Saturday, 11 May 2013


Breakthrough Diet Exposed: Celebrity Doctor Uncovers The "Holy Grail of Weight Loss"

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Mombasa and the great train adventure!

Well this will sadly be my last post from East Africa. I can't believe how quickly the time has flown by; I have managed to fit in so much; work and play alike! My last few days have been surprisingly eventful. I arrived in Mombasa on Wednesday, exhausted after the long night bus ride, and met the girls in the hotel. We set off fairly early to a beach on the South side of Mombasa - a public beach that is much more favoured by locals than tourists. The morning started off very hot, and humid, but cloudy, and we were already pretty sweaty by the time we got on the first matatu. The Mombasa matatus are a lot easier to navigate than those in Nairobi, where there seems to be absolutlely no indication as to their destination, and we had no trouble finding the right one. Unfortunately, for resaons known only to the East African matatu drivers, they often only take you halfway to the stated destination, and we were pointed in the direction of matatu number two. We reached the ferry, a free ferry service connecting the two sides of Mombasa, just as the rain started. Two matatus later,we finally reached our destination; Kim4Love beach - named after the DJ that performs there regularly. The beach was picture perfect,with soft white sand, turquoise water and palm trees dotted about. There were lots of burnt out buildings set back from the beach, that looked like they used to make up one of the posh resorts that line this coast, but are now deserted. There were very few people on the beach, and even fewer tourists. We settled in for a hard day of swimming, sunbathing, and for me...sleeping! We were approached by numerous 'beach boys', local boys who chat to tourists, with the ultimate aim of getting some money out of them, either for snorkelling trips, taking their photo, selling various handicrafts, or just stealing. Some of them were just very annoying and refused to leave us alone or take no for an answer, but on the whole they were very friendly (the nature of the job), not too pushy and interesting to talk to, so we kept a close eye on our belongings at all times, and even bought some aloe vera leaves from one of them, when he helpfully informed us that we were all burning; perhaps not the most intelligent purchase of the trip, paying good money for wilted leaves, but they were fun company, so it made up for it!

We were just sleeping on the beach when a local guy limped up to us, asking for some pain tablets. He said he had fallen out of a coconut tree that morning and needed to get to a hospital, and wanted some money to get there. He did look in a lot of pain, and his shoulder looked a bit odd, but we didn't quite know what to do - if he was genuinely hurt we obviously wanted to help him, but at the same time were not naive enough to immediately believe his story. In the end we gave him a very small amount of money, enough for a matatu to the town; his response was "I'd love to say thank you but this is nearly nothing"...that's gratitude for you! We told him that it was enough to get him to a busy enough area to find someone to help him, and watched him limp on his way. We did spot him again later with a homemade sling, and perhaps we were a little too cynical, but you can't be too wary!

We had lunch at the rundown cafe on the beach, we waited about an hour for burgers - the only thing on the rather large menu that they actually served; but when they arrived, they were the nicest burgers I have ever tasted! We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach, and then Matilda and I decided to take a camel ride - which was a lot of fun, although we did feel like real tourists!

Just as we were about to leave the beach, the heavens opened, and in seconds we were absolutely drenched. We hadn't even noticed the clouds drawing in; it had been baking hot sunshine until a few minutes earlier. We had rather an uncomfortable, damp ride home, this time on 5 matatus and a ferry, and arrived home to (yet another) power cut at the hotel. We were hot, tired and sandy from the beach, and it was too dark to use the shower by this time, so the only thing for it was a swim in the pool to get clean enough to go out for dinner. The hotel staff brought us a candle to see by, but there was nothing to stand it in, so we had to take turns at being candle holders whilst we got ready! Eventually we made it out for dinner, and went to a local Indian barbecue restaurant. It was nothing special but was nice enough, and by the time we got home, the power was back on.

The next day,we decided to head to a much nearer public beach called Pirates Beach. We arrived at about midday, and found the beach at low tide. The beach was huge but seaweed covered, and waterlogged, and there wasn't really anywhere to sit. We eventually found a dryish spot not far from the water's edge, and set up for the afternoon. A few minutes later, a European woman came jogging down the beach, calling at us "Ladies....the water's coming!" We looked up, and to my surprise, I could actually see the tide coming in. I have never seen anything like it, water was flowing fast up the beach, and we actually had to immediately grab our things and run up the beach away from it. Even the second spot we found, at a seemingly safe distance was sea within minutes! We decided to go up to the top of the beach at this point, and found a dry spot there for the afternoon.

After lunch, and some extremely cheap nail art from one the beach boys, we headed back to the hotel for a swim before getting ready for the train. I had decided to get the night train back as the night bus had not been an experience I wanted to repeat, and the girls were booked on it already. I organised a ticket from the hotel reception, and we were taken to a different hotel on the way to the station to pick it up. Of course, when we arrived at said hotel, they had no idea who I was, but told us to wait anyway, presumably whilst they sent someone to buy me a ticket anyway. It never materialised, so we headed to the station. I went to the booking office, where the woman greeted me "are you Beverley Panto?" Very strange indeed - obviously there had been some sort of booking made, just no ticket to be found! Somehow though, I managed to pay for the same ticket again - I had not parted with any money by this point, and we went to find out compartments. It was very Harry Potteresque...we had a double compartment,each with two bunk beds, a sink, a fan and a few cockroaches thrown in for good measure. We were very excited, and sang and danced with Leonard - the guitar playing station entertainer while we waited for the train to depart,which it did....on time!!! It was so much fun leaning out of the windows of the slow moving train, waving at the children at all the villages we passed and eating mangoes in our little private room. We were in first class, so dinner was included, and at 7.15 on the dot, a man came down the train with a dinner gong, announcing that dinner was served in the dining carriage. We went to find a seat, and found three seats, at a fully laid dining table, next to a English/Kenyan guy called Chaz. He was born in Kenya, but now lives in Leicester, and we all got on very well, chatting away through the meal. Dinner was a three course meal, but was a whole new experience on a ricketty moving train. By the end of the meal, we had butter in the water glasses, red wine and tea all over the table and food down ourselves, but we had had a lot of fun in the process! By the time it reached about midnight, we were tired and decided to try and get some sleep. We got ready for bed, falling all over the cabin with the trains movement....and try using a squat toilet on a moving! The beds looked very comfortable, and we anticipated a good night's sleep; but of course it was not to be. I think I jinxed the whole journey when I stated what a great decision I thought it was to get the train rather than the bus. At about 3 am, we were jolted awake by the extremely sudden halting of the train. It felt a lot like we had hit something, and the engine turned off soon after. Matilda and I lay awake for about half an hour, debating what could have happened, and then we started to reverse. Confused, we decided to try and get back to sleep while the engine was off, and there was relative silence. The last thing I noticed out of my window before I fell asleep were two strange coloured lights. I awoke about two hours later to the sound of lots of people walking around outside the train. It seemed that they were all walking in the same direction, but I didn't think much of it. I did however notice those same two lights. I had heard that the train often makes lengthy stops,so again didn't think too much of it, but when I woke again an hour later to see the same lights, I started to suspect that something was wrong. In fact, the train immediately in front of us had derailed, and we had either hit it or emergency stopped to avoid it. It was completely blocking the track,and by 7am, we had managed to find out that there was a crane on its way from Nairobi to try and clear the tracks and we wouldn't be going anywhere until then. Nairobi was still hours away by road, and the most optimistic ETA was 8pm that night, so we went for breakfast to debate our options. We met Chaz again in the dining cart, and he pointed out that the generator was run by the engine, so for as long as we were stationary, there would be no fans, and the train would massively overheat before long. Even in the early morning, the heat was beginning to feel uncomfortable, and the smell from the toilets was starting to waft down the train, so we decided to abandon ship. Chaz went to investigate our transport options, and within ten minutes, we were packed up and our luggage was being hauled onto the roof of a very old, very full bus. We waited until the bus had reached absolute maximum capacity, by African standards, and were on our way. The first half an hour of the journey was pretty uneventful, although I did notice that we were bumping a lot, relative to the road quality. Suddenly though, we were jolted violently for a few hundred yards. We couldn't see the road in front,so we couldn't tell what was going on, but it terrifyingly,it felt like we were about to tip off the road, and when we eventually came to a stop, there was a strong smell of burning. We got off the bus as quickly as possible, and all stood on the side of the road trying to see what had happened. A huge piece of the bus had fallen off, apparently the prop shaft,and there was smoke coming from underneath the bus. We couldn't believe our bad luck - we needed rescuing from our rescue vehicle! Chaz immediately took charge, and managed to get everyone's luggage down from the roof, and even got us a refund on our ticket price. We had met an English couple on the bus,and a guy from Liverpool, and us mzungus stuck together, whilst trying to figure out what to do now....standing by the side of a dust road in the middle of nowhere, with 50 or so other people, all needing to get to Nairobi. By some miracle, an empty matatu...something I have never before seen, was driving past, headed for Nairobi. I'm not a religious person, but this surely had to be an act of god!! Madeleine managed to flag it down, and only half an hour behind schedule (well, plan B schedule) we were on our way, in a comfortable, breezy, well driven matatu. We even made a snack stop! Apart from two sweaty hours in the Nairobi traffic jams at the other end, we made it back to the YMCA with no further complications, Chaz managing to sweet talk the station staff into giving us a hefty refund for the train fare on the way.

