Lisa in Tanzania - A Peace Corps Volunteer's Blog

02 August, 2008

Help for Better Days

A fellow PCV/TZ, Heath Ray, created a video using images and video clips from PCVs all around Tanzania. It is so well done and reflects my experience as a PCV that I had to put it on my blog. Enjoy!

And thanks again to everyone who commented, supported, talked, or just listened to me while in Africa. Sorry if I didn't get back - I guess I didn't check comments that often. My email is in the right hand column. Kwa heri.

30 December, 2007

Misr (Egypt) - The End

We didn't get too much sleep on the sleeping train - it moved back and forth a lot, was noisy, and light found its way through the curtains so we were all pretty tired by the time we arrived in Luxor. Although we were very tired, we still signed up for a trip to the West Bank leaving within two hours of arriving with our hotel, The Nefertiti Hotel, which is highly recommended. It is pleasantly situated just off the pedestrian only walkway, near the shops but not taking in any of the noises. Our breakfast on the rooftop terrace with a view of the Nile River alone was worth it! We were with a tour group and had a funny guide. We visited the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, and Deir al-Bahri (Temple of Hatshepsut). All the tombs in the valleys are empty, except for King Tut, whose mummy remains encased in glass in his tomb. Because the children of queens were often buried with their mothers, the childrens' tombs are very decorative, with the tomb of Amunherkhepshef being the most colorful - after more than 3,000 years!

In the Valley of the Kings, we were only allowed to go to certain tombs. The weather was quite pleasant in December - probably in the 80s during the day and 60s at night - beginning of the peak tourist season. Some of the King's tombs were grand, some went very long and deep while others were shallow and plain. It cost an extra $9 to see King Tut himself so Russ and I waited while Bekah and Laura did. (I saw the mummy in his tomb later on TV - not worth it). Next we went to Deir al-Bahri (Temple of Hatshepsut) then back to town. In the evening we strolled down the pedestrian only boulevard/shopping street pushing aside the annoying, and sometimes aggressive, salesmen who drop their prices by half as soon as you turn your back to leave.

The following day (December 7) we took a horse buggy to Karnak Temple. We wandered around this massive temple for hours, losing Russ only once. If you're an Egyptian history buff I would recommend visiting this temple. By mid-day it was getting hot so we ate some lunch then visited the new Luxor Museum. The museum is modern and very well organized with labels descriptions. There are even a few mummies to view at no extra cost. I would highly recommend this museum if traveling to Luxor. As evening approached we visited one last temple right in the heart of Luxor and can be seen from our hotel, the Luxor Temple. It is a little smaller than the Karnak Temple, but still very large. The Karnak and Luxor Temples were once connected by a 3 mile road lined with hundreds of carved sphinxes, a few of which remain outside each temple. At night, lights are turned on to give the temple a yellow glow. That evening we enjoyed some local dishes and shopped in the pedestrian only aisle crowded with aggressive merchandise sellers.

The next day we took it easy and slept in. We bought train tickets, shopped, and ate. That evening Laura and Bekah took a train to Aswan as Russ and I took an overnight train back to Cairo.

Russ and I arrived in Cairo early in the morning and decided to save money by walking to our hotel, Windsor Hotel, reserved by my mother months in advance (thank you, Rick Steves). We stayed there for 4 nights at about $50/night. The room was spacious but the wooden floor creaked and it was always cold. The shower was hot 24/7, though, which I couldn't say about other hotels in Egypt. We booked a tour with our hotel for the following day to see the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, the oldest intact, functioning mosque in Egypt and the Giza Pyramids. After booking and napping, we went to Coptic Cairo and toured ancient churches as well as the Coptic Cairo Museum, which is a piece of art in its own right. When the sun sets, Cairo comes alive. Thousands of people line the streets to eat and shop. We had an interesting dining experience at a restaurant called GAD.

The next morning we got into our tour minibus along with two Canadians and went to the mosque. It was a very big mosque designed after Mosque of Samarra in Iraq. We had to put woven booties over our shoes as not to dirty the rugs. Our guide showed us to the top of the tower for a good view of the city, only the city was clouded by lots of smog. We then made our way to the Giza Pyramids in the town of Giza, south of Cairo. It was a busy town with lots of construction delaying our arrival. But first we stopped at a papyrus paper making place where I got roped into buying a beautiful piece of artwork. Then we headed to the pyramids where our guide dropped us off and would meet us in 2.5 hours. It was so amazing to see the Great Pyramids in person. The first thing we looked at was the Sphinx, whose paws seem much larger in proportion than the rest of its body. We then walked around the three pyramids as well as many other smaller pyramids built for queens along the great pyramids, outlined in the following map:

As we walked along the outside of the pyramids, it cost extra money to actually go inside one (and the pyramids are empty because everything that was inside is now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), we were bothered by camel herders wanting us to ride a camel for money. After following us for half an hour, I told one that we would tell the tourist police he was making our trip unpleasant and he quickly turned the other way. Egypt relies heavily on tourists so there are special tourist police everywhere we went to insure the safety and well-being of visitors everywhere - and the locals who hustle foreingers are afraid of them. I understand why the Great Pyramids of Giza are one of the world's seven wonders. The rocks used to build them were enormous and the pyramids themselves, so tall. Just amazing. We went back to Cairo with our tour and I snapped one last picture of the pyramids from the highway.

