MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

A trip to the ocean, a time to reflect

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In Ethiopia, Christmas is celebrated at the beginning of January, because of the Orthodox Calendar. While Steph and I could have had two Christmases, we took a trip to Mombasa, Kenya to take advantage of our extended holiday. I'm not really the spontaneous type – but it was a worthwhile and refreshing trip. We planned it pretty last minute, but in the end, everything worked out and we had many good memories.Mombasa is a coastal city on the Indian Ocean and is the second largest city in Kenya. Historically it was a vital port city for trade. We had to adjust quickly to a new language (Swahili), currency (Kenyan Shillings), transportation (Kenyans drive on the other side of the road) and so on. Our first time in one of the grocery stores was eye-opening. There was much more variety and selection compared to what's available in Addis. We were also very excited about the nice cafes, restaurants, and the mall in Nyali. From a development perspective, I began to notice quickly the differences between Ethiopia and Kenya. Ethiopia follows a state-led development model, and the government protects the economy from foreign franchises. Kenya, on the other hand, has scaled back the role of the state, liberalized markets and embraced a Western model of development.Our time in Mombasa was short and sweet. We didn't travel around too much, but mainly relaxed by the beach, ate food we can't find in Addis, and spent time getting to know the guests at our hostel. Our stay at the hostel was pretty unique. The owner recently moved into the current house a few months ago, so it didn't feel like home yet and was missing her personal touches. We were there when artwork, curtains, and the like were being put up. To see her and express that she was coming alive again, was something that excited me. I'm all for pursuing things, opportunities and people in life that make you come alive. Of course we all go through different seasons, some much more difficult than others. But ensuring that there's life in what you do, is vital.During our trip, I was reading a book called "The Me I Want To Be" by John Ortberg. It's a timely read, because I've experienced many challenges, opportunities to grow and self-discover throughout this internship. If there's one thing that I realized recently, it's this: for some time I got lost in questions and uncertainty about the future, which made me doubt my dreams, passions and capabilities. It's a downward spiral if you don't quickly realize there's a process to figuring it all out. And answers don't always come quickly or conveniently. Being confident and certain in who I am in my faith in the Lord, regardless of circumstances, is what will keep me grounded. A quote from the book that I love is this, "life is not about any particular achievement or experience. The most important task of your life is not what you do, but who you become."It's already nearing the end of January, which means I have less than two months left. It feels like there isn't enough time to get everything done, so it's crunch time! I'm excited to go to the field next week and spend time collecting most significant change (MSC) stories from our clients. My sister wrote in her Christmas card to me: "There's no CAP to what you can learn there." I want to hold onto this. Each day, there are new things to learn from different people, opportunities, and situations. There is no cap!
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Travelled Centuries Back In Time

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After the week of work visiting clients in Bahir Dar, Clara joined me and we did some touristy things...First Stop: Blue Nile FallsAlso known as "Tis Isat, the "Smoke of Fire" waterfall is near the Tis Abay town situated about 30 km downstream from the town of Bahir Dar and Lake Tana. The Blue Nile Falls are considered one of Ethiopia's greatest natural spectacles and is the second largest waterfall in Africa (next to Victoria Falls).The town was busy when we arrived late that Saturday morning. It was Market Day. Once we got through the crowds we trekked 1.5 hours up the mountain to the falls. I don't hike, not alone with high altitude, the scorching sun and sharing the path with dozens of cows. Needless to say, it was a mission and it would not have been complete without stepping in cow dung and nearly being trampled a few times. Haha – it was still worth it. Even though it was very busy, we got to see the falls in its full form (sometimes there is little water, due to the dam). I was so hot, I seriously considered jumping in it, but I refrained, knowing it would not end well.Second Stop: The Lalibela ChurchesOn the Sunday, we boarded a plane for Lalibela to see the UNESCO heritage site of the 11 monotheistic rock-hewn churches.These churches were attributed to King Lalibela who, in the 12th century, set out to construct a 'New Jerusalem', after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Due to this, Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, especially for the Ethiopian Orthodox community.The churches were not constructed — they were excavated. Each church was created by carving into the ground to form the churches from the inside and out. The largest church is 40 feet high.Going from Bahir Dar, a lush, green paradise to Lalibela, a rocky, mountainous desert was quite a drastic change, but not any less spectacular.The churches of Lalibela are unlike anything I have ever seen. The most impressive was Bet Giorgis (St. George) church. It is cut 40 feet down and its roof forms the shape of a Greek cross. It was built after Lalibela's death (c.1220) by his widow as a memorial to the saint-king. It was breathtaking... no, literally! All the walking, up and down stone hills, through caves and across bridges nearly killed me. That weekend was a work out.All the churches were so beautiful and it really was a privilege to witness something so sacred to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Christians around the world.This weekend was the first major touristy trip we did and I am glad we did it. Ethiopia is often not given much thought, but it truly has a lot to offer, you just have to look for it.
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Exploring the North: Bahir Dar and Lalibela

