In Summary: A Summer of Studies in Tanzania

Saturday, September 30, 2006 | Tanzania (map)

Zanzibar roadside, on Tanzania's Swahili coast
Georgetown's Office of International Programs asked students who studied abroad this past summer to write about their experiences, for use in some of the university's publications. I have submitted the following piece on my two months in Tanzania:

On a Saturday afternoon when I was in Middle School back in Baltimore, I returned home after taking the SAT’s as part of an academic admissions process. "How did it go, son?" my mom eagerly inquired as I walked in the door, dazed. "Ugh, it was impossible—the test was in, like, SWAHILI or something!" I exclaimed. At that moment, the East African language was the most foreign, unintelligible gibberish I could imagine.

Today, after recently completing Georgetown’s Tanzania Summer Program, I can actually speak and understand a reasonable amount of Swahili, and no longer consider the language’s name a synonym

Quick Taste of Amsterdam

Friday, August 18, 2006 | Amsterdam, The Netherlands (map)

Main canal in the heart of Amsterdam
On my return from Tanzania, my itinerary allowed me to spend a morning exploring central Amsterdam. There's more bikes and boats than cars! I've added Amsterdam to my running mental tally of places to return to someday.

Lessons Learned from a Banana

Thursday, August 17, 2006 | Pemba, Mozambique (map)

On the dhow from Ibo, at the start of a very long—but revealing—day of travel.
On Monday, Joop and Rene and I woke before dawn, packed our bags and walked to Ibo's town beach to catch the morning dhow to the mainland. After a few false starts and returns to the island to pick up stragglers, we were finally under way. Our sailboat, overloaded once again, churned through the sea, its captain carefully navigating among the mangrove labyrinth.

With little wind, the ship's sails drooped and the crossing soon slowed to a crawl. The crew used long canes to pole us slowly toward our destination as the sun burned down. A school of dolphins followed us for a few moments, their glistening fins arching up gracefully from the sea all around the wooden craft. Five long hours after we boarded, we finally hopped into the water to slog by foot through the last stretch of mud onto the shore at Tandanhangue.

Having nearly exhausted my supply of meticais on the decidedly ATM-free island, I offered my beat-

Swimming with the Quirimbas Current

Tuesday, August 15, 2006 | Ibo, Mozambique (map)

When they receded each day, the drastic tides around Ibo revealed a plethora of bizarre creatures.
So accustomed to rising early to take public transportation on Mozambique's bizarre schedule, I woke before dawn and, as the sun was rising, set out for a walk. I grabbed my camera and a banana, and slid into my flip-flops on my way out the hotel's crisply whitewashed gate, not realizing I wouldn't be back for six hours. I walked east, past the island's small Christian cemetery with its weathered grave markers.

A few minutes later, at the edge of the village I crossed a wide grass field, hacked out of the brush, that served as the island's airstrip. Further along, as I traipsed through a wide meadow soggy with the risen tide, sacred ibises rose and soared overhead in elegant formation.

By the time I reached the island's far eastern shore several miles further, the tide was rushing outward. Hoping to swim, I tossed aside my sandals and began walking through the muddy clay of

Something for Nothing

Monday, August 14, 2006 | Ibo, Mozambique (map)

The streets of Ibo's town see little traffic on an island that has only one truck and a few motorbikes.
The eerie ambiance I had perceived during my first few hours on Ibo was quickly forgotten as I began to recognize the overwhelming friendliness of the locals, unparalleled in nearly all my travels. (The delightful city of Hama in central Syria remains distinguished in my mind for the unmatched hospitality of its residents, but I will not soon forget the beaming smiles of the locals on Ibo.)

The only exception to the rule of near universal cheerfulness and warmth on Ibo was the island’s "tourism officer," who hounded me and all other visitors to the island in an attempt to convince us to register our names in his log and pay the five dollar "tourist tax." Most considered him a pesky, overeager young bureaucrat and obliged simply to be rid of him.

