A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: jaytravels

Village Life- In Search of Food

Is there life beyond sugar, starch and fried?

sunny 89 °F

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Liz's Fast Food is where the locals go.

Rice and Beans or Beans and Rice?
Belize has two national dishes: rice and beans and beans and rice. No,...really! The first one is rice and red beans cooked together with coconut milk and the second one is 'clean' rice served with a side of stewed brown beans. If you are a vegetarian, don't get excited and order the 'rice and beans' off a menu because it will be served with stewed meat and a side of potato salad or cabbage salad. Liz Fast Food serves it only on Wednesdays and Saturdays- come early or it's gone! Only the gringos buy it. Everyone else is eating it at home...everyday.

Liz Fast Food (the only consistent food source if you don't cook for yourself) specializes in little snacks like salbutes, garnachos, tostadas and empanadas- all some variation of ground corn with re-fried beans, chopped cabbage, maybe a few shreds of chicken and a smidgen of tomato. There are tacos, too, but here in Belize, a taco is just a small warm tortilla rolled up with the barest amount of shredded boiled chicken inside-- you have to request the hot sauce.

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Salbutes- a double order (4) is $2BZ or $1US

Lunch with Marie
Speaking of hot sauce...In Belize, they say you never eat alone-- Marie Sharp is always at the table with you! Marie Sharp is the locally made Belizean hot sauce that started in a home kitchen with an overabundance of chiles and is now a factory employing many Belizeans. It is available in a full range of flavors and heat. Using mostly habenero chiles (on the upper end of the Scoville scale) it has become famous and is probably the most common Belizean souvenir. In much of Belize, you'll find it on almost every restaurant table, thus the saying that you will never eat alone.

Where Are the Vegies? (Said with a whine.)
My first two weeks here, all I could think of was food. I was consumed by the quest of it. There were really no restaurants and after my first two days, I knew I could not eat more than once or twice a week at Liz's Fast Food even though the salbutes and tostadas were good.

I love food. I like to eat well which means VEGETABLES. Even in the poverty of Tanzania, there was an abundance of food in their markets. The variety of vegetable and fruits in Arusha was a joy. Like here, there was little option of eating out and there wasn't much in the line of ready to eat food. Everything had to be prepared and cooked- no instant prepared foods, few frozen foods and very little in the refrigerated section. But I cooked up a feast from the vegetables in the market and ate very well everyday once I had my Garden Apartment kitchen. While living in Arusha, my three-month blood test was the lowest ever for cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugars, etc.

Here in my village, food is very basic. In fact, a little too basic. There is no market place here and barely a vegetable or fruit to be found. Even if I preferred meat, I'd be scrambling to find it here. Mostly it is an inferior low quality and frozen. I haven't even found a source for fish and I'm living in a fishing village! I need more than carbs and sugar in my diet. I don't drink sugar drinks and I can live without chocolate and most sweets. I'm perfectly happy to skip meat and have beans for my protein, however, I am not happy without vegetables (corn, peas and potatoes are NOT vegetables!). So, I while I am generally living like a native-- though obviously at a higher level than many since I have water, electricity, a refrigerator-- I am still adjusting to the food issue. The pursuit of it occupies a lot of my time- mentally and physically.

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My booty from the Mennonite Truck!

I have been dying for vegetables and was the first in line at the Mennonite truck when it arrived the first Wednesday of my stay. It stops briefly at each store in town. Luckily, the first store can be seen from my front door. Unfortunately, the offerings were limited. I bought some of pretty much everything except the eggs and peanuts; I bought onions, potatoes, green peppers, cabbage, tomatoes and cilantro. Not having fruit for the last week, I bought the only offering-- a big watermelon that cost $6US--more than all my other groceries put together!

Broadening the Search
I was really hoping for some carrots, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, but that might be a challenge even in a larger town. I have seen plenty of sad old carrots around so may eventually find some fresh ones. I was just hoping for an alternative to the heavy-on-the-starch food that is available. Likewise, my drinks are pretty much limited to water and milk in a box; everything else, including juices, are so sugar-laden that a 6 oz. drink can be 49% of the recommended daily carbohydrates/sugars. This is not the place for gourmands or healthy eating enthusiasts.

Finding out about the Mennonite who sells vegetables out of a truck once a week was a relief (and a few locals sporadically cruise around with stuff to sell too), but potatoes are not vegetables. And a week of cabbage and tomatoes had me longing for more. Much more. Finally, I get up early and take the the last daily bus at 6 am to a town which is 40 miles away. After almost two hours in an old school bus on a bumpy road, I get dropped off a few blocks from the market. The market was tiny- one of the smallest I have seen- but after a few loops among the dozen small stalls supplemented by boxes and tables set up along the street nearby, I was rewarded for my efforts.

It was rare and in small quantities, but I had found broccoli and cauliflower. I also bought carrots that were orange and still fresh; the sad brown shriveled things in my village weren't even fit for making soup. I even bought garlic and a nice papaya- both locally grown. And when I thought I had seen and bought all that was possible and had walked a block away-- I found a woman with a box of zucchini. Hurrah!

The People's Store!
My cloth bag bulging from my purchases, I went to two big grocery stores next. While they had better prices, they didn't have much more than my village offered (which is severely limited). Then, I found The People's Store! Unlike other stores, it was clean and well-lit. Most store keep the lights dim and have a layer of dust on everything; the few canned goods often have rusty rims. I felt happy just entering this store and seeing gleaming products on the shelf arranged with a sense of organization unlike the confusing jumbles to which I had become accustomed to finding.

The People's Store was a treat. I was already loaded down with vegies, but I was able to buy some celery without buying the whole stalk. I bought some canned tuna and a frozen fish fillet (hoping it would keep on the hot two hour ride back to the village). I don't usually eat much meat, but the sliced ham with some cheese would make good, quick and easy quesadillas. Oh yeah, I bought four different cheeses. And there was a fully cooked turkey kielbasa sausage-- that would be good cooked with onions, green peppers and potatoes. Best of all, they were all Belizean products except for the kielbasa which was on sale.

Easter Candies! Big hollow chocolate bunnies, malted candy eggs, jelly beans and even marshmallow peeps! Well, I didn't buy any of those, but I did treat myself to some green olives from Spain (the only kind available) and a packet of Planter's Trail Mix (peanuts, corn nuts and sesame sticks)

This was a yuppie paradise in Belize and it's not even a tourist town. Did an ex-pat own it? There were (for a price!) all those imported Easter treats and a lot of other American chocolate bars, apples, pasta sauces in jars, and other surprises. However, I try to eat local and within a reasonable range of a local budget. I was happy with my two treats and the meats and cheeses; all things not available in the village. Most everything else I could buy in the village and support the local businesses.

The one thing I couldn't find at The People's Store was natural yogurt without sugar. I had found a large container when I went to the 'city' to buy my kitchen stuff. It was probably available only because it was an Indian-owned store and yogurt is an important accompaniment for Indian meals. Most countries like it with sugar so a natural yogurt is a real find. The one I bought was a Mexican import.

So after two weeks of obsessing about food which had prompted me to overeat even though I didn't even like what I had-- a result of psychologically feeling deprived and thinking I might not have enough food to eat later-- I was blissfully happy to have a big bowl of broccoli and cauliflower with a piece of cheese for dinner. Though I admit, I started thinking about breaking down and buying a tin of that butter from Denmark that cost a small fortune. Butter would have been so good on those hot, steamed vegies!

The Challenge Continues
So one month later...I'm still struggling with food. On my RTW, I have had a series of quotes or mantras that I use for situations on the road. One is "Food as Fuel". In other words, don't expect the treats and gourmet luxuries. Respect food for what it is-- fuel for your body. This was especially helpful in Africa. Besides, unlike a short vacation, you can't eat 'special' everyday on long term travel.

Another one I recite to myself is "Believe in Abundance". While I always made sure I had some kind of food for an emergency snack (in some cases, the snack would serve as my dinner or breakfast), but I tried not to get so worried that I would overdo it. My bag was heavy enough and while the stores and restaurants might be closed when I arrived late at night-- they would be open in the morning so a simple snack would suffice. And just because I found tiny boxes of juice without sugar that were perfect didn't mean I needed to stock up...each location or country would have something simple and portable that was appropriate or 'would do' as an emergency food.

Yet here I was in a village, constantly overstocking and looking for something more than what was on the store shelves. No wonder low income people are often fat-- few food choices (too much starch, oil and sugar) and never knowing where/when the next food might be available. It certainly still has me off balance...

While I have more muscle from swimming an hour everyday (and my broken arm is fast becoming a memory!), I'm not so confident about the ten pounds I had hoped to lose while here. Disappointing when you think that on my return to the US in time for the holidays, I didn't gain a single pound over the few months that I was surrounded by treats, luxury foods, and things that hadn't been available during my travels. I didn't realize how crazy the abundance of food was in the US until I'd been gone for so long and been in such poor countries. A walk into Trader Joe's was overwhelming (but fun) and Whole Foods literally made me feel sick. I wondered what my friends in Tanzania would think-- could they even imagine such a store?

I'm leaving my village in a few days, and there will be more options in the tourist-ed areas over the next week. I'll be staying on Caye Caulker and Belize City. I look forward to some fish and seafood, more Creole style cooking and in general a little more variety. I bet there still won't be many vegetables on the menus, but in one more week, I'll be back in the US and once again the lap of luxury.

So, does that mean I have finally had my epiphany, you ask?

Alas, the answer is....for another time!

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No Wimps Allowed Hot Sauce

Posted by jaytravels 11:31 Archived in Belize Tagged belize rtw Comments (0)

My Casita by the Sea

Solitude and Peace (So where is that d*** epiphany?)

sunny 89 °F

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I didn't plan on living in such a small village, but when I envisioned living on Caye Caulker, I wondered if I could find a place with reasonable rates for long term rental at this time of year. I also thought about the touristy aspect...was that the kind of environment I wanted around me while I sort out my life and try to do some writing? I just wanted a 'normal' life, but with blue skies and natural light throughout the day. Near the sea preferred. Hey, why not here? So I decided to make inquiries here and found a place right away.

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I am fairly happy with my casita (little house) which is located on the edge of the village. In fact, it is on the last street--Tulip Street. The casita is technically attached to my landlords' house, but I have my own front door. It is just a decent-sized room with an attached bathroom, furnished with a large refrigerator, a double bed, a table, two plastic chairs, a 3-drawer nightstand and a small set of shelves which is now my 'kitchen'.

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So that I could cook for myself, I bought a two-burner table top stove and some basics: one pot, one pan, etc. A plastic dishpan allows me to wash my dishes (in the shower!). A dish towel and food supplies make it complete. Cooking takes some extra planning and care (I'm a bit nervous about using the tiny two-burner) and it can be a little awkward without counter space or a sink...but I'm hoping to produce healthier fare than I can get at any 'restaurant' in town.

My bathroom is basic. There is a toilet and a shower, but the minuscule sink produces only a trickle and is too small for washing more than hands. The toilet does not have a toilet seat (this is common in many countries), but luckily it is the right size for me and it is never cold to sit on the porcelain since the weather is warm and tropical. The shower has a shower curtain and doesn't get the rest of the bathroom wet-- a relief since shower curtains are not commonly used here. There is no hot water. Most locals don't have have water, it's usually just in places that tourists stay-- Americans are notorious for expecting hot water even in very hot climates. I shower once or twice a day and find that a cool shower means I stay as clean and can cool off, but don't waste as much water. The only time, I miss warm water is for shampooing, but luckily, my hair is still in my short African style. In the afternoon, I have sun-warmed water in the pipe which is just enough to do my hair before the cool water starts.

Washing dishes in the shower takes some patience and coordination. The faucet in the shower is about 20 inches off the floor. As I squat or lean over from the waist to do my washing in a plastic pan, I think of my sisters in Africa- most of whom would be envious just because I have running water in my house. Travel makes one thankful and appreciate what may seem to be small things, but that are really BIG.

I was thinking that a small village might help me with reflections; that it would be hard to find distractions. HA! Yet it is also true that everything, even the simple things (brushing my teeth, buying food, etc.) takes much more effort and time. In this sense, there are many distractions...just not the fun kind. Sometimes, it seems like an endless loop of doing laundry (by hand), washing dishes, cooking, scavenging for food, fighting the hordes of invasive ants and keeping on top of the dust (no paved roads and it's the dry season).

As I write this, the long white curtains are waving from the breeze entering through the two big windows. The cooling breeze also comes through my screen door to the table where I write. Light. Lovely natural light fills my room. On first reflection it's peaceful and quiet, but there is actually a lot of noise. The sounds you tune into when laying on the grass with your eyes closed on a lazy summer day...the rattle of my propped-open door when the sea breeze blows; a rooster crowing from down the road; the strange whoops and whistles of tropical birds; the rustling of the mango tree leaves; a dog barking far away. It's so quiet, if I listen hard, I can hear voices from several blocks away, singing from a church, someone's radio playing musica romantica and an occasional pickup driving down main street a long block away.

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Sometimes, my landlord walks by to feed Puma the dog or to get something from the storage shed. She's company if I want it, but I seldom do. I am content with the quiet and a occasional visits by small geckos which I welcome for their bug eating activities. Geckos make a cheery chuckling noise now and then, but they are actually quite shy. I have one little guy hanging out in the corner who is less than an inch long. I hope he is consuming ants.

This place can get buggy. I've not seen a single cockroach which is a surprise for a tropical setting, but I do get ant hordes in the strangest places. They are the smallest ants I have ever seen and seem to appear out of no where. One night I saw a spider on the floor. It looked huge and black, but on a closer look-- it was dead or almost dead. It was completely covered by hundreds of the teeny-tiny ants consuming it, ugh!

