36 hours until I reach Las Vegas, Nevada. That’s 36 hours straight of flying and long layovers…ugh. Cape Town to Dubai to Seattle to Las Vegas. The flight between Dubai and Seattle is going to be the longest flight in the history of the world! I am typing this blog on that flight now and I can tell you, I have no idea what day it is or what time I’m landing. It’s daylight outside, but I’m extremely tired. Dubai is almost exactly halfway around the world from Seattle so I wasn’t sure if I would be flying east or west; turns out I’m flying north. In a few hours this plane will be right over the North Pole. With the amount of timezones I’m flying through, I’m sure my internal clock is going to be all sorts of jacked up haha!
The main reason I’m not sleeping right now is because of the amount of entertainment that is at my disposal! This is the first time I have flown with United Emirates Airlines and I can safely say it has taken the top spot as my favorite airline. Every passenger has access to over 1,200 movies and tv shows, a massive amount of music spanning decades, and maybe about 50 video games to play. In addition to that, the food is pretty decent and it’s the cleanest airline I have been in to date. The major hook for me is that they offer the complete fourth season of Mad Men to watch! Needless to say, right after I’m done writing this, I’m going to go back and continue watching what happens with Don Draper and his crew. This is why I can’t sleep.
It still hasn’t sunk in quite yet that I will be home soon. It probably won’t until I step foot on familiar American soil. I am pretty pumped to see some of my friends in Vegas that I haven’t seen in three months since I left Michigan. This isn’t my first foray in that awesome city; I’ve been there multiple times. I even went right before I left to Africa haha! Every time is always a blast and this time should be no different.
My buddy Matt is getting married in late September so he and his groomsmen (myself included) are gonna live it up proper for the occasion for a few days.
I won’t be blogging while I am there because…let’s be honest, who writes while they are at a bachelor party in Vegas?? I just hope my boys are ready for a special present I brought them specifically for the occasion — Konyagi. I brought it from Tanzania, and it’s something you HAVE to try if you ever visit the country if you want to feel like a local. However, trying it just once is enough! Trust me. I packed it in with all of my dirty African clothes. I planned ahead though; before I left for Africa, I gave Bryan some of my fresh clothes to take with him to Vegas for me.
I’m going to get back to Mad Men now though. My next and final post (for this adventure at least) will be when I get back in Michigan. I’ll see everyone at home soon!
I have been trying to sky dive since way back in June, and there was always something that intervened, mainly the weather. However that would all change today; I finally will be able to jump out of an airplane! And the weather couldn’t have been any more perfect, absolutely no cloud in this blue sky. It was sunny, the temperature felt great, and no sign of rain. Today was the day my friends. 🙂
I missed school again, but this time my teachers had no idea I would be absent. I wasn’t able to tell them yesterday because I was abseiling. But I’m sure they’ll be fine, maybe not Zuki. She is probably going insane right now because I’m not around to help with their computer troubles haha! I’ll be back tomorrow to set things straight. In the meantime, I took a train to Cape Town in the morning to meet up with some volunteers from the Rec House who were also going to jump: Larry, Jess (U.K), and three new volunteers I haven’t met yet who are from somewhere in Europe. Isaac was nice enough to take us to sky dive initially, but he had an important tour that came up, so instead he sent his friend Maude to take us. The drive was about 45 minutes north of Cape Town, just below the Sands of Atlantis over a scenic, almost deserted route. We pulled up to a warehouse that held two small planes, the same planes we would all be going on, three at a time. None of us has ever sky dived before and there’s no better place to do it than in this beautiful panorama of the Western Cape. I didn’t care if I went first or not, but I was asked to go with the second group of three because the first group was the lightest or something. I wasn’t too nervous yet, and I figured I wouldn’t be until the moment before I jumped.
The first group left and I watched them as they all squeezed into a tiny plane. They were extremely nervous, but brave enough to finish their task at hand. My group was next. We put on our harness and met our tandem partner. The fact that my guy showed no ounce of nervousness made me feel relaxed and not as uneasy as I thought I would be. I had more butterflies bungee jumping than I did here.
