Along the streets of Moshi Town

There are two major streets that run through Moshi Town, one is known as Market Street, the other as Double Road.

The central bus station as seen from Market Street.

A view of Kilimanjaro from Double Road.

All of the streets in Moshi Town are bustling from sunup till sundown, but these two streets are probably some of the most travelled. They are a key artery for the local public transportation system – if you want to head south, you catch a daladala on Double Road; if you want to head north, you catch one on Market Street. Their wide sidewalks are also perfect for those enterprising individuals who make their living selling goods and services to the thousands of pedestrians who pass by daily.

Taylors set up shop pretty much every day except Sundays, and every taylor has their specific location. The men mostly sew men’s suits; the women sew dresses for many of Moshi’s residents, as well as a variety of items for the countless tourists that come through. They will also mend your clothing while you wait.



You can also find people to repair your watches, phones, and shoes, give you a manicure or pedicure (interestingly, I have only ever seen men provide this service!), duplicate your keys, sharpen your knives… there are even at least a dozen medicine booths where Maasai men will prescribe all kinds of combinations of their traditional herbs and powders for a wide array of ailments. But sadly, I don’t have photos of any of these.

Much of the rest of the sidewalk space throughout town is taken up by vendors selling almost anything you could imagine.


Movies & TV shows






Shoes (and soccer jerseys)

Locally crafted leather shoes

Street food (roast corn, tart mangoes with salt and chili powder, avocados, oranges, bananas, etc…)



Watches, sunglasses, leather belts and wallets, jewelry…

…radios, flashlights, even Al-Shabaab razors…?

I think the street vendor culture is one of the characteristics I most enjoyed about living in Moshi. It’s so very different than what we are used to in the West, and it ends up adding so much color and movement to the streets. Walking on the sidewalk didn’t have to be just a means to an end, but became an adventure for the senses. I never knew what I might come across. Not to mention the fact that it gave me an excuse to browse the rows of shoes every time I went grocery shopping. 🙂

The first of the last posts

Sorry for the long silence. The past month or so have been filled with moving back to the US! A few days before we left Moshi, we walked around town and I took as many photos as I was able so that I could, a) have some great visual reminders of everyday life there, and b) help you hopefully create a better picture of Moshi for yourselves.

This first post will just be dedicated to my walk/ride into Moshi town.

The Doctor’s Compound, where we lived, is kind of on the northwest edge of Moshi. It took me about 30-45 minutes to get into town, depending on how many stops the Daladala (public transport van) made. I usually took this trek into town about once a week, for groceries.

This is the road leading from the Doctor’s Compound to KCMC.

The fields surrounding this road all belong to KCMC. We recently learned that the hospital divides the fields up so that its staff can each have a piece of land to farm. Not only that, but it also tills all the land with a tractor (this is a significant help, seeing as most people would otherwise have to till their plot by hand!)

Sure enough, right before the long rains, every portion that I could see on my walk into town was being cultivated.

Most people around us grew beans, but a good number also grew sunflowers. I was told they take the seeds and have them pressed for oil. (Sunflower oil is one of the main cooking oils in Tanzania. I never really used it before we lived in Moshi, but it’s now one of my favorites for all-purpose cooking.)

It takes about 15 minutes to walk to the Daladala stand. After the fields, I would pass the entryway to an alley everyone called Gaza Strip. Don’t ask me why! It’s packed with small “duka’s” that range from one-room grocery/general stores to stationary/photocopying services, to tailors/clothing shops, to restaurants. It sits directly behind the KCMC medical college, so I have a feeling it exists mostly for, and because of, the medical students.

These next two photos show the road leading through and out of the hospital compound. The Daladala stand sits on the hospital property, to the left of this road, and is the start & end point for a good number of the Daladala’s in town.


I actually didn’t take a Daladala when I snapped these photos. But to give you an idea of my typical Daladala ride in Moshi, here’s a video I shot the first time we were in Moshi.

Now the road leading into town.

Looks like this Daladala was having some technical difficulties…


There are very few street signs in Moshi, so people use other methods when giving directions. One is that all of the roundabouts are named. This first one is called the Water Roundabout. The statue in the center reads “Water is Life.”


The second roundabout is known as either the Coke Roundabout, or the Clock Tower. (It’s maintained by Moshi’s Coca Cola bottling factory, Bonite Bottlers.)

The Daladala would take me up Double Road, and I would get off right near one of the main “soko’s” (outdoor produce market). This is where I bought pretty much all of my fresh produce, beans, and meat. (The photo here is only showing the street adjacent to the soko – the market itself is behind the buildings on the left.)

