Neature and Life Lessons

One of the most common things I’d heard about studying abroad – along with “It’s the best!” “You have to do it!!” etc. – was that you learn a lot about yourself. Now, I’m not one who naturally stops and reflects on stuff like, “Who am I?” But as I’ve been here in Nicaragua, surrounded by the unfamiliar, that’s a question I keep finding answers to. For example, living in Montana, it’s super common to claim what you like to do as hiking, skiing, and other nature-focused activities. I usually say those things too, but these last couple weeks really solidified that I love nature. I spend my weeks in Managua, a decently large, busy, modern city. It’s not until I get outside of the city until I realize how much I miss seeing countryside, forests, mountains or small towns. The last two weekends I’ve gotten a healthy dose of nature and am feeling rejuvenated.

Last Friday morning, the 6 of us girls from the U.S. hopped into a mini bus to go on an ISEP-sponsored weekend outing! Hooray! We drove about 3 hours towards the north/central part of Nica. Along the way our driver played love ballads from the 80s. They got old pretty quickly, and I had “My Heart Will Go On” stuck in my head for the next couple days. The city gave way to open, hilly countryside. This time of year it’s all brownish/yellow, but I still find it beautiful. We drove by coffee plantations, farms and ranches. We entered Matagalpa, a small city among forested hills. A few kilometers up, we arrived at our destination: Selva Negra (Black Jungle). I think it’s described as an ecolodge. I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but I’m now thinking it’s an environmentally-focused campground sorta thang. There are cabins for the guests connected by little roads and trails with gardens, ponds, and swings dispersed throughout the area. It’s all very tree-y and green. There are a bunch of trails that start right by the cabins and wind through the jungle and up the mountain. I loved it. It is so tranquil, the air is so fresh, everything smells good, I wanted to take a picture of everything I saw, I didn’t want to go inside, I told the girls I may not go back to Managua, and so forth. When we arrived it was sunny but not hot, later it got foggy, then it rained [all night]. I had this odd feeling…I don’t know if I remember how to describe it…I almost felt chilly! Haha it felt so good to wear a light jacket and pants and to sleep with a blanket!

On Friday afternoon, we did this sweet hike up a mountain that overlooked the valley and Matagalpa. At the top, they have constructed a huge cross and statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The clouds moved in as we reached the top, so it felt like we were in the clouds! It was raining, but a very soft, mist-like rain. It felt lovely. On Saturday, we took the trails from the cabins into the jungle. The rain had cleared up but it remained nice and cool. We were just surrounded by green and these great big trees. Some of the trees have these crazy roots that are above the ground and wind into loops. Others have trunks that look like they’re made up of dozens of smaller vines that have wound together so tightly that they’re now one being. It’s a magical world J We didn’t see any creatures, which is probably good. If I would’ve seen a monkey I don’t know how well I’d respond. Those things are creepy! Anyway, Selva Negra is beautiful and I am so glad I was able to spend the weekend there.

I’m learning another important lesson about myself (and the world). I’m seeing firsthand how good I have it as an American. Life is so easy. Not for everyone in the US, I realize that, but wow. I am incredibly blessed and it is hard to see how the majority of the people in the world live. It legitimately hurts my heart. And it makes me think – how should I be using my time here? Yes, there are definitely wonderful places to see and adventures to be had, but there are also so many people in need! I can’t just be here, living the rich Nicaraguan life and ignore these people’s realities. Feeling convicted, I asked Mary Helen (who works at the International Office and basically knows all) how I can volunteer. The next day, I was touring an elementary school, and two days later I was teaching English classes. The school is called Brazos de Amor (Arms of Love). It was created by this Nicaraguan couple in a poor neighborhood on the edge of Managua. The neighborhood has rutted dirt roads, lots of stray dogs, trash all over, and small houses that always have laundry hanging on the clothesline. The school has a couple hundred students or so, from kindergarten to 6th grade. They wear uniforms (blue pants and a white collared shirt) and look adorable. But they come from tough situations. The director was telling me that the majority of students come from a single-parent household or are raised by step-parents. Many are abused and/or malnourished. There are behavior problems. They don’t have to come to school, but they do. The school is an amazing place. I am so grateful that I can meet these kids and the teachers who work there. When I taught on Thursday, the classes were so good! They were engaged and received me warmly. When I was leaving the 2nd grade classroom, a couple girls came up to give me a goodbye hug. Promptly, the entire class was on its feet, mobbing me as they tried to give me a hug. Their teacher was nearly prying them away. Holy cow. I think that’s how it feels when your heart melts. I will teach each class, 1st-6th, for one hour a week. I don’t know how much those few English classes will help them, but I will do my best. And I will love them and pray for them. These children, because they were born to a certain family in a certain country, have a reality that is foreign to me. It’s not fair. But it can still be beautiful. I believe they have more to teach me about life and joy and perseverance than I can teach about the language.

