October 21, 2017

search for the ultimate taco

you knew it was coming.  it's the impossible dream.  in thailand we chased the perfect pad thai and here it is the best taco.  people are passionate about the tacos here and i am working my way through the options in antigua.  i stopped in to try the Tacool which was too greasy so it rates only ⭐.  plus at 40Q [5.50$] is way overpriced for street food.

October 20, 2017

caoba farms

veggie burger
small place just outside the city of antigua - less than one mile from my house - so an easy walk.  it's a lot of things rolled up into one property. organic farm.  yoga shala.  music venue. amazing restaurant. health food shop.  artist's market on saturdays.  i went for the sunday yoga class [led by greg] which was awesome but a tad voyeristic as people wandered through taking pictures of the yoga class - made me understand how animals in a zoo feel.  there's also a 'rum lady' who is always pushing the local rum brew.  i've only been in the morning so not quite ready for rum sampling.  i wasn't however able to escape without buying a couple of new trinkets.  





October 18, 2017

back in avocado land

in Africa, the avacados grow wild in everyone’s yard and at the end of the market day the sellers will give them away for free so they don't have to carry them home.  i'm happy to find them plentyfull here. 

guacamole for everyone.... and mangos and papaya!


October 16, 2017

new apartment

entry from street
moved into the new apartment.  i really don't enjoy the search for a living accomodations but i am getting better at it.  it really only took me three days to decide on a place.  as long as the internet is good and i can sleep well i should be happy.  it's one of three townhomes in a row.  the couple next door are super nice and have been feeding me [alot].  they also let me practice my spanish and are very encouraging.

October 14, 2017

sinful, sinful people

before i even land i notice a lot of people praying and strangely reading traditional paper books.  first i think they must be concerned about the weather and flying.  then i realize they must be missionaries - and there are tons of them everywhere here.  i suspect the Guatemalans must be really sinful and evil people to require such large numbers of missionaries.  also, the number of churches is proportionately large.

more on the churches later. 

i've seen faith based organizations at 'work' around the world so i can say with confidence that they do good but it's usually with a heavy dose of doctrine.  they typically operate within the antiquated model of aid by providing goods and services at no charge which is not a sustainable model.  disaster aid is different but is still better delivered by organizations who have spent decades working humanitarian disasters.


October 13, 2017

watemala

under those clouds live a volcano
when i arrive Guatemala [pronouced watemala] it rainy and overcast.  i do notice the roads and infrastructure here are much nicer than in Africa - and although there isn't any traffic on the road my driver bitches about both the roads and how bad traffic is most of the time.  

so basically, no matter where in the world you are the traffic is 'bad' and the roads 'falling apart'.

as we leave Guatemala City i can smell the smog and i'm glad not to be living there.  it's an easy 45 minutes to Antigua.  the roads in Antigua are cobblestone which make driving uncomfortable and most everyone gets around on foot which i love.  the cars that are on the road must be burning dirty gas becasue the fumes smell toxic.  also, mufflers seem to be optional here so just a few cars sound like a freight train moving through.

although the cobblestones keep the traffic at a crawl i notice plenty of people limping and suspect it's hazardous to the ankles.  

navigating Antigua is easy compared to Asia or Africa.  it's laid out in an organized grid that would make any civil engineer estatic.  here both the streets and houses are numbered.  

October 10, 2017

documenting my baggage

i have learned that it's helpful in the case of misplaced, lost or stolen baggage to keep a photo.  i've been known to photograph everything going into luggage or a package to document what is inside - haha or even photograph luggage at the check in counter conveyor belt.  when i left Tanzania it was chaotic [like most things there] and i didn't document exactly what was in my bag so when one didn't make it i could barely remember which bag had what.  it was a mess.  after cursing the Africans for stealing my luggage Emirates Air did a fantastic job of finding and returning said luggage.  so here's a photo on my way to the airport.  just my new[ish] duffel, my old backpack and trusty water bottle.  the box is aid i'm taking for a friend's clinic.


October 7, 2017

yoga, meditation & squirrels

this guy joined me for meditation & yoga in the mornings outside while i was in colorado.  collecting the last of his fall nuts i suspect.


