Rain Forest Shenanigans

I had the incredible opportunity to travel with the university to Bosawás, a national reserve that takes up a large part of northern Nicaragua. The reserve mostly consists of rainforest. It is home to tons of plants and trees. While we trekked, our guides pointed out bamboo (that grows at a rate of 1 meter every day!), pine trees (in a tropical rainforest?!), maple trees, and trees from prehistoric times (we’re talking dinosaurs). And those were just a few of the hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of varieties that grow in the reserve. Suffice it to say that it was green everywhere and always interesting. Bosawás also has crazy cool animal life – jaguars, sloths, birds, snakes, frogs, bugs (large ones), and plenty more. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any jaguars or sloths. I’d imagine it would be an incredible site for wildlife biology research.

While we were in this world of LIFE in so many forms, we stayed at an educational center that had a few small houses and rooms for guests. It was so tranquil and lovely! There was a short path that led to a waterfall. We learned about some of the environmental problems in Nicaragua, such as the water shortage in some cities. We also learned about the bees that they raise at the center and tried some of the pure nectar which has a crazy flavor – it’s bitter, tangy, sweet, sour, kind of everything!

Each morning, I woke up to the sound of rain. It felt great to stay under a blanket and listen 🙂 Then we ate an incredible breakfast – beans with lime and chili flavor, fresh fruit, coffee from the nearby farms, freshly baked bread (I think I ate 5 pieces), pancakes with their own honey, and granola. What a way to start the day! Then we went on hikes. On the first day we took a fairly short hike to a waterfall. Along the way we stopped often to learn about the plants and such. The waterfall was gorgeous. It fell quite a distance onto a rocky area and formed a pool that trickled into the rainforest. We adventured along the rocks underneath the falls, swam across the small pool, and got to a high rock where there was a great view of the rainforest and the hills in the distance. We were all wearing our hiking clothes and rainboots that the center had provided, so we got completely soaked. We stayed cool on the hike back! We were welcomed back by a lunch that did not disappoint. I stuffed my belly with fresh juices, the best gallo pinto I’ve had yet, handmade tortillas, juicy chicken, and tons of flavorful veggies. Naturally, we all napped after lunch, explored a bit more around the center, then had an equally impressive dinner. That night, we took a quick hike to a clear spot and stargazed. The skies were clear and absolutely sparkling.

On the second day, we took a more intense hike. This time, we summited the mountain and arrived at the top of the waterfall! The path got pretty steep and they’d constructed ladders for us to scurry up at points. Between the intensity of the hike and the humidity, I was literally dripping with sweat by the time we got to the top. Fortunately, there was a natural swimming hole which cooled us right off 🙂

Bosawás was amazing. I got to see a type of environment I’ve never seen before and be blown away by the diversity of creation. God is quite the artist. 🙂 Swimming under the waterfall and hiking through the rainforest will definitely be some of my fondest memories of Nicaragua.

Living in Germany for a year, or taking a vacation for a year… where’s the line?

This week marks the first week of the Summer semester in Braunschweig (Brunswick, Germany). This means I’m actually more than half way done with my study abroad. I have learned so much, and hope to learn more in the coming months.

Because this past week was the first of the semester, I now reflect on my semester break. While quite a few of my friends and acquaintances traveled home for extended periods of time, I have mostly stayed in Braunschweig during this period. Sure, I took the train and explored for a weekend, and have taken a few day trips, but I still could have travelled more— After all, I had 6 weeks off. So, besides financial reasons, why did I not travel more in this free-time?

Well, I came to Germany to live in Braunschweig. I did not come to Germany to live on the rails. I firmly believe its better to go “a mile deep and an inch wide,” rather than “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

In our current age of Wikipedia, I can simply look up things about cities and buildings. Pictures are everywhere. Naturally, looking online is not as breathtaking as actually going and seeing these things. In all truth, though- I’m tired of looking at old buildings.

The things you can’t get on Wikipedia, is the culture. You can’t talk with Wikipedia. You can’t eat the food pictured on Wikipedia. You can’t experience the other persons point of view, as explained on Wikipedia. You can’t make cross-cultural friendships on Wikipedia.

