This was a rather uneventful week at work as I waited for all of the samples to be collected before starting the tests. In terms of people, this week was one of the best and worst. So many people were leaving this week (8 in total by Monday), but this meant lots of goodbye parties and memories. Tuesday night it was at Lauren’s where I helped her to cook burgers. She was quite a cook and even more so because of the 1950s kitchen in each home. Time passed so quickly as Lauren and I goofed off in the kitchen making what seemed like millions of burgers and when we went out to eat, grabbed a glass of wine, and finally joined the party. It was quite a feast and everyone (volunteers) was there enjoying themselves either by the bonfire outside or dancing in the kitchen. It was sad to think that Lauren, Crystal, and Betsy were all leaving the next day and I knew I would be feeling rather lonely. Two British boys had just arrived and the best way to describe them would be as US frat boys because they popped their collars, wore board shorts, and had bottle openers in their flip flops. Crystal and Betsy finally showed up at 10 after spending a lengthy amount of time with Turid, the medical director’s wife, and they were quite exhausted. They had been working like maniacs since the beginning but the last week they had warned me would be insane (they were right). I always asked why they worked so hard because I could tell they didn’t always enjoy it but they would say that this is their last visit due to funding so it has to be finished…. period. There is a different sense of urgency when a timeline starts to run out on a project that’s a thousand miles away. Anyways back to the party, they finally ate and started to finally relax because the long hours were over. People started to peter out, some med students came in to sing Lauren a song, which was very cute, and she made me promise that I’d be the last to leave (and I agreed obviously). The only silver lining to people leaving is being able to take stuff they’re leaving behind so I was able to inherit various random items I needed, but wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere in Haydom or maybe even Arusha (for example hand sanitizer, a cord for the computer, and many movies off of her hard drive). I said a goodbye, but I was driving to the airstrip with them tomorrow morning so I could have a proper one.

Marion and Lauren walkin' it out at Lauren's goodbye party

Of course I went to bed at 2 in the morning so waking up at 6 was a bit of a struggle, but I threw on clothes and loaded into the cruiser with my America buddies. At the airport I held back tears as I hugged them goodbye with the Norwegian pilot hurrying us along in the background. Nina, a med student from Denmark, loaded into the cruiser with her family, who had just arrived, to go on safari together. I went on with my day, headed to the lab, and came home to a very empty house. Work was good, but it was slowly sinking in that I would be leaving next Thursday and I wasn’t ready to go. I was ready to do more than just my research and help the girls with their testing or follow doctors but there was little time left. In the afternoon I went with Katka, Jaap, Eljakim, and Marion to the Armada, which is a twice-monthly traveling market that comes to Haydom. We went in search of congas (fabric for a wrap skirt) and Maasai blankets (they’re wrapped around their shoulders most often). The market was colorful, loud, and full of the most unusual and random items. My best analogy is that it is similar to a traveling Walmart. Jaap and I split two beautiful fabrics; one a bold turquoise geometric pattern and the other a black and tan zebra pattern piece with zebras along the bottom. Eljakim and Jaap found vibrant Maasai blankets and I am so glad Katka was there with us to help haggle brilliantly in Swahili (she’s been there for 6 months). Time after time we would ask for the price and it would be 2 times the amount it normally is just because we were wazunugu (white people) and they assumed we didn’t know the real price or what the local people paid. It is quite customary for the bartering transaction to occur in various shops and in due time I would get my chance as well. We headed to a place to get all of our pieces split and hemmed for about one dollar. While we waited we headed to Two Sisters (the place to shop for the volunteers) and had a soda to relax.

This week zoomed by due to another illness I got Thursday morning that was bad enough that I had to take Cipro. I hoped this would be the last sickness of the trip because I wanted to be healthy before starting to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I unfortunately missed the going away party/bonfire for Jaap, Eljakim, Katka, and Kajsa. Saturday I was feeling much better.

