Borrego

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A lone ram looking over Palm Canyon.

“Borrego” is the Spanish word for the bighorn sheep which also happen to be the stars of California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

And on my several hikes with fifth graders this last February and March, we got lucky enough to see the sheep – including their lambs – several times.

A herd of penninsular big horn sheep quenching their thirst.

A herd of peninsular bighorn sheep quenching their thirst.

But this spring in the desert was also great for wildflowers.

wildflowermosaic

Ethiopia

The main room of a traditional Harari house.

The main room of a traditional Harari house.

 

This post has been a long time in coming.

 

In part this is just because as soon as I got back to the U.S. I just kind of got swept up in readjusting to life back here – buying a car, seeing people, eating food, and looking for a job. Soon the entire African continent seemed so removed from me, both in terms of distance and time. Cameroon feels so long ago, and my trip to East Africa does too.

 

But if I’m completely honest, part of my reluctance to write this post has also stemmed from my inability to decide exactly what I want to say about my trip to Ethiopia.

 

My first meal (besides breakfast) in Addis Ababa.

My first meal (besides breakfast) in Addis Ababa.

 

Buna macchiato

Tasty buna macchiato – coffee with milk.

A large part of why I decided to visit Ethiopia was the food. I’d been enamored of Ethiopian food ever since my first taste back in Switzerland. I mean, what’s not to like about having several tasty vegetarian stews all on one plate for you to scoop up with nothing but your hand and some spongy, sour injera? And on that count, Ethiopia did not disappoint. I ate Ethiopian food at least once each day, every day for two weeks and did not get tired of it. Add in delicious, strong Ethiopian coffee, often for as little as 25-50 cents per cup, and I spent my sojourn in the country constantly buzzed and satisfied.

 

And then there was Ethiopia itself. I’d heard about trips that other Peace Corps Volunteers had taken: Kevin had had a long layover on the way to Kenya and come back talking about what a great city Addis Ababa was, and Laura had gone for a week and come back with fascinating stories about her time in Harar. A quick Google search also showed sights like the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela.

Bete Abba Libanos in Lalibela.

Bete Abba Libanos in Lalibela.

 

An Orthodox priest.

An Orthodox priest.

So I did go to Ethiopia, in particular, Addis Ababa, Lalibela, and Harar. It turns out that if you have an international flight in or out of Ethiopia on Ethiopian Air and you are willing to wait and book your domestic flights in person at one of their offices, the tickets cost less than half as much as they do online.

 

Lalibela is one of the holiest cities in Ethiopia according to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It is the site of 11 churches cut out ofsolid rock during the reign of the Zagwe emperor Lalibela (at the time the town was known as Roha, instead). They were meant to be a replica of Jerusalem in Ethiopia after the real Jerusalem was captured by Muslims in 1187 – there is even a River Jordan in Lalibela, also carved from rock. Seeing all those monolithic carved churches and the pilgrims swaddled in white cotton is an interesting reminder of Christianity’s older roots.

A pilgrim outside of Bete Giyorgis.

A pilgrim outside of Bete Giyorgis.

 

I was in Lalibela during the Ethiopian Orthodox holiday of Meskel (usually September 27th on the Gregorian calendar), which commemorates the finding of the true cross – that is, the one on which Jesus was crucified. This meant that not only were there a lot of pilgrims from surrounding villages in town, but a big celebration on the eve of the holiday with a big bonfire that morning.

The aftermath of the main bonfire.

The aftermath of the main bonfire.

 

Harar, on the other hand, is the most significant Muslim city in the country, and apparently considered by some to be the 4th holiest city in Islam. It’s a walled city on a hilltop with over 80 mosques within the walls of Harar’s old town. In Harar I saw sights like a man hand-feeding wild hyenas and another sheep being sacrificed for Tabaski (see also: Le Fête de Mouton), though I completely failed at finding the main celebration for the holiday.

 

The Harar hyena man.

The Harar hyena man.

 

I have to admit, though, that despite all that I saw in Lalibela and Harar, Addis Ababa was my favorite of the places that I visited in Ethiopia. Addis doesn’t have the magnificent monolithic churches of Lalibela, nor does it have the narrow winding alleys of Harar’s walled city, and the price of its taxis gave me a renewed appreciation of Yaoundé’s taxi system. But having just spent those two years in Cameroon, I could definitely appreciate Addis Ababa’s amenities. The inexpensive day spas, the froyo place complete with free wifi, the food, and oh my goodness, the food, both Ethiopian and otherwise. It’s an African metropolis that is modernizing very quickly.

