"Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us."
-Sargent Shriver

Monday, October 14, 2013


The 2011 Health and Environment class, at our Close of Service Conference, August 29th, 2013, at South Beach Resort.  Preparing for our last few months in country of goodbyes, reintegration in the USA, and looking back on our months of service.

A lot can happen in two years making it seem dauntingly long, yet, at other times, a short blink of a moment.  On my two-year anniversary in Tanzania I took a look back at all that has happened since I first stepped off the plane (October, 12th, 2011), to a very humid Dar, and looking cleaner than I would be for the next 700+ days.  Luckily, I’ve been able to keep all of you up to date on all that has happened to me.  However, as we finished our Close of Service Conference in August, and were told to start preparing for ‘goodbyes’ and reverse culture shock these last few months, I realized I needed to get up to speed on what has happened at ‘home.’ 

Talk about a strange research project.  #whydopeoplereallydothishashtagthingallthetimeinallseriousness

For a solid 3 months I didn’t know what was ‘Orange is the New Black.’  I thought it was another YOLO until Google helped me out.  And Scandal is just another television show, right?  Although considering the large amount of my Facebook friends constantly posting about it I think it may be the new ‘Greys Anatomy.’ Don’t worry guys/gals, there is absolutely NO WAY I could give away what happened on that recent, crazy-filled episode.

While we’re at it, who are all of these new bands on the billboard charts?  Was ‘Thriftshop’ really that popular?  And what happened to Amanda Bynes?  Looking through pop culture lists I can safely say I don’t understand a majority of what people ‘tweet’ about and will openly make fun of anyone who says ‘hashtag’ in a conversation.

Politics, well talk about some serious issues getting hashed out in the last few years.  From Supreme Court decisions, to gun control, rape culture, and race relations, to one hell of an election year.  I may want to discuss issues your are drained of talking about....fair warning.

Perhaps to help you understand just how much has happened in two years, here is a very brief list to remind you of some of the USA and semi-world shenanigans since I first arrived in Tanzania.  Of course, a majority of the news items I have heard of, HOWEVER, I can say with a lot of certainty that events like the (far too) numerous mass shootings, the tragic Trayvon Martin case and never-ending presidential election looked slightly different 8,000 miles away.   

Oct-Dec 2011:
  • First 2 weeks of NBA season canceled, and a lock out occurs
  • Over 2000 people march in Chicago for Occupy Wall Street protests (several others took place across the country and world)
  • Moammar Gadhafi is killed....and there is a Gadhafi building in Dodoma
  • President Obama announces pull out of troops in Iraq
  • Libya rebels continue to fight the government army long months after Arab spring began
  • Joe Paterno fired and a child sex abuse scandal ensues at Penn State.  This was the first piece of news I learned after living with my homestay for 5 weeks and I was SHOCKED.  Other volunteers thought I was lying when I told them.
  • Gabrielle Giffords speaks publicly for the first time
  • Blagojevich sentencing, yea Chicago.
  • Mission Impossible, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Iron Lady, The Descendents, Hugo….thanks to volunteer media sharing I did see ‘The Descendents.’
  • Kim Jong-il dies

  • Iowa Republican caucus tie with Santorum and Romney/Romney wins New Hampshire, Gingrich wins South Carolina
  • Swiss scientists demonstrates thought-controlled robot
  • SOPA blackout becomes the largest protest in the history of the internet
  • 73 killed in Egyptian football riots in Port Said
  • The Red Cross is denied access to provide relief to the Baba Amr district in Homs by the Syrian army
  • Coca-Cola begins business in Myanmar after 60 years
  • Vladimir Putin wins Russian presidential election amid allegations of voter fraud
  • Wendy’s overtakes Burger King to become the second best selling ‘hamburger’ chain
  • President Barack Obama officially states his support for same sex marriage
  • Phillip Phillips is crowned the 11th American Idol winner
  • Eli Manning wins his second Superbowl MVP, beating the Patriots 21-17
  • Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, Lincoln, This is 40, Looper, Silver Linings Playbook, and Brave, Hunger Games
  • Queen Elizabeth II marks her 60th Anniversary of becoming Britain’s monarch
  • When did ‘Breaking Bad’ become SO HUGE and suddenly a must watch in it’s last seasons?
  • Zambia wins Africa Cup of Nations over Ivory Coast, 8-7
  • Linsanity
  • Kony 2012 backfire and subsequent downfall of director
  • Time’s Breasfeeding cover shocker
  • Deaths: Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, Whitney Houston, Beastie Boys founder Adam Yauch, Davy Jones,  Dick Clark, Maurice Sendak, Rodney King, Nora Ephron, Andy Griffith, Sally Ride, Neil Armstrong,  Andy Williams, Arlen Specter
  • Marissa Mayer Yahoos new CEO
  • Jessica Simpson has first of 2 children during my service
  • Mohamed Morsi is sworn in as President of Egypt
  • Google fiber in KC
  • Summer Olympics in London:  Missy Franklin, Gabby Douglas, female athletes from Saudi Arabia and Ryan Lochte
  • YOLO….. YO I don’t get it
  • The American Episcopal Church becomes the first to approve a rite of blessing for gay marriages
  • Hurricane Sandy
  • Walt Disney purchases LucasFilms Ltd.
  • Julian Assange is granted political asylum in Ecuador
  • The gang rape of a woman on a bus in India results in her death and international outrage
  • Chicago Teachers strike
  • TomKat totes broke up
  • The entire presidential race…..and binders full of women
  • Call Me Maybe, Ho Hey, Stereo Hearts,  It’s Time, Sexy and I Know It, Not Over You,  Whistle, Locked Out of Heaven,  Home, We’re Never Ever Getting Back Together,  Starships, We Found Love,  Give Your Heart  A Break,  Stronger, We Are Young
  • Lance Armstrong losses a host of endorsements in wake of doping scandal
  • In general, the completely inappropriate, and constant sexist comments in the media and by ‘leaders.’  Particularly concerning rape culture in America.  Although this is not new, it certainly became a big news event, as it should.
  • Instagram got really, REALLY big (2 years after hipsters started using it)
  • Trayvon Martin is killed
  • Memes and Gifs….I don’t get this either.  Are these abbreviations for real words?
  • The worst power outage in world history, leave 620 million people in India without power
  • Liberian president Charles Taylor found guilty on 11 counts relating to war crimes
  • 16 ‘mass’ shootings in the US (according to ‘The Nation’ and defined as multi-victim shootings where those killed were chosen indiscriminately): including Newtown, Aurora, Sikh Temple, and Texas A&M
  • Honey Boo Boo
  • Fifty Shades of Grey
  • Gangnam Style became the most viewed youtube video of all time-why?
  • Mayan Apocalypse….that never happened

