Sunday, January 30, 2011

Travel TidBits: Life at School

Give a Heart to Africa – Women’s Empowerment Program
A School for Women – founded by Monika Fox from Canada

Today, it is quiet at the volunteer house. Two of our volunteers, Alex and Halima, departed early in the morning for Zanzibar and then home to Canada.

My notes today will focus on the environment where I live and work while in Moshi, Tanzania. The GTHA School is located on the University grounds of Moshi College. The house, 3 bedrooms, bath, kitchen and living/dining rooms are built in (sort of) Spanish style with a porch. The house floors are tiles for easy cleaning in this dusty environment. There is a small lawn and an outside sitting area under a thatched roof to shade from the relentless sun. The bedrooms have bunk beds for 2 with a divided wall closet. I am rooming in a corner bedroom which has the advantage of 2 windows for cross ventilation. All rooms have ceiling fans running 24 hours a day.

Porch-front of volunteer house

Shady outside sitting

GTHA classrooms

Computer classroom porch - children's play area

The kitchen has all the basics and we cook on a propane 2-burner table top stove. Our drinking water is boiled tap water prepared daily. We prepare our breakfast and lunch, but have a cook Margaret, who prepares very yummy dinners or rice, beans and vegetable. Once in a while we have a piece of fish or chicken.

Margaret, our cook in the kitchen

Linda and Margaret

Dinner at GTHA

There are 2 smaller houses that served as servant’s quarters and are now used for 3 classrooms: English, business and computer.

The property is surrounded by a wall with glass chips and an electrical fence on top. The closed iron gate is locked at night or when we are not at home. We have a night guard, Pedro, who comes at 7pm and leaves in the morning at 7am. He sleeps on a bench in the English classroom.

Besides Margaret and Pedro, Mama Jo comes every morning for cleaning and laundry which is done outside by hand and then sheets, towels, clothes and all flatter in the sun and breeze. Since we leave all shoes outside on the porch, she also washes all shoes periodically – the dust and dirt roads color all shoes red. Most here wear flip-flops but I prefer closed shoes. One day I came home just to eat and then wanted to go out again – but in the meantime Mama Jo had washed my shoes and now they were wet and on the lawn for drying. There is an interesting custom here: People call mothers by the name of their eldest son, so Mama Jo eldest son is Joseph.

My day at the house starts early since I wake around 5am. I love the quiet morning hours to write my notes, work on my pictures and to prepare my next blog story. By around 7am, the house wakes up and the kitchen becomes active. By 9am, we are al ready for our various teaching assignments. Most of us wear skirts to class, most women in Moshi wear skirts or dresses of cotton material suitable for the constant hear. Some of the younger women wear western style jeans and tops. Headscarves worn in very creative styles and all kind of braided hairstyles are common. We have a couple of Muslim women with headscarves but not the face scarf seen in town.

Grace with a new hairdo with colored extensions braided into her hair.

There are several male students (minority) but important to get the word out that the school is teaching what it promises. Considering this is a very male dominated culture it is important to gain the trust of men to send their wives for education.

We have 2 class sessions form 9-10:30 and then 10:30-12 noon. The 38 students are divided into 2 groups of 18 according to their language skills with the level 2 including the more advance speakers. English is taught to all 18 students in one session, while the business and computer class each have 9 students. There are 10 laptop computers for the students to work on. We are teaching Word and Excel and most students have never handled a computer or typewriter – so you can imagine what a slow process this is. But by the end of the 6-month program, they at least have some familiarity of the programs. Unfortunately, none of he students have a computer at home and some stay to practice from 12-2pm. But I wonder how much can be retained after they leave if they don’t find a job to continue to learn? Before I come to GTHA, the computer class visited the local Internet CafĂ© to get introduced to the Internet and the wonderful resource of Google.