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The best time of day is in the late afternoon. Without fail, I walk or ride a bike to the sea. I walk the length of a long warped wooden dock and enter the water. It is my favorite activity. I have to walk a long distance in the water until it is finally up to my shoulders. By then, I am far away from everyone. I plunge in and start swimming. I make a game of swimming out to a different boat each day to see what their names are. Without my glasses, I have to get close. Puff (with a picture of a dragon), O La La, Tiempo de Isla (Island Time), Grasy's, El Dueno (the owner/boss), Regalito (Gift)... many are so faded I can barely read them.

I time my swim to avoid a large group of Canadian snowbirds that descend more like a flock of waddling penguins and stand in the water by the dock loudly talking about what seem to be their favorite topics-- drinking and how "things should be". After a few minutes in the water, they sit on the dock for more social chatter, make plans for evening cocktails, then leave. When I arrive, there are just a few locals (mostly kids) or if I am lucky, no one. I do a lot of thinking while I'm swimming. Usually, the only interruption is when the Thunderbolt ferry comes roaring up to the cement public pier nearby. I watch the brief flurry as a handful of people get off, get on, receive or handover something for delivery. For some strange reason this always makes me smile and gives me a sense of well-being. Sometimes, I arrive too late to see it arrive, but then I content myself with watching yet another gorgeous sunset over the water. From bright sun to burnishing gold and then a glowing red ball of fire, it slips below the water's surface.

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Posted by jaytravels 10:11 Archived in Belize Tagged belize rtw Comments (0)

S L O W Life in the Village

Just writing this has me yawning and longing for a nap!

sunny 89 °F

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Main Street- Where all the action is!

Belize is known for its quirky personality as much as for its diverse environments including the Mayan jungles and its Caribbean slow life on the cayes (islands). I'm in yet a different setting. I am living in a small fishing village. In addition to fishing, boat building is the major industry. Tourism is also starting to contribute to the local economy, but it is growing slowly. More commonly, snowbirds from Canada are buying up land for vacation homes. They usually expand the village population between January and Easter.

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This boat is being built just one block from where I live so I get to see the process which is...s l o w.

Sandwiched between jungle and the sea, there are a series of natural water wells that have always made the area attractive for settlements, but the original Mayan pyramids are long gone.This current community consists of Mestizos of Yucateca Mayan ancestry that relocated here during the Caste wars though later, quite a few families also came from Honduras and El Salvador during the conflicts there. Therefore, Spanish is the primary language, but most locals know some English corresponding with their level of education (school classes are taught in English). However, the Spanish here has its own unique flavor; some locals do not have complete command of either Spanish or English. Only a few of the elderly still speak Mayan.

While somewhat isolated, the village can be reached by small private plane, bus or boat. The road is rough and washes out in the rainy season and a 4-wheel drive is recommended for intrepid travelers. The bus is a challenge, both for the bad road, the bad buses and a schedule that is geared to the local fishermen needing to commute to Belize City. The four daily buses leave each morning at 3:00 am, 4:00 am, 5:00 am, and 6:00 am. Yep, you'd better get up early like the locals! The forty mile distance to the first real town can take up to two hours.

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This is actually the bus station, but no one goes there. The bus makes a loop around town before it hits the road so you can get picked up most anywhere in town and you pay on board. These are old Bluebird school buses that were bought used. Air-conditioning? If you can pry open the window!

For a little more money, the easiest and most pleasant way to get here is by boat. There is a ferry service that passes by when it goes from a mainland town to one of the cayes (islands) popular with tourists. When I was here last, a stop at the village was by special request, but there is enough business to make it a regular stop now. And it's not just people who board and disembark, mail and other deliveries are part of the service. My last trip,we were accompanied by a full-sized refrigerator and a large wooden wardrobe.

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The Thunderbolt ferry- it makes two daily stops- one going east in the morning and one going west in the afternoon. One day it didn't arrive...OMG. The police found a package of marijuana among the cargo. When none of the passengers admitted to being the owner (duh!), they arrested the captain. The Thunderbolt was impounded. Big drama, but the Thunderbolt was back on track with the usual captain the next day.

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The population is somewhere between 2-3000, but it sometimes feels even smaller as the men and older boys are gone for long periods of time according to the fishing season. Many families also temporarily relocate to the cities (Belmopan or Belize City) when their children want to study beyond high school or to get vocational training; they usually can't afford to sustain two households.

There are currently only two guesthouses with no more than 2-5 rooms each, but there is a new home stay program and a backpacker place with camping and cabins has opened up just outside of town . When I was here about a half-dozen years ago, I didn't see another tourist and the only foreigner I observed was a fundamentalist missionary who approached me right after I had arrived. This time there are quite a few tourists and tons of seasonal expats. Tourists don't stay long as there isn't much to do. The younger ones are eager to move on to a place with a real beach, but stay long enough to visit a nearby nature reserve. The older ones are generally expats who own or rent temporary housing and stay for a few months each year to escape cold weather in the US and Canada. Their main contribution to the local economy seems to be buying alcohol in large quantities (but that's just my biased view).

Lots of restaurants have come and gone over the years, but there are never more than a few at a time-- they just don't get enough business. Pablito's and Ritchi's cater to the drinking ex-pat types who want (and can afford) booze and a meal with fish or meat with beans and rice or french fries. The primary place is Liz Fast Food which sells the local snacks of tacos, tostadas, garnachos, salbutes and the occasional burger which at $3.50BZ (or $1.75US) is one of the more expensive items (it's the only item with beef). Best of all, they are open from 6:30 am to 2 pm and then 6 pm to 10 pm everyday. It's a good place to hangout to watch Mexican telenovelas (soap operas) and gossip with the 'girls'. This is where locals come.

After a few days, I'm able to work out a schedule and figure out how to take advantage of the limited local resources. On Wednesdays, a Mennonite from a (relatively) nearby community comes with a pickup load of produce and eggs. On Sundays, there's a plastic salesman (buckets, pans, containers). On Saturdays and occasional Thursdays, a senora sells homemade chicken tamales wrapped in banana leaves, but you'd better get there early. A local guy drives around in his pickup a few times a week to sell fruit and miscellaneous produce. Yesterday, he had grapes from Chile, two papayas, cheap local oranges, plantains, chayote (a type of watery squash), some sad shriveled carrots and a few pricey limes (the lime crops in Mexico and Central America are currently infected-- reducing availability and raising costs).

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The Mennonite's usual transport is a horse and cart, but he hires a local to drive him to the village.

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Delivery trucks parked in front of the 'super' market.

There's a bakery that's just a year old; it sells basic white bread and Mexican style sweetbreads. A tortilla factory sells tortillas and tostadas; I've seen another tortilla place with a sign, but I haven't found it open yet. One of the tiny stores that has been around for awhile has grown into a "super" market by local standards. But pickings are still slim and geared toward basics. This is basically a poor (and isolated) community and those that can afford specialty items tend to make occasional shopping trips to Corozal or Orange walk though I didn't see much in the stores there either.

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Locals know where to go, so many businesses don't bother with a sign. Everyone knows G.B. opens her window in her home in the evenings and sells oil, rice and other basics as well as a few homemade baked goods. I saw a lemon meringue pie on the counter of one little store and some small Valentine cakes at another; local ladies trying to make a little extra money. On Friday evenings, members of a church set up a small table and sell baked goods and garnachos (essentially tostadas topped with re-fried beans and a bit of cabbage and tomato). Some places only open for a few hours in the evening. Others stay open all the time since it is essentially part of their house and there is always at least one family member to make the sale. Tucked away in dark hallways, I have caught glimpses of what might be toy/party store and a 'gift' shop.

I stumbled across another large grocery store at the opposite end of the village from where I'm staying. It was almost as large as the super store, but had even less variety. There was no sign and they keep the lights inside turned off-- not sure if it is to keep it cool or for thrift. As I said, no sign, but everyone calls it Chino's. This guy also runs a takeout business from the back of his store (again nothing to indicate the service). He sells fried chicken, Chow Mein and Chop Suey. None of these dishes bears resemblance to actual Chinese food, but no one here would know that and he seems to do a pretty brisk business with the chicken in the evening. In this case, the owner really is Chinese (and doesn't speak English or Spanish), but even if he was Korean, Japanese or any other Asian ethnicity, they would still call him El Chino. There seems to be at least one "Chino" store in every community however small. Where other stores close for lunch and holidays-- El Chino is always open all day and never closes on any day.

And sometimes, the business comes to your house. No Fuller Brush or Amway type sales here. Just a low quiet call of 'tarde', the local shorthand for buenas tardes. If you come to the door, you will find them standing a polite distance away with their product held out for you to see. I have been offered homemade coconut candy, used clothing, hammocks, watermelon, oranges, and packets of spice. There's also a casual exchange of free offerings if you are in the right place at the right time. This usually involves fruit from the trees in a yard. I have been the recipient of limes, green mangos, plums and a fruit that resembles a mamay (but lacks the divine flavor and texture).

There are a few tiny nods to tourism. Chuy's Souvenir and Art Center (the son of a fisherman I met a few years back added a room on to his father's house to sell his paintings); a cyber-net cafe sign claims internet and copy machine services (I went to check it out, but found it closed); and Brisa's Bike Rentals has a few battered offerings if someone else doesn't get there first. A few other signs hang by the one for bike rentals-- remnants of previously attempted and failed businesses-- one for a restaurant and another for a barbershop. That last one must have inspired the neighbor as I see him occasionally cutting someone's hair on his porch. Hmmm... I may have to pay him a visit.

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For the locals there is a center that has limited health services for people and organizes the occasional "It's Hip to Snip" clinics for pets . There's a police department near the public dock that doesn't see much business. Eight churches- all equally tiny in size and only one is Catholic- are scattered mostly along the main road. A library is being constructed slowly over time and there's a sign requesting volunteer labor. A bike ride to the far side of town uncovered a Nazerine elementary school and two high schools, one Baptist and one Catholic. A rough sports field was nearby. A quiet woman and her little boy make rounds on a horse-drawn cart; she's the garbage collector.

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The Police Department is by the main pier with a great view of the water.

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Yep, it's the slow life here. The only excitement I anticipate is eventually seeing the toucans that eat Mabi's blackberries. My primary entertainments are reading library e-books on my android, sitting by the sea watching the sunset, borrowing Mabi's bike for a spin around town and occasionally dropping in at Liz's. Sometime between 3-5 in the afternoon, I walk to the dock to take my daily swim.

Yep, it's the slow life. Very slooooooowwwwwww. Yet my writing is not forthcoming because my mind has become slooooowwww too! And because it's the slow life, I am doing my own laundry by hand, doing my own cooking from scratch on a two-burner stove-top and walking wherever my errands take me. Strangely, I never seem to have much free time...

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Posted by jaytravels 11:34 Archived in Belize Tagged belize rtw Comments (0)

Plan B in Belize

A Bit of Babble About Belize

sunny 87 °F

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Sun and Shade- its a good name for a Belizean boat.

Belize has always been a bit of a fascination for me. It is so unique for a Central American country. It's the the smallest country- similar in size to Israel or the state of Massachusetts in the U.S- and has the lowest population density. Last recorded to be 340,800 in population, it now has the most rapidly increasing population rate in Central America. Tucked between Mexico (northern land and water borders), Guatemala (west and south borders) and the Caribbean Sea (east) where there are many cayes (islands), it is the only Central American country without a Pacific coastline. The reef that follows its eastern coastline is the second largest coral reef after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Yep, Belize is a bit of an odd duck all around due in no small part to a prolonged colonization by the British who called it British Honduras- not to be confused with the nearby country Honduras. So, it is no surprise that it is the only country in Central America that does not have Spanish as its official language. The official language remains English though Spanish is more common in many areas.

Another major language is Kriol (or Creole) which you'll find spoken throughout the country, but especially along the coast and on the cayes (pronounced 'keys"). An estimated 75% of the population speak Kriol though only 21% of the population is identified as Kriol. Kriols are descendants of the Baymen slave owners (former pirates) and slaves, but it is now more a cultural designation than racial. Kriols in Belize City tell me that the Belizean Kriol is very similar to the one spoken in Jamaica. One theory is that it might have originated there and come to Belize via slaves that stayed briefly in Jamaica. There are many other ethnic groups and all have their own first languages such as Kek'ch, Yucatec and Mopan Mayan languages, Garifuna, Plautdietsch and Hindi.

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This advertisement painted on a wall uses three languages to get the point across.

The Mayans tend to be clustered along the borders of Guatemala and in the northern regions near Mexico. Many of them came to Belize in the 1840's as a result of the Caste Wars in the Yucatan; others came from Guatemala-- as well as Honduras and El Salvador-- in the 80's due to continuing conflicts there. The Garinagu (speakers of Garifuna) are descendants of Arawak Indians and African slaves who were exiled from Roatan Island in Honduras and settled along the coasts of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. Plautdietsch is spoken by the Mennonites (though more recent immigrants hail from Russia and speak a more traditional German) who were welcomed by the Belizean government when they left Canada and the US to avoid religious conflicts. Mennonites live primarily in closed farming communities and similar to the more well-known Amish, generally don't use modern conveniences.

Those that speak Hindi are often descendants of Indians that were brought here as indentured servants. Some were taken from prisons or abducted while others were tricked into thinking they paying for passage to another country where they could start a new and better life-- unfortunately, most were treated no better than slaves. In more recent times, Chinese and Korean merchants have shown up in even in the most isolated areas to open stores. Currently, the largest growing population is probably the American and Canadian ex-pats attracted to lower prices and warm, sunny weather.