  • JJs Restaurant explosion in Kansas City
  • Boston marathon bombing
  • Blurred Lines, Same Love, Thriftshop, Mirrors, We Can’t Stop, Just Give Me a Reason, Get Lucky, New Slaves… Don’t judge me when I’m listening to Now 349 to catch up on the last few years…..
  • Spring Breakers, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, This is the End, Monsters University, Man of Steel
  • Wendy Davis filibuster against Texas abortion limits: Governor 2014!
  • Ariel Castro captured after captives found trying to escape, later convicted and died in his cell
  • 39 international workers and 1 security guard die in a hostage crisis in Algeria
  • 3D printer-whaaaaaaaaaa?
  • Benedict XVI resigns as pope and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is elected the 266th pope
  • Libya is accused of using chemical weapons after spiraling into a horrible civil war
  • Kanye West and Kim Kardashian have baby North, and America gets another reality star
  • Elie Goulding-who ARE these people?
  • Edward Snowden discloses operations engaged by a US government mass surveillance program
  • Sharknado
  • Westgate shopping mall attack in Kenya-which has already started to affect Tanzanian tourism
  • Miley Cyrus twerking….maybe the Mayan Apocalypse is actually set for 2013?
  • George Zimmerman found not guilty
  • Prince George of Cambridge is born
  • North Korea conducts its third underground nuclear test…… and CNN freaked out with capitalized, red lettered, fear inducing, breaking news headings.
  • Deaths: Hugo Chavez, Margaret Thatcher, Corey Monteith
  • Government shutdown!  Thanks, petulant 3-year olds.  Yes, this IS affecting Peace Corps.
  • Supreme court takes one step forward for marriage equality and one giant step backwards for voting rights.
  • Kansas City Chiefs fans break Guinness World Record for loudest crowd…I like to think this was due in part to the craziest fans I know (Mary and Cara Smith).

A lot can happen in two years, with me, with all of you and across the world.  This research project was, shockingly, very informative and very necessary as I focus on leaving Tanzania indefinitely and moving back to the midwest.

And this whole reintegration thing….I got it, and I think I’m ready for you, USA.  But first I’m gonna follow a YOLO motto for the next few months, enjoy my BongaFlava music, and hashtag in Swahili.  #becauseican  #mwafaka

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Tallest Person in Africa

On Monday, August 19th, at approximately 8:35 a.m., I was the tallest woman, nay person, in Africa.

It all started far down below.  After months of planning and preparation, saving every last shilling, and getting acquainted with our Gladys Adventures guide team (HIGHLY recommend), Glenn (61), Kathryn (26) and I started our 6-day trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. 

Day 1: 1,800-2,829m: Machame Gate to Machame Camp:  It all started off harder than we thought.  We quickly came to find that not only had we signed up for the most difficult trek on the mountain, Machame Route, we were doing it faster than every other group but one.  At least we were doing it for far cheaper, thank you residence rate.  We started through rainforests, on wonderfully set trails, surrounded by big, green ferns, passing a small waterfall, and hearing the constant echo of birds chatting and monkeys swinging.  The walk was a flip flop with other groups climbing.  We would pass them, they would pass us, and the porters would blow past all of us with amazing speed.  Seriously, being a porter is one of the hardest jobs in the world!  We made extra sure to cheer on, loudly, the sole woman porter on our trail.  We stopped briefly for our box lunch that got chilly after a morning of sweet and cold rainforest air.  Just at the end of our 5-hour hike the trees broke open and we suddenly switched environments to alpine rainforest.  It was there that we found our camp, all set up and waiting for us.  A snack of chai and popcorn followed by a dinner of pumpkin soup, potatoes, avocados, fish, cabbage, tea, and bread with egg in sauce.  Lots of food and lots of liquids (we found) were the key to a successful climb.  Seriously, Gladys Adventures is a BARGAIN.  We were lucky enough to have a beautiful sunset view with the peak behind us.  But once the sun was down we were already getting cold, so on came the fleece jackets, hats, and hot cocoa by our tent heater while Caspar (our main guide) debriefed us and checked out med stats.

*Our med stats (something we found most companies weren’t doing), was a twice a day check on our bowel movements, headache, hydration, nausea, reaction to altitude medication, pulse and oxygen levels, and general ‘how are you feeling?’  We had competitions on who was using the restroom most frequently and how often our altitude meds ‘took us to tingle town.’  (We were lucky in that our only side effect of the medicine was having tingly feet and fingers.)

