Author Archives: Mrs. Joostberns

Things We’ve Learned in Tanzania- Part 2

Here are the final 60 things we’ve learned during our time in Tanzania. This was a group effort and not an exhaustive list.

61. When walking in the rain, you have two choices, fall in the drainage ditch or fall in a huge puddle.

62. Honey tastes like alcohol.

63. The pool guys can predict the weather better than the weathermen.

64. You can never have too much bread and butter.

65. Math majors only do good.

66. If there is a chance of rain, it means it will rain.

67. We are the only country in the United States that teaches math.

68. It is impossible to drink out of a Nalgene without spilling on yourself.

69. Our bladders are directly related to the quality of the bathroom and/or hole.

70. The number of wives a Maasai has is directly proportional to the number of cows he owns.

71. The best food is a simple vegetable broth.

72. Zack is the only one who can get girls’ hair free from the thorn tree.

73. We don’t get tan lines, we get dirt lines.

74. Grand Valley would dominate Survivor: Tanzania.

75. There are hand signals for the colon in number 74 above.

76. There are three different words for flamingo and none of us no which one is correct.

77. Ponchos will never catch on as a fashion statement in Tanzania.

78. Never take your backpack on a six and a half hour hike if it is not absolutely necessary.

79. Euchre is played everywhere, including the top of a mountain.

80. White shoes do not last more than 20 minutes.

81. When you don’t have a television, geckos are the best entertainment.

82. Power can be shut off nation-wide, by choice.

83. When hiking, there is a significantly greater chance of stepping in poop than not in poop.

84. Climbing a mountain is easier than hiking to a canyon.

85. Our parents were right, it is possible to travel uphill both ways.

86. We share everything.

87. The only way to prevent blisters is to not walk. Ever.

88. You can make anything out of a banana.

89. If you ride in the back of the safari vehicle, you will hit your head on the window at least once.

90. People say you’re welcome before you even say thank you.

91. If you don’t have bruises after the first day of safari, you’re doing it wrong.

92. Six Immodium is not too many.

93. You know it’s going to be a long day when you break your first piece of chalk on the first word you write.

94. We will never know what side of the road to walk on.

95. One little leaf can make a whole lot of racket on a tin roof.

96. You can never have enough mints. Well, Zack can never have enough mints.

97. Cody has a husband face.

98. Your passport pouch goes under your shirt.

99. Long bathroom breaks are a cry for moral support.

100. Diana is a walking drugstore.

101. You can be in the middle of Africa and learn about proper dinner etiquette…outside in.

102. If you can’t find your driver, he is probably throwing rocks at the lions.

103. Even given the chance to sleep in, we still wake up at 6:15.

104. You can take a cat down a mountain in a box and have it survive. Nice work, Bahati.

105. People say sorry even when it’s not their fault.

106. There really aren’t any problems in Tanzania. Hakuna matata.

107. Always offer half.

108. A slice of pizza can be passed down the table and touched by 9 people before being graciously accepted.

109. Sun tanning on the equator is dangerous, but gets the job done quickly.

110. You will always have a passport pouch tan line. Just accept it.

111. Ice will never again be taken for granted.

112. It is common practice to mop outside.

113. There are wild hedgehogs in Tanzania.

114. Mzungus can beat Africans in a football game.

115. You will never be able to pronounce all of your students’ names.

116. Lions claim everything, even safari vehicles.

117. You don’t need 100 pictures of zebras, but you can’t help yourself.

118. You’ll never know if a car honking means hello, get out of the way, or go ahead and cross. Just pick one and commit.

119. There are no boundaries when you live with the same people for 26 days.

120. Maisha Marefu


Looking Back

As we wind down and begin to reflect on our experiences in Tanzania, I find myself thinking most about the relationships I have made on this trip. The group of us from Grand Valley have gotten very close and have built some really strong friendships during our time together. We started out as a group of acquaintances, maybe having one or two classes together during the previous semesters, and ended this trip as remarkable friends. We agreed to spend 26 consecutive days together, not knowing exactly what the trip would entail. Even though we had orientation meetings for months before the trip, none of us really knew what to expect when we arrived in Arusha. We boarded the first plane to Amsterdam together, and I don’t think any of us really realized how much this trip would change us as individuals or as a group. We grew personally, but also grew together. Our first weekend in Mulala village was really the starting point of a lot of our relationships. I mean, all 15 of us shared one bathroom (well, toilet), and that’s a pretty extreme way to get comfortable with other people. We quickly learned to rely on each other for support when we needed it, and we depended on each other a lot. It’s been incredible to be a part of this group, and I’m really going to miss spending so much time with everyone.

