I've got visitors!

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One of my most enjoyable and memorable parts of study abroad so far has been having my family come visit me.  Last weekend I became "tour guide Amy" when my mom, dad, brother, godmother, and family friends came to Vienna.  It was the first time I truly felt like an expert in Vienna because I got to show and teach people about "my city".

First, I took them to a traditional Viennese dinner of Wiener Schnitzel in a local restaurant.  I got to flex my German-speaking skills for my family when I spoke to the waiter almost entirely in German.  They were very thankful to see my study abroad experience paying off.  The next day we did more touring of famous Vienna sites, like St. Stephan's Cathedral, and then had dinner with a couple of my study abroad friends.  Everyone got along really well and it was cool to see my actual family interact with my "abroad family".

On our last day together we toured Schönbrunn, a beautiful palace with stunning gardens, and then I showed them the Naschmarkt, Vienna's biggest and best outdoor market.  That was my favorite part of the visit because the Naschmarkt is across the street from my apartment and my favorite place to explore in Vienna.  You can get anything you want there, from fruits and vegetables to exotic teas and spices.  My mom bought some candied nuts and my brother got a new scarf.  Thankfully, they loved it as much as I do.  That night, we had a big final celebration at Wiener Wiesn-fest, a three-week celebration of Austrian food, music, and beer.  People from all ages were dressed in traditional Austrian garb, singing folk songs, and dancing all over the festival grounds.  It was the perfect ending to a great weekend with my family.  Their small visit cured any homesickness I might have felt and made me excited to finish the last two months of my study abroad.

10624742_10203774619021738_3991851022297153602_n.jpg

I've got visitors!

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One of my most enjoyable and memorable parts of study abroad so far has been having my family come visit me.  Last weekend I became "tour guide Amy" when my mom, dad, brother, godmother, and family friends came to Vienna.  It was the first time I truly felt like an expert in Vienna because I got to show and teach people about "my city".

First, I took them to a traditional Viennese dinner of Wiener Schnitzel in a local restaurant.  I got to flex my German-speaking skills for my family when I spoke to the waiter almost entirely in German.  They were very thankful to see my study abroad experience paying off.  The next day we did more touring of famous Vienna sites, like St. Stephan's Cathedral, and then had dinner with a couple of my study abroad friends.  Everyone got along really well and it was cool to see my actual family interact with my "abroad family".

On our last day together we toured Schönbrunn, a beautiful palace with stunning gardens, and then I showed them the Naschmarkt, Vienna's biggest and best outdoor market.  That was my favorite part of the visit because the Naschmarkt is across the street from my apartment and my favorite place to explore in Vienna.  You can get anything you want there, from fruits and vegetables to exotic teas and spices.  My mom bought some candied nuts and my brother got a new scarf.  Thankfully, they loved it as much as I do.  That night, we had a big final celebration at Wiener Wiesn-fest, a three-week celebration of Austrian food, music, and beer.  People from all ages were dressed in traditional Austrian garb, singing folk songs, and dancing all over the festival grounds.  It was the perfect ending to a great weekend with my family.  Their small visit cured any homesickness I might have felt and made me excited to finish the last two months of my study abroad.

10624742_10203774619021738_3991851022297153602_n.jpg

Bienvenidos a Chile: Country #2 in Latin America!

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I've been teasing about my "trip of a lifetime" for a while now, so I thought it was about time that I disclose the adventures of my 9-day trip to 2 countries, 4 cities, and 1 Wonder of the World. 

 

The end goal was Machu Picchu, but the flights were cheaper if we stopped in Santiago along the way, so my two traveling companions and I decided to seize the opportunity to see another country. We booked hostels in Santiago and Viña del Mar and embarked on this fast-paced first leg of the journey.

 

We arrived in Santiago around noon after a very early flight and crashed at our hostel. It was very strange, though: Santiago was a ghost town. Every single business was closed, boarded up for the weekend (except McDonald's, of course). Never in my life have I seen a city so barren, especially on a Friday! We asked the hostel staff what the deal was, and they informed us that it was Chile's independence day weekend, so everyone was celebrating at the multiple fondas throughout the city. Fondas are basically big out-door carnivals with live music and local street food. Since there was nothing else to do, we rested up and headed out to one called O'Higgins. It was a blast! We tried their typical empanada, choripan, chicken and steak kabob, and the infamous Chilean terremoto (the local drink of choice). We ended the night mingling with the locals at a free out-door concert. It felt so good to celebrate the end of midterms and this important day for Chile. It ended up being lucky that we arrived when we did!

 

After the fonda, we recharged and caught an early bus to Viña del Mar, one of Chile's beach towns. Oh, to just breathe that crisp, ocean-y air. This was finally vacation. We walked along the coast, trying to convince ourselves that we weren't dreaming. While we were walking along, gazing at the skyline, we stumbled upon a local market where they were selling everything from Viña del Mar key chains to the "drug rug" pants we'd been seeing around the city. We cruised along looking for souvenirs, mingling with the enthusiastic vendors. Along the way, we stopped to listen to a man sitting on the rocks, playing his guitar, and singing some American and British classics. It was nice to have a little piece of home even when we were so far away. It never ceases to amaze me how music seems to be the one language that transcends every boundary around the world. That night, we headed out to unwind and ended up in an interesting little place called Café Journal. While everyone else was enjoying their pints of beers, we ordered some hot chocolates (it gets cold at night!) and watched the DJ jam out to his strange playlist of 80s music videos. Besides one other woman dancing the night away, I think we were the only ones that took such enjoyment out of seeing Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston on the screen. It was very amusing.  