I, however, was convinced from the start that he was nothing more than a self-appointed "tax" collector who had managed to procure a poor approximation of an official-looking hat and log book

Ilha do Ibo: Rubble In Paradise

Sunday, August 13, 2006 | Ibo, Mozambique (map)

In the main square of Ibo's only town, a woman wears a traditional facial mask of musiro, made from a local tree.
The chapa from Ilha de Moçambique pulled into the little crossroads of Namialo early Wednesday morning and I disembarked. When the large tour bus I hoped to transfer to for the trip north to Pemba lurched to a stop, its hydraulic squeals making me cringe, it was overloaded with at least twice the number of passengers that its designers had intended. But of course, it was the only bus. So, for the next two hours of my trip I stood, until a free seat finally appeared and I was able to pounce on it. In the meantime, however, I was on my feet, holding my backpack in my arms and making a conscious effort just to keep breathing, wedged in as I was between several other riders, all of us crammed in the narrow aisle.

In Pemba that afternoon, I made arrangements for a flight back to Dar es Salaam, my ambitious overland travel plans of several weeks ago having by now proven woefully over-optimistic.

In the Shadows of Ilha's Relics

Saturday, August 12, 2006 | Ilha de Moçambique, Mozambique (map)

The crumbling yet still vivid façades of Ilha de Moçambique's buildings are just one part of the island's charm.
My pensão ("hostel") on Ilha was unnamed, and faced one of the island's verdant squares. Its young owner, generally found squatting in the dust beside the front door playing bao with a friend, had painted the building a shocking yellow green with blue trim. I rose early that morning, wishing him "Bom dia" as I passed the game on the way out.

I walked to the Church of Santo Antonio, on the island's eastern coast, passing through the waking village on my way. Many residents of Ilha's southern shanty town, lacking running water or indoor plumbing, were relieving themselves on the beach, and kicking sand behind them like cats as they turned back toward the houses. Though it may bring funds for restoration and tourism revenue, there is a price to pay for having the UN decide that the place you live is to be "preserved." The shanty town is excluded from major development and renovation funding yet must still abide by the

Exploring Moussa's Isle

Thursday, August 10, 2006 | Ilha de Moçambique, Mozambique (map)

Local fishermen on Ilha de Moçambique, with the Portuguese fort in the background
Some time before dawn I gave up on sleeping, packed and hurriedly fled my hotel, grabbing a coffee at a local cafe before walking to see Nampula's large cathedral as the city slowly awoke. With a local boy's help, I found the minibus station and, leaving the others behind for the time being, boarded one of the deathtraps en route to Monapo.

Meant to seat at most 12, soon the minibus was loaded with more than 23 people (plus their baggage) by my most conservative estimate. On our way out of Nampula, our driver presented the appropriate papers at several police roadblocks along the route, the 50 meticais note which he tucked into the documents no doubt smoothing our passage each time. We drove toward the coast and its famous off-shore island, the Ilha de Moçambique, which had been my ultimate destination during the last week's travels through the country's rugged north.

The Day Train to Nampula

Wednesday, August 9, 2006 | Nampula, Mozambique (map)

The train trundled all day across northern Mozambique, stopping at every market town along its route.
After a relatively riot-free boarding process, the train pulled out of Cuamba before dawn. In our second class cabin was a young woman—my age at most—and her baby, stow-aways seeking to avoid the dregs of third class.

The frigid, damp morning air streaming into our cabin window soon warmed as the sun emerged, gently illuminating the large granite cliffs that unexpectedly loomed up from the otherwise flat plains of northern Mozambique.