It was a true African travel adventure,and apart from the very brief 'life flashing before eyes' moment,it was actually a lot of fun. We met lots of great people and only arrived in Nairobi about 5 hours later than planned!

I just had a quiet night last night, had an extremely welcome shower, and then met Paul for dinner, and today I have just been doing some last minute shopping, and saying my goodbyes to all my new African friends!

I will post again from the UK, and hopefully won't have anything too eventful from the flight to tell you! But from Africa, Kwa Heri!!!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

4 days...Big 5!

Well, since the last time I posted, I have had an incredibly fun filled, adrenaline pumping few days! I hope you're sitting comfortably - I have a lot to tell you!!

I spent the rest of last week tying up all the loose ends with the field work, and had many more interviews with various people. There was one particular woman who has benefited enormously from the HIV impact mitigation scheme that I told you about last time, and so many people had mentioned her to me, that we arranged to meet her. She has been living with HIV for ten years, and has lost her husband and many other family members in this time. She was lovely, and extremely open about her experiences and her gratitude to Vetaid and the programme for helping her - her small business has done so well that she now provides maize to the majority of her community! I also went to speak to a few people at Pingos Forum - an organization that stands for the rights of indigenous people - about the wildlife-human conflict that is currently a major problem in the Loliondo area near the Ngorongoro Crater. One of the lawyers working for them explained the current situation to me, I was shocked to learn that a group of tourists can be harmlessly photographing an animal, and a hunter can shoot it dead; and walking safaris may cross areas covered in live land mines - it's just such an unbelievable situation.

After an extremely busy day, Paul and I spent the evening in the office, finishing up the audio, chatting and creating various podcasts. Hamidu left at the end of the working day, so it was down to Paul to drive us around in the Vetaid 4x4. He has not driven a manual before, and it was quite a terrifying experience driving round Arusha - where the driving is pretty shocking at the best of times, with Paul struggling to start and stop the car at the appropriate moments! Eventually though, the work was done, and I was able to start getting ready for my safari tour.

I was picked up from my hotel at 7am the following morning by Mike. The funny thing was, I had booked my safari tour with a completely different tour company, and had actually decided not to go with a tour that Mike quoted me for, as it seemed like a bit of a dodgy company when I was dragged to the office by numerous 'fly catcher' touts on the street. Anyway - this is the way with the safari tour companies in Arusha, and we were soon to find out that it is a very incestuous market. I went to meet Thijmen, the Dutch guy, and Amanda, an American girl, and we were all transferred -at great speed - to the camp site near Lake Manyara to meet Cecilie and Lasse, the Danish couple. We joined them for a very impressive breakfast of pancakes, fruit, eggs, sausages and toast, prepared by Paul, the chef, and then were introduced to Hugo, our driver guide. After breakfast, we set out in the safari jeep to Lake Manyara. The five of us got on immediately, and all later admitted that we were very relieved not to have ended up with any old couples or strange people - we were all young and on a similar wavelength, and having such a great group really made the trip.

Our first park was Lake Manyara national park, which is famed for its hoards of pink flamingoes and its tree climbing lions. As we entered the park, we removed the roof from the vehicle and all stood up on the jeep's seats, looking out of the top. It is an amazing feeling, just speeding along, looking at the scenery, keeping an eye out for wildlife with the wind in your face! Unfortunately, it didn't last for long, as the heavens opened, and we had to close the roof very quickly to avoid soaking the entire car. It rained on and off for most of the morning, by the end of which we had all perfected the art of opening and closing the roof in record time!

We stopped by hippo pools, where we had been told you can often see the hippo's eyes and ears, but not much more. Luckily though, the rain had done us a favour, and there were about 40 hippos lounging about on the banks of the pool enjoying the weather. It was incredible to see them, especially so many of them in the wild, and we stood there for ages, watching them, and waiting for them to yawn! Not long afterwards, the sun came out, and the rest of the day was blisteringly hot. We drove around the national park trying to spot the elusive lions, but unfortunately, the closest we came was a very exciting sighting of a leopard up a tree...that turned out to be nothing more than a monkey. The scenery was beautiful, with surprisingly diverse landscapes for such a small park - we drove through forests, and plains, swamps and savannah. The animals were few and far between, but it made it all the more exciting trying to spot them! We watched a huge troop of baboons for a very long time, they were all fighting and playing and are really fun to watch, and saw gazelles, and elephants and giraffes - and thousands of small white butterflies, all fluttering in one direction across the tracks - the great butterfly migration!

Although we didn't see a huge number of animals, it was a great day; we all had fun getting to know one another, and got into the swing of the game drive. We headed back to the camp site at about 6pm, and spent the whole evening just sat under the permanent shelter chatting; discussing our different countries and putting the world to rights. We had an early start the next day, so we retired to our tents at about 9 o clock, and settled in for a long night of howling dogs, roosters with no concept of time, and snoring from my tent mate!

We woke up to more rain the next morning, and after another fantastic breakfast, we packed up the car, (with all of our backpacks, tents, food, cooking equipment and about 197 bottles of water on the roof) and headed off towards the famous Serengeti. It was a long drive, but we passed by the rim of the Ngorongoro crater on the way. It is absolutely stunning - I can't even describe how beautiful it is, and the photos certainly don't do it justice. The whole floor of the crater is green, with a huge lake in the centre, and streams running off it, and even from 800 meters up, we could see hundreds and hundreds of animals. After stopping to take in the view, we continued the rest of the way to the Serengeti. The green of the Ngorongoro area gradually gave way to the famous sandy plains, and soon, the only plants around were scrubby bushes. Even before we reached the park gate, we saw a huge herd of giraffes, and so many wildebeest, zebras and gazelles. Not long after entering the park, we came across a very large herd of zebras, grazing by the road. There was another safari jeep watching them, and a brief conversation between the guides informed us that there were two lions hunting in the grasses. We couldn't see a thing, but very excitedly all jumped up onto the roof to try and spot them. Eventually we did; two lionesses, stalking silently towards the zebras. It was amazing to watch them sneaking up on their prey, and the two of them working together. Unfortunately, a pair of selfish tourists (who were to annoy us many times over the next few days with their thoughtlessness) decided to go offroad with their vehicle, and sped up to right where the lions were. Of course the lions sat up out of the grass, ready to run off, the zebras noticed the lions, and the hunt was off. We were all pretty irritated, as it would have been a once in a lifetime chance to see a kill, but it was still great to have seen them hunting. In all the excitement, we hadn't really looked around us, but when we did, we were delighted to find three lion cubs peering out from the top of a very high 'pride rock' style outcropping. They were obviously watching their mums hunting, and they were sooooo cute! I was very excited to have seen my first lions, and as we went on our way, we all keenly kept an eye out for more - getting very excited by rhino, lion and cheetah shaped termite mounds along the way. After about two hours of driving through the park, we arrived at our campsite. I say camp site - it was basically an area demarcated by some small stones (which we soon found out were our only protection from the wild animals !!) and a large sheltered kitchen area. The toilet block was a 5 minute walk away in the bush - and we went there once in a big group before deciding that it was far too dangerous. Reassuringly, the huge buffaloes that were lounging about under the trees nearby, were too hot to consider rampaging the campsite, but it was unnerving to be dependent purely on the good nature of these characteristically aggressive animals.