*Guides: Caspar has had over 150 climbs and made it to the top over 98% of the time.  Prosper (our assistant guide) has had over 100 climbs with an equal success rate.  We also traveled with 13 porters and a cook.

By the end of the day, we were getting to know the climbing community, who loved my Mchagaa name of Mankaa Mushi, were making jokes like ‘mimi peeeeeeeee-a’ (a Swahili pun), and finding out more about our guides.  

Day 2: 2829-3837m: Machame Camp to Shira Camp:  After learning the record climb for Kilimanjaro was 8 hours up and down (total), we were feeling silly taking our slow pace.  But as we soon came to find out, whoever did that run was NUTS!  Right from the beginning we climbed at about a 75-degree incline.  It was a four-hour, rocky route with lots of switchbacks, but offering jaw-dropping 360 views.  Prosper led us for most of the day and we once again ran into more groups and watched in awe as the porters passed us with ease, again.  Caspar was very knowledgeable of all the trees and plants (which Environment Volunteer Glenn LOVED), and once we explained what we did in Tanzania he was all about creating a call and response cheer of ‘PEACE!’  ‘CORPS!’  ‘PEACE!’  ‘CORPS!’  The mazingira was mostly dry and a constant up/down/up/down.  Towards the end we had a few areas we had to take extremely slow because one misstep could send you falling.  The quick altitude climb made us force a lot of water to avoid any headaches, and by the time we got to our next campsite we were SO COLD.  Coming back to America in December is going to be miserable.  At check in all of our levels were good and bowels moving as we broke out the gloves and jackets while the porters played with Glenn’s soccer ball.  We had a quick lunch at site of soup and sandwiches, then took a nap before doing a brief, 1 hour acclimatization climb.  By dinner we reminisced about the other groups we passed including a German couple, the safi Washingtonians celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary, and were freaking out that we could see our breath.  The best quote of the day, however, went to a young American we chatted with on the trail.  His group was doing an 8-day climb and when we said we were doing 6 he responded, ‘isn’t doing the Peace Corps hard enough?  Now you want to climb Kili in 6 days?’  We appreciated this ego boost, greatly.

Day 3: 3837-4637-3976m: Shira Camp to Lava Tower Hut, down to Barranco Camp:  There was frost on the ground!  Frost on the ground!  Despite our freak out about this, the guides went about their business, singing and acting silly throughout the morning.  It really is a fun hiking community on the mountain.  Getting used to the cold was making us slower, however, and we hit the trail 30 minutes past schedule.  Thanks to minimal cloud coverage and singing ‘Sisonge Simunye,’ ‘Tupo pamoja, yebo,’ and ‘Peace Corps,’ we warmed up quickly.’  Our hike quickly turned to alpine desert with scattered black rocks and lots of sand.  The cold start made long underwear officially on for the rest of the trip, but we briefly got warm, before getting really cold, and thoroughly appreciated our hot chai at lunch.  Birds were swooping in all over searching for scraps of food while our demeanor and clothes made us get mistaken for Belgians.  We reached a Lava Tower before descending downhill through moonscapes, icy streams, and back to yesterday’s vegetation of waterfalls and slippery slopes.  Going down so steep so quickly proved hard on my knees (thank you basketball), but with long strides I felt good.  Our guides also weren’t pleased with our slow pace down, so ahead of the group I went with Prosper getting to camp about 30 minutes before my friends.  Our camp was at the bottom of a steep, large hill, and fairly green with streams of water passing through.  Directly to the east was a massive wall called Barranco, and just above Barranco, the summit.  We warmed ourselves up with a luke warm foot bath, change of clothes, hot chai and much needed R&R after a 7 hour hike.  Our red, wind burned cheeks went well with our tired bodies, but our spirits more motivated than ever with the summit so near.

Bowel count:  Day 1=1-0-0, Day 2= 0-2-1, Day 3= 4-1-0, to a grand total of Ellen=5, Glenn=3, and Kathryn=1.  In other words, Caspar was very confident we would make it to the top.  Apparently, and seriously enough, the above tends to affect climbers greatly, especially on summit day.

Day 4: 3976-4673m:  Barranco Camp to Barafu Camp:  My Obama cap was ITCHY, but I quickly ignored that fact after realizing that our next step was to climb Barranco wall.  And when I say climb, I mean we climbed like rock climbers.  There was minimal ‘hiking’ the first two hours of this day, including a part where we had to hug the kissing stone and swing our body around with no rope support.  We also found using the restroom is becoming less and less discreet.  The wall was a little more intense than we thought, but by far the most ‘fun’ part of the entire climb.  At the top of Barranco the vegetation had completely vanished, this time for good, and Kili looked like a gingerbread peak with icing dripping down.  After a ten-minute break at the top of the wall we followed a trail that winded up and down and in and out of cloud level.  At one point we descended a steep hill with loose, thick dirt, jumped a river bed, and made a steep climb to Kibo camp where our tent was set up for lunch.  Kibo was not only cold but looked like something out of a Harry Potter movie: no, not the light a fluffy first few, but the whole ‘grey Hogwarts warzone’ in the DH Part 2.  We were in a mist of clouds, shale rock and mist in great anticipation of a midnight ramble to the summit.  After lunch of French fries and salad (when we desperately wanted hot soup) we made the slow, steady climb to our base camp.   Our guides were intentionally slowing our pace and we could really feel the altitude.  Piles of shale rock and quiet stillness joined us for the last walk of the day until we reached Barafu camp.  I was nervous when we arrived as the brief, steep end made it difficult to breath, but the summit looked SO CLOSE that the worry quickly evaporated.  At 5 pm we were force fed the biggest plate of spaghetti I have ever seen in my life, including my short stint working at Buca di Beppo.  Our chef literally watched us eat every last bite to make sure we were getting enough energy for our trip.  Our guides also came in and looked upon us with ‘you eat this or your grounded’ mother eyes as we begrudgingly filled our mouth with more and more pasta.  With our full bellies and strong vitals we went to bed straight away mentally preparing for our midnight climb.