 

After a sound sleep, we headed to the vibrant Valparaiso. For once, we were grateful to be accosted by tour guides looking for patrons for their tips-only tours. Two extremely friendly Chileans guided us around the atypical tourist spots, giving us incredible views of the port city. The town is best known for its array of colorful houses lining the iconic hills. Our tour guide told us that these residential rainbows emerged as a makeshift address system. Since the town was mainly used as a trading center, there wasn't an official government system until later on. Thus, everyone would identify one another's houses by saying, "I live in the purple house with the yellow windows on Cerro (hill) Concepción." This method became so engrained into the culture of Valpo that the idea stuck even when an address system was established. Now, we tourists have the privilege of climbing to the tops of the hills to enjoy the beautiful view. Well, to be clear, the privilege is the view, not the climb. There are two ways to make the trip: HUNDREDS of steep stairs or an ascensor, which is basically an outdoor elevator. We tried both ways, and I have to say: I prefer the ascensor. You get an unparalleled view of the city on the way up, and you don't end up a sweaty mess by the time you reach your destination, which is how we arrived at Pablo Neruda's house, La Sebastiana. Wow, his house was incredible. It was amazing to see this famous Chilean writer's poems placed throughout the house, showing us the direct influences on his creative genius. I've read many of his poems in my Spanish classes, so it was surreal to have the same vantage point that inspired some of his greatest pieces.

 

The only low point of the day was our traditional Chilean lunch that made us all queasy. It's always a risk to order mystery meals, and this time, it backfired. I ordered "Chupe de Locos." I had no idea what it was, but I wanted seafood, and the waitress recommended it. What arrived at my place was a bubbling cauldron of doughy mush filled with OCTOPUS and blanketed in cheese. AHH. I was expecting "locos" to be lobster, so as I chewed the rubbery pieces of fish, it was quite an unpleasant shock to discover that I was eating tentacles, not delicate lobster meat. I stopped after only a few bites and rushed out of there as soon as we got the check--it was a very uncomfortable situation. With bellies full of who knows what, we headed back to our hostel in Viña.

 

After our stay in Cusco, we returned to Santiago for one day and took the time to explore the now-awakened city. After a failed attempt to find a guided tour, we decided to be our own tour guides for the day. First, we stumbled upon a changing of the guards led by a female soldier--very neat! Then, we headed to an indigenous persons museum, which was really modern and interesting. It always amazes me to see the incredible things people could create with such limited resources. After the museum, we climbed to the top of a castle on a hill in the middle of the city to admire the smog-filled skyline. What an interesting juxtaposition of snow-covered Andes and towering skyscrapers! After our self-guided excursion, we begrudgingly headed to the airport and hopped on our flights home to Buenos Aires.

 

I loved Chile, but it can't quite compare to Cusco and Machu Picchu, so look out for my post about my new favorite place in the entire world. Coming to you within the week!

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Moyo Hill Camp--Week 5!

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We got back from expedition on Wednesday and had a non-program day on Thursday. Today, we had the morning off to just relax. I had to get up at 8 AM to help the cook crew, which was unfortunate, because I was pretty tired from expedition. Making breakfast went really fast though, and it took about half the amount of time that it normally takes us. I decided to go to Mto wa Mbu with a group of about 10 people. Everyone else either stayed at camp or went to Karatu. In Mto wa Mbu, we went to the Maasai Market to buy a few things. I have been wanting to buy a Maasai shuka (essentially a thick cotton sheet worn by Maasai peoples as a wrap, their traditional dress) since we came to camp, but the shukas in the market were too expensive. Normally they are sold to locals for about 10,000-12,000 ($6-7 US Dollars)Tanzanian shillings. Of course, in Tanzania, most items are bargained for, but we could not get the market people to go to 10,000TSH. This is because Mto wa Mbu is a tourist town and sellers know that they can cheat tourists by charging a higher price. Overall, we learned that Mto wa Mbu is expensive most places, but we got one guy down to 12,000 TSH and he threw in a bracelet, so we bought shukas. Shukas look like this: http://www.africanartique.com/products. After we bought our shukas, we went to Pizza Place to get some pizza and play cards. We played hell, ride the bus, and kings. We spent the rest of our evening at Pizza Place, and left around 5:30 to go back to camp.





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Friday, we went to Lake Manyara National Park to conduct an animal count. We finally got up close to flamingos and I got some good pictures! After our animal count, we spent the rest of the day doing a game drive in the park. We went looking for the tree climbing lions, but had no luck. One group of students had car problems, so we drove a little over an hour into the park to find them before we left, and got everything figured out. 

Saturday, we went into Karatu to speak to the lead resource conservationist in the area. He gave us a lecture on Conservation Initiatives. We first visited a tree nursery in Karatu. This tree nursery plants about 600,000 trees a year in the surrounding area, assuming many are used for locals' resource use. Some also die due to water issues. Afterwards, we visited the kitchen in a local primary school where they showed  us their kitchen. They had two large cauldron-like pots that were heated in an efficient way where the concentration of heat only reached the pots; therefore, creating a quicker and more efficient way to cook. Also, they used dry corn cobs instead of wood to cook. We were also shown a biogas manure system. Basically, there are three large storage/flow concrete pipes in the ground. The first area is where the cow manure and urine is put into the system. The second storage pipe collects the methane from the urine and manure, and the third pipe is where the manure and urine exits, normally to a garden or where trees are planted for fertilizer. The methane is then transferred through a rubber tube to the house where the gas is used for cooking and even for lighting, sometimes. Lastly, we visited a place where a group of people were creating bricks from water, sand, concrete, and soil. The bricks dried on their own in 7 days and then were sold for building. 

Sunday, we got to sleep in a little and then had a few hours to work on assignments. The one class we had involved watching "Milking the Rhino," which was an interesting documentary that showed the relationship between African wildlife, the local tribes and people, and the conservationists, and also shows how wildlife is utilized in Africa to generate income. We then had a short discussion on the film.

Monday, we had time scheduled to go speak to a local village council. We were to have an open discussion with them on how they manage the village council and strategies for handling issues. We sat outside under an old yellow-fever acacia tree. Sidenote: one of our professors collected seeds from this tree and planted them outside of each of our bandas about 2 years ago. They're still pretty small. Anyways, about 14 of the 26 members came out to speak with us, including the chairman. For a small governmental system, they seemed pretty organized and seemed to know what they were doing. I also worked on my Swahili paper, and then went for a run in Rhotia. 