We dumped all the stuff off the roof, and headed straight out on a game drive. It was bizarre to think that we were in the world famous Serengeti - but it really lives up to its reputation - it's so beautiful, and there are animals absolutely everywhere. The plains just stretch as far as the eye can see, dotted with acacia trees, and various elephants, giraffes and hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebras. We are just about at the tail end of the migration, and I can't even imagine how many animals there are at the peak of it, because even now, we were left speechless by the sheer numbers of wildebeest and zebras. After about half an hour, spotting giraffes right next to the car, huge elephants in the track (that was a little scary) warthog families, ostriches, secretary birds, crested cranes and hippos a plenty, we had our first real excitement of the drive. We approached a pair of Acacia trees just next to the road, and underneath one of them were two large lionesses, sunning themselves. On a nearby grassy mound were two more; another female, and a cub - but a large cub. We were about ten feet from them! We stopped and took hundreds of photos, and watched them lazing about, swatting flies, and keeping an eye on us, and then, the cub from under the tree got bored. It went up to the pair of lionesses nearest the car, trying to get some attention, but when it was shunned by them both, it turned to the next best thing for a! She was only a cub, but she was a big cub, and as she approached the car, intent on getting a playmate, we all got a little nervous. We had the roof wide open, and even a small lion could easily jump up onto the car. She came right up to the car, and then started chewing it, and sharpening her claws on the spare tyre at the back. My heart was pounding - it was incredible to have a wild lion so close, but also pretty terrifying. All of us girls cowered down a bit, whilst still trying to see what she was doing, hearts pounding; Amanda was the most terrified; demanding that we drive off immediately, and closing her window, but all the while, Hugo was just laughing at us! Eventually, after circling the car, and looking in every window, she decided that none of us were worthy playmates and went back to her mum. We were all on a massive high as we drove off, laughing and breathing rather large sighs of relief, wondering what on earth could beat that! But within five minutes, we came upon a sausage tree - a large wide tree, with huge sausage like fruits hanging down from it. But the 'sausages' weren't the only meat on display at this tree - there was a gazelle carcass hanging down from one of the low branches. We couldn't believe our luck when, as we looked closer, we spotted a beautiful leopard stretched out in the branch above it. The tree was right next to the road, and the leopard was in clear view. As we watched, I spotted a movement in the fork of the tree. It looked like a monkey at first, but this time the missighting was an exciting one....we had found a tiny leopard cub! It went down to grab a bit of the meat from the carcass, and then climbed high up into the trees, jumping from branch to branch. Apparently leopards are the hardest spot of the big 5, and to see a cub is almost unheard of, so we were extremely happy with ourselves! After spending a very long time watching the two of them, we headed off, across the plains into the most colourful sunset I have ever seen. There wasn't much that could top the two big cat sightings, but we still kept our eyes peeled for rhinos to complete our big 5 for the day! More than satisfied with just our big 4, we headed back to camp, where Paul had put up our tents, and had dinner waiting for us. After dinner, we all decided to get a very early night, and crept about the campsite nervously in the dark - listening out for hyenas, or lions that may try to grab us on our way to the tents. Hugo didn't do a very good job of reassuring us. When we asked him if it was safe to camp with no fence, he told us, in all seriousness, that hyenas and elephants often pass through the camp, and sometimes the lions will come and tear through the tents - yeah...thanks!

We had a sleepless night, frequently interrupted by whispers from me and Amanda of " What was that?....Someone snoring....Are you sure?"..... and "Did you hear that?....Yeah....I think something's outside our tent". We heard lions roaring in the distance, and definitely something breathing next to our tent, but we'd been told to just stay still and silent if we heard anything, and not to try and frighten it away. The next morning, Hugo told us that there'd been a pack of hyenas on the camp - pretty scary!

We set off for our sunrise gamedrive at 6am, but the sunrise itself was about the best part of it. We drove for 6 hours, but the rains had been so heavy in the night, that the plains were flooded, and for hours, we didn't see a single animal. Despite being in a 4x4, Hugo was extremely cautious about driving through any wet ground, and we really had to coerce him! It was a very disappointing few hours, though we did see some rock hyraxes. After watching them for about five minutes, Lasse asked, with disgust - "are they rats?" !! On the way back to camp, we did see some lions, but nothing could top the lions from the day before. However, just before we got back, we were stopped in our tracks by thousands of wildebeest, all running. That was pretty amazing to watch, and made our game drive! We had only come across a few other vehicles on the whole drive, and everyone out here is surprisingly unfriendly. We always smiled and waved at people, but were lucky if we even got acknowledged. It's really strange - you'd think that when you're sharing an experience like finally coming across a leopard that you've all been searching for for days, that there might be a sense of camaraderie, but no, nothing from these people!

We headed back to the campsite, for a fantastic (if a little unusual) brunch of chips, sausage stew, pancakes, fruit, toast and eggs, and then packed up the vehicle to head to the Ngorongoro. It was about 3 hour's drive, and the campsite was right on the rim of the crater, at 3000 metres above sea level, so we had a fair height to climb. We arrived at the camp site, and this time put up our own tents. We selected a nice flat spot, but Hugo advised against it, as "the elephants often come to scratch against that tree". It's just insane - I really don't know how we survived our camping experiences with so many threats from the local wildlife! Once we were all set up, we lounged about outside the tents for a bit, chatting, and Amanda went for a shower. The next thing we knew, a German guy ran up to his tent, next to ours, speaking excitedly in German. I don't speak a work of German, but I recognized two words - 'toilet' and 'elephant'! It sounded like there was an elephant in the toilet! We all grabbed our cameras, and went to investigate. It didn't take much investigating - there, right next to our jeep was a huge female elephant, drinking from the water tank. Everyone gathered round - at a safe distance watching her drinking, whilst eyeing us suspiciously. There was a small Maasai puppy around the camp site, and he...bravely but stupidly went up to the elephant, barking his little head off. This aggravated the already nervous elephant, and at the moment that she started to charge forwards towards the dog, Thijmen and I were stood right in front of her. We were both filming, and the language that you can hear on the video as we darted behind the landrover for cover, is not pretty!! Even crouched behind the landrover we weren't safe. Certain people were (thoughtlessly!) screaming loudly, which only served to aggravate the elephant more, and she stamped and swayed restlessly. The puppy carried on barking, and the elephant charged again - this time she only took a couple of steps forward, but I didn't wait to see how far she was going to go, and flung myself into the kitchen, where all the chefs were laughing at us, from the safety of their cement hutt! Eventually she calmed down, and wandered slowly back into the forest. Thijmen and I were both pretty much clinging to each other by this point, hearts pounding and hands shaking, but also pretty hysterical from the experience! The whole thing was over in less than ten minutes, and Amanda emerged from the shower block, oblivious. We showed her the films we'd taken, and she couldn't believe what had happened in the short time that she'd been gone!

Once everyone had calmed down, and we'd stopped shaking, we went for dinner. It was our last night, so we all had a beer or two, and sat around for the night, in hysterics playing games and chatting. I can't believe how lucky we got with our group - we had such great banter, and spent the majority of the trip laughing, joking, singing and playing games! We went to bed, with a warning from Hugo to remove any food from our tents, as the wild pigs will come and get it! We heard elephants nearby in the night, but I slept surprisingly well, despite the seemingly real risk of being trampled in the night!

We woke from our last night in tents, happy to be alive, sad that the trip was nearly over, and excited about our Ngorongoro game drive, and the possibility of completing our big 5! After breakfast, we set out on the crater descent, down through the clouds. It is a surprisingly steep and bumpy road, and it was quite exciting to be hanging out of the roof, while descending at such an angle! The crater itself is absolutely beautiful; the sun was shining brightly, reflecting off the huge crater lake in the centre, and the green crater floor was dotted with trees and animals. We could even see the pink haze on the edge of the lake from the thousands of flamingos. Eventually, we 'landed' on the crater floor, and were instantly in awe of the huge numbers of zebras, wildebeest, buffalo and birds. Because it is so flat, and there are very few trees or obstacles, you can see for miles around, watching the animals. We peered closely at every lonely looking dot in case it was a rhino, and before to long, I was very excited to spot a dot with a horn! We had completed our big 5! It was a long way off, but we stopped to watch it grazing for a while. We drove around the crater for about 6 hours, and in total we spotted 5 rhinos, and a baby rhino! Apparently this is an extremely lucky morning's drive in the crater, as some people stay for days looking for even one rhino! We were also surrounded by a pack of large hyenas at one point, and then watched them stalking some gazelles. They very rarely hunt, as they are scavengers by nature, but they looked very much to be closing in on one lone gazelle. We spotted a few distant lions, hippos and elephants, and at one point, got out of the jeep for photos by a large lake full of bellowing hippos. It seemed like a silly thing to do when hippos are the mammal that kill the most humans each year, but, as with the rest of our trip, we just had to put faith in our guide that he wouldn't risk our lives! It was a fantastic game drive, and we were sad when the time came to climb back up to the crater rim. The ascent was scarier than the descent had been, as the landrover seemed to struggle with the steepness, and there was nothing between us and the long fall to the crater floor.