*Fun note:  Tanzanians have a hard time saying the word ‘Spaghetti,’ so when we asked what was for dinner they kept saying ‘St. Lucia.’  Highly confused, he finally brought in the noodles where we saw St. Lucia was the name of the company.  Cross-cultural communication at it’s best.

Day 5 ‘THE BIG DAY’: 4673-5895m: Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak:  READY.TO.GO.  Wake up call in the dark, at 11 pm.  One final restroom break at camp, a little chai, biscuits, and snickers bars ready we started the climb along with the other headlamp wearing trekkers.  The porters stayed behind at the camp (a very small percentage have ever made the final summit day hike), and we bid Barafu a ‘see you later’ while heading up in the near full moonlight.  We quickly found just why it is so hard to climb Kilimanjaro and on the Machame route.  After days of up/down/up/down, technical routes, quick acclimatization, and cold we hadn’t faced in years (for Kathryn and Glenn, ever), our bodies were exhausted.  The climb was a steep start with some points using our hands to climb over boulders.  We noticed the trail of headlamps getting smaller and smaller the higher we went, passing several climbers with severe altitude sickness.  As the moon went down and we reached two hours of no light we definitely had our moments of doubt.  It proved to be a mind game in thin air.  Climbing up volcanic ash at a 60-degree incline for 7 hours; stopping only makes you want to stop more. It was like running a marathon with the sadistic twist of altitude; hitting the wall as your nose drains with snot like a faucet, your snickers bar snack becomes solid frozen, and you are left focusing on the SLOW shuffle of feet from the person in front of you.  At one point Caspar fed me my energy blocks.  Glenn focused on the songs he’s written here in country, while I thought of loved ones and the grand metaphor of climbing while simultaneously finishing my service, and Kathryn was quietly determined to take each step.   Eventually, I just had a complete mentality change where I knew I was getting to the top.  Just as the sun was peaking and the wind chill becoming unbearable, Kathryn was having a really hard time, so words of encouragement, singing of the guides, and a final push got us to Stella Point (5700m) just in time to see one of the most beautiful and satisfying sunrises of my life (at 7:15 am).  We stopped for some chai before continuing the final 1,000 meters to Uhuru Summit Peak (5895m).  

The final walk was counting steps and heavy breathing because we were all so tired and out of it.  With the new light we were able to see the large glaciers (Southern Icefield, Kersten Glacier, Heim Glacier, Decken Glacier and Rebmann Glacier), and had a tantalizingly close view of the peak sign.  When we finally got there I was screaming with delight, Kathryn was crying, and Glenn was serious and reflective.  I came to find later I was the only one to remember reaching the summit, taking the pictures, giving out the hugs and filming all around us.  A few Irishmen who reached the top just before us ‘enjoyed’ a frozen Guiness.  Reaching the top was this incredible euphoria of congratulations and recognitions of a massive feat.  However, after about five minutes you are ready to get down.  Suddenly you remember you can’t breath well, it is really cold, and you feel every inch of exhaustion throughout your body. 

I once again sped ahead and left the peak first with Prosper where we waited a bit at Stella point to make sure Kathryn and Glenn were safe with Caspar.  Then it was down, down, down.  To put into perspective how steep it was, we were using our walking poles to ski through the dusty ash for about 3 hours.  If you had to use the bathroom it was out in the bright sun for all to see.  Once we reached a certain altitude I suddenly felt all the fluids I had been drinking and was left to having to ‘chimba dawa’ at the feet of Prosper.  7 hours up and 3 hours down my legs were complete jello.  I had a short burst of energy as it got warmer and we were met by one of our great porters with some juice 30 minutes from camp.  When I arrived to site, an hour before Kathryn and Glenn, I was so elated at the feat we had just completed.  I also realized more than ever just how steep and amazing our morning hike had been.  But this reflection was brief as I quickly and without reservation opened my tent door and passed out on the warm, sun-soaked sleeping pad, in my five layers of completely sweat full clothes.  

At 1 we were fed food but none of us had any appetite-this being both a side effect of altitude and being fed portions as big as America for the last 4 days.  Other travelers who had arrived to base camp in the early afternoon were anxious to hear our stories of the top.  Kathryn made fun of my positive recollection to all climbers while she had nothing to say but ‘IT’S FREAKING HARD, don’t listen to her!’  Kathryn and Glenn didn’t want to hike anymore while I just wanted to get to a camp where it was comfortable to breath, so we opted out of making the 4-hour hike down to Meza, and went 2 hours down to another camp, Millenial.  I walked ahead with Caspar, feeling better with my long strides and a nice stretch of the legs, while learning more about his life as a guide.  By the time we got to camp the general consensus was ‘we’re done.’  Our clothes smelled, we smelled, we were covered in dust, we were cold, we were tired, and we didn’t want to eat.  We all slept more soundly that night than any other night on the mountain.