Each of these things you don’t get on a vacation (Well, maybe the food, but even then, as food is seasonal).

I came to Braunschweig to live here. To make friendships, drink great beer (it is Germany, after all), to live as a German. To be in their shoes.

Once one lives in a city, one starts to understand the deeper intentions, the deeper history. Not just facts about old buildings, but rather why. Why were the buildings built, and why are they still maintained? Why is our castle also a shopping mall? These “Whys” are not simply the physical utilitarian purpose of the buildings at one certain time, but the cultural attitude toward them and their existence. One starts to look less at the building, and the culture defining it, and the people behind the culture.

People. That’s what’s missing on Wikipedia.

So vacation? Well, it’s nice for a week. But me? I would rather live somewhere. Not watch the people, but be apart of the crowd.

This is my “Goal” in Braunschweig. And everyday I think “I can’t believe this is actually happening”

When In Africa (Get your Anthropological Hat On!)

As the only anthropology major on the trip it seemed like I may have been dealt a great hand with going on an anthropological trip to Tanzania. We were allotted many experiences that normally would only be designated to professional anthropologist. I am forever grateful for these experiences. Granted some aspects that were ‘anthropological’ were more touristy, such as our meeting with the Massai compared to our meeting with the Hazabe.

The Massai seem to have this sort of meet and greet with tourist groups often. They were all very respectful and nice, answered as many questions as I could come up with, but the entire experience felt rushed and like we were being siphoned for money. Before we showed up the Massai already had the entire visit structured from one activity to another.  The head of the village partnered each student up with a ‘guide’ that didn’t seem concerned with making personal relations, but rather to get you through their set up, and help us shop for trinkets their mothers and other women in their village made. I learned some things while being there, like what the inside of one of their huts looks like, and the type of food they eat but still some experiences were more educational and anthropological than others.

One of my favorite experiences was meeting the Hadzabe people which are one of the last nomadic hunter/gatherer groups on Earth. When we showed up to the location that our one day guide brought us to, bright and early in the morning, two other groups were in the midst of their visit with them. Eventually, they left, and the people that entertained the last group was resting and getting ready to ‘welcome’ us. Welcoming us basically involved them acknowledging our guide. Walking among their grass huts that they only make for part of the year, I got the sense from the people’s lack of caring that we were there that they may get visited by many different groups during all times of the year. Heck one of these hunter/gatherers may of meet more people from different places in the world than I have. I take pictures of these people and where they live, and they seem to look right through me. One woman speaks to another, and their language, a Khoisan language that has distinct clicking sounds, is one of the strangest but most familiar sounding language I think I have ever heard. It seems to be a language that would come more naturally than our English disaster. Our group went on a ‘small’ hunting trip with three of their men, which is kind of like speed walking as quietly as you can and as fast as you can. The village’s dogs stuck at the heels of the hunters, hoping to pick up one of the birds that the hunters manage to get. It was astonishing seeing them pull back their hand-made bows with hand-made arrows, shoot it 20-30 feet through the air and hitting a target smaller than a BlueJay or Robin back home. All in all the hunters of the hour got four small birds; a nice little snack. While we were there our professor gifted them with tobacco, which the entire village smokes daily along with marijuana. They were highly appreciative of this gift, but in the end said that it will probably only last them a day or two for their entire village of 60 people. We also got a more rare of experience of seeing the Hadzabe sing and dance one of their traditional songs, the lyrics pertaining to going out for a hunt to see what they can get. Of the people that we met my favorite, or the one I seemed to develop the best relationship with at the time, was the most excitable gentleman there, who was was probably in his mid twenties to early thirties. He enthusiastically showed me his grass hut which was very large compared to the others. He also helped me navigate to the rovers and back to the little village center, where the rest of my group was purchasing jewelry and other products the Hadzabe make to sell to their frequent visitors. He also posed with me for pictures, and led the group during the song and dance we witnessed. Though we didn’t spend more than five hours with them, I feel like my understanding of humanity was definitely deepened after that meeting.