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Two weeks ago I went on a weekend trip to Bahir Dar and Lalibela, located in northern Ethiopia. Since I went to the south for work about a month ago, I was excited to see different parts of the country again. While I do like Addis, it does get tiring with lots of people, traffic and pollution. It was refreshing to be in more remote parts of the country, especially with beautiful landscapes and sunsets that you just don't get in the city.I met up with Steph in Bahir Dar first since she was there for work. We had dinner along Lake Tana that was lit up by the moonlight. The following day we went to see the Blue Nile Falls. Saturdays are market days, so as we drove one hour to the falls, there were lots of people walking with their cattle or goats. We met up with our tour guide who led us on a 1.5 hour hike. Many times we were face-to-face with cows walking on the path on their way to the market. We saw the Portuguese Bridge and the Blue Nile Falls, and then walked back to finish our tour. There were many kids selling scarves and hand-made crafts along our hike, telling us, "Madam, I'll give you a good price." I eventually caved and bought one even though I've already accumulated so many in Addis!We relaxed for a few hours and then went for dinner along the lake and watched the sunset. In Bahir Dar we took these 3-wheeled scooter-type taxis called "Bajaj's" or "Touk-touk's" – they were super cheap and really easy to use. After dinner we checked out Kuriftu for dessert, along with good talks under a full moon.The next part of our trip was to Lalibela, a town renowned for its rock-hewn churches that were built in the 12th century. The story goes that King Lalibela sought to create a New Jerusalem for those who could not make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The churches were not constructed in a traditional method, rather, they were excavated and carved from the living rock of monolithic blocks. The churches are still used to this day by Orthodox Christians. And now that it is a UNESCO heritage site, tourism has really taken off over the past few years. The landscape in Lalibela reminded me of the Grand Canyon (although I've never been). It's very desert-like with canyons and plateaus all around.After resting up, we went to see the churches. It was really amazing to see the churches, inside and out. My favourite was St. George, the church shaped in a cross. We had a really good guide who showed us all 11 churches within 3.5 hours. It was an exhausting tour, as we walked through passages, trenches, and in-and-out of most of the churches.While it was overall a really good trip, I'm glad to be back in Addis. After a few days of traveling, all you want is the familiarity of your own home and the variety of food options that are available in the city. With about four months left of this internship, I'm hoping to squeeze in a few more trips, to see more of Ethiopia. It really is a beautiful country. I had a few moments throughout this past trip that reminded me that I am very blessed to be here with MEDA and working on a great project that is changing lives.
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Boom, Snap, Clap

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If I had one wish, I would wish for life to be a musical. For anyone who knows me, also knows my love for musicals, although I have less then zero musical talent... I do LOVE it. So many times in life, I have thought, Man, wouldn't it be great if everyone just break out into song right now. Well, it took me 8 and a half months to realize that I am living in just that. Africa, the musical.It was on my hike through different rural villages up to the waterfall on Mt. Meru that I finally noticed it. Every corner we turn there was a new village home blasting music out of these giant speakers, occasionally with the remix of a Cow's Moo, a Chicken's Cluck and the children's laughter. Tanzania is full of life and showing it through the songs they sing everyday.When arriving at the waterfall, it was one of those moments where you can feel your soul taking a step back and realizing all that you have been experiencing and for me realizing that my time in Africa was starting to come to an end. Coming to the conclusion that I have made some of the best friends I could ever have imagined, I have learned so much more then ever expected and I have grown incredibly from the first day I arrived here. As we enjoyed the view, Chrissy and I talked about our experiences and what we were both excited and scared for when we got home. It is these moments that make me never want to leave.The next morning, we wake up early to head out to a horse safari. Riding on the back of College (Yes, that was my horse's name), through the large green grass fields, past the zebras and wildebeests, as I listen to the footsteps of the horses my mind began to wander. Starting to imagine all the people I would see at home and thinking about what activities I will get to enjoy this summer. I tried making the day go by faster and faster, which of course only makes it crawl by even slower.After the horse safari, we were going to make a trip over to a friend's orphanage. Our guide was so gracious to guide us on which dala dala (local bus) to take and where to get off... too bad he didn't' know where he was going. We rode on the first dala dala, being charged mzungu (foreigner) prices for about 30 minutes, when we get off and our guide shows us the school, we realize we are at the completely wrong place. Trying not to waste too much time, we cram into the next dala dala, and I literally mean cram, there were 26 people in this dala dala, which let's be real... it's a 12 person van with a few extra seats. After all these frustrations, we finally make it to the meeting spot, there are the only two other Mzungus, so we know we are in the right place!Maureen, works a Havila Children's Orphanage in Arusha for kids 3-18 years old. She is an absolutely remarkable, inspiring woman dedicating her life to these children and showing them unbelievable love and kindness which was demonstrated as we walked through the gates. Each child came up to introduce themselves to us and welcome us to their home. The kids spoke excellent English and we're full of joy and laughter.We spent the afternoon listening to them singing a few songs their pastor had taught them as the younger ones show off their dance moves, the kids taking so MANY pictures as they were fascinated with cameras and just hanging around the courtyard getting to enjoy their wonderful personalities. They took us for a walk around the area to the children's library and another children's home. As we're walking, playing the 'Don't step on the Lava game' and learning more about each other, it wasn't too long until the movie 'Frozen' came up and they090 (2) asked me to sing my favourite song. For all of those who know me, again know that there is no chance of me signing in front of them. I tell them, I don't sing but I know this really cool beat, and again... it's the only beat I know. As we're walking back to the village, I teach them the Boom, snap, clap, boom boom, snap, clap and of course, they pick it up way quicker than I ever did. It was an all over, incredible afternoon.On the walk to meet our driver, my favourite little three year old, comes up beside me and although he can speak barely any English says, "Miss Mary" and puts his tiny arms in the air. I pick him up, holding him so tightly. During that walk to our driver, I cannot help but think about how I never want to leave, this little three year, Sammy has stolen my heart along with all the other children. Every single child, so full of life and so full of laughter, singing their song every step of the way sharing their love with anyone they meet. With Sammy clutching my neck, while I listen to kids shout ' Boom, snap, clap, boom boom, snap, clap' it hits me again... I never want to leave.My emotions are on the biggest, fastest, scariest roller coaster ride, one minute I'm ready to be on the plane home and the next, I never want to leave. I'm trying my best to enjoy every last second of my time in Tanzania because I know as soon as I leave, I will miss all that I have come to love here but I do have so much to look forward to as soon as I get back into North America. Doing my best to sit back and listen to the whole song before simply skipping to the next track.
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Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

