Posts Tagged With: Africa

Building Goat Sheds In Arusha

Six things I learned about Tanzania:

  1. Swahili sounds amazing. It’s one of the happiest sounding languages I’ve ever heard. Here’s a sneak peek:
    Karibu – Welcome
    Habari gani – How are you?
    Jambo – Hello
    Kwaheri – Goodbye
    Sarafi njema – Have a good trip!
    Asante sana – Thank you very much
  2. Speaking of Swahili, the Lion King names are actually Swahili words! Remember Pumba, the warthog? Pumba means slow-witted/thoughtless in Swahili! Simba means lion. Rafiki means friend. Cool, huh?
  3. Beads are everywhere. Everything is beaded. Bracelets, earrings, bags, shoes, everything.
  4. Tsetse flies actually exist, and they’re the devil incarnate. They’re worse than horseflies, leaving giant welts that itch for days. They even carry a terrifying disease called Sleeping Sickness; if you’re bitten by an infected fly you slowly become more and more drowsy, drifting off into sleep, and then remain in a coma for the rest of your life. Thankfully it’s very rare and a nonissue for anyone considering a trip.
  5. The name “Tanzania” exists because it’s the land between Lake Tanganyika and Zanzibar island. (Put it together, Tan + Zan = Tanzania!)
  6. They take the phrase “rice and beans” to a whole new level.


One of the great things about going with a school group was that I was able to learn about Tanzania from a more educational perspective. Normally my vacations consist of pure adventure seeking, a bit of relaxation, and a cultural day thrown in here and there. With a school group you’re always assessing the educational merit of your activities. Enter the most impacting activity we participated in: The goat shed.


Service projects comprised much of what we did in Tanzania. The students fundraised beforehand in order to pay for the materials to build a goat shed for a local villager. The activity was facilitated by the non-profit Seeway Tanzania.


The students had a blast and learned how to manually build a wooden structure using only a set of directions and a hammer and nails. Another important fact: The fundraising didn’t just pay for the shed itself, but for the goat that would live there. It’s a great long-term service project because the goat continues to provide for the villager’s livelihood.

It took two grueling days to build the goat shed, but I can’t wait to return again this February and see how big Hillda has grown!

Check back soon for the final installment on Tanzania, the safari!

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Jambo From Tanzania, Africa!

So, back in March Sean and I were paid to go to Africa.

Yes, it was as unexpected as it sounds.

Arusha, Tanzania to be exact. At the foot of Mount Meru, within spitting distance of Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti.

The purpose of our trip was a school expedition. As the community and service coordinator for our school it is my responsibility to organize service projects for our students. Normally these projects occur around Phnom Penh, but things started to change once our school was purchased by a British organization that owns around forty different schools worldwide.  They have a property in Tanzania where students from this group of forty schools can go for a week to participate in adventure and service-learning activities.

So who better to chaperone the trip than the service coordinator and her husband?


We flew into the town of Arusha, only an hour from the Kenyan border. The air was fresh and dry once we got off the plane; at an elevation of 4,500 feet it was drastically different than the tropical rice paddies of Phnom Penh! The first thing I noticed in Arusha were the mountains.


Mount Meru absolutely dominated the skyline. It was impossible to lose sight of it. I talked to a few of the guides and they said that Mount Meru is actually more desirable of a climb than Kilimanjaro. For one, it’s cheaper. To climb Mount Kilimanjaro you need at least $1,000 and at least 6 days. For Mount Meru it’s only around $350 and 3 or 4 days. Secondly, Mount Meru is less crowded and you don’t need a guided tour. Lastly, you get to gaze at Mount Kilimanjaro the entire way up your hike to Mount Meru as they’re only 70 kilometers apart. Looks like I have another thing to add to my bucket list!


While driving around Arusha I found that Cambodia isn’t the only country to disregard traffic lanes. I absolutely loved the passenger vans in Tanzania; they were emblazoned with fantastic glittering adhesive images and words. The sides were painted multiple colors in giant patterns and blocks. Some even had accent lights and high school mascot-like material covering the dashboard and inside walls.


Another view of Mount Meru. As we were on a school trip our itinerary was completely scripted. This was nice in some regards because I could just relax and let someone else lead the show for once! Further, Sean and I only brought four students—who were complete angels—and it felt just as much a vacation as a chaperone responsibility.


One of the days we visited Ng’iresi village which operates cultural tourism programs. Students got to learn about the lives of the Maasai tribe people.  Traditionally semi-nomadic, the Maasai have settled down in villages due to changes in land rights. You can tell this is a Maasai home because there are two round huts; one for each wife. A polygynous society, men in Maasai tribes are allowed to have more than one wife. However, a bit of research taught me that some tribes are also polyandrous, which means that a woman can have more than one husband at the same time.


Have you ever been at your local coffee shop and seen Tanzanian peaberry brewing? Tanzania is famous for its coffee, and rightfully so. It’s delicious. These are raw beans straight from the plant.


One thing that blew our students’ minds was the local school in the village. Coming from the elite private schools they’re used to in Cambodia, seeing three students crammed to a single desk was quite the opposite. However, our Cambodian students did notice a similarity between the government schools in Cambodia and the government schools in Tanzania. It was a great opportunity for them to unpack their privilege—even though they see poverty in Cambodia, it became more overt to them once they saw it from the perspective of another culture they weren’t accustomed to.

Thus concludes our first few days in Tanzania! Next up, we will build a goat shed, eat amazing beans and rice, and eventually make our way to Tarangire National Park… home of the elephants. Stay tuned!    

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Egypt: Islamic Cairo (Day 1)

First of all, let me say that I love Cairo. I love it for its speed, its noise, its throngs of people, its culture.

