Christmas Eve I bid farewell to my little brother and then boarded a plane with my friends, set off for Dar Es Salaam. My nearly two years straight regimen of mefloquine made me a nervous nelly on the flights. I've never been an anxious flier, but each take off and landing (there were six total) felt like the end of the world. Not cool. Anyway, we landed at about 4am, bought our visas, and then dealt with the fact that Ethiopian Air had again lost Jen and Jin's bags. Even at that hour, Dar was the hottest city I've ever been in and we practically melted into bed that night, sleeping in our skivvies under a terrifyingly rapid ceiling fan. Christmas Day felt nothing like it should as we wandered the empty streets of this coastal African capital. We picked up our ferry tickets for the next day and then set off in search of lunch. We happened upon cart after cart of seafood: octopus, squid, and prawns, chopped and fried. We paid a few shillings per piece and then topped it all off with some kind of tomato chili and a sprinkling of salt. Walking along the sea wall eating my octopus from a plastic bag was one of those moments in my life where I had to pinch myself to see if it was really happening. The humidity was clinging to our skin and I developed that film of stickiness so familiar to north floridians in the summer months. Christmas dinner was Pakistani barbecu; tables set up in a blocked off intersection, lights strung up, and charcoal grills fired up all around. Again, unreal.
Boxing Day found me perched at the bow of a ferry heading towards Zanzibar. The next seven days consisted of little else than laying on the beach, retreating to the fan in our bungalow, eating as much seafood curry as possible, and being constantly barefooted. I did not partake in any of the "activities" that others organized; the spice tour, the snorkeling, the dinner on a tiny tidal island... I was a complete beach bum and I do not regret one moment of it.
The next stop was Ethiopia, where none of us had any idea what to expect. We flew out of Dar at about midnight and landed early the next morning. It was freezing. By freezing I mean in the 50s or 60s, but whatever. Our group divided into two and we headed to two separate hostels since one couldn't accommodate us all. We ventured out and were pleased to see that we couldn't have picked a better location, we were practically in the middle of the city center. There were shopping malls, high rise buildings, markets, and the most adorable blue taxis zooming around. We of course ate ourselves silly night after night, sampling both national and Italian dishes. Fun fact: Ethiopia is the only African country that was never colonized. Apparently the Italians tried their best but the Ethiopians said, "Thanks but no thanks," and promptly kicked them out. Thankfully some delicious food culture was left behind and I was able to eat lasagna, mushroom ravioli, and to-diiieeeee-for gelato. One of the last nights we went out for drinks and happened upon a French speaking cab driver. I'm not sure how this came about, since France has no claim or stake in Ethiopia as far as I know, but it did and I quickly called upon my 8 years of French classes and navigated our way around. It was another moment where I had to pause, take a deep breath, and say a small prayer of thanks for the way my life is shaping up. Ethiopia was amazing and it's another country I will need to visit again. Three and a half days in the capital was not enough.
The same afternoon I flew (white knuckled) into Entebbe I boarded a bus bound for Rwanda. This was to be the last stop on my little transcontinental adventure because I knew in reality that if I didn't visit while I'm living in East Africa, I probably wouldn't make it back here to see it. Taking the bus across the border meant that we all had to get out, get stamped out of Uganda, walk across the border, and get stamped into Rwanda before we could get back on the bus. It was neat walking across a national border and another item was checked off my lifetime to-do list. The capital, Kigali, was gorgeous. The government has done some major cleaning up (like literally cleaning...) in recent years. One Saturday a month the day is devoted to a country wide cleaning day. Citizens pick up trash, sweep, the whole nine yards. There are serious penalties for littering, and they have done away with the plastic bags that line other African countries' roadsides. We stayed at a church that is both close to the city center and was the site of a refuge from the genocide of 20 years ago. In Uganda I live in an area that is considered post-conflict, there was a civil war up until about 8 years ago, but I will say that there's not really any everyday evidence of that. The people are happy and friendly and are just glad to be going on with their lives. The same felt true in Rwanda. There were memorials scattered across the countryside and an intensely moving museum in the capital, but the people we met and interacted with were incredibly welcoming and open, happy to share their country with us. We visited another church that had been a place of refuge that sadly turned into a site of genocide. Thousands of people were murdered in the sanctuary and in the surrounding village. It's now a memorial and mass grave, and we were able to walk down into the graves. It was possibly the heaviest moment of my life; descending down steep step after steep step into a little catacomb, shelves of complete and incomplete skeletons surrounding me, closing in on me. Knowing that this happened within my lifetime. I will never understand how any people who claim to have a religion that preaches peace and kindness can do this to one another. At the museum we learned of many other acts of genocide, both recognized and denied, and I'm ashamed that I only really knew about two of them.
The last day we visited Lake Kivu which straddles the Congo border. The town blew away my perceptions of what a war torn African town could look like. Goma is the town on the other side of the border and is apparently still very unstable; people we talked to said that aid workers there still come back to Rwanda to sleep at night. The Rwandan side was picturesque and quaint. Quiet tree-line boulevards winded their way along the lake shore, dotted with beautiful homes, exotic flowers, and Mercedes-Benzes.
The theme of this trip was food, and Rwanda was no exception. One night we found a pizzeria called Sol y Luna (go there. Seriously.) After a half a carafe of wine, I literally blurted out, "holy crap, I forgot I was in Africa!" The waitress placed our orders on a nifty little hand held computer, made substitutions with no problem, and even said we could pay with a credit card, though none of us did. Incredible. We also stuffed ourselves silly at an Indian place called Zaffrains, go there too, best naan bread ever!
By the end of the trip I was tired and all my clothes stank, but it was an amazing experience that I will not soon forget. I love the kind of traveling that living here has allowed me to do; the eye-opening experiences that stretch my boundaries and my understanding of what I'm really capable of.
Walking in Dar es Salaam on Christmas morning
Seafood carts line the street. The red pieces to the left are octopus, the white ones in the middle are squid, and the pink ones to the right are prawn.
Looking off the bow of the ferry to Zanzibar. I love boats.
View of our hotel from the water.
Me, Nik, Jac, and Stella with our tattoos
Someone walking along at low tide
Drinking out of coconuts!
First meal in Ethiopia, way too much injera but delicious nonetheless
Love love love these taxis!
Second attempt at national dishes, much more successful thanks to our personal guide. So. Good.
Stella, Binen, Nikki, me, and Jacque in our Ethiopian shirt dresses.
Two little girls we walked behind in Rwanda, they were incredibly curious about the white girls following them
Aditi at the hostel at St Paul's Church, Kigali
Flowers along the shore of Lake Kivu
Beautiful neighborhood in an unexpected place
Memorial site at Nyamata church
More flowers at the genocide museum, Kigali