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Good news! I made it to Rwanda, after the longest journey I was finally able to step onto Rwandan soil. The first words when I got into the taxi were, "How was the flight?" All I could do was laugh and reply, "A little long but good."The beauty in Rwanda is undeniable. I can tell you about the lush, green rolling hills or the clean streets of Kigali but the true beauty lies in the hearts of the people. As frustrated I became with the Airport Authorities, I certainly did not expect the warm welcome I received from the Rwandan people. Every interaction I had with a Rwandan person, I find myself leaving with such a huge smile, from taxi drivers to mamas in the village to the kids on the streets, I loved all of them. Every single person was able to show and teach me about their life with nothing but kindness.We were all lucky enough to have my friend, Marine with us on the trip. Marine works for the Rwandan Development Board and Gorilla Conservation, she was so gracious to plan many cultural activities for all of us to enjoy throughout the trip. We watched some Rwandan dancers entertain a crowd of people, had a city tour of Gisenyi, checked out the local hot springs, made banana beer and so much more. Between her and Chrissy, I was free from all planning, which for those of you who know me, understand how much of a dream this was for me. I was able to sit back and enjoy every second of it.The highlight of the trip was without a doubt going to see the Gorillas. Every time I try something new here, I find myself saying I have never experience something so amazing, which isn't quite the case but they all have their very unique qualities that make it so extra special, this one was no expectation. We had a short hike into the mountains before we approached the Gorillas, 100 meters from them we prepared, leaving all of our bags, walking sticks and basically everything but our cameras with the guards. We slowly walked past the great Silver back to get a better view of all of them enjoying their daily activities. With two short grunts the guards were able communicate with the Silverback to assure him we were harmless, simply their to observe. Learning to speak gorilla was MUCH easier then my attempt at learning Swahili.We were only allowed one hour with the gorillas, so we did our best to make it count. Yes, we took as many pictures of possible, on our cameras, our phones, anything that could capture that image but by now I have definitely learned that no matter how great the image nothing can beat the real experience. So remembering, the importance of taking it all in from my picture scare after the safari, I made sure I took a few moments to put down the camera and enjoy the moment. These creatures were incredible. So humanlike in every aspect; the young ones rambunctiously wrestling with each other or imitating the Silverbacks chest pounds, the teen adults lazily laying in the sun wanting nothing to do with the others, the parents so lustfully looking after the young ones. Everything about them was amazing.On Monday, it was time to go back to Dar es Salaam. After a nightmare of a trip down, I ended up having one of the most amazing experiences with some of the most wonderful people. Then, they hit me with the news... I had no return ticket. I couldn't even believe my ears, I knew it was all good to be true.Even with the stress I once again had to deal with at the airport, I was not going to let it bring down the trip. After some back and fourth banter, and pulling up every email I could find to help me, I was finally able to convince them to give me a ticket. Yes, of course there were a few tears... but come on, you can't even deny it doesn't help me. I think tears my be my superpower... at least to some heartwarming Africans.
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Overflowing with Tears in Rwanda