October 5, 2017

luggage talk

collectively we own a lot of luggage
this morning i woke up with a headache - i think my brain was stuck on a conversation with my friend last night over luggage.  we spent over an hour discussing the pros and cons of every piece of luggage in the house.  both of us being travelers means we have a lot of luggage and opinions.  the conversation started because i noticed she had a closet full of luggage and i was looking for one bag for my next trip so asked if she was getting rid of any of hers.  the quest for the perfect piece of luggage is ongoing and as techonology creeps forward one day will shall all reach nirvana.

in the end my head just wanted to explode but i'm the proud new owner of duffle with wheels.  i'm traveling light on this next trip so i wanted just one bag and this one seemed like a good choice and was only used once.  technically if it's completely full it's going to be considered oversized by the airlines but i'm going to risk it because that's the kind of girl i am.  now your head is probably going to explode as well.

October 3, 2017

required reading

my next home will be Guatemala as i start working on a new project there.  Antigua, which will be my home base, is known for it's volcanic peaks and coffee covered slopes among the remnants of spanish occupation.  it's a magnet for global travelers so with a population of just over 30,000 it should be an easy town to navigate and everything seems to be measured in blocks for the main square.  

it's just a hour to both Guatemala City and also the Lake Attilan which I will be visiting. i'm reading up on the culture and look forward to forgetting swahili and improving my spanish.  the rest of the country is longer bus rides or planes if trying to get to the north near the ruins of Tikal [which i previously visited and want to visit again http://vagabondcowgirl.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-grandaddy-of-all-mayan-ruins.html ]  the mayan culture fascinates me and i hope to read more about it as I have the chance to roam more of the old sites.

September 18, 2017

holly retired

12 weeks old
visiting holly in chicago
it's hard to believe it's been nine years since this little puppy became a guide dog.  she's still really healthy - just at the end of her working career.

i am super proud of the work she has done and happy that she will get to spend her retirement living as a lady of leisure with Maya her partner her Canada.  i'm fortunate that Maya has kept me in her life and continued to share her with me.

April 8, 2017

goodbye tanzania!

the first person i met when i arrived was the last person i saw when i left.  this is Mageni our company driver.  he was a good driver and never got me into an accident or killed.  i am very grateful for that.  

we spent a lot of time together while i was in country and we had a few crazy experiences together.  like the time we were in Arusha and we were looking for a the only place where you could buy plastic containers for retail.  i needed to see what they had for the vanilla sugar i wanted to bring to market.  there wasn't a sign advertising the business and when we called for directions the clerk shouted and abused Mageni to the point i was cringing.  i didn't even understand what she was saying but whatever it was she wasn't saying it nicely.  i told Mageni afterwards we would never need to go there again.  with his help i learned a few more swahili words and then immediately forgot them.

my smile says it all.  i am ready to go.  Mageni was always smiling and i love that this is my last photo from Tanzania.

April 5, 2017

those who change the world

i have met some wonderful people and made some fantastic friendships while in Tanzania.  some expats and some nationals.  with all of them there is a common thread.  they made me laugh and we did spend a lot of time laughing. sometimes it was about some cultural thing i didn't understand or the way i saying something in swahili.  

there were so many adventures as i look back over the last year.  the safaris, camping on coffee plantations, Kilimanjaro, trips to Nairobi, exploring Kigali, the mountain gorillas, a holiday in India, getting to spend time Zanzibar and whale sharks around Mafia Island.


i found strong, intelligent and independent woman who will be the next face of Africa and bring success through hard work and lessening in the sense of entitlement they get from the west.  

i met expats who were truly changing the world for better and my year living in the shadow of Kilimanjaro is an experience that will forever shape who i am.  

i am a better person for this experience and i leave with gratitude for all the blessings of my life and compassion for those who struggle in our world. 



  

April 4, 2017

the office luncheon

 amid the going aways [that's when you get together to say goodbye to the people who you are leaving behind] the office put together a luncheon which moved me to tears as i sat through the english, then a swhili translation, of staff stories about me.  the cake was good.