Another unique character of Belize is that it is the only country to be a full member of the Caribbean Community, Community of Latin America and Caribbean States and the Central American Integration System.

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The Swing Bridge- Locals in Belize City pitch in to crank the only functioning, manually-operated swing bridge in the world. You used to be able to tell the time by the 'swings' which were done each morning and evening like clockwork to let the fishing and sail boats go through.When the swinging was in progress, time and people stood still until they could cross again. Now, it opens by request only, so one needs to hurry "befo de bridge ketch me".

Belize has many quirky characters and characteristics. Coming up soon is Baron Bliss Day usually celebrated on March 9th. Baron Bliss was a wealthy British man with a Portuguese title who willed the country almost two million dollars when he died. The last months of his life were spent on his luxury fishing yacht anchored in Belize City's bay though he never actually set foot on land. It's a national public holiday and celebrated with regattas up and down the coast.

The country's motto is "You'd Better Belize It". In the south, you can take the Hokey-Pokey ferry or in the north, the Thunderbolt ferry. I once ate a place called Rasta Pasta (with the best fresh ginger ale ever!). Caye Caulker is known for it's "Go Slow" signs-- funnier if you know there are no cars on the island and the three 'streets' are of sand so you don't even need shoes. Placencia is on record for having the most narrow main street in the world-- no vehicles on that street either; not even bicycles are allowed on this street which is actually a long, skinny boardwalk over the sand.

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The view when you get off the ferry in Caye Caulker has changed, but the streets remain the same- sandy and clear of vehicles.

One of the reasons I have come to Belize so often, is that it is such a convenient location for adventure. You can land in Belize City and after about a two-hour bus ride be in Guatemala or Mexico. Two very close and interesting sites in Guatemala are the Mayan ruins of Tikal surrounded by jungle and Livingstone, a town with a large Garinagu population which can be reached only by water (sea or river). From Livingston in the Bay of Honduras, you can take a boat on the Rio Dulce to Lago Izabal (River Dulce to Izabal Lake). Or back in Dangriga, Belize-- catch a boat and be in Honduras two hours later.

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This tiny boat gets loaded with people and cargo wanting to go from Punta Gorda, Belize to Livingston, Guatemala.

If you stay in Belize, you can snorkel among sharks and manta rays, go caving (including the famous ATM living museum), inner tube through underground rivers, do a home-stay with a Mennonite family, hike the jungle trails or visit one of the most unusual zoos I have ever seen (it has its own unique story).

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The big dark nurse sharks look scary when there are a few dozen swimming in figure-8's around you, but they are vegetarians. Similarly, the big manta rays are so used to snorkelers, they will actually softly brush against you as they swim past. An amazing experience!

Belize also has as a colorful history full of pirates and buccaneers (AKA Baymen). Glover's Atoll (or reef) is named after John Glover a pirate. My father's name is John Glover and it gave him quite a laugh when I told him of our possible notorious ancestor. Another unusual coincidence is that the area where I am staying was completely destroyed by Hurricane Janet (my given name is Janet) in 1955 (my year of birth). Hmmmm...Is Belize my destiny?

Probably not, but it is my back up plan for now.

Posted by jaytravels 13:14 Archived in Belize Tagged belize rtw Comments (0)

Always Have a Plan B!

In Limbo at the End of an RTW

sunny 83 °F
View Start on jaytravels's travel map.

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I become aware of someone singing in a low melodious voice. It must be Ismael. It is still dark, but as with most fishermen in the village, he is getting an early start. He is a regular reader of the Bible so I vaguely wonder if he is singing a hymn to complete the ritual of Bible reading and prayer before he faces the open sea . It's a nice way to wake up, but I am not ready to surrender my sleep.

The next time I wake, it is to a cacophony of song birds. Who knew there were so many here! There are short chirps, staccato squeaks, warbling whistles, shrill squawks and and short bursts of sweet song here and there. I don't know how long it continues because I slip off to sleep again. The next time I wake, I let myself wallow in guilt a few minutes. This is my first morning in my new home. Because I have slept in, I will just have yogurt for breakfast. Besides, I haven't washed last night's dishes yet. But I don't want to get caught up in housecleaning and distractions-- I need to start my projects. That's why I am here.

I have just finished almost two years of travelling...or am I finished? Since I gave up my apartment, sold my car and scattered my things among friends and strangers before my round the world (RTW) trip began, I don't have a home anymore. So when does the traveling actually end? I returned to the United States in time to celebrate my mother's 93rd birthday (Happy Birthday, Mom!), but I was not prepared for a return. I stayed with her for ten days which included Christmas and a visit with various relatives including a new six-month old grandniece and a grandnephew I had last seen when he was of a similar age and not the walking-talking version he is now.

After a challenging visit with my mother in a small Oregon town, I stayed with my brother in Portland, Oregon at the same address that is on my unused driver's license and any stray mail that still gets delivered for me. I had lived in Seattle, Washington for over 20 years, but when I quit my job and started my RTW, I was once again an Oregon resident and registered voter according to all records. My Portland stay was also a challenge. It was record breaking cold and as is typical of the Pacific Northwest-- gray. Dark gray. The primary reason I didn't plan to return to live in the Pacific Northwest. It was a cruel setting after almost a year straight of warm places with bright sun. I could not sleep and yet I had difficulty getting out of bed. I had a lot of business to take care of after 21 months on the road; unfortunately, all of them were things I hated to do and had always dragged my feet on. The most critical was to get some health insurance. I struggled to get things done; everyday was gray...

I had planned to visit my friends in Seattle, but somehow my heart was not in it (Sorry everyone...believe me, I would have been bad company...how about in April?). I was not ready. I had a conflicted heart, a bit of re-entry shock and most of all--no plan. I wasn't ready for a flurry of lunches and visits accompanied by questions; I still had too many questions of my own. Finally in desperation, I implemented Plan B, the only plan I had been able to come up with. I'd be digging into the money that had been set aside for my relocation and living expenses while I job searched. But without any idea of where to relocate or what kind of job to seek, I needed something immediate that might prompt formation of a Plan A. So I booked a one-way flight to the sun and warmth I was craving.

Fast forward about a week...I am temporarily living in Belize. I have visited Belize several times and know most of the country and those sharing its borders (Guatemala, Mexico) as well as those nearby (just two hours by boat to Honduras). So I knew that if I didn't find what I wanted here, I had other choices within an easy distance. But foremost in my mind, I thought Caye Caulker (an island near Belize City) would be a good choice and had assumed I would end up there. Yet I am not in the fun, quirky location I had originally envisioned after all.

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I never made it to Caye Caulker. Somehow, I am living in a small isolated fishing village. I paid a month's rent (a whopping $125US) and then headed to the nearest town with services to buy a 'kitchen'. I spent almost as much as my rent on a two-burner stove-top, a pot, a pan and basic kitchen supplies as well as some food items that will not be available in my village. So now, I have a one room home with an attached bathroom (toilet, shower and miniature sink), a large refrigerator, a bed, a table, two chairs, a 3-drawer night stand and some shelves that have become my makeshift kitchen. There's a ceiling fan, but with two generous windows and a screened door to let in the light and the sea breeze, I suspect it won't be needed very often.

I'm just two blocks from the sea; it changes color throughout the day, but is mostly a brilliant turquoise. My casita (little house) is on the edge of the village, so except for the random rooster crowing and village dogs barking (which can sometimes go on a while), it's pretty quiet. My place is attached to the house of the family I am renting from which gives me security and instant company if I want it. Thus my wakening to Ismael's singing. His wife is a sweetheart who has gone out of her way to make my stay comfortable.

I am here to write on three projects: fill in the gaps of my RTW blog; write a resume; and perhaps finish the book I started years ago about my travels in Mexico before I resided there. I am hoping my three projects will help me process my RTW and open up some plans for what to do next (that dang epiphany never did occur). My birthday is coming up in a few weeks (my third one on the road) and it's a BIG one, so I am giving myself a month or two to indulge in writing, enjoy the warm, bright days and live the slow life. After that...well, Plan A is still in the works. Until then, it's still Plan B.

In addition to my three projects, I hope to share some village life with you, too. In fact, I'm eager to tell you about Belize, my village, my casita and the slooowww life. Coming soon!...An introduction to Belize.

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Posted by jaytravels 08:52 Archived in Belize Tagged belize rtw Comments (1)

Bangkok Blues

My Travelin' Mojo Ain't Workin"

sunny 86 °F
View Start on jaytravels's travel map.

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In an attempt to fill in some of the holes in my blog, here are a few facebook postings I made in August 2014 about my time in Bangkok. While Nepal hadn't met my expectations, I had a very peaceful time in Bhutan and felt pretty good on my short flight to Bangkok. As usual, I didn't have a hotel reservation, but I was arriving early and I would have most of the day to check out some guesthouses, settle in and then do some exploring before the day ended. I'd already done a bit of recognisance online and found there was a convenient train from the airport into the city. I was feeling on top of things and I was ready with a short list of things to take care of at the airport before heading out to find a room: get local Thai baht from an ATM, buy a Thai SIM with some data, get a map of the city... O' how the mighty can fall!

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The Evil ATM Machine- Eater of Cards

7 August 2014
Ahhh....the adventure of travel. Right now, Bangkok sucks! The ATM at the airport took my card just 15 minutes after arrival. I used all the minutes on my new SIM to call the responsible bank. Five people later, I am told they cannot return my card for security reasons. Huh? By the time I left the airport, it was getting dark and pouring rain. I ended up paying 50% more for a taxi due to these conditions (they originally wanted double the amount). The first hotel I located had one tiny room left; five flights up with no elevator. Not great, but I took it! I wonder what's next? I sure miss the tranquility of Bhutan.

13 August 2014
MAKING A CHOICE
Okay, so Bangkok is just fine..and sometime soon maybe I'll see some of it! But something is seriously wrong with my travelin' mojo -- 'cuz it ain't workin'! Leaving Tanzania seems to have been bad juju.

First it was bed bugs (see my blog from Kathmandu), followed by an ATM eating machine, a ridiculous bank policy (BTW- I did get my card back after investing a few days, much patience, extreme emotional suppression and $10 for transport, phew!)...then a delayed Myanmar visa process (stuck in Bangkok another week?!) and possibly missing out on a rare opportunity (still working on a solution for that one)... not to mention being hurt by a close friend. Sigh.

Did staying so long in Tanzania throw me off balance or make me soft? For the first time ever in 18 months, I've thought about giving up and going 'home' (which doesn't exist!) or going back to Tanzania (is that my home?). Hmmm. A favorite quote comes to mind-- Barriers are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.

So tomorrow, I plan to put aside 'my problems' and visit some Buddhist temples, take a boat ride on the river and maybe even seek out Hindu god Ganesha the remover of obstacles. Oh, and maybe get one of those famous Thai massages. It WILL get better-- because THAT is what I choose.

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15 August 2014
BEING OPEN TO CHANGE
Amazing! Things really have turned around. I've been discovering the charms of Bangkok via water taxi and tuk tuk. I spent an hour on FB with my friend and our friendship is repaired. I used my reclaimed ATM card (story below) at a different bank and it was efficiently returned along with the requested money. Hurrah!

I have my visa for Myanmar and will be there by Sunday. As for my missed opportunity- there was magically a cancelation, so I'll be volunteering at Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand after my loop in Myanmar and before heading to Laos. Yep, scooping elephant poop and getting sweaty, but I get to bathe and feed them too...and imagine falling asleep to the rumble of elephants.

So...eyes on the goal. What goal? To enjoy the rest of my RTW as much as possible, of course. Just say "no!" to bad juju!

Barriers are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.

-- (quote by unknown author)

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(Above) Head and Feet of the Reclining Buddha

It's About Not Losing Face
Getting my card back was a traumatizing, but interesting experience. So here's the story and a few words of wisdom to others who may experience problems while traveling in Thailand (and other countries, too). It is very important that you do not have emotional outbursts whether it is raising your voice in anger or bursting into tears. That is why the people in Thailand seem so happy and are always smiling (hmm...but below the surface?)

When I was unsuccessful in obtaining information about getting my ATM card back-- other than "it is the bank's policy not to return cards"-- I knew I could not accomplish anything more until I had something to eat, a hotel room, a shower and some sleep. Action and decisions are best made when you are rested, fed and alert. The next morning, without my pack and the dark and pouring rain to encumber me, I found a charming guesthouse just a few doors away from the large, soulless hotel where I had spent my night. Armed with a map and directions from the helpful hotel clerk, I made my way to the nearest TMB bank branch. I figured it would be much easier to discuss it in person especially with the language gap (I speak no Thai). Also, it was Friday, so I was very intent on accomplishing my business that day so I could get some cash!

I was surprised to find that no one at the bank spoke English (I generally didn't expect the Thai people to speak English, but it is the 'language of business', so in a big city bank...). The most likely candidate was chosen to help me, but when it was clear she did not have enough to understand my slow, clear diction supplemented by hand language-- she made a phone call. Eventually, she handed me her mobile phone. Later, I would be very grateful for this action for two reasons: the hours I spent on the phone that day would have cost a fortune and would not have been available on my local SIM card and the various employees I talked to that day would not see my face/emotions.

For almost five hours, I campaigned to get my card back. Each person politely made the same response word for word, "I'm very sorry, but it is the bank policy to not return cards." I am so lucky I had done my research on Thai customs, it helped me with the process. I maintained the same polite response, "Thank you so much. I appreciate that you are sorry and that you cannot help me. Can you please direct me to someone who CAN help me?"