Computer Class Room

At lunch, everyone piles into the kitchen to prepare our lunch. I mostly prepare tomatoes, tuna and cucumber with some bread for lunch. Having to carry all groceries from town for 30 minutes, I buy just what I need and stuff it into my backpack for my journey home. There is a great bakery with fresh bread in town and it is a center point for our grocery shopping. We always go together and I am slowly memorizing the route through shortcuts and dirt roads. The local market with small stands of fruits and vegetable is yet further in town (about 40 minutes) and often we just buy the fresh things at a small stall across the road of the bakery.

The afternoon are taking up by these groceries runs, going to the bank for cash, browsing the small shops local wear, having a cold drink at the Kilimanjaro Coffee Lounge before walking back to GTHA. This can take the whole afternoon and I certainly miss my car for grocery runs. Last time in town, we visited a small music and video stall with a colorful owner who let us sample many CDs with African music [mostly pirated!!] before deciding on 2 to take home with us. 

Rasta Dave in Moshi downtown

Dinner is around 7p. But sometimes we eat earlier due to lack of electricity. Power outages are a common occurrence here and one never knows when it will happen. So we have candles everywhere, I have a headlamp always handy as well as a flashlight. But then again, it can be a cozy atmosphere eating by candle light and just have conversations.

Dinner by candle light

Later we sit in the living room, reading, doing computer work – if the electricity is on – watching TV which apparently is new addition to the living room. Getting up so early, I mostly retire early to my bunk bed, read a little with my headlamp and fall asleep easily.

GTHA Living Room

... until the rooster and the call to prayer at 5am wake another day.

Jambo to all of you from Moshi, at the foot at Kilimanjaro.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Travel TidBits: Life at GTHA

Home visit to Kombo (Tuesday, 25 Jan)

Kombo is one of the male students who has invited Linda to visit his home.  After we did our errands in town, we call Tunda, a young fellow with a car who acts as GTHA’s driver when needed,  to drive us to Kombo’s house.  GTHA seems to use to different drivers to support their budding businesses.  Kombo lives in Soweto, a suburb of Moshi.  The area has small houses (like 2 room house) built around a small courtyard.  As the car drives up to Kombo’s house, several small children run to the street to greet us followed by Kombo and his wife.  We are invited into their home:  2 rooms with a toilet/bath (?).  The front room is basically filled with a couch, love seat and big chair, there is a TV and refrigerator on the far end.  We are invited to sit and the children pile in.  Kombo has 4 children:  a 7-year old boy, 2 younger girls and a 2-year old boy.  They named him GoodLuck;  he was conceived when the birth control pills ‘did not work’.  Kombo’s wife is Muslim from Pemba, an Island close to Zanzibar on the Eastern coast of Tanzania, while Kombo is Christian like the majority of people here in Moshi.  Due to traditional custom, a brides-price is still paid by the groom to the brides parents, but Kombo tells us that he did not have the money.  Kombo’s wife was an orphan from early age and brought up by her siblings.  Kombo’s wife is at home tending to the children while Kombo is a security guard in town.  Due to traditions and culture, the husband rules the house and the family. 

Since Kombo has been coming to GTHA, his horizon has broadened and he tells us that he wants to give his wife more ‘say’ in the family’s affairs.  Unfortunately, his wife does not speak or understand English so she listens and smiles.  It would be nice to hear her side of the story.  She would like to get more education but for now there is no money and the children need her.  Kombo works as a security guard at night and during the day/mornings, he attends classes at GTHA.  Kombo and his wife would like to start a business but he does not tell us his ideas for such an endeavor and for now, the security guard job pays the bills.  It also would be important for his wife to learn English, an essential skill for conducting business in Tanzania.

At one point, another young man enters the home and it introduced as Kombo’s brother who is studying in the near by university.  He is quiet and does not speak to us.  He lives with Kombo’s family.  So we have 7 people housing here with the second room bare except for 2 double beds.  Kombo tells that the rent is 20,000 Tanzania Shilling TSh (about $ 14) per room, 40,000 TSh total.