March 30, 2017

one year in africa

my year in Africa is up.  next month i will say goodbye to Tanzania.  so as i wind up my time here there are many going away dinners, drinks and fetes.  
every time i am asked if i am sad to be going i mumble something about it being bittersweet and returning.  it's all a lie.  it's not bittersweet.  i am glad to be leaving.  mentally i left a long time ago.  i don't plan to return.  there is just nothing here for me.  i smile every day i can mark another day off the calendar before i leave.

i am humbled by the experience, the challenges and the people.  the friends that i have met and cherish will always be with me and we will connect in the future - just not here.

March 20, 2017

orphanages in africa

you've probably noticed something missing from my blog.  if not, let me tell you what you won't see.  me, a white girl, surrounded by a group of over exploited black children.

yes, it seems on the list of everyone visiting africa that they post a photo of themselves, usually in an 'orphanage', 'helping' the children of africa by stopping in for a day to teach english, play games or some other nonsense that makes them feel good about themselves.

in Asia this it is a huge taboo to allow tourists to visit orphanages [because of the pedophile trade] so at first i was shocked but then i began to understand what was going on.  here it is an industry.  

the women in the villages were watching as tourists flocked to the orphanages and left money donations to support the organizations.  being willing [most but not all] to exploit the western tourists for their money they opened 'orphanages' in their villages.  however, in their case it's more like day care, at the end of the day the children go home to a family with money in their pocket collected from the tourists that day.  one orphanage here was painted three times in the last year so volunteer tourists could feel good about 'helping' africa.  

so think about that when your tour guide says, 'would you like to visit an orphanage?' it's probably a red flag that you picked the wrong tour company but you will get your photo surrounded by exploited african children that you can post on facebook. 

i have plenty of photos of me interacting with locals so don't think i only have western friends here.  i just don't want to exploit them the way i see other people doing it.  

where i live in northern Tanzania is a hotbed of NGOs so getting a volunteer position here is easier than getting a job at mcdonalds.  it's hard to differentiate what i do.  creating jobs, empowering the people through sustainable economic development vs. this cycle of dependence on foreign aid.  ugh... enough for this week.  fun stuff next post i promise!



March 14, 2017

banned from the office

as i mentioned before, the general manager here chose not to apply for a work visa for me which requires me to do the in/out every three months.  providing a work visa was part of my employment contract so not providing one is a bit of a problem contractually.

Tanzanian law is pretty clear about what is required to have anyone who is not a national on staff.  but, in all fairness, there were some changes to resident/working permits about the time Magafuli took office so there has been confusion among the immigration staff about how they are going to continue to get their bribes and make money under the new policies requiring them to slow down the process until they again have a corruption scheme in place.

still, my bosses know the situation and they know back to back multiple business visas are not considered legal.  on my last reentry i did get pulled into an office for some questions but i was just polite and smiled and got through.

about a month ago a notice went out that anyone with a work permit or a resident visa must go to immigration to validate their paperwork.  what they didn't say is that when you do this you will be given an id card which you have to carry at all times.

fine, i thought i'd be out of the country before they actually got around to checking.  well apparently not, with just a few weeks to go before i leave i get a note saying don't come into the office because the immigration raids have begun.  

i know people in the expat community who have paid up to $1,000 in bribes although that's high - usually it's just around $300.  otherwise it's a 72 hour notice to leave the country - either way i'm not taking any chances and just hold meetings at my house which everyone likes because it's cooler and i have coffee and water.

this doesn't last long as things grind to a halt at the office without supervision and i give in and go back to office hours.

