Archive for April, 2010


Christina: Speaking French

April 30, 2010

My host mother Collette often invites her friends to dine with us at night. By now, they are men and women with whom I have shared many meals—warm and welcoming people who would sooner die than see my wine glass empty, who never fail to give me a blunt but well-meaning lecture, who claim to understand all there is to know about American culture without ever having seen the country. They are an affectionate, opinionated, and intimate group of friends who love to critique my speaking abilities with such a raw but poignant honesty and there is nothing I can do but like them despite it all.

A few weeks ago, in between hearty bites of Collette’s baked quiche and gulps of white wine, one of them began to tell a salacious and racy story about one of the friends who was absent that night. With all the chutzpah of a Hollywood gossip column, the story ended with a particularity sensational rumor about the woman. I couldn’t help but nearly choke on my quiche as I laughed aloud.

The room went quiet as every head in the room turned to look at me with wide eyes. The woman who had narrated the story set down her wine glass, her mouth gaping open. Collette cleared her throat and looked down at her plate. Finally, one of the men said with shocked joy, “Elle comprend! Elle comprend!

Wine glasses were refilled, a toast was made, and Collette’s friends clapped each other on the back, as if personally responsible for my spontaneous ability to speak French. It was like a classic Hellen Keller-at-the-water-fountain, Flowers for Algernon-post-surgery, Eliza Doolittle-at-midnight-with-Mr. Higgins, mute-girl-suddenly-speaks-moment.

Except it wasn’t.

What they didn’t know was that I could understand their conversations long before that day. What seemed like an epiphanic turning point had in reality been a slow and understated accumulation of knowledge. I never had that magical and profound moment that everyone talks about when learning a new language. I didn’t wake up one morning fluent in French, never had that picture-perfect and poetic moment of sudden discovery, never had a light bulb switch on in my head. Instead, it was if I had watched the sun rise in millions of subtle gradations until I could not remember what the sky had looked like in the early dawn hours.

These days, after I have a conversation in French, I am convinced that the language must have changed in the past three months. Surely the académie française passed a referendum calling for a simplification of the language and surreptitiously delivered the memo to every French citizen. It cannot possibly be that I have improved in French, because how could that sort of conversation ever have been difficult?

The day I arrived in France, I felt as if I had been lied to my entire life. The sounds that were coming out of the loudspeaker at Charles de Gaulle airport, the words I heard from the woman who sold me a ticket to Montpellier, the garbled noise on the train—this could not be the same French I had learned in the classroom. I’m still certain that Collette was speaking some language other than French on that day we met in January. Read the rest of this entry ?


Heather: Back home

April 28, 2010

I have made it safely home to Nairobi! It was a decent bus ride, no problems. We had a Saw marathon showing. It was so nice seeing my Nairobi family again, I think they missed me! We stayed up for a couple hours just talking about everything that’s been going on and telling them about my experiences and everything. And the next morning I got an amazing breakfast of tea, samosas, and eggs. Better than the white bread I’ve been getting recently. It was great!

We headed to Methodist Guesthouse to stay there for the next couple days while we finished up the program. The first night was really great seeing everyone again and catching up. It’s crazy that we all missed each other so much. I guess we’re all pretty good friends! Sara, Rebecca, Mia, and I lucked out on our room in the guesthouse. There’s four beds with our own bathroom. Well, everyone has this. BUT, our room has an extra door that opens onto a closed balcony overlooking the pool area. So seriously everyone just chilled in our room the first night and last night too. Later on in the night other people were being extremely loud and we could hear everything through the walls, so we slept on the balcony. So great! No mosquitoes; the weather was AMAZING!

We’ve just taken our exams. Today we had discussions about our internships and reverse culture shock. It was ok, but a rather long day. It sounds like some people really enjoyed their internships while others were indifferent, while others didn’t like it at all. So, technically, we’re done! Just have to hand in our papers and head out! My future plans are: take the night bus to Mombasa on Friday, then catch the 8 a.m. bus to Lamu. Stay in Lamu for 5ish days or so, head back down the coast. Then get a bus back to Nairobi from Mombasa. Then fly out of Nairobi on May 10 to go to EGYPT!! Then May 18th, fly home!