At each station—every few hundred meters, it seemed—the train skidded to a long, screeching halt to allow an exchange of passengers. It was accompanied by an onslaught from the small army of men, women and children which each village had conscripted to hurriedly hawk fruits and vegetables alongside the train at the top of their lungs. After several minutes the chaotic scene would explode

In Cuamba, A Riot That Wasn't

Monday, August 7, 2006 | Cuamba, Mozambique (map)

Cuamba: every bit as boring as it looks.
In a hurry to see as much as I could before returning to Dar es Salaam in a few weeks, I decided to wake early and leave the city of Lichinga on a 4:30 AM minibus bound for Cuamba, though Joop and Rene would stay behind and take their time.

In mid-morning I found myself sitting on a pile of dirt beside the road, eating corn from a can and breathing the dust of the few passing cars as the minibus driver ploddingly changed a flat tire. Joop and Rene, who had slept in and hitched a ride from Lichinga hours after I had left, pulled to the side of the road right in front of me, relishing the moment and telling me how good their breakfast had been.

Thanks to the tire their driver lent ours, I finally arrived in Cuamba later that afternoon, and located the Dutch pair. At Cuamba's train station, we discovered that the train we hoped to take

Instead, They Sing

Friday, August 4, 2006 | Lichinga, Mozambique (map)

A member of the crew that ferried us to the Mozambican mainland on their handmade craft.
That evening at Mango Drift I got to know Rene and Joop, two thirtysomething guys from Amsterdam who were, I learned, planning on going from Likoma to Mozambique the next day, as I was. We decided to leave together early the next morning.

Soon after dawn the two spirited Dutch men and I set off together, hiking back across the island to town, where we made arrangements with a local dhow captain, who agreed to sail us the 10 kilometers to the Mozambique coast of the lake around midday, once the wind picked up. At noon we hopped aboard the small dhow as its three young crew members unfurled the sail—a sunbleached, multi-color patchwork of burlap rice sacks, bedsheets, t-shirts and plastic flour bags, hand-stitched with a large, uneven weave that left the sail gaping with holes. Sweating in the relentless sun, Joop and I threw a line overboard, jumped in and let the sailboat tow us along in the cool water.

Likoma Island: Finding Bliss on Lake Malawi

Thursday, August 3, 2006 | Likoma Island, Malawi (map)

Guests play bao by candlelight each evening at Mango Drift.
The eastern sky blushed a peachy glow as the Ilala chugged into Likoma Island's harbor at dawn. Along with the other mzungus aboard, I clambered into a small motorboat which drove us around the island's southern shores, past the idyllic Kaya Mawa lodge. We continued to the secluded western side of the island and disembarked at Mango Drift, a hostel made up of several squat bandas right on the beach. Atop each building's reed sides a grass roof perched slightly askew, cocked "just so," like the swank straw hats of Art Deco sunbathers. Nearby, the hostel's shower had been carved out of the hulking trunk of a baobab tree, and was overgrown with bougainvilleas sprouting electric pink blooms.

At breakfast in the open-air beachside bar, I made the acquaintance of a few British and Dutch guests before they set out to visit to the island's witch doctor.

Not So Lonely As I'd Planned It

Wednesday, August 2, 2006 | Likoma Island, Malawi (map)

Aboard the MV Ilala, I reached Likoma Island just after dawn.
In hostels all over the world, travelers enjoy lamenting the shortcomings of their guidebooks. It's something everyone can agree on, and thus makes for an easy starter conversation among traveling strangers, just like how much we don't miss home (though we all really do), how cheap local prices are compared to back home, and how much George W. Bush is ruining the world we so love to explore. Out of earshot, the guidebooks' authors make an easy target. Also, their omissions, errors, and exaggerations are much easier to spot "in country" than when you're standing in the travel section of a Barnes & Noble back home.

Useful to a great degree (and more so once you learn what to trust them on and when to ignore them) guidebooks rarely lead one astray. In some cases, however, they can become "victims of their own success."

