Wednesday, June 16, 2010

First few days in Africa

June 12, 2010?
I woke up this morning to my beloved sister, Amy’s, terrified voice nearly yelling at the disbelief that I could be asleep at a time like this. The time was 8:30 a.m. on June 11th and it was the first day this month that I actually wasn’t scared of going on my trip. All the gut wrenching anxiety that has been contributing to my seemingly vacant mannerisms and emotional mood swings was wiped away, and replaced with a serene excitement. My parents, adorable grandfather, and myself arrived at the Bush Intercontinental airport at in Houston at 11:55 am with only my big backpack in hand.
After a tearful goodbye the daunting voyage began. A 9-hour flight from Houston to Amsterdam on a double-decker plane was the flight that I was “supposed” to sleep on. Instead I completed 3 movies including Up In The Air. Percy Jackson: the lightening thief, and Slumdog Millionaire, an episode of CSI: New York, and the beginning of the Arisocats. Very productive.
Of course, anyone who knows me is aware that I have a ridiculously weak immune system, so something was bound to happen. With out wasting any time, I got off the first plane with a stuffy nose and no voice. Just like that, within the first plane ride, I contracted a cold.
We arrived in Amsterdam around 8 AM; keep in mind 1 AM Houston time. Our 4 our layover flew by because we had to practice singing Deep in the Heart of Texas several times through because as tradition follows, a tribe sings us a song introducing themselves and, in response, we also sing a song about our home land. A native Texan, such as myself, might think that they know all the words to the classic melody, however, we were all proven terribly wrong and were forced to divide the versus into pairs thus lessening the amount to be learned. We loaded up for our next plane flight at 11 am Amsterdam time for another daunting, nearly sleepless, 9-hour plane ride.
Time changed on us yet again and we finally arrived at the Kilimanjaro Airport at 8:30 PM Tanzanian time. To be quite honest I'm not sure what day it is and I feel like it was only this morning that I held my precious sobbing little mother in my arms, when in fact it was yesterday morning.
We arrived to meet out guides Erin and Peter, as well as many native Africans who helped us with our luggage and drove us to our village called Maji ay Chai (meaning Water and Tea). I'm quickly acknowledging the lack of the letter “x” in the Swahili vocabulary because not a single person has been able to say my name thus far.
Here, we set up sleeping nets and bags, went over traditional rules such as “if its yellow let it mellow, and if its brown flush it down”, and don’t drink the water. The Mamas, our village caretakers who we have yet to meet, prepared us a delightful traditional-ish western meal. As we ate we talked about our fears and things were excited about for this trip.
One of my biggest fears was getting sick, but since Im already sick I really was able to focus on the things I'm looking forward too. I'm looking forward to going to church in the morning, and going on safari, I'm looking forward to meeting new people and trying new things. I'm looking forward to the potential life altering experiences that I could bring home from this trip and keep with me for the rest of my life.
I am in Africa. It still hasn’t hit me. It doesn’t matter how many times I say it or write it down I still don’t quite know where I am. I have only been here a few hours and I have already seen bugs I didn’t know existed. They are as loud as birds and as I lay here in my sleeping bag, their chirps and whistles are surprisingly soothing. Its 1:26 AM Tanzanian time, and I have no clue what time or what’s going on anywhere else in the world but right here. It’s nice in a way, not to know anything about anyone or anywhere else. Just to be away from it all. I think it’s starting to hit me. I'm in Africa.