So, my fellow Americans, enjoy what you’ve got.

Greetings from Nica,

Ellie Hoffman

 

Ireland at a Glance

Greetings all!

My first impression of Ireland is ‘wild’. Not wild as in cool, but almost feral, though that might be a bit too strong. Everything man-made in Ireland, from its buildings, to its sidewalks, to its urban landscape is constantly being reclaimed by nature. Reclaimed, or maybe absorbed is the right word. There’s a harmony in effect, between humanity and this vast land that it has inhabited for thousands of years. I completely understand why myth and cultural knowledge is so prevalent here. And it is beautiful. If Montana is ‘untamed’ then Ireland is ‘wild’.

But metaphysical ramblings aside, Ireland is grand. They say that here – grand, instead of good or great. For all that they say Western Europe is similar to America in terms of world view, there are some noticeable differences. Not that that’s a bad thing, its just fun to stop and realize once in a while that you’re in a foreign country. For me, who, before this, had never been outside the United States and Canada, I like to be reminded everyday that I’m a world away. It puts things in perspective.

University College Cork is still a college though. I still go to classes, meet up with friends, study, write essays. But there are some fun differences. For one, the student government is a lot more present here. Apparently campaigns are really big. Not just elections, but campaigns to get things changed. It can be something serious like the fight for marriage equality to something silly, like trying to get the Cadbury Wispa candybar reinstated (they succeeded by the way and everyone here is really proud of that fact). In Montana, no matter how much Americans are very proud of their 1st Amendment right to assemble and petition however they like, we don’t do things like that. I remember one instance in my time at UM when there was an actual assembly to students to protest something. Maybe it says something about our attitudes towards protesters. I don’t know and I cannot judge on this, but I think the difference is something that might be worth looking into, especially for us in GLI.

I really love it here though, especially the archaeology. There’s just so much of it! And the Archaeology Department is grand with good people. All in all, I’m really glad I’m in Cork, Ireland.

Impressions of Ecuador

As I sit here at a large wooden dining table, wiping sweat from my upper lip and straining to feel any kind of breeze, I realize that I am not a blogger. The blog I created and the journal I bought, anticipating that I would have the urge to document and reflect on my months in Bahía de Caráquez, remain untouched. I had to get two nagging emails to even force myself to write this. And sitting here in this open-air dining room, looking at the greenest tropical forests through one end and teal Pacific ocean through the other, I almost regret being someone without a desire to document. After nearly two months of family and friends begging for something, anything  in the way of photos, I just yesterday began toting my battered phone on my adventures.

Now that I’m coming up on two months here in Ecuador, the novelty of things has worn a little, but I don’t think I’ll ever be immune to the beauty and ridiculous charms of the equator.

The sun is hot. The clouds are also hot. Rain is hot. Nights are hot. I’ve never had to eat ice cream faster in my life.