Tuesday wasn't a super busy day, besides the fact we had a paper due by midnight. I was the MOD for the day! Basically, I help with anything that I am asked to do, and I do RAP (Reflection, Announcements, and Presentation) after dinner, which makes this place feel even more like a summer camp to me. We didn't have class until10 AM, and it happened to be our first Directed Research class. We learned some basic things in Excel. Later on in the day, we had a guest lecture from Kissui, the program director who also happens to do research on lions. After class, I reviewed my paper on socio-cultural changes of Iraqw people, and turned it in. After dinner, I led RAP and for my presentation, I had everyone go outside to the volleyball court where it was the darkest, so that we could startrip! Everybody had a really good time with this game, and I'm happy they did. I wasn't sure how it was going to work, because every other time I've startripped, I've done in complete blackness. We weren't allowed to turn lights off here, but it worked out. TOMORROW, we are going to Ngorongoro Crater... words cannot describe how excited I am! The crater was created 3 million years ago by a volcano that erupted. 

"A giraffe's coffee would be cold by the time it reached the bottom of its throat. Ever think about that? No. You only think about yourself."

There's No Place like Home

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Studying abroad is an uncomfortable experience.  You are in a strange city, with people you have never met, trying to speak a language you might not know, and expected to live and survive for four months.  Now, don't let me scare you because I am currently living that situation and it isn't really as bad as it sounds.  Actually, it's pretty amazing! However, I sometimes miss the comforting feeling of the familiar.  So, in order to cure my longing for some comfort, I discovered places in Vienna that make me feel at home.

First, I searched and searched for the best place to get coffee.  At Penn State, there are great places to kick back, drink some joe, and do homework or people watch from the window.  I wanted someplace like that in Vienna and thankfully this city is full of amazing cafes.  My favorite place is Phil, a tiny café only a short walk from my apartment.  It is full of books and comfy couches for me to study on or just hang out with friends.  The Viennese custom of coffee houses is to let the customer sit as long as they want with their coffee and to not bother them unless they call the waiter over.  I love this tradition because I never feel rushed or rude if I want to sit for an hour and just enjoy my time.

Next, I went in search for the best reading spot in Vienna.  I absolutely love to read and could probably do it anywhere, at anytime.  But, all readers have those special places that make a book even more amazing.  For me, that spot is the park.  It can get crowded on weekends and especially on sunny days, but reading under a tree in a European park was a dream for me, so I don't mind any of those little inconveniences.

The third place that makes me feel comfortable is my actual home!  My apartment came already furnished with colorful decorations and great furniture, but I wanted it to feel homey for all of my roommates.  So, we started to collect little trinkets from Vienna and all the different places we visited in Europe.  Slowly, all our souvenirs have been hung up or placed around the apartment.  Now, it feels like our home and not just a temporary place to sleep.

I believe it's important to step out of your comfort zone and experience new and weird things.  But, I also think it's important to make sure you have those spaces to relax, unwind, and enjoy your time as you study abroad.

I let go during a tango

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It's 11PM. My flight to Santiago, Chile leaves in 9 hours. I haven't packed yet. And, I haven't even eaten dinner.

 

But, I just had one of the best experiences in my two months in Buenos Aires, and I have to write about it: I finally went to a tango lesson!

 

A friend of mine recommended that I take lessons from one professor, so three compañeros and I hopped on a bus and took it to an unassuming little studio on a corner. We knocked on the door, and fumbling our words, tried to say that we were looking for the tango class. After the woman at the door realized what we were asking, she let us in to this exclusive tango haven. We waited awkwardly for the teacher to arrive, chatting with some of the veterans.

 

At long last, a petite older man walked in, parting the sea of attendees as he approached us. He asked us who were; we dropped some names; and our lesson commenced.

 

He began by asking us if we had ever taken a tango class before, so we told him about our one experience at IES (it was part of orientation week). He asked us to demonstrate what we learned and quickly halted our hilarious attempt. "Let's start from scratch."

 

He told us that first we need to dance with our shoulders, the woman's hands on the man's shoulders, to be exact. The man needs to guide the woman, which he can do with a little pressure on the shoulder. He'd nudge my right shoulder, and I would instinctually turn to the right--and the same on the other side.

 

For those of you who have followed my blog from the beginning, you know I have a problem with "letting go." This time, I was determined to be a follower for once and let go. AND I DID IT. I cleared my head, occasionally closed my eyes, and let my partner guide me around the dance floor. What a freeing feeling! We danced and danced, engraining the basic steps into our muscle memory. Much to our surprise, he praised our progress, assuring us that he wouldn't say "está bien," if it were wrong.

 

He told us that tango is something you have to feel in your soul, your alma, so we need to get out of our heads, listen to the music, and let our bodies move with the fluid melodies. Although we were supposed to be serious and not laugh or talk, that class was so much fun! I've had a very stressful day filled with midterms and last-minute planning, and tango-ing put me completely at ease. I still feel so peaceful right now. Not many things can completely clear my head--I swear my brain is always moving a mile a minute--but somehow tango managed to do that. While I was dancing, all I thought about were the steps, my partner, and the music. I read once that some people compare tango to finding your zen. I completely understand that now. I may have finally found my gateway to tranquility.

 

I swear I'm in love. I'm in love with tango. I'm in love with my teacher. I'm in love with this wonderful feeling.

 

*Disclaimer: This was written a week ago, but I had no Wifi, so I couldn't post this until I got back from trip.*

 

More blog posts to come this week: I'll try to give you a glimpse into my vacation of a lifetime to Chile and Peru, but it's hard to describe an indescribable exp LAN.jpg

Home Stay and Tarangire National Park Expedition! Week 4

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Wednesday, I woke up at 6:15 AM to help cook breakfast in the morning. Breakfast was at 7:30 and we were scheduled to leave camp at 8 AM to go spend a full day with our home stay families! Costa was our driver who took us to meet Mama Koleta, our home stay mama. We only drove about 1 km down the road from our camp and our home stay family came to meet us at the land cruiser. We told our driver, Costa that we could just walk home at 5 PM, when our day with our guest families was over. The father greeted us at the vehicle and walked us to his home. He was very nice and spoke excellent english, (to my surprise). Their home was beautiful! The family had a home made from concrete (surprisingly kind of big), an "outdoor" kitchen made from sticks and mud, and a separate smaller area where they kept rocks formed like a stove and wood for fires to cook. They also had a pretty nice chicken coop made from sticks. The family had a dog and chickens. Kittens from the neighbors' house also came over to play.

