Thursday, March 18, 2010

once constantinople.

Now sitting in the chilly internet cafe attached to our hostel in Istanbul, it's hard to believe that just a few days ago I was sweating myself silly in Zanzibar. Istanbul has the crisp air of spring, a beautiful city that seems a world away from Kenya. Modernity and cultural beauty are welcome, but not without the perspective and insight that our trip to Kenya brought.

Zanzibar in a nutshell: Hot. Beautiful. Touristy.

We stayed two nights in Stone Town, aka Zanzibar Town, which was both beautiful and exhausting. Roaming the spaghetti bowl of streets during the day, we encountered the Zanzibari Door- an intricately carved massive piece of woodwork that the island is known for- and cooled our bodies in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. It was really really hot in Zanzibar. Really hot. Like 90 degrees with 75% humidity hot. Not being a huge fan of hot weather, I appreciated it, as it came with an ocean breeze. However, night was a different story. Electricity in Zanzibar had not been working for three months. Evidently installed by the French in 1960, the Tanzanian government is waiting for the French (or some other country) to repair it. The Pyramid Hotel, a gorgeous historic hotel with authentic Zanzibari Beds (big, canopy beds with paintings on them) was our home for two nights. However, once the generator stopped (at approximately 11pm every night) and it felt as though we were swimming in a waterbed of our own sweat, Ben and I would resign ourselves to the roof, where we slept on rope benches. Later on we would meet people with similar Stone Town stories of sleepless nights- but evidently no one but us thought of sleeping on the roof!

We then made our way up to the north coast of the island, the area known for the best beaches...pretty much the best beaches in the world. And that they were! Though we arrived at the beginning of the windy season, and the crystal clear water wasn't as still as it sometimes is, it was fantastic. I didn't wear shoes for an entire week. In fact, when we went back to Nairobi, I found myself taking off my sandals and thinking I could just walk around. Unfortunately, the city isn't as conducive for that as sandy beaches. We stayed in Kendwa, the smaller, more homey of the two northern beaches (other being horrendously over-resort-ridden Nungwi). For 6 days we pretty much sat on the beach, played in the water, and ate delicious Swahili seafood curries. The hotel we randomly picked happened to be awesome, as it was the cheapest, and had the most delicious food. Our bungalow was about 100 yards back from the water, making it amazingly simple to be entirely lazy. Only one day did I walk up the beach at low tide to the town of Nungwi, and once was enough. I realized that if you have enough money, you can stay somewhere big and ugly, where everything is provided for you. Our second to last day we went snorkelling in the Mnemba Atoll- a huge coral reef surrounding the private island of Mnemba off the coast of Zanzibar. My first snorkelling experience, it took me a while to get used to breathing through a tube, as probably my biggest fear of dying is by drowning. We went out twice, and for the first hour and a half I think I was hyperventilating the entire time. Woops! The second time we went out I was much better though, maybe my body finally believed that I was fine. Though I would love to scuba dive sometime, I think I might have a mild heart attack if I do. The reef itself was amazing- an underwater landscape like none I have ever seen before, with exorbitant amounts of multicoloured fish, sea stars, sea cucumbers, anemones. I mean, Nemo and Dorie were poppin' up everywhere.

After Zanzibar there was a really unattractive couple of days of travel- an overnight ferry and two awful bus rides- wherein we decided that flying straight to Zanzibar is not merely a quicker option, but probably cheaper. Lesson learned. Alas, we did get to see Mt. Kilimanjaro, which was quite large and in-charge, as it is the tallest mountain in Africa! That being said, I can check it off the list and say that climbing it appears to be not very difficult, but that is sheerly from a perspective of looking at it from my hotel window in Moshi, Tanzania. Back in Nairobi, we stayed at the Milimani Backpackers Hostel (our new and only favorite place to stay in Nairobi) for a night before departing for Turkey. We got to Nairobi on the night of the 14th, leaving the 15th open for me to go back to the IDP camp to visit! Though I was sick of sitting on buses, I was super excited to see what had been going on in the weeks we had been in Tanzania, so I got up early the next morning, left Ben in bed, and walked to downtown Nairobi to catch a matatu to Gilgil.

I headed straight for the camp, and was greeted almost immediately by Nova (the preschool teacher), who heard I was coming back on the 15th. I'm pretty sure she heard the chorus of ~how are you?~ upon my entering the camp, and ran out of the school house to greet me. Such a sweet, motivated woman, she invited me for lunch at her tent. Unfortunately, I told her I would only be staying for a couple of hours and had a lot of people to talk to! Soon thereafter, Dan found me to show me the newly purchased furniture for his house that Ben funded, and he, Francis, and Daniel (the men who helped build the house) all posed for photos in the new sweet pad. I then found Secretary John and Chairman Samuel, and they showed me all the recent goings-on of camp. The community center was built, and in one day! The two room structure has a 9' x 12' meeting space with a window, and a 6' x 9' storage space for grains, a food bank, and other miscellaneous community items that need to be locked up. Through the generous collection of my mother, I had received another $100 in the past week, so I passed that along to him for the construction of a table, chairs, and shelves for the storage room. The Kenyan Red Cross was in the process of delivering new tarps for each tent (to cover the holey, decrepit tent roofs) while I was there, which was nice to see, however small a donation. Robin's donations from family were put to excellent use in the construction of water piping and a water kiosk at the camp! Though the residents still have to pay for water, it is extremely cheap, and much closer than any other water that is available. Unfortunately, a pipe on the mountain broke three days before I was there, and no one in the area had water at all! Alas, all new projects have trial periods. It was fixed in the midst of me being there, and I got to experience the mad rush for water at the new kiosk!

I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you that donated, as in total I raised around $925!!!! That is stupendous! I know that I said I would post exact numbers of donations to specific projects, but I forgot my notebook again. That will be done in the next week though, for sure. Getting such an amazing response from friends and family was very encouraging, and you can be sure that each dollar went into creating a more sustainable life for the residents of the Ebenezer IDP camp. Our main goal while there was to work with the residents of the camp and teach them all of the knowledge that we held (and each of us had something different to offer), which is something that doesn't have a price tag. We wanted to encourage them to again lead their lives for themselves, not in wait for foreign or domestic donors for aid. Every dollar that was donated went to the start up of a project that will keep giving- whether it be the community center providing space for the teenage girls' bracelet making group, or the tree seedlings that will grow to provide shade, firewood, and food for every member of the community.

Thank you all for reading my blog also! Even when you're abroad, and experiencing tons of new things every day, you still want to hear from people back home, and I feel like this time even more people read than when I was in Nepal! I loved it. I'm not done yet though, so if you're in for hearing more of my ramblings while in Istanbul for the next three weeks... stay tuned!


McNeil said...

Oh yeah!!! So encouraging to hear that you were able to stop by the camp once more before you guys headed off to Istanbul!! You know how much I wish I could be there with you!! Lub.

britta linnea said...

It vaguely reminded me of returning to the orphanage! I just can't leave places. You know that.

cheryl said...

Sounds like it was so great to go back and touch base. Zanibar sounds wonderful, but don't know it I could swim and snorkle anymore, but it is so fun. glad you hung in there long enough to enjoy it. Istanbul sounds amazing looking forward to seeing the pictures and hearing the stories,, travel safely, cheryl

Kurt said...

There's no place like home!
Take care,

Lynette said...

You make a mother proud!
Love you