The following day we met up with Bekah and Laura again, back from their brief adventures in Aswan and Abu-Simbel, and then went to the Egyptian Museum. We spent many hours admiring the great treasures gathered from all the tombs and displayed for everyone to see. The most amazing exhibit was King Tutankhamun's tomb items. Because his tomb remained untouched until Howard Carter discovered it in 1922, all the items in the chambers were not removed/stolen, but are displayed in the museum.

The next day, Russ fell ill, so us girls decided to go to the Khan al-Khalili market by ourselves. We went down tourist isle and bought a few trinkets for our families for Christmas. As Russ and I were leaving the following morning, we said good-bye to Laura and Bekah and headed back to our respective hotels, after some ice cream, of course.

On the morning of 13 December, we left Africa at 7:30 am. It was a long few days getting to Hawaii. Our itenerary: Cairo to Paris (4.5 hours), Paris to Los Angeles (11 hours), Los Angeles to Honolulu (4.5 hours) stopping only for at most two hours in each airport. Jet lag took a week to get over once home.

At home, I have gone through a little reverse culture shock. Most notably, drinking clean water from the sink that actually has running water, getting way out of the way when cars go by, and how much garbage is produced in a single day. I didn't let myself drive for a week just to get used to riding on the right side and reminding myself of all the rules. I'm not sure how long we'll stay with my parents in Hawaii or what the future holds for us but we're slowing figuring things out. This is the last blog entry I will post. I would be happy to answer any questions - my email is to the right. I hoped you enjoyed reading about my adventures. Kwa heri.

Back to Ethiopia

1 December, 2007

We flew to Gondar and stayed at the Fogera Hotel. We paid more than the room was worth so not highly recommended. Our day was spent wandering around the Royal Enclosure, the former capital of Ethiopia and ate an awesome lunch of shiro tegebani (mashed, spiced chick peas) at Habesha Kifto. In the afternoon we picked up a really yummy chocolate donut then went to the Debre Berhan Selassie Church, which is described in the Lonely Planet as "the most vibrant and ecclesiastical artwork in the nation." The ceiling of the church, pictured below, is beautifully painted and quite famous. It was really quite amazing to see every square inch inside of the church covered in paintings describing Bible stories.

2 December, 2007

In the early morning we walked to the bus station (we bought tickets the day before) to go to Bahir Dar and watched the sun rise as we left on the three hour journey, which was similar to the bus rides in Tanzania that we had become so accustomed to in the past two years. We made our way through mountains passing small villages and cow/goat herders along the way. The environment was green, yet the people were poor. A women behind me was very ill and kept throwing up. We finally reached Bahir Dar on the edge of Lake Tana and made our way to Ghion Hotel (budget hotel at 125 Birr) to drop our stuff. We walked on the path along the lake, grabbed some soda and cake to eat the went to the market where we were bothered by two guys who wouldn't leave us alone. I told them off once and they went away but they followed us to bother us again later. I just couldn't take them so we left the market. At the market there were lots of plastic stuff being sold as well as cloth and spices, especially berebere, which is used in nearly all Ethiopian dishes. Later that evening we went to Bahir Dar Hotel for dinner, which in the Lonely Planet says is the best in town, and I'd have to agree. Not a classy place, though - my wine came in a beer bottle.

3 December, 2007

In the morning we walked 3 km to the War Memorial, which, when we arrived, was being guarded by two official looking men who wanted our passports in order to enter the memorial. Yeah, so we declined and took a local minibus back to town. Silly us - thinking memorials are open to the public. Our afternoon flight was only an hour and bumpy as we landed back in Addis Ababa then made our way to Ras Hotel. The only rooms left were ones with TVs so we treated ourselves and paid 270 Birr a night for two nights for what turned out to be the nicest hotel we have ever stayed at in Africa, which isn't saying much. We ate dinner at Dashen Restaurant again - yum.