June 13, 2010
I’ve only really been in Africa for 10 hours so far, but I feel like it’s been at least a week.
I began this morning with a shower. Not the steamy shower you would love to soak in after a 22 hours worth of travel, instead a shower that was so cold that the goose bumps on my leg hurt so I simply leaned over and washed my hair with my shorts still on.
Next we ate breakfast, another semi traditional meal, consisting of eggs, pancakes, fruit, and vegetables. The fruits and vegetables here are unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. They are perfect, I’ll be sad when I have to back and eat the chemical enhanced fruits at home.
After a full tummy, we did was the first of many experiences I hope I will never forget.
It’s beautiful here. Everything is bright green and its cool and breezy, which made our hour long walk to church seem more like recreation rather than something we had to do. Along the streets are chickens, goats, cows, and people who look at us with the same curiosity as we do them. Every person we passed we would say “Jambo” which means hello, unless the person is an elder and then you greet them by saying “Shikamoo” and Mama if they are a woman and Baba if they are a man. Respect is a big part of life here. Modest clothes and proper treatment and greetings can show a lot about a person. Deodorant, however, is not required.
As much as the adults smile and wave at us, the children gaze at us in incredulity. If they know how to talk to us, they don’t say much. They just smile. Some run up and hold our hands; while others hide behind cornstalks and whisper things to their friends. We continued up the hills and finally reached the church.
It was a simple building, like most here, it was built with big bricks and beams and the windows are more like big squares in the wall because they don’t have glass. But its simplicity was beautiful. Their music was mostly a skin drum that a woman was hitting with a stick and everyone singing. There were about 30 people there, and even though I didn’t know what they were saying or singing, I could see the passion and belief in their eyes. The prayers were almost yelled they were said so passionately. Halfway through, Peter leaned over and told us that they were praying for food and health. It was hard to hear that. Never in my life have I even remotely worried about where my next meal would come from or if I would have anything at all, and this was something that people were pleading God for. We were there for almost 2 hours, and they flew by. With all the touching moments I experienced from the church service, I couldn’t possibly not share the…unusual parts... as well. During one prayer a rustling in a bag next to us squawked, and yes, it was a chicken.
On the way back we met a little a girl named Alice, she was 10 and could speak a little English. She was beautiful, and on her hip sat her baby sister, which was now in her care. Next we passed a field of goats and donkeys and amongst them was a little boy. He was their Shepard and he looked to be no older that 5. Kids here are given responsibility so early and are forced to grow up so fast.
We returned to the compound to have our first Swahili lesson. I failed miserably, but our teacher was the most precious little man ever. I can see how hard it is for them to say things like our names, because their names sound like pure gibberish and the only one I can remember is Munice, our guard. Munice is so sweet and you can tell he really watches out for us. Today in church we prayed for his brother who just lost his arm in an accident yesterday and is suffering spinal injuries. I asked peter why it didn’t seem like Munice was sad about what happened and he told me that people here have to move on. There’s no time for them dwell on death or medical problems like we do in the US.
Our next assignment for the day was to roam the surrounding village and come back with an interesting story. Rachel brought a soccer ball to play, and conviently, there is a cow field next to us where the little kids play and we got in quite a game. These kids, 7 year old and younger, play soccer better than some people on pro teams.
Next we met Rose. She was an adorable girl that looked no older than me. She spoke some English so it was easy to connect with her. She had a 4 year old daughter named Leila and 11 month old son named Dan, and she told me how much she wanted to go back to school and learn English as well as teach it to there kids to give them more opportunities. The look at us and English as more than just a language or a person but as wealth and so much more.
Lastly, I can’t even explain the stars here. I’ve never seen so many, and today I actually saw a shooting star! It was unreal sitting there and feeling so small.

June 14, 2010
I feel terrible. My cold is only getting worse so my ears hurt and my throat burns and every time I cough I cant breath. I have no voice, and I don’t do well without talking. My back aches, as do my thighs and I have blisters on each toe as well my hands.
The reason?
Today we did our community service project which was walking a few miles to a site with pic-axes and shovels and then digging trenches for a new water line. I don’t think I’ve ever been so purely exhausted; it’s even a struggle to write this.
As miserable as that first paragraph sounds, I am beyond loving it here. I love meeting the people in the town and even the people in our group that I never thought I would create friendships with. Ms. Bottoms cracks me up! So does Ms. Hartman, especially today when we were acknowledging the layers of dirt on our skin and she said, “today I was flexing my biceps and I was like wow! Look at those and I touched them and it was just dirt that wiped away”.
One of my “love hate” activities here is Swahili class. It’s hard and I can’t really talk very well, and sometimes I think my cold is getting to my head. But, I looovveee our teacher Mkala. He is the most adorable man and he’s very respected here in the village. He was a teacher for 30 years and he has 10 kids of his own, who are all living! Most other are not so fortunate because health care is non-existent here.
I'm beginning to get very frustrated with my photo-taking abilities, or lack there of. It so much harder than I thought, and I feel like I'm just not as creative as the others. Oh well, this leaves oodles of room for improvement!


  1. I love your blog! I had now idea you were such a great, interesting and funny writer. I miss you so much! More than normal because you are on the other side of the world. Your experience so far sounds amazing and I can't wait to keep reading your blogs and see your pictures as you post them. I am so proud of you. Soak it up, Lexi. This is a one in a lifetime experience. Love you so... Amy

  2. Lexi-You write so beautifully. You may not be able to speak but you have a lovely voice! Have a great trip, Lindsey's mom