I’ll start this post with something from the previous one that I said I would explain later. About a week and a half before break, Justin gave us all sheets of paper with “The Awesomely Ultimate Epic Wazungu Hodari Sana Mashujaa Challenge” written at the top, which was a list of 72 things Tanzanians typically do. If we completed 65 or more of the challenges before break, we’d get a “major award!” On the list were things like:
• Be at least a half hour late for an appointment and don’t call or text to say you’ll be late
• Yell “mzungu!” at a westerner as you walk by
• Wake up at 5am, shower, and go about the day without naps
• Call someone at 3am and talk to him/her at full volume for at least 30 seconds
• Eat ugali for lunch four days in a row
I was hesitant at first, but the next morning I was given the opportunity to “fyeka some grass,” which is how they cut the grass here (with long blades). After I did that, I fully embraced the challenge and crossed multiple things off the list every day. Although eating ugali for four days straight wasn’t very enjoyable, the challenge got me to do a lot of things that I normally wouldn’t. I played soccer with Tanzanians, pet a goat on its back, and showered in the toilet stall (yes people do that). I ate a meal with four other Tanzanians out of a single dish with my right hand, got proposed to by a Tanzanian (quite a few times…), and brushed my teeth with sticks from a bush that Tanzanians use to brush teeth. Needless to say, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks, and I can finally say I’ve completed the challenge successfully (and am now avoiding ugali at all costs).
Spring break was awesome. Eight of us first travelled to Dar, stayed the night in a hotel, then took the ferry to Zanzibar, where we stayed for the week. I’ve heard a lot of great things about Zanzibar, and I found them all to be true. We first stayed in Stone Town, which was very touristy but a lot of fun. It was nice to be in a city different from Iringa and just explore what the island had to offer. It really felt like being in the Caribbean, on the water with palm trees everywhere. One night for dinner, we ate at a restaurant called “6 Degrees South,” where we ordered frilly drinks and smoked hookah at the bar upstairs afterwards. It was all delicious and a nice break from rice, beans, etc. The next day, we took a boat to Prison Island, where we pet giant tortoises (and even saw some mating…). I pet the oldest one there, which was 191 years old! Hard to believe they’re still going strong. Afterwards, we went snorkeling in the warm, clear blue water, which was so nice and relaxing.
The best day by far was also one of the best days of my life, when we went to Cheetah’s Rock. Cheetah’s Rock is a place you can go and get up close and personal with wild animals like zebras, monkeys, and lions. The woman who runs the place, Jenny, trains the animals using only harmless methods, like positive reinforcement (i.e. rewarding good behavior with treats, not punishing bad behavior). Jenny first showed us the zebra, which she has only been training for a few years, but was so well-behaved. She first touched the zebra with various objects to get it acclimated to the feeling, and even put a belt around it like you would to ride a horse. The zebra stood perfectly still during all of this, so she gave it treats throughout the entire process. Next, Jenny invited us into the pen, where we all pet the zebra one by one, got our picture with it, and had it fetch an object for us (a rose for girls, ball for boys). It was surreal interacting so closely with a wild animal that you typically only see in the wild from a far-away distance. Jenny explained how since zebras are especially jumpy, people have told her it’s impossible to tame them—so she proved them wrong. After the zebra, we fed fruit to a wild bush baby, which was probably the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. It was like a little baby monkey that was so playful, it jumped from shoulder to shoulder the second we stepped into the cage. After the bush baby, we went into the cage with the ring-tailed lemurs, which again jumped right up onto our shoulders to get some fruit (pictures included). It was so cute having these little monkey-like creatures crawling on my back with their puffy tails and little hands grabbing the fruit, which they ate like humans. After the lemurs, we then moved onto the more, ahem, life-threatening animals. The first was the hyena, which is actually so dangerous that we couldn’t even enter the cage (but of course Jenny did). The hyena has the strongest jaw of any animal, and Jenny had a dented metal bowl to prove it. After spending some time with the hyena, Jenny came out of the cage and gave us all pieces of raw meat to feed to it. It was somewhat terrifying, especially with the dented metal bowl in my peripheral vision, but now I can say I fed (and pet) a hyena… Next, we moved on to the white lion. For those brave enough to enter the cage, we had to hold red sticks out in front of us, which indicated our “safety zone.” Jenny stood with the lion, and we each walked up a few feet away from it, got a picture, and walked back. My heart beat sped up any time the lion moved its head. After petting and feeding the lion through the fence, we went in an enclosed yard, where there were some benches and a table with champagne and glasses on it. We sat down, drank some champagne, and out walked Tyson the cheetah. He was so friendly, like a giant cat, and we could all sit down next to him and get our picture with him on the couch. It was really an amazing experience. I remember seeing that cheetah on the Ruaha safari, thinking it was the coolest thing spotting it from afar; then here I was, sitting on a couch just inches away from a cheetah, sipping champagne. The fact that Jenny tames all of these wild animals using only harmless methods shows how loving these creatures can really be. I would highly recommend Cheetah’s Rock to anyone, especially anyone doubting that wild animals can be tame, gentle creatures.
Zanzibar was the perfect way to spend Spring break. It gave us time to relax, unwind, and enjoy some luxury before heading to Mufindi. It will be a very different change of pace spending the next month in a rural village, but I’m pretty excited. We leave tomorrow for the homestay, where we will live with a host family for two weeks. I plan on learning as much Swahili as possible (since that’s all we’ll be speaking), helping out with chores, and just experiencing life in a typical Tanzanian household. After the homestay, we’ll live at Foxes NGO for two weeks, where we’ll be finishing up our research and volunteering. I might not get a chance to blog if there’s no internet connection, but I will do at least one more post before I leave Tanzania! Until then, baadaye!