In this manner, I talked to at least a dozen people. Then, I hit a wall. The faceless person who was talking to me this time, literally just kept repeating the same phrase over and over like a robot. I tried to ask a question and would be cut off with the same robotic phrase. I could not get out a complete response or question without being interrupted. I was losing my patience and about to give up when I took a deep breath and regrouped. It was then that I realized this was not normal. This person was repeating the same phrase, but by interrupting me and not allowing me to talk-- he was being rude! I insisted that he let me finish my sentence. This is the only time that I had to raise my voice just a notch and be a touch aggressive instead of assertive. This change in tone actually caught the attention of the bank staff around me who had actually forgotten I was still there in the corner talking on their cell phone and it finally caught the attention of the person on the phone. He knew he had gone too far. Again, I firmly and politely thanked him for listening to me and for being sorry, but told him I needed to talk to someone else who could help me.

After being put on hold awhile, I was turned over to a different person. It turns out, this guy was the manager of customer service. He listened and I felt some hope that he would be the one that would help me. I asked what I thought were logical questions. I pointed out that my own bank assured me that nothing was wrong on their end with my ATM card, it was the Thai ATM that was the source of the problem. I explained that I was traveling long term and depended on my ATM card for finances and that it would be very expensive and difficult to stay the time period necessary in Bangkok to have a new one sent to me due to his bank's malfunctioning ATM. How could it be the policy of the bank not to correct their error? I also pointed out that this had happened before in less developed countries and the banks were always prompt (5 minutes to one hour) in returning my card. Surely, a sophisticated, modern bank would take responsibility for an error and would not claim the card could not be returned when countries much less developed were able to resolve the problem very efficiently. (Okay...I was laying it on a bit thick!)

He insisted that they had no way to open the ATM and retrieve my card. I asked how this could be. They had to open it to restock the paper roll for receipts, remove deposits and add money. The ATM machine could definitely be opened, I just needed to know who that person was that could assist me. There was a pause before he responded, so I knew he heard the logic. But, he was an employee of the bank and their policy was not to return cards. Sigh...

He was very nice and pleasant and for the first time, I felt someone was actually listening to me. But I had been at this hours and I was still hearing no. I asked him if he could imagine visiting a large city in another country where he didn't know anyone and didn't speak the language. Imagine being out of money and having no way to get any money due to a bank's error and it was nothing that he, himself had done other than trust the bank's services. And imagine being a woman in that position and receiving no help from the bank that had made the error. He could understand, couldn't he, why it was so important that the bank correct this error?

At this point, I was actually starting to break down a bit-- I was having trouble holding back tears and keeping my voice even. The people around me who could see my face and emotions were actually showing signs of discomfort. But I tried hard to keep my voice soft and reasonable over the phone and so glad my face wasn't visible over a phone. We spent about 1.5 hours with me asking questions and he unable to answer them. At one point, he put me on hold to consult with another manager, but of course, they told him 'no'. So when the bank started to close and the bank staff whose phone I was using was looking nervous (obviously wondering if she were going to be able to get her phone back and go home)-- I finally, effusively thanked him for taking so long with me, for listening to me and trying to answer my questions. I explained that while it was very disappointing that he couldn't help me-- I very much appreciated his time and patience. Then I had a flash...an idea! Just as he thought he was free,
I politely asked where the central administrative office was and could he give me the name of a contact there so that after the weekend -on Monday- I could get assistance with my problem.

Silence ensued. I was sure he wasn't looking up a name or address. I was pretty sure he was wondering how to keep me from going over his head. After all, he was responsible for customer service and resolving issues. I let the silence lengthen and then apologized for putting him on the spot. I told him that I could figure it out. I could probably find the information on the bank's website. I explained that it was not reflection on him, he had been very nice, but this was extremely important to me and I needed to know where to go on Monday morning to discuss my concerns in person as I was sure someone, somewhere would be able to correct their bank's error. I could picture the look of horror on his face and after being on the verge of tears, exhausted and frustrated, it made me smile because he knew I would be showing up in someone's office on Monday and wouldn't give up. I assured him that I was confident that I would eventually find the person that could correct the bank's error. He asked for my phone number and we said goodbye. I handed the phone to the poor clerk that had come over to stand by me since the bank was closed and her colleagues were all grabbing their purses to go home

An hour later, when I was back at the hotel, my phone rang. There was only one person who had my new Thai number. On Saturday, I was to go back to the airport. Someone would meet me at the ATM and they would open the machine to retrieve my card. I should arrive 30 minutes before the designated time and bring my passport for identification. He stressed that I should arrive early as if I had this one tiny window of opportunity. I have no doubt if I had been an ugly tourist and shouted over the phone-- he never would have gone through the extra effort of convincing someone that they should help this women (and avoid her coming into the central office in person!).

I resented spending the money for transport and the time (for some reason, it took them almost two hours to do the retrieval (purposely making it take a long time?), but I let it go. Instead, I rejoiced that I had fought and had won the battle using their choice of weapons! See, barriers really are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.

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Posted by jaytravels 16:04 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok rtw Comments (0)

BED BUGS! Coming soon to a hotel near you!

Warning: Reading this may cause extreme itchiness.

semi-overcast 84 °F

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I was so excited to be in Kathmandu! I had dreamed for a long time about coming to Nepal. Just the name Kathmandu sounded so exotic and brought up visions of adventure. So why after just ten hours was I wishing I'd never come?

Good night, sleep tight.
Don't let the bed bugs bite!

-- Nursery Rhyme

Bed bugs? What the *#^%! are bed bugs? If you don't know, count yourself as lucky. I thought they were just a mythical creation in a nursery rhyme, but they are real. Bed bugs were very common (for example, in military barracks during World War II), but were essentially eradicated from the U.S. and the developed world by the 1950's. Now these human parasites are making a comeback with a vengeance. Why? Because world travelers let them hitch rides and unfortunately, they (bed bugs not world travelers) have a constitution that makes a cockroach look like a wimp (though cockroaches are one of their predators).

I didn't even know these critters existed until about six years ago. I was in Belize City staying at a hotel I had used several times over the years. In fact, I had just stayed there just the week before in the very same room. I had laid on the bed after my shower and accidentally fallen asleep. When I woke up, it was dark. I turned on the lights to prepare for bed and got a glimpse of some movement. Euuwww! What was that? I flipped off the lights and then on again...the same creepy, stealthy moves. There seemed to be tiny bugs in the pillow.

It was about 2 am, so what should I do? I knew there would only be a security guard downstairs. I tossed the pillow onto the floor, wrapped myself in a sarong and slept on top of the sheet with no cover (it was hot, so none was necessary). I turned on the light once or twice more and didn't see any more bugs so I figured I was okay. I was leaving in the morning anyway to catch a plane home. I'd just let the owner know when I left in the morning.

When I took a shower the next morning, I discovered some bumps on my neck. A check in the mirror confirmed they were bites. Dang... mosquitoes or those mystery bugs? By the end of my shower, I had discovered more bites on my upper arms and around my ankles. They seemed to be multiplying! By the time I was checking out, I was using all my will power not to scratch. I was in misery.

The hotel owner admitted they had had a problem with bed bugs recently, but she had the place professionally treated and sprayed at great cost. The exterminator had even sprayed the bushes around the entrance. She apologized and said she'd make it up to me the next time I stayed there. When my airport transport arrived, I was in even more misery. By the time, I was at the airport, my arms were covered with large, red welts where I'd been bitten. Someone next to me in the waiting room asked if those were from the South American super-mosquito she'd heard were becoming a problem (kind of like the killer bees). Oh my god! I didn't realize how many big welts had popped out on my arms! My whole arm was covered with them.

Once on the plane, I was grateful for the cool air so that I could cover up with a long sleeved sweater. I was sure everyone was looking askance at me with so many huge welts on my arms and neck. And I kept discovering new bites... Good god! Was I carrying these bugs on me? I imagined them crawling all over me. Ugh, ugh, ugh!

When I changed planes in Houston, I couldn't refasten my sandals. My ankles and feet were horribly swollen. But not from sitting on the plane. My feet were covered with angry red bites and huge blood blisters. Walking was painful as the straps on my sports sandals rubbed on the bloody bumps. To hide the hideous sight and hopefully get some relief I put on socks and shoes. Walking was a little less painful, but things were getting worse.

Getting on my connecting plane, I was relieved when they turned out the cabin lights to let us sleep. There was no way I could sleep, but I didn't want the people around me to see my transformation-- especially if I might end up passing these bugs to them! My right ear was hot. I reached up to feel it and found it was swollen and sticking straight out from my head like Dumbo the Elephant's! There was a row of bites along the rim. More bites had popped out on my neck. Thankfully, none were on my face. With the exception of my head, the bites were essentially the areas not covered by my sarong: ankles, feet, hands, arms, shoulders and neck.

It was the longest flight in the world. I had covered up almost everything, but I was sure my "Dumbo" ear was going to attract unwanted attention. Thank heavens again for the dark of the night. I went straight to my reserved shuttle and made a plan as we headed into the city. I wouldn't even go into my apartment. When I got there, I would throw my bag into my car's truck and head straight for the emergency room. I'd never been to an emergency room before, but considering the size and quantity of the welts, the bloody blisters on my feet, my Dumbo ear and my absolute inflamed, itchy condition-- it seemed the only thing to do.

At the emergency room, it was a long wait, but when I stripped down to be wrapped in warm blankets and pumped full of antihistamine-- I finally felt some relief and hope. They did not diagnose me as having bed bug bites-- to do that they had to actually see one. Strangely, there was not a single bug on me, so why was I still getting bites? This is what I found out...

Bed bugs have a special "beak" that lets them inject their victims with their saliva which contains an anticoagulant and anesthesia-- that's why I never felt being bitten. Then they feed on you for 5-10 minutes. Some people never have any problem with the bites...they just experience an annoyance of a few small red marks like a mosquito might leave behind. Apparently, I was having an allergic reaction to the bed bug's anesthesia-- possibly due to the large numbers of bites I had experienced. Sometimes the bites don't become visible until hours later which is why I seemed to be getting new bites, but was actually just having a delayed response to the bites from the night before.

I was released from the emergency room after 13 hours of treatment. The itching was gone and I almost forgot about the bites (except the ones that had become blood blisters on my feet) since they were covered by my clothes. It was winter, so I wore pants and a turtleneck to work. A few days later, I decided I should have taken some photos. Most bites had pretty much disappeared, but my feet still looked ugly. Here are two views of my (still swollen) foot and ankle:

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Notice how the bites tend to be in a row. Bed bugs treat you like a buffet line, taking a bite, then going down the line for another and then another. One tell-tale sign that the bites are from a bed bug and not bites of a mosquito or spider is the line up of several bites usually in groups of three. I've heard it referred to as "Breakfast-Lunch-and Dinner". I won't go into a lot more detail. You can get a good overview by looking up "bed bug" in Wikipedia. But let me just say, they can go without food for 100-300 days, get water from the air and can tolerate extreme temperatures (hot and cold)-- all that combined with their resistance to pesticides makes it incredibly hard to get rid of them.

I was psychologically traumatized after The Attack of the Belizean Bed Bugs. A few years later, I sat in my car in horror as I listened to an NPR Radio story on bed bugs in New York (Warning! That nice couch on the sidewalk may be there for a reason! Leave it there!). I was so itchy and crawly and plain freaked out that I forgot about getting groceries and went straight home. I became an bed bug expert by reading everything I could find-- especially on how to avoid them.

So how did I forget the basic rules about how to avoid bed bugs when travelling and get into this predicament? Well, after six years of vacations-- and more recently a solid 18 months of travel-- that were bug-free, I just forgot to remain vigilant. Like eating street food-- no need to be obsessive, just take some practical precautions. Here are some to consider; you can find others with a web search.
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FIVE BASIC RULES FOR AVOIDING BED BUGS:
1. Upon arrival to your room, stash your bag in the bathroom while you check the bed for infestation: pull out the sheets and check around the mattress seams and headboard. You are looking for small blood stains (from squished bugs or bleeding bites) or small black dots (if it's bed bug poop a rub with a wet finger tip will cause it to smear and turn red). The largest bug will be the size of a watermelon seed (most of the ones I have seen are much smaller), but the babies are minuscule and translucent unless they have fed recently. Look at some pictures on line so that you know what they look like in the different stages.
2. Continue your search around the room (within a 15 foot range of the bed) especially soft chairs, couches, wooden wardrobes...even tucked under peeling paint. If you see white powder, the hotel may already be using an insecticide due to an existing or recent problem.
3. Keep your bag off the bed and floor during your stay. Use the luggage rack, a table or if necessary a desk or dresser top.
4. Consider wrapping your bag in plastic (bed bugs also hide on airplanes, trains, taxis, etc.). Even a plastic garbage bag might help.
5. Ask for a different room (several floors away) or go to a different hotel if you see warning signs! If you are sure there are bed bugs, please inform the manager. There is no need to be rude or accusatory...be discrete and just politely inform them of what you have found so that they can address the issue. Bed bugs can arrive unnoticed at any hotel from a cheap dive to a five-star. Bed bugs have nothing to do with a room being dirty or -- alternately-- an attractive designer room doesn't offer protection from them.