When Kombo’s wife disappears and later comes back with milk tea (hot milk with a tea bag) and some cookies, we learn that all cooking is done in the courtyard over an open coal fire.  Gas is too expensive.  All families around this courtyard cook outside, wash laundry and hang it to dry there and the children play in the dirt.  I wonder what this is like when the rains come and the dirt courtyard turns into a red muddy mess?!?

For our ride home, we call Tunda again and for 4,000 TSh ($2.80) he takes us to the GTHA home again where dinner preparation are in full swing.

Thursday, 27 Jan
English Debate class and Conversation Class
Today I am participating in the English class and Thursdays is conversation day.  This exercise encourages students to practice their spoken language.  For the 2nd level class, Linda and Alex, the English teachers, have decided to have a debate on 2 topics:  ‘Is brideprice important to be paid’ and a topic on traffic accidents and who is at fault, the drivers or the police.  I will tell a bit more about the first topic since this is certainly a tradition very foreign to us.

As a bit of background, it is the culture and tradition here that the groom pays a ‘brideprice’ to the parents of the women he wants to marry.  This can be paid in goods, such as cows, or in money.  The price is negotiated between the groom and the parents.  I don’t know whether Tanzania still practices the culture of arranged marriages where the parents choose the groom and bride – as is still the culture in the Masai and probably other tribes.

Frieda, Mary and Dakota in Debate Class

For this debate, the 18-student class was asked decide which site of the debate they want to be [or what they believe in] and to sit either on the ’yes’ or ‘no’ side and everyone was encouraged to tell us the reason for being for or against the tradition of brideprice.  Dakota is the debate leader and is asked to come in front of the class to conduct the debate.  The reasons given by the students – to practice their English - for following the tradition and culture were varied but centered around the following:

Reasons to continued brideprice:
  • to show respect for the family,
  • to maintain the cultural tradition,
  • to compensate the family for the loss of the daughter (workforce),
  • it shows that the parents agree to the marriage,
  • it is a religious practice,
  • it is a symbolic gift out of respect, it can be given to the bride, e.g. a book of the Koran (this answer was given my Mohamed, a Muslim);

Reasons against it:
  • This tradition leaves the new husband and thus couple without money and can lead to poverty,
  • It demeans the bride as if she is being bought (control issues, property of the husband, etc.)
  • This transaction gives the husband control and power over his wife because he paid for her,
  • It is a form of discrimination since a correspondent ‘groomprice’ is non existent.

The students were then asked to discuss the various points and in the end asked whether  anyone would like to change their initial position – but no one does.  I had hoped for some lively discussion but that was not forthcoming.  I am noticing more and more that the culture and school system here do not encourage speaking out, plus the fact that this was an English class and the students had to practice their language was part of the slow conversation as well.  From my Western point of view, it was intriguing to see an almost equal distribution in the groups with both men and women for and against the brideprice with no one changing position at the end of it.

English Class Room

In the following 1st level class, Linda had brought in a book ‘Peace is…  Women imagine a peaceful world” by Jennifer Grooth, 2000, [ISBN978-0-9784469-0-1] for the students to read and then discuss issues pertaining to women’s freedom and equal rights.  Quoting just one spread from the book – beautifully laid out with images of women –

Across the world
The most dangerous place
For a women to be
Is in her home.

Peace is…
A world in which women are safe
within their own homes and
free to come and go at will.

Linda, one of the English Teachers, reading from 'Peace is...'

On the topic of equality, there were many voices from the women that equality is not a reality in Tanzania and yet the 2 men, John and Peter (both under 30) seem to indicate that they are.  It appears that under Tanzanian Law there is equality but due to lack of education of women and cultural position of women, inequality is not challenged.   Again the conversation was hampered by language difficulties but also that sharing of quite sensitive topics was not easy for the class.


