Monday, November 30, 2009


Right after breakfast, and still blurry eyed, we head to Rubondo House for playgroup where ten adorable and rambunctious toddlers await us. Luckily, we had Laura, who had been volunteering since September, to show us the ropes.

First, we try to settle them down around the table with books. Sometimes the kids want you to read to them, sometimes they want to point at the pictures or play i-spy. We are happy as long as they are seated quietly, sharing and not ripping pages out.

As soon as everyone has put up their books, it's play dough time. The kids ask us to make lions, elephants and giraffes. Clean up sometimes takes longer than play dough time itself since the blue mud quickly spreads around the room. The kids love singing songs like "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes", "The Wheels on the Bus" and "Elephant, Go Take a Bath" (a RVCV classic). Then, to chill them out, we watch five minutes of Sesame Street before "saya lala", nap time. While they sleep, we get a needed break.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rift Valley Children's Village

In 2003, founder India Howell began her dream of the Rift Valley Children's Village. After six years, the dream and the village have grown to 69 young Tanzanians living in five houses: Serengeti, Manyara, Rubondo, Mkumi, and Kiran. Beautifully situated just outside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the village is surrounded by green hills of coffee plantations, purple jacaranda trees, and pink bougainvillea flowers. During our stay, Temple lived in Manyara House and Clay stayed in Serengeti House assisting the mamas and attempting to communicate in Swahili.

Early every morning, we were awoken by the sound of bunk beds and chairs being drug across the floor. Sitting together around a large table the kids eat breakfast, either PB&J or porridge called ugi, then complete their morning chores. Around 7:00 am uniforms are on and the short walk to school begins. The kids are surprisingly perky as they drag yawning volunteers down the road. While the older kids were at school, we spent the morning with playgroup, 2-3 year olds, in Rubundo House. After their morning naps, they are joined by the pre-schoolers, 4-5 year olds, to play in the library, coloring, building legos, and climbing all over volunteers. 12:30 is saa kula, lunch time.

In the afternoon, Temple was in charge of pre-school kids. She'd take them on nature walks, draw with sidewalk chalk or play games. While helping Temple with pre-school, Clay tutored/played with Elibaraka, a really bright 4-year old who loves math and puzzles.

At the end of the day is free play. This is a time for controlled chaos with older kids coming back from school and the little ones running about. After returning home for bath time, the kids eat a snack of egg and bread, then watch a movie. We'd eat dinner with the kids if they were having chapati, but normally we'd eat in the volunteer house then return for story time and to say goodnight.

Our days followed this pattern but every one was special. The kids welcomed us into their lives so quickly and with so much love. On the first day, we realized that three weeks would not be long enough but we made the most of every moment and every friendship in this unforgettable place.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ngorongoro Crater

Early in the morning we descended into the Ngorongoro Crater, the largest caldera in the world created when a volcano exploded millions of years ago. It is now a unique ecosystem with a constant supply of water, making migrations like those of the Serengeti unnecessary. The crater is home to thousands of wildebeests and zebras as well as a variety of birds, antelope and cats. It is amazing to see such large amounts of animals living side by side peacefully, although occasionally, they do eat each other.

On This Serengeti For Two

Our Land Cruiser rumbled and rambled through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the vast plains of the Serengeti. The journey was long but quickly rewarded with unbelievable wildlife viewing.

When we thought the Serengeti couldn't get any better, we had a close encounter with the King and Queen of the Jungle beginning their annual mating ritual.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cloudy Kilimanjaro

We stopped in Moshi for a day just to see the snows of Kilimanjaro. When we arrived, the summit was completely covered by clouds. No snows. We left our camera in our room and went for dinner at a rooftop restaurant where a clear day offers great views of the mountain. When we ordered our Kilimanjaro Lagers the summit was still obscured. But about half way through the first round the clouds began to part. Soon we could see the roof of Africa. In the setting sun the peak looked like a Varsity Frosted Orange. We toasted the mountain with our second round and enjoyed the views in the last moments of daylight. The next day we returned to the rooftop for photos but the clouds had returned.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I Stayed At A Farm in Africa

After the tropical heat of the islands, we were ready to escape to the cool air of the Usambara Mountains in northern Tanzania. We packed into a bus which traversed curvy mountain roads to drop us in Soni, a small dusty intersection with a few shops and people drifting about.

Maweni Farm is two kilometers outside of town at the base of a large rock face. When we arrived, we knew we'd found the perfect mountain getaway. In colonial times the farm was a coffee plantation run by a German family but now it is solely a lodge. The main house where our quaint room was, sat on a small hill next to a lovely pond, home to many yellow weavers. Next to the pond was a huge boulder and some lovely jacaranda and acacia trees. The first night we shared the dining room with two other couples but after that we had the place to ourselves. We had private picnics in the thick grass next to the pond and went for walks along the main road past villagers busily working the farmland or walking from the market.

The day we left, Msheba, the friendly manager of Maweni Farm, offered to drive us the 45 minutes to Lusotho which is a bigger, though still tiny, town higher up in the mountains. He took us all the way to our next destination, Irente Farm, curious to see the accommodation for himself. Unlike Maweni, Irente was still an operating farm producing cheese, bread, juice and jam. The farm belongs to the Luther Church which also runs a neighboring school for the blind, a center for kids with mental disabilities and an orphanage.