In my case, my hotel in Kathmandu was a popular, well-rated accommodation in the budget range. It was 1 am when I discovered the problem, but I didn't hesitate. I immediately went to the desk clerk, explained the problem and asked him to give me a new room. He didn't show any surprise and gave no resistance. I was moved to a new room immediately. I made an inspection and then I used my silk sleep sack and wore a Moroccan caftan that covered me from head to toe. It took awhile to get to sleep due to itching and psychological trauma, but it was a bug-free night.

The next day at breakfast, as I silently made note of where I was itching and then felt for the confirming welts to evaluate whether I needed to use my emergency epi-pen to avoid another bad allergic reaction, I was also debating on whether I should stay or find a new hotel. A new hotel would require some assistance since I could not carry my own bag (a broken arm if you are new to my blog). The hotel manager/owner stopped by my table to inquire about me and I honestly explained what I was considering. In the end, I accepted an upgrade to a room on the top floor. If it hadn't been an upgrade, I would have changed hotels. I needed comforting and the new room was much more visually appealing and had a nicer bathroom.

That night, at 11pm, I discovered a bed bug on the pillow. I immediately went to the desk clerk and asked if the owner/manager was still there. He was. We had a frank discussion of the situation and I was escorted to another hotel nearby. I let him know that I was also concerned that I might now be carrying bed bugs with me via my luggage. However, the new hotel was one that he also owned in partnership. It was not one I would normally have chosen (large, sterile and modern) and while still within my established budget and a reasonable price- it was at the high end for Kathmandu. But at this point, I deserved to be pampered (and I was given a large discount off the online price). I was given the last room available which was a double, so the next day I had to move again, but it was to yet another upgrade and I really liked the new room a lot! So five rooms in three nights...but like Goldilocks, the last one was just right! I could finally relax and enjoy my stay in Kathmandu.

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Footnote: A few days later, I saw the manager/owner of the first hotel and he told me that another guest had reported a problem too. They were treating the whole floor this time instead of just one room at a time.

Posted by jaytravels 23:03 Archived in Nepal Tagged nepal rtw kathmandu bed_bugs Comments (0)

Changing Africa- One Village at a Time

Make Sure That What You Do Contributes to REAL Change

semi-overcast 83 °F

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I had hoped to do a series of articles focusing on the need for development and assistance in Africa. But I have discovered that the topic is immense, deep and complex. I still don't know enough to help me choose my path, but when my arm was broken, I experienced first-hand (or first-arm, ha ha!) that the medical services are seriously limited and I saw over and over the curtain of privilege that shields tourists from the realities of sanitation and water.

In Tanzania, the intelligent locals I met lamented the poor school system and yearned for better education opportunities. The educational programs are not free and the majority of Tanzanians are lucky to finish basic studies. High school is usually out of reach due to costs and entrance requirements. The quality of education in the schools whether in a village or in a city is generally very poor. Teachers who teach in English often do not have command of the language. Children usually start school without a command of Swahili as tribal affiliations and languages are still strong. In the end, many finish school being trilingual in English, Swahili and their tribal language, but unfortunately, their education has often suffered as a result. And perhaps more unfortunately, even those who succeed in obtaining a high school diploma or university degree will not find jobs that use their education...if they even get any job at all. Unemployment in all of Africa is zooming. Each country is unique in its circumstances, but Tanzania-- a safe, stable country in East Africa-- has been severely impacted by the terrorism in nearby Kenya and the Ebola in West Africa. Most people have so little knowledge of Africa, they do not realize that it is not a country-- it is a large continent with many countries and the differences and distances are great.

There are many groups and organizations trying to help break the cycle of poverty in Africa. Of the twenty poorest countries in the world, only two (Afghanistan and Haiti) are not in Africa. Most organizations have put a lot of thought into what they should focus on to address poverty in a way that would be most productive. Many NGO's concentrate on bringing in volunteers, but this system often does more harm as eager volunteers may be taking jobs away from locals and they may be straining local resources (food, water, etc.). A volunteer English teacher that will work for free (or more likely pay for the privilege of being a volunteer) may displace a local teacher. As one NGO that builds schools says on their website-- there are plenty of unskilled workers here to do this job; we need money not labor.

Clean water and sanitation is a big focus, as is education. But sometimes, there are more specific needs in an area...perhaps energy for production (solar panels are increasingly popular) or improved farming and agricultural methods, Other groups focus on the poorest (women with children) and provide micro-loans to develop cottage industries or other ways to assist in creating ways to earn an income. Some organizations already have a focus like WaterAid (water and sanitation) and just concentrate on that. Others try to focus on two to four of what they see as the most critical issues or evaluate individual locations for what they need most (or better yet, ask the locals to help identify what they see as their most critical areas of need). Other groups may be well-meaning, but due to lack of experience and expertise and an excess of desire to help or do something, they flounder around trying to do everything and accomplishing very little.

Many NGO's are created by individuals who came as tourists and were deeply affected by what they had seen. Some NGO's are created by locals in partnership with a foreigner that originally came as a tourist/traveler/employee to the country, but stayed due to a developing relationship often ending in marriage. These are usually money-making programs that support the couple and their family, but most have some component that promotes cross-cultural education and gives back to the community in someway by providing volunteers in schools/orphanages, building schools, digging wells, home-stay income for locals, etc. The best example of an NGO that I saw in Arusha was KATZ (www.katzvolunteeradventure.com). This is a partnership between a Tanzanian and an Australian who live in Arusha. The organization does not charge inflated prices for volunteer placement and is very transparent on their website as to where the money goes. They were located near my first garden apartment and had a steady stream of happy volunteers who also had access to the safari component of the partnership. Another type of NGO is developed by those who have left their country, but still have family and/or community there that they want to help.

I'll be leaving Africa soon and I have been pulled into many discussions about developing an NGO. It is an idea that is still floating around. I had an epiphany when I was in Nairobi being treated for my broken arm that perhaps my fate was to return to Arusha and develop heath services or a network that would share costly medical equipment. But my broken arm is almost healed, my Tanzanian visa is about to run out and I have an RTW that I would like to finish if possible before I take on a project.

But let me just encourage those that want to help to think very carefully in choosing a program. NGO's abound. Sometimes the NGO component is attached to a money making project that is the primary purpose. No problem with this as long as the money for the NGO is kept separate and used appropriately and efficiently for that purpose. In Arusha, many companies combine a money-making safari program with a non-profit volunteer program that supports education or health projects. But other volunteer and cultural experience programs are thinly veiled money-makers for the creators some of which don't even live in the country (so the money follows them rather than staying in Africa). Make sure the money and efforts are going where they are supposed to go. A good company is transparent and shows their annual budgets and where the money goes. Do your research before committing your money or your time. Try to choose a local run program that provides jobs to locals so all the money stays in the country.

One program I have been following is Mission Africa [full disclosure, I am friends with the Executive Director and founder]. Mission Africa is primarily focused on Nigeria, but more recently has partnered with other NGO's in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Gambia. I personally don't usually support non-profits that involve religion, but after living in Tanzania for almost six months-- I have a different view when it comes to the work in Africa. Christianity is an integral part of people's lives in Tanzania in a way that is seldom seen in the United States. For more about this organization, you can view the website at www.missionafrica.us. The Executive Director, Ndudi Chuku recently did a TV interview with Rainmakers; watching it will give you more insight than reading something written by me. There's a link on the website's homepage for this YouTube clip titled "Nigerian Woman Helps Her Country".

Africa is poor in a way that most readers cannot imagine. Please read my blog "I Move to a New Garden Apartment" for a small glimpse and watch the interview with Ndudi-- maybe you will be motivated to help make a change too. In the meantime, I hope to figure out a way to help that is right for me.

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Side Note/Update: Recently, while volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand, I took a tour of a nearby school. It was primarily a boarding school for children in distant mountain villages, but most of the children of the local mahouts (elephant attendants) who are Burmese attend there, too. It was such a contrast to the last school I had seen which was in Tanzania. This school was full of color from the floor (with shining clean green tiles) to the walls (covered with artwork and pictures) to the ceilings (electric lights and mobiles). There were covered walkways and a nice large patio/play area. In addition to the standard curriculum and English, all students were taught a job skill. Vocational choices included simple tourist related industries like piloting a boat, making drinks and cookies, making beaded jewelry, learning traditional dance and music, and massage. On visiting day at each 'business', guests could buy refreshments at the coffee shop, get a massage, buy a bracelet, etc. This money contributed to scholarships and resources for the school. The stark difference of this school with so many resources for poor children from the mountain villages caused me to suddenly burst into tears. My friend Valerie was shocked and tried to calm and comfort me. The students nearby became concerned...but I couldn't stop. It was just such a cruel contrast. Even as I write this weeks later, the tears in my eyes return.

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Posted by jaytravels 00:48 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania arusha Comments (0)

Back on the (RTW) Road Again!

But first, I climb the footies of Mt. Meru...

sunny 82 °F

This is an e-postcard sent to family and friends on July 15th from Arusha, Tanzania

Well, in just a few days I'll be leaving Kilimanjaro and heading for the Himalayas. I have a ticket from Kilimanjaro airport to Kathmandu, Nepal. So is my broken arm healed?...Can I hoist my own bag?

Nope...but my (second) visa expires on July 18th and it's time to move on. So last week, I made a list of things I hadn't done yet and have crazily been working my way through them. Unfortunately, a few of the big items will remain undone, but I've been chipping away so that I won't have too many regrets.

On Sunday, I finally hiked the Mt. Meru footies. Mt. Meru looms large over Arusha though it is often shrouded in clouds. There is a view of it from pretty much anywhere in town if it weren't for the clouds, but the power lines make it impossible to get a decent shot of it. Luckily, I got some good pictures when I went to Ngaramtoni village market last month to see the the Sunday market (food, clothes and anything anybody would want!) and the nearby Maasai cattle/goat market.

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​The hike in the foothills took us through about five small Maasai villages. Elia, as usual seemed to know everyone we passed. My new next door neighbor Serena from New York who is working here for two months came along with us. When we reached the last village-- Oldonyosapuk-- at the top of the footies, we were looking at the school when we heard church music. So we decided to take a break and join the congregation. I wrapped a kanga around my hiking clothes to look presentable.

Though a small church, they had two lively choirs and a small band (2 electric guitars and an electric keyboard). The service was in a mix of Kiswahili and Kimaasai with an occasional English word or phrase. They were especially happy to see us since it was a fundraising day to help pay for the generator. There is no electricity in the villages. As visitors, Elia was asked to introduce us which he did in Maasai and we got a round of applause. We were applauded again, when we set the pace for the fundraising with a 5,000 TZ schilling donation. If school had been in session, I would have made a donation to them. Here's one of the classrooms I saw...

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After church, we continued our hike to Olmoti Falls. It was a nice walk through forests and then we plunged down a steep narrow trail that was a bit tricky until we got to a river that we had to follow and criss-cross multiple times. I traded my hikers for sports sandals and waded in and out as needed. After three months of having only one arm, my balance is still off. Elia and Serena didn't want to get their hikers or running shoes wet either, but they were able to jump from stone to stone and teeter on the narrow banks when necessary. There were a few small falls and then we reached Olmoti.

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We left when a group of teens from Canada arrived en masse..To return, we had to climb the same steep, narrow trail back up. My mind was willing, but my body was rebelling. I have been doing a fair amount of walking (generally 3 - 8 miles a day), but it hasn't been aerobic and it's all been on flat surfaces in town. After a month of limited exercise followed by just walking-- I still have a ways to go to be ready for Nepal which has 8 of the 10 highest mountains in the world and is THE destination for trekking.

Half way down, we met another friend of Elia's and he showed us a different route down which was steeper, but shorter and went through the same rich farmland. We passed by the huge vegetable gardens he and his sons tended. Besides banana trees, there were squash, peas, cauliflower, beans, onions, corn...and pretty much everything you'd find in the market in the city below.

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It was a nice day among quiet villages, bright butterflies, misty falls, green forests, patchwork vegetable gardens, impromptu soccer games, and friendly people. Seems idyllic, but don't romanticize village life.

There is no electricity: no lights, no TV, no electrical appliances. Women gather and carry firewood long distances for cooking outside. There's no running water in the house. A few have a pipe and faucet in their yard, but most carry water long distances bucket by bucket up and down steep trails. Sanitation is very basic. Some have a drop hole shielded with a sheet of plastic...most just use the ground near their house.

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​Some houses are made of cement blocks-- others are mud bricks or mud daub. Most have tin roofs, but a few still use thatch. But these are actually prosperous villages due to the abundant water and rich earth.

I enjoyed my day, but I'm glad to go back to my garden apartment where we cook a dinner of shrimp marsala and garlic mashed potatoes. We have Elia's leftover birthday cake for dessert. As usual, Africa has reminded that I am indeed a very lucky woman.

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​What?!?! There's no sign for Kathmandu...? Well, the next time you hear from me, that's where I will be.
Hope all is well with everyone!

Jay
Your wandering daughter/sister/friend in deepest, darkest Africa...soon to be High in the Himalayas

Posted by jaytravels 23:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania rtw arusha mt._meru Comments (0)

Tanzanian Road Test

Am I ready to hit the road again? I take a test drive to find out.

sunny 80 °F
View Start on jaytravels's travel map.

I have been in Arusha for over two months while waiting for my fractured right arm to heal sufficiently to continue my RTW. I had reduced my plans, but still hoped to see Nepal, SE Asia, Indonesia and volunteer at a research center in Australia. The healing progess has been slow, but steady and visible. I had some sessions with a physiotherapist and have a set of exercises to do several times a day to increase my flexibility and regain my strength. I can't continue my trip until I can hoist my heavy backpack. However, time is running out. My second visa (good for three months) has less than four weeks left and I could only lift a mug of chai-- if I was careful.

