, I have met some amazing and kind people throughout my time here in Tanzania.

Forever Friends

When I chose this program, I anticipated that it would consist of a small group of people. Some may be overwhelmed by the fact that there are only nine of us together in Tanzania– but I’ve loved it. Truthfully, we all do get along (most of the time). Of course, spending 24/7 with the same group of people whom you are still getting to know can get intense sometimes. However, over the past few months, we’ve shared such a unique experience that has helped each of us individually grow, learn, and discover ourselves. Thanks to Tanzania and CIEE, I’ve found my go-to person for all things enneagrams and essential oils, my fellow criminal-show lover and go-to for rants or hugs during mental breakdowns, my first friend who understands long-distant relationships, a forever “Amiga” who helps me figure out my life plan, an inspirational human who taught me to always stick up for what you believe in, a jokester who can make a whole room erupts in laughter, someone who teaches me new things about the world every day, and a hard-core politically conservative friend who reminds us all that our differences make us unique and memorable.

As I watch this amazing group of people play a game of cards while I type this blog, I can’t help but smile and be thankful for our journey and these memories that only the nine of us have to share.

“Make new friends, but keep the old. One makes silver and the other gold.”

These sweet people are definitely keepers for life.

Life in Ludilo.

Yesterday I moved into my house in Ludilo.
I am a guest but they treat me like family.
It is a different life, but I like it here
Where my mom is a superwoman,
Who wakes up at 6 am to cook, to fetch water, then clean the outhouse, then wash clothes, then cook again for lunch. The kitchen is completely separate from the house in a smaller room across the property.
She carries heavy water buckets many times a day to cook and clean and fill my shower bucket— yet still has a job working at a clothes-store in the afternoon.
Naps and sit-toilets are indeed a first-world privilege.

In this village, a mother carries lumber wood on her head and a baby on her back.
Grandmas venture into the forest and chop down trees— because they are “independent women who don’t need no man.”
Fathers farm from sunrise to sunset and walk hours to get back home.
Chickens run loose and the flowers bloom, as the sun sets beyond the mountain peak.

Coming home from my afternoon walk with my American friends, through unknown roads, I hear a peaceful town. I see children stare and moms eager to welcome me into their homes. “Shikamoo, asante,” I say to them.
As I arrive home, my neighbors’ children ask for an English lesson. I teach them simple words like school and store and write it all down so they can practice later.

The table is being set for dinner and I help my mom bring in one of the pots from the “kitchen” that’s a separate and outside of the house.
We eat the ugali with our hands and I try to tell her my plan for the next day in as much correct Swahili as possible. I walk to the filter and fill my water bottle, take my plate to the kitchen.
I say Asante sana for my dinner and wish them uziku mwema. I change into pajamas and write a few newly learned Swahili words in my notebook.
I fall asleep under my mosquito net as my baba eats dinner at 10 o’clock. Tomorrow, we do it all over again.


The view of Ludilo “town” from our property.

Studying in Tanzania

Swahili word(s) for the blog: Ninajifunza Mandaleo ya Jamii na Historia ya Afrika mashariki – I am studying community development and history of East Africa

Last year, when I started looking at study abroad programs, I knew I wanted to go somewhere unconventional. I did not even both looking at any programs in Europe because I honestly did not want to study abroad there. Any time I did a search for programs, I also checked the boxes for Asia and Africa, the two continents I knew I wanted to travel too. After that, I just had to find a program that adhered to my academic and personal interests. I chose CIEE’s Community Development, Culture, and Language program a) because of the location, and b) because of the abilities it provided for working with NGO’s. I also, of course, knew that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would never otherwise be exposed to.

The classes I chose to take include community development and history of East Africa and these classes are taught by Tanzanian professors from local colleges. The classes are taught in English and they follow a syllabus provided by CIEE. I chose to take these classes partially because I am interested in both topics and because I get credit for both of these classes respectively towards my two majors (History and International Affairs). Another reason I chose the community development class and a program tailored to learning about community development projects is because I considered community development as a possible future career. After taking the class, however, I learned that community development is not actually the field I am most interested in, and now I am considering master’s programs in international development or social work.

As part of the program, we are also required to take a research methods class and Swahili class Monday-Thursday. These two classes are taught by our program coordinator and program coordinator. Justin teaches research methods and will also be guiding us throughout the research project three of us will implement during the village stay. Paulo, an amazing linguistics teacher, has taught us an abundance of Swahili– enough to allow us to communicate to our homestay families for the next month as none of them speak English (wish me good luck).