4 December, 2007

In the morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we walked 3 km to the Ethnological Museum (which is inside the Addis Ababa University), which had a lot of centuries old crosses, idols, paintings, and history. We had a fabulous lunch at Blue Tops Restaurant, a popular ex-pat place, then went to the National Museum, which was still under construction, but an alright way to spend an hour or two. There were lots of things inside, just not laid out very well. On our walk back to the hotel we stopped at the Sheraton and had milkshakes. The grandness of the hotel, a small city unto itself, seemed over the top for such a poor country. Again, we had dinner at Dashen, but tried the fasting food this time, accompanied by different singers during our candlelight dinner.

5 December, 2007

Farewell, Ethiopia. Welcome, Egypt. At the airport in Addis Ababa I did some last minute shopping (lot of options in the airport), exchanged leftover money, and boarded our plane. Our plane stopped in Khartoum, Sudan for about an hour and most people got off. As we flew over Sudan I saw how dry and desolate the environment was. Very brown, except along the Nile River where trees followed the banks. We landed in Cairo then made our way to the local bus station. We were going to use local transport instead of paying a fortune for a taxi. In the Lonely Planet guide it says to take bus 356 to downtown. Easy enough, right? Well, all the numbers, not to mention everything else, was all in Arabic! We quickly looked in our book to find the symbols for 3, 5, and 6, asked the conductor who spoke little English and hopped on a bus that we hoped would take us downtown. After getting to downtown we walked to meet up with Laura and Bekah, who were PCVs in our training group and bought train tickets for us the day before, and went to the train station via the metro station to catch our overnight train to Luxor.

26 December, 2007


26 November, 2007

The only way it worked out for us to go to Uganda to visit Russ's hometown friend, Deborah, also a PCV, was to go in the middle of our Ethiopia trip. So we flew to Uganda, exchanged money ($200), and made our way to Deborah's site following her directions. She lives on Lake Victoria in a small fishing village which was built quickly within the past five years. We really just hung out at her site, did laundry, and enjoyed some down time. We ate lots of fish and matoke (smashed, cooked plantains) and noted the similarities and differences between Tanzania, most notably that Ugandans speak Luganda, English, and Swahili - in that order. We were surprised that Swahili wasn't spoken by more people. Deborah was helping a group to pour a cement pit latrine so we went along with her to watch and take pictures. Pictures are always good for impressing your APCD. Because her fishing village was put up so rapidly, there were not enough toilets for the growing number of families. So one of Deborah's projects was to help build proper, deep, pit latrines for families to use. In her village the HIV/AIDS prevalence is about 25% so she is working on income generating projects with women to make soap and other small projects that will ultimately help PLWHA (People Living with HIV/AIDS). We also fed some monkeys around her site and travelled to Kampala on the last day for some city life. I didn't like Kampala because it was so busy, dirty, polluted, and crowded. Russ loved it. It's a push your way through type of city where crossing the road is nearly impossible. Yes, there are so many cars that traffic often stops in the middle of the city and you can walk across that way - just watch out for the thousands of bikes and motorcycles weaving between the cars and on the sidewalks! We grabbed some pizza at the mall, did a little souvenir shopping, went to the Peace Corps office, had an awesome dinner at Tuhende, and met a man who worked in our village, Mpwapwa, in Tanzania before we got there in 2005 - small world!

30 November, 2007

Said goodbye to Deborah at the crazy taxi park, went back to the airport, and flew back (two hours), to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where we stayed at Lido Hotel (doh!). They had given our room to someone else, even though we reserved it and I watched her write my name down for the cheaper room a few days before. The only room left was the more expensive room and I asked to get it at the price of the cheaper room because they gave our room away. Eventually they found a room and we paid what we were supposed to pay, however the water wasn't working so we got an ice cold bucket of water. We were so tired we just went to bed. We promptly made reservations at Ras Hotel for the following two nights.

22 December, 2007

Lovely Lalibela

23 November, 2007

It was a bumpy two hour flight (via Bahar Dar) and we landed at an airport in the middle of nowhere in Lalibela, Ethiopia. We didn't book anything in advance (I would recommend booking something) so we didn't have a hotel come and pick us up. The airport is 23 km from Lalibela town. Fortunately the hotels run their airport shuttles when the only flight of the day comes in because they know some people didn't book ahead. It's no problem, though. The only time you will be caught without somewhere to stay if you don't book a room is during the pilgrimages. We hoped on the Tukol Village shuttle and it was 30 Birr each to get to town, way up in the mountains. We checked out the hotel whose shuttle we road on, saw the room, bargained down to 350 Birr ($40), from 450 Birr, for one night, dropped off our stuff then headed out. We walked up the windy, cobble-stoned road to the top of the town and had dinner at Seven Olives Hotel - a fasting meal (means no meat) of different types of lentils. The power kept going out so we ate by candlelight. Because Lalibela is a tourist hot spot the children know English and greet you with "Halo" before asking for things like pens and money.