We spent the rest of the day packing up camp, and driving back to Arusha. We all had very welcome showers (we all stayed in the same hotel which was nice) and then went for dinner to celebrate our survival. Cecilie and Lasse were heading to Nairobi the next day, so I arranged to meet them there, and then we all went to bed.

The next day, I joined Amanda and Thijmen for breakfast, and we went for a wander round the markets in Arusha. We went to a Masai market, but it was early, and we were the only customers, so got more hassle than usual and it became quite an unpleasant experience. We were looking for T-shirts, and the word got out, and we were dragged into many 'T-shirt' shops that appeared to have run out of T-shirts, and only had artwork and carvings left!

I then had to say sad goodbyes to Amanda and Thijemn, and head off for my flight back to Nairobi, in the 5 seater winged hairdryer. Unfortunately there were huge traffic jams in Arusha, and it took us nearly an hour to get out of the city - the result of which was me arriving at the airport ten mintues before take off. It was rather a stressful couple of hours, but if there's one thing you can depend on in Africa, it's that nothing runs on time, and so, somewhat predictably, my flight was equally delayed and no one batted an eyelid at my late arrival. Despite this time knowing what to expect, I was still surprised when the pilot turned round to offer me a mint as I boarded. I was picked up by Alex and George from Vetaid, and they were amazed when I told them I wanted to get the night bus to Mombasa that night - I have so little time left, I want to make the most of it! I went to the bus office to get a ticket, which took hours of standing in the heat, being pushed in front of by many Africans wanting bus tickets - they just don't know how to queue here!!!

I went back to the YMCA to organize myself a bit, and to meet Cecilie and Lasse, and then we went for dinner at the famous Carnivore restaurant. There is just one option there; the all you can eat meat buffet. They are famed for their exotic game meats, like zebra, gazelle and python; but recent changes to Kenyan Law prohibit eating many of them now. As you walk in, there is a huge fiery pit, with various joints of meat on skewers, roasting away. They bring you a tray of sauces, and a potato, and then for the rest of the night bring unlimited rounds of various different meats, carved on to your plate, until you can't manage any more! It was really fun, and the best meat I've tasted in Africa...with the exception of the crocodile kebab, there wasn't a chewy meat to be found.

After eating (more than) my fill of meat, I had to go to catch my bus. The bus was full, and hot and it certainly wasn't the comfortable night's sleep that they promised! I arrived, exhausted in Mombasa at 6 am, and got a tuktuk to the hotel where Madeleine and Matilda, the Swedish girls from Nairobi, were staying. It is extremely hot and sweaty here, but our hotel is fantastic - there is a swimming pool and a very nice restaurant. I'm here now, and we are going to the beach later.

I am very near the end of my trip now, so am trying to cram as much into my days as possible, hence the extremely long blog post! I will try to post again before I leave on Sunday, but internet is considerably harder to come by in Kenya than in Tanzania!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Tanzanian field

So since last posting we have been busy in the field, and I've had a really interesting few days, and met some truly amazing people.

On Monday, we spent the majority of the morning in the Vetaid office, sorting out various logistical issues, but in the afternoon had scheduled to go and meet some people in a village just outside of Arusha, where the community is suffering from an extremely high rate of HIV. Vetaid, along with two other local partners is involved in a project called the HIV impact mitigation programme, which helps sufferers and communities to deal with all aspects of HIV and AIDS. There are so many different elements of the programme, but in a nutshell, it provides sufferers with antiretroviral drugs, education and emotional support, legal defense of their rights; donations of chickens and goats , and a project called the Village Community Bank - VICOBA - both of which help sufferers to set up businesses, and prove themselves to still be an asset to the community after being diagnosed with HIV. We picked up Liimo, a local aid worker on the way to the village and I had a chat with him about the work he has been doing. He has personally benefitted from the scheme, and it was terrible to hear him talk about family members he has lost, and the children that have been orphaned in his family. Though the attitudes are changing, mainly as a result of the aid effort, there is still a huge stigma attached to HIV, and communities will try and chase HIV widows and children out of town of the man of the house dies.

Next I was introduced to Lucia - Maaya, a really lovely woman who has been living with HIV for the last five years. She told me her story; telling me how she was devastated by HIV; she wouldn't get up or dressed in the morning, and was just waiting to die before Vetaid helped her. She got very emotional when she was telling me how the programme had completely turned her life around; she was just so grateful that people care enough to help. It was a very moving interview, and really put my limited journalistic skills to the test. I found it really difficult to focus on my questions as she was so emotional, and her responses affected me so much. She proudly showed me her first goat, and the twin kids that it had produced, and invited me into her house to see the chickens that she keeps. She is now a respected member of the community, and has gone some way to dispelling the stigma and prejudice towards HIV sufferers in her village. Her greatest hope for the future of the community, is that other sufferers, who are hiding their HIV status, will be inspired by her, to be open about their disease, and allow people to help them move on with their lives.

After saying goodbye to Lucia, we went to meet Grace, a woman who is now training the VICOBA workers. She had lots to tell me about so many people who have benefitted from the project - it's such a small amount of money, relative to other aid projects, and it is just amazing the number of people whose lives it has saved within this village alone. The far reaching consequences of HIV in a farming community are astonishing. Traditional farming practices have been passed down from generation to generation, resulting in centuries worth of knowledge and experience forming the foundations of the community. However, with so many people now dying early, children are not able to learn from their parents, and the livestock keeping skills are being lost, threatening to devastate this community. There are so so many orphans who have lost both their parents to AIDS, and Grace is responsible for a local orphanage which is educating and caring for the children. We then went to meet a few more of the women in the village, and in one house I was surprised to find about ten guinea pigs squealing and running around. Of course this is just diversification...they provide a nice quick evening meal!

Everyone that I spoke to was so open, and happy to talk to me, despite the sensitive topic, and I was touched by the level of gratitude that they showed me, just for caring to ask about their lives.

Liimo then took us to his house, and showed us his kitchen garden- another part of the programme, which teaches people to grow their own vegetables, in order to maintain a healthy diet - and also introduced us to his children. After many photos, and sweets all round, we headed back towards Moshi. There was a football match being played, which it seems most of the village had turned out to watch, however, as we drove past, even the players stopped to turn and stare at me. Even after 4 weeks, I'm still not quite used to being such a centre of attention everywhere - though no doubt when I get home I'll wonder why no one's waving, shouting and staring at me!

The next day, after another weird hotel breakfast of banana sandwiches and an unidentifiable red juice (upon asking what it was, I was helpfully informed that it was 'plant juice'!) we headed towards Mt. Kilimanjaro for our day of chicken vaccinations. The first stop was a smallholding with about 20 free range chickens. We were vaccinating against Newcastle Disease - a virus that causes severe problems here; wiping out entire flocks within a week. The vaccine is an eye drop, which is a lot easier in a chicken than it may sound - the hard part is trying to catch 20 suspicious free range chickens! There were lots of children running around, attempting to help us, but the chaos that ensued was mainly as a result of them charging around grabbing at any part of the birds! The chicken handling here is somewhat different to anything I've seen before - they catch them and carry them either by a leg or a wing, and the result is a lot of flapping, and some very angry, very noisy chickens! Nevertheless, we managed to get all 20 birds done in less than ten minutes, and then spent another ten minutes or so entertaining the children with photos and videos of them before heading to the next farm. The next stop was in Kilimanjaro, on the slopes of the mountain. The area is absolutely beautiful - green forests and plantations cover the slopes, with the snow capped peak of Kilimanjaro towering above it all. We weaved through the forests on foot, going from house to house, vaccinating chickens along the way. There were only about 20 chickens at each stop, so although it was quick work, the distance between houses made it a much longer job. We passed their small patches of mixed crops - yams, bananas, avocados, tree tomatoes, maize and coffee were all grown together, and the chickens and goats just wandering amongst them. At one farm, we were greeted very animatedly by an elderly woman with a large knife, who was extremely excited that a mzungu had been brought to visit her! Just as we were about to leave, she pulled out a stool, and motioned for me to sit down. I was a little confused as we were quite clearly leaving, but apparently they believe that if you sit down, you bless them. I felt a little awkward, just sitting there - 'blessing' the farm, but it made her happy!