We sat down in the living room with the family and they all introduced themselves. The mama's side of the family was from Kilimanjaro and two of her sister's kids were staying with them, and then the father was from Karatu, and they had 3 kids. One was too young for school and the other two had to walk 7 km to Kilematembo to go to school.. which is crazy! The niece gave us a kanga to wear over our clothes, so they didn't get dirty. Normally, all women wear kangas. In the morning, we cooked breakfast with them.We had chapatis and chai (tea). I helped prepare the chapatis. We sat down in their kitchen and had water brought to us to wash our hands over a bowl. 

After breakfast, we walked to the fields to help harvest pigeon peas. The father had us break off the whole stock of dried pea pods and stack them in a pile. After about 45 minutes of harvesting, they gathered strips of leaves from a plant and tied them together to make a rope. They put the ropes underneath each stacks of pea stalks and tied each one into a bundle. The women and little boy began carrying the bundles back on their heads. The father gave Sam and I one small bundle to carry back together. I saw how much the little boy was struggling with the heavy bundle, so I asked if I could carry it. I honestly struggled a bit trying to get it on my head but his sister helped me. When we were getting closer to the house, I noticed that she gave her brother her bundle and proceeded to take the bundle I was carrying back on my head. I reassured her that I was fine carrying it back, and we both laughed, then she took hers back from her brother. The father carried my camera for me, so I wouldn't get it dirty and he even got my picture when we got back to the house. Carrying that bundle back on my head, I realized how hard these tribal women have to work. Sometimes, they have to carry heavy buckets of water back on their head for kilometers. It was fun for me since I got to try it out.

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Mama Koleta's niece was the girl I spent a decent amount of time helping. She spoke some english and taught me words like spoon (mwiko), plate (sahani), knife (kisu), pan (sufuria), bucket (ndoo), water (maji), and to wash (kuosha). She was very nice and I laughed with her a lot. I enjoyed her company, and I truly believe she enjoyed mine, even if there was a bit of a language barrier at points. We didn't even have to speak much to laugh. She was great! Mama Koleta also tried to teach me a few Swahili words and sentences. She always told us "pumzika," which means rest. They also wanted us to rest. I enjoyed it, but I also liked helping too.

Three of the kids were sitting outside on some rocks in front of the chicken coop. I asked to take their pictures. I gave each one of them my camera to take a picture of me with them all. They enjoyed using it, and I think the father liked that I let them use my camera to take pictures. They were pretty young, but very well behaved kids. They didn't seem to play much while we were there though. It was definitely kind of weird, but kind of nice too. Although, I wouldn't have minded playing some games with them.

We helped cook lunch when we got back. We made a pretty big lunch. We used the food that we brought with us to the family, because we aren't allowed (and shouldn't) be eating their food or drinking their water. We made a lot of rice; ugali; a cabage, onion, cooking oil and tomato dish; pigeon peas and beef. I chopped the onions and tried helping stir the ugali (which was interesting--you'd have to know what UGALI is to understand). There was a lot of food, and all of it was good! We went and set outside, and then Mama Koleta's niece brought us all water to wash our hands and a delicious sliced up papaya from the tree in their back yard. This was the papaya that made me actually LOVE papaya. It was delicious. All of us just kind of relaxed for a while.

We got the chance to talk to the father and ask him some questions. He was very nice and very helpful. He told us some random information. We talked about school, his life, and crops, etc. He said his family has hosted 11 SFS student groups, which is awesome! They were great people! He told us that normally in a good year, he'll plant mixed crops of maize, beans, and pigeon peas all at once. He told us that he pays about $300 USD a year/child for his kids to just go through primary/secondary school. I think that is crazy! I do understand that in the U.S., taxes are always paid to schools, but seeing the cost of schooling here makes me think. No wonder some families struggle to send their kids to school. Most kids only make it through primary school, and never make it to secondary school, either because they can't afford it, because they failed their exams, or they chose not too continue with school. He also told us that he worked at a lodge as a host to tourists. He told us that he built his beautiful concrete-like home when he was working at the lodge. The kitchen and cooking area (both have dirt floors) was built before he worked at the lodge. He lost his job when a bandit broke his arm at work. He also sustained other problems after this injury too. The money he had saved up for his kids had to be used for his medical bills. His family still gets the money for his kids to finish school though, because they want a good life for their kids. He didn't own any livestock, besides chickens, but he told us that they sell their crops as an income. The father wasn't sure where the bags of pigeon peas went but he knew that once he sold them, they were shipped somewhere. He also told us that when he was employed, he learned how to use a computer and printer. He also did really well when it came to using my camera, and he looked interested in learning more. We also learned that when he was working, the average income was 45,000 TSH (Tanzanian shillings), and now it is 200,000-250,000 TSH, which is significantly better.

After we finished relaxing, we went for a little walk around the house and the father showed us all his plants and trees. I gave the niece my camera to take pictures. She enjoyed it. The father took my camera a few times too to take pictures. He showed us papaya, lemon, avacado, banana, tomato trees, and much more. He showed us his section where he was trying to grow trees to sell. I can't remember all the trees he said, but I do remember eukalyptus, which is exotic in Africa. When we walked around the house, Mama Koleta was already beginning to harvest the pigeon peas from their pods. She had a wooden bat and was continuously hitting the pea stalks. Peas were flying everywhere, but the harvesting method was much more efficient than sitting down and opening each pod to collect the peas. It was fun to watch, so I had to try. I was no where near as good as Mama Koleta or her niece at harvesting the peas, but it was fun. We all laughed together. After all pods seemed to be broken, we gathered the pigeon pea stalks and sat down to go through the stalks and find any peas that we missed. The peas that were thrown on the ground from the "pea stalk beating" were picked up and thrown in the pea pile. Any green pigeon peas were collected for the family to cook, but the hardened white/brown peas were to be sold. 