In the evening I surfaced again for dinner and everyone was wondering how I was doing after another update of my bad luck from Christian. I greeted Verena who had just arrived today and was beat from all of the traveling I headed to Kajsa’s place for another bonfire with Johanna, Liselot (a new Dutch med student who arrived Thursday, and some of the male nursing students. I finally got to experience the making of breadsticks over a bonfire, a common activity in Scandinavian countries. It was a lot of fun and time flew by as we talked, ate, and enjoyed each other’s company. Eli, Tuamnini, Sam, and Danny were the local guys who joined us. They seemed to enjoy watching us get so into the breadstick making and all loved the bread except Danny. Danny was actually a field worker for the MAL-ED project and part of the Dotoga tribe. Most local people I met that were from a village far away from Haydom town didn’t like bread (we made the mistake of making a ton for the people helping Crystal and Betsy with research in the house for lunches).  We repeated this on Sunday as well, but this time the British boys, Alex, and Katka joined us after arriving back from the snake farm. Again it was a beautiful evening and Verena was finally rested enough to join us too. We listened to Celine Dion (Tumanini’s favorite) and many current songs that kept us all awake for hours.

Johanna and Danny cooking breadsticks around the fire

Monday I was in the lab early and started testing as soon as possible. I finally understood the pressures of finishing ones’ research before you leave. I had three days to finish it all and write it up because the hard copy of my data had to be left behind. I was swamped with performing hundreds of qualitative tests and about a hundred quantitative tests (each taking about 15 minutes). I strategically overlapped them so as to save time and by the end I was a factory of weighing out a sample, adding reagents, letting it sit, and then titrating it. I figured the amount of time between each sample needed to optimize efficiency. I also brought my camera and snapped a few photos of the girls as they worked. In the evenings I started packing, but also was hanging out with the 4 med students that were left (Liselot, Verena, Marc, and Ben). We watched Forrest Gump, played cards, and got to know each other quite quickly. Tuesday I followed Christian around the old ward, which is the more general ward with a variety of types of patients. I got to see several patients with distended abdomens with no cause known (unknown bacteria/virus/parasite). Christian also let me more of a med student and gave me a stethoscope so I could listen to patients’ lungs and hearts. I listened to an arrhythmic heart, lungs of someone with pneumonia, and various other patients. Christian would ask me questions and I felt like I was actually learning and experiencing basic aspects of medicine. In the evening it was soccer, dinner, and then a bonfire at Case’s and Elona’s. I sat with everyone and just listened to them talk across the fire. I felt removed from the situation as if I was already looking back on a memory. Conversation blurred as I just stared at their faces and once again tried to embed these images into my head forever.

The main street in Haydom on my final day

I hustled to type in the massive amount of data into my computer, dropped everything back in the lab on Wednesday morning and spent the last day in town with Norbert and the four medical students. We went to the market, paid for my land cruiser ticket, ran errands, and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon in town. As they got their groceries and items I no longer needed I observed the town streets. I watched as people passed and tried to take as many mental photos as possible. I had already contemplated asking my parents if I could stay for the rest of the summer, but I knew it wouldn’t work out. I said goodbye to my friends and the people I worked with, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to this place. My goodbyes were more of a see you in a bit type of thing because I will be back and hopefully sooner than the end of medical school. Monday evening all of the volunteers went out to dinner at Greenview, even Norbert, who informed me that this was his first time eating in town. We had chips and skewers of meat (clearly a common thing we had) and Eli joined us as well. Caroline and Upendo called me and I met them outside where we said our goodbyes and I began to cry a little. After dinner we headed home where I finished packing with the medical students watch a movie, went to bed, and woke up to catch the 5:30 am land cruiser to Arusha.

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Disclaimer: This post is very long and more for my records than the usual life update. Also this is almost a month late and I have 3 more weeks to write about. I have had zero time with class and moving in, but I am working hard to finish up my journey for those who have been reading this.