On the way back I usually stopped at a couple of different grocery stores to buy any packaged food (pasta, sugar, yogurt, bread, milk) or other household supplies. I found a few of my favorites and stuck with them. This one (on the right) is the Kilimanjaro Supermarket.

Then, at the end of my trip, I would usually swing by Aleem’s, another grocery store where, depending on what’s in stock, you can pretty much find anything you want (for a price). Some delicious cheeses, awesome (cheap) curry paste, coconut milk, even boxed cake mixes and wine vinegar. Across from Aleem’s is Abbas Hot Bread Shop. They have pretty good white bread – round loaves and baguettes, and really delicious croissants. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of these two shops, so you’ll just have to make do with your imagination.

By this point, loaded down with a week’s worth of groceries, hot and tired, I would take a taxi back to our house for about $3. The whole grocery trip usually took between 2 and 3 hours. Phew!

Ginger Peanut Sauce

One of the people Steve and I have gotten to know here used to work in the Peace Corps. She introduced me to this recipe for Ginger Peanut Sauce, which she got from a Peace Corps cookbook. (As an aside, on the recipe Karen gave me, it’s called Hot Spicy Peanut Sauce, but I’d say it’s more gingery than spicy, so I changed the name.) I fell in love with its fusion of flavors, from tangy tomatoes and ginger, to nutty peanut butter, savory soy sauce, and sweet honey. I thought I would share it since it is is also really simple to make, and is a hearty vegetarian dish that, I think, is a perfect pair with brown rice.

First off, the ingredients:
½ cup raw peanuts
¼ cup oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, minced
1 hot pepper, minced
5 medium tomatoes, chopped (I think Roma tomatoes are the best for this dish)
1½ tsp. salt
½ cup peanut butter
2 Tbs. soy sauce
2 Tbs. honey or sugar

The first thing I almost always do when cooking is to prep all the ingredients, or at least the ones that need chopping. That way when I’m cooking, I have everything easily accessible and ready to throw into the pot.



(Make sure to mince the ginger as small as possible, unless you like getting that burst of flavor from biting down on a piece of ginger in your sauce.)



Also, I’m not sure how easy it is to find raw peanuts like this in the US. I’ll have to look into that when we return. Here they have huge sacks of them in the market and they sell them by weight. I think people buy them and roast their own. A lot of younger men also walk around town selling them, roasted, as snacks. Since I bought them in the local market, I had to sort through the raw peanuts to make sure there weren’t any rocks or bad peanuts.

Anyway, in a small pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil.

Add the peanuts and boil for 5 minutes.

Drain and set aside.

Heat oil in another pot and sauté the onions until they are translucent (about 2 minutes).

Add garlic, ginger, and hot pepper, and sauté for another 30 seconds or so.

Add tomatoes and salt, and cook on medium until the tomatoes have broken down into a sauce. Stir occasionally to keep things from sticking.


Add the peanuts and peanut butter and stir well to combine.

Lower the heat and add 1 cup of water, soy sauce, and honey. Then cover, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add more water if the sauce gets too thick.

Serve with brown rice and any kind of vinegar or lime-based salad. Enjoy!

Kilimanjaro time-lapse

I’ve had the chance to go out and capture a few time-lapse sequences of Kilimanjaro, usually at sunset, since that’s when it’s most often the clearest. So I put three of them together into a short video.

I’ll also take this opportunity to admit to a secret love of dreamy synth/electronic music – ever since I was a kid in the 80s and early 90s, when synthesizers were making their way into canned elevator music. In fact, I have a very distinct memory of swimming in the pool at my Grandma’s golf club in Arizona and hearing what we then called “New Age” music being piped out of the poolside speakers. I’m sure I had heard that style of music before, but maybe the setting was just right for it to find a place into my heart – bright sun, shimmering desert heat, cool water, navajo flute and electronic drum sequencer… can you blame me?

But I digress. All that is to say that I added some dreamy electronic music under this time-lapse video, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Strange creatures in our backyard

For about a week, we had been hearing squeaks and squawks coming from one of the trees in our backyard. Neither of us could pin down the sound. Maybe a bunch of baby Silvery-cheeked Hornbills? We happen to have between 2 and 5 of the adult version in our yard on any given afternoon, and they make an almost pre-historic squawking sound. But why did they only start up at night? Maybe a large group of baby Bushbaby’s? We have a couple of adult Bushbaby’s that live in the trees in our yard, as well. But if I listened carefully, I could hear wings flapping occasionally. And the strangest thing was that it sounded like there were hundreds of them!

