24 August 2010


So many ups and downs in the span of a few short days! While meetings with Tanzania Mennonites and seeing where Mom grew up were amazing, attempting (and only sometimes succeeding) to enter Tanzania wildlife parks has been a huge headache. We learned, the hard way of course, that you can't enter Serengeti National Park in a non-Tanzanian vehicle. (We hired a van and driver in Nairobi.) Turns out our Kenyan driver would have to maintain a year-round Tanzanian tourism permit which is extremely expensive and would only occasionally be useful to him. (Frustratingly, no one at the park entrance was able to tell us that. They finally got around to informing us that we had to get the permit in Arusha and they're not open Sundays anyway.) So we had no other choice but to drive around the park, which is more than twice the distance as driving through. We finally made it to Karatu after nearly 17 hours on roads that were sometimes paved, but often not. So much brown snot...

We did get into Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, but only after returning to town to get cash from an ATM. (Despite the agreeing information of multiple guidebooks, you can NOT pay your $400-plus park entrance fee with a credit card. Cash only.) And once in, we saw amazing animals, including 5 lions, elephants, zebras, flamingos and many more. It almost made us forget how difficult it was to get in in the first place! ;)

On the flip side, visiting places my mom lived as a child was even cooler than anticipated (and I've been looking forward to this for a long time.) My grandparents worked for the Mennonite church in western Tanzania for more than 30 years and my mother was born in Musoma and lived in Tanzania until the age of 15. One of the main reasons for our trip was to visit her old home areas, places she hadn't seen for nearly 30 years, and places we had only known in stories. Over four days, we visited the hospital in Shirati where my mom's four brothers were born and where my step-grandmother worked fashioning prosthetic legs for leprosy patients, schools my grandfather helped found and administrate, the boarding school my mom attended as a child at Nyarero, the house she lived in between the ages of 7 and 15 in Bumangi, and various other related landmarks in and around Musoma, Shirati, Nyarero, Bukiroba, and Bumangi. Without fail, we were met with a welcoming committee that once included an entire Mennonite congregation and a youth choir, and other times just kind-hearted people who made time to walk with us and point out places of interest. In Bumangi, our welcome included gifts from the congregation, a meal, and a beautiful concert by the youth choir that I wanted to never end. After eating, they called each member of the family forward and a group of ululating women surrounded each of us in turn and wrapped us in African cloth. Phil even got a chicken! I'm still not sure why, but they gave him a chicken. (We later traded it for two watermelons in Musoma, which we enjoyed eating more than chicken anyway.)

We were touched by how many people still remembered my grandparents and how richly we were welcomed and honored as their descendents. This will certainly remain the highlight of our time in Tanzania. Tomorrow we go to Amani Nature Reserve and see where Phil does his research. Hopefully also will get to go looking for chameleons!

13 August 2010

Next stop-- Tanzania

It's been a great visit in Egypt. There were a few wrinkles-- my camera gear was lifted from my bag, and dressing conservatively (long sleeves, long pants, shirts that cover my butt, hair always up) has been a little tedious, but it's going to be hard to leave this place and mainly these people.

My niece has had a bit of trouble getting Rhoda's and my names straight, and eventually just started calling us both Sarah. The other day my niece came over to me and asked where Sarah was. I told her that I was right there. She said, "no, the other one." She seems to enjoy us equally though, and both of us can be called upon in any moment to color with her, push her in her swing, or give her something "special" to eat. (Prunes will suffice as "special" any time!) It's been great catching up with my brother and sister-in-law too, and hearing more about their life here and how the adjustment to a new country has been going. Luckily I'll get to stop back in on my way north from Tanzania and see them all once more :)

A few more Egypt pics are up now on my flickr page.

In Tanzania we'll visit my other brother, who is living and working in eastern Tanzania as part of his masters' degree in biology. We also get to visit some of the places my mom lived as a child when her parents were Mennonite missionaries in Tanzania. I've long wanted to take a family trip to this part of the world to visit my mom's old childhood home, and it's so exciting to actually get to do it!

11 August 2010

Some Egypt pics

Well, I doubt I'll ever see my camera battery, charger, cord, or memory cards again. They disappeared from my bag somewhere between New York and Cairo. I've replaced them here in Alexandria and unhappily paid far more for them than I did at home. I am glad to have been able to find the necessary items, though-- no photos for the next 5 months would have been really depressing.

So here are a couple of pictures as promised, though you'll have to view them at my flickr site for now. I have maxed out my free storage space on picasa and have to delete some stuff before google will let me add any more photos to the blog.

10 August 2010

Egypt-- Cairo & Alexandria

It's been nearly a week now since I arrived in Egypt. I met up with my parents and sister, and my brother and sister-in-law and niece came down from Alexandria to spend some time showing us around. We spent our first few days in Cairo, taking in the sights of one of the largest cities in the world. Our first stop was the pyramids at Giza and the Sphinx. They're pretty freaking cool. I'd love to show you some pictures, but that will have to wait for now.* We hired a van one day and packed in lots of interesting places-- the Citadel and Mohammed Ali mosque, the Church of Simeon the Tanner in the Coptic part of town, and the Khan al-Khalil market.

The next day Rhoda and I struck out on our own and went to the Islamic Ceramic Museum, which was slightly overshadowed by the gorgeous 19th century villa it's housed in. I love how many 6 and 8 pointed stars show up in the tile, mosques, fabric, and everywhere. It always makes me think of Mennonite and Amish quilts.

We also went to the Egyptian Museum, a must-see if you're ever in Cairo. Amazing hallways full of stone statues of Pharoahs and Egyptian gods, as well as rooms full of mummies, sarcophagi, and their trappings. I could have spent days in there nosing through everything. It's so interesting to me to see the elaborate rituals that cultures and religions construct around the afterlife. So much effort went into building the pyramids, preparing the bodies of the dead, making all the statuettes, jewelry, beds, etc. to serve them and protect them in the afterlife. Yet who knows what the afterlife holds? Maybe they were met by Horus to be judged, but maybe not. Our ideas may have changed since, but we still postulate grandly about what will happen to us after we die, never mind that we really haven't got the slightest idea.

After Cairo, we took a van to Alexandria where we've been staying with my brother and sister-in-law. We've seen a number of cool things here too, including the library, Fort Qaitbay, Pompey's Pillar, and some impressive catacombs. But I would have to say that the best part so far has been hanging out with my niece again. She's twice as old as when I last saw her, and so smart and charming and interactive now. It'll be hard to say goodbye here.

(*When I got to Cairo I discovered that my extra camera battery, battery charger, camera cord, and all my extra memory cards were missing from my bag. Somewhere between New York and Cairo they exited without me knowing it. I'm trying to get Royal Jordanian to reimburse the cost of replacing them (assuming that I can find replacements here) but haven't managed to find a phone number that works yet. As soon as I figure out this wrinkle, I'll be glad to share some pictures!)