The work is sometimes hard but always satisfying. Instead of studying here I have an environmentally oriented internship, and that means manual labor every day in 80-degree heat and incredible humidity. Usually in a greenhouse a half-hour bus ride from the apartment I share with my boss and his family, but other times on people’s fincas or ecological sites.The hours of digging holes, mixing soil, hauling and planting baby trees, and macheteing trails in dense tropical forest have me adjusting pretty well. Every day I am less grossed out by the ants floating in my Nalgene and more comfortable with the gallons of sweat pouring from me at any given moment.

The locals are welcoming. Bahía is not hugely touristy but several gringos have chosen to retire here and there are a few environmental organizations based here that attract a lot of spring break volunteers, so people know a lot about the States. People on the coast are darker than in the Sierra, and the Spanish accent here is breathy and gently slurred. A lot of their slang is English words (“that guy” is “ese man”) and they are really forgiving when I make mistakes in Spanish. A group of local surfers and soccer players we’ve befriended meets every night to watch the sun set over the ocean. I socialize comfortably in Spanish and am rapidly improving.

The toughest adjustment aside from non-potable tap water and only having access to mozzarella cheese has been the pervasiveness of machismo in this culture. Sexism is rampant. It’s acceptable to catcall, to stand too close, to “playfully” tug hair, and generally harass women. The questions I field on a daily basis are “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “Do you have a boyfriend in Bahía?” It doesn’t matter to them if I have one in the States, or even in Ecuador, as long as I don’t have one in this town. It took me weeks to not be appalled and even longer to come to terms with the fact that one little traveler isn’t going to change a centuries-old attitude so deeply entrenched in this culture.

Another surprise has been that even sleepy towns like this one are LOUD. Distance communication takes place with piercing whistles. There are at least 3 different sources of reggaeton music in any given spot in town. Right now I can identify a bachata beat, a classic reggaeton club hit, some indistinguishable booming, and a reggaeton remix of Shaggy’s “Wasn’t Me.” Add screaming children, a motorcycle repair shop across the street, and the sing-song call of Bahías’s beloved pan de yuca vendor roaming the streets.

So for now, this is life. I work sweaty mornings learning the intricacies of the dry tropical forest, dodge jellyfish in the Pacific in the afternoons, and watch the enormous equator sun melt into dusk every night. I miss cheddar cheese and long pants and filling my glass from the tap and I am always just a little too warm. But when I go to sleep I can hear bats and when I wake up I see tropical forest outside my closet (bedroom?) window. I have been to my baker’s farm and the lady I buy from at the market knows what I always get (4 avocados, $1, and a quarter of a watermelon, 25 cents). I am growing to love this place’s slow, muggy, forgiving chaos.

Maybe it’s okay that I’m not a documenter. I think I would rather live for the growth and the memories and the experience than live for the blog post. To take a representative picture requires that one zoom out, pull away, step back. I think I’m content to stay right here in the thick of it, letting the ocean breeze and Shaggy and the pan de yuca guy’s song roll over me.

Transportation in Mexico

Hola amigos,

Traveling here in Mexico has been quite the eye-opening experience. I have seen two motorcyclists get hit by cars and unlike the US where people stop and exchange information, the people keep driving. Almost no one has the money to pay and this also plays into the high death rates on Mexican highways. If someone dies there is no legal action the family can take, but if they survive there is a possibility they could have to pay. Our culture professor at the institute here says that many times people would rather kill you in a crash then let you live… Needless to say we look all directions when crossing the street because the traffic does not follow the stop lights but there has still been one death in front of our school during our time here.

Three weekends ago we took a trip to the ocean in a 15 person van. The trip takes 7 hours on a road similar to Highway 12 between Idaho and Montana, except more curves, higher speeds, and large sections without pavement. This trip was rather comfortable compared to our trip to Hierve de Agua, where we rode in true Mexican style with 6 people in the cab of the truck, 6 people in the back, and 2 people hanging out the back. My seat was an old air filter and despite the dust we were all smiles while speaking with a local woman.