Overall I met many different people while in Tanzania, many will be in my memory forever, some I hope to visit again sometime in the future, and forever will I crave more Anthropological experiences that Tanzania has to offer.

When In Africa (Go on Safari or Adventure!)

On our anthropological trip in Tanzania its kind of hard to miss the millions of wild animals that inhabit the country. So you go on Safari to see all those animals, Safari also means to go on a journey or adventure. Especially when you go through multiple National Parks, including the Serengeti, Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara.

Seeing your first elephant in the wild is absolutely ..well.. wild! Seeing this massive and brilliant creature exist in its natural habitat before you own very eyes is awe inspiring, it blows you away farther than than I would of ever dreamt possible. But then you see a giraffe not even 30 yards away and the same feeling washes over you again! Can you be any more awe struck? Then you see a lion, then a lion nursing two baby cubs, and then two lions mating! What?!? Ok maybe it didn’t happen that fast, but depending on which park you visit the animals are all together and are everywhere. And we were told that our seeing all of the animals and the activities they were engaged in was highly unusual.  Going there I had no expectations on which animals I was going to see and I was not expecting to see all that we did. We did end up seeing the extremely endangered Rhino while at Ngorongoro Crater, where we also witnessed the lions mating and the mommy lion nursing her couple cubs. But this Crater has a plethora of wild animals, with millions of zebra, wildebeest, antelope, cape buffalo, birds, hippos, and much, much more.

Our group also somehow ended up in the midst of the great migration, with even more wildebeest, zebra, and antelope, which was amazing! Seeing millions of bodies all moving in the same direction with a common purpose was extraordinary. Nature really does know how to throw you curve balls in life that makes you to take a step back and reevaluate your purpose and experience in life. And I think thats one of the biggest things I took away from this experience was finally understanding where my priorities lay in life, and what I actually want to pursue in my daily existence.

Going on safari and seeing the way of the world in a way that I never experienced in my many trips to Yellowstone National Park is a very special experience for me. It really is the circle of life that they sing about on The Lion King. I hope everyone will get this sense of where they stand in this world like I did, with my mutual appreciation of being an animal damned to existence on the planet Earth and just making the best of it. Living life and going on safari.

When In Africa (Plant Trees)

“Wow! what? I’m in…I’m in…Af… Africa? When did this happen??”

Stepping off the plane onto the soil of a continent, that I thought I would never be graced with the experience of stepping foot on to, my mind was constantly repeating the same words over and over again. I was in utter shock. How did this happen? Wasn’t I just sending out college applications a few days ago? But in reality its been years, and I have somehow managed to put myself on the content of AFRICA, with a group of my peers, and one of my favorite professors. I was so flabbergasted that in my first few minutes of being there, before I even got through customs, I lost my jacket. This wasn’t a total loss since I was currently in a pretty warm country, in the midst of their summer, Tanzania. And I was ready for the adventure of a life time.

We trecked only a small portion of the beautiful country of Tanzania, which is the size of three Montanas. We did so much while we were there its hard to even evaluate what to share and what to leave out whenever I have time to share my experience.

The reason we went to Tanzania was to have an anthropological expedition and learn as much as possible. Before we left we also planned on doing as much reforestation work as possible while we are there. This was an amazing opportunity all in itself. Overall we were able to plant over 600 trees in three different areas. The first area, during our first and second day in Africa, we planted trees at the location of where the first baby elephant orphanage in Tanzania is, located in Tarangire National Park. This helped add landscaping to an area that will be snacked on by the massive, beautiful, and endangered elephants. The second area where we planted trees was at a school that severely needed some sort of shade and greenery. This area reflected what I envision to be a dry desert. And the last location was at the base of a watershed that provides a large town with fresh water, including the school where we planted trees at. We hope for the trees planted in this last location to help preserve the water source for many people, for a long time to come.

I was blessed with the experience of being able to plant only a small amount to trees and help an amazing country that in the end gave so much to me, and that will be with me for the rest of my life.

Homesickness: Or how I learned to stop worrying and looked forward to going home

I still have time left in DC.  Two more weeks at my internship (okay, two more 4-day work weeks), as well as three more TWC Friday events, with three more weekends.  And a Monday.