Early Friday the Clement, our driver and the tech guy at the hospital, and the five of us hopped into the car and we began our journey to the Serengeti. Our first stop was Mbulu 2 hours later for a pit stop and then we stopped for a snack on top of a small hill at the cell tower. It was quite beautiful and in the distance we could see Ngorongoro Conservation Area so we knew we were getting close. A few hours later we were in Karatu where we had lunch and some of us visited the atm. Contrary to my preconceived notions of a car trip on less than ideal roads the trip so far had gone so fast because of all of the interesting conversations we were having in the car. The group I was with was absolutely amazing and we had no problems what so ever. In Karatu I saw signs of tourism I had yet seen since the airport. There were nice bungalow designed hotels and so many children trying to sell jewelry and things on the street. Here we picked up Freddie and our food and headed to safari area. To get to the Serengeti you must go through Ngorongoro as well. At the Ngorongoro gate there were tons of baboons running around and quite tame. We were informed to close all of the windows because they would climb into the car. After looking at the layout of the conservation area we headed back to the car but first I had to take pictures of monkeys (obviously!!). Clement rolled down his window while waiting for us and it only took moments until a young baboon was trying to crawl in. I almost cried from laughter because it was such a strange sight to see. Biological anthropology came in handy when we witnessed some interesting power dynamics between a female and a very young male baboon.

Baboons just chilling in the parking lot at the front gate

A baby baboon and its mother getting preened

Inside Ngorongoro was amazing; there was jungle to fields to plains. Ngorongoro is a conservation area instead of a national park because the Maasai are the only tribe allowed to live on the land as well. This tribe is how most people would typically think of local people in Africa with the beaded necklaces covering their entire neck, colorful clothing, and more jewelry adorning wrists, ankles and heads. Maasai men have many wives and he lives with them in a community. Each traditional community contains a man with his many wives and children. Seeing two elephants next to a herd of cattle was something I wasn’t ever expecting to see in my life. Ngorongoro is best known for the large crater there because it created a fish bowl type atmosphere with the animals living in it. Long ago there was a volcano there that was the tallest mountain in Africa but it erupted and collapsed to form this crater. It is 20km by 18km and has trapped the animals living in it because of its steep walls. This is a favorite for tourists because you’re guaranteed to see a lot because they have nowhere to go. It is also the only place you will see rhinos in Tanzania. We went to the rim of the crater and it was such an amazing view. We continued through Ngorongoro passing Maasai homes, gazelle, zebras, and hit the plains. At the rim we put the roof up so we could stand while driving. The force of the wind and the breath-taking scenery made it simple for me to get lost in my own head just looking out and admiring nature.

The Ngorongoro Crater. by Jaap and his wide-view camera

Before we knew it, we were at Serengeti gate and having a soda. Many animals and birds have set up shop here I’m guessing because of the amount of food tourists let dribble onto the ground. I joked earlier when we were looking at the animal checklist that we needed to find all of the animals under the rat, mice, and mongoose category. Ironically I think we managed to cover them all just at locations where lots of people gather. The US equivalent of rats and pigeons here are amazingly beautiful creatures. The starling is iridescent blue and orange and the hyrax are the size of small dogs and the closest relative of elephants.

The most stunning part of the trip

We started driving through the park and the first thing we saw was tons of deer type creatures; Thompson gazelles, Grant gazelles, Topi, impallas, etc. Jaap and Johanna were singing the Lion King soundtrack, setting the mood perfectly. The sun is starting to set when we get to these large rocks that are straight out of a scene from Lion King. Of course what do we find on them other than lions!! There were 7 on the first set of rocks with cubs about 20-30 feet from our car. Marion had a telephoto lens so her pictures were amazing and we had the gift of perfect light. I just gazed at them in total amazement and we all couldn’t believe how lucky this was. We went to turn around and came up to another set of rocks with 4 more lions sunning themselves there. We made our way to the hostel where we only had electricity from 7-10 pm each night but we arrived a little bit before sunset so we ran up the nearest hill and watched from the top. It was redder than anything I had seen before and we stupidly walked through a lot of tall grass to get to the top (that’s where spitting cobras and other deadly animals would be hiding). That was one of a couple times where Clement said we were going somewhere too dangerous. The cook made us amazing food and exhausted, I passed out nicely so as to be able to wake up at 5.