The people that shout, that smile, that laugh, that form the lifeblood of a city that has one hand giving a high-five to tradition and the other grabbing the short-skirted behind of capitalism and freedom of expression.

Cairo is a beast of a city, a pulsing heart running a marathon. If you ever make it to Cairo, you will be amazed at the layers of human experience.

From, literally, the oldest civilization in the world, to a mixing of cultures: Arabs, Islam, Christianity, Crusades, Colonialism, French and British influence, World War II, and McDonald’s. Every bit of rubble has a story to tell.

These are the people who live in the largest city in Africa.

Sean and I arrived two days before my parents and sister. We instantly were shocked by the sheer size of the city. It was a magnitude that we have never seen before. Sure, New York City is big, but it’s all in English, and you have the glitter of Times Square and a cop on every corner to point you to the nearest metro station and public bathroom. In Cairo, you are in a jungle of Arabic script and honking horns, with the smell of shawarma wafting through the air. We dropped off our bags and went for a walk.


I was hoping for a side of french fries to go with my felafel sandwich, but I ended up with two sandwiches: one filled with felafel and one filled with french fries. Both were equally good.

We found a warm, quiet cafe on the street near our apartment. We settled into the comfy, overstuffed chairs with a cup of chai, shisha, and the lovely drink I had come to be addicted to: sahleb. A delicious, thick, pudding-like drink that warms you from the inside out. We returned to this cafe multiple times not only for the shisha and chai, but for the $4 pizzas, too!


Before my parents landed, Sean and I went to the Cairo museum. It was fantastic. We bought a book in order to be able to navigate the countless mummies, statues, and sarcophagi.


Street art in Cairo.


Once my parents arrived, we explored Medieval Cairo. While Sean and I enjoyed navigating the city by ourselves, it was truly exhausting. Therefore, we organized a guide for much of our stay in Cairo so that we could relax and enjoy the company of our family as well as genuinely understand the city. (We booked through a wonderful woman named Mara, who was fantastically helpful in arranging everything for us. She has hotels in both Cairo and Luxor, and can organize any tour you need.) The above picture is of Bab Al Nasr, or the Gate of Victory. It was the gate the victorious warriors would return to the city through after their conquests abroad.


Once inside the area of Medieval Cairo, we visited the Mosque of Al-Hakim. It was a beautiful mosque, but the guy who built it was a little unhinged. (He is known as the “Mad Caliph” in Western literature.) Al Hakim passed a law that prevented women from wearing shoes so that they couldn’t go outside. He also killed all the dogs in Cairo because their barking annoyed him. He would wander around at night, and ordered all the streets of Cairo to be illuminated for him. (Before electricity.) Then, he changed his mind, and ordered everyone to be indoors by sunset.  Then, at the age of 36, he disappeared. (And who says history isn’t fascinating?)


Inside Bayt al-Suhaymi, or, an incredibly rich person’s house during the Ottoman era. Every part of the house was beautifully adorned. In the background, you can see me, my mother, and our AMAZING guide, Mohammed, looking at an Islamic rug.

The view out one of the women’s windows at Bayt-Al-Suhaymi. The point was that I could see you, but you couldn’t see me…


A ‘living room’ type area at Bayt Al Suhaymi. Isn’t it just gorgeous? And to think, this was in the 1600’s!


After Bayt Al Suhaymi (I am so tired of forcing my fingers to type that name… try it, it’s tough!) we visited the hammam of Sultan Inal. A “hammam” is a public bath, which were incredibly popular for a long period of time. Not many exist any more in Egypt; people now visit spas, and, obviously, bathe within their own homes. I have been in quite a few hammams in the Middle East, some still in operation and some such as this that have been preserved, and you can recognize them all by their beautiful stained glass ceilings. (If you go to Egypt, be careful with your Arabic; my students in Kuwait told me that “pigeon” and “bathroom” both sound like “hammam”!)

This was one of the most beautiful places we visited: The Mausoleum and Madrasa of Sultan Qalawun. (There’s one of those names again…) A madrasa is a learning center. In the above photo you can see the place people would pray. (The Imam reads from the Quran in the wooden pulpit, and the arched area is pointing towards Mecca.)


This is looking at the tomb of Sultan Qalawun. I am in love with the beauty of Arabic script, and the beautiful woodworking of the Ottoman era. (And remember, this is Egypt, wood is hard to come by!)


Walking through Medieval Cairo. I love how the old architecture towers over the modern traffic. (And, trust me, this is NOT a typical street in Cairo!) The rest of Cairo has about four cars fitting into the width of this walkway.


Here we are in a Sufi monastery built during the Mamluk period. Can you see, behind the “gazebo” style structure, the small doorways? Those were small rooms, where the Sufis lived. They would spend their entire lives within the confines of this complex. (Unfamiliar with Sufism? They are a sect of Islam that brought us the concept of the “whirling dervish”.)


Again, inside the Sufi monastery. The prayer area. We were the only people there!


Our final stop brought us to Khan El Khalili, or the famous bazaar of Cairo. We spent a few hours perusing the shops and feasting on felafel and eggplant sandwiches. (And, admittedly, giggling while my mom and sister got targeted by shopkeepers for “one time deals” and “special prices”.)

Dad, are you upset you didn’t bring one of those lamps home with you?


More of Khan El Khalili. It was great to be in a place that didn’t allow vehicles. In this photo, I am standing outside of a shop where my father bought frankincense. Very cool, huh?

Before we got in the car to return to our apartment, Sean snapped a picture of some boys playing soccer. Like I said, it’s a city of many voices.

(Check back soon! There is lots more Egypt to share with you! And, wow, in typing this blog, I am amazed at how much I learned!)

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