I was more excited than anything! We walked to the tiny aircraft and my tandem partner hopped in and said to me, “Come and sit between my legs.” Haha! I was laughing then, and laughing now just thinking about it. But sat between them I did. I never been on a plane so small before. We were pretty much jammed inside as we lifted off into the sky. The pilot announced that it would be a 20 minute plane ride to about 10,000 feet into the air; at least I think he said 10,000 feet, I was too excited to comprehend. On the way up, we could see all of Cape Town and then some. Table Mountain, Robben Island, all of the beaches, farmlands, vineyards, skyscrapers, the ocean, everything!
Soon our tandem partners attached themselves to us. And then the moment came – the pilot shouted, “Open the hatch!”
I watched Larry jump out first; as he was the closest to the hatch.
I think my jaw was just about on the floor the whole time as I saw him fall into the abyss. The other volunteer I was with went out next (I forget her name, but I know she’s from Luxembourg). I wish I could have seen the expression on my face as I watched them leap off! I’m sure I looked funny. I was next up, and the last to jump. I shuffled towards the hatch until my legs were dangling off the plane. Alright, NOW I was nervous haha! I clutched my harness and tilted my head back, as I was instructed to, and before I knew it, I was free-falling in the sky.
I got a tap on my shoulder, which meant I was free to let go of my harness and spread my wings. I don’t remember what I was shouting but I know they were certainly shouts of excitement pumped full of adrenaline. It looked as if the landscape below me wasn’t getting any closer, as the wind pummeled against my body. I loved every single micro-second of it. Suddenly, my partner pulled his cords and a parachute shot out of his backpack. Soon enough we were cruising in the air. And at that same moment, I didn’t feel too good.
I felt like I was going to vomit any second, in midair. Mr. Vertigo paid a visit to me (again) in the middle of the sky. I can’t say this was totally unexpected, because if you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you’d know that everything EVERYTHING that moves seems to make me feel queasy haha! I didn’t eat anything that morning because I didn’t want to risk puking. It didn’t work, my stomach was uneasy. My tandem partner had no idea I felt like crap because I was laughing and bursting shouts of joy as we were falling. I bet if he could have seen my face after he pulled the cord he would have got the hint. I didn’t want this to interfere so I pretended I was fine. He gave me the handles to the parachute and let me guide for a little bit. “Pull your right arm towards your stomach!” he shouted. I did that and found that maneuver twisted us rapidly, spinning us round and round. He was laughing behind me, but my stomach was churning even more. There was really nothing I could do. It’s not like he could pull over real quick, let me stop to vomit, and then continue parachuting down. I had to wait until we made our proper landing.
I could see the Luxembourg girl a little down below me land, but there was no sign of Larry. Eventually, we made a perfect, smooth landing in the middle of the sand target, much to my relief. But I tell you, as soon as I landed, I felt perfectly fine again. Even with that brief queasiness, that was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done in my life! Larry came down and landed right after me. I asked my tandem partner how did I land before Larry? He said it’s because I weighed more.
We met up with the first group who jumped and we were all still pumped about what we have just accomplished. I told the guides I felt like was going to vomit up there and I asked if it was normal to feel that way. He said it usually happens when people don’t eat. Go figure. I didn’t eat, to prevent just that but it turned out it worked against me. I would definitely sky dive again, but not on an empty stomach! Overall, the thrill of it overshadowed my queasiness. I love this.
After all was said and done, Maude dropped the Rec House volunteers at the train station and he was nice enough to take me home to Kayamandi. Good thing because I did not want to get on another train. When he dropped me, I saw two kids down the block playing with my soccer ball. Now was my chance to take back what’s mine! I walked toward the kids, and as I got closer, it turned out to be a girl and a boy, about nine or ten years old, playing with my ball by themselves. When I got close to them, they kicked the ball towards me and I felt how deflated and soft it was. It was definitely my ball, but it was now brown instead of white and there were cuts and scrapes all over it. I kicked the ball back towards them. Even if the ball looked like it did when I had it, I wouldn’t have the heart to take it from these two kids. It would have been a different story if it were the older kids who were playing though. So long soccer ball.