At Vwaza Marsh, Things That Go Bump in the Night

Monday, July 31, 2006 | Vwaza Wildlife Reserve, Malawi (map)

Prey aplenty inhabits Vwaza Marsh.
Our packed minibus flew southward down the highway as the sun rose off to the left, highlighting the mountains of Mozambique which sloped up from the far shore of the lake.

Malawi’s own craggy hills jutted upwards to rival them, and we drove along the cliffs' base, passing through small coastal farming and fishing communities. Thanks to its small size, Malawi was able to maintain a network of smooth, well-sealed roads, something that had been very evidently lacking in Tanzania.

We crossed over several streams trickling down the mountainsides. Children were bathing and women washing clothes—two activities in which, like elsewhere in Africa, Malawi’s men seemed to show remarkably little interest. In every country I have visited on the continent, the women carried much of the burden of caring and providing for their families, hefting full water jugs, bales of

Welcome to Malawi

Sunday, July 30, 2006 | Karonga, Malawi (map)

Rural Malawi has a rugged beauty, but is better developed than Tanzania. Unpaved roads are the exception, not the rule.
Saturday morning I grabbed a big tour bus to Mbeya, the transit hub of southwest Tanzania from where I would enter Malawi. Sitting in the rear of the bus, directly over the back wheels, I felt every pebble along the rough dirt road, and soared high off my seat on several of the larger bumps.

Across the aisle, in his mother's lap a baby's cheeks jiggled as we clattered across the region's beautiful, mist-covered hills. After a few minutes of trying in vain to read, I looked back over at the baby in time to see him clumsily grab a piece of banana from his mother's hand as she looked out the window. Then, slowly and deliberately, making sure not to miss any parts, he wiped the banana across the side of his mini basketball hightop sneakers before cramming it, along with most of his fist and a decidedly satisfied smile, into his mouth.

From Mbeya, a minibus sped me toward the Songwe River Bridge, the Malawian border crossing.

MV Liemba: The Floating Circus

Saturday, July 29, 2006 | Sumbawanga, Tanzania (map)

The frenzied process of exchanging goods, animals, and people between the Liemba and local boats.
Overburdened from the start, the aged Liemba chugged away from the dock in Kigoma at 5:30 on Wednesday afternoon. The oldest passenger ferry in the world was hardly the "venerable craft" which Lonely Planet's guidebook has dubbed it, but it floated, and that was enough for me.

While waiting to board, I met Mike and Jenny, a delightful young couple from Colorado who have been on the road for a year, and in that time had traveled overland all the way from Southeast Asia. Extremely jealous, I shared several meals and many hours with them over the next two days, exchanging travel stories as we cruised down Lake Tanganyika (though the exchange was hardly even).

My next acquaintance on the Liemba, my roommate in our cramped first-class cabin, was less pleasant to get to know. A bizarre creature, Steven the Australian oil field engineer from New South

Tanzania's Wild, Wild West

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 | Kigoma, Tanzania (map)

The event that put Ujiji on the map.
On the road, life is always more interesting, so I probably shouldn't be surprised that this trip has gotten off to such a startlingly bizarre start. Sunday, after returning from Rubondo Island and frantically completing the final paper for my Ecology class, I went to an ATM to get some cash for the first leg of my trip. This being Tanzania, you would assume that a bank would give you Tanzanian money, regardless of who owns the bank. Well, I assumed so, anyway, and was proved quite wrong. When I asked the (apparently Kenyan) ATM for 40,000 Tanzanian shillings—about US$35—it instead sputtered out 40,000 Kenyan shillings—around US$500.

It being evening, no exchange bureaus were open, so the following morning at 4:00 AM, my stack of money and I hit the road (shhhh). I'd spent the night packing and hurriedly saying goodbyes to the group, who all optimistically wished me "Good luck... and don't die." (Thanks, guys.) Back in my

The Wild Things of Rubondo Island

Tuesday, July 25, 2006 | Rubondo Island, Tanzania (map)

The density of Rubondo Island's forests makes it easy for even the largest creatures to avoid human contact.
From the minute the boat bumped against the thin strip of white sand beach, I could tell that Rubondo Island is an almost unearthly place. A few paces from the water's edge, a seemingly impenetrable tangle of dark tropical forest began, covering the entirety of the enormous island, which from the water is easy to mistake for the mainland because of its size. Dino and a few of us ecology students would stay at the ranger's camp along the lakeshore, along with a few other groups of travellers.