After class, I talked with Mary, a student whom I helped in computer class and who was today in the English class.  She is a bright your women and eager to learn.  Mary is 23 years old and lives at home with her mother and grandmother.  She has an older brother who is in college in Dodorma, Tanzania’s capital.  Her father left and is remarried in Arusha (50 km from Moshi) and does not support his first family.  Mary speaks English quite well since she worked in a missionary where she learned to cook the Western way.  After the mission closed, she went back to her mother’s house.  Due her mother’s eyesight deterioration, she can no longer work in the fabric factory in Moshi and it is unclear to me where the money is coming from for the 3 women to life on?  Now, Mary is at GTHA to further her skills, and to make up for her lack of secondary school education.  In the excel class, I noticed that she is fast catching on to what the program has to offer but I wonder how much she really can learn with no computer or practice at home.  Mary’s aspiration are to work in the tourism industry and she would like to go to a program preparing for a good job in that industry, but again where will the money come from to support her in her further education?  GTHA offers the ½ year program free of charge to give students a springboard.

After teaching the computer classes in the morning, I spend the afternoon quietly at the volunteer house, catching up with my notes while everyone is out in town for errands.
The silence is broken when I hear the gate and a slim girl and small boy say Hello at the open living room door.  It is Lucy, a 14-year old girl, who wants to visit Alex, another volunteer from Canada.  As we talk her little brother, about 3-years old according to Lucy but I suspect he is older, finds some small toys and starts playing.  Lucy has 2 older brother and sister who are both in secondary school.  When Lucy wants to go, the boy does not want to leave and she tells me that she will be back later leaving her brother with me.  So here goes my quiet reading:  Dead Aid, by Dambisa Moyo (2009).  The boy peppers me with questions:  Teacher, what is this?  But I doubt that he understands my answers.  He roams through the house, but is respectful of things.  After a while, I return to my reading and he plays with some plastic toys until Lucy returns.  She sits down and starts looking at the books on the table.  She tells me that she is in 6 grade and learning English.  She also says that she had been at Monika’s school but I am not sure whether this is correct.  Quiet return when she and her brother leave.  I later learn that both Lucy and her brother had come to GTHA for the afternoon children’s lay hour that happens several afternoons per week.

At the volunteer house, it is apparently tradition to celebrate the various holiday customs from the home countries of the volunteers.  Today is Australia Day and Renee tells us over dinner that this celebrates the creation of the Australian State.  She decorated the room with yellow and green ribbons and an Australian flag adorns the window.  Margaret, our cook, had prepared a yummy meal with potato salad, rice and a bit of fried fish and as we sit down, the electricity goes out. 

We scramble for candles – readily available – and flash lights and continue with a nice conversation flowing.  After dinner we play a game similar to pictionary:  each person represents someone – often famous – without knowing who it is and through questions, we need to find out who we are.  With much laughter we play 2 rounds before everyone trails off.  Some read with a flashlight, we quietly talk in the living room and eventually retire to our rooms after a cold shower.  The night is clear with a sliver of a moon and stars in the sky.

Signing off and sending greetings from Africa,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Travel TidBits: Tanzania