The Spanish girls time in Kayamandi was just about up, but before they departed, they wanted to make a special dish from Spain for the whole family and us volunteers. It was very tasty and I was just glad they didn’t make me cook anything or otherwise I would have ruined dinner for everyone haha! I went and laid in my bed right after that. All I kept thinking was, “Could I squeeze in another dive before I leave Africa?” Possibly…:)
I was the only volunteer left at the Shining Star Pre-primary school. Ari had already left about a week ago and volunteers from the different organizations had gone already too. I was welcomed back with open arms by the kids and teachers. I told the principal that I only had two more days after this at the school. I didn’t want to leave them without knowing they had enough supplies to last them for a while so I asked the principle if there is anything they are in desperate need of. Books? Pencils? Paper? It turns out a lot more than I thought. She wrote down a list of things they needed that I could get for them if it was possible.My whole time here at this school, they never asked me for a thing, so I was happy to help them out. I wanted to get as much as possible so I went into town later that afternoon and bought 200,000 shillings worth of supplies from a local stationery store. New notebooks for every student, math books, phonics books, tons of pens and pencils, colored chalk, staplers, packs of paper, pencil sharpeners, erasers, and more notebooks to last each student for a year. On top of that, I paid one months rent for the building the school uses. That was about another 100,000 shillings. It was the least I could do. This school has next to nothing and needed all the help they could get. The teachers appreciated my gesture and gave me a special going away day on my last day there. They gave me a card, took a bunch of pictures with me, and the kids sang to me.
It was my favorite day at the school for sure. I played with the kids all morning and afternoon long. It was a bit hard to say goodbye because there’s still so much I wanted to teach them. Like how to do simple addition and subtraction without drawing circles every single time they attempted a math problem.
I gave word to the coordinators of my organization that Shining Star needed more volunteers and all the help they can get. Nelly, one of the coordinators, said that they will send a lot more volunteers the next chance they get. That’s good news because with each volunteer Shining Star gets, means more money donated to the school.
During one of my final nights, I gave in and got a Masai burn on my right arm. Tradition goes something like this; when boys in a Masai village hit puberty, they are given a ceremony for circumcision. During the ceremony, the boy is given a Masai burn on both of his cheeks, right underneath the eyes. A burn is a circle about the size of a nickel and it signifies when that boy has become a man. This is the part that’s crazy. After the ceremony, the boy is banished into a jungle somewhere in the country and must fend for himself for three months to prove that he is worthy to be called a true Masai man. If he got any help from the outside world in any way, then he will become exiled from the tribe. But if he manages to survive, them he must return to his village with a new cow as a gift to his parents. And by then, the burns on his face will have become scars which signifies that he is now truly a full-fledged man. Crazy huh? I didn’t make any of it up. Stuff like that actually still happens in this world! I chose to forgo the three-month in the jungle part and asked our security guard, Thomas who is a Masai, to burn me in the arm. He happily agreed. Instead of one burn, I got two burns in the shape of a figure-eight. I saw a figure-eight on some Masai men I have seen before and decided that is what I wanted. Call me crazy if you want.
It’s semi-permanent. It starts as a nasty looking scab for a couple of weeks and will eventually fade into a scar. After about ten years, you will barely notice the scar is still there. I wasn’t the only one to get a burn. A handful of others at my house got a burn on either their foot, their arm, or the back of their neck. It will have a cool story behind it and it will be something to remind me of the amazing experiences I had in Tanzania. It doesn’t look too fascinating now but by the time I get home, it should be scarred over. I’ll show you guys it later!