The manager, Peter, has gotten the farm certified as a biodiversity reserve and has begun to protect the native plant species in the area. He gave us a tour of the operation, taking us through the farm pointing out native and invasive species before walking us down to the Irente Farm Children's Home. Here we were greeted by a gregarious Swedish woman who gave us a tour and told us a few of childern's stories. We met the young Tanzanian women who volunteer here for two years in order to help pay for future education. The children were precious. We got to feed them lunch before their naps.

Later we walked to the Irente Viewpoint which offers amazing views of the Masaai Steppe. We met a local and watched the sunset with him. Then he invited us to his house which was a small hut right behind the lookout. We met his son and wife, then her sisters. We had a nice visit before heading back to the farm.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jambo Mambo

After an uncomfortable overnight ferry ride we disembark in the small port town of Mkoani on the northern island of Pemba. Immediately we feel we are in a different world. Gone are the tourists, hawkers, and crowded streets. We are the only wazungu here and are thankful not to hear any yells for "taxi! hotel! boat ride!". When a man approaches us and says he'll walk us to the Jondeni Guesthouse we are grateful since our guidebook only states it is "on the main road". At the small hostel the kind and helpful manager greets us as if we are the first guests in weeks.

We walk into town along a tarred road which seems out of place for a town where most people travel on foot. We pass the fish market area near the port where in low tide people linger long after the main catch has arrived, digging for clams or cleaning boats. I am especially careful to wear a long skirt and long sleeves here as not a strand of hair or even an elbow is revealed from the local women. We walk down the shoreline in front of small huts where everyone waves, especially children who stare and yell "Jambo!" We return the hello and wave. We walk past a couple's house where the wife is cooking on an open fire and the husband joins us on the beach to practice his English. Walking back through the market area I suddenly hear "Temple!". No, that can't be, I think, and then recognize our hotel manager Mzee. He is likely picking out our dinner for that evening. Knowing we are interested in a beach he tells us to follow the main road past the hotel, down the hill then up and down another, take a left at the soccer pitch and we'll find a nice one. We thank him and quickly set out.

We pass by many houses made of mud and sticks where women dressed in colorful patterns and men in modern clothing keep busy in the afternoon heat. They stare at us suspiciously before we say "Jambo" and they smile and greet us. "Karibu." Welcome. "Mambo?" How are you? "Poa" Good. We continuously exchange these greetings during the walk. The kids scream in excitement at the sight of us and at one point a group follows us down the street laughing and yelling.

Soon we are greeted by Juma, a young local boy who speaks some English. We ask if we we're going in the right direction for the beach. He says yes and begins to lead us. He points out a short cut and suddenly we're off the main road, walking through thick lush jungle with clove farms interspersed. Cloves are the primary industry on Pemba island. Since I have no idea what a clove plant looks like, I'm glad when Juma hands me a bloom and says "clove". He points to other plants and tells us which ones to smell, just like a pro. It starts to rain after ten minutes and Juma points to a cement shelter rather randomly sitting in the middle of someone's farm. "Wait or beach?" he asks. For the camera's sake we decide to wait and the peaceful downpour ends as quickly as it began. Only a few steps further and we are at a small sliver of a beach in the lagoon with not a soul in sight. A rickety dhow sits in the turquoise water and we enjoy the reward of our long hot trek. On the way back we thank Juma and return to Jondeni. That night we eat fresh fish and watch from the porch as the sun sets in the bay.

The following day it's go time once again. Our first hour or so is spent in a minibus to Chake Chake, the main town of Pemba Island. In the dusty square of Chake Chake you can get to most towns on the island by dalaa dalaas which are pick up trucks with benches lining the bed and a makeshift roof for cargo. Drivers wait until people are packed in like sardines before heading off. Soon enough the 602 dalaa dalaa to Konde shows and we are some of the first in. We sit in the front of the flat bed pressed against the cabin. Our packs are tied on top along with bicycles, huge bags of wheat and other luggage. Another fifteen people join us before we set off and at lest ten more passengers are picked up along the way. Babies and old women squeeze in close while some of the men stand on the back bumper holding on. People engage in pleasant conversation, I coo at the adorable baby to my left and, somehow, Clay takes a nap. An hour and a half later we arrive in Konde. It's the smallest town we've seen yet and we find a ride through the Ngezi Forest Reserve on a five kilometer mud road with small lakes in the middle of it. We arrive 20 minutes later at the Kervan Saray Beach, home of Swahili Divers.

The place is secluded on an incredible beach just minutes from some of the most pristine diving in the world. This place was on my list early on but Clay never thought he'd try scuba diving. With no convincing from me, he figured if he ever tries it this is the place. He signs up for a discovery dive which is done in close proximity to a Dive Master and requires no certification. I am excited and nervous for him. The next morning, watching him practice the skills in the pool with a Brit couple who were also discover divers, I remember the unnatural and scary feeling of breathing underwater for the first time. I am very proud of his courage to try something that he had said from the beginning did not appeal to him.

Clay goes with the discover divers and I, reluctant to leave him, go down with another group. The views are incredible. We don't see the sharks or dolphins of South Africa but the colors and varieties of coral are astounding. Our first dive is along a wall of coral that falls incredibly deep. There are beautiful parrot fish, puffer fish, anemone fish, lion fish, starfish, sea cucumbers and moray eels. On the second dive at Manta Point we see more beautiful coral and when the sun breaks through the water everything glows.

After the excitement of diving, we get a ride to Konde and take a minibus instead of the dalaa dalaa back to Chake Chake. The next day we take a flight back to the Tanzanian mainland, another thrill. We take off from the small Pemba airport in an 12 seat airplane from which we see the beautiful green island surrounded by thick coral reef stretch out below us.