Friday, June 6, 2008

Goodbye South Africa, hello Tanzania!

My last few days in South Africa were awesome. Great white shark diving was absolutely amazing. I thought I'd be scared out of my mind, but once the sharks came and I saw other divers in the cage, all I wanted to do was get in the water! Being 6 inches from the gaping jaws of a great white... there's nothing like it in the world.

Cape Town was a lot of fun. We went bar hopping on Long Street, where we taught at least one person in every bar "Go Green! Go White!" I've met quite a lot of South Africans on this trip while out on the town, and they all seem to want to talk about their country, the U.S., politics, and development/poverty issues, which is fine by me - I love to hear the opinions of people here in Africa about the problems they're having and any solutions they might see. I even got to talk to a guy from Malawi about the recent xenophobia, and his insight was very interesting.

We went to the Cape of Good Hope, which is beautiful, and saw the African penguins! Every time they waddled by me, sometimes inches away, I broke into giggles. They remind me of 2 year old children learning to walk. Sort of like baby elephants, too, who don't know what to do with their trunk, their ears, their tail... so they run around as fast as they can holding all of these up in the air. On Wednesday, we went to Robben Island and saw where Nelson Mandela and all of his anti-apartheid comrades were held in prison for decades. When we entered their cell block, I felt like I was entering a hall of champions, where even when the jail guards tried to segregate by giving non-blacks more food than blacks, they shared and overcame the segregation. We went out at the waterfront for our last dinner in South Africa, then returned to an Irish pub for live music and a round of drinks. Since I had to leave for the airport at 4:45 am, everyone decided to just stay up with me and hang out in the hotel, which was awesome. I'm really going to miss everyone.

Yesterday was spent on planes all day long, from Cape Town to Joburg to Dar es Salaam to Kilimanjaro. Even from the air, Tanzania seems much more vibrant and lush than South Africa, and it feels like I'm actually in the "real" Africa now. Everything is green here since the rainy season just ended, and I can no longer blend in being a mzungu (white person) - I stick out like a sore thumb, and all the street vendors take advantage of that. I met Mom at the airport last night, and we headed for Arusha this morning. We've spent all day shopping, and already spent too much money. A few times we've discovered that we've really overpaid for something when we see it a lot cheaper elsewhere, but I guess that's how you learn, right?

I loved my study abroad program in South Africa, but if I was not continuing on to other parts of Africa, I would have been disappointed by the lack of cultural immersion... but no longer! I am immersed and loving it. I didn't have much culture shock when I went to South Africa, and I never truly left my little bubble of American friends, but I definitely felt some culture shock here. I wish I had learned more Swahili before coming, but even the few words I'm picking up here and there are helping. It might even be more of a culture shock once I get back to the U.S. after being here for 3 months than I'm experiencing just now - I'm not sure I'll even remember which side of the road to drive on.

Tomorrow, we head for the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara on a 5 day camping safari. Then after that, I'll visit Gonja Hospital, and then on June 20, start climbing Kilimanjaro! I really do love Africa, and I'm having the time of my life.

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