Today was actually our last day of classes as we move to our village homestays for a month on Sunday. In the past two months, I have learned so much about community development and the history of the region. Our midterm exams were structured similarly to the exams I have taken at Wofford and all our classes were structured as lectures. Aside from the fact that our professors were Tanzanian, there is not much difference between classes here and the classes I have taken in the U.S. I do know however that our experience through the program is designed to be a bit more “Americanized,” in the sense that professors seek our input a lot more than they normally would from Tanzanian students. In this country, teachers are used to being in a room of at least fifty students, if not more. Teachers also rarely ask for questions or opinions from students as there are too many people in the room and not enough time. Personally, I’ve loved getting to know my two Tanzanian professors and they honestly have taught me and my peers so much about the respective topics.

As for our academic environment, I’ve mentioned in other blogs that CIEE students have a personal classroom. Compared to classes at Wofford, we’re always in the same classroom. This is because American semesters do not always line up with the Tanzanian school year; we also get our own classroom to have somewhere to store food and drinks, study or do homework and keep items in cubbies if needed. Even though we don’t meet fellow students in classes, we’ve made plenty of friends in the dorms, especially now because students are moving back in.

There aren’t really major differences between school here at Ruaha Catholic University and at Wofford. Having a dress code where we’re only allowed to wear skirts passed the knee is definitely very different, but it was not a huge adjustment. Dorm life is extremely similar; I have a roommate and we have communal showers and toilets (though since I am a senior this year I will return to Wofford hopefully in the village or in the apartments YAY). Aside from that, studying here wasn’t that big of an adjustment (except for the culture and limited food options that I’ve mentioned in previous blogs).

This Sunday will be the introduction to a new chapter of our study abroad experience. We will move to a district called Mufindi (still within Iringa) which is about three hours away. Each student will be placed with a homestay family, and no one speaks English. We will live with these families in the village for a month, and stay at an NGO on the weekends. There will definitely be blog updates from that experience, as long as we have service!


What a Wild Weekend!

Greetings from Tanzania! We just returned from our semester break in Zanzibar, and as amazing as that was, I will be saving it for a later blog. However, never fear! Because as you can see from the title, you will be reading all about my extraordinary weekend on a safari!

Lions, Zebras, Giraffes, Oh My!

Last weekend, my friends and I together with our Swahili instructor/Program Coordinator Paulo saddled up in two jeeps and started our two-hour drive to the inside of Ruaha National Park in Iringa, Tanzania. I asked how the park rangers keep the animals from leaving the savannah or going toward villages that border the national park, and our guide said they don’t forcefully keep the animals in. If an elephant or any other animal gets close to public human interaction, Tanzanians will call the park rangers and they have a way of coaxing the animals safely back towards their habitat. Before we arrived at the park entrance, we passed two female lions who were most likely hunting and a few giraffes eating dinner. We officially reached the park’s entrance, waited for a few minutes, then went on another drive for about thirty minutes to the campground where our bandas, or little huts were. We passed a bridge above a river where we stopped to look at the pod of hippos. They were all swimming underwater, but right as we entered our jeeps we saw one walking around. It was huge! Afterward, we stopped for dinner at a canteen inside the park then retired for the night inside our bandas. Once the sun goes down, we are not allowed to go outside or walk around without a guard because of animals. Paulo was specifically worried about hungry lions.

On Saturday morning, we woke up before sunrise and drove to a field to take pictures. After capturing the pretty sights you will find above, we began our safari drive, or as Paulo called it: moving around and seeing animals. To set the mood, I played Circle of Life from the Lion King on my phone and it was a nice aesthetic. It took us a while to spot our first animal, but alas! We saw impalas! Impalas were a repetitive sight throughout the weekend and we were lucky to spot some kudu, a species of antelope. I didn’t even know there were different species of antelope! It was truly amazing to observe animals in their own natural habitat.

Spotting animals was a lot harder then I thought it would be, partly because the park is the largest national park in Tanzania and there are only a few roads we are allowed to actually drive on. However, our guides were really good and spotting animals and guides would stop and ask each other if they spotted any animals in certain nearby locations. We also listened to rustling trees or bushes and looked for other safari cars. When our guide saw a couple other safari cars over in the distance, we quickly turned our car around, sped over a few humps, then slowed down as we approached from behind the two lions enjoying pumzika time, or relaxing. Since we have to be quiet to not scare the animals, we instead whispered our “ohs” and “ahs” and took turned taking photos with the King of the Pride behind us.

The best part of the entire weekend was truly just being able to witness the animals in their natural habitats where there belong, instead of behind cages and glass screens. Knowing that we were guests in their home was a humbling experience and being able to observe them so closely as they ate leaves off the trees or guarded their young one was truly indescribable. I saw zebras for the first time up close and in the wild, and watched giraffes chomp flowers for lunch. We even lion prints in the sand and saw baboons fight for a few minutes! All I could say in the moment was “wow,” then proceded to stick my head out the window and hang on to the top of the jeep so my friend Erin could take a picture of me with the animals.