March 4, 2017

whale sharks - mafia island

i just got off the boat from a trip out to swim with the whale sharks and it was like nothing i had ever done before.  it is a not to be missed peak life experience.
not my photo

it was exciting and scary at the same time.  they are massive animals [up to 40ft] and swimming along side of them can be intimidating.  when you look down and see one of the massive fish surfacing under you its just unnerving.  there's no way to get out of its path.

fortunately they are harmless to humans so getting into the water with them is safe. unfortunately, they are harmless to humans and some people treat them more like a domesticated pet than a wild animal.

my first trip out was with a conservation group so i was well briefed on both etiquette and research being done on the species. it's really amazing what they've learned about these fish and how much they don't know.  check out  wwf profile and nat geo profile

i swam with sharks before but it was more like a petting zoo where the sharks are fed and domesticated or seen sharks while diving [ok.... the sharks on the GBR Australia were a little bit intimidating].  still, the largest shark i've seen while i was in the water was only about 9ft [3 meters].  later, in a social setting, when someone mentioned her experience of diving and touching one of the whale sharks it was awkward.  i was thinking, ummmm i don't think you are supposed to touch them.

for those of you who thought me crazy to mingle with the mountain gorrillas and think swiming these guys was just as crazy, let me tell you that i have another crazy wish... one day to dive with whales.

March 2, 2017

kua ruins, juani island, mafia archipelego, tanzania


it's a short and very worthwhile trip out juani island to see the kua ruins. it's another world heritage site that i'm glad to take the time to see.  i'm absolutely fascinated by the history and the how well developed their structures and society were that the remnants are still standing thousands of years later.  

other than a few fishermen we find at the access point to the island ruins we don't see any humans.  monkeys and birds and assorted reptiles, yes.  maybe that's why i like it more than the touristy and exploited dark slave history of Zanzibar.  we timed the return from the island for sunset over mafia and it was the perfect end to a relaxing day on the island.

  

February 28, 2017

last trip to dar - hopefully

after an exhausting 5 days in Dar for customer meetings and the farmers market to train the new sales girl i am getting on another ridiculously small plane to fly to Mafia Island for a week holiday which is supposed to be deserted with fabulous diving.  

still as i board the plane find myself wondering which seat is best if the plane crashes? will the plane break apart if if crashes in the water? do I really need to wear a safety belt? wouldn't that make it harder to escape during a water landing?

the guy sitting next to me is from Bulgaria and says he works with fastjet on the Bulgarian planes which makes no sense to me because i didn't know Bulgaria was making planes and since i find myself on fastjet a lot now i can add that to my mental checklist every time i board one of those flights.


i also meet a Canadian based in South Sudan working for MSF and she makes me feel grateful for Moshi when she talks about the hours and conditions in which she works. god bless them.

of course there is no problem and it's a beautiful flight and the pilot puts us down on the right island and the 'airport' is as small as the island.

strangely, when we land there is a sign that says the airport is funded by the americans.  not sure what's up with that.  also, same with the roads on the island which are much nicer than where i live in Moshi.

February 24, 2017

getting married in Tanzania

NO, not me.  one of the first nationals i met when i landed was Eileen who has remained a good friend.  she has a wonderful sense of humor and i enjoy every moment with her.  i was thrilled to have her ask me to be included in her wedding and it was a first hand look into the process a girl goes through here.  there are multiple ceremonies and traditions but the one i liked best was part of the bride price negotiation.  the bride's family will ask the grooms family for a price - say 20 cows - but the interesting part is that the bride's family gets to ask for stuff too.  like an aunt could ask for new cooking pans, a sister could ask for a phone, etc.... i asked if she could put me down for some tanzanite but she said i wasn't entitled to the list.


February 22, 2017

bus from Moshi to Dar el Salaam

i have until now avoided taking a bus anywhere in East Africa.  it's the most common although time consuming way to get around.  for this trip to Dar i'm traveling with a new sales rep for training and although a flight from Moshi to Dar is about the same cost the new managing director doesn't want to seem like he's giving special considerations to the marketing team and tells us to take the bus.  i'm actually okay with this since my forward travel after Dar is to one of the islands for a one week holiday and i won't be returning via bus.

i appreciate the opportunity to see via the ground a lot of what i've been flying over.  the 10 hour bus ride turns into a 14 hour trip but at least it does not break down which is not only common but is expected anywhere in Africa.  indeed, a western couple approaches me on the halfway break and says every bus trip they've been on has broken down.  i use the chance to learn some more about the sales rep that we hired to expand the business and i'm disappointed but not surprised that she's really not interested in what we are doing.  she just needed a job since the organization she was working for was defunded.  i'm not saying that's a direct reflection of her sales skills but i hired her reluctantly at the request of the managing director knowing she'd need lots of training.