Before the painful exercise of pitching our tents (a jumble of mismatched poles and bundled canvas which our guide company was happy to provide us with) at and shortly after dusk, we took a brief walk through the forest. Walking along the trail, peering into the undergrowth, I was reminded of the mornings in my childhood when my sister would wake up and come downstairs, her long hair in a

A Plan to Laugh at Later

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 | Mwanza, Tanzania (map)

Above, a signpost in Mwanza. I've got three weeks to see as much of East Africa as I can.
When I purchased my tickets for this summer in Tanzania exactly a week before my departure, the only return flight available was for August 15, two weeks after the program end date. "I'll travel or something," I assumed, and so I booked it, then spent the past six weeks turning plans over in my mind about how I would spend those last precious days in Africa.

Plan One was an overland extravaganza, leaving from Dar es Salaam by perhaps one of the world's longest trains, a three-day marathon to Zambia whose length is likely only bested by the Trans-Siberian Railway. Ultimately, after a few more bus rides, I would arrive in the town of Livingstone, in southern Zambia, at the most famous section of the thundering Zambezi River, Victoria Falls. A slower, more circuitous return to Dar with stops in Zambia would round out the remaining days.

Plan Two was a coastal adventure, heading south from Dar to the ancient Arab ruins of Kilwa

Reflections from the Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 | Ngorongoro, Tanzania (map)

The frequency with which one sees incredible animals like these lionesses makes Serengeti unlike anywhere I have ever traveled.
At a minimum, there is at least one element of Serengeti National Park and the nearby Ngorongoro Crater which no number of IMAX and National Geographic documentaries can convey: the parks are bursting with animal life. Yes, the films show the incredible diversity of the wildlife which used to freely roam this entire region. However, it is only by visiting that one can really sense just how densely concentrated the animals really are, and how rich the environment which supports them is.

I estimated that in two days we would probably be able to see most of the large mammals which inhabit the parks, but not all, and not very frequently. These expectations were based upon the fact that it was the dry season, and on my only previous experience "on safari" in Africa—a day in Uganda's Murchison Falls National Park. However, the richer volcanic soil of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, coupled with Tanzania's far less turbulent past in comparison to Uganda have allowed

The Women of Adilisha

Friday, July 14, 2006 | Mwanza, Tanzania (map)

Women come to the water's edge each morning to barter with fishermen over the daily catch, which they will sell in the local market.
One component of our program here in Mwanza is time spent volunteering at a variety of local NGOs. Charlie and I recently spent our first days at Adilisha, a small organization founded in 1999 to promote responsible parenting practices and healthy families. In sub-Saharan Africa, perhaps the greatest threat to the healthy physical and mental development of children is HIV/AIDS. Thus, Adilisha's mission of helping families has, over the past several years, increasingly meant focusing on providing assistance to families affected by this illness.

In Tanzania, such families are numerous, though exactly how numerous is never certain. While the official infection rate is quoted at around 9 percent—and is, as in many countries of the region, likely much higher than the rates reported by governments—it is known to be even higher within certain groups. For example, in hospitals, pregnant women are always tested for HIV, and in recent

The Birds and the Bees, the Flowers and the Trees

Sunday, July 9, 2006 | Mwanza, Tanzania (map)

Dino displays a classmate's catch
Our ecology class enjoyed an exciting first week. Each morning a few of us joined Professor Dino on an optional morning walk, which consisted of us walking for an hour or two down one of the dirt roads around the university, pointing to birds, bugs and plants and making Dino tell us the fascinating story of each one.

