Travel

Blue Dreams

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I’m laying on top of a fluffy thing that’s on top of the ferry I’m currently riding on my way to the archipelego of Zanzibar. I chose to camp in the open deck, to enjoy the open air and the lovely breeze of the indian ocean. Everything I see is a perfect blue, with the exception of few dhow boats and commercial ships now and then. It’s 4:30pm on a Sunday afternoon of the coast of Tanzania. There is one special person I would love to be here with me, to share this view, this breeze, this tranquil moment. I’m having blue dreams. (And you’re in it…you know who you are).

Isn’t it amazing that I have a decent internet connection in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Gotta love technology. I’ll get back to enjoying my view and breeze as the perfect Swahili is spoken near by…

Categories: Africa Related, East Africa, Photography, Random, tanzania, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ok, Am Back Now

I’ve just arrived in the US and yes, I did go through the whole let’s-go-to-a-room and verify you that, well, you are not a nefarious character. Seemed like everyone who had a Muslim and foreign-sounding names were there. I didn’t see any Johns or Janes.

I have to board my flight now. Peace.

Update: I’m officially out of jet lag mode.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Update

I think I’ve been away from this blog for too long. How’s ya’ll? Ok, ok. Let me get to the point. I have finished my program in A-town (Arusha) and left there on Sunday for Dar es Salaam, where I’m currently at. I climbed Mt. Kili on Friday – amazing experience, I tell you. Tough as hell but I’m glad I did it. I know 3km climb isn’t much but someone like me who has never hiked, much less than climbed mountains, it is a pretty good accomplishment. I was particularly surprised to see the entire first (and second) level of the mountain very forest, almost jungle-like. Thankfully, there are no wild (if any) animals; just few birds in the first kilometer or so, then it is plants and trees – very beautiful indeed. We started our climb late so when we got to the first level we didn’t have much time to sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery around and had to get down just as quickly. Some locations are very steep, while other places are surprisingly near-flat ground. As the first two levels (3 and 5 kilometers, respectively) of the mountain consist entirely forest, rain is a constant threat to amateur climbers who can easily fall in the slippery surface deprived of sun.

The descent, I think, was more dangerous than the ascent because it is so easy to fall, lose balance, or sprain on the descent – especially the steeper spots. It took us (or I should say me) about 3 and half hours on ascent, while it took me only about 1 hour and 45 minutes to descent. After coming down every part of my body hurt like hell – not unusual, I was told. I think I deserve a few days of R & R in Zanzibar which is exactly what I’ll be doing later this week. A visit to Prison Island that I wasn’t able to make a month ago is in the itinerary this time around. I have never snorkeled before so should I do it now?

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The Marangu route of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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Categories: East Africa, tanzania, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Zanzibar: Paradise in Peril (Take that CNN!)

After a long day of touring ruins of royal palace, spice farms (in which most of the time I felt so damn touristy despite this being an educational tour as part of my study program) and a local NGO, I was more than happy to just sit and watch a festival movie. But before I could sit and watch a movie, I had to fill my stomach with some spicy food; in this case, a Zanzibari pizza and sugarcane juice sold outside the festival venue. Seafood dominates the long stretch of food vendors in front of Beit El-Ajib (or House of Wonders) and Old Fort (where most of the films in competition are screened). Here, one can find any (I do mean ANY) kind of poor sea creatures on display – ready at your disposal – to be prepared and eaten mercilessly. There are variety of foods to satisfy everyone but I settled for the Zanzibari beef and vegetable (one) and a vegetarian (one) pizza (yes, I did write a post knocking down vegetarianism last year….oh well!). It tastes great, yet it is cheaper than those mind-numbingly expensive restaurants that cater to mzungo (European) tourist, plus the opportunity one gets to have a good conversation with the indigenous population that reveals much more than the guides and tours. In fact, while waiting for my vegetarian pizza I managed to have an interesting conversation with the chef (who, after finding out that I’m Somali, tried to say the only two Somali words he learned while living in Mombasa, Kenya in the early 1990s) about the state of the island.

In particular, the positive and negative effects tourism has had on the island – a question that has been bothering me quite a lot since I have arrived on the island – over the years. Indeed, the answer he gave is exactly what I have observed myself; mainly that tourists come here, “have fun” the week or two weeks they’re here by exploiting young men or women eager to earn some money. Perhaps I should be more explicit about the nature of the exploitation tourists bring here. The disturbing fact is that many tourists (mainly from Europe – I don’t want to generalize but this is a consistent occurrence unfortunately) come here and rent “guides” who are nothing more than sex workers. Most of the sex workers, believe it or not, are young men, who have no good education or job prospect. And it is the women from Europe (mostly) who come here to have fun with these young, hungry men. If pedophile men from Europe and North America go to Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam to have sex with children, women from Europe and North America come here to Zanzibar to do the same (although technically consensual) thing. You know that shy woman (perhaps her name is Cheryl) sitting in the next cubical workstation who seems to avoid humanity is not so shy when she takes her vacation in Zanzibar.

