Time to Catch Up.

Where do I begin…

Right after returning from safari, we jumped back into work. Almost literally. We returned after midnight and by 6 am the next morning, Sara and I were on a bus headed to Simiyu (2 hours out of Mwanza) to volunteer with Roots & Shoots.

Oh ya, I forgot to mention, before arriving in Mwanza, we reached out to the Jane Goodall Institute to collaborate on a project. We were connected with the Roots & Shoots team in Mwanza (and others in the surrounding regions) and got invited by the coordinator in Simiyu to capture the Chimpanzee Movement as it passed through the area. The day involved going to several schools, filming their on-going efforts to improve the environment and even planting trees in memory of our visits – how cool, am I right? I’m super grateful for the experience and the generosity everyone showed us.

My friend Katembo and I planting a tree at Dr. Chegeni Secondary School in Simiyu, Tanzania.

This is the “Amber Tree.”

It’ll have a plaque with that name on it. They told me it will grow, waiting for me to return again one day to visit it.

We’ve also been able to get a lot of filming for the documentary and video success stories done. We’re practically finished… we have (at most) 2 more days of filming. It’s been a bit hectic trying to get everything done — scheduling, filming, editing and translating — before we run out of time in Mwanza. The biggest challenge is navigating the unpredictability of things here.

But we’re trying our best. We only have two week left and a lot more to do, so wish me luck.

Unreal and Shockingly Beautiful

There’s something about being on safari that puts the world into perspective… Just imagine: somewhere right now, there are giraffes strutting freely with their heads high above in the endless plains of the Serengeti; there are families of cheetahs snuggling together under a tree to escape the sweltering heat of the midday sun; there are water buffalo peacefully eating in luscious fields of grass unbeknownst to the lions lurking in the shade of bushes close by.

(look closely – you may spot the family of cheetahs)

Imagine witnessing all of that… Now try stretching your imagination of what it might look like and how you might feel by a million.

Sara, Iman and I went on safari for three days and two nights – and without hesitating, I can easily say it was the most beautiful experience of my life. We spent the first day and night in the Serengeti spotting families of lions playing in trees, the wildebeest migration making its way north, and giraffes and elephants passing our jeep along the path. On the second day, we travelled through the plains of the Serengeti to the Ngorongoro Crater, where we drove endlessly around in shock of all the animals living and roaming together in harmony. On the third day, after waking up in our tent on the edge of the crater with water buffalo and zebras sleeping just outside, we ventured our way back through the Serengeti, past elephants, lions, hippos, and cheetahs to our home in Mwanza.

The most surreal moment was when our car broke down in the crater.

We may or may not have gotten out and sat with the zebras and wildebeest… as lions (in clear view) watched from a shaded spot close by.

Do not try this at home.

But honestly, anyone who has ever been on safari in Tanzania would probably agree that words are simply not enough to explain the overwhelming emotions you get when seeing everything with your own two eyes.

I almost cried… and trust me when I say I don’t cry easily.

There is truly no experience comparable to being on safari.

So if you ever plan on going, here are my words of warning: prepare for the most unreal and shockingly beautiful experience of your life.

Let’s get this party started.

These past couple of weeks have been filled with work, work, and more work. Think I’m being over dramatic? Well last week, we filmed 3 videos – for 3 separate kitchens – in a span of 3 days.

On Monday, we filmed Freddy’s kitchen, The Kineza Milk Group; on Tuesday, we filmed HIDA’s Fermented Food Enterprise; and on Wednesday (the most exhausting yet most fun day of the week) we filmed at Foundation Karibu Tanzania, a NGO that offers psycho-social care to children of domestic violence and their abusers. We’ve spent the remainder of our time editing and attending meetings at Mikono Yetu and with community partners.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining at all – I’m actually really loving the work we’re doing! Getting to chat with the yogurt Mama’s and Baba’s (Freddy) is always exciting and plus, seeing the kids at Foundation Karibu never fails to put a smile on my face… But being busy filming the shorter success videos has meant less time working on the documentary.

Both Sara and I decided though, that these next couple of weeks will be focused on prepping and shooting the doc. Next to come: Visiting dairy farms, meeting up with probiotic experts, following the day-to-day life of a yogurt mama – and an impromptu trip to the Serengeti.

Kilimanjaro (The Hidden Mountain)

We spent 4 days and 4 nights in Moshi – the city surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro. We hiked to Mandara Hut (the first base on Kili), slipped and fell in the mud a few times on our way to the Materuni Waterfall, learned about the coffee making process (while eating a bunch of espresso beans throughout) and swam in the Kikuletwa Hotsprings.

Moshi is beautiful… actually it’s beyond beautiful. It’s filled with lush trees and shades of green that I’ve never seen before. Sara compared it to what you might expect of a fairy forest, all foggy and mystical.

Even the people were beautiful. I think my favourite part about the entire trip was making new friends and laughing along to jokes with others. Everyone we met was so kind and funny. Some even sang to us!