24 November, 2007

After breakfast of yummy fried eggs and bread, we walked with our hired tour guide (300 Birr for the day), Balay, up to the rock-hewn churches where we paid 200 birr each to get in. You would probably get a lot more info by reading about it on wikipedia - just click on the above link. Although I must say they are quite amazing. We visited all 11 churches (well, I visited 10 as women are not allowed in one of them), taking our shoes off before entering each church (I covered my head with a scarf - not necessary, but respectful), and listening to our guide talk about each one. The churches are spread over a small area so they are all linked with tunnels. We were only able to pass through one of the tunnels and it was very dark - couldn't see a finger in front of your nose dark. The churches themselves were carved/dug out of pure rock by angels, as the story goes. Most of the churches were under construction as they were covered in scaffolding (making pictures not so great) in order to build a permanent cover so when it rains the churches do not suffer any more damage from water leaking into them. Oh well. One church, Bete Giyorgis (St. George's Church), has a ceiling that is 2 meters thick, which is enough to prevent water leakage and therefore does not need a cover.

After a lunch of cliff bars and water, we took a nap (Russ wasn't feeling well) then we went to the southern group of churches (we did the northern group in the morning). At the end of the day we walked around the few tourist shops and found the prices to be outrageous (didn't bargain at all) so on our way back stopped at a local tej (locally made honey wine) house, had some to drink, then had dinner at Roha Restaurant. We love Ethiopian food to begin with and at every single place we went to eat at, it was a hundred times better than Ethiopian food in the states or Tanzania. We just couldn't get enough! The power kept going out at our new hotel, the Lalibela Hotel (100 Birr) so we just went to sleep.

25 November, 2007

We were flying back to Addis Ababa today so we walked around the churches again (our pass is good for the duration of our stay) and rested as Russ was still ill and the elevation makes you tired walking all the time. Back in Addis Ababa we checked into Lido Hotel (not recommended) and finally got our room after they kept changing rooms on us and cleaning it, but the shower was hot. We walked to Dashen Restaurant (recommended in the Lonely Planet) for dinner and had Doro Wat (chicken stew with berebere sauce and hard boiled egg), wine, soda, tea, all for $7! The food was so good and so cheap. We walked back to our hotel at night and felt completely safe. There were lots of people out and about and it felt like we were back in the states with wide sidewalks and illuminated streets. Stay tuned for Uganda...

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

On 22 November, Russ and I boarded a plane from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania headed for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was a fairly short flight of just a few hours. When we landed it took just a few minutes to obtain our visas ($20 each), change money ($300 = 2700 Birr), and hail a taxi to our hotel. As soon as we stepped out of the airport we could feel the cold air surround us. Little did I know that the Great Rift Valley runs pretty much entirely through Ethiopia and that Addis Ababa is located at an elevation of 7,600 feet smack dab in the middle of it. We arrived at night so went straight to the Wutma Hotel (80 Birr, $8.88), which wasn't anything special. Actually, it was pretty bad as hotels go, but it was only one night. We walked around the area, known as Piazza, and noticed all the night clubs blasting music and beggars. We bought some water and headed back to the hotel for some non-existent shut-eye. The first day in Ethiopia I had to keep reminding myself not to speak Swahili because Ethiopians speak Amharic. Also, we gave up all hope of actually being able to read Amharic script and just learned a few words verbally, which pleased locals. It took us a few days to learn thank you in Amharic, amesegenallo, because it's six syllables long!

The next day we walked around to find breakfast and ended up at Tomoca Coffee Shop and got tea and coffee. The atmosphere was old Italian. There were no chairs - you just order, pay, then drink your small, hot beverages standing up at counters. Then we got some pastries at another cafe where I had fun trying out the numbers in Amharic. After getting our bags from the hotel, we walked down Churchhill Avenue, past the tourist shops, to the Lido Hotel where we booked a room for when we returned. We then used local transport to get to the airport. Many people understand minimal English but we really just needed to say airport and they would point to the Bole minibus, so we hoped on. Public transport in Ethiopia (and in other countries as well) differ from Tanzania in that every passenger must have a seat. Taking public transport was also so much cheaper than a taxi (2 Birr each verses 50 Birr for a taxi). We flew to Lalibela, Ethiopia on Ethiopian Airlines. Because the country is so mountainous, flying is really the best way to get around. There are buses but after traveling on buses for two years in Tanzania, I was done with the long rides. Besides, we didn't have a lot of time and wasn't that expensive to fly. Stay tuned for Lalibela...

18 December, 2007


We have returned to the states! Right now we are just relaxing at home for the holidays. I'll write about our amazing adventures to Ethiopia, Uganda, and Egypt soon as well as upload pictures...