After we had completed our morning of vaccinations, we drove even further up the winding road, to the entrance to Kilmanjaro National Park. We were at 2,000 metres above sea level, and it was cold! I felt quite nervous being there, watching all the people setting out on the big climb. We had a nice leisurely stroll around the park, and then Paul took us to his favourite place to get 'field food'. The menu was fairly simple...pork, pork or pork. I chose pork, and to my surprise, it was absolutely delicious. I had an avocado with it, that I'd bought on Kilimanjaro, from a woman sitting under the avocado tree; she must be making some pretty good profit margins!

We had the rest of the afternoon 'off' but I welcomed the chance to upload all of the pictures, videos and audio from the morning, and to take a bit of time to plan the remaining interviews. Hamidu, the driver, was tired, and complaining about how hard we were working (!), so we let him rest and went to the Indian and Italian restaurant over the road from our hotel. We had a delicious Italian meal, and were joined by a Swedish girl who has been working in a Tanzanian orphanage for 2 months. She told us about how the funds are raised by a church in Sweden, but the Tanzanian pastor keeps the majority of it for himself - it's just shocking what people can get away with!

Yesterday, we had a very hectic schedule, with plans to head to Simanjero and meet some of Vetaid's Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWS - pronounced COWS - which has led to some interesting misunderstandings!) As we approached the Maasai areas, I was struck by a number of differences to the Kenyan Maasai. They had a friendlier attitude to me, waving, and actually wanting their photos to be taken. All of the children we drove pasted shouted and shouted until I waved, and I noticed a lot of Maasai men riding around on bikes, something that I didn't see much of in Kenya. My first meeting was with Maryo, who has been a CAHW for 3 years. I asked him lots of questions about his role in the community, treatments he gives, his opinions on 'quacks' - (which he interestingly denied the existence of) and his approach to disease outbreaks. It was very interesting to ask these sorts of questions to a non veterinary trained practitioner, and I have to admit, that on the whole, I was surprised by his understanding of the issues involved and his willingness to accept the limitations of his training.

He then introduced us to Simbokule, another CAHW. I asked him some similar questions, but got some quite different answers, including the revelation that since they don't have the correct equipment, they are sometimes forced to improvise, an example of which is castrating cattle by hitting their spermatic cord with a club...??? I obviously have fairly strong feelings on such matters, but had to try very hard to be objective; of course I understand that it is just a matter of education and resources, but I still struggled not to let my opinions show in my voice! I interviewed Simbokule in his boma, or homestead, and afterwards was kindly invited into one of the manyattas. These are the traditional Maasai dung huts that make up the villages. Inside, it was surprisingly cool despite the heat outside, and there were some chickens scratching around next to a smoldering fire and a large metal bed.

After we left this boma, I discovered that the Mama Maasai groups were meeting just in the next village. This is a fair trade business that has been set up by groups of Maasai women to sell their bead and leather crafts to tourists. I thought this would be a good opportunity to find out about women's roles in the Maasai community, and decided to go and meet them. Lesson of the day...never follow a Maasai man to 'the next village'. An hour and a half later, we arrived at said village, and found about 20 brightly and ornately dressed Maasai women sitting under a tree, with Freda, their group coordinator, and Dr. Roggers from Vetaid - as the venture is being supported by VICOBA. When we showed up, they all jumped up immediately and in a frenzy of outstretched hands, babies and jangling jewellery we greeted each one in turn. I felt quite guilty for so dramatically interrupting their meeting, but once the greetings were out of the way, and introductions had been made, they carried on in earnest. They proudly showed me some of their work - that particular group make beaded jewellery and accessories, and it is all so carefully made. After their meeting, I had a chat with Freda, and with Leah and Rosa, two members of the group, about their community, gender roles and the work of Mama Masai. The village is on the shores of a huge manmade lake, and as a result of the drought, they have been forced to diversify their farming, and are now relying heavily on fishing as a source of food and income, which is unusual for a Maasai community.

One member of the group is an amazing woman called Gloria. In addition to being an instrumental member of Mama Masai, she is also a CAHW, a mother, a wife, a livestock keeper and on top of all this runs the local drug store. It was truly inspiring to hear about her life, and the challenges that she faces; I don't think I could even manage one of these many roles, let alone balance them all, and still keep smiling!

By this time, the sun was starting to set, and we were all tired and hungry, so set off back across the savannah to Arusha.

Today, we have a crazily busy day planned, trying to fit in everything that we have not managed to do so far! I was up at 5 am transcribing all of the interviews that Paul translated from Swahili for me, as the audio on the flip cameras is so bad that we can't use most of them. We've had a lot of fun this morning rerecording the audio - with the time pressure and some of the strange things that Paul had to translate providing much hilarity!

I am off on safari tomorrow for the weekend - I am joining a Danish couple and a Dutch guy, and we are going on a four day camping safari to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro crater and Lake Manyara. I can't wait - and hopefully will have lots to update you on in my next blog!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Dar to Zanzibar

Well everything was all going a bit too smoothly...something had to give eventually! We have had considerable bad luck in the last few days, mainly through depending on any kind of punctuality of Tanzanian transport, and...yet again, my bank! But we are hoping that this is over now, and we have nothing but good times to come!

The last couple of days at Sokoine went well; On Thursday, I had a meeting with a group of final year students, and also went to a third year practical class on mastitis, at the University farm, which was really interesting. That night, I went out with Angie and the SACIDS crew, to a restaurant in Morogoro called Dragonaires which was good fun. Paul and Hamidu were in need of some local ugali and chappatis, so didn't join us, but it was nice to get a chance to chat with everyone from SACIDS.

We had spent the last night in Morogoro in a different hotel, as ours was fully booked, and so the next day we started our day early, with a breakfast that varied in quality and quantity depending on the price of your room...interesting! For us, this meant sharing a sausage between us, and dodgy cup of black tea. We got to SUA early, to join one of the final year ambulatory classes on a herd health visit. We followed their very packed landrover in our vehicle, and after a long drive, arrived at the farm, about half way to Dar Es Salaam.

The farm visit was very different to herd health visits that I've been on in the UK...the problems on the farm were glaringly obvious...unlike the few inches of insufficient trough space or sub optimal ventilation that we might discover on UK pig farm visits. The majority of the pigs had mange, and were really underweight, and a number of them were just dying there in the pens. The bedding was a rice husk bran, which the farmer refused to change, as he thought this made the farm organic (!), and this was only cleaned out once a year, so was absolutely filthy, and stank. There were too many other problems on the farm to mention, but it was a really interesting visit to go on, especially to find out about vet and vet students' attitudes and approach to animal welfare on farms.

We spent a good few hours on the farm, and it was nearly 12 by the time we left, deciding to head straight towards Dar, as we had no other plans for the day that warranted a 3 hour round trip back to SUA! We drove the few kilometers to Chalinze, a small but busy town, and Paul and I went to get the bus. We waited on the side of the road, watching the young boys running up to every bus that passed, carrying boxes of juice, biscuits, bread and various other things up on their heads to reach the high bus windows. Every time a bus approached there was a frantic commotion as they shouted to each other, and filled up their boxes before running to greet it. Eventually our bus arrived, and we jumped on, finding plenty of space at the back. I soon found out why there was so much room at the is the absolute worst place to sit on a bumpy bus, especially one with a dodgy back tyre - as ours had. The journey was so bumpy it was actually hilarious, and before long, Paul and I were in hysterics, watching the seats in front of us be shaken almost off the floor! The hilarity did wane a little though, after 3 hours of being shaken up and down.

It was a good vantage point for people watching, and at every stop there was something to catch my attention. At one point, almost an entire wooden house of window panes, doors and wall panels were loaded onto a waiting bike cart from our bus's luggage hold. Taarab music; a very repetitive, African/Arabic sounding music was blaring out from various speakers at most of the stops, and there were people going about their daily business; soldering windows, making beds (hammering the bits of wood together - not just spreading the sheets!), dancing and lazing around playing draughts all the way along the journey - it was fascinating. And then of course there were the boxes of food and drink that floated past the window at every stop!