 

But the other thing that really set Addis Ababa apart from both Lalibela and Harar was my experience just walking down the street.

 

You see, a white woman in a country like Cameroon or Ethiopia is bound to stand out a bit. And how people respond when they see a white woman varies from person to person and place to place. In Cameroon, the East, West, Center, and South regions were ones where non-black Peace Corps Volunteers in particular expect more harassment than in the Grand North or anglophone regions.

 

In Addis Ababa, I was actually surprised by how little harassment I experienced. In Lalibela and Harar, however, harassment was an almost constant part of the experience. To be fair, the vast majority of people yelling at me seemed to be going in the direction of wanting to be my guide, and as far as stereotyping based on appearance goes, “rich tourist” is pretty positive and certainly not completely untrue. But when people are yelling at you constantly, and you don’t know which ones are going to go from “you need guide?” one second, to an offer to “help” me by marrying me, or occasionally much worse, the next second, it gets exhausting very quickly. The Peace Corps Volunteers I met in Addis told me that sometimes the harassment even goes as far as people throwing rocks, but fortunately this wasn’t something I encountered.

 

I am glad that I went to Ethiopia, but I’ll also admit that by the time I was boarding a plane to leave the country, I was very ready to be going home.

 

Ethiopian coffee

All set to brew some Ethiopian coffee.

 

Safari

A zebra in the Ngorongoro Crater.

Safari is the Swahili word for a trip or journey. In English, I believe it means getting driven around a national park or game reserve in Africa and taking a lot of pictures.

I arrived in Arusha, Tanzania, about two weeks ago with one main goal in mind: to book myself a budget safari and take in some of the parks of northern Tanzania. Luckily for me, the safari industry is really well established in Arusha – to the point where as soon as you get there everyone you meet starts asking you: have you been on a safari, yet? are you going on a safari? have you booked your safari? So it was just a matter of calling up a company that the guy at the front desk of my hotel said had come by looking for people to join a group, and I little while later I had chosen a package and was at an ATM withdrawing a million shillings (which, to be fair, is only about $600 – it’s much easier to become a Tsh millionaire than a CFA millionaire).

My safari was a three day trip (two nights) to see the Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire National Park, and Lake Manyara National Park, which are all within a few hours of Arusha.

The Ngorongoro Crater was perhaps most notable for the stunning landscape it presented. We probably saw more wildlife in both of the other parks that we visited, but each one offered up a slightly different variety of animals and often very different scenery.

The view from the edge of the Ngonongoro Crater.

A safari vehicle drives by some hippos in the Ngorongoro Crater.

An ostrich strolling across the crater floor.

In Tarangire National Park, one of the highlights of the day ended up being watching a lion stalk and ultimately kill a wildebeest. It was kind of far from our vehicle (and unlike everyone else with their telescoping lenses, I just had my iphone), and the actual chase happened really quickly, so I didn’t really bother with pictures.

Impalas in the road in Tarangire.

A family of elephants huddling in the shade.

Mama and baby monkey at our lunch site.

The lion coming back to her kill.

Lake Manyara was mostly about seeing different types of birds. The park also featured lots of trees, though, and therefore plenty of giraffes.

Giraffes in Lake Manyara National Park.

A couple of elephants walking by.

Lake Manyara itself.

Guinea fowl by the side of the road.

And baboons. Our guide rolled his eyes at me when everyone else in the vehicle wanted to stop and take pictures of these.

If that’s not enough pictures, there are even more at my Flickr photostream.

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Along the coast at Stone Town.

Along the coast at Stone Town.

The Catholic cathedral, peaking out from above a Stone Town alleyway.

The Catholic cathedral, peaking out from above a Stone Town alleyway.

Stone Town is a small city by the sea, a maze of winding alleyways full of architecture hundreds of years old that you can get lost in – until you invariably find the edge and are dumped out at the coast or along the edge of the new town.

My few days in Zanzibar were mostly occupied by a lot of just this type of wandering, all the while ducking in and out of curio shops (Stone Town is heaven for the souvenir fiend) or taking in a historical monument or two.

The House of Wonders, or the tallest building in Stone Town and the first to have electricity.

The House of Wonders, or the tallest building in Stone Town and the first to have electricity.

