Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Fantastic Fall Break (with a few bumps along the way)

Over the last two months, our lives have been fairly consumed by learning Kiswahili, and we have learned a lot! However, we recently realized that our brains were becoming oversaturated, and it was becoming more and more difficult to pick up concepts in class. We had also noticed an overall weariness in ourselves. Therefore, we decided to take a Fall BreakJ Last week we made arrangements to travel by bus to Udzungwa National Park with four other students for the weekend.

Friday came, and everyone was packed up and ready to leave, everyone that is, except Eric’s stomach. He woke up with some intestinal issues, so we delayed our trip slightly to give some time for the meds to kick in. Thankfully after an hour, he was feeling significantly better, so we called a taxi and headed to the bus station.

The bus station in Morogoro is an amazingly frenzied place, with people selling goods in every direction. As soon as we arrived (around 9am), we were bombarded by eager Tanzanians attempting to get us to come onto their bus or trying to sell us their goods. Thankfully, Stacey has lived in Tanzania on and off for the last six years, so she is relatively fluent in Kiswahili. Our taxi driver told her which bus was the safest and most comfortable. We therefore bought our tickets and boarded the aforementioned bus. We had our pick of seats since we were the first ones on the bus. What we didn’t factor into our plans was that buses don’t leave until they are full. So we waited. And waited. For 3.5 hours, we sat on the bus playing card games, evading the zealous vendors who decided to join us on board, eating snacks, reading, and waiting. People gradually filed onto the bus.

We generally didn’t take much notice when people entered the bus, but one particular woman demanded our attention. When she got on, she ardently declared that she loved us and tried to kiss Eric (on the lips). Luckily, he managed to thwart her advances. Then, after she had passed our seat, she reached back and struck me (Linda) on the head. Hard. Fortunately, it was nothing that a cool water bottle compress and ibuprofen couldn’t fix. “She’s crazy” was the explanation we received from fellow passengers. As the bus was preparing to leave, a commotion arose from the back. The woman screamed, and shortly thereafter a man returned to the front of the bus with a bleeding ear. We never got the full story, but we saw her travelling companions strap her to the seat. We guess that they must have sedated her, because we heard no more from her for the rest of the trip. While restraining her was likely necessary, it broke our hearts. The incident was a poignant reminder that mental health care is almost nonexistent in Tanzania.

Finally, around 12:30pm, we departed. The bus was vastly more comfortable than a daladala, meaning every person received an actual seat. Each row contained two seats on the left side and three on the right. The trip began on a paved road, but the last hour was completely a dirt obstacle course. There were no bathroom breaks during the trip, though the bus did stop periodically to let passengers on or off. Around 4pm, the bus dropped us off at the Udzungwa Mountain View Hotel.

The rooms at the hotel weren’t any nicer than our rooms at language school, but they were clean and cozy and we got a great deal on them. Stacey had called ahead and explained that we are in the process of getting our resident permits, so we got a hefty discount. The price cut may also have been related to the fact that we were the only guests at the hotel that weekend.

After checking in, we ordered our dinners and we walked down to the park entrance. There we made arrangements to have a guide for our hike the next morning. As soon as we got back, a heavy rain began and the electricity went out. Thanks to the power outage, we got a candlelight dinnerJ The food was delicious, a three course meal including a soup and bread, main entrée, and crepe with honey for dessert. We talked for a while after dinner, but headed to bed early since we were all exhausted.

The next morning, we ate a tasty breakfast, and then made it to Udzungwa by 9 am. Of course, African time is different than ours, so it took a little while for our guide to arrive. Since we wanted to do the longer circuit, we all piled into a pick-up truck, and they drove us to another entrance. It’s been a long time since we have ridden in the back of a pick-up, and we enjoyed the fresh air. We fully commenced our hike around 10am. Our guide, Huruma, would periodically stop and tell us stories about the different trees and flora. Over the course of the next 6.5 hours, we saw three magnificently stunning waterfalls. We even changed into our swimsuits and took a swim in the pooling base of one of the falls. After our swim, we stopped at a campsite and ate our lunch, consisting of the bread, peanut-butter and jelly we had brought with us. Reenergized by the edible fuel, we began the trek back down the mountain.

Around 4pm, we arrived at another park exit—hot, sweaty, and elated. The pick-up driver picked us up and transferred us back to our hotel. After a shower and a nap, we consumed another sumptuous feast. This time there was no rain, so we dined outside in the cooling breeze. The hotel also arranged for a bus booking officer to stop by so we could buy tickets for our trip the next day.

After dinner, the six of us crowded into one of the rooms and watched “Amazing Grace” on Eric’s laptop. “Amazing Grace” is an inspiring movie about the abolition of slavery in England. Somehow it seemed even more moving watching it in Africa, knowing that the baobab tree at our school was once a place for slaves to rest on their way to be sold, and to hide in to escape bondage (we have been told the inside is hallow).
The following morning we arose—stiff and sore, but still in agreement that the hike was worth it. After breakfast, we gathered our belongings and waited for the bus. Remarkably, it collected us from the front of our hotel close to the predicted time. We first endured the awkward moment when the bus official made some people change seats, since he had already presold us our specific seats. We also soon became aware of the fact that this bus was not nearly as spacious as the previous bus. As we sat, we discovered that the seats were so close that my (Linda’s) knees didn’t fit straight in front of me, to say nothing of Eric’s.

The trip moved along at a solid pace until the police stopped our bus and asked everyone to vacate so they could search for any illegal items. Several of us decided to take this opportunity to use the bathroom facilities, knowing there would likely not be another opportunity. Through this decision, we learned that these squat toilets, which are the typical Tanzanian public facilities, were not free. Luckily, we had brought both money and toilet paper.  While we were eager to get home, the stop did give us the opportunity to stretch our legs.

Finally, around 1pm, we arrived at the bus station in Morogoro. Since lunch was already over at school, we grabbed a taxi and headed to a local restaurant where we knew there was ice cream to combat the afternoon heat. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed. Bummer. Thus, we paid the extra money to go to another restaurant where ice cream could also be found. A chicken stir fry, pizza and two butterscotch milkshakes later, we contentedly took a taxi back to school. We then unpacked, had a small dinner, showered, listened some worship music and a podcast sermon, and promptly fell into bed. And thus ended our improvised Fall Break. While we were probably physically more tired the next day than when we had left, we now feel more prepared mentally and emotionally to face the last two weeks of school:-)

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