Day 6:  Down, down, down to tingle town and up and out by 7:30.  We had our final goodbyes with the team, took a group picture and said a ‘thank you’ before the porters packed up.  Sharobabu (Glenn) led the pace, which was nice and steady, but hard on the knees going down so far and so fast.  We stopped to check out the vegetation as it came back to us.  The green was nice to see again after 2 days of grey.  No plants, to heath, to shrubs, to small trees, to full blown rain forest.  (And all of this in 4 hours.)  We passed through Meza camp and even passed other groups before finally making it to a 4X4 road and back to the main gate.  We got a chance to sign in, write our comments, and bask in the glory of summiting.  It would have been miserable and defeating getting to the gate and not having made it to the top.  Our feet were blistered and the porters were all bathing in the open as we jealously watched from afar.  Finally, the Gladys car arrived taking us back to Moshi town, which coincidentally was the same road I ran the marathon.  With money and tips settled back at the office, a hot, glorious shower at our hostel, and tasty, sunset Kilimanjaro beers at a bar rooftop we enjoyed our great end to an adventurous 6-day climb.

Would I do it again? 


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mkutano wa Uwezeshaji wa Wasichana

We may be late.....but we did the Harlem Shake

2013 Dodoma Girls Empowerment Conference Participants

I know I can.....

In May 2013 three volunteers and I hosted the annual Dodoma Girls Empowerment Conference.  The conference brought together 40 girls, (ages 15-19), and 4 teacher counterparts, representing 4 secondary schools in Chamwino and Dodoma Urban districts.  The conference was hosted at a center in the middle of Dodoma town and activities lasted from early Monday morning until mid-Saturday.

Throughout the week girls participated in a range of events focusing on HIV/AIDS, women's reproduction, family planning, correct and consistent condom use, pad making, income generating activities (peanut butter, jam, and neem lotion), early pregnancy, community theater, teambuilding games, gender roles, and leadership.  We had special guest speakers ranging from leaders from the district, a person living with HIV/AIDS, representatives of a local organization, our counterparts and ourselves.

Each morning after chai and uji (porridge), the girls gathered for HARAMBEE.  Modeled closely after Freedom Schools, the hour consisted of a motivational song (in English), cheers and chants (in Swahili), recognitions and announcements.  The morning sessions were heavy in lecture/guest speakers, while the afternoons focused on a three station rotation concerning IGAs and leadership.  By the time nightfall came it was 'pumzika' (rest) time, so the girls indulged in spa night, making reusable pads, movie night, a disco, and a talent show.  Disco night was a HUGE success as the girls were allowed to wear street clothes and dance traditional TZ line dances to bongo flava music.  Youtube Diamond now.  The biggest shock of the week though came with movie night (the girls were shown 'Stick It').  To our genuine surprise and enjoyment the girls LOVED the movie.  For a little background, it is really, really difficult to keep a group of 40 girls, from any country, entertained with a single movie-especially in Tanzania.  Apparently a gymnastics movie, with a predictable plot line, a girl who sticks her tongue out a lot at men, and Jeff Bridges is just the ticket.
(Above: Playing 'Condom Bomb' and demonstrating condom strength
Below: Mwalimu Maria and PCV Ryan)

Yet probably the coolest part of the week was seeing the incredible growth in the girls.  The first day they were shy, nervous, and clinging to their friends from their schools.  By Saturday they were saying long goodbyes, taking pictures with new friends, and begging us to let them visit each other on another date.  Furthermore, we took a pre-test at the beginning of the week covering a majority of topics we would be studying.  At the beginning of the week the highest score on this test was a 11/39 and the lowest, 2/39.  By the end of the week the highest score was 38/39 and the lowest 13/39.  A phenomenal improvement!

I was lucky to have a wonderful counterpart in the form of Mwalimu Maria.  She was active, taught multiple sessions and was there for the girls morning and night.  Plus, the other volunteers I worked with-Nora, Ryan and Michelle-were flexible, energetic and the perfect teammates all week.  It really is a miracle to be able to work for months (writing grants, supply shopping, preparing speakers and letters) and still love    each other at the end of the week.                                          

As always, and in PC Tanzania fashion, there were hiccups and silly stories that are what I will always remember from the week.  Ryan teaching the girls the 'Single Ladies' dance, discovering that high school girls have NO IDEA how to put on nail polish properly for spa night, noticing how teenage girls in any country will break 'lights out' rules just to go into each others rooms and giggle profusely, and finding that, yes, some health videos can be far too graphic-were just a few of the many tales. (Left: Early pregnancy theater performance)

My favorite memory however came just as the week was ending.  As Kikuyu Secondary (my school) girls were leaving the conference center and walking to the bus stand they started breaking out singing the motivational song.

'Something inside so strong, so strong.  I know that I can make it!'

(Below: Nora and I at Jeopardy Game Day)
People were staring, smiling, and truly enjoying themselves as the girls walked the streets of Dodoma singing loudly and proudly.  To top it off, when the song was over they didn't skip a beat and went straight into yelling and dancing to the cheers and chants, even as the dala dala left taking them back home.

'Tupo Dodoma, tupo Dodoma-acha! Wasichana waseme!'

It was a real reminder of why I'm here and what I'm meant to do.  Teaching is my passion and working with women's empowerment is a strong component in my philosophy of education.

An affirmation that despite all the mishaps and low days, there are fantastic, picture perfect moments like that-and the more than dozen throughout the week.  Totally and completely worth it.

Wasichana wanaweza!

With the Kikuyu Girls: Rosemary, Fatuma, Catherine, Aisha, Rosemary K., Asha, Shanuni, Fransisca, Karen, Deborah, Mercy, Mwalimu Asha and Mwalimu Maria

Disco night: dancing the 'Wobble' and 'Cupid Shuffle'

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kilimanjaro Marathon

Coming into the stadium with PCV Steve

Leap frog to the finish line

With just a touch of twirling.....

