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Doug: Goodbye study abroad… hello Zanzibar

December 20, 2011

Mambo vipi wote!

So once again I slacked big time in updating my blog over the past month. But here’s to giving you a snap shot of the last month:

My time living on the Kenyan coast wrapped up really well. My internship at the Wema Centre slowed down in the final week—since my students went home for holiday break. Saturday, November 26 was a highlight because this was the day that dozens of students, parents and teachers gathered for Wema’s graduation ceremony on the front lawn. My Kindergarten 3 (KG3) class was graduating, as well as a number of older students on the vocational training classes. Now imagine your typical boring graduation ceremony—and now think of the complete opposite, and that was Wema’s graduation. Instead of boring speeches, there were student performances, an acrobat performance, dance groups and skits. It was quite the event.

American ‘cooked’ dinner for my host fam

My time with my host family on the coast also came to a nice close. Some of the great highlights were cooking an ‘American’ meal for my family with my friend Amber (which consisted of chicken parm out of a box, apples with peanut butter, Caesar salad, and ice cream with candy—as American as you can get since the grocery store didn’t have mac n cheese), and then also taking my host mom and my two sisters out to eat at a restaurant in Mombasa. I really clicked with this family and it was pretty hard to say good-bye; but, nevertheless, on Sunday morning December 4, I hopped on the back of a pikipiki (motorbike) with my two bags, and set off for the bus station. From there it was another 8 hour bus ride back to Nairobi.

The following few days were kinda a blur. All 26 students from my program came back from their respective internships at NGO’s, hospitals, and schools in towns and cities all over Kenya. During this time we stayed at a guesthouse outside Nairobi. It was the same exact one that I had stayed in upon my initial arrival in Kenya; but this time it was like culture shock: running water? Toilets and showers? Consistent electricity? And WIFI?? It was a strange feeling to feel too comfortable after my 6 weeks on the brutally hot coast. We had our final exams (no one really studied for these too much) and had final wrap up discussions.

But the most unforgettable one was when all of us were required to present in groups on our respective internships at development NGO’s, and particularly what was shocking and surprising. What started as initially a slightly boring forum, turned very emotional quite quickly as the brutal realities and injustices we had experienced became clear: a street boy who returned to the streets only to fall back into glue-sniffing addiction, under-stocked and under-staffed hospitals which couldn’t properly do surgeries because they didn’t have rubber gloves, a teenager at a school reading at a kindergarten level, women treated like crap and abused by men, or forced to go into prostitution to feed their kids—the list goes on and on. But as we moved past the tears and the gravity of the situation, it suddenly became clear that each of us had changed since we first came to Kenya. Our eyes had been opened, even in the slightest way, to some of the cruelest effects that poverty has on the lives of individuals—individuals not unlike you and me—who are simply trying to live their lives. People talked about fears over transitioning back to the US and how to even begin to explain these experiences to friends and family back at home.

6 days after our program ended I boarded a 14 hour bus ride for one final trip in East Africa with some friends before going home. The trip was supposed to be just Sunday through Friday, with one night in Dar es Salaam and several on the island of Zanzibar just off the Tanzanian coast. Our bus, complete with cardboard pasted over the missing back windows, barreled down the highway bound for Dar at disconcerting speeds, the engine sounding like it was about to burst at any moment. But, alas, we made it safely to Dar. I even was able to find a street called Ohio Street in downtown Dar! Dar is so unbelievably different than Nairobi—so much less overpopulation, pollution and traffic; not to mention it’s directly on the Indian Ocean.

We took a ferry (after bargaining for the real ticket price of course)  over to the main port of Stone Town on Zanzibar. We spent our first 24 hours on Zanzibar exploring the city’s back alley ways and mosque architecture, night time water-front market, and embarking upon an incredibly touristy spice tour of Zanzibar (no shame—they actually took us through the woods and cut down cinnamon and nutmeg and other spices from trees, it was kinda awesome).

Beach at Jambiani–East Coast of Zanzibar

We then spent 2 nights on the east coast at a $15/night hostel called Teddy’s—one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. And then it was up to the north coast for a night.

Sunset at Kendwa–on the North coast

All in all the trip to Zanzibar was absolutely amazing. From the crystal white beaches to swimming in bright blue oceans, combined with its old history and culture, this island was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been—and I’ve got a pretty bad sunburn on my back to show for it.

Awesome nighttime market in Stone Town

My time here in Kenya is finally coming to a close, and I shall soon do one final Kenya post. Over and out my friends.

Zanzibar livin’

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