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This is a story that simply cannot wait. I am in awe of the way life has a funny way of working around us, no matter how hard we try and force it in the direction we would like.I was on my way to Kigali with my friend Chrissy, we were to meet outside the airport, unfortunately the unpredictable traffic in Dar was causing her such an issue that we were not sure she was going to be able to make the trip. I was ready to fly out myself when she was able to show up just in time. As we sat for a few minutes before we boarded the plane laughing about how much someone clearly did not want her to make it to Rwanda to see the Gorillas, the announcement was made and it was time to board. We approached the boarding gate when she realized she could not find her ticket, they would not let her on the plane if she did not have that. We looked through everything, even where we were sitting and nothing, it was looking grim. Then, just in time, magically appears her ticket stub hidden in one of the pages of her passport.As we arrive in Kenya, we are on the bus heading to the terminal when we check the clock, we had just over 5 minutes to get on the next plane. This is unbelievable. We run to the gate when they inform us we still have a little bit of time but now they need to see a printed copy of my visa for Rwanda... only I didn't print it out, I only have it in my email on my computer. That is not acceptable. They inform me of a print shop a few gates down, 8 to be exact. I speed walk across the airport terminal, only to find out the printer is not working. I speed walk back across to the Rwanda Airways gate, the manager is there and gives me the go ahead.As we board the plane take our seats and again, laugh about how Rwanda really must not want us. The plane ride was quick and we were ready for a great vacation in Rwanda, if only it was that easy. After a short flight, the plane lands, quickly gathering our things we head off the plane and onto the bus ready to take us to immigration. Shortly after stepping off the bus, I noticed I was missing something... my passport, I had left my passport on the plane. It wasn't long before I was back on the plane searching for my passport, I knew I left it there but it was absolutely nowhere to be found. Devastated, scared, frustrated, I made my way back to the immigration officers where I tried to work out a way that they would let me into Kigali, no luck.Since Rwanda had never seen my passport, I was technically not even in the country, the only solution was to ship me back to Dar, so I could get it figured out. My heart sunk, I would not be able to explore Rwanda with my friends. For anyone who knows me, understands just how many tears my body produces and that night was no exception.Luckily, I have met so many amazing people out here and Chrissy was just too kind of a person to leave me stranded in the airport alone. She spent the night in the Rwandan airport with me, fighting for me, laughing at the luck we had and comforting me when I just couldn't hold it together anymore. After a long night of arguing and getting further away from a solution, it was time for the daily flight from Kigali to Nairobi. I had to return to Nairobi since that was where I stopped on the way over, half an hour before they were able to give me a boarding pass and I was on my way back to Nairobi.The flight was short, I slept for most of it, cried through the rest but none the less was there before I knew it. Arriving in Nairobi unsure of what was to happen next, I looked around cautiously for someone I could trust to help me. A young lady a few years older then me,had overheard my situation and could see the stress in my face. She came over and checked to see if there was anything she could help me with. Her kindness was incredible, offering her phone so I could call Rwanda (which was now long distance), checking in on me a couple times before she left the airport and a giant hug at the exact moment I was getting overwhelmed again.I was able to find a couple immigration officers that would help me with the next lag of my journey, it was a simple comment that they didn't understand why I had no passport that just had the tears streaming down my face again. They were terrified, doing everything they could to get me to stop crying and even had me laughing with their inspirational speech of how I must learn to be tough if I am going to live in Africa. Eventually, after many chats with the embassy, airlines and the Kigali airport they had booked me a flight back to Dar es Salaam.I had a wonderful escort, who had obviously heard how many tears I had shed in immigration, explaining to me that she is also a 'crybaby'! She did a wonderful job putting a smile on my face and making me feel that everything was going to be okay. I had explained my situation a few more times to the Kenya Airways flight attendants and now was just waiting for a boarding pass to be printed. With a few hours before my flight, I decided it was probably time to eat something and headed for lunch. I had just ordered when I heard, "Mary Catherine, please report to Gate 6, Mary Catherine please find Gate 6." In my head, I thought they must have my boarding pass, so in a rush I asked them to pack up my food and took the long walk back to gate 6.When I got there, the first lady had quite a smile on her face and said she had to call her manager. A few more people passed, all looking at me with these silly grins on their faces, something was up. The Rwanda Air Manager finally walks around the corner and starts with, "You lucky girl." Someone had turned in my passport just a few minutes ago in Kigali!I was in awe. No words were able to explain the relief, excitement and disbelief that I felt. Obviously, I started to cry. The manager of Rwanda Air was so lovely and had already arranged for a free flight back to Kigali and a free flight on Monday. I was going to get my dream vacation yet... well I hope, still sitting in the Nairobi airport waiting to take off to Rwanda. Wish me luck!
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Zanzibar Just Never Gets Old

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Well this past weekend was one more goodbye that had to be made, so for Parneet's last weekend we decided to take a trip to our beloved little paradise, Zanzibar. There is something magical about that place. This was my 5th time in Zanzibar and every time I go it has a completely different feeling, all great in there own way.This time because we were a larger group we all decided to plan our own transport there,which let me tell you is WAY easier. As a resident in Tanzania, I get everything for about the third of the price my non-resident friends would get. The ferry for me is only about $20 dollars, unfortunately I was not able to take work off that early at this time so with a few others we took a quick 30 minute flight over, which for me costs about the same a non-resident would on the ferry.Arriving Friday night, we head over to a beautiful rooftop patio for some dinner and drinks to start off what was sure to be an unforgettable weekend. As we all gather together, watching the most beautiful array of colors painted across the sky from sundown, we catch up on everything, even though I saw most of these people the night before. Our group of friends may not all be quite as much of an extrovert as me, but they are pretty close and it is quite rare that we do not spend every evening together. Never the less, we learn about each others days, the struggles, the successes, the miscommunication we would have encountered with someone that day.After dinner, we all pile into a large van and make our way from Stonetown to Paje, where we will be staying for the weekend. Still not sure of where we are to stay, as if is easier to simply show up and find a place then to book online, well for those who have the extremely useful skill of negotiating, we find a beautiful place on the beach, with enough rooms for all of us and not too pricey, quite the deal. It was a long night full of laughter and many memories created, a great start to the weekend.The morning was a quick clean up, enjoyed some breakfast and we were packed up and ready to head out to the real treat of the weekend. We had recently heard of these private villas you may rent, so on we were, all piled in the van for a short drive down the road to Raha Lodge. After a few minutes of searching for this place through the local village, we spotted a rickety, old wooden sign that pointed us in the right direction. The place was absolutely gorgeous. In Swahili, Raha means happiness, which is definitely the way we all felt exploring our new home for the night.It wasn't long after we got out of the car that thunder and lightning began to shriek through the building and the rain started to downpour. It was that kind of thunderstorm where all you want is to cuddle up under a blanket with a cup of tea and watch the sky light up. It was going to put a hold on swimming, and tanning on the beach for the day but the thing about these friends is that it is almost impossible to have a bad time. As we sat under the roof watching the rain pour down, we exchanged stories, played some games and simply enjoyed each other's company.Shortly after the sky cleared up and the weekend played out exactly how we had hoped, even returning home sunburnt but no matter how the weather would have reacted I am positive we would have made it an unforgettable weekend. It is easy to say that people are the most important thing in my life and I truly don't know what I would do in this country without them. There is something special about connecting with others who are also away from the home they knew before this. Friendships are formed quickly, trust is unbelievably high and boredom is never an issue because there is always something new to learn. It was another great and completely unique weekend in Zanzibar! A little paradise.
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A Little Taste of Nicaragua