So I pack a small day bag with a change of clothes, a toothbrush and my android phone. Sticking my ATM card in my pocket, I head out for a test run. Babati is only about a three hour (plan on 4 or 5!) bus ride away. The idea is to investigate creating a volunteer component for an NGO (non-government organization). Arusha is swarming with international volunteers, but Babati is one of the poorest regions of Tanzania and growing fast which means they can't keep up with their growing needs and it's a region that doesn't attract many tourists even though it isn't far from Tarangire and the safari tourist trail. I had found a non-profit NGO that was already established there and working on agriculture, health and education as an approach to tackle the cycle of poverty, but it had only a small volunteer component. It is based in England, so I sent them an email hoping to get a local contact in Babati and made a plan to visit the local schools to measure interest and need for a volunteer-based support program that would focus on education.

The NGO I contacted never responded (it's been weeks) and by the time I can hit the road, the schools have closed for the 'summer'. Elia has just finished his training program in Arusha and the high season is off to a slow start most likely due to the terrorist activities (bombings) in Kenya. Tanzania and Kenya share a border and also share the tourists. The international airport in Nairobi, Kenya is bigger and better served than Dar es Salaam, Tanzania so most tourists coming to Tanzania start in Kenya. Arusha (Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire National Parks) and Moshi (Mt. Kilamanjaro) are only a few hours from the Kenyan border; a shuttle from Arusha to Nairobi takes about four hours. Tourists planning to visit Kenya often decide to split their time between the two countries and see the best of both-- but this season they appear to have been scared off by the activities in Kenya. So with few tourists and even less business...he's free to travel. So we head to Babati with a plan to stay just a few days.

BABATI (two nights in two hotels)
There isn't much to do in Babati. We do take a huge traditionally-made (and leaky) canoe out on Lake Babati to see the herds of hippos and the bird life. I take pictures of the fishermen (they don't seem to mind even though they are fishing illegally-- there is a six month no-fishing period in place). We watch the student sports fair with locals pitted against busloads of students from Arusha and other nearby towns. We walk until we have seen pretty much the whole town. Not ready to go back to Arusha, we decide to see what is happening in Singida. I lament that we can't buy the fresh sunflower oil and yummy (somewhat sticky) rice that is abundant in the area. I had hoped to buy some for cooking and some for gifts, but we can't carry it since we are not going directly back to Arusha.

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SINGIDA (two nights in two hotels)
We hop a bus to go the 135 kilometers to Singida and then grab a Bajaji (3-wheeled auto-rickshaw common in India and SE Asia...often called tuk tuks) to take us to a hotel on Lake Singidani. We bump down a dirt road passing small houses with skinny chickens in the yards and colorful laundry on the lines. The area around the lake is quiet, just a few pastoralists bringing their cows to drink on the shore. Another guy has a small herd of donkeys. Elia takes some pictures of boys playing on the shore in the distance only to realize they don't all have swimsuits. The boys run for the water and hide in an old canoe-- then get brave and start showing off. We walk around and see some new houses that belie that Singida is even poorer than Babati. No one seems to even know there are supposed to be flamingos on the lake. We check out one of the other six lakes-- no flamingos there either...just a few fishermen with ropes around their waist to help pull in the nets. We have a second night at a hotel in town...eat dinner at an outdoor barbecue place where everyone is watching the world cup...walk a lot...and that's about the end of the entertainment. Elia loves politics and avidly watches the TZ Parliament on TV, so I suggest we continue on to Dodoma (the capitol of TZ) and see the Bunge where the Parliament takes place...

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DODOMA (one night)
Except, they won't let us in at the Bunge and I can't even take a picture (though I find a view between the trees about two blocks away and snap a few of the Bunge's dome and flag...neener, neener, neener!). A police cavalcade drives by and Elia catches a glimpse of the Tanzanian President in the escorted car. Once again, not much to do, but walk around and explore. So it's off to Morogoro...

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MOROGORO and TANGA (one night; two nights)
At Morogoro, I find a lady selling fried goodies and chapatis on the street-- I buy two of everything and have a hard time saving some for Elia. Elia heard about a popular place while he was at the internet cafe and we went there to try out the local specialty which was a wheat porridge with crispy bits and potato dumplings topped off by yogurt, tamarind sauce and who knows what else. It reminded me of the Belpuri and more elaborate chaats in India-- Yum! After Morogoro (and a repeat of activities we had done in the other towns), we head to Tanga which is on the coast of the Indian Ocean. We discover a great place to stay, but it is full. The friendly manager directs us to a few nearby places. We stay at one of them, but head back to his place for dinner. We have Kingfish with garlic butter and prawns in Marsala sauce. It's so good that we return for lunch the next day and have prawn fried rice and a big fresh salad. We hop on the bus for Arusha in the morning. At the first stop out of town, we buy three huge bags of local oranges to eat and to give as gifts to family and friends in Arusha. The seven hour plus bus ride will be the final test of my travel abilities.

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TEST RESULTS
Getting back on the road will be a bit of a challenge, but I think I'm ready...except that I still can't hoist my big pack onto my back! Yeah, there was also an occasional struggle to slide out of a seat using just one arm and getting on/off the bus was a bit sticky when the steps were so high off the ground as I couldn't pull myself up with just my left hand. I have about three weeks to get into shape. Back in Arusha, I pull my pack out of the closet where it has been for almost three months. It is about half full. I cautiously lift it up and swing it onto my back. The pull on my shoulder is a warning sign...it looks like I will need to amp up my exercise program if I'm going to catch that flight to Kathmandu on July 17th. Until then, I have exercises to do, a long list of things to accomplish, and a lot of goodbyes to say. With my visa expiring on July 18th...it's Kathmandu, here I come, ready or not.

Posted by jaytravels 12:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania rtw tanga arusha dodoma singida babati morogoro Comments (0)

I Move to a New Garden Apartment

A Reflection on Living Conditions

semi-overcast 82 °F

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A pictorial tour of my new Garden Apartment...

I had to change apartments and I did not like the one available where I had been living, so I looked at some new locations. For just $30 more per month than my first "garden apartment" (I say 'just', but $1 a day is the approximate average household income in Tanzania), I am closer to good transportation, shopping (food) and the Clock Tower (the central market and shops)...and I now have a living room, a nicer kitchen, a larger bedroom and lots of natural light in every room! It really feels like home for me, but to many it's a palace...keep reading and you'll know why.

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It's not very 'African' except for a few pieces of local art...

I am paying the same daily rate as I would be if I were staying in an 'economy' hotel --or a lot less if you use the Lonely Planet definition of an economy price! But even at less than $25/day, my apartment is well above the living standards of the majority of Tanzanians. To start with, I have clean running water and a flush toilet in my home. In the city of Dar Es Salaam only 8% of have water connections in their house and only 10% have flush toilets. I'm lucky to be in Arusha which is one of only three towns in Tanzania that has a continuous water supply; water is only available about 9 hours a day in Dar Es Salaam, the largest city which is located on the Indian Ocean. Here are some other facts:

The total population for Tanzania is 45 million. Less than about 21.6 million Tanzanians (or nearly half the population) do not have access to clean water and over 40 million do not have access to adequate sanitation. Only 12% have access to toilets [statistics from Water Aid Global]. These statistics are not unusual when you know that nearly a billion people (or 1 in 8) in the world don't have access to clean and safe water and that 37% of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa [per the United Nations Water Project]. These statistics are only referring to "access". In other words, if there is a hygienic water pump at the other side of your village, you have access. If you have to walk over two hours a day to carry your water back home and you are female-- it may not be safe even if the water is clean, so it is not necessarily accessible. If you are able to use a neighbor's pit toilet, you have 'access'.

In Tanzania, "water-borne illnesses, such as malaria and cholera 'account for over half the the diseases affecting the population' because people don't have access to sanitary options." Ten Thousand (10,000) children die every year from diarrhea due to unsafe water and poor sanitation [WaterAid]. According to the United Nations, less than 10% of the schools have functioning hand-washing facilities and some schools have over 200 students per 'drop hole'. And, in spite of all the efforts by the government of Tanzania with support from the United Nations and dozens of NGO's-- the stats are getting worse as the improvements can't keep up with the increase in population.

That's just my advantage of water and sanitation; I also have a solid roof, a floor, a locking door, glass on my windows, and more than one room...and it is all mine. I don't share it with an average Tanzanian household comprised of seven or more people. My rent also includes a daily cleaning service and they provide clean sheets and towels, toilet paper and soap; there's also a cheap, convenient laundry service. Then there are the real luxuries: electric lights, a 4-burner stove/oven, a microwave, a toaster, an 'instant' hot water shower and a flat screen TV with satellite (BBC News! Al Jazeera News!). All these electrical gadgets are backed up by a generator as the electricity is prone to go out for awhile on a regular basis. In comparison, my best friend in Arusha has a house with a solid (tin) roof and a door with a padlock.

Nope. I am definitely not living like a local...

It's easy to forget how people really live when you are a tourist and even your "simple economy lodging" is far superior to the average local residence. Tanzanians are very friendly, You will make a lot of friends while traveling here. Many will be the hotel receptionist, your safari guide/driver or a waiter in a restaurant. Often it may just be someone on the street who starts up a friendly conversation. They will most likely be neatly dressed in Western clothes in the latest styles like you. Their English will be good and sprinkled with colloquial expressions; most will be tri-lingual (Kiswahili, English, and a tribal language such as Kichagga or Kimasai) and some will speak additional languages such as German, French or Spanish. They will appear educated and international. You will enjoy your brief friendship and feel comfortable with them-- bonding over some commonalities in conversation. But most likely, you will not visit their home or meet their family.

That hotel receptionist who chats in your language and directs you to a good restaurant may not have more than a 9th or 10th grade education-- that's if they are lucky. They have probably never eaten at the restaurant they have recommended to you. The Western clothes and shoes they are wearing were likely bought used in the market or even on the street; they are hand-washed and air-dried on a regular basis and if you stay long-- you will see the same outfit worn often. Sometimes, the clothes or shoes may be a gift from a tourist who no longer wanted them and left them behind, but which are now prized possessions.

The parents of this receptionist may not read or write in Kiswahili or any other language and they may be more verbally comfortable in their own tribal language. If the receptionist is not married, they will still be living with their extended family of five, six, seven or more people. Their home may be on the edge of town in one of the 'villages' where the streets are unpaved and not much more than a pathway which is quite muddy during the rainy season. They may or not have running water or a bathroom in their home. Chances are they share a bathroom (a squatter, pit toilet or even just a drop-hole) outside of their home with other families; or they may just use the ground near their house. Their shower will be a bucket of water; if they are lucky it has been heated on a one-burner gas unit on the floor inside the house, but more commonly an open fire in their outdoor "kitchen" area. Their dinner will be ugali (corn meal mush) with cabbage, rice pilau or stewed ndizi (starchy banana) most likely cooked over the same open fire that heated their bathwater.

But as you have friendly conversations with your new friends, you will not know any of this and most likely cannot even imagine such a life...after all, they dress like you, talk like you and know all the places where an international traveler likes to go for food and entertainment. They have a cell phone and send you text messages; you exchange Facebook addresses with them. While you may assume the Masai in traditional dress that you see around town live in a traditional round mud and thatch house, it is likely your 'modern' friend is living in similar circumstances...but you would never guess and most likely they won't tell you.

Tanzanians know tourists take certain things for granted and expect them, so on my low budget safari -- even my two-person tent had a hot water shower and flushing "throne" toilet. But any accommodation with a shower and a flush toilet puts you in the top percentage of luxury living in Tanzania. Something to think about the next time you are tempted to complain to the receptionist that your shower water wasn't hot that morning.

Posted by jaytravels 07:57 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tanzania arusha sanitation clean_water Comments (0)

The Adventure of Haircuts on the Road

A Surprising Source of an Adrenaline Rush!

semi-overcast 86 °F

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Hanging out in front of a barbershop in the
Kariacoo market area of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania

The following is an e-mail postcard sent April 2014 from Arusha.

Dear Family and Friends,

Here is my latest cheap haircut negotiated without a common language (well, he did know the word "sistah"). I asked for it to be taken off my neck-- with a trim around the ears and a little off the top...then closed my eyes!

Actually, I kept my eyes open...open in horror as I watched him take experimental swipes with an electric clipper. He must have changed the clipper size 8 times in the next 20 minutes. He also tried putting oil on the clippers since my hair just slipped off. He had obviously never cut a muzungu's hair before. I was there about an hour and all the clients (male) came in to have their heads shaved or clipped to less than a tiny fraction of a quarter inch. No women came in, but a large number of women in Africa also keep their hair equally short.

At some point, he seemed done, but I showed him that one side was about 1/2 inch and the opposite side was about 2 1/2 inches. Eeeek! He looked like he was just going to even it out when suddenly he must have been inspired. That's when he buzzed off almost everything except for the top which he hadn't touched yet. After asking if he should cut the top (using gestures), he used the clippers like a comb on the top. Then he combed it forward...I looked like Napoleon! Aurgh...I jokingly gestured to the two other guys there that if I didn't like the cut I'd get my hair completely clipped next to the scalp like them.

Then the barber/hairstylist/butcher dug around in a drawer full of plastic ends for the clippers and came up with some scissors. Unfortunately, they were as dull as the ones in grade school...they made no impression on my fine hair, so he made stabbing, hacking attacks at my head in an attempt to actually get them to cut anything. OMG!!!! I tried to stay calm, but my face was stretching like silly putty in order to not say anything. My eyes were still wide in horror and in awe that he was still finding anything to cut and that I was still at his mercy sitting in that chair! I had to trust that he had a plan by now...