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It is easy to ask “why” Mexico is the way it is, but those are the thoughts of a “guero” or a foreigner. The correct question is “why not”. In many ways I think Mexico is much more complicated than the U.S. and has much more history and culture than the U.S. and much of that culture still survives today. The clash between modern society and indigenous culture is evident every day in the city of Oaxaca.IMG_20150214_112959_841

Oh My Buddha!

This is what my most recent tuk tuk driver said to me as I was bargaining. I got the price I wanted but also found out it was lower than I should have paid. Bit of a win(cheaper)/lose(I’m a jerk) there.

Anyway, that’s not what I’m writing about. Recently, Ruth and I have taken to watching BBC documentaries during our lunch break.
Ruth (British accent): “What do you want to watch? What theme. Something historical? Something culturally relevant…?”
Myself (Really American): “Is there one on meth? I’ve heard there are a lot of good documentaries on meth.”
Ruth: “………. How about one on Buddhism.”
Myself: “Ok yeah that would be good too.”

We ended up choosing one called “The Life of Buddha”. I had known vague bits about the Buddhist religion; probably the same things everyone knows. It’s peaceful. There is no “want” (??????) I knew the Buddha had different forms. I knew Monks practiced the teachings of the Buddha. I knew it was present in everyday life here in Cambodia. That’s about it. I didn’t know anything about the history of the religion. I’ll try and give you a quick recap of a 20 year journey.

Buddhism started with the birth of Siddartha Gautama, who came to be the Buddha. It has been adopted by many different cultures, has many different interpretations, and is seen as many things; a religion, a philosophy, a psychotherapy. What makes it so different is that what the Buddha discovered is scientifically true. All-encompassing, it is also a very accessible religion. It is often seen as a therapeutic way to deal with the everyday struggles of life.
The Buddha’s father was a chief, and therefore the Buddha lived a childhood of luxury. His father wanted Siddhartha to follow in his footsteps and become chief as well, so Siddartha was kept in the palace and was rarely allowed outside. When Siddhartha was allowed to partake in a festival at the age of 9, he noticed a plow cutting through a field. He then noticed a bird eating a worm as a result of the plow. If the farmer had not been plowing, the bird would not have gotten the worm. He realized everything is connected, and that all actions have consequences. Siddartha grew up, and was finally allowed to leave on his own. He went on four journeys and noticed things that had been kept from him his entire life. Among these were aging, sickness, death. He continued on, determined to find his own answers to life’s suffering.
Ultimately, Siddartha discovered the Middle Way. It is a sense of mindfulness that neither ignores the body, nor tries to muster it. It is an awareness of self; the goal being a state of wisdom and everlasting bliss called Enlightenment. He realized if we can remove desire we can remove dissatisfaction and suffering from our lives. This insight was the birth of Buddhism.
Cambodians practice a specific form of Buddhism called Theravada Buddhism. Theravada is said to use the oldest recordings of Buddhist texts as its core foundation, but has developed many more diverse traditions and practices over its long history of interactions with different cultures. It is ever changing.
I like the thought of that. A religion collecting and evolving; not in a way that tarnishes the tradition, but in a way that embraces all of the differences among people and cultures that follow its teachings. Learning this, I was distinctly reminded of the Cambodian lifestyle; the effortless calm and way of being that tends to not worry about the little things, but welcomes all, living at a pace that is neither rushed nor still. The Middle Way; it’s clear the Buddhist religion is engrained in the culture. Buddhism is the religion of Cambodia with 95% of the population practicing. It’s evident everywhere. From the small shrines outside each shop, home, and school, to the wonderful smiles and personalities of everyone I meet. The philosophy, outlook, and practice are always weaving and mingling- inextricable.
I thought exploring a Wat, or Buddhist Temple, would be an interesting thing to do post-documentary. So today I visited Wat Ounalom located near the Royal Palace of Cambodia. This Wat is the seat of Cambodia’s Mohanikay order, which is one of two sects of Buddhism, making it the most important wat of Phnom Penh and the center of Cambodian Buddhism. I chose to visit Wat Ounalom because it was severely damaged during the Khmer Rouge Regime. Statues were broken or thrown into the river as a demonstration that Buddhism was no longer a driving force in Cambodia. It has since been restored, and I like the idea that it, like the rest of the country, had made it through such a terrible time and was slowly rebuilding.