After a few nights of this, we finally adventured out with a strong flashlight, and it took me about 5 seconds to realize it was a colony of fruit bats! There are small fruits on the tree (it’s some kind of indigenous fig tree, i think), which they come to feed on for about 4 or 5 hours right after it gets dark. By midnight, they’re gone.

I spent the rest of the evening observing them from our kitchen window and trying to capture some video of them. The video isn’t the best, but it’ll give you an idea of what I was seeing, and it definitely captured their sounds accurately.

I didn’t realize fruit bats had faces more like dogs. You may disagree with me, but I think they’re kind of cute! Funny, Steve won’t let me keep one as a pet…

Water and gravity

The night before I arrived at RVA, it poured. Five and a half inches (almost 14 cm) in the span of a few hours. Because the campus is sitting on the side of one big hill, and this rainy season has been exceptionally rainy, the circumstances were ripe for the series of landslides that followed. One landslide happened a few miles away, and crushed at least one home, killing three girls from the same family. One landslide blocked the main road leading to Kijabe. And one landslide hit the very edge of the RVA campus, knocking down a corner of the perimeter fence and turning what was once a steep tarmac road into a river of mud and debris. I walked over to see this last landslide and was awe-struck by its power to make a place completely unrecognizable.







Directly above RVA is the main railroad track connecting Kenya and Uganda. It was completely blocked by the landslide, but also probably helped to curb what could have been worse damage below.

Note the railroad tracks in the foreground.

If you look carefully on the hill in the background, you can see the brown trail where the avalanche of mud tore through the forest before it reached the tracks.

You can be sure the family in this house was extremely grateful that the mud changed its course instead of destroying their home!

A few curious RVA students came to check out the aftermath.

What a powerful reminder of our frailty in the face of the unrelenting force of nature. The speaker at RVA’s service that Sunday referenced one of my favorite psalms from the Old Testament as he grappled with the recent events:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46:1-3, 6-7

RVA, old and new

When it began, RVA consisted of one building, Kiambogo.

In fact, in 1909, Teddy Roosevelt laid its cornerstone while he was in Kenya during a hunting trip.


This building is still in use, for all the administrative offices, and apart from a few additions, really hasn’t changed much!

My first dorm at RVA was Stevenson, where I spent my fifth and sixth grade years. It has been renovated fairly extensively since I lived there.

All of the other original elementary school dorms have been torn down and rebuilt. Davis was my older brother’s first dorm. It is a completely new (and much larger) building now.

In eighth grade I lived in a completely new dorm that was built where the old infirmary building used to be.
It took on the name Ndege (meaning ‘bird’ in kiswahili). Ndege was the name of the old eighth grade girls’ dorm, which, interestingly, was the original infirmary before it was converted into a dorm! That old building is still standing, and is now used as the art building. Recycling takes on a whole new meaning…

In high school I lived in the Kedong building. First on the ground floor, then on the top floor.

There have been quite a few additional changes to the campus in the 10 years since I graduated. The cafeteria I remember eating in has been completely rebuilt, and is a much larger building now.



During the school day there is a mid-morning break. It is fondly known as Chai Time, because an endless supply of chai (Kenyan tea with milk) is served, and any leftover desserts from a preceding meal. I laughed when I saw this newest addition to the Chai Time tradition. A tree for students to hang their chai mugs on.


RVA provides a laundry service for all its students, which is really quite incredible, actually, seeing as most other secondary students in Kenya have to wash their own clothes. By hand. The laundry building has been rebuilt and improved.

Every year the senior class contributes some money towards their ‘senior gift’ to the school. This clock tower behind the cafeteria, which shows the time in different places around the world, was built with the help of a senior gift.

One of the high school boy’s dorms, Westervelt, has been added on to and is now the maintenance and grounds building.

And there used to be a lot of tall trees surrounding the edge of what we call ‘lower field.’ Since they’ve been cut down, the view from the top of this field has expanded dramatically.

Although it’s still not quite as striking as the view of Mt. Longonot from the top of ‘upper field’.

Even with all the changes, though, there are parts of the campus that are still as familiar as ever. The library and science buildings, for example (as well as that big old tree).

