Harvesting avocados

We have a couple of avocado trees in our backyard. I knew nothing about them – when to pick the avocados (or even how – they’re really high up), when they’re ripe, etc… But thankfully Hadija, our house help, explained it all to me, so I have really been enjoying harvesting and eating them.

Of course, there are so many that I can’t possibly eat them all (as much as I’d like to!), so I had some friends over to pick some of their own.

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This long, and quite heavy, bamboo pole is also used to knock mangoes down when they are in season.

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It definitely takes a little practice!

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Because they’re not yet ripe when you knock them down, they don’t bruise at all, even though they’re falling from a height of 15 to 20 feet.

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After a few days of sitting on your counter, they ripen perfectly. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that these are, literally, the best avocados I’ve ever eaten!

A Dream So Big

When I was in high school at Rift Valley Academy (a boarding school in central Kenya), I remember our college counselor, Steve Peifer, starting a free lunch program for kids in rural schools in the area. It was a simple idea, but really significant, since a lot of these kids came from very poor families and probably only had one meal a day, in the evening. Since then, this program has expanded to 35 schools, feeding over 20,000 Kenyan school children. A few years after he began the lunch program, Steve also started establishing solar-powered computer labs, also in rural schools. Now there are 20 schools where kids have regular access to a kind of technology many had only ever dreamed of learning to use. Incredible!

Steve has recently written a book telling his story of how the death of his son led to his family’s move to Kenya, and how what they experienced there brought them to invest so much into the lives of thousands of Kenyan kids.

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Today is the release date of his book, A Dream So Big: Our Unlikely Journey to End the Tears of Hunger. So if you have a few minutes, check it out on Amazon, and if you have some spare change, consider buying a copy! So much of our life is taken up with hearing about tragedy and sadness (take any given day of world news headlines as an example) – here is a story that reminds us of the many beautiful things in life, and how even tragedy can ultimately lead to something far greater than we could have ever imagined.

A day trip up the mountain

Last week, Steve’s friend, Paul, came to visit us for a few days. He is in the same Global Health program as Steve, and has been developing his research project in Eldoret, Kenya for the past few months. Because of the elections in Kenya and the concern that violence could break out again as it did in 2007/2008, Paul left the area for the weeks surrounding the elections.

[As an aside, the votes are slowly being counted as I type – results were supposed to be out some days ago, but there have been technical difficulties in counting the votes, hence the delay. Because of this delay, there is some concern about tampering, but at this point it hasn’t been confirmed, and people are not yet resorting to violence or protesting over it. The results should come out tomorrow or Saturday, if all continues as it is now.]

While Paul was here, we took a day trip up the mountain to a couple of waterfalls.

Before we went to the waterfalls, we walked through some neighborhoods near one of the gates to the Kilimanjaro National Park.
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Ah, the international herb…
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We passed by a school just in time for recess. (Yes, that’s a cow taking a nap in the school field.)
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What better fun to have during recess than to follow some crazy Wazungu?
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At the top of a ridge.
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Our guide, Paul. He lives in this area, and even took us by his house during our walk.
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For the first waterfall, we had to hike down a ravine.
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Look familiar?
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A really cool grasshopper.
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The first waterfall.
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Going back up.
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The second waterfall. The water was FREEZING, but hanging out under the waterfall was definitely worth the cold!
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Steve checking for hidden passageways behind the waterfall. There weren’t any.
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A good time was had by all.

On our drive back down, I snapped a shot of the Usambara Mountains. If I’m able to, I would love to hike around in these for a couple of days before we leave Tanzania!
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An introduction to Tinga Tinga

After our adventure on the Tazara line, we stayed a couple of days in Dar es Salaam, which is the largest city in Tanzania. It is also the home of the Tinga Tinga Arts Cooperative, which was established over 20 years ago to preserve the legacy of the original Tinga Tinga painting style. A brightly colorful, pattern-like style that is unique to Tanzania, Tinga Tinga was invented by Edward Tingatinga in 1968, and was subsequently trademarked by his family. You can read more about the characteristics that make up the Tinga Tinga style here.