At one point, the niece chased a kitten out of the house, and the father laughed and told us that all animals fight for fitness. He laughed again and said that they were trying to take the "wazungu's food." It was interesting to hear him say that animals fight to be the fitest, because we talk a lot about that at school. He kept saying that animals have to fight for fitness to live and to be strong. I just laughed and agreed. 

After we were done, we sat outside on small stools and did the dishes in a larger pot on the ground. Then we relaxed and I noticed Mama Koleta's niece washing laundry, so I went over to help her out. The father took more pictures of me helping with laundry too. After, he asked if we wanted to have some tea and relax. We were all for it. We sat on the porch and drank tea until it was time to go. At the end, I put my camera on a timer and got all of our pictures. I enjoyed how Mama Koleta and even her niece smiled for the camera. Mama Koleta had a great big smile though. It was great, because I've noticed that most people here don't seem to smile for pictures. The family was so sweet, and the home stay was such a humbling experience. We went outside their gate and met the SFS students next door who walked home with us. The father, son, and niece walked us home on a path that we never knew about. The son took my backpack for me, which I carried my camera bag. They took us to the SFS gate and shook our hands, and even welcomed us back! :) We are going to get pictures printed here and take them back, so they can have them. What an amazing experience with an amazing family!

Thursday, we went to the Mswakini Juu community to interview some local Maasai people about human-wildlife conflicts. It was actually a really fun and interesting survey. Our guide's name was Stanley. He translated for us and was super cool too! Only thing that was not so pleasant was walking a few hours from where we were supposed to meet at the end of our interviews. We ended up walking further and waiting on the main road for the group. We still had a good time though and a pretty excellent survey group too! The tribe people that we surveyed often said "Karibu tena!" which means "welcome again" in Swahili. We were all exhausted after this day, of course! I also found Tribulus terrestris--goatheads in my shoes. They haunt me! They are all over New Mexico, where I spent my summer working. Now, I find them here!

Friday, we had one class of Wildlife Ecology in the morning and then prepped for our expedition to Tarangire National Park beginning Saturday. We were scheduled to leave by 7:30 AM on Saturday!

Saturday, we started with elephant observations. Our assignment for the morning was to observe 6 groups of elephants and note stress and behavior of all elephants we came across. It was an amazing experience having the chance to observe elephants in the wild (again) and observing them was honestly a touching experience. In Tarangire National Park, there are about 3,000 elephants, which is a little over 1 elephant per 1 km2 in the park. We finished around 12:30 and went to a picnic area in the park for lunch. Here, there were a bunch of crazy vervet monkeys. While, standing at a large picnic table, I watched a monkey run over to our table, jump on the table, grab a package of cookies (still wrapped in plastic) and take off. Then, 5 minutes later, we looked at one of our SFS vehicles and there was a monkey sitting in the passenger seat eating someone's food. I admit, I thought it was hilarious. Someone left the window and roof open in the Land Cruiser. When someone walked over to scare the monkey away, it jumped out of the roof carrying Pringles in its hands. Haha! It stole half of someone's Pringles and happened to be eating the driver's orange in the front seat. It was hilarious, but also kind of sad because the reason these monkeys act this way is due to people feeding them, and they expect people to feed them. After we ate lunch, we went on a game drive with our professor (Christian). We saw quite a few eland in the park, which is rare to see. We saw a bunch of zebras and wildebeest. This was the first time I had noticed in three different groups that there was one lone wildebeest hanging out with a group of zebra. I also saw one zebra hanging with a wildebeest herd, which was interesting. Zebras and wildebeest are often seen together, because zebras will feed on taller, harder grasses and wildebeests prefer shorter, softer grasses. It is beneficial for wildebeest to follow zebra herds, because zebras in a way, "prepare grasses" for other species such as wildebeest. We saw other species such as warthogs, giraffes, banded mongoose, and more! I even saw my first 'big' carnivores-- a black-backed jackal, three sub-adult male lions, and a leopard!! It was a great day! I couldn't believe we saw a leopard! This is the animal that I had most wanted to see during my time in Africa. My favorite African animal. It was beautiful. I got very lucky! The leopard was hanging out in a tree (surprisingly close to the lions we saw first) about 400 meters from the road. I was surprised how little leopards are. Before we left, it climbed up higher in the tree. I am extremely happy with this sighting! I even got some pictures!


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Sunday, we did our first animal count in the park. My car got to venture up on top of a mountain in the park, which was awesome. We got a great view of the park, but were unfortunately attacked by tsetse flies a lot in the park on this animal count. Tsetse flies are flies that suck blood, and cause sleeping sickness, especially to livestock. We counted animals from the size of a mongoose (egyptian, banded, dwarf) to as big as an elephant, and one bird--the ostrich. After our animal count, we drove to Tarangire Safari Lodge, which is in the park. Here, I took pictures of the wildlife at the lodge and at the overlook, and then went swimming in the lodge pool. In the evening, we went for a game drive. We saw zebras, one lion, wildebeest, cape buffalo, elephants, ostriches, and even drove a road where one side was the park and the other side, cattle were grazing. Goes to show that there isn't much of a barrier between national parks and human life.

Monday, we conducted our second animal count in Manyara Ranch Conservancy. Although, we surprisingly saw less animals in the conservancy than our professor expected us too. We went back to camp for lunch and hung around until 3. The camp site workers were draining water from a hose in the back of the camp site (I have no idea why they were), and I saw quite a few birds bathing and drinking the water, so I decided to take my camera back there to get some pictures. I then attempted to fall asleep in my 300 degree tent, and did for about 20 minutes. I heard people talking about snakes, so I only assumed that they found one! So, I jumped up, grabbed my camera, and went out to see if/what they had found. They did find a snake. It was a common house snake (Lycodon capucinus). My first snake seen in Africa! Lastly,we had a lecture in the GIS lab in Tarangire National Park. We learned about the park, local community, and wildlife issues. At night, I star gazed. The African sky is unbelievably beautiful.