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I had a wonderful chance to go to Little Corn Island, which is located on the Caribbean side of Nicaragua, and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to get away from the cold weather! There are two islands, Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island. The islands add an interesting aspect to Nicaragua. It is most well known for being occupied by pirates in the 1800’s. The islands were under British rule and served as a refuge for the pirates. The population of Little Corn Island today is 1,200 with a large mestizo population, people of mixed European and Indian ancestry), and direct descendants of pirates. There are also Garifuna people, the descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people, and indigenous Miskito people from Caribbean Mosquito coast. 

 The islanders speak an English-speaking Creole that originated from a mixed black heritage of English settlers and slaves brought over from Africa. English is the official language on the Corn Islands, followed by Miskito and Spanish. The locals make their living from harvesting lobster and fishing. Life moves at slow pace and reggae is the music of the islands. There is a famous local dish called Run Down. It is a stew in coconut milk with fish and lobster tail with a variety of root vegetables. The Caribbean side offers a wide variety of activities including scuba diving. I had the chance to get my open water diving certification. I saw stingrays, nurse sharks, and sea turtles. I also did a night dive, which I was completely scared of, but was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. Aside from the culture and beautiful landscape, Little Corn Island seems to be a destination for Canadians. Throughout my internship I have not met many Canadians until the island. The majority of tourists were from Canada and a few were from the United States and Europe. On returning from my trip, I had met an American couple that works for the Mennonite Central Committee Canada. They were very excited to hear that I have been doing an internship with MEDA and told me they continuously follow MEDA. This is one example of the many people I met that were interested in hearing more about MEDA and the work that is being done in Nicaragua and around the world.
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From Dar with love

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After four months of living and working in Ethiopia, I was presented with an amazing opportunity to visit Tanzania. Without hesitation, I jumped at the idea of travelling to Dar Es Salaam and working from the MEDA Tanzania office for the week. In the days before my trip, I attempted to memorize as many Swahili words as possible – I wanted to impress the office with my extensive Swahili vocabulary. In reality, I ended up learning only 3 phrases: Habari (hello), Asante Sana (thank you very much) and Rafiki (friend). It was enough for me and the next week I was off to Dar Es Salaam.When I arrived I was immediately greeted by an intense humidity. Living in Addis, the weather is generally windy and cool, so I was not prepared for the weather. I grabbed my bags and met Mary, the Tanzania Intern, at the front. We hopped into the bajaj and that began my adventures in Tanzania.During my week, I was tasked with writing a report about the wildly successful Tanzania bed net voucher scheme. As the E-FACE project in Ethiopia uses voucher schemes for their own interventions, I was sent to analyze the Tanzania voucher system and suggest ways to incorporate a similar system into the E-FACE project. This required me to spend a lot of time with the IT department, who also happened to have amazing air conditioning in their work space. By the end of the information gathering sessions, I felt like a part the team and I knew I would have a difficult time saying goodbye at the end of the week.That weekend, I was able to visit Zanzibar, with Mary and Curtis as my personal tour guides. We flew in by plane, which allowed me to view the beautiful island from above. The best way to describe Zanzibar is paradise on earth. The blue/turquoise waters, the beautiful white sands and the lush palm trees all left me speechless. We were able to explore the eastern side of the island as well as the beautiful Stone Town. The entire trip lasted a few days but it felt like a second, and by the time we took the ferry back to Dar, I was already missing Zanzibar.To say I was spoiled during this trip would be the understatement of the century. I was so well taken care of by the MEDA Tanzania office, my fellow interns (Mary and Curtis) and the people I met throughout the trip. I wish I could have stayed A LOT longer but it was time to go back to Addis. I will definitely be returning in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later.
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Afriroots Dar Tour