I spent five weeks here in Tanzania and I didn’t buy any souvenirs or gifts for home! My friend Godfrey, who lives in the nearby town of Moshi, wanted to hangout on my last afternoon here. So I figured we can grab some food and go to the Masai market to barter for gifts. Godfrey is a local who found me via Facebook. He’s part of the IVHQ Tanzania Facebook Group and noticed that I was coming to Tanzania at this time. He messaged me saying he wanted to meet people from around the world and said he could take me and other volunteers around the cities. I’ll admit, at first I was a little hesitant in meeting some random guy in a foreign country but he seemed nice though and I met up with him in town. He is a college student and teaches Swahili to English speakers as a side job. He’s actually really bright and it was a nice change having an actual local not affiliated with IVHQ showing me around town. Over my stay in Tanzania, we hung out in town a few times with other volunteers. He’s a student who longs for a connection to the world outside of Tanzania. I can’t blame him for that. He’s never been out of the country. Tanzania is one of the poorest places in Africa so it’s not surprising to know that most people here have never stepped foot outside of it. He wants to go to America one day. I told him that when he does, he’ll have a place to stay in Michigan and I would show him around. As a gift, he gave me a chunk of unfurnished Tanzanite. It was an awesome gift because you can only get Tanzanite in Tanzania and it is expensive everywhere else in the world. I’ll have to figure out how to grind it into a jewel when I get home. Thanks Godfrey!
Later on, I packed my bags and said my goodbyes to my housemates. Most of the housemates I have grown close to have already left the house before me, so the house was full of a bunch of people I barely knew. Needless to say, goodbyes weren’t as difficult here as it was in Muizenberg. But there were still some people left who have been here for a long time that I became friends with, which I had to leave. I had to go to the Dar es Salaam airport later.
Zara (Manchester, UK), Josh (Manchester, UK), Anne (Denmark), and I took an eleven hour shuttle to Dar es Salaam. After a long haul, we made it and I helped them get a room at a nearby hotel. The four of us enjoyed one last dinner in Tanzania at a restaurant on top of the hotel. It took an hour and twenty minutes to get our food but hey, this is Africa! That was expected.
Later on that night I said my goodbyes to the three, as I would be separating from them. They were staying overnight to go to Zanzibar the next morning. I had a plane to catch in a few hours to go back to Cape Town. I’ve said goodbye to so many awesome people in Africa so many times over the past couple of months; I’ll tell you, it’s never easy. You’re part of a group of people with common interests, experiencing a strange world together for the first time. With that, we all grow closer a little faster than it would be at home. I know I’ll never see most of these people ever again. It’s bittersweet but I’m ready to get back to Cape Town. There’s a McDonald’s there waiting for my return :). I can’t end this post without ranting about my beloved African Airports.
Ah yes, African airports. They are the most organized, friendliest, smooth sailing airports in the world. None of what I just said is true.
Harking back on the sloppy mess that was the Johannesburg airport, I had low expectations for the Dar es Salaam airport. I prepared myself for this one. I arrived six hours early to give myself the time I needed to fix any inevitable confusion. Everything went smooth at the start. I was actually able to sleep for a couple of hours as I waited for the South African airline desk to open. Prior to checking in, I wanted to see if my baggage weighed under 50 lbs.
55 lbs. Damn it!
I opened my luggage and checked to see what I could do to lighten the load by 5 lbs. I put on a few shirts and switched my sneakers for hiking boots which were a tad heavier. I also put a book into my carry-on luggage which is already pretty stuffed. Confident that I was of the allotted weight limit, I checked it again.
52 lbs. F*%#!
It was too hot to put on any more layers and I didn’t want to throw anything out. Hmmm.
There were rocks I took from the top of Kilimanjaro that I could probably toss. But then I thought about it and just decided to squeeze the rocks into the nooks of my carry-on. I took the travel pillow out of my carry-on and would just carry it around. That made more room for a pair of pants and another hefty book. I checked the weight again.
My only concern now were the rocks. Some of them were flat with pretty sharp edges. It could be considered as a weapon for sure! Anyways, I made my way through check-in and went to passport security. I didn’t mention this before, but in order for me to volunteer in Tanzania I had to apply for a resident work permit. It was expensive, but it also granted me residency in Arusha. It was also required in order to volunteer. The clerk at the passport security told me my residency expired. I told him that can’t be right, because it lasts for three months. And in all honesty, I didn’t care if it did expire, I was leaving anyways and my permanent home is in the U.S. He gave me a hard time about it so I had to convince him that it doesn’t matter anyways because I’m leaving Tanzania! I love Africa airports.