I will be on a boat for about a week, then traveling without my internet modem working, I will have very limited internet. My blog posts will probably be few and far between. Just so you’re aware. I will be going back to my family tomorrow morning and staying with them until Friday.


Trystan: Påskeuken (part 2)

April 27, 2010

Trondheim was an interesting city. As the third largest in Norway, I somehow expected it to be similar to Bergen. I’m slowly learning that Bergen is a pretty unique exception. To be honest, at first I didn’t care so much for Trondheim. It’s kinda flat, mountains barely noticeable off in the distance, similar size and feel to many medium sized cities. So, basically: Anytown, USA.

I rather took to it after a while, however. It’s quaint but modern, open and still together. I also got to see a bit of NTNU (the other school I was considering). I love Bergen, don’t get me wrong, but that campus is spectacular. UiB is like the Al Qaeda of universities—it’s hidden in and around the neighborhood, you’re just never quite sure where it actually is. I much prefer a proper campus, I think.

Chris took us to his hangout at Samfundet, a student organization sort of above and within the University. It was really cool, I just wish I could’ve seen it when it was busier.

We didn’t do as much in Trondheim. But it’s a great city to just walk around in, and explore. Plus, when you’re there with friends, it doesn’t matter much what you actually do. We did, however, see the Northern Lights! Granted my tripod-less point and shoot didn’t capture it the best, but you can see them still.


Wookie, Selena, and Kasia resting on a bench at the harbor


Neat lady feeding the pigeons and gulls


Rowers on the river


Harbor view

As always, more on Flickr!


Emma: Sydney Adventures

April 26, 2010

The time continues to fly by and I cannot believe I have already been back from Easter Break for two weeks now. Since Easter Break I have been busy with uni work and just exploring Sydney some more. It’s so nice that I now know my way around town, Sydney definitely makes me feel right at home.

Right after East Break, some of my friends that I had met while in New Zealand and Mike my friend from Minnesota came to visit. I was so excited to show them the amazing place we live. I also took them to Bondi Beach and did the Coastal Walk with them as well. The Coastal Walk will most likely be one of the last things I do before I come home because it’s gorgeous and will never get old.

That following weekend we went to the Sydney Aquarium which was well worth the money. We were able to see one of the largest crocodiles in the world, walk through a glass tunnel filled with heaps of sharks, manatees, sting rays, and also see the tiny creatures such as jellies, sea horses, eels, clown fish, etc. After our day at the aquarium, we headed to the Lindt Chocolate Bar. Yummm! All of the cakes, ice cream, and drinks were made with Lindt Chocolate.

The next day some friends and I went to Glebe Markets which we had gone to when we first arrived but wanted to check out again. The markets were a successful day for everyone with Betsy buying new outfits for her birthday which was last week Tuesday, and I got a skirt for FREE! There was a stain on the back of it and the women just let me have it because she said she wouldn’t be able to sell it.

On Sunday we did our weekly run to Paddy’s Markets, and then Betsy and I went to eat brunch at St. Johns College. We had met some friends there who invited us to come over and eat and once again I felt like I was eating at Hogwarts. The dining hall had long wooden tables, a head table where Dumbledore would sit and huge rounded windows amongst the beautiful architecture. I literally sat there waiting for the owls to fly in with mail… Not only was the dining hall gorgeous, but the cathedral attached as well!

This past Friday, we ventured out in fancy dresses to the area of Sydney known as The Rocks, had a fancy dinner (this was the first actual nice restaurant we had been to since coming here), and hung out that night in the many pubs around The Rocks including The Lowenbrau, The Argyle, and also the oldest pub in all of Sydney. It was a good change of pace hanging out with some people of the older generation.

It was ANZAC Day here in Sydney this weekend. ANZAC stands for Australian, New Zealand, Army Corps: in other words Veterans Day. All the soldiers were out in full force playing a betting game called 2up. And like I have said before, Australians love their public holidays.