Although it began as a style focused purely on colorful animals, there has recently been (I estimate in the past 5 years or so) an offshoot of Tinga Tinga that has switched to portraying the human element. And not just your typical tourist painting of traditional village people walking with clay pots balanced on their heads. These newer Tinga Tinga paintings are often commentaries on very contemporary life – city streets, hospitals, markets, all bustling with activity, and usually somewhat comical or satirical. This was the style we had in mind when we headed down to the Tinga Tinga Co-op to scout out an artist we could commission to paint a scene commemorating Steve’s motorcycle taxi research in Moshi.

Just being able to go to the Co-op was an experience in and of itself, and we spent quite a while wandering around, looking over the (hundreds of) pieces of artwork hanging on the walls, trying to find a style we thought would fit what we were looking for.

The artist we finally decided upon was actually selling his work in one of the many kiosks that had sprung up immediately outside of the co-op building. I gather that the artists featured in these impromptu shops were not part of the official co-op. ‘Knock-offs,’ you could call them. I’m not sure if they just didn’t make the cut, or maybe they didn’t find the yearly fee associated with being considered ‘official’ Tinga Tinga worth it.

The artist, Mkomea, wasn’t around – we had just spotted his paintings and liked them – so we had the shopkeeper give him a call to ask if he could meet us. When he arrived, we explained what we wanted: a painting in his style, of Moshi and KCMC, with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background, lots of Boda Boda (motorcycle taxis) in the streets, and an accident involving some motorcycles somewhere in the painting. He seemed to understand, although my swahili was broken and his general demeanor gave the impression of being slightly high. We agreed on a price, paid half up front, and left, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into, and bracing ourselves for the chance that Mkomea would disappear, and our painting with him.

But he did, in fact, finish the painting! We had some friends traveling to Dar who picked it up for us, and it exceeded all of our expectations.

The painting is about 3 x 4 feet. (Do you find yourself instinctively looking for Waldo?)
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He has never been to Moshi, but somehow knew there was a roundabout with a statue of a soldier in the middle! (I’m guessing Google images)
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The accident, and token traffic policeman.
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Kilimanjaro and KCMC.
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Preacher on the bus

(Jan 1, 2013)

We bought tickets for the 7:30 am bus to Kapiri Mposhi, but it’s the kind of bus that doesn’t leave until it’s full. So while it was sitting in the station, waiting to fill the last of its seats, a young man walked on board and started to preach. Tall, thin, wearing black satin trousers and a white sports coat, and of course, carrying a large bible with a black leather zip cover.

I was twice surprised by this. First, I wondered if he was supposed to be there, and was half expecting the bus driver to appear at any moment to ask him to please leave. But when nothing happened, I realized this must be an accepted practice, on this bus at least.

Second, I assumed, based on experiences in the US, that he was the Zambian equivalent of a street evangelist, and I prepared myself to hear the usual gospel message of repentance and salvation. But instead, he turned out to be more of a traveling preacher – he told the passengers he would just take a few minutes of their time to share a message with them for the new year. He was obviously assuming that most of his listeners were already Christian and didn’t need to hear the basics.

Walking up and down the aisle, he challenged the passengers to commit their lives to the Lord in this new year of 2013. And he kept to his word – after about 10 minutes (that’s short for a sermon in Africa), he wrapped up his message with a prayer. Apparently he had some listeners, because at the conclusion of his prayer, I heard more than a few ‘amens,’ some of which were quite loud and responsive.

After this, he walked down the aisle one last time, holding out a large white envelope, apparently for donations. I was again surprised to see that almost everyone in front of me dropped something into the envelope.

This blending of religion and public identity, I think, is far more common in the African way of life than it is in the West. People are much more comfortable operating out of a religious context, regardless of the religion. They are generally unapolagetic about their beliefs, and though they may challenge expressions of faith other than their own, they aren’t usually offended by them. In fact, I have found it is much easier, in this part of the world, to have a lively discourse about religion without causing offense, than it would be to have a similar discussion in the US.

According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 97.5% of Zambians call themselves Christian. With numbers like that, one could almost say that Christianity has grown to become a national identity – to be Zambian is to be Christian. And that’s exactly how it felt on the bus that morning. Christianity was a given, the accepted norm out of which the passengers were operating. So it didn’t come as a shock then, when we finally pulled out of the station, to hear Zambian praise and worship music piping out of the bus speakers. It accompanied our entire journey, and no one objected.

Christmas carols in Livingstone

A few days after Christmas, Steve and I joined Sheri and her family at a musical get-together being hosted by a missionary family in Livingstone. We sang Christmas hymns and enjoyed some informal performances, including a spoken word piece by a young Zambian man, and some beautiful songs written and performed by the daughter of our hosts and her husband.