And what we call the ‘guard’s trail’ – a path that allows campus security to monitor the perimeter of the campus. It was always one of my favorite places to walk when I needed some alone time. It’s also an excellent exercise circuit, since it boasts at least a couple hundred foot incline from top to bottom. The perimeter fence has certainly increased in strength over the years, though! (As have the jokes about RVA being a prison, no doubt.)

There are even still a group of colubus monkeys living in the forest just outside of the lower half of campus! A particularly curious monkey came close enough for me to catch some shots of him.

The very lowest point of the guard’s trail offers, I think, one of the best views of Mt. Longonot and that part of the valley.



And the prayer chapel is also exactly the same. It probably hasn’t changed since it was built.


It’s always interesting going back to visit this campus. It’s like visiting your old house after having sold it and moved away. The things that really make it your home aren’t there anymore, like your furniture and dishes, your curtains, paintings, and knickknacks. But you have so many memories built into its walls and rubbed into its floors that you still feel connected to it in a way that keeps you wanting to come back.


A trip up to RVA

I’ve been in Nairobi for a little over a week now, while Steve is in a conference in the US, and this past weekend I was able to catch a ride up to Kijabe, home of the boarding school I attended from fifth grade onward. Founded in 1906 by Africa Inland Mission, Rift Valley Academy sits at about 7,200 feet (2,200 meters) and overlooks the Great Rift Valley. There are between 450 and 500 students who attend RVA, most of whose parents are missionaries, both in Kenya and other surrounding countries. And although its curriculum is US American, the student body is very international, so the school ends up maintaining its own unique culture.

The road people usually take to RVA was closed due to a mudslide (stay tuned for a post on that later this week), so we took what is known as the ‘lower road’, since it comes up from below Kijabe. It’s still pretty high above the valley, as you can see.




There are a number of ‘viewpoints’ along the road, where you can stop to take photos of the valley and also purchase souvenirs at shops with names like ‘Liberty Curio Shop,’ ‘White Masai Curio Shop,’ and ‘World Trade Centre Curio Shop.’



The lower road actually does lead down to the valley floor, at which point there is a turn-off for a steep, rocky road leading all the way back up to Kijabe. (There is a reason people usually drive the other way to get to RVA!)






This post ended up having quite a few photos, so I’ll make another post with pictures of the RVA campus. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a photo of the Kijabe Airstrip, which we passed right before we reached Kijabe town and the RVA campus.
Yes, this would be one of the more challenging airstrips in Kenya…

Children of Promise

Well, this post doesn’t have much to do with Moshi, except that I spent a considerable amount of the first month or so of my time in Moshi finishing up this documentary, titled Children of Promise. So I thought I’d include the video in this blog for those of you who have not had a chance to watch it and who might enjoy or appreciate it.

The synopsis:

Dan and Lori O’Brien decided to start adopting sibling groups out of the foster care system after their children approached them with the idea. Fifteen years and 7 adoptions later, with 3 more foster kids awaiting adoption, and a house bursting at the seams, their community began to notice that the O’Brien family needed a bigger, better home. And so, starting from scratch, with a handful of people and an overflow of love, this small community in Wisconsin came together to undertake the monumental task of building the O’Brien’s a new home.

Underneath it all, Children of Promise is a story of adoption. A family adopting children. A community adopting a family. And for many who are a part of this story, there is the overwhelming sense of a God who has adopted them, calling them to be part of a broader, deeper family. This sense of ‘Forever Family,’ a phrase Lori O’Brien likes to use when talking about adoption, is transformative on many levels, and its ripples extend outward, as those who have been shown love, in turn, reach out in love to others in need.

Children of Promise from Esther Sumner on Vimeo.

Snow on Kili

Well, rainy season has begun – it usually runs from mid/late-march to around may or june, I think. Along with an incredible green that seems to appear out of nowhere over the course of about 3 days, Kili also becomes covered with a cap of white that makes it all the more stunning when the clouds clear.


I assumed we wouldn’t see it much during the rainy season, but the weather patterns here often create clear evenings, where the mountain catches the last rays of the sun in a golden flare.

I captured this one while shooting a time lapse of the mountain, and the glow lasted about 5 minutes in total (which made for less than a second in my timelapse, unfortunately). It was a complete surprise, because I really thought the sun had already finished setting. I’ve seen it happen since, and will definitely try to capture a longer timelapse of it next time!

A couple more shots of Kili from a few days ago. These were taken right outside our compound. Thankfully there is a big field that offers a pretty good view.
Early morning, around 6:30.

Later in the afternoon.

How can you not want to climb it after seeing this??