The bus journey took almost twice as long as we naively expected it to, and by the time we got to Dar, we only had an hour before the last ferry of the day. This is when our ill fated trip took a turn for the worse. Knowing that the ferry and accommodation, and pretty much everything else on Zanzibar was expensive, I went to get some cash out, but after three failed attempts, I realized that HSBC had taken this long to realize that I was in Tanzania, and...once again, blocked my card. By the time I had unsuccessfully tried to sort it, and had a very comprehensive tour of all the ATMs in Dar, I had well and truly missed the ferry, and resigned myself to a night in the polluted, noisy, mosquito-infested sweat pit that is Dar Es Salaam!

Thanks to my wonderful and extremely fast acting mother, I was able to get some cash out before too long, and after an afternoon of trawling round Dar, we were hot, tired, thirsty and downright miserable, (although Paul did commend my 'emotional stability'!) and I treated us to cake and milkshake to cheer us up! With a considerably brighter outlook, we decided that our bad luck was done for the day, and we went to meet Paul's niece who works in Dar, and had a nice evening with her. We checked into the YMCA, (the cheapest place I've stayed, but the fan didn't work, and the mosquito net was riddled with large holes, so I can see why!) and got an early night ready to catch the first ferry.

Woken conveniently by the early morning prayer call from the local mosque, we headed to the ferry port at 6am, to catch the first ferry. I'm really not quite sure how we ended up on the right one, but somehow, amid hoards of women in the traditional boiboi headscarves, carrying suitcases on their heads, men with boxes stacked upon boxes, and surprisingly few mzungus, we made it. The crossing took about an hour and a half, and was nice and smooth - Africans however, don't seem to travel too well, judging by the number of people vomiting into their sick bags around me - nice!

At the other end, we were accosted by touts offering us spice tours, hotels and taxis, but decided to walk the short distance to the daladala stand. Daladalas are like trucks with seats in them, that act a bit like the matatus; beeping and touting for business all the way, regardless, we discovered, of how full they are. We picked a fairly full looking one, (how naïve we were!) and managed to find a spot right at the back. Our luggage was hauled up onto the roof, and we were on our way. Gradually, as we headed North towards Kendwa, more and more people jumped in. Even when I was thoroughly convinced that there was no possible way to fit another human in, a family of five were let on. The 45 minute trip took 2 very painful hours, squashed into the corner, but one local woman still had the nerve to say 'grrr...these mzungus just don't know how to squeeze!' - I had a fully grown man on my lap at the time! Just as I was praying that I'd make it to Kendwa alive (I was struggling to inhale fully by now) and wondering how this could possibly be legal, and we were stopped by the police, and upon counting 30 people inside, they fined the operator, and demanded that he attend the police station to be prosecuted.

Finally we arrived at Nungwi - and were immediately joined by a group of local guys. I'm not sure what they wanted or were offering, as they only spoke to Paul, in Swahili, but I assume they wanted to take us to their various hotels or bars. We jumped straight in a taxi, and headed to Kendwa, the nearby village, with apparently better beaches and a more chilled atmosphere. Paul had made a bit of an error in judgement accompanying me to the North of the island, despite my protestations, as he needed to get the ferry back to Dar that night, and we only had about an hour together on the beach before he had to leave! It was the most stunning beach I have ever seen though - bright white sands and the warm, calm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, and lots of chilled out beach huts to stay and eat under.

I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging about in a hammock, swimming, and chatting to the local guys - all of whom were thrilled to hear my limited repertoire of Swahili, and were keen to teach me more! They were all very friendly, and whilst they all had an ulterior motive - to sell me their artwork, snorkeling tours or taxi services, they weren't at all pushy, and seemed to be genuinely nice guys.

After watching the sunset with a group of German guys who I had befriended, I had an interesting shower - whereby brown water poured out of a hole on the other side of the bathroom every time I turned on a tap - and then, though only slightly cleaner, went for dinner. My hotel had a power cut, and so, although they could somehow make me a pork kebab or fish curry, even a sandwich was a problem, as this apparently required power! I had my doubts about their food, so headed next door, which was livelier anyway. I had a delicious lobster dinner, and a couple of beers, all for about a fiver - bargain!

The next morning I had to get up super early to start the mammoth journey up to Arusha. This consisted of about 5 legs; Kendwa to Stonetown to Dar to Chalinze to Arusha.....and nearly every leg went wrong. The Kendwa to Stonetown part wasn't too much of a disaster; it just cost about double what I'd planned for. I did however witness a wee spot of Tanzanian corruption on the way. As we drove past a police checkpoint, the policeman on duty clocked me in the back of the taxi, and immediately flagged us down. After a brief conversation in Swahili, and some sort of payment, we were allowed to continue, and my driver explained to me that if the police see a mzungu in a taxi, they demand payment from the driver, threatening to scrutinize their car for problems if they don't pay up. Shocking - and so blatant too. When we did arrive at the port, the ferry was running about an hour late. Even once we set off, it took double the time to get to Dar - possibly due to the choppy seas, or maybe just a laid back captain! Paul met me at the Ferry port in Dar, and we got a taxi to the bus station, via three out of order ATMs. The fourth attempt to get cash out was the least successful accepted my card, whirred a bit, then gave me a receipt to say I'd taken out £200, but no cash. Great. Another half hour wasted on the phone to the ATM service people, who eventually assured me that they would recredit my account - we'll see! Getting increasingly fed up, and once again dripping from the humidity, we trudged to the bus station, where we bought a ticket and were told to run for our bus which was just about to leave. We did run, and thank goodness did...we would have missed an hour sitting on a hot, sweaty, stationary bus! All this time, Hamidu our driver was waiting for us in Chalinze, convinced that we were just enjoying a leisurely ice cream in Zanzibar! I wish. Eventually, about 6 hours later than planned, we were reunited with Hamidu and car, and, with our sincerest apologies, set off on the longest leg of our journey. It passed pretty much without note, the surroundings getting greener and more mountainous, and the weather getting cooler with each kilometer, until we hit an electric storm...which soon became a torrential downpour. At about 10pm, we stopped about half an hour out of Moshi for a quick dinner of Chips Mai - basically a chip omelette - apparently it's a Tanzanian specialty, and a sure way to speed you towards a heart attack. The meal was made considerably more interesting by the sudden powercut midway through. We were plunged into complete darkness, without even a torch or phone to light our meals, so we spent the rest of the meal laughing hysterically, whilst - literally stabbing around in the dark, trying to find our food on the plate....I think we continued trying to find food long after we had finished!

Eventually, the journey ended, in Moshi, where we were lucky enough to find a nice hotel on only our second attempt. Aside from the predictable power problems, we slept well, and then headed to the Vetaid office in Arusha, where I sit now!

This morning I have had a fascinating chat with Dr. Roggers, one of the vets here who is working on the HIV impact mitigation project. This involves giving chickens and goats to families affected by HIV, as well as other aspects of support; legal help, education, support groups and help setting up kitchen gardens to improve their nutritional health. This afternoon I am going to one of the villages that has been helped by the programme to meet some HIV sufferers, and aid workers.

I also had an impromptu chat with the District Veterinary Officer. She is a woman, which is almost unheard of for a vet in such a position, and she told me all about the gender segregation in local communities; women not being allowed to talk to the men in meetings, even having to face the opposite direction; girls not being allowed to go to school, and in the pastoral communities, how women are not allowed to touch the animals. It's a whole different world, although it sounds like attitudes are slowly changing.

I can't believe this is my last week of work - the time has just flown by, but we have a busy week of field work planned, and will hopefully be going to a number of farms on various vaccination visits, as well as meeting some of the Community Animal Health Workers that work with Vetaid.

I should be back in Arusha at the end of the week, so will let you know how it all goes then!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Meetings in Morogoro

In the name of your lesson in East African greetings, 'Ha bari' - 'Hello'. They still speak Swahili here, but even with my very limited knowledge of the language, I can tell that it is spoken quite differently here compared to in Kenya, and it is taking a few days to get used to it!

So my first official business in Tanzania was to meet Esron, a lecturer at the veterinary faculty at the Sokoine University of Agriculture who is kindly coordinating my trip to the university. We drove the few minutes to Sokoine, which is in the most beautiful setting, surrounded by green mountains on three sides. There is only one campus, and it is much smaller than the veterinary faculty in Nairobi, with only about 30 students in each year- imagine that! We went straight away to meet the dean. I was incredibly tired, and since I had not had chance to familiarize myself with the faculty, and the dean was short on time, we decided to postpone his interview until later in the week. In the short time we had to chat, he seemed surprisingly wary of me, and was noticeably cautious about what he said. I (hopefully) reassured him that we certainly wouldn't do anything to damage the faculty's reputation, and that we in fact want to strengthen links between their faculty and the RVC.