I think ‘running a marathon’ is on a lot of people’s beforeIdieImustdoloadsofneatothings list.   I’m not completely naive and know that unless I’m chasing after a ball or being chased by a hooligan I can’t run for a long period of time.  Long legs or not, it’s not in me, and I often like to blame that on the fact that I sort of had asthma and used an inhaler in 3rd and 4th grade. 

But, back in August, I thought if I am going to train for a marathon, why not do so in Tanzania.  I have the time to train and being that it takes place at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro it is arguably one of the most beautiful places to run 26.2 miles.  Yes, I don’t have access to ice for sore muscles, many hills to train on in the desert, no weird looking toe shoes or a well-balanced diet, but if not now, when?  Plus, I can make running in calf length pants, and a t-shirt, khanga combo in 90 degree weather look gooooooood.

For my training, which started in October, I followed A Non-Runner’s Guide to Running Marathons.  I highly recommend this book: the chapters are motivating, the information applicable, and the training schedule well put together.  By race day I had run a maximum of 18 miles and had spent a majority of my monthly Peace Corps allowance on carb heavy meals in town the week before. 
For the race I wanted to do something special, besides wearing short running shorts “because the Kenyans are doing it!”  Under the suggestion of my sister and brother-in-law I asked friends and family around the world to send in songs that I could listen to during the run. The point of the songs was to both motivate me and help me remember past memories with that individual.  When their songs played on my ipod I would focus my energy on times spent with them rather than how much I pain I was in.  The play list of songs proved how eclectic and wonderful my friends and family are.

1st: Breanya Hogue/Bre Bre:  My EBT sister and Freedom School buddy.  She was first because I had to start my race just how everyday at Freedom School is started…with a little bit of Harambee.  Her part of the run was the easiest part because my adrenaline was rushing, it was a cool 75 degrees and there was a clear, gorgeous view of Mount Kilimanjaro.
·      Hallelujah Chorus-Soulful Celebration, All-Star Chorus
·      Something Inside So Strong, Labbi Siffre
·      Cupid Shuffle
·      Joyful Joyful, Lauren Hill Version
·      I Can, Nas

2nd:  Meggan Lloyd:  My Hastings College, Blue Moon, chum.  We have shared some of the silliest and most serious talks in our years.  Her songs got me so pumped that, as my running mate Jeff put it, ‘You’re going to hate wasting all of that dancing energy by mile 17.’  Point Jeff.  Great choices, Meggan.
·      Pop, NSYNC (Bye Bye Bye was originally chosen but already used)
·      Oops I Did It Again, Britney Spears
·      Sex on Fire, Kings of Leon

3rd:  Hillary P/J:  My Hastings roomie, fellow Colorado adventurer, and wine picnic companion.   I reminisced about our trip to the Aspens in Fall 2010, pumpkin carving and invading South Ash house.  I don’t know if it was our shared memories or the songs, but I was feeling really confident-and comfortable in my shoes (a sentiment that would soon leave).
·      All the Single Ladies, Beyonce
·      Mountain Man, Crash Kings
·      New Shoes, Paolo Nutini (LOVE THIS SONG NOW!)

4th:   Nol:  My EBT brother and Haley Farm work-out bro….sometimes.  I’m fairly convinced Nolan used my nickname ‘Legz’ and google searched any song that had the word in it, but needless to say the songs made me laugh out loud during the run and it was easy to focus on National Training memories.  Too bad I couldn’t run with his lucky ball he sent me a year ago-but that didn’t stop me from pretending.
·      With Legs Like that, Zebrahead
·      Everyday a Star (Child) is Born, JayZ feat JCole
·      Hot Legs, Rod Stewart

5th:  Meli/Bananas:  My all-things British, snake bite, fancy dress wearing housemate.  Meli’s songs were all related to our nights out in Leicester: Shampoo, Red Leicester, Madferit, and more.  It was easy to focus on time going fast, just as the race (hopefully) would, as it seemed like yesterday since Meli visited.  I had passed the first water station by then and we were running back through a street we had already passed, so this time people were shouting ‘RASTA AND MANKAA’ (Jeff has dreds, and I have a new Chagaa name).
·      Whip My Hair, Willow Smith  (Originally Bye Bye Bye, Nsync)
·      YMCA, Village People
·      Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
·      We Are the Champions, Queen

6th: Big Seeeester, Katie: By this time we were running around Moshi town, with a few more Tanzanians staring/cheering.  It was a pretty consistent up and down mini paved hills and this is also when we started passing a LOT of people who had wasted a lot of energy in the beginning.  At least I was able to imagine the olden days of my mimicking everything Katie did/say, ‘borrowing’ her clothes (even when we went to the same school), and Jorgenson children music videos….in which Will Smith, TLC and Jock Jams played a large part.
·      California Love, 2Pac
·      Get It, Jock Jams
·      Stronger, Kanye West
·      Rebirth, Lil’ Wayne
·      6 Foot 7, Lil’ Wayne
·      My Generation, Nas
·      Testify, Rage Against the Machine
·      Getting Jiggy With It, Will Smith
·      We Tryin’, Wyclef Jean

7th: MarC:  Thank god for brother-in-laws who used to be long-distance runners.  During this trek I had to run up a daunting, steep hill, past the local market (smelling of urine and burning trash) and past many a ‘shangaa’ Tanzanian.  His songs kept me focused, eye on the prize and feeling great.  Plus I got to thinking about the first time the family met him and how nervous he was the morning he asked my sister to marry him.  Sweaty palm, knee shakin’ nerves….
·      In All Rwandas Glory, RxBandits
·      Take a Minute, K’Naan
·      Fat Chance, 311