He finally let me through and now all I had to do was get through one more security check. My carry-on had to go through screening. My carry-on that now contained razor-sharp rocks! Before going though, I thought whether I should tell them first or let them find out for themselves. What if they saw it and immediately whisked me off to some Tanzanian jail thinking I was some sort of terrorist concealing weapons? I knew there was no way the airports in the States would let me carry these stones. But this is Africa and things are “different” here. I took my chances and didn’t say anything. If they said something, I would just throw them away.
They didn’t say anything! The guy at the computer wasn’t even looking at the screen. Instead he was chatting away with another guy. I saw his screen and saw my razor rocks smack dab in my bag pocket. I got my things and went off. Kinda unsettling knowing that I could have had anything concealed in there and they wouldn’t even pay attention to it. But at least I had my Kili rocks!
I gotta love my friends. I have been showered with a disgusting amount of sweets and treats over the past week as a “going away” gift. They know me too well. I’ll need my fix! Who knows what kind of desserts there are in Africa? I might suffer.
I’ll be on route soon to the Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) waiting to board my first of three long connections to Cape Town, South Africa. The first flight takes me to Montreal, Quebec in Canada with a layover that’s a few hours. The second flight connects me to Amsterdam, Netherlands. I’ll be there for a few hours too. Whenever people ask where my layovers are, when I mention one is in Amsterdam they say that I should hang out in the city for a bit and take advantage of it’s “pleasures”. By pleasures I mean all of the smokes and Red Light District hussies. It’s said jokingly because it’s a well known fact that I’ve never smoked a thing a day in my life. It’s true. But if I ever did decide to (almost a zero percent chance of that happening), I would do it in Amsterdam. It’s only fitting. The final connection takes me to Cape Town which is scheduled to land at approximately 9:35pm, their time, on Sunday. Needless to say, my internal clock is going to be all sorts of jacked up!
I’m not as nervous about the trip itself as I am about the flights. Plain and simple, I’m not very fond of flying. Dreading this. How can something so heavy and humongous just hang out in the air like that? It’s difficult to fall asleep. The people I sit next to are always odd. The flight attendants go through the motions of what to do in an emergency too quick. I’m afraid if we actually do need to use that oxygen mask or life vest, I’ll forget every single thing they said. Then I wonder what the pilot is doing in the cockpit. How can they sit there and fly this thing for ten hours straight without dozing off? You know how as you’re boarding the plane, the pilot stands at the entrance and welcomes everyone in? I make it a point to smile, nod, and make friendly eye contact so he doesn’t think the plane is completely full of jerks and decides to crash it thinking we all deserve it. As I board, I also scan for potential terrorists. If I deem you sketchy, I’ll keep my bearings on you the entire time and am prepared to fight! But more than anything I hope there aren’t any cranky babies on board. Don’t worry, I’m aware I’m a little ridiculous.
I hope the movies are at least half decent. I can’t tell you how many planes I’ve been on where they would show “Last Holiday” with Queen Latifah in it. Every. Single. Time. If that’s the case then I have some good reading material. Besides the Lonely Planet guidebooks I have for South and East Africa , I brought along “The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From The Living Dead” by Max Brooks. I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for the whole zombie craze! If an outbreak ever did occur, I’ll be well prepared. I also have “The Adventurer’s Handbook” by Mick Conefrey and Tim Tebow’s autobiography “Through My Eyes” that I still have to finish. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of flack for the latter one, but it’s very inspiring. Say what you will.
For my next post, I should be all settled into my new home in South Africa :). I’m not sure what the internet situation will be like there but I’ll be sure to post as soon as I can. Have a great weekend everyone!
P.S. A big Thank You to everyone who gave me gifts and donations. It will be very useful.