Dear Friends:
Lioness in the Maasai Mara

Teaching at Give a Heart to Africa (GTHA)
After a good night’s sleep, I woke at around 5am when the roosters started to call. This will be my daily wake up call! The house is quiet and I get up and sit in the living room to write my notes and capture thoughts that are otherwise fleeting like birds in the sky. With 6 volunteers and Monika and Losojo in the house, the constant chatter and laughter is very different from my quiet house at home.
On my first day, Monika, the head of the school, asks me to ‘visit’ in all the class rooms (3 total) to get a feel for the program, the students and life at GHTA. 38 Students (30 women and 8 men) are enrolled in the 6-month program to learn English, computer skills in Word and Excel, and business. The volunteers teach English and computer skills and Monika teaches the business class. The 38 students are divided in ‘first’ and ‘second’ level according to their language skills. Half of them in the ‘first’ or beginner level and the other half in the ‘second’ or advanced. School starts at 9am but the computer room is available for practice from 8am. We have 2 periods: 9-10:30 and 10;30 to 12noon, and at any given time there are 3 class rooms in session. The students range form early 20ties to 40ties and they are eager to learn. Today, one student Gertrude brings her small son who sleeps on her lap most of the time during class.
In the business class, the advanced students are asked to reflect on a business exercise – much like the Donald Trump TV program – where they were asked to practice teamwork by starting a business proposal and carrying it out to successful or not so much financial results. The 4 groups had the following ideas: sell potato chips that were hand made (very successful, they made ~90$!!), offer laundry services (the least successful business). In this class, we reflected on what went well and what did not work. It was interesting to hear how cultural norms influenced the success or failure of this exercise with one male student – Peter- stating that it was difficult for a young man to lead a team with older team members since in the Tanzanian - and African culture – elders are respected and listened to. By assigning and accepting talks for the project from a younger member, the older ones did not like it. Not everyone on each team carried his or her weight but it was difficult to get this out in the open and to discuss honestly what happened. Listening to the VERY slow pace of the class, conducted half in English and much in Swahili with a translator it was an exercise in patience. Culturally these students are not used to discuss and brain storm and much of the class is to open their minds to thinking and analyzing ‘out of the box’. The Tanzanian school system is not encouraging this. Much of he learning is rod memorization with little discussion in class.
I also learned quite a bit in one day about the Tanzanian school system: The countries language is Swahili which tries to bridge the 120 tribal languages still spoken in the rural areas. English is the second language. The primary school is from grade 1-7 and is taught in Swahili with English as a second language. When students enter the secondary school (grades 8-12) all classes are taught in English but most of the teachers are not good at English and might even continue to teach in Swahili – BUT the exams are in English with an enormous failure rate – not surprisingly. Most girls do not continue to secondary school and are much hampered in pursuing work outside the home. Those boys that continue will learn as much as the particular school can offer but if they fail the final exams (in English) they can not apply for university studies. School tuition, cost of uniforms, books, even fees for desks and other school resources hinder many parents to send their children to higher education with a high poverty level in the country. I don’t know how much unemployment is in Tanzania, but in Kenya I heard that it is around 50%.
GHTA was founded 2 yeas ago by Monika, a young women from Canada, and it offers half-year courses to prepare students to conduct a small home business: some of the successful students opened a hair salon, opening a stall to sell shoes, another to sell clothes. There is a coop in town where 4 students have a rented space (paid by GTHA) to offer their ware. GTHA sponsors this endeavor for 1 year by paying the rent. Then the ‘new’ entrepreneurs hopefully will ‘stand on their own feet’ and continue with the coop. It is interesting to learn, that landlords demand rent for 1 year in advance and not surprisingly, such a lump sum is a big hindrance. Even the compound that GTHA occupies demands the 1-year rent in advance.
Back to the GTHA class room, I visit the English class where students just finished a quiz – a weekly occurrence to monitor any progress – and are now talking about their homework. Each student had to write a sentence using the past tense of irregular verbs and their choices of subjects vary but give some inside into their level of advancement from 3 word sentences to longer ones reflecting situations at home like: My son had a fight last night and was injured. Each student has to write the sentence on the black board, read it and corrections are made. A very slow process. Students are asked to copy all sentences as practice. The advanced students do this a bit faster but I wonder how much can be learned in ½ a year? But it is better than nothing.
In the afternoon, I walk to town with Monika to the immigration office since I need a Tanzanian work visa on top of the 50$ visitor visa paid at the airport upon entry. Then on to the ‘town center’ – but more on this later.
For now, the sun is rising, the water for tea is boiling and the day will begin. I can see Mount Kilimanjaro in the North with a clear snow-capped mountain top. One of the girls in the house will climb Kili next week... – But, I am teaching in the computer room today and look forward to it.

Travel TidBits: Kenya Safari

Dear Friends!