Early on we spotted red-breasted sunbirds, black kites, pied kingfishers, mousebirds with their long flowing tails, red-cheeked cordon bleus and numerous other birds.

Later we happened upon a colony of safari ants, known as siafu in Swahili, and learned from Dino that this dangerous species has been known to occasionally eat babies, and is even capable of significantly harming adult humans—particularly drunk ones who pass out along the roadside late at night and wake up eye-less the next morning. Upon finding such prey, the ants climb stealthily into

Mwanza: Back to School in Hyena Country

Thursday, July 6, 2006 | Mwanza, Tanzania (map)

The shore of Lake Victoria, just a few minutes' bike ride from the university.
Though not the smallest puddlejumper in Africa, the plane we took from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza last Saturday still looked to me like a small-scale model of a real airplane. Nonetheless, it shuttled us from the metropolis of Dar on the Indian Ocean coast to the bolder-strewn shores of Lake Victoria without incident. We passed above the plains of central Tanzania and descended toward Mwanza in late afternoon as the sun illuminated the region's corn fields and unusual, gravity-defying rock formations (called kopjis, a Dutch word pronounced like "copies"). The lake sparkled, dotted with islands and the day's last fishing boats.

The one-room airport, wholly devoid of any security apparatus, proved an apt introduction to the laid-back, small-town atmosphere of Mwanza, Tanzania's second-largest city after Dar es Salaam—and a distant second to be sure.

Kariakoo, Bagamoyo, and Last Days in Dar

Friday, June 30, 2006 | Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (map)

Streets of Bagamoyo town: late afternoon along the Swahili coast
Time has flown by since our return from Mikumi and Morogoro nearly two weeks ago. Swahili class picked up in intensity a good deal, and our teachers finally judged us prepared to go out into the real world for some extracurricular activities after our morning classes. One such trip took us to Kariakoo, Dar es Salaam's chaotic western suburb and main market area, known best among travelers as a petty theft hotspot. When he heard we would be going, Scott Taylor, the Georgetown professor on site, chuckled and muttered something about a "den of thieves."

There, Tanzania's poverty made itself far more visible than ever before, as we stumbled through crowded streets, tripping our way over a pungent mix of discarded food scraps and trash.

The main Kariakoo market itself is a colossal concrete structure rising out of the slum, yet seeming only large enough to just clear the single-story buildings around it, shamed and unimpressive like a

Heading for the Hills: Mikumi and Morogoro

Tuesday, June 20, 2006 | Mikumi, Tanzania (map)

Hey there, big fella!
After school last Friday, our next group outing began—Mikumi National Park and the town of Morogoro, both in central Tanzania, several hours' drive west of Dar.

Knowing we would be up before dawn the next day, we all got to bed early that night at our hotel in Morogoro, Charlie and I included, despite the uneasy feeling we shared after noticing two bullet holes in the wall of our hotel room. (Nothing like a little World Cup to soothe the nerves.)

At 4:30 we woke, packed up and were soon on our way to Mikumi, hoping to arrive by 6:00 AM, the official time of dawn in Tanzania and thus the time when the animals should begin moving around in search of food. I say the "official time" because of the somewhat peculiar time scheme that exists in Tanzania. Since we're not exactly on the equator, day lengths do vary somewhat, yet that fact is somewhat ignored here. Unlike anywhere else I have ever been, Tanzania and presumably

Zanzibar: Spice Isle Rhapsody

Monday, June 19, 2006 | Zanzibar, Tanzania (map)

After a morning of fishing, the crew of a traditional local dhow ferries passengers along the north Zanzibar beaches in afternoon.
On Friday, June 9, after the calm early morning ferry ride to Zanzibar, we dropped our bags at our hotel, located in the center of the labyrinthine Stone Town, the island's modest "capital" and a tiny city, easily crossed by foot in its entirety within an hour. Weaving through the narrow alleyways, which reminded me quite a bit of the streets of old Damascus, we arrived at a small restaurant beside the sea called Mercury's.