If you can’t tell – I’m getting a little anxious to leave.  If you’d talked to me a month ago, I would have been gung-ho about staying in DC for the summer, convinced I wasn’t going back to Montana until the day or two before fall classes started.

Yeah – I’ve definitely changed.

Don’t get me wrong – I did look into staying in DC for the summer (and it’s still an option – just one that shrinks by the day).  I did the Craigslist hunt for an affordable apartment, quickly learning that my dollar goes a lot farther in Montana than it does in DC.  Seriously guys – Montana rent is so much cheaper than DC.  Just to compare:  $375 gets me an apartment with all utilities, internet, and cable in Montana.  In DC – $450 would get me a bed and room for nothing else, utilities partially included, in a bad part of town.  I also applied for a buttload of summer internships.  But again: a couple of snags.  I needed a paid position (to pay for my overpriced and undersized apartment) and those are few and far between.  Another issue – most of the internship deadlines were back in February, during my first month in DC and long before I considered staying in DC.  For the positions that had later deadlines in April or May, those positions wouldn’t start until late May or early June – too late for me to just hang around in DC without a job.  The biggest issue though – my lack of experience.  DC is a place where you need at least a Bachelor’s degree.  Most positions wanted me to either have or be working towards a Master’s degree.  So . . . that’s an issue.

I don’t want to blame my lack of a summer internship on the hiring places – I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m not a qualified candidate.  But it is a bit of a shock, realizing how much weight DC puts on a degree.  Especially for interns.  That’s what I’m starting to love about applying back in Montana – they let their students be students, and they let their interns be inexperienced.

But speaking in broader, non-job/non-house related terms:  I just miss Montana.

But I miss home.  Not just the mountains, not just the ability to get out doors.  Not just my car and my bed and my stuff (I came to DC with two suitcases, okay?  90% of my clothes are back home) – but all of it.  I miss living in my own room, without a roommate to battle for the shower lights out time.  I miss my friends, and I miss being able to call up someone to just go hang out.  That’s not to say I haven’t made friends in DC – I have.  My roommates are great people, I’ve clicked with some of my classmates, and there are a few people who I know I’ll definitely keep in contact with after this whole program is over.

But I went from Helena to Missoula and took a good chunk of friends with me.  Most of my good friends in college were people I knew in high school, or people I quickly clicked with during freshman year.  It’s weird, leaving behind friendships that I’ve been building for 2+ years and come to DC, where no one knows anyone (okay, that’s a lie – some schools here bring in 10+ students.  I’m the only student from my state, so my situation is a little different).

I miss home.  I miss the comforts I was used to, comforts I can’t reproduce here for various reasons: I can’t put down some roots (for example – I’m wary of buying anything I can’t eat simply because I’ll be flying out in a couple weeks and my suitcase was already stuffed when I came here), and friendships are tricky when you know you’ll both be leaving soon.  It took a couple months, but I’ve finally developed that homesickness that hit people I know a lot sooner.

I’ve loved DC – I’ve met great people, I’ve done awesome things (both in terms of job and personal), and I’ve got to experience things here that can never be recreated elsewhere.

But I’ve also realized that DC – it’s a city I like to visit.  Not a city I permanently want to settle in.

So Montana:  I’ll see you in a few weeks.  And I can’t wait.

“The US Measuring Stick”

He pasado 136800 minutos en Oaxaca, México y me ha gustado cada uno de ellos. Ojalá que tuviera más tiempo aquí para explorar y aprender más pero tengo que regresar a los Estados Unidos para terminar mis estudios universitarios. Recomiendo a todos que viajen a Oaxaca porque esta ciudad, ubicada en un valle de gran altitud al sur de México, es un crisol de la cultura, el arte y la gente.

Siendo de los Estados Unidos, es fácil juzgar y usar los Estados Unidos como una “vara de medir” para comparar muchos aspectos de la vida en México. He aprendido que se puede comparar México con los Estados Unidos y mantener los estereotipos perjudiciales, o se puede entrar a México con una mente abierta y cuando se le enfrentan situaciones que son incómodos o diferentes… puede preguntarse, ¿por qué no? y aprovechar la situación como una oportunidad para aprender más sobre la cultura mexicana compleja.