After a wonderful wildlife safari in Kenya, I have arrived in Moshi, Tanzania, where I will teach English and computer skills at Give a Heart to Africa, a small school for the empowerment of women ( ). After a good night’s sleep, I am ready for the next part of my adventure. But I am getting ahead of myself and want to tell you about the game reserves, nature and animals that I saw in the last 2 weeks since arriving in Africa.
After arriving in Nairobi, Lynda and I met up with Daniel and Tanya Cox of Natural Exposures (, our photographic tour leaders from Bozeman, Montana. Dan is a great widely published wildlife photographer whom I had met last January in Yellowstone. Dan and Tanya lead and organize photo-tours focusing on nature and wildlife. A small charter plane out of Wilson airport took us to our first destination: Amboseli Game Preserve on the southern border of Kenya, located in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. Being a group of 16 photographers, we were met by our 5 guides and safari vehicles at a small airstrip in the middle of nowhere. The flight had taken us over arid land dotted with some small villages here and there, and the landing strip was a wider dirt road in the wide open savanna. From the air we could already see large herds of grazing elephants.
The Ol Tukai Lodge at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro is nestled in the landscape with small cabins surrounding the central area with the reception, restaurant and open seating area. Fitting with the warm climate, we had lunch on a terrace with a wide view of the plains, and with vervet monkeys climbing the surrounding trees. A Masai in colorful traditional garb was standing guard so that the monkeys would not come down and steal our food. He had a pebble-sling and only needed to raise this for the monkeys to scatter again. We see these monkeys and baboons all over the lodge grounds.
Later that afternoon, everyone was eager to go on the first game drive. The safari vehicles are open on the side and have an open rooftop for maximum viewing. Geared up with our cameras and ready for action, we were not disappointed at the multitude of animals everywhere you looked. The terrain at Amboseli is flat with arid areas, grassland and a swamp area where the elephants and lots of water fowl hang out. The swamp is fed by underground water coming from the snow caped Kilimanjaro. We marveled at th4e herds of elephants with lots of babies and juveniles. These elephants come to the swamp to graze and to cool in the water. At night, they walk for about 30 km to their night resting places at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro. One morning, I was up at dawn before sunrise and I saw the elephants on the horizon slowly walking back to their feeding grounds – what a wonderful sight to see.

Grey crowned Crane

Vervet Monkey with baby

The grey crowned crane is a very elegant bird and when in flight, its colorful plumage is quite a sight to see. We also observed courting and mating behavior – quite a well coordinated dance with each bird in lockstep with the other!
From the largest to the smallest, our first day amazed and so did all the following days. We saw more and more animals and the list is way too long to enumerate them. Needless to say, we saw the ‘big 5’: elephant, buffalo, lion, rhinoceros, and leopard. We also saw cheetah and observed a mother with 2 juvenile cubs sitting on a mount over looking the plains in search for their next meal.

Warthog Family

Ostriches, female and male

Malachite Kingfisher
I hope in my next Travel TidBits to have more images of the wonders of the African ‘bush’.
For today, I am signing off. It’s late and tomorrow I start my teaching in earnest having observed several classes today to get my feet on the ground. I already had one home visit to a student whose family we visited today. But more about that later.

Jambo from Africa!


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Travel TidBits: Africa

The Journey Start!

After a long flight, we (Lynda and I) arrived in Nairobi on Tuesday evening, 11 Jan 11.  I am finally in Africa!  After so much planning and anticipation, my African journey has begun.  I am in Nairobi, Kenya, currently and will go on to Amboseli National Park tomorrow.  But today I saw my first wildlife:  baby elephants, giraffes, gazelles and warthogs – a very funny looking animal and the thought comes to mind that only a mother can love these creatures.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Just to give you an idea where I am and where I am going over the next 2 months, the arrow on the map point to the places that I will visit.