The wat was not what I expected at all. I pictured one, maybe two temples that I would pay to see. I walked in through the gate when I arrived and it was like entering a small village. The monastery was really rather large and I was able to go where ever I liked. In traditional Cambodian fashion, it was a very welcoming place to be. I visited a couple temples and then explored the living quarters. I learned that even when monks fail their schooling or leave the monastery, they are accepted back whenever they want, over and over again. I passed a group of monks eating at a restaurant there, and painfully refrained from taking a picture. I’m not sure if it’s old fashioned or even true, but I was cautioned against taking pictures of Monks because of their belief that photos steal the soul- something along those lines. I erred on the side of caution and just walked by smiling. They smiled in return. Thinking about it now I really should have asked one of them for more information about the place. Next time.

It was lovely seeing this part of the culture. I witness snapshots of it in everyday life, but seeing an actual place of worship felt like a necessary and respectful thing to do to further understand where I am, and the people I’m surrounded by. Cambodians are wildly accepting and kind. They have been nothing but friendly since I stepped off the plane. My experience at Wat Ounalom felt like seeing the roots from which the kindness and hospitality I’d experienced everywhere else had grown. Ironically it was entering the wat, which I saw as a literal separation of religion from culture complete with a high-fenced boundary, that helped me see how entwined the two really are.

On a trip to Kampot, our taxi driver pulled over at one point to give a small donation and say a prayer at a Buddhist shrine on Bokor Mountain. I remember thinking how much I agreed with that act. It showed such simple respect and appreciation for the world; respect and appreciation that, according to the Buddhist teachings, will come back around in a positive way. All of our actions have consequences. What a beautiful practice to live by, and what a beautiful outlook that has created an environment that I am very fortunate to be a part of during my stay in Phnom Penh.

Thanks for reading! Pictures are a collection from the orphanage and Wat Ounalom.

Why wouldn’t I go back?

“You can never go to a zoo again, can you?” Never. I heard this from quite a few people I shared my adventures with. Nothing will ever compare to seeing something new every day. I’m pretty sure there was not a day that went by that I did not hear about a new animal and the way it lives. It sure did help that Tommy was always shouting, “WHAT’S THAT BIRD??” every time he spotted a new one. It was baby season, and apparently mating season too. We were all excited once we saw everything from the big 5 (list created by hunters in the past that determined how difficult each animal was to hunt); the lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard. We were lucky enough to see one of the 20 rhinos that reside in Ngorogoro crater. We were lucky to see old, long tusked elephants. We were lucky to be involved with a safari company that speaks against poaching animals. We were lucky to have the opportunity to make a large effort of tree planting for Pratik Patel, to help get his elephant orphanage release site underway (which may be called ‘Ivory Orphans’). It was also great to support the tribes after they each graciously took time out of their lives to show us who they were and how they lived. I felt lucky to give back to a wonderful country that allowed us to explore itself for two weeks. I’ll never have the same opportunity again. That does not mean I won’t go back. It means, next time I go, I get to share what I know with those who join me. It means I have more room to explore and learn new things. I hoped to gain a ton of knowledge about my theme and topic, but I did not. Two weeks was not enough time. I know I can brainstorm and do further research for assisting my team for capstone. I saw how the Iraqw sit to make their own drums and train to throw a spear at incredibly long lengths. I awed at how the Maasai men jump to great heights and walk 10 miles just to get a bucket of water. I walked miles with the Hadzapi to hunt small prey. I observed the way the Datoga squat for hours, making small pieces of jewelry and art. Best of all, most of them danced for us. When we got the opportunity to dance with them, I could truly feel how they lived their daily lives. I may not be very good at swinging beads with the Maasai women, but I hope to be able to someday relate those movements to potential physical well-being. Also observation of living quarters gives me a good perspective on comparing comfort, mostly in sleeping (mattresses versus curved bed slots in the dirt). By looking into this more and hopefully returning one day, I can make more connections than ever before. Next time I hope I can take the information I have reflected on, along with the new knowledge I have gathered, and ask stimulating questions and provoke conversation about their habits of motion. I cannot wait to see how this applies to my capstone, and how I can then use questions that arise from my capstone to explore at a more advanced level. So, why wouldn’t I go back. I have every reason in the world to.