Inside, once I had seen the shrine which the owners had created in one corner of the cafe, the origin of the restaurant's name was clear: it was named after Freddie Mercury, the Zanzibar-born lead singer of the band Queen. Who knew? Several decades ago, for a brief time the island's separatist movement leaders apparently even adopted as their motto the line "Bismillah, will you let him go?" from Queen's hit "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Swahili Trials and Tribulations

Thursday, June 8, 2006 | Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (map)

Falling coconuts (as if malaria wasn't enough to worry about already)
"The biggest difference between English and Swahili is the existence of 'noun classes.' Volunteers who have experience with Romance languages will already be familiar with masculine and feminine nouns. Swahili is similar, but instead of having two noun classes, Swahili has fifteen: ..."

Yep, fifteen—what a mess. The quote above comes from the introduction to our Swahili textbook, originally written for use by Peace Corps volunteers in East Africa. So cheery. We've had three days of class so far, and I've learned quite a lot, but at this stage putting a sentence together is still a trying ordeal. With three more weeks of intensive Swahili class (four hours per day) plus homework and practice with my host family, I expect to at least get over that hump.

Opportunities for practical application of Swahili are everywhere—although English is an official language of Tanzania, very few people speak it at anything near fluency. So though most know a

Dar es Salaam: Around Town

Monday, June 5, 2006 | Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (map)

Indian Ocean beach outside Dar es Salaam
Jambo! That's "hello" in Swahili, for those not versed in this crazy language. Thank God I took Arabic before I tried this one, or I'd really feel like I was up a creek without a paddle (as many others in the program are starting to feel). Much of the vocab looks a lot like Arabic, as far as I've seen. After a brief orientation today, though, our Swahili classes will begin tomorrow, which should make communicating around the house a little easier. Charlie (the other American student staying with Susan) and I have managed so far, but knowing some basic phrases will certainly come in handy.

This weekend we went to the beach, and though I took a few nice pictures I wouldn't mind sharing, technical difficulties at this dingy little internet cafe in our neighborhood are making that impossible. Hopefully next time I'm here I'll make it happen and you can see what it looks like

First Impressions: Tanzania

Friday, June 2, 2006 | Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (map)

The new family: Charlie, Susan, Esta, me and Joyce
I've arrived! At 10:00 PM local time last night I and seven others of the Georgetown trip arrived from Amsterdam, changed some money, and were taken to our host families. Thanks to my late sign-up for this program, for the time being I'm staying with one of the local program directors, a Tanzanian named Susan Wagner.

As soon as we stepped out of the plane it was clear that despite the mild temperatures in Dar es Salaam at this time of year, the humidity is going to make things difficult. I feel like I'm swimming. But with a good ocean breeze, our drive (on the left side of the road) from the airport was quite pleasant—it feels good to be back in Africa.

Departure: USA to Tanzania

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 | Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (map)

Early view of Dar es Salaam: roadways filled with dalla-dalla minibuses.
So here's the plan for this impromptu trip to Tanzania:

Today I'm leaving from the airport in Washington, DC and will head to Dar es Salaam, where Georgetown's summer program in Tanzania begins. While living with a host family, I will spend four weeks studying Swahili on an intensive basis at the University of Dar es Salaam.

Our small group of about ten students will then spend the month of July in the city of Mwanza, on the coast of Lake Victoria in northwest Tanzania. Our course of study in African affairs at the university there will be in English, and will hopefully include several field trips.

Finally, after the two month-long program ends and before I fly back out of Dar es Salaam, I will have two weeks of free time to travel and explore some more.

In the meantime, I'm hoping to keep updating the blog about once a week, so check back regularly!