To finish off the evening, we all stood in a circle and learned a Zambian Christmas carol – the kind where the lead singer sings a couple of lines, and the group responds with a short phrase. It was hilarious, since most of us were not from Zambia, and basically mumbled some gibberish when it was our turn to pipe in.

I didn’t bring my camera to the event, a choice that I really started to regret about halfway through. But Liana and Jason handed out CDs at the end on which were recorded a couple of the songs they had performed, so I will leave you with one of their songs.

Liana wrote this song after realizing she had never noticed the depth of meaning expressed in the familiar hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem.

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New Year’s in Lusaka

[note: the next few posts will be jumping back a bit]

Who needs a city fireworks display when you can experience a city-wide fireworks extravaganza? That’s pretty much what happened in Lusaka at 12:00 on Jan 1, 2013.

I should have known as much when I saw the dozens of street vendors walking by our vehicle selling fireworks in the New Year’s Eve afternoon traffic. Most memorable were the long tubes boasting a dozen or more rockets in one convenient container. But instead I was slightly incredulous, since I have never seen a firework sold in such a casual manner. Especially in Africa. In fact, I assumed large-scale fireworks were illegal everywhere but in those off-the-highway warehouses in South Carolina, and that the ‘rockets’ being sold along the street in Lusaka were nothing more than fancy firecrackers.

Apparently not.

We didn’t make any plans to herald in the new year, since Steve and I had a bus to catch the next morning for Kapiri Mposhi. So we went to bed early. But it seems that when you are in Lusaka, sleeping through the new year is not an option. At midnight I was woken up by the sound of an all-out military assault on the city. Artillery exploding, missiles whistling through the air… it took a moment for me to register that these were all the fireworks I had seen just a few hours before, now joyfully exploding all over the city. I was too tired to get up and try to view the fireworks, so I contented myself with imagining what they must have looked like.

I’m not sure if it was the rain that started up, or if everyone began to run out of their fireworks, but the noise finally began to subside and I drifted back to sleep with visions of a thousand fireworks sparkling over the city.

ok, this is not lusaka, but it’s pretty much how the fireworks looked in my imagination.

It’s times like this that I am reminded of one of the things I love about Africa (at least, the part of Africa I am familiar with, which is small). It’s that all-encompassing and unplanned, yet somehow ordered chaos, so creative and expressive. Maybe I’m used to it, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming to me, only alive and grandly uncontainable.

I think back to my experiences with fireworks in the US. Fifteen minutes sitting on a lawn watching a well-planned and neatly-executed fireworks display is nice. It begins on time and ends with a bang. But imagine the splendid chaos of a thousand families lighting up the city with their own personal display. Starting a few minutes before midnight, of course. Completely uncoordinated and unpredictable, but magnificent, nonetheless.

Of course, there is a downside to this kind of chaos – in the case of fireworks, there are valid public health reasons to restrict and control their usage (take the club fire in Brazil, as a tragic example). But for the areas that aren’t such a big deal, in the daily-life kinds of things, I prefer dirt to concrete, and an overgrown plot of wildflowers and vines to a city park. More room for surprise, improvisation, imagination. This part of Africa is full of that, and I miss it every time I leave.

[photo compliments of my dad]

[photo compliments of my dad]

Kapiri Mposhi to Dar Es Salaam

Sorry, there are a lot of photos from our trip. But the idea was to give you a sense of the change of landscape as we travelled north.

Day 1 : Jan 1, 2013

I only got some photos of an awesome thunderstorm we saw while waiting at a station at around 9 pm.

 

Day 2 : Jan 2, 2013

Half the day in Zambia, the other half in Tanzania, with an extended 2 hour stop in Mbeya (Tanzania) to do some maintenance on our engine.

 

Day 3 : Jan 3, 2013

Tazara

For our return to Tanzania, we decided to take the train. This first necessitated a 3 hour bus ride north of Lusaka, to the small town of Kapiri Mposhi, since there is no direct train from the capital of Zambia to the capital of Tanzania. Don’t ask me why.