The Old Arab Fort, Stone Town's oldest building.

The Old Arab Fort, Stone Town’s oldest building.

The Slave Memorial at the Anglican Church, which was built on the site of Zanzibar's slave market.

The Slave Memorial at the Anglican Church, which was built on the site of Zanzibar’s slave market.

One place I kept coming back to (besides Lukmaan Restaurant, where I ate delicious Zanzibari food three times in five days) was the Forodhani Gardens – mostly because there was free public wifi!

Aside from being a well-maintained public park overlooking the ocean, every evening, the Forodhani Gardens also transform into something of a food court, with offerings such as skewered and grilled seafood, fresh squeezed sugar cane juice, Zanzibar pizza (more like an omelet inside of a crepe than a normal pizza), and something called urojo or Zanzibar mix.

Urojo: a tasty broth with all sorts of things floating in it, from grilled meats, to a boiled egg, to some sort of fried thing that tasted like white bean beignets (which I'm told taste like chicken nuggets).

Urojo: a tasty broth with all sorts of things floating in it, from grilled meats, to a boiled egg, to some sort of fried thing that tasted like white bean beignets (which I’m told taste like chicken nuggets).

Frying up a Zanzibar pizza.

Frying up a Zanzibar pizza.

The Forodhani Gardens are kind of geared toward tourists, which unfortunately meant a bit more harassment than in other parts of Stone Town, but it was still overall a very positive part of the trip.

A view of the harbor from the Forodhani Gardens.

A view of the harbor from the Forodhani Gardens.

Nungwi, Zanzibar

Low tide.

I went to Nungwi for the beach.

I’m actually not that much of a beach person. I do like the beach and the ocean – but more for looking at than anything else. I think that part of the problem is that having grown up in Southern California, sand and salt water don’t seem terribly novel, and I still always expect the water to be cold.

I know, boo-hoo, too much of a good thing.

But anyway, I went to Nungwi for the beach, and Nungwi certainly delivered.

Nungwi is the biggest tourist destination on Zanzibar Island other than Stone Town, primarily for the beach, and it showed: long stretches of the shoreline were dominated by resorts, restaurants, and the tourists patronizing them.

Nungwi resorts.

Nungwi resorts.

Slightly inland from that, though, is Nungwi “village” (really a small town). So, not being that much of a beach person, I also took a village tour while I was there. This included, among other things, seeing how the traditional dhow fishing boats are built, going by the fish market, and watching a woman make coconut fiber rope using no tools aside from her own leg – I kid you not!

Fishermen in a traditional dhow fishing boat.

An old Zanzibari house.

Making coconut fiber rope.

As for the rest of those two days – I spent almost all of it on the beach.

Sunset in Nungwi.

Sunset in Nungwi.

On to the next Adventure

After two weeks milling about in Yaoundé, as well as a good deal of paperwork and a few medical appointments (I have no cavities, stomach parasites, or tuberculosis) it’s official: I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer.

 

The three of us who were having our Close of Service in the same week were all pretty ambivalent about the idea of a whole big ceremony, but after a couple days of equivocating, the matter ended up being decided for us. The new Ambassador was visiting the building on Thursday, and the trainers were preparing for the new trainees that would be arriving the next week, so there was neither the time nor the space. We did away with the whole to-do with the speeches and banging on a gong, and instead just received our pins and certificates, took a few pictures, and started calling ourselves Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. And that was that.

 

To celebrate, my friend Kevin and I splurged and split the cost of two nights at the Yaoundé Hilton, where we laid out by the pool, took advantage of the Jacuzzi, went out for nice meals, and generally lived it up like the grands we aren’t.

 

Then, Sunday morning, I was on a bus at 6:30 am, on my way to Douala, where I got on a plane to Addis Ababa, and then another one to Zanzibar.

 

And on Monday morning, I found myself in paradise.

 

Nungwi, Zanzibar

Poli, North

A view of the Grand Mosque and town center from Town Hall.

Poli is a town with a population between 8,500 and 9,000 in the Faro Division, in the North Region of Cameroon. It was also my home for almost two years.

The Town Hall itself. This new building was constructed during my time in Poli.

The entrance to the Lamido’s compound. A Lamido is a Muslim traditional leader (and in Poli’s case, also the Mayor).

The daily market.

The Youth Center.

This is how people in Poli get water.

A neighbor’s house (typical for the North).

And some Cameroonian sheep.