Shaking Hands with the General

Monday, March 20, 2006 | Washington, DC, USA (map)

Today I met Roméo Dallaire, former commander of UNAMIR, the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the country's 1994 genocide. Boxed in by a constricting UN mandate while the killing raged, Dallaire grappled with many lose-lose decisions in trying to mitigate the slaughter that surrounded him and his forces. Dallaire's book, Shake Hands with the Devil, earned him further acclaim and criticism for his decisions.

He was at Georgetown for a ceremony, but spoke to a few members of the campus STAND chapter (of which I'm an occasional member) about his experiences and his thoughts on the current crisis in Sudan's Darfur region.

Most interesting, in my eyes, was his criticism of the Bush administration and others who have labelled recent events in Darfur as "genocide." Levelling the accusation of genocide can be effective, Dallaire said, but only if you plan to do something about it. By calling Darfur's conflict a genocide and failing to follow up with appropriate action, he said, the international community has cheapened the term, has sent the message that the crime is a permissible one, and has done nothing to reduce the suffering in Darfur.

Spring Break in Puerto Vallarta

Thursday, March 16, 2006 | Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (map)

Despite being the member of our trio who needed sunscreen the most, I was apparently the least adept at applying it.
My friends Mahmud and Rob and I spent spring break in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Highlights were many, and included days at the beach and nights at the bars, as well as a surfing expedition, a day cruise, a trek to a waterfall, and run-ins with bizarre Canadians and awkward Americans. Oh yeah, and then there was that taco eating contest. (I win. New house record: fifteen-and-a-half.)

After Half a Year in the Middle East, Reflections on Going Home

Wednesday, January 4, 2006 | Amman, Jordan (map)

Andrew in Petra, the amazing red rock city in southern Jordan.
Although it is hard for me to believe, after seven challenging, fascinating, and often frustrating months in the Middle East, I'm finally going home. I'll be taking with me a lot more than just neat trinkets (though I've amassed plenty of those). These past months have been a life-changing learning experience. I left home with some fairly standard notions of life in the Middle East, shared with many Americans, but my understanding of life in the region has since changed drastically.

For example, most Arabs have never ridden a camel, a fact which—I'm sad to say—surprised me a bit when I first read it.

Once you spend some time in the Middle East, however, you understand how it could be true. The geography of the region necessitates that most people live in cities; rural areas are too inhospitable to support many people.

People from a Tragic Land

Tuesday, January 3, 2006 | Beirut, Lebanon (map)

Beirut and the sea
Originating from a homeland with such a tragic and violent story, the Lebanese who fled their country's civil war spread across the world. Anyone who has ever met one of them—I went to high school with a few—knows they carried with them a fervent national pride surpassing that of almost any other emigrant group.

After my trip to the country this week, I know how I'll answer when people ask me about the place: When you go to Lebanon, you realize why the Lebanese are so in love with their country.

A Quiet Finish to Our Week in Lebanon

Sunday, January 1, 2006 | Jbeil, Lebanon (map)

The harbor at Byblos was quiet enough that you could hear the water lap against the docks as you ate your lunch.
On our last full day in Lebanon, we made our first destination the sleepy fishing village of Byblos (جبيل), a short drive north of Beirut along the Mediterranean. Byblos's history—like that of most Lebanese towns—stretches back too many centuries to measure. Julian, Emma, and I visited the tiny, picturesque fishing harbor and peered over the assorted ruins strewn nearby. Perhaps there is such a thing as too many ancient ruins; a seafood lunch at Pepe's Fishing Club was the highlight of our visit.

That afternoon, we grabbed a taxi to the Jeita grottoes, where we paid the hefty entrance fee and duly dropped our cameras in the cubbies by the door. ("Absolutely NO photos!" read the sign.) Inside the mountainside, a huge cavern opened before us, the entire thing lit by pink and blue and green and purple floodlights. The gargantuan stalactites and stalagmites gave us the feeling that we were