But he didn't. He just whipped out a brush with powder and whisked it around my eyes, ears and neck. I looked like a freshly plucked chicken! As I stood up, he started beating me with a towel to remove the fine tenacious short hairs all over the back of my sweater. Trying not to look in the mirror, I thought I could finally escape.

BUT NO. There was more! I was to get a shampoo! I was directed through a door to a small room where three people laughing and raucously enjoying themselves went completely quiet when the muzungu came in looking a bit crazed. I turned down an upgrade to a facial scrub, but as the shampooer rubbed shampoo around my head she continued onto my face until my whole head was covered in suds. Please let this be over soon!!!!

The shampooer was further disappointed that after moving me to a stylist's chair, I turned down each of her inspired offerings-- bright pink gel, olive oil and mystery spray in a can. Shrugging and throwing her hands up (this girl doesn't want anything!), I was sent back outside to pay.

What a deal...an hour of horror for only $3 US (5,000 TZ schillings). I slunk out the door and kept my head down as I headed to my hotel. No one was calling out greetings as usual (they all know me by now), so I imagined they were just as appalled. I thought I would hide in my room while I figured out just how bad it was. I hadn't been given a mirror to see the back-- just had to feel what had been done. I could barely pinch it between my fingers it is so short over most my head.

Costa said I looked like a policeman. Elia said it's 'not bad'. Dyness said it was 'nice' (she just got hers done in gorgeous braids). Joyce and Grace who both wear their hair shaved closed to the scalp weren't there to comment, but I'm sure I'll get an honest response from them at breakfast albeit in Kiswahili that I can't understand followed by hilarious laughter.

It's been a few hours now and I can live with it and will probably really like it in a few days. At least I won't need another cut for awhile (until Nepal?).

So here it is for your viewing pleasure. And you all thought the Palestinian haircut was extreme...

Jay
Arusha, Tanzania

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My older brother Michael responds:
Dear Mzungu,
By now, after your barbering experience, you have wisely learned to say "just a little short," "just a smidgen more," "stop!," "cease and desist," "I'm placing you under citizen's arrest," "let me see your certificate from Arusha State Barber College," (wait, learn that phrase first!) in Kiswahili. You may need to go to the U. S. Embassy in Dar-Es-Salaam and get a new passport photo so you can exit Tanzania.

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The scene of the crime in Arusha...I had to go to a men's barbershop to get a 'cut'.
Women's "Beauty Saloons" are for weaving and braiding; they don't cut hair.

Unfortunately, I didn't take my brother's advice and recently got a second haircut in Arusha. I did look up a few Kiswahili phrases and even practiced them with my Kiswahili teacher. I jokingly practiced saying "Nyoa zote!" (Shave it all off!), but I was confident that the person cutting/trimming my hair could just copy the cut I had which --once it grown out a bit-- I really liked. So when I walked down the road looking for a men's saloon (the local version of salon or barbershop), I was confident that I had the phrases I needed: Nataka kukata nywele (I'd like a haircut) and Schilingi ngapi (How much?). Alas, I should have listened to my older brother. Mtale was a nice young man with braids past his shoulders (any hair on a man is a rarity here!) who spoke decent English, but apparently not enough. I told him to give me the same-- a close clip on the sides and back, but leaving a little length on the top. Sigh. I now have a haircut that is the closest it can be to a shave without being a shaved head! I have been asked if I am a Catholic nun because I don't have a husband or children (this has happened three times now!), but now I look like a Buddhist nun! Take a look at this one:

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Here's a pic of Mtale at work and his tiny shop (viewed from the road and not to be confused with the women's salon next door that does braiding). I was his very first mzungu (white person) and his first customer of the day (it was 4pm...Hmmm...should that have been a hint?) though it seems my business might have spurred some interest as two customers lined up as he finished my shave...er...cut! While he proclaimed my being a customer was good luck, he admitted he was nervous doing his first mzungu. BTW- This was my cheapest cut yet at 2,000TZ or US$1.33.

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Past haircuts on my RTW:

Abancay, Peru- A one-chair salon in a woman's home. I speak Spanish so I only had the usual 'I hate haircut jitters'. The priest had more hair than the other female client and myself, but he paid less...religion has its perks.

Villa de Leyva, Boyaca, Colombia - My friendly hotel manager (where I was the only guest) walked me to a friend's upstairs salon where I arranged to have a cut and a pedicure (in preparation for trading boots for sandals as I headed to the coast for hot weather and beaches). It was small and had just one chair, but there were a few friends to dish the gossip and her toddler kept us entertained. Kind of a fun 'girls get together' feel and fairly non-threatening. My deep red painted toes looked great!

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Portland, Oregon, USA - I went with my youngest brother Ken and we got 'his and her' cuts from his regular barber.

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Marrakesh, Morocco - Once again, the hotel manager helped me out. I was in a Muslim country, so had scouted out a salon for women near the hammam I used. But Hakim insisted he knew a better place...a man that did women's hair and was just around the corner. Once again, I was escorted there. Hakim negotiated the fee and then left me in the stylist's hands. He had some English and I had some Arabic/French so we did okay...though he pushed hard for a substantial 'tip' on top of the agreed upon price. When Hakim found out, I got the feeling there would be some words exchanged.

Berat, Albania - Here, I was really on my own! No common language and I couldn't seem to find a salon. And...I was surrounded by women with long, dark, flowing or bushy locks. Then I wandered into the fringes a bit and found a local street market. There was a woman selling vegetables that was blonde! AND...she not only had very short hair but it was a nice cut! I followed the customary local greetings with sign langugage to communicate I liked her hair and I needed a haircut. She called out to another vendor that she needed her to watch her stall and then took my hand and walked me down the street. The place was closed, but I returned the next day and got quite a good cut for about $2.16 dollars, Once again, no common language-- she spoke not a word of English. The walls of her tiny on-chair salon were covered with pictures of clients being prepared for weddings and special occasions- all had long hair like her. Here are the 'BEFORE' and 'AFTER' pics:

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Bethlehem of Galilee, The Palestine Territories (Israel) - I had some Arabic, but none related to haircuts and the guy's English was even more limited. The thing is...Palestinian women don't get their hair cut. They come in just for the tiniest of trims to their long hair. So this guy had never really cut a woman's hair...styled or short, that is. But he did his best and it was okay...had a bit of a quirky punk thing going on. Later, as I walked down the street it suddenly dawned on me-- I looked like all the young men I was passing on the street. He essentially gave me a man's haircut, but didn't shave the sides of my head. It made me laugh that I had the hip haircut of the Palestinian boys! Here's my Palestinian punk look:

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Lonely Planet's Kiswhahili Phrasebook offers this line-- Nilikosa hata uliponikaribia!
I should never have let you near me!

Posted by jaytravels 08:17 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Fruit Outside My Window

Postcard #2-- A series about living in Tanzania

sunny 87 °F

Dear family and friends,

Well my older brother Michael made fun of my attempt to make lemonade out of lemons...claims I am perhaps a bit pampered. He asked if the fruit fell into my hand if I just reached out the window...I'm afraid I would break the other arm if I tried such a thing. I imagine these bananas weigh quite a bit....
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I had talked about the durian fruit in Malaysia, so Elia was quite excited when he saw this fruit and arranged to have some of it picked and delivered to me. It was very good, but it is not durian.
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This is jackfruit. They are the size of my head and another potential arm breaker should I try to catch it with one hand. They do have some similarity to durian in appearance, but have a pleasant fruity aroma unlike the odiferous (SP) durian. [Jackfruit is the largest tree-born fruit and can weigh up to 80 pounds or 36 kilos.]
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The apartment I am in now is temporary until a smaller studio becomes available in a few weeks. I haven't seen the studio...I hope I am not disappointed after my 'deluxe' one bedroom. I imagine the studio is minuscule since my current place is quite 'cozy'. They are letting me have this place at the price of the studio until the studio is available.

I'm still adjusting to my new living situation and having the use of only one arm. I have a kitchen and a set of knives but can't cut anything! Africa is "do it yourself" and has little in the line of prepared or quick food. I made a shopping list without really thinking how I would cut the cabbage, potatoes, kale, carrots, etc. I may have to make a deal with Rebecca the woman who does the daily cleaning service.

Luckily I had a jar of peanut butter that I'd been carrying as 'emergency' food. It was the only one I had been able to find that was natural and happily supports the women's cooperative that produces it. That and a small can of sardines for an exorbitant price were about the only items I had found for emergency supplies as I was traveling.. Not much around that doesn't need cooking or is ready to eat. Snacks exist only due to the Eastern Indian population. They have 'home industries' that produce traditional chaats like roasted garbanzo beans, nuts, and crunchy things made from lentil flour. So still figuring out how I'll eat well until I have two arms again.

Yesterday was my first outing since returning to Arusha. I had been invited to an Easter service, but had a bad night and slept late. In fact, I ended up sleeping most the day and after a short walk around the immediate grounds and the small fruit grove and then making dinner-- went to bed at 8:30!

Today I hope to walk out of the compound and see what's around me...and hopefully find a nearby store. Maybe I'll also take a peek at where my studio will be...and if has a garden and fruit too!

Whatever I find will be my world for awhile. I can't take a daladala or a pikipiki for quite some time. Even a taxi ride is painful-- I feel every bump and African roads have many!

Sorry I'm behind in responding to emails. Everything takes much longer than you can imagine and today I need to take care of insurance business. They are not thrilled that I have returned to Tanzania...seems they would have preferred spending thousands of dollars for two seats (to provide extra space for my arm) on a plane to the US!!!!!

Thanks for all the supportive emails!

Jay
Arusha, Tanzania

A Tour of My Garden Apartment: kitchen, bathroom, sunroom and bedroom
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Posted by jaytravels 23:29 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

My Garden Apartment in Tanzania

Postcard #1-- A series about living in Tanzania

semi-overcast 86 °F

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Dear family and friends,

Phew! Left the hospital in Nairobi, Kenya...No cast, just a sling and wrap to immobilize my broken arm/shoulder...and drugs to get me past the painful stage.

Flew back to Arusha, Tanzania. Erickson, the driver who had delivered me to the hospital over a week ago came to pick me up and gave me a discount. Anthony the airport staff who had assisted me and checked on me daily via calls and text messages while in the hospital swung by to see me off.

After my one hour flight. I was picked up on the other end by friend Emmanuel since the Kilimanjaro airport is an hour out of Arusha and every bump or touch on my right is painful...even taxi rides are horribly painful...His newish 4-wheel drive car has a smooth ride. Emmanuel delivered me to the apartment that Elia had arranged for me. For about $10 US a day, it's a cute and cozy gem though it's a bit of a commute for many of my friends (and for me since I can't take daladala vans or pikipiki motorcycle taxis for awhile !).

The attached picture is the view from my porch. The rent includes daily cleaning, clean sheets every 3 days, new towels everyday, WiFi, cable (and a TV), optional laundry service (or a clothes line for DIY), a small restaurant for residents open all day (though my little kitchen is quite nice), all utilities, etc. Quiet, a garden court yard, good security... and I'm told it is a mix of people staying short and long term. So far everyone I've seen seems to be African (you know I don't want to live in a mzungu place!).

So my drugs are kicking in and I'm going to take a nap in my 4-poster canopy bed with 4 pillows... Still need to sleep sitting up even though the tissue damage on my left side is almost healed.

Immigration at the airport extended my visa for 3 months without charging me a fee. I feel like I'm living a charmed life right now in spite of my injury (still counting my blessings that I didn't require surgery after all!).

My groceries won't arrive until later, but I had passion fruit and croissants left over (my Nairobi hotel packed me a breakfast due to my 5am pick up) and I had a ripe oozy Camembert cheese that I smuggled across the border (cheese is almost nonexistent in TZ)... Yep, life is pretty good and I'm just in time for the Easter activities...

So I'm kicking back and recovering in Arusha for the next six weeks. Should speak decent Kiswahili by the time I can hoist my pack again!

Hope all is well with you!

Jay
Arusha, Tanzania

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Posted by jaytravels 03:25 Archived in Tanzania Tagged rtw arusha_tanzania Comments (1)

I Win A Free Trip to Nairobi, Kenya!

Lucky or Unlucky?

sunny 84 °F

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===The Giraffe Center outside of Nairobi===

Kenya was not even on the list, so why was I on a plane to Nairobi? Was I lucky or what? I had seats for two on Precision Air and was being served a large packet of golden brown cashews (mmmm...my favorite!) and a choice of exotic tropical fruit drinks. And all the arrangements had been made for me; I just needed to show up at the check-in desk and show my passport. A guy named Anton met me on the runway when we landed in Nairobi and whisked me off to get critical things -- my luggage, Kenyan schillings from an ATM and a Kenyan SIM for my smart phone-- before delivering me to the car and driver that would take me across town where I would stay in a private suite with 24/7 service. This was totally unexpected!

As I said, Kenya was not even on the list. I had planned to spend up to a month in Tanzania and maybe two or three more weeks to see the small countries of Rwanda and Uganda. As usual it was a flexible plan; however, I had already spent time on Zanzibar, almost two weeks in Dar (I'd really felt at home in the Kariakoo market area) and after my safaris in Tarangire and Ngorongoro I had made friends in Arusha and found it hard to leave. But my time was running out. My TZ visa was good for multiple entries allowing me to go to Rwanda and Uganda and then come back if I did it within the allowed 3-month period. I had already used up over half my time.

