By 6pm we found ourselves in a familiar conundrum, starting to get hungry, but not sure what to eat. Our stomachs were on an American, childfree, working professional meal schedule, meaning we generally eat dinner anytime between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., with 9 p.m. pushing it on a weeknight. By 9, Spanish dinner has barely begun! The solution is tapas and cervecerias (bars with snacks).
We made it to Barcelona without incident and hopped on the Aerobus, an inexpensive shuttle to the city center and various Metro stops. As we exited the Metro station that first night on our way to the hotel, the familiar smell of ganja smoke wafted past us, not just once, but a few times. I gave my friend a knowing look. It’s like home in San Francisco! I liked the city already. If a city is down with its citizens freely hanging out with Mary Jane, chances are it’s down with other fun-loving shenanigans, and I enjoy not having to fear getting arrested for some random minor offense I didn’t know was illegal.
This is the time of year when people start making resolutions that many probably will not keep. The time of year that regular gym-goers like me hate. The gym is packed with resolutioners who don’t know what the hell they are doing, hitting themselves on the head, breaking shit, all up on my machines, sweaty after walking 30 seconds on the treadmill, and hogging the free weights. Sadly for them, but happily for me, their enthusiasm for their resolution will die down within a few weeks as they forget they want Jennifer Aniston’s body.
I gave up on resolutions years ago when I realized I was ignoring them and not meeting them. Instead I decided to set goals for things I’d like to accomplish for the year. Here’s how I fared in 2012.
Bright and early I met up with the group of 20 other snorkelers and divers at the pick up point for our guided trip on a dhow. The hyper crew had us all introduce ourselves by name and origin. The group of six from my hotel were aboard, along with two white South African girls. The remainder of the group hailed from places in Europe like Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland and Poland. I was the lone person who lived in America. I was also one of only two solo-ers and the only black person aside from the crew. Thankfully, no one directed a shocked exclamation of, “YOU ARE BY YOURSELF?!” my way.
I spent my last weekend in Tanzania in Zanzibar. Zanzibar is actually a collection of a few small islands off the coast of Tanzania including Pemba. There are a few ways to get there from Moshi, with a flight being the fastest. There’s also the option of taking an 8+ hour ride on a dhow, but I wasn’t interested in a potential repeat of my seasickness bout in Pangani. A few hours after teaching my last class on a Thursday (tear), I boarded a Precision Air plane for the hour-long flight to the island.
I was in Moshi, Tanzania (TZ) for three weeks with a program called Give a Heart to Africa (GHTA). GHTA works to empower woman through the aid of volunteers and donations by educating women and providing the tools they need to improve their lives. Here is part II of a summary of my stay as a volunteer , the school and the students.
There are three courses taught at GHTA: English conversation, English grammar and business basics.
The school is free for the students. The program is geared toward women over the age of 30, who have found themselves with few options for education and often, unfortunately, little financial solvency. However, men and younger women are also accepted, with the ratio of men-to-women being anywhere from 10/90 to 25/75. Monika, GHTA’s founder, feels it’s beneficial in the patriarchal Tanzanian society, for men to learn along with women and see just how capable, intelligent and independent women can be.
There’s a rooster who cock-a-doodle-doos every night beginning at 3am and continues until well after the sun rises. One of the GHTA managers wants to print t-shirts with the rooster’s head in the center of a red circle with a strike through it. He’s notorious and he is wanted. On nights when I forget to use my earplugs, I lay awake during his moonlight sonata and debate which is worse: trying to sleep through nature’s animal chorus (including neighborhood dogs that bark and howl at each other nightly) or man-made noises like the car honks and alarms, garbage trucks and loud drunks I experience at home in L.A.
At the volunteer house in Moshi we have 24-hour security. While Tanzania is one of the safer countries in Africa, due to the severe income disparity, some people become desperate and there has been some crime. Most who can afford it have large, heavy, secured gates for their homes with a security system and some, like Give a Heart to Africa, have watchmen. We have watchmen who rotate shifts each day. One of our watchmen, Edward, is a Maasai warrior. Given Edward’s soft-spoken voice and calm demeanor he is not someone I’d immediately peg as a warrior, but given he has made it through the warrior rites-of-passage, I’m sure the ninja comes out when needed. He has a side business taking visitors on tours of his village. Je_, a fellow volunteer, and I joined him on my third weekend in Tanzania.
