Here’s a quick update (hopefully, since I’m paying to use the internet this time!) on our trip so far to the coast. It’s a very nice part of the country – lots of palm trees and coastal architecture. It’s interesting how familiar it looks after only a few days at the coast, and that 4 years ago!
The trip here was LONG – I think I forgot how long 9 hours in a bus is! Along the way, we passed the Pare and Usambara mountain ranges. We also saw bags and bags of charcoal, which is made in the forests there, being sold on the roadside. We stopped and got 3 (big) bags for one of our teachers to take to her family.
On Sunday we went to Bagamoyo, up the coast a bit from Dar es Salaam, where we saw ruins from a 13th century settlement, including a mosque and graveyard. The buildings were built using coral – every now and then, you see a seashell in the wall. After a very yummy mostly Indian lunch and a short swim in the Indian Ocean, we also visited the first Catholic mission in mainland Tanzania. David Livingston’s body spent the night there on it’s way back to England after he died. There was a museum with historical information about the Swahili slave trade and the early missionaries. In addition, we saw a 150 year old Baobob tree that had swallowed a chain. One of the early missionary nurses used to come to work on a donkey, so she tied a chain around the tree (which the missionaries had planted) to tie up her donkey. Well, the tree started to grow and the chain was stuck. Now the tree is huge (meters in diameter), and only about a foot of the chain is left sticking out of the tree!
Yesterday was really fun. In the morning, we went to the National Museum, which we didn’t expect to be too exciting, but it had some interesting exhibits about evolution (with remains from Oldupai Gorge), the history of Tanzania before, during and after colonialism, cultural artifacts from various ethnic groups and biological items such as coral, sea shells, fish, pictures of animals, etc. The best part, though, was talking with a group of Muslim school girls who were also visiting the museum. They were all 4th grade students and they were as excited to see a group of American students as we were to see them. We talked about where they lived and went to school and we talked a little about America. Then we took a picture with them. At the same time that I was talking to half the girls outside, the other Sarah was talking to the other half inside. When they all came out, we explained that we were both named Sara and that our classmates call us Sarah Mrefu (tall Sarah) and Sarah Mfupi (short Sarah) – can you guess which one I am!? So then when we left, they yelled all the way until we reached the gate, “Goodbye Sarah Mrefu. Goodbye Sarah Mfupi.” I really wished I had my camera out to take a video of them. They were adorable and so excited.
In the afternoon, we had a few hours to explore Dar. We wandered around an older Indian section, where there are narrower streets and lots of shops. We tried coconut milk (or water) which I didn’t like very much. I’ve had some before that I liked, but not this one so much. We also went to the fish market where we bought some cool seashells. The guy invited us to look while one of the girls made a phone call, and he started pulling out “special” seashells and telling us about each one. Well, 3 out of 4 of us ended up buying some. I think I got the best deal, though. I was last to bargain, and I pulled out some of the African tricks I’ve learned. After the price the other girls got, I didn’t think he would take what I offered, but he did and I was quite pleased. We also talked to some fruit and vegetable vendors and a man selling spices. We talked about all the spices, smelled them in bags, got the swahili name, gave the english name and discussed how they are used in America and Tanzania. Then we went across the street where the fish are sold. We saw what we thought were big ones (one was blue and yellow striped!), but were told that if we came early, like at 6 am, we would see really big one, sharks even.
Speaking of sharks, here’s a funny story. In class last week, one of the girls asked if there were sharks at the beach, and put her hands over her head like an upside down V. The teacher said that one came last year and that no one was allowed to swim until it went away. Of course, the word for shark in Swahili is the same as the word for the Pope, and the v on her head looked to two of us like the pope’s hat, so we thought our teacher was saying that when the pope came last year, no one was allowed to swim until he left – like it was indecent or something. When I told my host family about this they cracked up, literally, for several minutes!
We had planned to walk back to the hotel along the beach, because it’s not far, but after two sellers told us, without us asking, not to go that we, we decided to take a taxi instead. We still drove by the ocean, but from within the safety of the car.
Today we went to the carver’s market to buy souvenirs and gifts. It’s a place that carvers both work and sell items. I was with another girl who was looking for several specific things, and I was able to help her bargain a little harder for several items. I wasn’t buying much because I don’t want to haul it around East Africa for the next six months. I’ll bring Dave back in February before we leave. The only problem with that is that there will be someone else to keep me in check and I won’t be able to buy all the things that I like! Anyway, I started a list of things I’d like to get later, as well as places around Dar and Zanzibar that we should go together when we pass through here then. I’m really looking forward to that!
We visited the University of Dar es Salaam, where my Swahili teacher at MSU went to school and taught for a while. It was a very pretty campus, with lots of trees. After that, we went to the Village Museum, where we had a “traditional” meal, which was a nice break from hotel buffets. It was actually a lot like the food I’m used to in East Africa. The museum has houses from 18 different tribes in Tanzania and we were able to see what they look like traditionally as well as the rationale for different building styles – one from the Southern highlands had think walls to protect its inhabitants from the cold. Another from the coast was thatch to allow a breeze. In one, the second wife was in the bigger house because the first had finished her family work. In another, the first wife had the big house. In one (rare) example, the house had two big rooms one on each side, for the two wives.
Once we got back to the hotel, I walked downtown by myself – about a mile – because no one else wanted to come. It was fun to be on my own and not with a big group, but I made sure to watch out very well!
Tomorrow morning we leave at 6:30 am to catch the ferry to Zanzibar. I think Zanzibar will be a lot of fun, especially since we have more free time to explore on our own. We also get to eat all our meals on our own. They are giving us a meal allowance and we will get lunch and dinner on our own. It gives us a chance to try different things and to get some good street food – samosas, maandazi, chapatis. It also lets us go to little family restaurants to get more traditional food – I’m really hoping for some chapatis. There’s also a really yummy open market in the local gardens where they sell lots of fresh fish, meats, grilled veggies and chapatis. I’ve been there before and it was a LOT of fun.
Well, I’d better go - the internet café is about to close and I still need to upload this. Love you all! More to come from Zanzibar!