Tuesday, we were scheduled to survey the local community members in Buruge village in the morning from around 9 to 11. We met our guides at the Burunge Wildlife Management Area office. Our guide told me that he was going to school to be a nurse. We interviewed local tribes on natural resource use--mostly firewood use. We went back to camp and ate lunch, then hung around camp until 3 for our bush walk. At 3, we left camp for a walk through the wildlife cooridor led by Maasai people from the camp. We walked about 8-10 km round trip. On our trip, we met some escapee baby goats who decided to chase us down the hill, "baaing" at us the whole way. It was so cute, we could barely resist wanting to take them home. They followed us for a little while, then stopped under a tree and began foraging. They weren't far from another large group of goats. Besides goats, we found a baby zebra skeleton (sadly), which could have been poached or died of disease. We also found the trail of big python across the sand, which was absolutely awesome. I would love to see a python while here, but we are pretty positive that's not going to happen. When we stopped walking, we saw ostriches in the distance. At the end of the night, I went out with a group to take photos using a slow shutter speed on a camera and glow sticks. 

Wednesday was our final day on expedition. My tent woke up around 6:30 to pack up our things and our tent. We ate breakfast at 7:30 and then went to have a lecture in the field led by our Environmental Policy and Wildlife Management professors concerning who should manage wildlife. We then went to the Burunge Wildlife Management Area (WMA) office to speak with the manager of the WMA. He only spoke Swahili, so our teacher translated for us. Afterwards, we had a debrief on our trip at the WMA office and ate lunch. We got in the vehicles and went to an overlook of Burunge lake and land, took some pictures and drove to the lake. The ranger that was with us showed us a large rock that people had made a game called "Munkala." I have never even heard of it, but a lot of people knew what it is. Afterwards, we stopped at a woven basket shop. I bought a cute basket and a few woven bracelets. On the way to Mto wa Mbu, we saw wildebeest walking north on the wildlife corridor. Our professor was very surprised. He stated that is only the second time that he noticed them using one of the actual migration routes. He also pointed out the mountain that they were making their way too in migration. Wildebeest migration is awesome! When we got to Mto wa Mbu, we stopped at the convenience store to get ice cream and snacks for camp! So, I spent more money than I had planned but it was worth it. When we got back, I showered and did the massive amount of laundry that I had. After dinner, we decided to watch The Lion King. The Lion King gets me every time. I love the movie. I have to say, I was happy to still see a room full of 20 year olds get choked up when Mufasa dies. We may be growing up, but we are still kids at heart! Not to mention, who doesn't get choked up during this movie!?


Mufasa: "The way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it."

Where in the World is Amy?

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I just got back from a 10-day holiday and, wow, I'm tired! Living out of a tiny suitcase is not as easy as it looks!  My study abroad program, IES, took 40 of its students on a trip through Poland and Germany.  I was really excited for this break because it was the first time I left Vienna since coming here in August. 

Our first stop was Wroclaw, Poland.  I didn't know what to expect from Poland and I was very surprised as to what I discovered.  Wroclaw is an up-and-coming city and a growing arts center in Europe.  The old town was cute and had tons of places to eat and people watch (my favorite activity, haha), and the rest of the city offered great opportunities to hear music and visit contemporary art museums.  There are also several new festivals coming to Wroclaw soon, so it is becoming a more tourist-focused place.

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Our next destination was Germany.  We spent our first 2 days in Dresden, a beautiful city with rich history.  There was so much to do and see there I wish I could have spent more than a couple days.  After Dresden, we travelled to Berlin and had four days there.  Thankfully, IES gave the students a lot of free time in these cities, so my friends and I got to do what we really wanted to do.  In Berlin, I got to visit a communications museum, a modern art museum, and the Ramones museum (yes, there is really a Ramones museum!). We also visited numerous historical sites like the Berlin Wall, palaces, and old cathedrals.

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Overall, it was an amazing trip.  I made a ton of new friends and saw parts of Europe I would have never travelled to on my own.  In my opinion, Berlin was the best city of the three.  There was so much offered to students and I was able to meet other people my age very easily.  I also felt more comfortable in Germany than Poland because of my newly acquired German speaking skills.  Some people in Poland gave off a cold vibe to the American students.  I think it was mostly miscommunications that made me like Poland the least.  However, it was still a wonderful city and I would like to see more of Poland in the future.

Moyo Hill Camp--Week 3!

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 Wednesday, we had the opportunity to interview two wildlife poachers from the local area! When we heard that we were interviewing poachers, we honestly couldn't believe it. We didn't understand how our wildlife program set up a way for us to speak with poachers, but they told us that they have been doing it for a few years now. Kind of crazy. We had a few hours of lecture in the field, and then the poachers came to meet us. We had a list of questions prepared. Here are 10/28 questions we asked the poachers. Although some of the answers don't directly match up to the questions. We wrote down how they answered each question. Just a sample of the questions.

1. Social stigma?
Called criminals or thiefs/thugs when riding by on their motorcycles. Maasai call them wildlife thieves.

2. Do you hunt individually or as a group?
3-4 people

3. Objective/motivation for poaching?
Quick money, employment, their source of income.

4. How much money is made monthly/yearly?
Some people in the group either just want the meat, but some want to money. Averages for Thompson's Gazelle is 30,000 (roughly $18), Wildebeest is 200,000 (roughly $121), and giraffe is 400,000 (roughly $242).

5. What do you hunt with?
Snaring has become an outdated technique. They mostly chase animal while they are on a motorcycle and spear it when they get close enough.

6. How often do they hunt?
About every 3 days, but it is driven by the demand for the money. They don't own homes. They only rent. Money goes quick.

7. Hunting success?
Success rate is 3/5 outings. They are successful 40% of the time. 

8. When did they start?
One started hunting when he finished primary school (13-14 years ago).

9. Most common animals killed/poached?
Grant's gazelle, Thompson's gazelle (pretty small) but still poached, Impala, Lesser Kudu. Most animals that like large grazing areas, because they are easy to access. 