After meeting the dean, we set about a tour of the various heads of departments, none of whom were available, so we had a quick look round some of the facilities. I was surprised how small everything was, although with such a few number of students, I shouldn't have been! We briefly visited the veterinary teaching hospital, and I was astonished at being taken in to interrupt a consult with a client and his (very sick looking) chicken to be introduced to the clinician. Not sure how that would go down in the QMH!

We then went back to Esron's office, where Esron and I had an almost farcical conversation where I tried to ascertain the nature of the final year clinical rotations. I could see Paul trying not to laugh out of the corner of my eye as we all talked seemingly at cross purposes for a very long time! I still don't quite understand what they do in their final year!

Later that day Esron had arranged for me to meet with three second year students, who have recently returned from an exchange visit to Edinburgh University. It was fascinating to hear their opinions and observations of the differences between the two faculties. They admitted that most of the students who are studying veterinary in Africa actually wanted to be human doctors, but were not admitted to medical school and were surprised by the difference and the competition for places at the UK vet schools. They all agreed that it was a very positive, career changing experience for them, and gave many words of recommendation for future student exchanges.

We spent the afternoon at the SACIDS (Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance) office, learning about their work, and having access, finally, to a fast internet connection! I met all the staff, including Angie, an American research fellow. She has been living here for 4 months now, and was very excited to see a fellow white face! We arranged to go for dinner, and then, after an unsuccessful attempt to try and find some students, went back to our hotel for a very welcome rest!

Angie took us to a pizza and pasta place called BlackWhite on the outskirts of the town for dinner. They had a good menu, but unfortunately most of the pasta was off, and after being offered pasta and pesto without the pesto, and cannelloni made with spaghetti (?!) I settled for a spaghetti carbonara. This may sound like a very mundane story to you, but eating pasta was pretty much the highlight of my day after 3 weeks of only rice, chappatis and beans! We had a fun night, all finding much amusement in Paul's pronunciation of fuel - 'foil'. We ended the evening asking for some fuel to wrap the leftover pizza in, and then going to get some foil for the truck. I think it may become a running joke!

Yesterday we had a pretty packed day of interviews planned, and arrived at Sokoine at 8 am to try and arrange a meeting with the dean. He was rather elusive all day, and eventually we were advised to speak to the deputy dean instead, which we did. My first interview of the morning however was with the very friendly head of the surgery and theriogenology department. We had a really nice chat and he was extremely accommodating of us. We then went to meet a professor of public health, where we were again warmly welcomed, and I once again raised the issue of biosecurity (or lack of it) and we discussed various issues of public health, particularly with regards to the pastoral communities, where there is no real awareness of such issues at all. The most fascinating interview of the day though, had to be with a professor of animal welfare and ethics. The stories he had to tell were just horrifying; including non qualified 'quacks' tying dogs to trees in order to castrate them with no anaesthesia; people stoning cats to death for their association with witchcraft, and the difficult line to walk as a vet to the tribal communities when cultural practices can so dramatically conflict with animal welfare. They have only recently started teaching animal welfare here, so apparently, even amongst practicing vets, there is a limited appreciation of welfare issues.

Later, we again tried to visit some of the students' clinics, but it is proving to be rather difficult to find out when and where the students may be at any particular time! We have hopes to join some practical classes towards the end of the week though. In the meantime, we took it upon ourselves to have a wander round the student facilities - the library, the computer labs and the student common rooms. Having not been able to visit the library in Nairobi, I didn't really know what to expect, and was surprised to discover just how few books they had, and of those, how old they were; I couldn't find a book less than ten years old. It only highlights further the real need for better online accessibility and resources that the students talked about yesterday.

I managed to catch a few minutes with the senior library officer while I was there, and had a very informative chat with him about the resources available to the students. On paper, the students have access to a huge number of online journals and CD ROMS, with over 60 computers with internet connections - however the reality is somewhat different. Only a small proportion of the computers actually work, and the internet connection is so slow and unreliable that most students don't even bother trying. It made me think about how we all used to moan about the facilities in London - with hundreds of brand new computers, all with internet at lightening speed - we really don't realize how good we've got it.

Esron had arranged for us to go for dinner and drinks, for a 'social evening' with a female professor of surgery from Sokoine. We had not met her at all during out time at the faculty, so we were all a little apprehensive. We met at a place just out of town called the Makuti hotel - though I don't think it's a hotel, and luckily my mzungu face made it easy for her to spot us. There was a storm brewing, and it was really windy, but still warm, so we sat outside near the bar and the band. It was a great, very African place - there was a live rumba band playing and a relaxed atmosphere. Esron came to join us later on, and we settled in for numerous 'Kilimanjaro' beers and 'choma'. Choma is barbecued meat, and is very popular here. We had a choice of beef or goat - which was an easy decision, and at first we were just brought out a plate of meat and barbecued bananas...the driest bananas I have ever eaten! I tried to enjoy the strange combination for about ten minutes, but then the waiter reappeared; I have never been so relieved to see ugali! And who knew food could be so much fun...everyone watched eagerly as Paul showed me how to take the exact right sized lump, squeeze it into a sticky ball, and then make an imprint in it to scoop up the peas in sauce that were served with it. When I finally got it right (it seems there is a bit of skill involved!) everyone applauded! I explained that if I were to pick up my food and play with it for a few minutes before eating it back home, I would be given some very dirty looks! For the rest of the meal, every handful of ugali was examined carefully to check I'd got the hang of it.

The rumba band played throughout the night, singing lyrics like 'angel I love you, I want you to marry me but I have no dowry' and 'jambo ha bari mzuri sana karibu serengeti hakuna matata'... basically all the Swahili words I know jammed tenuously into a song! The mention of hakuna matata...'it means no worries...!' initiated a conversation about the Disney song - they had never heard of the Lion King, and all were delighted to listen to it on my ipod!

Esron had earlier asked me about British pub culture, which is actually quite difficult to describe! But I mentioned the pub quiz, and later, while I had my ipod out, showing them some of the veterinary applications on it, we played our own geeky 'vet pub quiz' with one of the apps. We all had a lot of fun, and stayed out a lot later than we had intended - but have a later start in the morning, so can have a bit of a lie in (Paul finds this phrase hilarious, and calls it 'having a lion'!)

This morning we have had another unsuccessful round of 'hunt the dean' who is in perpetual meetings, but have finally succeeded in arranging a meeting with some of the final year students for later on. I was interested to find out that there is a development studies department here, and we were lucky enough to find the head of department was available for a chat, which proved to be fascinating.

Tomorrow is the last day of the nice fast internet connection, and I hope to spend the weekend in Zanzibar before going out to the field next week, so who knows when I will blog again. But when I do, I'm sure I'll have lots more to tell you - not a dull day goes by!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


Hello again, or since I have been in Maasai land for the last few days - 'Sopa'! So since my last post, I have again been very busy. On Saturday, we had planned to spend the day in the Masai Mara Game Reserve, but on Friday night, Saitoti got a call from a farmer near the Mara, who had a suspected case of a respiratory disease called CBPP (contagious bovine pleuropneumonia) in one of his cows. The herdsmen had done a post mortem, which is fairly conclusive in this disease, (from the huge volumes of pleural fluid) and wanted us to come out to do emergency vaccinations on Saturday to protect the rest of the herd. So our weekend lie in was off, and we headed out early to the farm, on the outskirts of the Masai Mara. The process was fairly similar to the previous days' deworming, although this time we were vaccinating and deworming. We had only expected it to take an hour or so, as it was a fairly small herd, but apparently, the word had spread that 'the doctors' were around, and herds started to appear from every direction, all wanting the vaccination! Not long before our patience ran out, we finally got to the end of them, and headed off to the game reserve. The journey there was only about 20km or so, but there was a noticeable difference in our surroundings. It was much greener, and instead of seeing a few zebras and gazelles here and there, we started seeing them in their hundreds, all together across the plains. It really built up the anticipation for the park!