Tree planting at Kikoti camp for the future elephant orphan release site

Tree planting at Kikoti camp for the future elephant orphan release site

My favorite picture...a young male lion outside camp. We were extremely lucky to find this small pack!

My favorite picture…a young male lion outside camp. We were extremely lucky to find this small pack!

 

“Sista! Sista!”

I worried about bargaining. A lot. I got anxious. A lot. I left a lot of my worries behind once I got there, and actually forgot my anxiety. I shouldn’t have. When we got to Arusha to exchange some money on the first day, my heart started racing. I was in no way, ready to buy anything from anyone. I was told to buy something if I liked it, whether I questioned it or not; I may never see it again. I just couldn’t work up the courage. Putting myself in a fast-paced, high-stress situation like that was literally the worst thing I could ever do for myself. I get nervous. And when I get nervous, my palms sweat and I sound uncertain. I told myself, I would never be good at this. I chose not to buy anything from there, which I do slightly regret. As we came to our next encounter a few hours later, I stood back once again and watched how Mackenzie put herself out there, and just let it all happen. I thought to myself “I wish I could do that. She looks so confident. But how would I get out? What do I need to do?”. The next day, we found a Maasai Women’s Co-op shop outside Tarangire. This was the perfect place to start. I was sure I wanted some things. So I started letting the women put jewelry on me. I allowed myself to feel vulnerable. It turns out, my group mates were a lot less confident than I took them to be. It got worse when I realized that our master bargainer, Doreen, was worried as well. These women did not speak any English, but Doreen knew enough Swahili to speak with most bargainers, but these women pretty much just spoke Maa. I ran to our Maasai guide, Chris, and he pretty much saved the day. I knew how much I wanted to pay, and he made that happen. My true test came a few days later at the Market in Mto wa Mbu (Mosquito River) market. Every shop had a man standing outside “Sista, Sista, come look at my shop next. I have the lowest prices. I make everything myself”. A ton of the shops had the exact same items in them! I bounced from shop to shop, hearing offers on the items I wanted most. I wasn’t always ready to give a price but they would pressure me into giving them a price back. Sometimes I would just have to walk away and say “Hapana, Asante”, no, thank you. That day, I ended up making one of the best deals of the trip! Turns out walking away is a good technique! The man scouted me out later to give me the item I had asked for, for the price I wanted! From that point on, I felt much better about the deals I had made. A few days later, a man on the street was trying to bargain with me for a shirt. I respond, Hapana Asante. He was polite and walked away. Another man overheard me and says “Oh! You speak Swahili!?” “Not really, kidogo (a little)”. He then asked me if I wanted one of his t-shirts, then I respond “hapana, asante” once more. He was shocked, “where did you learn that,” he asked. “That is not very good language. Bad Swahili. You know, it is bad for my business”. I chuckled and walked away. Others appreciated the pictures that Doreen had taken of them a few months ago. It’s amazing that she remembered exactly who they were. Others were different. Some women in a shop played with our hair and told us how much they loved us for coming into their shop. The people are incredible. They are fun, understanding and different. That is someone who I strive to be. I want to be remembered for the impression I made on people, not because I tried to be noticed. I’m going to take a lesson from each and every person that I met.