And now for the best part: quite possibly one of my favorite nights in Sydney. On Saturday night we were invited to one of our friend’s (who plays water polo at Sydney Uni) 21st birthday party. It was at a great venue in Sydney that included food all night long, music, and speeches given by his family and friends! It was neat to experience such an extravagant event. That same night we got in VIP at a club in Darling Harbor.

As you can tell I am still living the dream and even as the weather gets a little cooler nothing can take the smile off my face.


Heather: Last week in Mombasa

April 23, 2010

This is my last week in Mombasa so I’ve just been finishing up some stuff at work. Mostly just working on my presentation and final report that I have to turn in.

I also made dinner for my family yesterday – my original plan was to make burritos. However, when I went to the store, I was banking on them having chapati (to use instead of tortilla shells), but they did not. And then I didn’t want to depend on a street vendor having them outside my house, so I had to think on the fly. I decided to just simply change it to chicken stir-fry. That was something easy to make, and something I didn’t need a recipe or ingredient list for. I just picked up some rice, chicken, green and yellow peppers and some onions. As I was making it, the power went out. I had two burners going and I was flying blind. But no worries, I prevailed! It turned out well. My family seemed to enjoy it.

Since you may be curious about my host family, I’ll talk about that. As mentioned before, it was just my host mom and I. Since then the kids have come home from school for 2 weeks but have left again now. And my host dad came home from Sudan from work, but is leaving next week to go back for another couple months. For the time that he was home, my host mom took a leave from work so she could be around during the day.

When I get home from work we talk about how each of our days went, but they’re a pretty quiet family. My little brother and sister didn’t talk much either; I think they were just shy. It’s different learning about the kids’ schooling and stuff, but I’m still not exactly sure how the system works.

For dinner we normally have rice with cabbage and fish or some sort of stew. Sometimes there’s spaghetti, and other times we have chapati and beans. The rice stews and spaghetti are my favorites. After dinner the family normally watches TV, but it’s mostly in Swahili so I don’t know much. I try to watch it but I really have no idea what’s going on, so I normally read. They don’t talk amongst themselves much either.

I normally prepare my own breakfasts, which are just white bread and hot chocolate. It’s very simple, but it doesn’t take much time.

The other night my host mom gave me a handbag with a carved wooden lion and a salt shaker made out of cow horn. It was very nice of her and I really like it. Since I didn’t know anything about my family before coming to Mombasa, I didn’t have any gifts for my family. But a couple weeks ago I was making bracelets from beads that I made in Nairobi and I gave a couple to my host mom and her sister in law who always made me dinner. So I’m glad I at least had something in return for her.

I will try to post pictures of my house, but I don’t know when that will be. Maybe next week when I am back in Nairobi.


Kelsey: in a bit of a slump

April 21, 2010

After the initial glamour and excitement of being here wore off (and after classes started, bleh), I finally had to face the reality that I’m not going to be home for a while. Which has been kind of tough.

I have been going out and doing some cool things, at least. Last weekend I went out with Yuki and some of her friends. We had conveyor-belt sushi, then stopped at a coffee shop to hang out, then played billiards and darts at a pool hall. That was really fun, and I’m looking forward to hanging out with them again! Yuki and her friends are all English majors, but they talk to me in Japanese a lot too, which is nice.

The trains stop running completely by 12:30, which is strange because even in the Twin Cities the buses run all night. It sucks to have to cut your night short sometimes, but it’s also nice to come home at a decent time. Jeez, I’m such an obaasan (grandma, lol). If you miss the train, there are 24 hour karaoke bars/internet cafes that you can crash at. For about 1000 yen you get unlimited drinks (juice/pop/etc.) and a private computer area for the night. It’s a nice alternative to wandering around in the streets all night or trying to walk home, but I still don’t want to take my chances.

Anyway, yesterday I decided to get out of this slump I’ve been in. Two of the things that have been hard are dealing with the lack of personal space and my constant self-consciousness of being a gaijin (foreigner, literally- outside person). However, I had to realize that yeah, I’m an outsider, and yeah, it’s going to be a while until I’m back home, but this is my one chance to experience life here, so why waste it? If someone looks down on me for being a foreigner, there are 12,789,999 more people who might not mind me being here. So, I’ve made some plans for the next couple of days, and I’m really going to try hard to make the most of my time!

