Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hakuna Matata

February 20
Balls to the wall.
That sentence literally describes the past hour of my life. Today Okello invited us all to his house for a celebration goat slaughter. We missed the actual slaughter because we were in class but I got to help skin the goat afterwards and then we all got to try some once it roasted over the fire. The meat was a little chewier than I’m used to but it tasted really good. I tried a piece of the kidney and even a small piece of the testicles. To say that was a little out of my comfort zone is putting it lightly! It was like eating charred, hairy cartilage… yes hairy. But, it’s a delicacy here and who am I to turn that down during a celebration? I took a Survivor style picture afterwards to prove I actually ate it!
On Tuesday we got to go out for our first Ecology related field exercise. We were dropped off at a certain spot with a guide and a transect map to fill out, with the instructions to walk 4 kilometers in one direction and take notes on everything we saw. We stopped to talk to a few people and got to see a lot of good examples of the local agriculture. It was really interesting to see all the differences between how they grow crops and how we do back home. We ran into a little girl on our way back to the car and she completely stole my heart. She kept running to catch up to us and saying hi. I took a picture of her and she was so excited to see it! She quickly grabbed her little brothers and said “Smile! Picture!” I took a few more of them and they giggled at their smiling faces. We said goodbye and I didn’t make it more than 10 feet before I heard tiny feet pounding the dirt behind me. All of a sudden a little hand grasped mine and she kept pace with me for a few yards, smiling the whole way. She was the most precious little kid I’ve ever met and I didn’t want to leave!
Yesterday we had another non-program day. Some local Maasai warriors and mamas came to teach us how to make beaded bracelets and how to be a warrior. Unfortunately we had to choose, and I really wanted to see how the bracelets were made! We each got some wire and beads and the mamas gave us a pattern to follow. When we did well they said “Oh, you are very smart! Very smart!” We got to keep the bracelets after and we have extra supplies if we want to try again sometime. I hear the warriors taught people how they danced and how to throw spears! I hope my Swahili teacher, Daniel, keeps his word about teaching us spear throwing! After lunch, we got to visit a local lodge to relax and wind down from a hard school week. I immediately shelled out some cash for a full-body massage. Why not? It was definitely an experience, considering I’ve never even gotten a normal massage before. After that I threw on a swim suit and enjoyed the nice cool pool for hours. It felt so nice to be in the water again! We all just messed around, practicing swim strokes and playing funny games underwater.
I already can’t imagine leaving this place. I can’t wait to see where the rest of this semester takes me. Already I’m a changed woman and I look forward to growing even more over the next few months. As Okello would say, I’m on my way to becoming a global citizen and I’m trying to experience everything Africa has to offer. I can say with absolute certainty that I love it here and this has sparked my determination to figure out a way to travel as much as I can in life.
Asante Sana for reading!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Amboseli National Park!

February 15, 2014
                Wednesday afternoon I decided it would be a good idea to go for a walk around the track even though it had been raining the past few days. My friend Anna and I got about half way around when all of a sudden my foot was ankle deep in mud and my shoe was lost somewhere in the muck. By the time I got the shoe back, both feet were completely coated in mud and both shoes were filled with mud. I walked in my socks back to camp and spent a little time scrubbing my shoes in the laundry sink. It was my luck.
Thursday we started the day with a field lecture near local Maasai agriculture and housing developments. We hiked up this giant ridge and all put out our camp chairs at the very top. It was a nice break from the chumba. It’s difficult having hours of classes in the same room, but luckily the teachers understand and give us five minute breaks every once in a while. It was really nice to get out and learn about local ecosystems and their interactions with the local community while being able to physically see the locals going about their daily lives. It was crazy hot though, I’m definitely not used to the African sun. The staff see us all getting sun burns and having to lather on the sunscreen and tell us it’s because we’re mzungu, which means white person. After our lecture we headed back to KBC to make some lunches and head out to Amboseli! I was so excited I could hardly sit still for the hour drive. Once we arrived we were ambushed by mamas trying to sell us bracelets and other trinkets. Finally, we were able to enter the park in our jeeps. The roofs came off so we could all stand up and look out of the tops. We were given instructions to count every group of mammals we saw and record them into our notebooks. Of course, that meant we had to put our cameras down long enough to actually do the work we went there to do! It was hard because we were all basically kids in a candy shop. The highlight of my day was when we ran into a pair of hyenas. The one was lying on the side of the road in some mud, trying to cool off, and we were able to drive up right next to it. We got some really cool pictures but the part I’ll never forget was when the hyena looked up at me. We made eye contact and it looked right through me; I was completely locked into its ebony gaze. It was one of those earth shattering moments where everything you’ve been working towards is laid out right in front of you, no more than five feet away, just as alive as you. I stared into those deep, primal eyes and something changed in me; the passion I have for my future tripled because all I could think about was making sure I would always see these amazing creatures out in the wild, thriving. After we left the hyenas we stopped for lunch at an overlook and were able to watch some elephants interacting with their babies and mates.

