A month ago we embarked on a grand adventure…

WHOA, holy time-flying!  It was a whole month ago that the Husband and I started our journey to Africa (Tanzania, to be exact, since Africa is pretty big and diverse and probably doesn’t like being lumped into that broad of a category) to go on our volunteering-safari honeymoon!

And ohhhhh the things we saw.  I’ve already mentioned this (probably), but our itinerary involved a few days of orientation, four days of volunteering at a local school, and then 6 days of a safari, followed by 3 days in Istanbul.  I’ve already talked about volunteering and how awesome that was, but I figured I should at least mention the safari since it was mind-blowingly amazing in a totally different way.  Well, I guess I did mention the safari kind of but the experience probably deserves a more complete post.

We woke before dawn every day. Some days we were in a tent, other days we were in a tented lodge, sometimes we were in a regular lodge. The days we were in a tent I didn’t even bother changing clothes, I slept in the same clothes I wore all day, every day. We ate a quick breakfast while we were still wiping sleep from our eyes.  We went on a game drive and saw lions, monkeys, giraffes, and elephants.  Animals are so alive in the morning.

monkey

It rained many of the days and it was a cold, drenching rain.  When it wasn’t raining we were swarmed with flies.  Africa is not a comfortable place.  We ate lunch at the hottest part of the day, when the big animals were sleeping off the heat.  Sometimes we had a packed lunch, other times it was freshly made back at camp.  The Husband slept for a few hours and I read ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Just Kids’.  Our second game drive of the day was shorter than the first and just as exciting.  We always saw big cats relaxing and wildebeest grazing and animals at perfect harmony with each other.  I learned the true meaning of what it looks like to coexist and I could have swore I was in the Garden of Eden.

giraffe

We ate dinner with other campers or in a restaurant.  We had our own cook and he made us delicious meals consisting of potatoes and vegetables and fried dough and instant hot chocolate and chai and the Husband had chicken and beef, but never pig.  On Tim’s birthday everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday’ in their own languages: Swahili, Spanish, and Italian (and of course, English).  It was a beautiful moment and one I will never forget!

28th birthday

We went to sleep at around 9 every night, after discussing our favorite sights of the day with our guide.  We listed animal chases, giraffes standing among beautiful scenery, baboons being playful, and everything to do with baby animals.  We slept semi-peacefully, listening to rain on our tent or listening to the sounds of hyenas and lions, or listening to the sound of other campers zipping and unzipping their tents.

serengeti

Africa is an extremely diverse and beautiful place. It’s a place where creatures coexist and live off of one another, but do not cause unnecessary harm.  Different species need each other to survive, and all animals are acutely aware of their predators, prey, and role on the plains.  I wonder what the Earth would look like if humans had such a simple understanding of life and how to live it.

baby leopards

I’ll leave you with a picture of baby leopards – because they are friggen adorable.

 

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“No, there won’t be any lions around, just hyenas.”

Remember when I said I would camping on the safari?

Well, it happened.

At least one of us was happy!

At least one of us was happy!

I knew I was in trouble when we got out of the safari vehicle and walked with our guide to the very back of the campground.  I’m not sure why we couldn’t camp with everyone else, but for whatever reason I guess he thought we needed space.  So, he set up our tent separate from everyone else and as far away from the bathroom as you could possibly get.

This is about when my anxiety started.

There are many, many things that make me anxious in life, but not being able to get to a bathroom is one of my top 10 anxiety triggers.  I’m not sure why this is exactly, but I just like knowing that if I need to pee in the middle of the night (which never ever happens) I can get to a bathroom.

Anyway, I ask my guide if there are lions wandering around the campsite at night on a frequent basis, and he assured me that there are no lions, only hyenas.  An hour before this conversation we saw a hyena eating a still-alive wildebeest.  He was dripping with blood.  It was awful and I’m still having nightmares about this weeks later.  But at that moment, standing in the campground, all I could think about was that if I got up in the middle of the night to wander around the campsite to use the restroom, I’d probably get attacked by a pack of hyenas and they wouldn’t kill me, they’d just start eating me piece by piece.

Comforting thought, no?

The guide suggested that we not even attempt to go to the bathroom at night since it was too far, and we should pee outside of our tent instead, should the need arise.  He told us if we bring a flashlight and look around with it first, we would be able to see eyes shining back at us and then the hyenas would run away…. no  big deal!

This is the exact hyena we saw before we got to the campsite.  Nightmares.

This is the exact hyena we saw before we got to the campsite. Nightmares.

OH HELL NO.

Suffice it to say, I had to pee that night around 9pm and there was no way in hell I was going to leave that tent.  Especially since it was raining.  And when I woke up at like 2am (I’m totally making up this time, we had no clocks or watches or cell phones but it felt like 2am) and heard hyenas.  Awesome.  And by awesome I mean it was not a great night as my bladder was threatening to explode and my dumb husband was sleeping peacefully after peeing outside the tent hours earlier.

Longest night ever.  Finally as soon as the first glimpse of the sun came above the horizon, I was sprinting to the bathroom.

… And then we did the whole thing again the next night.  The Husband owes me, big time.

I will say that aside from this discomfort, the safari was the best thing ever.  THE. BEST. THING.

More details to come!