turns out i'm not missing much between Moshi and Dar and i'm glad i'm not returning via bus.

she's well educated by Tanzanian standards but perhaps too much so as she aspires to become the next discovered 'african model' and work at the UN.  i'm all about empowering women to reach their goals but in this case i'm thinking it's not going to happen.  [spoiler alert: this 24 year old, who is unmarried, ends up pregnant and supporting the baby daddy in a continued cycle of poverty that could be avoided with some education about and use of birth control. yeah, i saw that one coming.  it's time to give these women some power over their own lives and control over their future.]   

getting accommodations in Dar is difficult because the company allowance is not generous and i usually stay someplace nicer but this time not willing to pick up the cost for an extra employee.  my new sales rep [a tanzanian who speaks the language] is absolutely worthless in helping with this.  let's say i slept with the lights on.



February 15, 2017

an american visit

had a short visit from an American friend and it was surprising to realize how much i miss my friends from home.  sure i skype with a lot of people but it's really not the same because there isn't a way to describe the not knowing if there will be water or electricity of some other disaster when get home.  

but when she mentioned she wasn't checking any luggage i was quick to throw together a bag of stuff that is mostly gifts and souvenirs that will lighten my load when i return.  as i kept wrapping orange duck tape around the bag she kept saying what are you doing?  

clearly, when you think it not just normal but also necessary to wrap your bags in duck tape when checking them from a third world country you've been traveling for too long.  i've long passed the point when dragging this off the baggage carousel would embarrass me.  

February 10, 2017

gay house vs. chaos

there is a dutch expat who i see a couple of times a month.  she does some contract work at the office so one evening over drinks i was asking how our company compared with some of the others she works with.  

she was saying how well run our company in comparison with other organizations so the discussion went to which companies were most disorganized and she said one is openly called gayhouse which seemed inappropriate and a little odd to me.  then i realized with the thick accent she was saying chaos and not gayhouse.  i think i'm losing all my english language skills.

the expats here who are paid western salaries are worked to death.  most of the professionals i know work 10 hours a day in contrast to most locals that start work around 9 and wrap up around 4.

January 25, 2017

the african view of trump

i was asked very often about and spoke many, many times to people about a trump presidency and told them in very clear language that he will not be a friend to Africa.  as early as January when i was talking to USAID workers it was clear that resources were being pulled and money going away.  

now, more than ever, it is important that resources be channeled into sustainable economic solutions for Africans or the cycle of challenges will continue. the old aid model of sending money to African countries is a catastrophic failure.  with billions of dollars in aid there is little or nothing to show for it and the lives of the average African hasn't changed much.  

immigration, income equality and gender discrimination are all hot topics in the international development community BUT also impact the lives of westerners.

we see migrants [people who have left their home country and no legal status elsewhere] flowing into Europe and the US and westerners recoil but without sustainable environmental and economic solutions the systemic problems that create illegal migration will not go away. 

it would also be nice if trump would stop offending everyone outside the US and provide some real leadership.  America is already great.  if it wasn't illegal  immigration wouldn't be a problem because no one would be trying to get in.

January 16, 2017

corruption in Africa

extortion and bribes are a way of life in Africa.  it's part of their income stream.  as a company our policy was not to pay any 'extra fees' and there were times when without that leverage it felt our paperwork was neglected.  

in Tanzania if you call someone to a meeting, like our farmers to a training, you have to pay them to attend [transportation & time].  it's common that government officials will show up for organizational meetings just to sit through them and collect the stipend at the end of the day.  it's not a productive model as real engagement is pretty low.

unfortunately, high visibility into corruption in African leaders leaves locals believing that it doesn't exist to the same extent in the west.  

we don't call it corruption when US doctors get free trips for continuing education from pharmaceutical companies and when PACs run negative ads in election cycles yet somehow the African model is viewed as more corrupt. hmmmm, makes a person think.