Tengo que admitir que no es fácil tener una mente abierta siempre. Es fácil pensar: “¡que esto no pasaría en los Estados Unidos!” y es absolutamente correcto—no pasaría en los Estados Unidos porque estamos en México. He visto choques entre coches y motocicletas, una falta de cambio cuando se compran productos sencillos en los almacenes, maestros protestando en las calles cada semana, una falta de seguro, y la lista sigue… algunos de estos “problemas” ocurren porque hay o había algo en la cultura que resulta en las acciones, pero algunos ocurren sin ninguna razón.

Mucha gente cree que el sistema en los Estados Unidos es la mejor manera de hacer cualquier actividad, pero he visto muchos aspectos de la vida aquí en Oaxaca que son al contrario de esto. En el estado de Oaxaca, más de 61% de la población vive bajo la línea de pobreza y 16% de la población es analfabeta pero esto no para a la gente de disfrutar de la vida y tener fuertes lazos familiares. Me temo que la falta de fuertes valores familiares en los Estados Unidos vaya a ser evidente en las generaciones futuras.

México ha abierto mi mente a una nueva forma de vida y de alguna manera me hizo más crítico de los Estados Unidos. En lugar de usar la vara de medir para “medir” México, creo que es mejor medirme a mí y cómo me relaciono a mí mismo aquí en México y en mi vida en los Estados Unidos. Me siento privilegiado y esto es evidente aquí en México; ahora: ¿qué puedo hacer para ayudar a otros seres humanos que no son tan afortunados como yo?

Para empezar voy a quedarme aquí para un mes después de clases para ser voluntario enseñando inglés en un pequeño pueblo fuera de la ciudad. También compartiré mi experiencia maravillosa en Oaxaca con los otros estudiantes universitarios y alentarlos a también viajar y ” medirse a sí mismo”. Estoy muy agradecido de haber tenido la oportunidad de venir aquí y además de mejorar mi habilidad en español, he ganado a nuevos amigos, una perspectiva mayor de mi lugar en el mundo y espero mejorar la vida de al menos un ser humano.

Martin Luther King. "I am not hurt by the acts of the bad people. I am hurt by the indifference of the good people"

Martin Luther King. “I am not hurt by the acts of the bad people. I am hurt by the indifference of the good people”

Uganda Have a Good Time (safari)

After we left our village we traveled through larger cities until we finally got back to Kampala the capital of Uganda. From here we started our safari adventure. We went to a nice hotel resort on the outskirt of Kampala where we lounged by the pool, had a couple beers and oven brick pizza. It didn’t even seem real that I was in a third world country and was laying by a pool, and basically one of the nicest resorts that I’ve ever been to. It was very nice and relaxing to be there, but I felt guilty and not happy that I was able to enjoy a beer and pizza and a short 10 minute drive away people sleep in little shacks with no sanitation or any clean water. The next morning we went on another long car ride, 8 hours. We traveled into the national park of Uganda, we saw a lot of baboons, which are very aggressive animals, also a lot of antelopes. We arrived at our safari home, where we slept in tents, but there was running water and a food shack with good quality food and a full bar. We went and explored an enormous waterfall. Once we arrived at our camp I was walking to the restroom and pack or warthogs came charging at me. I was very nervous cause I thought that they were rude animals, but the ones here were friendly, simply because they are used to a lot of human interactions. The next morning we went on our first safari we started at 6:30 n the morning. We saw hippos, elephants, a lot of different types of antelopes, hyenas, crocodiles, giraffes and many many other animals, that you only see in zoos. It was amazing to be able to see these incredible animals in their natural habitat. We went on a boat tour later that evening and saw a lot more animals, then the next morning we went an our last safari. We saw the same animals as before, but this time we saw fresh kill by a couple hours. I was disappointed that we weren’t able to see a lion, but all in all it was an amazing experience. I will never forget my amazing experience that I was given. I now have a travel itch and won’t be able to stop traveling until I see the world, and can hopefully help at least one person in each destination that I can hopefully one day travel to. Thank you for reading this, I hope you all had a great day.