Mosquito River Market

Mosquito River Market

 At a small market on our way to Tarangire

At a small market on our way to Tarangire

Unprepared and Uncertain

Now, I mean this in the most positive way possible, but this trip was nothing like I expected it to be. We spent a year preparing for the trip, a lot having to do with funding and culture shock. To a certain extent, I was worried for a while about theft and crime in general. I know Kerr would never intend to bring Tanzania down, but that is how I was feeling. I was worried about leaving and traveling thousands of miles across the globe, mostly on my own. Anxiety kicked in really hard when it was just me, thinking to myself on those planes. When I arrived, I kept close to the group, I worried when I couldn’t see someone. Soon, we were all reunited when getting our visas, and again at baggage claim on the other side of customs. I was relieved. As time went on, I felt freer from constraints of anxiety and let myself go. From the first morning spent in Arusha, with our first breakfast, I had begun to let go. I mean, come on, I was in Tanzania for goodness sakes! How many people do you know that can say that? Why worry? Hakuna Matata. I am usually bound to a schedule and worry what exactly is coming next, but this trip I sat back and let the rover take me wherever the rover wanted to take me. Each moment was new, different and exciting. I have never seen such incredible landscapes, beautiful animals (large ones in such abundance) or met such amazing people. I never felt like anyone was trying to take advantage of me because I was an American (it began to feel that way with bargaining on the street, but that is a completely different story!). Each day, we sat down and ate our amazing variety of soups with dinner, we all talked about the incredible days we had. Each of us shared a part of the day that really stood out to us; our highlights. Some days, our highlights were easy to come up with, other days, not so much. Some days, there were too many incredible sites and experiences to choose just one; some days, some of us just had to discuss more than one highlight. We made sure to write all these down. At the beginning of the trip when we began this, I was glad that through these memories, I would remember the trip. Each day when we discussed them, there was almost so much that went on, you forgot some of it! Hearing everyone’s highlight at the table at dinner helped me relive each day each night. This will help me relive it every time I go back at look at all these highlights, reliving the moments I experienced and seeing the same (or different) experienced through other people’s eyes. I always thought I wanted to go abroad by myself for a semester, see things by myself and feel vulnerable. I’d pass up that experience for another chance to go to Tanzania again with a group like mine. Working together to plant those trees, talking every night, running around and playing like kids, and seeing each other back here at in Missoula over time. I would not trade this for the world. I will be back some day. I’m sure of it.

Zawadi House, Arusha Day 1

Zawadi House, Arusha Day 1

“Homesick for it Already”

On one of our last nights in Tanzania, Professor Kerr read us a quote from Green Hills of Africa by Hemingway. “All I wanted to do was get back to Africa. We had not left it, yet, but when I would wake in the night I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.”

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When Kerr read us that quote, I could tell we all knew and felt what Hemingway was talking about. I fell in love with Tanzania. It’s nothing less than magical. The people are warm and spirited. The animals are cultured, mysterious, and majestic. The land is fierce and breathtaking. Tanzania drew me in and entranced me with its wild and full heart. Everywhere I visited I could feel a quiet presence of history, the history of humans. I knew this trip would change me, but I never could have expected the impact it had.

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Days before I left Tanzania I was already planning how I’d get back. It was ridiculous– I was there! I couldn’t get enough, and I’m not sure I ever will. As of now, I’m hoping to return in a few years after I give my bank account time to recover. We had the amazing opportunity to spend time with a mover and shaker named Pratik Patel who runs the African Wildlife Trust as well as a safari company and several lodges in Tanzania. He is extremely passionate in his anti-poaching mission and asked us to help. That was part of our tree-planting project. He wants us to continue helping and I would love to do so. I’m hoping that will be my next ticket to Tanzania. I’d love to spend a summer or a semester volunteering for Pratik. In addition to his conservation work, he also is working to start a traveling screening clinic for women to test for cervical and breast cancer, which is a growing problem. It would be a dream come true to help out with that project. As I said, I’m clearly already trying to get back! It’s been difficult to be back in the U.S. Things here seem overly complicated and wasteful. I love Missoula, I have lived here my whole life, but there’s nothing like traveling, and nothing like Tanzania. I’m all about having roots and wings and I hope to grow both of those evermore!

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My absolute favorite animals of Tanzania!