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Afriroots is a group that is working with local communities first hand in Dar Es Salaam, so traveling with them is direct community benefiting tourism. They are giving back to places they visit. I have had the privilege of taking two different tours they offer. The 'Biking Tour of Tandale, Sinza' (twice) as well as a city centre 'Historical Walking Tour'. On the historic tour we visited government sites, churches, mosques and the memorial for the Askari soldiers who fought in the British Carrier Corps in World War I, as well as the New African Hotel where Malcolm X visited while in Dar, and the Ocean Road Cancer Institute where medical discoveries were made.On the biking tours you visit a formal market area designed by the government to try and clean up the markets, which is barely used and underutilized as it's often in a terrible location or away from the street or main roads. Also you visit an informal market area where it is very busy with people selling every fruit and vegetable imaginable from small stalls bordering the side of the busy roadway. It also has a clothing market area attached to it whereby men have piles of clothing available at their stalls. Some have piles of shoes (sometimes not even in pairs), other may have loads of jeans or t-shirts. They buy the bundles in bulk off of ships from other parts of the world and then distribute the items to whoever will buy them. The market sellers know where the customers are and don't want to move the businesses to an area that isn't busy with passing buyers and foot traffic.Other areas we experienced were a traditional coffee stop where young men were getting ready for the day making Swahili coast coffee, crushing the beans and mixing with boiling water. They have made a contraption that is used to transport coffee around the city while they walk the streets for a few hours selling their coffee. The steel pot keeps the kahawa (coffee) hot and has a holder so it doesn't burn the hand of the carrier. To go along with the kahawa is a sweet brittle type peanut bar, which most people eat with their coffee. You will often see these guys walking around in the morning or at night with their signature steel pots. The tour takes the back roads to these spots with vibrant community and street life keeping the 'Bongo' city in motion.The next location we visited was mama's small chapatti and chai tea shop in the Mwananyamala area. She used to live across the street from her location but was forced out of it years ago. Some friends have since helped her get a small steel shelter area where she has a seating area to serve customers for the morning breakfast of chapatti and chai, a common breakfast staples in the Swahili coast. My own mom even tried to pika (cook) some chapatti herself, flattening it out and heating it up in the pan.We continued biking to a traditional homestead of Tanganyika – this was mainland Tanzania's name before it merged with Zanzibar to become Tan–Zan-ia. Pre-dating independence from colonial rule in 1961, it is a called a wazaramo, from one of the first neighborhoods of Dar and the Bantu people. It had multiple large rooms where a whole family would sleep in.After, we were off to a shop selling homemade remedies, and fixes. It had all kinds of old peanut butter jars full of different mixes and healing powders. A few examples were leaves mixed together to produce a beauty cream formula, and a treatment for mosquito bites. As well as a few bottles, some of which had a love potion.Across the street from this location was a typical kitenge or kanga shop where they were selling the many different colours and patterns of cloth. The difference between a Zanzibar kitenge and a mainland one is by the saying. The Zanzibarian ones are more thrash and talking about revolution. Often women won't even look at the colours of the material or border pattern and will buy the item based on what the saying is. Most are message about good life secrets and religion, almost like a Swahili fortune cookie saying. The kitenge is a larger piece of fabric used for sewing dresses and is either worn like kangas (wrapped around women's hips) or brought to a tailor.The next stop was a small theatre where watoto (children) would frequent on weekends. At this location they can pay a small coin price (a few hundred Tshillings) to see a new movie, DVD, a favourite cartoon or Swahili feature. In a tin shack, a small colour TV is placed in front of multiple benches where lots of kids sit having a good time.We then went through one of the lowest income areas in the city of Dar Es Salaam called Tandale and yet the people are quite humble. This area has informal settlements where they face multiple challenges in areas like sanitation, wastewater management and infrastructure. They live close to a very polluted river that runs through the city. During heavy rainy season, the area where hundreds of people pass every day will often be flooded and impassable. With the help of the AfriRoots tours they were able to replace the makeshift log bridge with a concrete structure to help people, bajaji vehicles, wagons etc. crossing the busy area. However during the recent short rains, the bridge foundations had shifted in the river and the bridge is broken again.More money needs to be invested to build a better more stable bridge with better footings able to withstand the wrath of the river. Next to this area are a few families and groups who are selling recycled items. The one lady has taken old and discarded material scrapes from fabric shops and put them together with a zipper to make a purse, as well as welcome mats made of the same material.Other men had found old wires and fixed them together in a frame to form different animals. Afterwards they would put paper and a mix of mud to cover the wires in a papier-mâché form. They also have their own community garden growing vegetables and plants, which are used to cure different diseases and health problems common to the areas residents. The area has village-based conservation and now sees an increase in sources of income due to the tours. Some very amazing progressive work is going on in here in one of the poorest parts of the city. It is a shame however the area often gets overlooked as inaccessible by the city government for building and health projects.Afterwards we were off to Sinza, a middle-class income area of the city with a rising population in Dar. This area has smaller cheaper hotels and motels along with plenty of small shops and thriving businesses, housing plenty of hard working young Swahili and traditional Tanzania professionals who work in the city centre or other parts of the city. This is a part of Dar where rapid urbanization is taking place.At the end we ended up back at busy Bagamoyo Road. This tour is highly recommended to see parts of the real Dar Es Salaam worth experiencing that are often hard to get to by the average foreigner. The guides are very knowledgeable, spoke great English while they taught us plenty of history and culture of the surrounding areas. On the tour you gain first hand experiences of the social issues facing Dar Es Salaam – living conditions of families, urbanization, infrastructure and the urban environment. You visit markets and meet the people who work and innovate in the informal economy, hearing about the everyday struggles they face.
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Cape Coast and Castles