8th: Little Seeeeeester, Molls:  I laughed SO hard turning a corner and finding All Saints blaring in my ear.  During this part in the race we passed a roundabout of cars and some traditional dancers/drummers providing entertainment.  But all I could think about was all the memories Molly and I have from sharing a room.  Gymnastics on the beds, bean bag and inflatable chairs, our strange sleeping habits, and the few times we thought it would be cool to switch beds.  Conclusion, we were really weird and this provided a significant distraction.
·      Never Ever, All Saints
·      Superman, Taylor Smith
·      Space Cowboy, Nsync
·      Freak This, Will Smith

9th:  Emily:  My Freedom School/Harry Potter/Many a lunch date pal.  At this point in the race we were looping back around to the stadium where to started.  I got to support these songs with a ‘cliff shot’ of vanilla, which was the most delicious thing EVER.  I haven’t had icing in over a year and here I was getting some in the middle of the marathon.  I remembered dearly how Emily came to my birthday a few years back, which ended early after dinner with she, James and I falling asleep on my parents couch.  You know you have great friends when you can do that and call your birthday successful.  I’m sad I’ll miss seeing she and Ally get married, but I definitely decided what 1920s themed outfit I would have worn to their wedding.
·      Radioactive, Imagine Dragons
·      LeDisko, Shiny Toy Guns
·      Bulletproof, LaRoux

10th:  Sam:  I told myself I would die if Imogean Heap started playing at the second half of the marathon where we began a 6.5 mile climb uphill.  Just my luck, thanks Sam.  At least it was followed up by some powerful female-powered songs, which led my mind straight to our roommate time in Chicago and the days we watched Sex & The City and sort of, didn’t really ever grade papers.  And who could forget our night out that started with ‘let’s do something different’ and ended with Ethiopian food, tattoos, and our two straight male friends dancing on the bar of one of the most popular gay bars in Boystown.
·      Imogean Heap, Hide & Seek
·      Single Ladies, Beyonce
·      Stronger, Kelly Clarkson

11th:  (Sing) Kisha:  As Kisha put it, ‘I hope you don’t mind swear words.’  Luckily, when it comes to pumping me up, I don’t.  And I really needed some.  At this point everyone ahead of us was on their way down from the hill having just run the half-marathon and the Kenyans nearly finished.  Plus, the morning briskness was officially gone and it was HOT.  Nothing like another trip down FS memory lane with my EBT sister to ignore the smug runners near the end–really, whoever is running a marathon this is a great idea.
·      Still in this B*tch, BOB ft TI
·      Swing, Savage & Pitbull (remix)
·      I Was Here, Beyonce

12th: Carebear:  And we’ve arrived to my bestest.  Her song choices surely proved such, as Lose Yourself will forever remain my number one motivational song because of the memories associated with it.  State Volleyball champs, over a decade ago.  A burst, and final burst of energy came when Peanut Butter Jelly came on and we were on a steep part of the hill with no view of Kili.  And even though he wasn’t on the playlist, John Mayer and his concerts focused my fleeting mind back to the course.  I’m just grateful she got a chance to experience Tanzania and part of the beauty that surrounds me daily-and especially during this race.
·      Pimp juice, Nelly
·      Bye Bye Bye, Nysnc
·      March One, One Republic
·      Peanut Butter Jelly Time
·      Lose Yourself, Eminem

13th: Chad/Chiggidy:  The guy who played the comedic sidekick in the 8th grade play but would eventually come to be my Columbia bro.  First off, I had never heard of Thrift Shop.  And now I’m obsessed, so beware of my annoying music taste when I return-you’ve been warned.  I don’t know if it was the mile 18 slump or Mr. Williams, but this songlist proved how much I DESPISE honky tonky country.  But I couldn’t even be mad, because it was Chad who choose it-and it’s perfect.  This is where I finally had to slow down.  I was getting chills, despite my extreme need to hydrate, was dehydrated, and the hills weren’t going down anytime soon.  I couldn’t even dougie….and Jeff and I were officially separated by about 400 meters for the rest of the race.
·      Country Boy Can Survive, Hank Williams Jr.
·      Teach Me How to Dougie, Cali Swag District
·      Thrift Shop, Macklemore
·      Gold Everything, Trinidad James

14th:  Hugh O’Donnell IV:  My bud from High School who I got really close to in Denver before he got in a snowboarding accident and temporarily lost memory of a lot of our bonding time.  No, I’m not kidding.  But luckily, we’ve remained so close and I’m so proud of all he’s achieved.  Unfortunately, I made it through one of his songs before my ipod turned off.  I didn’t know if it was the pool of sweat it was sitting in or the battery, but I was now on the toughest part of the race with no music.  Lucky for me, I memorized my list.  Hugh for me=Stella CoffeeHouse, holiday parties, and a kindred international spirit.
·      Renegade Starship, Starkey
·      Trust (hell below), Inc
·      Truckers Atlas, Modest Mouse
·      Bring It On Home, Same Cooke (one night stand, Harlme live)

15th: Ogre Adam:  Adam is a dad!  Adam is a DAD!  ADAM IS A DAD!  That is all that I kept thinking about because I 1) couldn’t get over that fact and 2) couldn’t stop thinking about how tired I was.  That wall they say you hit, well I hit it.  I had scattered memories of Pep Club and how Adam always gangs up on me, but it always came back to the fact he has entered fatherhood and has a beautiful daughter I can’t wait to meet.  Luckily, his wedding was awesome and I was able to think about that, other than the fact that the water stations ran out of water.
·      Hips Don’t Lie, Shakira
·      Star Spangled Banner
·      Home on the Range