Finally, late one night I had a minor epiphany, counted the days left on my visa and made a decision and acted. First thing the next morning, i bought a bus ticket, traded in the two Kiswahili books I had bought for a small, lighter phrasebook, scoured the pharmacies with my list of medications and found a few portable snacks for the trip. However, it seemed that everywhere I went, someone was telling me Elia was looking for me; a few offered their cell phones to call him. I didn't have time right now. I wanted to go back to the market area for a crisp, cool blue and white kanga I'd seen and I needed to do some major organizing and packing to prepare for my 6am bus.

I never got that kanga and somehow Elia had found me and invited himself along. My friend Kathy who believes in fate had emailed me and asked why I was in such a hurry to go to Uganda. She observed that I was enjoying Arusha and had some unfinished business. She suggested I stay in Arusha and see what was meant to be. She pointed out once again that I sounded happier and more relaxed than I had been for my whole RTW-- why not go with it? Well, I was stubborn and had already bought my ticket. Besides, now the unfinished business had a ticket and was going with me!

The bus was a teeth-rattling, chiropractor's nightmare (or dream since it generated business); it threw us several feet up in the air and snapped our necks as it rode roughshod over the dirt road, doubtful detours and seemingly endless construction without benefit of a single shock absorber or an empathetic driver. After over 12 hours, Mwanza and the vastness of Lake Victoria were a welcome sight.

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In Mwanza, we ate our fill of fresh fish, spent a few nights out of the city on a stretch of quiet lake, visited a friendly fruit vendor on a regular basis, took a ferry to some small villages, and generally walked a lot. On our last day, we went to church in the morning and then headed out for one last dinner together. Elia was carrying my larger pack and I carried my small shoulder bag with my electronics and a few things to make my night on the Victoria -- the huge ship that would take me to Bukoba-- a little more comfortable. I had a mid-priced ticket with a bed in a cabin for six.

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We were both anticipating a good dinner at a place we'd eaten at before. From there we'd go straight to the dock where after saying our goodbyes, I'd board the Victoria. Elia would head back to Arusha early the next morning...around the same time I would be arriving in Bukoba. I didn't know if I would return to Arusha. After Rwanda and Uganda if my TZ visa was about to expire, I might have to head straight to Dar for a flight...or maybe I'd fly straight from Uganda. I didn't even know my next destination since I still didn't have a visa for India. And who knew what would happen in Rwanda-- this was an exciting time. The news was filled with reports from Rwanda as they commemorated the not so long ago genocide with programs and special events to educate the world in hopes that the horrific events would not be repeated elsewhere.

With these thoughts, we walked in silence to dinner. To my left, as usual, Elia was a little ahead of me. I think it's a Masai thing, but it's also sometimes impossible to walk side-by-side with erratic sidewalks or sometimes the lack of them. So I don't know what actually happened; I assume I tripped on the rough, uneven 'sidewalk'. Suddenly, I was propelled forward and waving my arms in the air to catch my balance. I had been thrown off to the right toward a half meter deep cement ditch. I successfully avoided falling in, but failed to regain my balance. In fact, avoiding the ditch had put me even more precariously off-balance. I was in a bit of shock and desperately trying to regain my balance as everything surrealistically occurred in slow motion-- yeah, just like in the movies...and I was probably sporting the same terrified face and mouthing 'noooooo...!' as I continued to flail around hoping to avoid a fall.

This wasn't a nice grass soccer field where I could relax, fall and roll with it to avoid injury. This was mixed terrain and I continued to be propelled forward over the rough, erratic surfaces. But I didn't fall. Instead, I stopped when I slammed downward, shoulder first on my right side into a cement wall. Then I fell.

I hit the wall hard and still off-balance, bounced off, thrown backwards and landed on my left side-- my lower half in the dirt hole by the wall and my upper half balanced on the 6-8 inch rough cement embankment that I had landed on under my ribs. My small shoulder bag with my netbook and equipment was also partially underneath me and the corner of netbook was digging painfully into my side. The physical/mental shock lasted only a few seconds. I had barely wondered if my netbook was damaged when I was hit by overwhelming pain. I could barely say Elia's name and I couldn't get up or off the pack which was one source of the pain. Then someone grabbed my right arm to pull me up. I think I screamed. I think I even blacked out from the pain for a few seconds before I found myself laying on a cement surface still unable to sit up on my own.

I briefly registered that I was surrounded by men who had witnessed my fall. There were a lot of them and I didn't see Elia. I was begging them to stop pulling on me, but in English--not their Kiswahili-- so no one understood me. The pain was now intense and I could barely speak. Then I briefly saw Elia's face. I pleaded with him to tell everyone to stop pulling on me. [Elia had been unaware of my floundering fall until he heard me cry out-- he turned around and saw people already crowding around me.]

The pulling stopped, but I lost sight of Elia again. The crowd had moved in closer and I looked up again to see a sea of black faces-- all well-meaning male strangers who wanted to help. Then the pulling started again...they seemed to think if I could stand up, I'd be okay. but it had me screaming again. I remember trying not to scream as I knew it was considered rude...but tears were streaming down my face and I just needed a minute to figure out what was wrong. I called out to Elia to tell them I needed space and not to touch me as it was painful. He set about reassuring the crowd and telling them he would take care of me. Once they were dispersed, with my instructions he assisted me to a sitting position gripping my left "good" side. It was incredibly painful, but it was clear that it was my right side that was the most damaged and generating the most pain. I began my inventory.

My left side hurt...either cracked ribs or severe bruising. There was some pain with a deep breathe, but I couldn't use my right hand to explore the damage and my left hand was cradling my right arm. I couldn't lift or move my right arm-- it refused to respond. My first thought was it was dislocated. Carefully, I tried wriggling my fingers. I could move the three middle ones slightly, but not much...I could not move my hand or anything above the wrist. There was a scraped knee and arm evident from the stinging under my pant leg and sleeve, but the real damage was concentrated in my right arm and to my left side. With great effort and pain, I let Elia bundle me into the waiting taxi and we headed for an emergency room.

Holy Crap! Each stop or bump or turn had me wracked with additional pain. I cradled my arm as tightly as possible, swallowing my sobs as waves of pain took over. I was relieved when we arrived at the hospital. However, when getting me out of the taxi's back seat proved difficult due to excessive pain , the hospital attendant who came to the taxi with a wheelchair refused to take me. Based on my level of pain and immobility, she said they wouldn't be able to help me. We were referred to a larger facility which meant another painful stretch on bad roads.

After arriving at Bugando Medical Centre's emergency entrance, it wasn't over yet...just suffice it to say I had six hours in a bare bones emergency room eventually to be sent away still cradling my own arm. The only treatment I had received was a pain shot in the butt that proved to be insufficient. The two x-rays that had been taken by incredibly antiquated equipment-- one of my left ribs and one of my right shoulder-- were proclaimed unreadable later on. The one of the arm/shoulder was blurry and the single angle didn't reveal the fracture. The doctor on duty was in surgery until my last hour in the stark emergency room. When he arrived, he ordered additional pain killers and after diagnosing a dislocated shoulder did some painful manipulations. He released me with the recommendation that I get an MRI as soon as possible. He told me that the only place in Tanzania to get an MRI was in Dar Es Salaam-- a 24 hour bus ride across the country. He recommended that I fly rather than be jostled on a bus.

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===The Victoria - The ship that sailed without me to Bukoba===

Still cradling my arm, I went back to the hotel where I discovered that climbing the stairs was as bad as a taxi ride. It was impossible to lay down, but luckily there was a big, soft, over-sized, fake leather armchair in my room. With a pillow and a pain pill, I was actually able to get some sleep. I had already called my travel insurance agent and had been reassured that they would fly me to a place for appropriate treatment. I could be on a flight by mid-day tomorrow. I just needed to complete and return some forms and submit the report from the hospital in Mwanza.

Ha! Did I say 'just? TIA...This is Africa (as a Tanzanian friend likes to say). We woke to a power outage. Only a few places with generators had any electricity. I sat in the back of a taxi, holding my arm and grimacing with each bump as we went from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for the recommended immobilizer for my arm. After six pharmacies, Elia parked me in the lobby of a hotel with a generator while he continued the search. He had the cafe serve me a bottle of water so that no one would object to my being there over time. The cyber cafe was across the street so that we could print and sign forms as soon as the power came back. But six hours later the power was still out and Elia had exhausted the possibilities of a pharmacy with a immobilizer. We backtracked to four different pharmacies to locate a simple arm sling so that I could stop holding my own arm.

Back at the hotel to rest while Elia went to get something to eat, I heard the AC come on. Yep, the electricity came back on, but the internet was still down. In the end, my insurance contact presented my situation to the panel and they pre-approved my flight contingent on the documentation being submitted and meeting approval. I would continue trying to send the docs; it took me the rest of the day. I went to four different internet places encountering problems of various sorts at each one. I finally gave up and went back to my hotel where, the server had just been fixed so that I was finally able to print off the forms. I completed the forms and then used my phone to take pictures of them and email them...I finished sending them about 2am. After a few calls and emails, I had a flight for that afternoon.

The accident occurred on Sunday evening. On Tuesday, Elia took me to the airport. I presented my passport and was escorted away without hardly a goodbye to Elia who was to take his own flight to Arusha an hour later thanks to one of his business contacts. That evening, after a 3-hour car ride in one of the infamous Nairobi traffic jams from the airport, I checked into the emergency room at Aga Khan in Nairobi, Kenya.

I had new x-rays taken from multiple angles by two different technologically up-to-date systems and was diagnosed with a fractured humorous. The fracture was where the humorous (upper arm) fits into the shoulder cuff. I was told that it would require surgery so I wasn't given food or water the next day. I was put into the CCU (Critical Care Unit), but not knowing that I 'innocently' asked if I was in the mzungu (white) ward as all the staff were black, but all the patients were white (that included the one Indian patient). Later, I was told by a doctor that they had thought I'd be more comfortable there. After two nights in my private room with my own nurse and assistant, I was moved into the surgical ward where I had a small curtained cubicle in one of the two four-bed groups where I was the only mzungu in the women's wing throughout my stay.

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Thankfully, I never had surgery. An MRI confirmed all my ligaments were still attached, so I just needed 6 weeks for the fracture to heal. No cast for a fracture in that location. Someone from physical therapy came and fitted me with an immobilizer which turned out to be a fancy sling with a wide strap that velcroed my arm into place against my chest. I found it interesting that the box said it was manufactured in Seattle, Washington.

The following days were challenging and much of it was spent drugged on strong narcotics. I asked them to give me something a little lighter. Every time my insurance company called, I was too dopey to talk. I was not able to get in and out of bed by myself since my arm was useless and my other side had massive tissue damage that made most movement painful. But little by little, I was showing some improvement. The insurance company wanted to know when I would be ready to fly home. What?!?!

I started to review my choices: stay in Nairobi to access medical care while I healed for approximately six weeks; return to the US without finishing the last six months of my RTW (India, Nepal, SE Asia, Indonesia and Australia) and where I technically had no residence; or return to Arusha and hope my friends at the Flamingo could provide sufficient support until I could hoist my pack and continue on my journey. I was leaning toward the latter when I got a call the next day.

"I'm coming to get you."

It was Elia. I told him he was crazy. He pointed out that I couldn't do anything for myself and I needed someone to care for me . I told him he had his hands full with the program he was enrolled in and making up the classes he had already missed because of me. He said that he would get a temporary passport first thing on Monday morning and catch the 4-hour Arusha to Nairobi shuttle that same day or Tuesday at the latest. He pointed out that I needed help with the hospital and insurance paperwork as it was too much for me to do in my condition and that he could care for me 24/7. I told him that he had his classes and wouldn't be available to do that and that he didn't know what he was getting into. I would need help getting dressed, tying my shoes, cooking my meals, getting in and out of bed... and he couldn't do all that... and certainly not for six weeks. I was sure we'd kill each other by the end of the first week.

Elia arrived in Nairobi on Monday with the assistance of his huge intricate circle of friends and contacts (how else do you get a passport within a few hours?). I have never known someone with such a strong support system...and now I was to be supported by it too. Somehow, my RTW was going off track, but it seemed okay.

SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Anton-- the airport staff who met me with a wheelchair, claimed my luggage, took me to an ATM, helped me get a Kenyan SIM for my phone and then connected me with a great car service. That was his job, but he called me that night to ensure I was getting medical care and continued to call or text me each day to find out how I was doing and reassure me I was in his prayers. He was there to see me off when I returned to Arusha. All above and beyond his job.
Erickson-- my driver in Nairobi whose thoughtfulness and driving skills protected me from excessive pain and who made a stop to get me food and then parked and came into the emergency room to ensure I was being helped before he left me. All that after a gruesome 3-hour cross-town drive in traffic that should have taken 30 minutes if Nairobi would address their worsening traffic issues.
Sylvia-- the hospital aid who felt more like a friend than an assistant and who made sure I had a lovely shower and fresh cotton pajamas and robes each day...it made such a difference!
My sister Becky-- for being my confident and contact until I knew what was wrong and could tell my mother, other family members and friends without them worrying during the long period before I was diagnosed and had a confirmed treatment plan.
Kathy and Juan-- the two friends I also confided in who both offered their assistance in spite of being far away in Seattle and Mexico D.F.
Dyness, Grace, Mamuya, Joyce, and Costa at the Flamingo (my home/family during my original stay in Arusha)-- for the continued support and friendship.
Elia-- Asante sana mchumba...
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Posted by jaytravels 10:59 Archived in Kenya Tagged kenya rtw lake_victoria nairobi mwanza_tanzania Comments (0)

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