Sunrise as we head towards the migration

We were on the road in darkness where I enjoyed the darkness of the Acacia trees against the pastel background of the sunrise. We left early to make it to the migration of Wildebeest in the Northwest corridor before lunch. On the way we had Clement stop the car so many times for various wildlife; jackals, dick-dicks, ibis, storks, zebras, giraffes, and VERVET MONKEYS (they have pastel blue balls its hilarious). Sad to say the baboons didn’t take to my monkey call and the vervet monkeys just looked in my direction with little reaction. I’m guessing I must be a monkey from a different region. Wildebeest, buffalo, and zebra were spotted along the open fields signaling to us that we were getting closer to the migration. Clement informed us that zebras were there to help lead the migration because the Wildebeest had such terrible eye sight. We stopped at a dried up portion of the Grumeti river where we hopped out of the car to take photos, have coffee, and look for crocodiles. We drove a bit more seeing Ibis, large lizards, and more crocodiles. There was a place that we again unloaded and Clement led us to a suspension bridge of part of the river. The boys and I ran across this quickly to the other side where we proceeded to play around and swing around on vines. It didn’t take long for Clement to yell across to us that poisonous snakes, crocodiles, and lions roamed this area. We got back onto the bridge quickly, took a few photos, and were off for the migration again.

Shennanigans at its finest

Wildebeest unkowingly getting a drink of water 2 feet from the jaws of a crocodile that appears to be a rock

As we drove towards the parts of the river that had yet to be dried up the spots turned in to lines of Wildebeest along the horizon and suddenly the vast openness was cluttered with hundreds of animals. The amount of Wildebeest against this iconic Africa background was breath taking. We stopped at a watering hole in hopes to see some action of crocodiles eating Wildebeest. It was slow and we thought nothing was going to happen until splashing commenced and all we could see was a victorious crocodile as the other Wildebeest hurried to get out of the water. As we looked above the car at this crocodile with beast in mouth, Clement was getting news of lions mating close by. This was something very interesting to see and we learned it involved a lot of dedication. A pair goes off from the group and for one week they mate every 45 minutes (15 seconds of action and then a lot of sleeping).

Zebras hang out resting on each other's backs to help swat flies off a friend's face

We stopped at the airstrip for lunch, which was delicious (or so I thought). The journey continued as we saw more giraffes, birds, and finally elephants. They were so graceful as they snapped trees in half and the youngest was running between everyone’s legs. Next to these elephants was a hippo pool where each bulge above the water was another hippo sleeping. Needless to say we didn’t stay too long at this location because of the smell (they live in their own filth and it gets bad enough that there is no longer any oxygen left in the water). We headed towards the hostel stopping on the way to see a family of hyenas and allow me to get ill. I got food poisoning from the lunch and eventually we found out the Clement had gotten it as well. It is something that’s very understandable when we eat meat after a day of not having any fridge to store it in. There was no time for me to feel sick and when we saw animals I was just as excited to see them. All was worth it when we neared the visitor’s center and saw a million cars all together. We sped over there and 60 feet away from the road was a cheetah sleeping in the grass. It felt very zoo like as every car that was in the park today was there at that cheetah it seemed like, but nonetheless I enjoyed every second of watching it sleep. We headed to the visitor’s center because Clement was finally getting hit with the food poisoning. It was fun in its own right because there were hyrax, who are the closest relative to the elephant yet is the size of bunny, and mongoose, a squirrel type looking creature. They quite tamely sat on the brick wall as I got 2 feet away from them like a college campus squirrel. I was getting worse and it was getting too hard to enjoy the sights and it was 5 so we headed home after a long eventful day.

On top of shifting sands (Johanna, Marion, Eljakim, me, Freddie, Clement, and Jaap)

I spent most of night vomiting and sleeping but in the morning I was feeling much better. I made the mistake of being too brave and tried to eat breakfast. We loaded up the car and headed towards the gate. On the way we stopped to see a Serval cat, which is the size of a medium-sized dog. It was so cute and very rare to see in daylight because all cats except the cheetah are nocturnal. We left Serengeti and headed back into Ngorongoro where we stopped at Olduvai (where many hominid and Australopithecine fossils have been found) for lunch. We saw shifting sands, which is a dune that moves slowly across the plains each year. We then headed back to Karatu, dropped off Freddie, and continued on home after stopping in Mbulu for chips and skewers of meat. I was home and excited to see Betsy, Crystal, Christian, and Norbert in the living room, but it wasn’t long before I was sleeping soundly in my bed.