16th: Zane/Ishkabibbles:  One of the best days in recent years was returning to Denver just before I left, going skydiving with Zane, eating cupcakes off of Colfax, and attending Shannon & Marcos wedding.  The problem with this memory is that it is full of delicious food and I was starting to develop a sunburn.  I could actually feel the sun rays burning me.  Seeing other PCVs who had reached the turnaround at the top of the hill and were cheering me on helped, as did the Dutch girl riding her bike and finding me water.  I decided right then I would learn one of Zane’s sports in the US (rowing, biking) instead of this crazy running thing.  Because running this was a horrible idea and what was I thinking?!?!?!
·      I Just Wanna Run, The Downtown Fiction
·      The Hardest Mistakes, I See Stars
·      Come & Get It, Krewella
·      Thunder, Rusko
·      Facepalm, Nick Thayer
·      Illusion of Choice, Gramatik

17th: Jocelyn:  I reached the turnaround.  The second you hit the top of the hill you may as well spread your arms and enjoy it because going downhill feels lovely.  I also realized that I got so used to running up, parts I thought were flat were actually at an incline.  There was no water at the top of the hill, only soda, by the way.  Jocelyn, my little sister from HC, has provided some incredible letters, thoughts, and memories throughout the years.  She has kept in touch better than most and I’m really lucky to know her.  At this point, I was so DONE that no matter who I was thinking of that just was NOT happening anymore.  That wall is tough.  But luckily, remembering Joceyln’s positive energy got me through.
·      Dance With You, Machel Montano
·      Flirt, Farmer Nappy
·      Rabiosa, Shakira Ft. Pitbull
·      WakaWaka, Shakira
·      Ramble ON, Led Zepplin
·      Escape, Enrique
·      Mausam & Escape, Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack
·      Abraham’s Daughter, Arcade Fire
·      Maestro, Holiday Soundtrack
·      Misty Morning, Bob Marley

18th: Sweet Baby James/Batman/Annual Thanksgiving Guest:  If only James could have been at the race.  I just imagined him skipping next to me, offering piggyback rides, and cracking ‘jerk’ jokes.  I could have used a snippet of his ‘orange’ energy.  Instead at this time, I caught up to a volunteer named Steve.  Steve was having problems with his leg muscles, so we decided to stick together and finish the race together.  In a true tribute to Mr. Mickens, we developed a plan to cross the finish line with fashion (leap frog, frolic circles and a wheelbarrow).
·      Karate, Kennedy
·      I Rock, Cool Kids
·      Kill Everybody, Skrillex
·      Be Your Love, Rachael Yamagata
·      Get Me Bodied, Beyonce
·      What You Feel, Chris Levy
·      Wop, J. Dash
·      I Look Good, Charlie Boy
·      500 Miles, Proclaimers
·      4th Branch, Immortal Technique

19th: Brett:  Poor Boyfriend of mine; a solid list of songs and not a chance to hear them.  Fortunately, the race was 2 months fresh off his visit and I was lost in a sea of whale sharks, eating cheese every day, New Years Eve, and the Serengeti.  At this point I thought, I may as well think about Brett as hard as I can because every 30 seconds my body was screaming WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING!  It hurt to run, but hurt more to stop: a dilemma of epic proportions.  But through it all I kept thinking of Brett and how encouraging he has been through (not just my training), but my entire experience here.  I am so spoiled by him.
·      Best of You, Foo Fighters
·      Ima Go Getta, Lil’ Wayne
·      Go DJ, Lil’ Wayne
·      Number 1, Nelly
·      Heart of a Champion, Nelly
·      Boom, Nelly
·      Genesis, Justice
·      Riot, Three Days Grace
·      Till I Collapse, Eminem
·      Pour Some Sugar on Me, Def Leopard
·      Sweet Home Alabama, Lynrd Skynrd
·      Let’s Go, Trick Daddy
·      Strange Clouds, BOB
·      Can’t Stop, Red Hot Chili Peppers
·      Seven Army Nation, Glitch Mob
·      Boom, POD

20th: Parentals/Mothership and Daddio:  I remembered their song choices vividly, so as I enjoyed the run downhill, noticing the coffee fields, red dirt and lush environment, hospital and banana trees that I previously missed in pain, I was singing along to ‘That Thing You Do’ and the most annoying song known to man, ‘I Miss the Rains Down in Africa.’  Luckily, I have pretty great parents who knew exactly what songs to choose for me and ending with Raffi was an ode to my childhood.
·      Hakuna Matata, Lion King Soundtrack
·      I Miss the Rains Down in Africa, Toto
·      That Thing You Do, That Thing You Do Soundtrack
·      I Feel the Earth Move, Carol King
·      We Didn’t Start the Fire, Billy Joel
·      Ready to Run, Dixie Chicks
·      Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
·      Brush You Teeth, Raffi

The final quarter of a mile was probably the most treacherous.  I was so DONE, but Steve and I made it to the bottom of the hill, through the opening of the stadium, and awakened a lethargic crowd to the rambunctious cheers of PCVs and our finishline moves.  I was then drenched by James and Jeff (PCVs) with some Kilimanjaro beers, covered in congratulations via posters and sweet sayings from other volunteers, and collapsed on the dirt ground.  I even got a picture with another volunteer in Malawi who happens to be a Kansas native and HC alum (small world).

Stairs were miserable that day, and the burger found in town 15 minutes later was superb.  The cold bucket bath was glorious and the afternoon nap necessary.  Through all the craziness I had a beautiful, challenging run, crossed something off that bucket list and made yet another memory in Tanzania. But this time, it was also filled with memories of those I miss and love.  Thank YOU.
With Maggie, another PCV and HC alum