My schedule for school kind of rocks in that I don’t have class on Wednesdays, and I only have one on Mondays and Thursdays. So, today was my day off, my mini-weekend! I took advantage of the beautiful weather (mid-70’s and sunny) and took the JR to Ueno Park. I went to the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, which was a great museum with a lot of really cool exhibits! I hadn’t been to a science museum in a long time, so it was neat to look at the exhibits relating to my area of study for the past 4 years…

After the museum, I bought some ice cream and took a stroll through Ueno Park. It is a really beautiful place, I will definitely have to go back again! There is a zoo, a lot of museums, and a shrine, so there’s definitely a lot to see!

Here are some pictures via Facebook.


Heather: Return to Tanzania

April 21, 2010

Definitely one of the top 3 of weekends since I’ve been in Kenya. On Saturday morning I headed to Tanzania. Got on my bus at 7 a.m., and the only plan in mind was to get to Moshi, Tanzania. I was going to meet our friend Simon who we met while rafting in Uganda.

I was afraid we would miss each other because my bus was 1.5 hours late and there was no way I could get a hold of him, as he has no phone. So I got off the bus at Moshi, walked around for a few minutes having really no idea where I was, just praying that I would see another whitie. Luckily, he found me after only about 10 minutes. We started to figure out our plans for the weekend; I was really just planning on going along with anything. He met this guy who wanted to help us, but ended up wanting to charge us Tsh 90,000/person (~$75) for one night of going to this local village. Long story short, we ended up paying only Tsh 30,000/person.

We took a dalla-dalla (matatu thing) halfway up this mountain right near Kilimanjaro with Richard, the guy whose family we were going to stay with. We had to walk another 1.5 hours uphill the rest of the way to get to the village. The village we went to was called Metaruni and held the Chagga tribe. That night we walked around meeting his family and seeing what was around. We ate this really good pork along with some salty soup. We also tried some banana beer. Not so good. I was literally chewing my beer because there were chunks of grain in it. Played some checkers and headed back to get some dinner. Dinner was a banana, bean, and yam stew. It was ok.

The next morning we got up early to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately it was just a little too cloudy for this. However, we saw Mt. Kilimanjaro!! Greatest sight ever! Normally you can’t see it during the day because it’s so cloudy, but in the morning and at night you can see it if you’re lucky. Guess I was! We ate some breakfast (roasted peanuts, bread, plantains, homemade coffee, and tea) and headed out for the day. We hiked up to some waterfalls and swam for a bit, then hiked to some other falls and swam some more. The water was SO COLD! It was great hiking, but really tiring. I am rather sore from it. When we got back we grabbed some lunch (beef and banana stew). If you’re wondering about the bananas, they have a ton of banana trees around and they use them to make a ton of different things. I never knew you could do so much with a banana! But it was all really good, especially the stew. After lunch we went to go make some coffee. We ground up the seeds to get the coffee beans out, then roasted the beans, then ground the beans into a fine powder and there was the coffee. Then we hiked about 2 hours down the mountain to catch a ride back into Moshi.

Once in Moshi, we went to a hostel and got some rooms and went to get some dinner. Street food is so amazing! I got rice, bagia (fried dough stuff), cabbage, and tea and Simon got chapati, beans, bagia, and tea and we only paid Tsh 1000 total. That’s like 35 cents per meal. And it was really good too!

The next morning we went to the market to grab some fruit for breakfast. I have never had so much fruit in one sitting. We made a GIGANTIC fruit salad (only Tsh 5500, ~$4.50). I couldn’t even finish it: 5 bananas, 2 oranges, papaya, watermelon, and mango. Delish. We packed our bags for the day and jumped on a dalla-dalla to go to Marangu, a town about 1 hour from Moshi. We went to some caves and then more waterfalls.

Caught my bus in the moning to head back to Mombasa. I took about 8 hours (ugh), but I saw about 30 elephants and 10 giraffes on my way. We passed through Tsavo West National Park on the way. This was one National Park I wanted to get to, but unfortunately never had time. But, at least I can say I passed through it and officially saw some wildlife of the park!

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