10. Zebras and wildebeest are most commonly killed in area, why weren't they mentioned?
During day, they poach using motor bikes. Zebras and wildebeest are most commonly killed in the day. At night, they park bikes and blind/daze animals with lights, then attack. Impala, Grant's gazelle most commonly poached at night.

 Later on, I finished up my olive baboon research paper, and turned it in.

Thursday, I did my laundry by hand for the first time (besides a few random things I've had to hand wash at home). This is different though. I used two buckets. One to wash and one to rinse. To save space in my luggage, I brought a toothbrush as my scrub brush, so the job was quite tedious. It isn't bad though. After I finished I hung them up to dry and went to lunch. In the afternoon, we had a few classes and then another field class. This time, we were going to the same pasture we did a scat survey near Lake Manyara to conduct a pasture grasses survey. We learned Couch grass (Cynodon dactylon), Odyssea jaegeri, Sporobolus spicatus, and Cyperus sp. and then began our survey. The grass was grazed over to ground level, because there are large groups of livestock and some wildlife that graze in this conservancy area. So, I thought it would've been hard identifying the grasses, but it got much easier as we went along. One group found the skull (with horns) of a Cape buffalo. Last time, I was in the pasture, I found the hoof of a zebra.

Friday, we had a pretty good and somewhat short day. We had a guest lecture in the morning from a local teacher. She was from the IRAWQ tribe. She taught us about education, daily activities in the life of an IRAQW person, and a woman's duties in a family. It seems crazy how much women have to do for a family and for herself. She taught us a few things and tried to help prepare us for our homestay that we will have next week! In the afternoon, we had another guest lecture from our program president who spoke about his work on the distribution of African lions. After these two great lectures, I did some homework in the morning, went for a run in the evening, finished laundry, relaxed outside until dinner, and finished season 2 of Game of Thrones to end my night. 

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Saturday, we woke up and ate breakfast and then some of went immediately to the community service project that we signed up for. I signed up to read books to children at a local orphanage. Others signed up for either construction on a pit toilet for the local school or Project Rhotia. I didn't have to leave until 9:30. I brought my "Bats" book along to read to the children. We got there at 10 and read with them until about 11:40. It went pretty quick, and it was a lot of fun. The two boys I read to were Danny and Jovita. Kiri, one of our SAMs told us that this was one of the best orphanages in the area. The owners are danish people from the Netherlands. They came to TZ and built a lodge and a children's home. They are essentially across from each other, but the lodge is more hidden. They pay for the kids in the orphanage to attend school. They also have a bakery where they make bread and sell it locally. These profits go towards the kids' school fees. They invited us to their lodge for coffee and tea.. I was all for it.. everyone was! So, we drove over afterwards and talked to them for about an hour. They have two dogs and cats at their tented lodge. They also showed us their garden. It was a very beautiful and relaxed place. We learned that most other orphanages in the area do take all donations for themselves and do not actually care for the children. This place was different. The people were good and the coffee was great! I am definitely going back. The coffee they had was from Gibb's Coffee Farm down the road, which we will be visiting sometime.. AND I CANNOT WAIT!

Coming back from the orphanage and lodge, I was very thoughtful. I was trying to brainstorm how I can make enough money to just continue traveling when I get home and after college is over. I think I'll still be trying to find jobs that are out of state, but I want to do more international travel. So many people here at SFS have traveled abroad, and this is only my first time! The main reason is due to money restraints, but I hope to continue traveling internationally from this point-on.

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Sunday was a blast! It was our non-program day. In the morning, I made a batik at a batik artist's house/studio! For anyone who doesn't know what a batik is, it's a method of waxing different sections of cloth to add different colors. I made an elephant batik, and also bought a batik with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background and silhouettes of trees and wildlife in the foreground. Around 1, we made our way into Karatu, where everyone was either at Happy Days Pub or Kudu Lodge. I spent about an hour at Happy Days Pub, and then went to Kudu Lodge to swim and hang out by the poolside bar. It was a perfect day to swim. The weather was hot and sunny. Kudu Lodge ended up being a great time. Before I left, I had a latte.. and it was amazing! I made some new friends, who happened to be the bartenders, but they were great. Very friendly! Overall, I don't think there was a person at Kudu Lodge who had a bad day. We were all very happy. When I got home, I hung out with everyone, and attempted to slackline. I ate dinner and then spent a lot of time laying in the hammock. Ended my night by having a good chat with a friend here, and then talking to my sister and niece. Excellent night!

Monday came too soon. Although, surprisingly classes didn't start until 10, I didn't really get a great nights sleep, because my back had been bothering me, and continued to bother me all day. Most of Monday was dedicated to our Environmental Policy class. We had to present a research article to the class. The research paper ended up being on grass--whoopie! The presentation went ok though, even though I wasn't feeling well, and would have rather been laying in bed. 

Tuesday, we ended up having only one class, and it was Swahili. All we did was get together with a group, and create a script using our Swahili. My group and I made a script for at the market. Everyones' script was very funny, and we actually had a great time creating them! Since the rest of classes were cancelled for the day, I spent my day working on my research paper about giraffe foraging behavior. At 3, I went to the local school to meet the 5th grade class that my group and I would be teaching for an hour, once or twice a week. Well, that's at least what we thought.. we pretty much got thrown in the classroom, and were expected to have something for the class. Thankfully, we had a few back up plans. First, we played pictionary on the chalk board. The kids spoke english pretty well, and were also great spellers and drawers. Then, we read a book to the class of about 31 students. We sang 'head, shoulders, knees and toes' with the whole class. And then decided to break up the class into groups of 5 and read them books in individual groups. I had a pretty good group. The boys in my group knew english and even helped me read the book. I read two books to my group. One was "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears" and "Clifford." They enjoyed both books. Now, I am wondering what we will teach them next time? Tonight, we celebrated another birthday, my banda mate's birthday, actually! We also gathered things like soap, flour, sugar, salt, vegetables, and vegetable oil. Tomorrow, we have our first home stay with an IRAQW family from 8 AM to 5 PM. I will fill you all in on how that goes next week! Hoping it goes well!