"Jambo, jambo Bwana
Habari gani
Mzuri sana
Wageni, mwakaribishwa
Kilimanjaro, hakuna matata"

The one thing we didn’t to see though was the peak of the mountain (well, other than the view we had from the plane).

I mean, we really shouldn’t have been surprised… ‘smoke’ is the direct translation of ‘Moshi’ for a reason… But it was kind of a bummer that the mountain remained covered by a sheet of clouds the entire time we were there. 

On the flipped side: It gives us another reason to go back to Moshi.

We’re home in Mwanza now and returning to work this week. Our weekly plan is to edit some of the videos with the team at Mikono Yetu and film another success story at Foundation Karibu (a rescue centre for abused children).

How many guavas does it take to break a permanent retainer?

These past several weeks have been quite busy. Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve been up too:

  • Bob came to visit from Western International.
  • We met with some of faulty at the Saint Augustine University Of Tanzania to discuss extending the FITI program throughout the university.
  • The plastic bag ban in Tanzania initiated as of June 1st (I’ll write more about this in a post to come).
  • We had a couple of very productive meetings with the Mikono Yetu team and spoke about the future plans and proposals for the FITI Corp.
  • We got to watch the sunset from a boat on Lake Victoria… It was so unbelievably beautiful. (Fun fact, while the lake looks stunning, if you swim it in, you risk getting schistosomiasis – a disease that is caused by parasitic wormS).
  • Maimuna took us venue shopping for a good spot to host a FITI day event — which I’m not going to lie, sort of made us feel like wedding planners.
  • We discovered that our building has a rooftop and have been watching the sunsets from up there every day since.
  • We made new friends with the kids that live on the hill behind our apartment. They wave and yell “Mambo” every time (for the entire time) that we’re on the rooftop.
  • And I had to get my permanent retainer re-glued to my teeth – not once but twice – after it debonded the very first week when I bit into a guava.

While I wish I could write more and give you (and future me reading back this post) more detail about our last several weeks, I’m running short on time. Sara and I have a flight to Kilimanjaro that’s leaving in 2 hours…

Stay tuned though! I’ll have a new blog post ready to go up as soon as we get back.

It’s beginning to feel like home.

It’s been just under two weeks since we’ve been in Mwanza and man, do I love it here. 

We arrived May 9th after around 35 hours of travelling and were greeted by the warmest welcome. Not only did Naressa’s uncle, a local in Mwanza, meet us at the airport but he also stocked our apartment full of fresh fruit and groceries.

Oranges, tangerines, pineapples, avocados (the size of your head)… you name it, we’ve got it!

We spent the first couple of days getting settled into the area and honestly, just trying to get over the jet lag. I’m normally a night person so waking up before sunrise felt a little weird at first, but I can gladly say that I’m now really enjoying the early mornings.

Sara (my roommate) and I wake up every morning, brew a coffee, and sit out on the patio watching the kids make their way down the street and to their school. My favourite part is when they look up, wave and give us a little smirk. 

The beautiful view from our apartment balcony.
Sara in her bug net… One of the few nights she was able to set it out properly.

Maybe it’s because of how secure I feel under my bug net at night or perhaps it’s because of how excited I am to wake up every morning to see the town slowly rise with the sun but I truly don’t believe there’s such thing as ‘waking on the wrong side of the bed’ in Mwanza. 

The rest of our time has been spent meeting new friends (mostly through the help of Steph – a Western PhD student finishing up her thesis in Mwanza), visiting kitchens with Kato (an employee and our primary translator from Mikono Yetu), trying new foods (from mushkaki to ubuyu) and attempting to learn Swahili.

Some of the words we’ve learned so far:
‘Mambo/Poa’ = What’s up?/Cool
‘Habari’ = How are you?
‘Nzuri’ = Fine/Good
‘Tafadhali’ = Please
‘Pole’ = Sorry
‘Wapi’ = Where
‘Asante’ = Thank you
‘Ndiyo’ = Yes
‘Hapana’ = No

‘Kitabu’ = Book
‘Kiti/Viti’ = Chair/Chairs
‘Ndizi’ = Banana
‘Embe’ = Mango

I’ve also learned that my name is quite difficult for people to remember so I’ve started comparing it to ’embe’ (mango). It always gets a good laugh.

“Gina langu ni Amber… It’s sort of like mango, you know ’embe,’ if that helps?”

Nareesa, Iman, Mama Betty, Sara, Joshua and me smiling amongst the cows after a visit to Ebeneza Women’s Group.

As for my project: I haven’t started filming the documentary yet. I’ve made it one of my top priorities to meet everyone, introduce myself and my project, and build a relationship before pulling out my camera. I think I might start filming next week though. Everyone we’ve met so far, especially all the mamas, seem very excited to be a part of it. It makes me thrilled to see that their reactions match my enthusiasm. I can’t wait to get started.

Now I don’t want to jinx it by saying it too early I mean, it has only been just under two weeks since we’ve arrived but Mwanza is sort of beginning to feel like home.