My first full week in Tanzania was a busy one. After a great weekend safari in Tarangire and Ngorongoro Crater, my body told me it needed a break, in the form of a cold. After 20 hours of flying and airport hijinks , I’d only slept 13 hours in 72 and my body wasn’t having it. I spent most of the week battling fatigue, congestion, a sexy-sounding mucus-y cough and a sore throat. Between co-teaching two English grammar courses, spending a hot afternoon walking around rural Moshi recruiting students for the next school session, and just generally trying to get my bearings in a new country, I was exhausted and ready for some relaxation.
Three other volunteers and I (George, Je_, and Ka_) planned a trip to Pangani, just outside Tanga for the weekend. There are very few ways to get to Tanga from Moshi and the most common means of transport is by bus. The bus ride was brutal. I thought an 8-hour ride on a Greyhound bus from Los Angeles to Las Vegas next to a malodorous person who appears not to bathe is bad. This was far worse. It should only take 4-hours to drive from Moshi to Tanga. Our bus ride expanded to a hellish 8-hour ordeal where the following occurred:
I arrived in Moshi on a Friday night after 18 hours of flying and my exciting visa adventure. I’m in Moshi to volunteer teach at a school geared toward female empowerment through education. Four volunteers were already in town when I arrived. I hadn’t gotten a chance to meet them when I arrived at the volunteer house as they’d all gone to the Serengeti fiesta and two of them were hungover. The party sounds epic: it was held in a stadium with at least 3000 attendees, including Maasai tribe members who seem to be quite popular.
The other volunteers planned a weekend safari trip including me and I got up early to join them. G_ is a very tall South Carolinian in his mid-20s, with boundless amounts of energy, a loud voice and an extremely inquisitive nature. In addition to G_, there is: M_ from Finland, also in his mid-20s, and he’s definitely Finnish: tall, strapping, & broad. He has a deep voice and speaks slightly accented English. He also speaks French, Spanish and German. K_ is a kind-looking blonde, half-German/half Dutch, but has been in the US for at least 20 years and her adult son, J_ is biracial: his father is a black American. He’s in his early 20s, slender with a swimmer’s build and seems chill. They live in Northern California. Everyone seems friendly. I just met these people 30 minutes prior and I’m going on a weekend trip with them. I hope they are sane.
Knowing I’m leaving the country makes flying out of awful LAX more tolerable. I enjoy seeing the different colored passport covers in the security line. The family in front of me hold maroon passports and are speaking Italian. Another family nearby speaks in French. I spot a navy-blue American passport and see its American owner scratching his balls. Yeah, I see you dude.
On the plane, the pilot says something in English. Her Dutch accent is so thick, all I can hear are phlegmy-sounding words. I have no idea what she’s saying. As long as it isn’t: “The plane is crashing”, we should all be fine.
2008 was a difficult year for me. I was recovering from the dissolution of a long-term relationship. By the start of 2009, I was over the weeping and moaning; the woe is me, I’ll never love again; my heart has been ripped out of my chest mercilessly; men are vessels of evil; why God, why?; please can I be a lesbian? and more overly dramatic exclamations of post-breakup-life and ready to rejoin the world of the living. My friend Heidi had expatriated to London from Orange County a few years prior and kept encouraging me to visit her. I figured it was just what I needed. Since I was heading to Europe, I reasoned I should visit as many countries as I could while there. Within a 10-day span I planned to visit England, The Netherlands, Belgium and France.
I have this knack for seeing famous people in cities outside of Los Angeles. I don’t remember the last real famous person I’ve seen in Los Angeles, but if I fly somewhere else, given my track record, I’m likely to see someone of note.
About 4 years ago, I was in Houston visiting the fam. My younger – too fly for her own good – sister, N, suggested we breakfast (yep, I used it as a verb) at a cozy, vibrantly decorated, restaurant called The Breakfast Klub, known for their chicken and waffles. It’s owned by a Kappa (as in Kappa Alpha Psi: black frat; famous for cane stepping; if you don’t know, now you know), so everything that would normally be spelled with a “C” is spelled with a “K”, like the “katfish and grits” dish. Kute.