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In before heading back to Canada for Christmas, I joined Daniel and Gillian on a weekend trip to Cape Coast and Elmina, beach locations known for their beautiful scenery and fascinating history.After taking an overnight bus to Accra, on which we endured hours upon hours of Ghanaian soap operas playing at full blast (regardless of the time of night) and surviving a tight tro-tro journey to Elmina, we made it to a quiet and secluded eco-lodge just in time to see the sunrise over the ocean. Though we were tired, we powered on through the day, enjoying coffees on the beach front property, swimming in the ocean and delicious breakfasts. But it wasn't all relaxation and drinking out of coconuts (though that was one of the highlights). Later in the day we walked through the fishing community to Elmina Castle, one of the fortresses that housed Ghanaians and other West African populations before they were shipped to various parts of the world during the slave trade.Passing through the hands of the Portuguese, Dutch and British, this 17th Century castle imprisoned Ghanaians as well as those from Burkina Faso, Mali, the Ivory Coast and other surrounding areas. These prisoners - who would later become slaves in the Americas and other parts of the world - included men, women and children who were separated and contained in different cells. These small rooms were packed, often with hundreds more people than the capacity allowed. We saw the "door of no return," the only exit these prisoners could leave through, that led them directly out into the waiting ships. It was a chilling experience to be guided through the various rooms and cells, hearing these stories of suffering. Nonetheless, we were all glad we took the tour to learn more about this period.After our stay in Elmina, we packed up and made our way back east, stopping in Cape Coast (staying at a cozy vegetarian-friendly guesthouse) to explore the city and it's UNESCO world heritage site, Cape Coast Castle.Many aspects of fortress were similar to what we saw in Elmina - it was built in the same timeframe, had passed through many different hands of ownership and served the same purpose. However the stories we heard of prisoners who had been held captive were different and told individual tales of suffering. There were chains still intact in the cell walls and iron bars covering the few small pockets of light that were allowed in. Although it was a beautiful and warm day, I was chilled walking though the courtyards thinking of the atrocities that had happened here. I'm so glad we had the opportunity to visit the castle - it is an experience I won't soon forget.Leaving our vacation spot and heading to Tamale, I felt extremely fulfilled. Over the weekend I was able to enjoy extravagant meals, campfires by the beach and the ocean waves - things that may mark a typical beach vacation - but I also learned more about Ghanaian history. I certainly left with a tan, but more importantly, I left with an awareness of the past.
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Climbing Mt. Meru in under two minutes

A benefit of living and working abroad for MEDA is travel. What used to be across an ocean is suddenly a short (or maybe just shorter) distance away. Also, through our network of fellow interns, we have places to crash and people to travel with. Not bad at all.In December, I took advantage of that. Here's a short video that I made from a portion of a Tanzania trip:

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Let’s Go Fishing!

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Christmas wasn’t normal, but I’m not complaining one bit. This is the fourth Christmas I haven’t been in Canada, and I swear each time is a new experience. For the Christmas holiday I was in Jaco, Costa Rica. On Christmas day I was on the beach sipping on coconut water and eating sponge coconut (see why I’m not complaining). I went with a Costa Rican family, also known as Ticas, who had packed a big picnic and this is what my Christmas was. The rest of the holiday was spent relaxing on the beach and going fishing! I had been ice fishing and camping and fishing before in Canada, but nothing compares to fishing in the sea. My friends caught red snapper, dorado, and sail fish. I caught a sail fish, I can see how fishing can be addicting. It took all my effort to real in the fish and the fish fights back and jumps in the air. Once I reeled in the fish I was so shocked to see that it was about the same size as me. The fish have beautiful colors and are all completely different. It was also beautiful seeing dolphins swim beside the boat and schools of fish jumping to get away from bigger fish chasing them. Not only did I get to see the beauty of nature, but the owner of Google has his own boat with a helicopter on the boat, which was docked in Jaco. Overall, the best part of doing these fishing trips was that once the fish were caught we took them home and had them for dinner and could watch the sunset. My holiday was simple and relaxing, but I’m happy to be back in Nicaragua to start my adventures with MEDA again.

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I can, I will, I am.