After half a day of “moving around,” everyone was in need of a nap! Around 4 pm, we went back out to see more animals. After dinner, some of us students gathered around a fire pit and just spent some quality time together sharing stories and conversations. At one point, we heard a lion! Except, he wasn’t growling, he was making a crying noise. The guard shined his flashlight over and over to spook the lion who was most likely across the river and not actually anywhere close to us, and we stopped hearing the noise. I thought the experience of hearing a lion in the wild was a bit fascinating but some of my friends were a bit spooked. So, a few minutes later we all were escorted back to our bandas for a good night’s rest.

The World’s Largest Land Animal

The most majestic moment of all however occurred on Sunday afternoon. As we were getting ready to turn around and begin exiting the park, we saw a herd of elephants behind some trees. Our guide began to drive us closer, but the elephants began walking further behind the bushes and trees away from the road. I witnessed a mother elephant wrap her trunk in front of a baby elephant as if signaling the young one to stay back. My heart raced at such a beautiful yet real moment. These animals, though still extremely protected, were subjected to what felt to them as an unknown danger. Though I could see and feel the irony of a safari trip in those few minutes, I still think it is important and beneficial that we have safari parks to provide opportunities where we can witnesses moments like a mother protecting her young so we are endeavored in preserving our wildlife animals. Humans should work together to preserve these beautiful creatures because they have emotions and families and are just as important to the world as we are.

As our driver began to drive off, we saw three elephants climbing up the hill beside us. They seemed to be walking towards the herd, but our safari cars were in their path. Our driver started to continue driving but we yelled “simama!” which means stop. We refused to miss the moments that would follow. I quickly asked my friend to take a picture of me with the elephant behind, and I took one of her. When we put down our phones to see the animals, one elephant stopped beside our cars. It was so close, we could see the groves in its skin and its long eyelashes. I made eye contact with this beautiful creature and was overwhelmed with emotions. It then flapped its ears one last time and began walking towards its family. It was a beautiful ending to an unforgettable trip.

Daily Tanzanian Schedule

Habari za Asubuhi!

Good Morning from Tanzania. Today is Wednesday, October 2nd. On a regular Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I wake up at 8 am and miracoulously leave by 8:25 am to walk a short distance across campus for my Managing Community Development class, which starts at 8:30 am. Tuesday and Thursday are a bit different because I do not have class until 12 pm, so I spend my morning volunteering at Matumaini Women’s Center, an NGO that provides free vocational training to unmarried mothers and also a daycare and school for young children.

Our classes are held in the “CIEE Classroom” in one of the buildings at Ruaha Catholic University. Only CIEE students and faculty are allowed in the classroom, which has two water filters, a sink, a small fridge, some dishes and silverware, a bookshelf with both pleasure and educational reading, and a second bookshelf with various items like sunscreen, mosquito repellant, hygiene items, and other items bought by our directors or left by previous students for our use.

Managing Community Development ends at 9:30 and my next class, History of East Africa, is not until 11:00 am. During my break, some other students have Sustainable Rural Development, so I go back to my room to either do work or take a nap. On Mondays, 10-11 is a scheduled time for guest lecturers or NGO visits, and on Fridays, the same time slot is for a coffee hour where Justin, our director, brings us snacks and we all just hang-out or sometimes have wellness check-ins on how we’re doing mentally and emotionally. Every day at 12, we all take our Field Research and Methods class which is also taught by Justin. This class is by far the most challenging as the main assignment is developing a research proposal, and we do little by little each week.

Tanzanians eat lunch a little bit later than Americans, so our lunch break is not until 1 pm. Most of the time we all go to a restaurant called Clock Tower (see blog #3 for a review of restaurants). Most of us order their veggie curry (which is actually just veggie stew) which is affordable and good. RUCU does have a cafeteria, but students have been on break since September, so that cafe has been closed since then.

Habari za Mchana?

How’s your afternoon? After lunch every day I have Swahili class until 3 pm. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, Paulo is an amazing language teacher and though Swahili can be a tough language to learn, he makes it fun and less challenging through his teaching methods. Some days we learn by flashcards, others we complete worksheets, and even some days he makes us speak in front of the whole class, which is never fun but you learn quick!

After Swahili class, I return to my dorm, which is a girl’s dorm for other students at RUCU. There are seven girls so three pairs of roommates, with one girl living by herself. When the break is over, we will have Tanzanian students as our neighbors, but for right now, the nine of us are alone in the dorms (the two guys in our program stay across campus in the male dormitory). All our rooms are beside each other– we often yell questions to each other and communicate that way because our voice carries through the walls, and especially if the windows are open.

Lastly, I could not end this blog without officially introducing my roommate. Her name is Caroline and she is a junior at Trinity University. She recently spent the summer in Ecuador working with a nonprofit called Amigos. She is intelligent, funny, and independent and she listens to me talk random thoughts out loud. She is a friend I never knew I needed. Next week, she will climb Mount Kilimanjaro while the rest of us spend our semester break in Zanzibar. I have the COOLEST roomie!