Volunteering turned out to be the very best way we could have started our marriage.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out, the Husband and I returned from Tanzania/Istanbul safe and sound and are now in the process of adjusting to ‘normal’ life.  It’s awful (the adjustment, that is).  The trip was absolutely perfect.  Well, except for the flight home from Paris… Delta received a scathing email from me today.  But moving on to the more positive things, it was most-definitely the second best vacation of my life (after my wedding week) – and for once I’m not exaggerating or being overly dramatic!

Our first week of the trip we spent volunteering in a town near Arusha, Tanzania.  It’s hard to tell people about the experience because it really is one of those things that a person has to experience to understand.

I’ll leave you with a not-so-brief summary of our time volunteering:

We stayed in a volunteer house with 15 or so other volunteers.  The volunteers were young and liberal and free-spirited and lovely and we had a good time getting to know them.  I even went boxing with a few of them at a local gym that was probably 30 ft by 15 ft.  We ate ciapatta and chai every day. We snacked on pineapple 3 meals a day.  The pineapple was the sweetest and juiciest fruit I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.  We commuted to the orphanage an hour each way on a crowded van.  The rides cost 300 tsh each and we paid the conductor with coins.  The vans (dala dala) were packed with people and the smell of sweat and bodies was super overpowering.  More people fit in those vans than I would have thought possible.  The back seats were the best because if you sat near a door more people would crowd in and stand in front of where you were sitting or squeeze on your bench.  The language was Swahili and we loved learning it.  We arrived at the orphanage around 9am and we taught classes in English.  The students were mainly 6-10 years old, but there were some older and some younger.

Joy,

Joy.

There were openings and bars instead of glass in the windows.  There wasn’t enough chalk and no one had pencils or notebooks.  We taught simple words and grammar and a lot of math.  We taught English words for the parts of the body and learned that corn cobs are used for hygiene in Tanzania.  Recess sometimes lasted 1 hour and sometimes lasted 3 hours, depending on if the teachers wanted to teach that day.  It was so hot in the sun, but the students wore sweaters anyway.  Every day the children wore the same outfits, no matter what the temperature or weather.  The Husband taught them ‘Rock Paper Scissors’ and they loved the song (but didn’t understand the game).  The students loved our skin and fingernails and quickly found that they could see our veins through our whiteness.  White people (or really foreigners in general) are referred to as ‘mzungu’ but the students usually called us ‘teacher’.  Goats and cows came to graze in the school yard in the afternoon.  The boy who was in charge of grazing the animals was around 6 years old.  The students brought water bottles to class, but sometimes they didn’t have water from home.  The poverty was incredible, but seemed almost normal in our surroundings.

Break time was not such a break for volunteers!

Break time was not such a break for volunteers!

I firmly believe that every person should spend time volunteering internationally.  In my opinion, it’s the only way to truly learn about another culture, as well as our own.  The perspective I’ve gained about my own life through volunteering in Central America/Africa is priceless – and I was only able to do it in short stints.

Plus, (and trust me on this) if I can manage to survive without cheese and hot showers and western toilets and air conditioning and all other things we take for granted in the USA but are not common in other countries, you can too!

The next adventure (or two): Volunteer Honeymoon

As if getting into this whole ‘marriage’ thing wasn’t adventurous enough, we’re also leaving for Africa in two days.

WHOA, 2 days?!  That definitely came up fast.  I didn’t realize it until I just typed that sentence.  Allow me a few moments to recover.

Anyway, we’ll be volunteering at an orphanage/school in Morombo, Tanzania.  From everything I’ve heard.  It looks like it will be quite a challenging and rewarding time!  If you would like to donate, please do.  (Not to us, we already paid to volunteer and all of that ‘stuff’ but we would love to accept your donations for the school to give them while we’re there or upon our return).

So why are we volunteering instead of sipping cocktails on a beach or on a hotel rooftop in some faraway city?  Well, I can’t think of a better start to a marriage than to spend time serving others together.  Plus, I think it’s great to remind myself what is really important every once in a while, and also what I constantly take for granted – like indoor plumbing and clean food and water.  I’m hoping this trip puts some things into perspective and allows me to think about my blessings even more.  Plus, we travel all of the time and no trip is as rewarding as a volunteer trip.  At least in my (limited) experience.

I volunteered in Nicaragua in 2008 during my spring break senior year.  It was amazing.  And challenging.

4th graders in Nicaragua!

4th graders in Nicaragua!

The things I would have done for a hot shower at the end of those weeks…

Anyway, this time it’s Arusha, Tanzania (Africa) and the Husband’s coming along, too.  I consider myself super blessed to have a husband who when I said ‘hey babe, let’s volunteer for our honeymoon,’  immediately and enthusiastically agreed.

Other things we’ll be doing on our honeymoon… going on a safari and camping.  Yes, camping.

I’ve never gone camping in my life.  This, however, did not deter the Husband from suggesting it as a very viable option in the Serengeti.  He actually thought sending me a picture of the ‘accommodations’ would convince me that camping wouldn’t be so bad.

Our fancy honeymoon suite.

Our fancy honeymoon suite.

Needless to say, his plan backfired.  Did you notice there are two cots?  No, we will not be pushing these together… I have a feeling that hearing lions outside my tent is not going to induce any sort of passion in my heart or anywhere else!  Speaking of which, we have heard stories from friends who have gone on safaris (and survived the camping) that entailed lions sleeping literally right next to their tents.  How’s that for comforting?

I’ll be writing more in the next few days as my stress levels rise.  Stay tuned  🙂

(And once again, if you would like to donate to the children we’ll be teaching on our trip or other causes we deem to need assistance, please do)