Apologies to anyone who came on to read my posting yesterday. I accidentally published my babbling & rambling notes before they were intricately woven into the literary masterpiece you now have before you.
I have officially moved into the dormitory and apart from the fact my bedroom could practically BE the common area, it is so much better than homestay. One thin wall and many open windows divide my bed and the outdoor dining area, and it can be insufferably loud. It is here where all the volunteers gather to socialize, eat and lounge throughout the day. Then when girls finally retire for the evening, that's when the guard chooses to either chat on his phone or listen to music.
Sometimes he watches YouTube comedy skits and can be heard giggling the night away.
But… beggars can't be choosers and as I mentioned… anything is better than being confined to cramped quarters, uncomfortable company, a potential plummet into depression and an all around horrible experience.
I was getting lonelier and lonelier by the moment and knew I was in need of more social interaction.
I'm trying to think of it as camp. One month of camp for me! Me in my bunk, doing chores, sharing meals... camp. All we need to do is sing songs & make crafts... and it will be just as I remember camp!
For the next 3 & 1/2 weeks, my camp is Sawa Sawa. I am in a 6-bedroom dorm room with a young girl named Lealanna. We are the only two in this room at the moment, but both have plans to flee as soon as the opportunity arises and two more bunks become available. Lealanna is American, of Vietnamese descent, and although she is very young, she has already done a few volunteer projects, and travelled much of the world on her own. Her enthusiasm and youthful disposition is a breath of fresh air and I really like her. I think she thinks I’m wise.
Lord help her.
Lord help me.
For some incomprehensible plumbing reason, the sewer drainage system in our bathroom is faulty, and emits the most atrocious stench.
All. The. Time.
I think the Mamas of the house try to air out the room and mask the stink by opening all our windows, but it doesn’t work. I’m fairly confident that we also smell like sewage now too… as well as all our clothes.
Walking, talking waste.
In addition to the captivating smell of septic, the electricity is faulty and no one seems to be able to get our lights to work.
Never a dull moment.
Last night there was even a fire in the kitchen.
I think it’s me.
It must be me!
Everywhere I go. Something happens!
I am determined to take Sawa Sawa for what it is though. If it caters to the youth, then that’s a 4-week roller coaster ride I have signed up for… and I will do my utmost to make the best of it. It’s a surreal feeling suddenly going from feeling quite youthful & hip… to granny status.
One girl tried to comfort my antiquity by letting me know ‘she was older too.’
As much as I appreciated the categorizational attempt, it had the opposite effect to the one I'm sure she intended. Old.
There are moments I catch them trying not to swear in front of me... or glancing in my direction to see if I understood a certain expression or something slang they said. There are the few in the house that feel more comfortable ignoring me, and I’m ok with that. Some of the girls go a little overboard, showering me with unnecessarily flattery, and some are steadfast in their praise for pretty much anything I do. It's a little dizzying, but I have to remember they are coming from a good place. As silly as it is, they don’t mean any harm and are trying their best.
It must be strange for them too. I don't think of it like that.
I really wonder how they see me?
Do they see the grey hairs I ignore?
Do they notice my slight limp because of my knee or my ankle?
I wonder if my wrinkles are more prominent through their eyes?
Probably all of the above.
We all notice things. After less than a week, I have certainly had my fill of overly-expressive affectations, and I’ve definitely heard enough “like” and “literally” to fill the rest of my days.
I’m old… and suddenly feeling my age more than I ever have. There have been moments here at Sawa Sawa during the past few days when I have seriously been reevaluating my life and my decisions. There have been moments when I thought it might be in my best interest to just leave… but… then there are a few that make an experience like this all worthwhile.
Like meeting Rupal and Dhuval.
I have adored hanging out with these two and their incredible kids... and I admit, I will miss them terribly when they leave. We have all ventured around Arusha, eaten ice cream, spent time at the various markets, climbed a crater and dined in three of Arusha's top restaurants together.
There are the girls at Sawa Sawa whose company I really enjoy too. These are the genuine ones without any articificial characteristics, absurd showboat displays of elderly respect or annoying affectations. I like the natural style, the confident travellers, the story tellers, the adventurers... Those girls allow me to forget any age difference, make me proud to be around like-minded people and happy living the life I have always dreamed about.
I do hate getting old, but I’m proud of my stories, where I’ve travelled, what I've seen and the people I've encountered along the way.
And… so here I am.
Life certainly throws curve balls.
Of course, I do go looking for these curve balls. I have to admit it… right?
When the opportunity to do a sunset hike to the Maasai Crater came up the other day, I jumped at it.
Of course, yes, my knee was, and is, a big concern… but I really didn’t want to miss out on the trek. I wanted to establish some sort of social relationship with the rest of the girls… and what better way to do that than to throw myself into any available activity.