We stopped for a quick lunch in the nearby village; eating at a very local café. Everyone was speaking maasai, but I could still tell that everyone was talking about me...even if you think you're being discreet by speaking in a different language, when you stare and point, it's still pretty obvious! We then drove to the entrance gate to try our luck at convincing them that I was a (admittedly albino) resident. We didn't quite succeed, but Saitoti's negotiations did manage to get us a much reduced price from the usual $80 or so. While we were waiting at the gate, we were approached by a number of women, in full Maasai dress, all with suspiciously English names, trying to sell their various wares. They asked over and over if we wanted a photo with them, which would have been great, since most of the Maasai I have seen have been in their work clothes, not their full dress...but my previous experience of the Maasai reaction to being photographed made me very suspicious, and I maintained that I didn't want a photo. They would probably have then charged me a ridiculous price for the privilege!

When we got into the park, the first thing that we saw was a herd of cattle - there are supposed to be no animals but wildlife inside the park, but obviously the drought had driven them in desperation to the green pastures of the Masai Mara. Shortly afterwards, we spotted a herd of buffalo - this was the first new spot of the be quickly followed by bush bucks, eland, taupes and impala plus hundreds of thousands of zebras, Thompsons and Grants gazelles. It was quite spectacular! I had sworn that I'd never get bored of seeing zebras, but there were so so many that I quickly started to get used to them. We saw some more banded mongooses, lots of warthogs, a pair of crested cranes, which are really beautiful, and also a couple of secretary birds, but the whole time we were keeping our eyes peeled for any of the big five. Saitoti has the most amazing eyes for spotting wildlife...and anything else for that matter. In the past few days, he managed to identify a distant cloud of dust as his dad's truck, and a tiny dot up a hill, that I couldn't even see, as his friend - it's really quite incredible...and a great asset whilst on a game drive! He pointed to a cluster of trees in the distance...well, I thought they were trees, but as we got closer, I realized that the trees had trunks....and not the usual kind! We had come across our first herd of elephants. The track that we were on took us right up to where they were ambling about, eating and spraying themselves in mud. We were only a few feet away from them - they stopped to look at us, and then just carried on with what they were doing. There must have been about 15 of them, all different ages, and it was just mesmerizing to sit and watch them. Not long after that, we came across a herd of giraffes, at very close range, and then a couple of jackals playing in the grasslands. I loved the driving around, looking out for wildlife...specifically scouring the grassland plains for lions or hyenas. Every time we came across a large group of grazing animals, or an ostrich or other bird, Saitoti asked ' do you want to take a shot at it?'. Obviously he meant a shot OF it, but it still made me chuckle every time! Just as we were heading towards the exit, resigned to not seeing any big cats, we suddenly happened upon two cheetahs sunning themselves under a bush. I was so excited - it was amazing to see them in the wild, and even Saitoti, who has been to the park many times and never seen one, was excited. We sat and watched them for a while, no longer disappointed to have not found a lion. Eventually, we dragged ourselves away, and drove back towards the gate, leaving happy. As we headed out of the park, and into the surrounding plains, the sun was starting to set, and it was almost surreal watching the gazelles and zebras darting about against the most amazing sunset while I listened to the Lion King soundtrack!!

The journey back was long and bumpy, interrupted only by the sighting of three hyenas hunting along the side of the road at dusk.

The next morning, we went to Saitoti's office for the last time, and I filmed a very long, but very interesting interview with him, on a number of subjects, from his Maasai childhood and school days, to the pastoral farming systems and his hopes for this project. After visiting a few of the Maasai 'curio' shops - small shacks selling lots of beaded Maasai jewellery and carvings and the like, we set off back towards Nairobi. On the way back we bought some corn-on-the-cobs from one of the roadside vendors - toasted over an open fire on the side of the road.

We arrived back in Nairobi, and I checked back into the YMCA, and then headed out to the Maasai market with Madeleine and Matilda. The market was buzzing with tourists and traders, and we decided to have a wander round all the stalls before we started to barter for anything. Everyone was calling at us 'sister sister' and 'come and have a chat with momma" and 'I give you good price' ...I'm not sure what exactly they were hoping to give me a good price on! Eventually we got down to the serious shopping, and the bartering banter was flowing well. One guy amused me by asking where I was from, and when I told him England, he said, with recognition " ah-yes, Wales?". No...England! And one guy wanted to trade his artwork for my watch! It's a funny thing - a few people have asked if they can have my watch - it's only a cheap rubber one, but it seems popular! One woman, also commented that she liked my necklace, quickly followed by " can I have it?"! It was all very friendly though, and we had a lot of fun trying to get a 'rafiki' price - for our purchases. It was really hot day, and we were all pretty exhausted by the time we had spent up!

We headed back to the YMCA for a final Kenyan meal of beans and rice, and an early night for me. Unfortunately the early night was in vain, as there was a group of Asian school kids who ran up and down the corridors, shouting, banging on peoples doors and screaming, literally all night. I got about an hour's sleep, but set off early to tie things up at the Vetaid office before my flight to Kilimanjaro. I interviewed Gabriel, which again was really interesting, to hear about his background and his work with Vetaid and various other organizations. I then had to say bye to everyone, including Saitoti, to go and catch my flight. It was really sad to say goodbye, I've had so much fun in Kenya, and have got on really well with everyone, and was starting to feel a little apprehensive about the Tanzanian part of the trip, again not knowing what to expect, and if I will get quite so lucky with the people I spend all my time with.

George, one of the Vetaid drivers drove me to the airport. I say airport, I mean row of tin sheds. I got increasingly nervous as we drove down the airport drive, past rundown barns and sheds, all with airline signs hanging on them, wondering which one would be my terminal. Luckily, mine was the nicest of the lot; from the outside it looked like a large tin barn, but inside it was a bit better. The checking in process was different to say the least. There is a 15kg luggage limit, including hand luggage - my hand luggage alone weighs about 9kg with all the equipment! I tried to convince the guy that my backpack only weighed 15kg, but they were having none of it. He did give me a hefty discount off the 100KSH (about £1) per kg charge though, when I complained that I wouldn't have enough money left for a cup of chai....I know how they value their chai here! Myself and the other passenger - (yup - just the two of us!) were then taken through security - i.e. past an armed guard, and into the departure lounge (the tarmac of the airfield) and spotted our plane - a tiny little ten seater. We watched our luggage get loaded into the luggage compartment underneath the plane, and then (about half an hour late) were escorted onto the tiny aircraft. It was quite a nerve-racking experience, but the pilot assured us (no need for a PA system on this flight) that we would be flying below the clouds, so it shouldn't be too bumpy. It was a really nice flight actually, a lot less bumpy than I expected, and the views were amazing, especially as we came in to land, right next to Mt. Kilimanjaro. We jumped off the plane, went to baggage collection (collected our bags straight off the plane!) and headed through security into Tanzania.

Paul, the recent graduate that will be accompanying me for the Tanzanian part of my trip, and Hamidu our driver met me at the airport, holding up a small, upside down Vetaid sign that I couldn't read, so we looked at each other curiously for a few minutes before I figured out what the sign said. They were both so smiley and very welcoming, and I felt sure straight away that I was going to have as good a time in Tanzania as I had in Kenya. We drove to Moshi, a nearby town to get some lunch, and some cash and chatted all the way. I was very pleased to find that the Tanzanian chappatis are just as good as the Kenyan ones, and they have beans here too!! We set off on our very very long drive to Morogoro, where the Vet School is. The scenery is noticeably different here; it is so green, and there were hills and mountains surrounding us for most of the way. It's a really beautiful country, and much hotter than Kenya, well at the moment at least!

We arrived in Morogoro after midnight, tired from our ten hour journey, and too late to get any dinner, so I was thankful for the few roast cashew nuts we had bought en route. The town was still bustling and lively despite the time, with open fires everywhere, and music still playing. We checked into our hotel, and went straight to bed, ready for a very early meeting with the dean of the Sokoine University of Agriculture.

I have only been here a day so far, and most of that has been driving, but here are a few of my initial observations of Tanzania. Rather than the Kenyan 'Biverley', my name is now pronounced 'Buverley'; they don't shake hands anywhere near as much here, they have hundreds of speedbumps - a fact I was all too aware of whilst trying to sleep on the long drive, and the mosquitoes are really out in force, at all times of day!

I think I am going to have a fairly busy schedule over the next few days at Sokoine University, and am hoping to go to Zanzibar over the weekend, although this is starting to look less feasible, what with the extortionate mzungu ferry price, and the logistics of getting there. Hopefully I will be able to blog again soon anyway, with Tanzanian tales a plenty!