After a good night’s sleep, the breakfast at the hotel terrace on Wednesday morning was great with delicious Kenyan coffee and all the trimmings one can think about.   The temperatures were mild and a breeze made the leisurely breakfast a great start of our journey.  We had arrived a day early to settle into the new diurnal rhythm (besides having an optimal airfare  J).   Mid morning, we ventured out into the downtown area of Nairobi.  The streets everywhere were crowded and the roads almost impossible to cross.  Traffic is on the ‘wrong’ (left) side and it takes some getting used to reprogramming the mind.  Although not quite as congested, it reminded me of the streets of Kathmandu without the horse buggies.  We found a crafts market and entered to be ‘ambushed’ by the owners of small stalls selling carvings, paintings, local jewelry, all wanting to pull us in:  Jambo, Mama!  Just look!  Everything was a bit dusty, but there were the typical giraffe and animal carvings that we see imported into the US.  There were paintings with bamboo leaves, intricate patterns of lighter and darker leaves put together in a skillful way.  Batik and canvas paintings peaked out interest.  The abstract, somewhat stylistic way of paining is quite attractive and in the end, we each bought a small one after a bit of price negotiation!  We continued walking downtown, amazed at the myriad of cell phone stores, electronic stores offering the latest in gadgets.  Shoes and outerwear stores offered somewhat outdated clothes and window displays all were a bit tired looking to do dusty display.  On the street, we were approached by the typical touts that we had read about all wanting to sell us safaris, and other attractions.  “Please, Jambo, Mama, come and see the Masai craft market – very unique!  You can see how we make the beautiful carvings”.   Initially making eye contact encouraged them to follow us and to talk, entice, persuade.  So we learned fast just to ignore them and walk away.  All of this was done with a smile and in a friendly manner, not too aggressive.  There were very few – almost none actually – white faces in the sea of dark.  Men predominantly wearing Western style clothes with some long-shirt, flowing to the ankle, clad men.  Young women stylish in Western clothes as well as totally shrouded, mostly black-clothed Muslim women, with a few that covered the whole face with eye-slits only in the black head-dress.  Since the Norfolk is located just at the edge of downtown, we walked for about 2 hours looking at store fronts, browsing a little bit, and then returning to the hotel thirsty. 

Today we saw our first wildlife as we visited the Sheldrick elephant ‘orphanage’.  It is so sad that poaching is still continuing in the wildlife areas of Kenya leaving the tiniest of elephants helpless and orphaned.  The Sheldrick Elephant center has 17 orphaned elephants form the youngest of 4 months old to a couple of ~2year old elephants.  These beautiful animals are being cared for 24/7 by caretakers that are around these babies day and night – and even sleep with the elephants in their night enclosures.  Elephants live in a matriarchal family group of adult female elephants and their young.  The baby elephants are born after a 22 months gestation time and nurse with their mothers for 3 years.  In the family unit, mothers, aunties, sisters and grandmothers care for these tiny little creatures and if an elephant baby is orphaned it can’t survive beyond a couple of days.  Here in the orphan center, the other young elephants substitute for the family group and their natural instinct prevails and even the 2-year old females exert matriarchal traits already.  The goal is to release the elephants to the wild at the Tsavo National Park.  Around 2 years old, the youngsters are transferred to a rehabilitation center in Tsavo and are integrated into the family groups of older elephants.  So far, the success of releasing orphaned elephants into the wild has been greater than 60%.

We watched the elephants frolicking in a mud hole and it was delightful to see them rolling in the mud, interacting with each other and as you can see, they were covered from head to toe in the reddish mud. What a wonderful sight to see!
Since the area is part of the Nairobi National Park, we saw our first warthogs – a whole family with 4 tiny little warthogs, some gazelles and some giraffes.


Well, after a glorious day, dinner is calling.  I don't know when I will have Internet access again, but if I do, I'll share more of my adventure with you.
Until then,

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Saying Good-bye

Before leaving on my long trip to Africa, on a cold January winter day the sun beckoned to go to the beach, weather the strong winds, visit some familiar places and just enjoying friends.