If Zanzibaris don’t find a way to preserve their island’s uniqueness from tourist’s thrash, they are in a deep shit.

Zanzibari pizza being prepared

Zanzibari pizza being prepared

Categories: Africa Related, East Africa, tanzania, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

ZIFF Opening Night

Zanzibar International Film Festival opened here in Stone Town last night with the premier of a South African movie. The opening act of the festival was a traditional dance from the dhow countries, along with a searing poetry (slam poetry is what you would call in the US, I believe) by a guy named Mrisho Mpoto. Of course the poetry was in Kiswahili but from what I could gather, his poetry was deeply moving as he discussed about social and political issues (he even made the former prime minister of the island, the guest of honor, so uncomfortable by what he was saying that the ex pm had to get up and offer the guy a ‘bus’ to take him around the island – to which Mrisho replied at the end, “be careful PM, I will be using that bus to come visit you” ). Whenever Mrisho said something someone in the audience agreed with or liked, they would get up and put money in his hand to show their appreciation (it’s like clapping, cheering, whistling, or giving the two-thumbs up equivalent). This is a tradition that doesn’t exist in the West though…I did see few Europeans do it, however, as they started to understand the concept (not his poetry) as the performance continued.

Izulu Lami, or My Secret Sky, that opened the festival was absolutely fantastic. The story of the movie is about two recently orphaned siblings, Khwezi and Thembi, a boy and a girl. Directed by Madoda Ncayiyana, the movie has a lot of depth in terms of content and message. I also loved the many symbolism the director inserted throughout the film. It would be useful for someone to know a little bit about South Africa to understand some of these symbolisms but anyone paying attention will get the message. I liked how the film dealt with the taboo subject of men infected with HIV/AIDS trying to cure themselves by ‘having sex with a virgin.’ This is one of the terrible crimes have been plaguing, really, many parts of West Africa especially, where men with HIV/AIDS believe they will somehow be cured of their disease if they have sex with a virgin; children, unfortunately, have been the most victims of this terrible falsehood. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I say this movie has a real shot at winning the best foreign film at the Oscars next year (I think, in many ways, Izulu Lami is better than Tsotsi, the previous South African movie to win the Oscar few years ago).

Opening Ceremony of ZIFF

Opening Ceremony of ZIFF

Old Fort Amphitheater, where the feature-length movies are screened.

Old Fort Amphitheater, where the feature-length movies are screened.

Categories: Africa Related, East Africa, tanzania, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Go Time

In two days I will be leaving for my study abroad program in Arusha, Tanzania finally. Not a fan of long trip but I’d take airplanes over any other mode of transportations. My flight is connecting through JFK via Dubai. Hopefully by Thursday I’ll be in Dar es Salaam (what a beautiful name for a city, eh?). A nice guy by the name of Adnan will be helping me out in Dar. Then off to Kenya for few weeks and back to TZ through Zanzibar, where I meet up with the rest of the group/faculty for the 12th Zanzibar International Film Festival and other touristy stuff (am really looking forward to Zanz!) before heading to our base near Arusha.

Stay tuned for more details, folks! And watch out for the daily tweets on the top right corner space of this blog once my cell is up and running (since the Internet is not as reliable as the SMS over there). A bon voyage is in order, no?

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Reflections of a Nomad Journey: Part 2

I sat nervously in front of the lady interviewing us with the rest of my family. Her dress was immaculate, I remember. And she spoke a perfect English, at least not the kind my ears were use to in Nairobi’s mixed lingo of Kiswahili and English. What was I doing in front of this Black-American (that’s what we called African-Americans back then) woman? This was our interview for our visa to the States. Now looking back I can’t help but feel how little I knew this interview’s result would impact my life forever.

We finally reached our final destination in NC around 3 or 4 in the morning. I already slept through most of the roadtrip but it didn’t help one bit, I still needed a lot more sleep. So I spent the next two days sleeping and only getting up to eat. My head felt really tipsy (no, I do not know the effects of alcohol but I’m guessing a hang-over does feel similar to jetlag), my appetite shitty, and my sleep incomplete. The following week we had our doctor visit – I think they call this “refugee check-up” – just in case the doctors in Africa missed some contagious disease that we were not suppose to bring to the U.S. Although they didn’t find anything, they gave us a pill for a month or two, which I think was suppose to “clean our” malaria-infested bodies for good. Not sure it did any good, though.

In late March I started high school. Clearly I wasn’t ready for high school but my age condemned me to early Greek Mythology readings that I was in no shape or form ready for. I didn’t attend school the previous five years but it didn’t matter. With less than three grade’s worth of formal schooling, I embarked on my education journey in the 9th grade. I wasn’t use to waking up early – not 5:30am for sure – in the morning. The first two months were quite tough: new country, new language, new friends to be made, and homeworks! It was quite overwhelming at times but I was determined to go through it, but more than once I though of dropping school and going into the labor force with fake documents. I didn’t. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents most of all.