Moyo Hill Camp-- Week 2!

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This week, Tanzania got really REAL. Like I mentioned in my last post, we went to Lake Manyara National Park on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, we had a field lecture a few kilometers from our camp. We drove to Elephant Hill, where elephants are actually no longer found. Our lecture was based around human-wildlife conflict and the influence that the locals have on the land. We learned that elephants don't use this land anymore, because there is no forest corridor to allow them to reach this area. When one stands at an overlook of the valley in this area, it is very clear that humans prevail. Although still beautiful, the areas are no longer natural forests. Most of what is seen is open landscape or agriculture. Some of the Ngorongoro Crater forest can be seen from the soccer field by our camp, and if we drive 6-8 km down the road, we can overlook the Lake Manyara National Park forest. This is great, but like we've learned, the locals graze their cattle, sheep, and goats just about everywhere here, even in illegal areas, like national parks and conservancies. Most areas are overgrazed and the vegetation cannot grow back fast enough to support wildlife and livestock. Here, the government owns the wildlife, and the locals do not like that. Often animals such as lions, elephants and rhinos are poached in East Africa, but these aren't the only animals poached here. Sometimes wildlife is poached, because locals are trying to retaliate against the government for land or hunting restrictions, or because locals retaliate against wildlife that kill their livestock. Sometimes, wildlife is poached, because people want valuable things that animals have, like the ivory tusks on an elephant. Often, poaching is used as a way to access bush meat, which is sold for money or eaten. 

On last Wednesday, we were informed that we would be having a traditional Tanzanian goat roast on Friday to officially welcome us to the community. Kiri, our Student Affairs Manager (SAM) informed us that the entire process of the goat roast would be done at our camp. Our SAMs encouraged us to watch the whole process, because it is important in the Tanzanian culture and that as meat eaters, we should see and understand the process. I didn't really think a whole lot about it until Friday, when I had decided to watch the process. Although, not something that I was particularly crazy about, because I love the cute little fluffy goats that we see running around, I also knew that it was a way of life for all, here (and everywhere). Honestly, it was quite a real experience for me, even though I have been exposed to things like it before. On Wednesday, a few of us visited a school program known as Project Rhotia. Students dedicated to learning come here after (actual) school to learn english and computer skills (surfing the internet, Microsoft Excel, Word, etc.). The kids were great! We only went there to meet them, but then we ended up teaching them songs like 'head, shoulders, knees, and toes' or 'the itsy bitsy spider.' They taught us an even better song in english about mountains and they even had a dance for it, They are great kids, and I've decided to dedicate some time to helping them learn english and computer skills. In turn, they are going to help me with Swahili!


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Thursday, we went into the field to conduct a scat survey. We went to plains next to Lake Manyara and conducted scat transects with the help of Maasai men. There are many Maasai tribes in this area. Although, Tanzania is a Swahili speaking country, Maasai have their own language but normally know Swahili as well. The words we had to know to communicate with the Maasai men were engine (goat), engerry (sheep), engiteng (cow), osikiria (donkey), orngojine (hyena), oloitoko (zebra), engoli (Thompson's gazelle). enguili (impala), and orkimosorok (wildebeest). The man on the left was helping us identify the scat for our survey. We had a great time! At the end of our transect, we walked to Lake Manyara and viewed thousands and thousands of flamingos. First wild flamingos I have ever seen (and in thousands)! Thursday was a great day, until I figured out that someone had stole my bank card number, and the only way for me to cancel the card was to call. Thankfully, my sister cancelled it for me, and I have to buy minutes to put on someone's tracphone to call the states and try to get my money back. It was very annoying, but at least it was taken care of on Friday.

We celebrated a student's birthday on Friday. They have awesome birthday evenings here. After dinner, the cook staff and a few others will come together. The lights in the dining hall are shut off, and they come in singing/chanting an awesome song in Swahili carrying small branches from trees that they wave around while dancing. The way they sing and harmonize is absolutely amazing. As they dance around the dinning hall, they gather students into the dancing circle and we join in. It is so much fun, plus, there's CAKE! 

On Saturday, for our Environmental Policy class, we were put in groups of four and dropped off in a village to survey local people. At first, we were a little worried, but they had a translator for us and he walked around with us, and confronted all of the residents for us. We ended up having a ton of fun! The people here are so nice! They are nothing like American people. All of them answered our questions. Everyone we asked questions too were apart of either the IRAQW or Maasai tribes, we believed. The first family we visited were very nice. They invited us into their home and offered to let us try their local alcohol that they make from maize. We declined, of course. Before we left, a mother tried to give us her youngest son, probably 3 years old. We laughed and she laughed with us, but she was serious. Our translator told us that she most likely tried to give him to us because she could not afford to send him to school when it was time, and she has other kids to support. We were also told that some people in the village believed that we were there to take the land. Most people were very nice and cooperative. Most of the time, everyone in the area was staring at us, and they don't always look like the friendliest people, but often, they are cooperative and helpful. 



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Sunday was our free day! Most people went and explored Mto wa Mbu and either did a morning hike, knife painting class or bike ride. I got lucky enough that I got to tag along with a professor and a student who is conducting camera trap studies. I went along to help take notes and set up the cameras. We went to Manyara Ranch, picked up a ranger, who had a gun with him, and went on our way into the bush. We saw a ton of wildlife! Things we saw were: dik-dik, kudu, impala, giraffes, elephants, banded mongoose, wildebeest, an owl, eland, a secretary bird, a spotted hyena, weavers, a deceased leopard turtle's shell and a ground nesting bird's nest. I had a great time! We also saw the skeleton of a poached elephant from 2011. Sidenote--after 2011, more rangers were implemented into the area and elephants haven't been poached there since then.. hopefully it stays that way! 

Monday, we started our second and a half week of classes. We had a paper due Wednesday on baboon behavior, so I spent the next few evenings trying to finish it up. Tuesday, we got to do a birding exercise! My favorite exercise, yet! Added some new birds to my life list too. :)

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