January 8, 2017

be truthful, gentle and fearless

Ghandi House - Mumbai
i just left the house where Ghandi lived for a time in Mumbai.  he didn't spend his whole life there just the bit towards the end.  it has now been converted into a museum and library.  it traces his life and work which i admire tremendously.  what an exceptional man and life of impact he had.  there were copies of letters written in his humble voice to hitler and roosevelt imploring them to use their power to avert the pain of war.


Ghandi's bed and work space
the room he lived and worked in is preserved in much the way it would have been while he was living there.

it left me in a thoughtful mood.  contemplating the world we live in today and how different it would be if we could practice just a small percentage of his teachings.

it was a great way to end my trip to India. i leave early tomorrow to return to Africa.



January 7, 2017

five star hotels + slum tour


as usual when i am exploring a foreign place on my own i get to see things more organically rather than from the window of a bus.  i hadn't really expected to see the gateway of India or the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai which made it all the more interesting when i wandered past.  the hotel is infamous because of the 2008 terrorist attack and has been completely restored.  the view from the rooftop restaurant is spectacular and i find it's opulence a huge contrast from what must be the view from the slums.


yes, just few kilometers from the five star hotel are some of the worlds largest slums.  apparently, the 'slum tours' are quite a popular activity for tourists.  one woman told me 'i think it's important to see'.  no thank you.  i have seen enough of those by accident.  i'm not paying someone to take me to one.  i hope she learned something from it.

January 6, 2017

elephanta island, off mumbai, india

i got up early to beat the tourist crowds to Elephanta Island and was surprised by how quiet it was. everywhere there has been talk of the tourists not coming this year because of the demonetization.  however, by the time i leave there is a healthy line waiting to get in.

Elephanta is one of the World Heritage Sites that doesn't disappoint.

getting out to the island is easy enough via a ferry which leaves from the Gateway to India.  there is a 45 minute ferry ride which is nice and since i'm early, it's pretty empty.  on the island you have to run the gauntlet of touts as you climb the 120 uneven steps to the top carefully avoiding eye contact which is the first buying signal from which it will be hard to disengage without making a purchase. still, i find the touts in India to be only mildly aggressive compared to places like southern Bali and Morocco or Egypt.

once you‘ve hit the top you can grab your ticket - it is one of those places where locals pay 10 cents and forieners are charged $6USD which is slightly annoying.  no one really knows the origin of the cave/shrine/temples so its hard to explain what they are. everyone seems to agree that it was dedicated to the female goddesses and that seems to make sense from the location away from mainland india and the reliefs that remain.  it contributes to my sense of the indian culture that women are kept separate, considered unclean and unequal.  to westerners like myself it's offensive that indian women during their monthly cycle are prohibited from places of worship or kitchens.  when choices are limited it contributes to the cycle of poverty and inequality that will continue to be a part of the culture here.

it was great to wander around feeling like i had the whole place to myself in a place where women were honored.  when i left the ferry back was also mostly empty.  

it was one of the few historical places i wanted to see on this trip and i am glad i made the effort.  

i had surfed around to find a good guide since i'd never even been to Mumbai before.  it ended up being more stressful to coordinate going with a guide and between uber and guide book available onsite for less than $1 i had a better time on my own.  the cost of a guide with ferry and entrance fees would have been over $200US so i was glad i had done it my way.



January 4, 2017

kalava



armed with my kalava blessing from the puja on New Years Eve i am ready to leave the comfort of the 'resort' to explore more of India.  i want to spend a few days in Mumbai before i leave and have received advice from both locals and travelers to avoid both trains and buses. although the airlines are considered unpredictable they are more reliable then the trains or buses which i have been told repeatedly it's common and expected for them to run 24 to 48 hours behind schedule.  must drive the Germans crazy!  i cross my fingers and again book a flight on a domestic carrier from Goa to Mumbai.  

January 1, 2017

new year, new country



 another year and i'm still loving trying out new flavors of a traditional celebration.  i'm at the resort and there is quite a large, elaborate program that involves a lot of eating, meditation, pujas, processions, candles and singing but no alcohol.

literally a drum circle

candle lantern at midnight