                Today we got to go to the park again, which everyone was really excited about! Before we even entered the park we saw a whole herd of elephants and their babies. We were supposed to be keeping track of all the mammals for our class assignment but we were also helping with a census for the Kenya Wildlife Service! They basically gave us a zone and we were in the park from about 10:15 until 14:00 counting all the specified animals in our zone. It was really cool to know we were a part of a wildlife management project, if only for a day. It made me really excited for our Directed Research projects in a few weeks. I wanted so badly to see a carnivore today but Moses and Sapaya said that all the grazing animals were leaving the park in search of foraging opportunities and the carnivores were following their prey. The grazing animals tend to leave the park more frequently during the wet season because Amboseli has a lot of wetlands and it gets swampy very quickly. This creates a huge human-animal conflict because the grazers take peoples crops and the following carnivores tend to go after livestock. I’m getting really interested in human-animal conflict because it looks like that is the center of conservation and wildlife management. One of my favorite things to do is just sit with the staff and chat over a cup of chai. They’re all so nice and willing to talk about the wildlife management issues from all sides. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Non-scheduled Program Day!

February 11, 2014
                Yesterday we were given the opportunity to go visit the local Maasai mama’s and experience a little bit of their lifestyles and routines. As soon as we got to the bomas, we were bombarded with mama’s wanting to shake our hands and say hello. It was a little overwhelming but completely amazing at the same time. The mamas then lined up and sang for us while jumping around and stomping their feet. Some of them even hopped over to us and pulled us into the mix! It made me feel extremely welcome and honored that they were so willing to bring us into their lives, if only for a few hours. After they finished their song, our teacher Daniel asked us to sing one for them in return. We had a hard time finding songs that we all knew but we finally settled on Lean On Me and This Little Light of Mine (Daniel’s favorite). Finally, all the mamas laid out tarps and started pulling out bracelets, necklaces, wood carvings, even spears! Daniel tried to help us communicate better but there was definitely a huge language barrier. Even still, we each managed to buy something and each of the mamas got to make a little money, so everybody won.
                Today we got to sleep in a little because it was a non-scheduled program day. We all packed into our cars around 9am and drove to the area where we would hike to a waterfall! My car serenaded Daniel the whole way, with selections from Taylor Swift, One Direction, etc. We even got the entire car to sing Wagon Wheel, which is my favorite song! Once we got to the site, we started to hike down to the falls. It took about an hour of hiking down steep muddy hills, but we all made it no worse for wear. We explored the falls for a while, taking lots of pictures and just hanging out enjoying the view. After a while we hiked back up to the cars and drove to a Voluntary Counseling Testing clinic, run by a wonderful woman named Mary. The clinic was for people (mostly women) living with HIV positive diagnoses’ and helping each other to better cope with their sickness. These women sat with us in a circle and each told us the story of how they came to be at the VCT clinic. Most of them had been shunned by their family and friends, and most of them were now single mothers with multiple children. I can’t even imagine the amount of strength these women possess to have overcome what they have in their lives. They now get counseling at the center and they help each other via support groups and meetings. It broke my heart to hear their stories, but healed it to see the growth and strength of these women. We were given an opportunity to visit their shop, where they sold hand beaded items. All of the money goes to supporting them and their children, so we all bought a few things from them. As I was paying one of the mamas, I asked if I could give them a hug. They didn’t understand until I put my arm around one woman’s shoulder. Immediately she hugged me so warmly and just smiled back at me. I went to go hug the other woman and she immediately responded the same way; both women hung on for a few extra seconds and then gave me their contact information so that I could reach them again. That simple moment was absolutely life-changing. The simple act of exchanging a compassionate gesture truly meant the world to these women and to me.
After we left the clinic we tried to exchange money for the first time. That was insane. There were so many people and it was an hour before we even got to the teller. Finally we all loaded into the cars and drove to the market in Kimana. We were basically given free rein to walk around and look. Almost immediately we had a very persistent group of mamas following us around, trying to sell us bracelets. It was like the most hectic flea market you’ve ever seen, except people will actually follow you and corner you. I did end up buying a few things from one of the mamas and she was so happy she said that we were now friends and gave me a necklace as a present. I also purchased a really cool looking dagger from one of the Maasai men. The mamas saw me with the knife and said “No more, try bracelets.” I don’t think they were used to women being interested in knives and weapons. After spending enough time in the market, we ended the day at a small restaurant and got a beer. I, of course, got the sparkling apple alcoholic beverage… But it was exciting considering it was my first legal drink! While we were sitting around having our drinks, one of the little Maasai boys started a dance off with me. We had so much fun! We also made funny faces at each other for a while and we laughed so hard! When it was time for him to leave, he blew me a kiss. I was so excited about my new friend! Tomorrow we go back to classes but Thursday we get to see the Amboseli National Park!!! I can’t wait!
La la salama everyone!


Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Few Days At Camp

Every morning I wake up extra early so I can walk around the edge of camp during the sunrise. It’s so beautiful in the morning, especially Mount Kilimanjaro! Our teacher told us that when we look at Kilimanjaro, we’re actually looking at Tanzania, which is amazing. Every morning I’m struck with how easily I can be looking at another country from our back yard! We’ve had a lot of thunderstorms this week, which is completely unexpected considering it’s the Kenyan dry season. All the teachers say it must be global warming or something weird going on with nature. All that rain makes for a LOT of mud. During my morning walk I slip and slide all over, especially the part of the trail near a river. The cool thing though is all that rain brings out the critters and creatures of the Kilimanjaro Bush Camp. Friday night I saw a dog run through campus! I’m told there’s a honey badger that likes to meander through camp during the night and I’ve made it my mission to figure out how to see him and get a picture. Friday morning, my banda-mate and I went for a walk and saw two dik-diks walking around! They look like miniature deer, but stockier and with shorter legs. My teacher wasn’t as excited about them as I was because they keep eating his vegetable plants during the night! I wish I could have gotten a picture of them before they ran away! We also saw a huge turtle and a few GIANT snails. To put it in perspective, one snail was only a little bit smaller than my hand! Thank goodness the bugs haven’t been too bad so far, and we can just enjoy all the other creatures that hang about. On Saturday I officially started classes, and I already love my wildlife management class (WFS 310 for all you Penn Staters). It was a little weird to have class on a Saturday but the days have quickly lost a lot of meaning for me. I either have a combination of classes or a free day to get off campus and have a group adventure. We pretty much have class 6-7 days a week, but they only last 6 weeks! It’s kind of cool to know how completely integrated everything is here. Our teachers live in the same campus and often join us for dinner! Today a few of us decided to try doing laundry for the first time. I say the first time because for many of us, we have the luxury of a washer/dryer for this task. This time, we went armed with scrub brushes, soap, and a bucket of water. It took us a long time but we finally got the hang of scrubbing our clothes on the sides of the bucket, then hanging them on a line. Definitely a new experience for me, although my mother would be proud…all the wrinkles were hung! We also got our slingshots today and one of the staff members taught us all how to shoot rocks. I felt like one of the lost boys from Peter Pan! It was surprisingly easy once I got the technique down. I’m good at hitting small trees and bushes right now, but tomorrow I’m going to practice aiming higher.
Tomorrow I wake up early to help the cook crew make breakfast. Later in the day we’re going on a boma visit to get a lesson on how the local Maasai live! I’m so excited J
Until next time,