Uganda Have a Good Time (settling in)

Once I had been in the culture for a couple days I finally started to appreciate it and truly understand it and the people. It was strange at first though, because if a women is showing her knees she is considered a prostitute and the men will try to rape her, because they believe that this is what this type of women wants. That was a big culture shock. Another major one, was their court system. There is a court system and people can go to prison/jail, but if someone is murdered, the murderer will get away with it. This is because a dead body cannot defend oneself so there is no one to accuse the murderer of it, even if their was a witness. Being from America this seemed absolutely crazy. There were a lot of eye opening experiences, sadly there was a women who was found dead in the river at the bottom of our village. There was many sick children that came to the clinic looking for help. My time at the clinic was very well spent. I mainly did vitals of patients, taking their BP, heart rate, and symptoms to see if any testing for malaria or an STI needed to be done. When I wasn’t taking vitals, I was either examining patients with Alison and Kelsey who are both PA’s, working in the lab, working with the HIV center, or helping in the Maternity center. When I was with Alison and Kelsey I patiently watched while the translator translated and then once the patient was cleared they would explain everything to me. When I was in the lab I would look through a microscope of samples of blood, or do pH testing of urine. When I worked in the HIV center we had an OVC program which was for orphaned children who’s parents died of HIV and now they have HIV. I would transcribe for the main HIV doctor and help examine the children and their charts. In the maternity center I was able to feel babies inside or women and determine if they women’s growth was healthy and discuss their living situation and make sure it was safe and healthy for the baby. I learned to love the people of Bulaki and everything about it. I loved the people and especially the children, they loved the white people, which they called us Muzungu. They were so cute, I’ll never forget them, or any of the people in Bulaki.

Uganda Have a Good Time

Since I never had the opportunity to blog when I was in Uganda, in the small village of Bulaki I am starting my blogging journey now after my Ugandan journey has sadly come to an end. The start of my journey was a very interesting start. After an hour delay with only a short 45 minute layover, I almost missed my connecting flight from Minneapolis to Paris. Thankfully I made it with only minutes to spare, I was full on sprinting through the airport. Once I survived my 9 hour flight to Paris, my connecting flight to Nairobi was completely cancelled, this made the journey real interesting. They redirected me to Istanbul, Turkey then on to Rwanda then finally on to Uganda. I arrived 6 hours later then when I was suppose to, so I was still able to go with the driver that Alison and Kelsey (my sister and her friend), were taking to the village where we stayed and aided at the medical clinic. It was a long 7 hour car ride in the heat of Uganda. It is a very beautiful country. In Kampala the capital of Uganda it is overly populated and disgustingly polluted. There is garbage everywhere and the air is hard to breathe, it hurts my lungs and gives me headaches. Once outside of Kampala it is beautiful, prairies with hills in the distance, and as we travel closer and closer to our village the area is turning into a jungle. Hills turn to mountains, bushes turn into large lush trees, and over population turns into solitude and beauty. In Uganda, pedestrians do not have the right away,, so it is dangerous for them, but also dangerous for us. If you hit a person, you are not suppose to stop, because then any of the locals who may have witnessed the accident will try to attack and kill anyone in the car. Most people there drive “Bota-Bota’s” which is equivalent to a dirt bike here. The Bota Bota taxi drivers are crazy, they have no fears. We had to go through another village to reach ours, and it happened to be their market day, so we got stuck in a full blown market and didn’t move for roughly 30 minutes, once we could find a way through the packed crazy market we reached our village and went to the “guest house” which is where we stayed. It was a lovely home, it was not like the traditional african mud homes that most people had in the village it was a nice and clean brick home. I instantly fell in love with our little village. We went to the clinic which was a short but hilly hike to the clinic from the house. We got a brief run through on how the clinic works and just explored and met all the stay. The clinic is fully equipped with local doctors and staff to keep the clinic running functionally. All the staff is very kind and welcoming. My journey getting to Uganda and my first day was extremely eventful, but wonderful, it was exactly what I was looking for in an around the globe experience on my own.