The morning mist is still hanging in the air at San Gregorio Beach




A blue heron looking for a mouse

Any Complaints??

The little Sweetheart at the Goat Farm

The Goat Farm


Looking down from the stairs


Pescadero Beach


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Travel TidBits: Religous and Spiritual Life in Bhutan

Bhutan is a country steeped in religious and spiritual life. Buddhism was introduced in Bhutan in the seventh century by a Tibetan King who built the Kyichu Temple in the Paro Valley, and was followed by Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Master, in the 8th century. Statues of Guru Rinpoche can be seen and are revered in many temples throughout the country. Since then, Buddhism has always played important role both in the history of Bhutan and in the way of life of its people. Religious and secular powers were not clearly separated until the 15th century, when Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal established a new dual system of government. The influence of religious leaders is evident in each Dzong, which houses the seat of government as well as a monastery under one roof.

The supreme head of the religious institutions known as the Je Khenpo resides in Thimpu Dzong, the seat of the central Bhutanese government where he holds a prominent place in the social and cultural life of the Bhutanese people, and is responsible for the nation’s religious affairs.

The day I visited Punakha Dzong, we witnessed a visit by Je Khenpo giving blessings to monks and the people alike gathered at the Dzong. After attending to a religious ceremony, monks in bright red, orange and yellow robes poured out of the temple, and visitors to the Dzong lined the temple wall to be in the presence and receive holy water and a blessing from the highest Abbott of the land.

Today, Bhutan is the only nation in the world where Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism is practiced as the State Religion. From the time when Guru Rinpoche came to Bhutan, Buddhism has wielded a profound influence both on the people's way of life as well as on the growth of the country's religion cultural and traditional customs. The presence of religion is evident in every fact of Bhutanese life and Buddhist values form the basis of Bhutanese society.

In the past each family entered at least one of its sons into a monastery, so that monks constituted a considerable percentage of the male population. Today, there are about 6,000 monks in Bhutan.  The state takes care of the needs of the monasteries and the monks.  The monks carry out daily rituals, tend to the temples and perform special rituals outside the monasteries in people’s homes.  The novice monks as young as 5-6 years of age obtain religious training and assist the ordained monks in their daily duties.

 Very young monks at a prayer wheel

Young monk at a monastic school carrying out his daily duties.

at the Dechenchodron Monastic School, Thimpu

While monks of Bhutanese monasteries of the Drukpa School are strictly celibate, those of the Nyingmapa order are not obliged to be so. There is a possibility for monks to leave the monasteries and those who do are called Gomchens or lay priests. They are allowed to marry and raise families, and work as peasants, but also carry out liturgical functions in temples and homes. They wield a great deal of social influence specifically in the rural areas.
Since almost every important occasion in the life of the average Bhutanese is invested with religious significance, monks visit households as well to perform rites related to diverse events such as birth, marriage, sickness, death, construction of houses, promotion of senior Government officials, inaugural or opening ceremonies of any occasion and other day-today functions.

The Gate Keeper of the Memorial Chorten in Thimpu

Young monk observing the ceremonial dances

During Spring and Fall, religious festivals, called Tchechu, are celebrated with sacred mask dances involving the entire monastery.

Young monks descending from Taktsang, the Tiger's Nest Monastery to the Valley of Paro.

The monastery sits high on top of the mountains at about 10,000 ft, about 3,000 ft above the Paro valley.  All supplies are carried up on foot and by pack animals.

If you are interested  to travel to Bhutan, the Kingdom high in the Himalayas, please check out the Festival and Photo Tour to Bhutan in October 2011
with Photographer Meggi Raeder.  More images of Bhutan can be seen at my web gallery.

You can also reach Meggi Raeder at

However, I am currently traveling for 2 months in Africa, photographing wildlife and teaching in Moshi, Tanzania.  I will have limited access to the Internet but will respond to all emails as soon as possible.  I'll return from Africa mid March 2011.