Thursday, February 6, 2014


                Last time I wrote I was sitting in JFK waiting to board my flight to Amsterdam. The flight to Amsterdam and the flight to Kilimanjaro were really good for bonding us students together. Some of my closest friends here already were the ones I sat with on the plane or in the airport. Once we landed in Kilimanjaro, we came to this tiny airport and had to figure out how to get through the visa system. We pretty much had no idea what to do but luckily someone was able to find our Student Affairs Manager, Mike, and he was able to mitigate the situation. Once we got our bags, we all hopped into our land rovers and headed off to a Tanzanian hotel. We named our car the “Magic School Bus” and our driver, Daniel, answered some of our questions and joked around with us on the way to the hotel. It was kind of surreal to be in a car with students that were complete strangers 24 hours prior, in a new country. We were all super loopy from the long stint in the airport so we talked about the most random stuff and every few minutes someone would remark that we were all actually in Africa. The hotel was fantastic, the staff was really nice and we were made to feel very welcome immediately. There were mosquito nets above the bed, princess style, to keep out all the bugs while we slept. It was actually pretty nice to fall asleep knowing that the bugs couldn’t get to me – I’m a total girl that way. We were advised not to even brush our teeth with the hotel water because it wasn’t sanitized enough for Americans to ingest. Once we woke up, we got a nice fruit breakfast and some water then we loaded back up into the Land Rovers. I volunteered to sit in the back because I didn’t really mind being squished back there – big mistake. About an hour into our 3 hour drive, I became so nauseated that I had to tell the driver to stop the car. Even then I had to hang my head out of the car window until I felt okay enough to get out of the car. Everyone was so nice, again I was completely taken aback by how nice these people were and by how willing the other students were to step up and help their fellow student. I sat in the front with Daniel and one of my fellow students gave me a pepto. After that everything was smooth sailing! We all took advantage of the day light to look around and take in the sights. One of the others brought a mini speaker set so we played some music for our journey; we even got Daniel to whistle along! Crossing the border was interesting, considering I’ve never had to do that before. Once we got to our Bush Camp we were able to get a tour of the campus and then unpack our things into our bandas (houses). Both of my roommates were flying in the next day so I had a sleepover with some girls a few bandas down! It was so nice to be able to have pseudo-roommates until mine came! The food here is AMAZING. I can be kind of picky at times so I was a little concerned with liking the food. Everything was so yummy, especially the veggies and the fruit. I’m looking forward to trying the coffee tomorrow morning. This morning a few of us woke up early to take a lap around the perimeter of camp; it was nice to wake up and move around before breakfast! Today was pretty much an orientation day, we got a lot of information thrown at us in regards to safety and expectations. The funniest thing was when our SAM announced that we each had a slingshot in case the campus baboons get a little too comfortable around us. Strictly to be used for our own protection of course. The baboons usually hang out around the back end of campus but they get a little adventurous sometimes and we’re told they LOVE to steal things! I’ll be keeping the banda door closed at all times! The little babies are so cute though.
In a little bit we’re going to play a game of soccer with some of the staff.
Asante sana for reading!


Monday, February 3, 2014


This is gonna be a short entry, I'm writing from the JFK airport in New York. My nerves are going crazy as I wait to board my 5:55pm flight to Amsterdam! I'm so excited to start my adventure in Africa :) this is probably the craziest thing I've ever done! Once I'm in Amsterdam, I won't be able to use my phone except for music. The best way to get in contact with me is via email: is probably the best one to use. I would love to hear from people and will answer as soon as I can! 

The next time I write I should be safely in Kenya! Thanks so much to everyone for all the love and support! 

- Dani