I made friends quickly in my English as a Second Language (ESL) classes where students were from all over the world. From Africa, the Middle East , Eastern Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. My teachers were amazing – particularly my ESL and 9th grade English teachers. They spent countless hours explaining the smallest thing I couldn’t understand, help me with my homework, and most of all, encourage me. The transition wasn’t easy but caring teachers and good friends made it easy.

Today I sit here writing this post thinking about the kid like me who may sit in front of an interviewer tomorrow that will determine his/her entire future. Then I think about what my life would look like today if I didn’t get that chance. Perhaps already dead or carrying an AK-47 for some godforsaken warlord? I’m glad I didn’t go that route which millions of children unfortunately end up.

Categories: Education, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

Reflections of a Nomad Journey: Part 1

Exactly 9 years ago today, I landed at JFK Airport dazed and confused. I sat in the transit lounge waiting for our connection flight to Washington, D.C. around six o’clock in the evening. I saw my first U.S. coin – I think it was a dime – while sitting there. I don’t remember much during this brief period but I remember a lady who spoke Somali and perfect English helping us during the customs inspection where we also got our official United States documents. Soon after clearing up with the customs, we were rushed through JFK in the belief that our connection flight was ready to take off. We power-walked through JFK, sometimes jogging, to get to our gate. During this huff and puff, we left the terminal we landed in and walked outside to get to the terminal where our flight’s gate was located. Briefly walking outside that February evening, a ferocious wind and a cold temperature greeted us into this country. Also during this time, I had my first encounter with automatic doors – only if I knew the other “strange” things I was about to experience in this country. 

We reached our gate finally but our flight was not taking off for another hour or so. I sat there in the lounge, thinking and wondering what my life will be like. How will I learn a new language and culture? How will people treat me? I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I was excited and scared equally. Our flight finally parked into the tarmac and so we started our journey to our final destination again. During this flight, we (as a group) started a conversation with a young American guy in his mid to late 20s. He was a nice fellow. Our broken, elementary English did not stop him or bothered him. We talked about basic stuff – not that we could engage in an advanced conversation anyway. He made a good impression on me about Americans. I thought if most Americans were like him, everything will be just fine.

Less than an hour later we landed on Dulles Airport. We drove through D.C., which to my tired eyes looked absolutely stunning at night, from the air and driving through. But most of the time I was trying to keep my eyelids open as the effects of nearly two day’s travel kicked in. After a brief hospitality in Springfield, VA at a relative’s house, we were once again on the road. I really don’t remember anything from this, though, because I was asleep until we reached NC.

Part II of this entry will come soon! 

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

News and Notes

As readers of this blog know, my plan for the upcoming Spring school semester was to study in Hyderabad, India. Unfortunately, life’s full of surprises and disappointments. But I’m not complaining. Actually, I see it as an opportunity to explore other options. So it is official. Due to bureaucratic reasons, I was informed that my student visa won’t be approved for at least 3 months at the latest, which essentially put in a position of no-go. Sorry to disappoint, friends. You won’t be reading stories about explosive diarrhea or complaints about unsanitary conditions.

Instead, I will continue my education at my current school and hopefully participate study abroad in summer ’09. Stay tuned for that.

Categories: School/Students, Travel | Tags: , | 7 Comments

I’m Not Out Yet

It’s that time of the year when every professor thinks your only taking his/her class and overload you with millions of assignments. I thought things would get a bit slow during October because usually November is the sink-or-swim month. Apparently as one gets close to graduation, the workload doubles. No one told me that. But that’s fine. Anyway, I have couple of good news I’d like to share with ya’ll regarding the study abroad situation.

I have been ‘accepted’ to the University of Hyderabad for spring semester ’09 and I have also been approved for my travel document (some of you are thinking what is a travel document but I’m sure most of you know what a refugee travel document IS). These were two big hurdles, especially the latter since those wonderful, hard-working US Immigration and Naturalization Services people take their sweet time often (my friend applied his in July and is hoping for a February approval at the latest). I’m now working on coughing up $6,300 to pay for the tuition, housing, and meals. It does not include air fair, the health insurance I’m required to buy ($60 a month) or the miscellaneous pocket money I need  on hand. Overall, alhamdullilah, it has been quite smooth.

After I manage to get these done, then I only have to worry about few things like entrance visa, travel shots, mandatory orientation, and packing. Speaking of packing stuff, has anyone ever tried those plastic spacebag travel bags shown on late night  infomercials? As someone who mistrusts anything shown on commercials, I have a hard time believing these bags will work but if you have any tips for me, please share! I’m looking at you Aya

Categories: School/Students, Travel | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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