I’ve also developed a lot of relationships with the teachers and students at my school. The students were so excited to have us in the classroom and truly seemed to appreciate us being there. We were greeted each time we walked in a classroom, with the students standing and repeating a chant that I will never forget: “Education is the key to life. Our motto is to face the future with confidence. Good morning, teachers”. We would reply and then ask them to take their seats. It was so interesting to see how respectful the students were of the teachers, going to get extra chalk, offering up their seats, and passing out workbooks. But, like all elementary classrooms, we did have our fair share of classroom management issues to tackle. The students were very interested in us and our lives in America, asking questions and treating us like celebrities in the classroom. It was a completely different dynamic than I was used to. Our students were eager to learn and were truly some of the greatest kids. It was a privilege to be able to teach in their class, and I loved every minute.

The teachers at our school were a little hesitant of our presence in the school, but quickly warmed up to us. After the first few days passed, we settled into a routine and spent a lot of time in the staff room. We talked with the teachers during our free periods, and we learned an incredible amount of Swahili from them. Like the students, they were very curious about our lives in America, asking about the schools, government, politics, culture, and weather. It was so nice to have the opportunity to have long conversations and ask them questions as well. We were able to observe their teaching and interaction with the students, and I learned so much from my time at school with them. It was really hard to say goodbye and walk out of the school, knowing I probably won’t see any of them again. The teachers had us promise we would ever forget them, and I easily agreed to that. This experience has changed the way I think of myself as a teacher, a student, and an individual. I have created some amazing relationships that I hope never fade.

Changing Impressions

 We’ve been in Arusha for about two weeks now, and my impression of things have significantly changed since we first arrived. Our first day walking into the city was pretty overwhelming, and everything was bigger and busier than I had imagined. We had people following us all afternoon, trying to sell us artwork, bracelets, and safaris. The traffic was moving quickly, driving on the opposite side of the road we were used to, and this made crossing the road pretty stressful. We had some close calls the first few days in town, nearly getting hit by the dhala dhala (the city vans that are always crammed full of people), motorcycles, and bicyclists. We quickly learned that the order of right of way in Tanzania is animals, cars, bikes, and then people. After our first adventure in town, I was hesitant to venture back to the city if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

Since our initial trip, we have made multiple journeys into downtown, and I have become completely comfortable walking through the streets. Our Swahili has improved, and instead of saying “hapana asante” (No, thank you), we can instead say, “sitaki kunanua” (I don’t want to buy), which is very helpful when people continually want to sell you things. I feel more confident when walking in town, and we have a purpose when we go. I think people are beginning to recognize us, as we tend to stick out a bit. It’s always an adventure when we go to town, and I think I will always cringe when we step into the road, but overall I am beginning to settle in. I no longer think of Arusha as a hectic, shady city. Instead, I view the city as a hub for busy people, going about their daily business of running errands, selling items, and moving around town.

 I feel like my impressions changed after meeting more people and simply spending more time around town. After talking with our guides, teachers, and the families over the weekends, I have gotten a sense of the culture and the attitudes of the people here. Most people are helpful and are genuinely interested in talking with us and want to learn more about our lives in the United States. We have also noticed that many people like to talk with us to practice their own English, and we can also get help with our Swahili. I’ve learned so much from the people we have met, and it has helped me to gain a better sense of the culture. I love having the opportunity to learn more about the culture through conversations, and this also translates into feeling more comfortable here. I have completely different attitude after being immersed in the country for two weeks, and I think this is directly related to the people we have met in Tanzania.