I have already mentioned that I have become friends with the American family, and Shiv, the 10-year old son, accompanied me part of the way up the crater. In a particularly gruelling section, he suddenly just blurted out, “So, have you ever been to jail?”
Have I ever been to jail?
NO… have YOU???
Had I been drinking something, I surely would have spit it right out, but instead I almost tripped forward… physically and metaphorically.
Why in the WORLD would you ask me that?
His reply? Funny enough…
“You’ve been everywhere else in the world, I just wondered if you’d been to jail too.”
Hmmm…. Ok… logical thinking, had I actually been EVERYWHERE in the world, one might naturally assume jail would be the next stop.
I was exceedingly proud of my knee. I walked like a semi-normal person and didn't falter once! At the top, I was slightly afraid of the trek back to the bottom, but it didn't fail me. Oh, how thankful I was that the old limelight didn't illuminate my decrepit body by forcing me to limp up and down the crater in front of everyone.
How horrifying that would have been.
I prefer to suffer in solitude...
The Maasai crater is a large volcanic caldera about 30kms outside of Arusha and was actually more of a quick, steep jaunt to the top. Some of the girls were not impressed with the hike, but I thought it was so refreshing to be temporarily out of the dusty city centre. The sunset wasn't as impressive as it could have been, due to recent rain and circulating storm clouds, but it was wonderful to be in the great outdoors.
There were a bunch of young kids at the crater and many of them accompanied us along the perimetre trail, holding our hands. I couldn't help but wonder where their parents were, as there didn't appear to be many houses nearby and I had read tales of wild animals roaming the area after dark. I'm sure these children had hopes of receiving a few shillings for their efforts and the many pictures they had taken.
My Swahili is fairly non-existent, but I am adding to my vocabulary on a daily basis. It's a slow process though. I walk through town and I greet passer-byers with the courteous Mambo. They respond, Poa... and I walk on. Should they choose to continue speaking to me, I simply smile and walk on. That's me!
I got nothin' else for ya.
I have to up my game though, should I wish to feel more confident navigating Arusha. Even transportation is tricky. There are taxis & tuk tuk's everywhere, but they can be somewhat pricy, so the most cost efficient way to get around the city is the dala dala. The dala dala is a real trip... in both literal senses of the word. These are small vans, very similar in style to that of the Volkswagen Van. They are colourfully decorated and their decorative styles range from Baby Jesus to Bob Marley, and everything else in between.
Inside the dala dala, you might be able to comfortably fit 9 people... 10 if you include the driver. That's comfortably though... and comfort is not the name of the game with the dala dala. I have had the privilege of being in a couple that have successfully squished 20+ passengers inside. It's always enough of a challenge trying to figure out WHERE you're supposed to get off.. let alone actually GETTING out when it pulls over at your stop.
I have been into town a few times, exploring both the second hand market and the fruit & vegetable market... and each experience is interesting. Everyone wants to make money and when they see you coming... watch out.
I have ventured to the Maasai market twice and I can quite honestly say I think I’ll be happy for the rest of my life if I never have to go there again.
Yes ~ it’s a bustling and vibrant local market where you can buy a variety of African curios and crafts.
Yes ~ there is an enormous variety of carvings, beaded jewelry, fabrics, outfits and assorted trinkets for a reasonably good price… if you haggle.
Yes ~ it’s overwhelming to the point of beyond annoying and will send you right over the edge unless you keep yourself in check.
It’s too much.
Way TOO much.
You are constantly being followed by people that want you to believe they’re your guide so you’ll give them money. It didn't matter how many times we told this guy we were fine and goodbye, he would NOT leave us alone. It wasn't until I mentioned our frustration to a particular vendor that he was finally shooed away.
You are constantly being harassed to come into each stall and buy something. Some vendors even go as far as to physically grab your clothing, your bag or your arm and PULL you in. Once you are inside, it’s near impossible to squeeze out, as they have no regard for personal space and stand directly in your way to prevent you from exiting.
You cannot even LOOK at an item without having it shoved in your arms for a “good, good price.” At one point, I tilted my head and glanced up at a drum that looked rather furry. Curiosity got the better of me and I reached forward to feel the material. I should have known better. Suddenly every drum was off the wall and presented to me for purchase. Despite my numerous attempts to convince the man that I was not currently in the market for a cow-skin drum, he would not hear my polite yet firm refusals and eventually I had to run away to escape the chaos...
I have been in markets all over the world and I consider myself quite good at bartering when I’m in the mood to strike a deal. The Maasai market took the cake for aggression, irritation, stress, inexcusable pressure and downright harassment. It was NOT a fun experience.
Had I not paid a lovely lady a deposit to sew me a black skirt, I would not be venturing back… ever.
I'd rather be in jail...
Actually, if you think of it... I went from jail to camp... kinda...
Next blog will be up within 24 hours... and ALL about my volunteer work at Perfect Vision!
The WIFI is not great at Sawa Sawa... so please, be patient with me.