As soon as we stepped off the bus in Kapiri Mposhi, we were literally mobbed by taxi drivers offering their service to take us to the train station, which is a kilometer or two from the bus station. Thankfully we had read the blogs about this particular trip, so we knew what to expect. The trick is to not let them carry any of your stuff. Otherwise you have no choice but to go with that taxi driver and hope he offers you a good price. So we staggered through the mob with our 1 suitcase, 2 backpacks, 2 boxes, and my purse, and managed to find a reasonable taxi to take us to the station.

The Tazara train station is a relic of the 70s, and probably hasn’t been touched since it was built. The entire project – stations and railway line – was completed in 1975, and was completely financed and executed by China. I love old buildings, so I wish I had been bolder with my camera. But sometimes one can get in trouble for taking photos of official buildings in Africa, so I didn’t pull my huge DSLR out. However, Steve did manage to get some photos with our point and shoot.

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When we bought our tickets, we had to purchase a second class sleeper compartment because the first class compartments were already full. This meant paying for 6 beds instead of 4. I had tried to set my expectations relatively low about this train ride, but was still surprised by the cramped dimensions of our compartment. This feeling was compounded by our luggage, which was starting to feel excessive at this point.

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Imagine our dismay, then, when four more people (well, five, if you count the child that one of them had) filed into our compartment over the course of the boarding time, holding tickets for our same compartment! We learned later that Tazara had reserved the entire first compartment in our car for some of their employees (upper-level staff, no doubt), who were riding for free (read: no tickets). There had obviously been a miscommunication somewhere, and we were looking at sharing a 6 x 4 space with 5 other people for the next 42 hours.

Thankfully, since we had proof of our purchase, the conductor affirmed that yes, indeed, we had paid for the full compartment, and that he would find a place for the other passengers. So after about 4 hours of sitting awkwardly across from our unexpected cabin-mates, we had the compartment to ourselves.

I’m glad it worked out, but not before creating a super uncomfortable situation for everyone.

Everyone except the passengers in compartment 1. They looked pretty comfortable.

(photos of the trip in the next post)

A hike down to Rapid #10

Right after Victoria Falls, the Zambezi River runs through a deep and narrow gorge. Many people go white-water rafting down this gorge, where there are 23 rapids, many of which are class 4 and 5, and a few class 6. (The rafts portage around the class 6 rapids as they are too dangerous.)

On our last full day in Livingstone, we hiked down into the gorge where we were told there was a great swimming hole of sorts right after Rapid #10. Some people from Overland Missions had hiked there before, so they knew where to go and joined us. Rapid #10 is also where some of the rafting expeditions begin, so the path into the gorge has been improved with the construction of wooden ‘ladders’ at the steepest points.

At the top of the gorge
at the top of the gorge

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the swimming hole (lower left) is only accessible during dry season - once the river reaches its maximum level, it covers that entire area

the swimming hole (lower left) is only accessible during dry season – once the river reaches its maximum level, it covers that entire area

Our descent
we begin our descent

Ladder? Stairs? Not really either, or maybe both.

ladder? stairs? not really either, or maybe both.

It was certainly easier than sliding down loose dirt and pebbles…

it was certainly easier than sliding down loose dirt and pebbles...

…but it still wasn’t easy.

... but still a challenge

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Needless to say, our quads were SORE the next day

needless to say, our quads were SORE the next day

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At the bottom.

if you look closely, you can see two from our group in the lower left corner

if you look closely, you can see two from our group in the lower left corner

looking towards rapid #10

looking towards rapid #10

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The swimming hole was green from algae, but as it was surprisingly clear, the group decided it was still swimmable.

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Steve and I found a spot along the river to swim in.

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We startled a really interesting lizard, and Steve managed to get some great closeups of it.

we startled a really interesting lizard, and Steve managed to get some great closeups of it

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Also, for you geology enthusiasts out there, the black rock surrounding the swimming hole held a wealth of geodes.

for you geology nerds out there, this black rock held a wealth of geodes.

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i probably could have spent the entire day admiring their various shapes and sizes.

I probably could have spent the entire day admiring their various shapes and sizes. I was hoping to find one with amethyst crystals in it, since Zambia does mine some amethyst. But I didn’t. Just white quartz, I think.

We started back up not long after lunch, but I only snapped two photos of our ascent. It was too grueling to take more. It didn’t make me feel better that we were quickly passed by two Zambian fishermen, who I’m pretty sure didn’t stop to rest the entire climb. Amazing.

starting the climb back up. i didn't have any energy to take photos of our ascent.