Things We’ve Learned in Tanzania

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The First Day at Arusha National Park and Mulala Village

We had an incredible weekend going to the Arusha National Park and the Mulala Village. We left Saturday morning for Arusha National Park with our drivers Joseph and Luther, and spent the day going on a driving safari and then a walking safari. As soon as we drove in the gates of the park, we saw at least five giraffes (twiga in Swahili) right beside the road. It was amazing to see the animals so soon into our drive and so close to us. We then passed through a park of the park they call the “Small Serengeti”, since the landscape is similar to what we will see in the Serengeti National Park. Along our drive, we saw more giraffe, zebra, baboons, cape buffalo, warthogs, and flamingos. We all took advantage of the open roofs on the safari vehicles and took hundreds of pictures. We saw Mount Meru in the distance, which offered an amazing backdrop for all of our pictures.

After our driving safari, we took a walking safari through the park. We saw more animals and got really close to them, probably within 30 yards of two giraffe, and within 20 yards of a warthog (pumba). We stopped at a waterfall during our walk and took time to sit and eat our lunch. Our lunch was made up of a hard boiled egg, a butter sandwich with three pieces of bread, a mango juice box, a piece of chicken, a banana, and a muffin, and a crepe. It was nice to be able to sit down after walking through the park. As we were walking, we kept commenting on how this experience was reminding us if the Jurassic Park movies. The landscape and weather was wonderful, although some of us could have used some more sunscreen. Our walking safari lasted about 2 and a half hours, and then we were back in our Land Rovers and on our way to the Mulala Village.

On our way to the Mulala Village, we drove across some pretty treacherous roads. We were bouncing around our seats as our drivers were dodging giant rocks, ditches, holes in the dirt road. These roads made Michigan pot holes seem like nothing. At one point, our driver stopped and asked for directions, and we drove down a road that was more like a walking path to get back to the main road. Our driver, Luther, later explained that we missed a short cut, and I’m pretty sure it lengthened our drive by about 45 minutes. I was really impressed with Luther’s driving skills, as driving in Arusha is a skill that seems hard to master.

 When we arrived in Mulala, we were greeted by Ishmael and Mama Anna, along with their wonderful family. They welcomed us by singing, clapping, and dancing. It was a great way to be greeted and start off our time together. Ishmael took us to the back of the house where he showed us how they make and collect honey from sting-less bees. The bees create a hive on the inside of a hollow log and produce honey inside. This log has been split down the middle, glued together with a sap-like material to keep it closed and is hung from the roof of the house. Ishmael explained that the hives can be kept close to the house because the bees don’t have stingers and they aren’t a danger to people. The family has 30 hives that they harvest every six months. Although it wasn’t time to collect the honey, Ishmael had his son take down a hive to show us how they pry open the log and spoon out the honey. He explained that they could get five to six liters of honey from each hive. It was really awesome to see what their day to day lives look like and how they harvest the products that they sell in the markets, like honey, cheese, and coffee.

We were given a great dinner that was prepared by the women in the family. The dishes were traditional foods: rice; banana and pork stew; spinach; green beans and carrots; stiff porridge (ugali) made from corn, water, and sugar; a bean and corn dish; fried bananas. It was really interesting to be able to try each of the dishes, which use a different combination of foods and spices that I have never had.

After dinner, we were invited to sit by a fire (moto in Swahili) Ishmael had made. We sat together and were able to ask Ishmael a lot of questions about his life and the Tanzanian culture. Most of us were exhausted by 8:00 since it was such a long day, and we had a hard time staying awake. Ishmael was adamant about us not going to bed, because he worried we would wake up too early and have nothing to do, although most of us could probably use a good twelve hours of sleep. To keep us from falling asleep, he had all of us turn our chairs around and sit backwards around the fire. However, he assured us that he would be the fire guide to make sure we didn’t fall backwards into the fire after nodding off. None of us had ever sat in a circle with our backs to the fire, and it got us talking again.

We left the fire and headed to our tents around 9:00. Our tents had been set up, and we had mats, sleeping bags, and pillows for two people in each tent. We had a comfortable night, and although it rained really hard, we all managed to stay pretty dry. The next morning, we woke up around 7:00 and had breakfast, coffee, and tea with the family, and we were off on our next adventure.

Over the weekend, we were able to see how the lifestyle is much slower than what we are used to. It was a great time for our group to spend time together and bond, and I think we are much closer after this trip. This weekend was an awesome opportunity to slow down and gain understanding of daily life in rural Tanzania, and also appreciate the beautiful environment around us.