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Knock, Knock. Knock, Knock. “Hodi? (May I come in?) Wake up tea!” says Adam, our awesome porter, “Hodi?” In theexcitement/exhaustion of the summit climb the morning before Jaredshouts, “Caribouuuuuu!” His attempt at the Swahili word Karibu (Welcome) gives us all a great laugh, as we are ready to hike the last stretch of the mountain to the bottom.Wanting to make Christmas in Tanzania special a few of the other MEDA interns and I decided to climb MT. Meru, the 5th tallest mountain in Africa that looks directly at Mt. Kilimanjaro.There are a lot of benefits to climbing Mt. Meru, it only takes 4 days, cost is a lot less than other treks and it is said to be a beautiful hike. All these reasons led us to signing up for to hike to 4566m to the summit of this mountain. December 24th, we meet our crew that will be helping us make it to the summit. Ashleigh our guide, Adam our porter and Godfrey our cook. We will also pick up 2 more porters at the gate.At the bottom of the mountain, before we head out they prepare a wonderful lunch for us; my nerves are already starting to bubble up. I try to calm myself down by impressing the park rangers with my kidogo (little) Swahili knowledge. As we start the hike I am able to calm myself down using positive self-talk that I had learned in my Sport Psychology class last year. With every step I repeat the phrase in myhead, “I can, I will, I am.” Step by step I will make it up this mountain. The first day was a 5 hour hike, uphill and downhill and even a few flat areas. Nothing I couldn’t handle. After arriving at the hut, they cook us a delicious dinner and we head to the viewing deck where we are able to see the most amazing stars I have ever seen, absolutely incredible.“Hodi? Wake up tea!” we were greeted the next morning by Adam. I haveto say the best way to be woken up is by someone serving you tea in bed, certainly a great way to start the day! After a quick breakfast, we started our next 5 hour hike up to Hut #2. This trail consisted of what seemed like 1 billion stairs, then paths slanted upwards that went back and fourth for a few hours. Tiring, but again nothing I couldn’t handle. When we arrived at Hut #2, we enjoyed a lunch prepared for us and then we hiked an hour and ahalf up to Little Meru to acclimatize us a little before back down to Hut #2 for the night.It was an early night for us, dinner at 6:30pm and in bed at 8pm. The nerves were certainly building up, the air was a whole colder at the second hut and as much as we wanted to sleep and rest for the hike the next day, I was wide awake. It seemed as though I had just fallen asleep when we were woken up with some breakfast tea just like every other morning, only this time it was 1:30am. It was time to hike to the summit. We tried to force down a little breakfast, put on almost every item of clothing we had for me that meant 5 long sleeve shirts, 1 sweat shirt, a windbreaker, spandex, jeans and wind pants… mostly provided by Nichols College Women’s Ice Hockey. We emptied our packs as much as possible, bundled up, headlamps on and we were off.The trail was long and windy; all I could see was Ashleigh in front of me except when I took a minute to look up at the brightest stars that light up the whole sky. I didn’t do that to often though because it usually involved me running into something or tripping over myown feet so I focused straight ahead following Ashleigh’s every step, repeating the phrase, “I can, I will, I am.” We continued to hike this dark path that was only light up only by our own headlamps. The hike was extremely steep and included many challenges where we scaled a rock wall to get to the next path instead of going all the way down and up again, walked on the very narrow path with a steep fall on either side and walked straight up as the volcanic ash collapsed beneath our feet. It was extremely strenuous and at one point, I felt as though I could not take another step, my legs felt like jelly and my whole body felt weak. I fell to my knees and with an uneasy stomach had my first experience with the dreaded altitude sickness. Ashleigh offered me some water and said, “Great! Now you’ll have more energy! Let’s go!” And incredibly he was right, I had a sudden burst of energy that was able to get me up the next stretch until it hit me all over again.Every time I slowed down, I could hear Ashleigh from a few steps ahead say, “Maria, it’s nearly there, you are so close, come on!” Even though I had learned by this point he was completely lying, I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I continued one foot in front of the other. As we were 50 meters from the summit we saw the sun start to rise right behind Mt. Kilimanjaro, it was the most beautiful array of colors painted across the sky. I have never seen such an amazing sight… too bad I was too exhausted to grab my camera and take a few pictures. Instead, I continued. Three steps. Water break. Three more steps. Another water break. I was going to make it to the top, I was not giving up. With quite a few more rounds of this, I finally found the last push in myself and fought threw the last 25 steps to the top. With my final step, I collapsed on the ground right in front of the “Congratulation” sign. I had made it. It was undoubtedly the hardest thing I have ever done.  Every muscle in my body ached, I was chilled to the bone and my stomach was bubbling in pain but I felt proud. After a few moments, I regained a little strength to stand up, take a few pictures and drink some warm water to satisfy my insides. It was shortly after when we started the trek down.Down felt a little better but certainly still not easy. After a few hours we made it back to the second hut where we enjoyed lunch, packed up the rest of our stuff and hiked all the way down the 1 billion stairs to the first hut. We had hiked a total of 3000 meters that day. Sleep was most definitely in order. We forced ourselves to stay up for a little dinner and then it was off to bed. The next morning after sleeping close to 12 hours we were awaken with our last wake up tea. It was time for the last stretch. I could not have been more wrong when I was thinking this would be a light stroll down the mountain. With every step, every muscle and my body protested. After hours of painful walking, listening to our park ranger play, “Call me maybe” on repeat the whole way down and my pack feeling heavier than ever, we finally made it to the bottom where five beautiful giraffes waited to congratulate us on an incredible accomplishment.There are many experiences that I will carrywith me for the rest of my life and this certainly, is no exception. The summit was beautiful but the true memory for me was in the journey. I was challenged, encouraged, frustrated and inspired all at the same time. I was able to learn from all those around me while sharing in so many laughs. I am so blessed to have these amazing opportunities.

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According to Plan

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“Everything is possible” the words of our taxi driver that seemed to fit with so many things in this past trip to Zanzibar.Right from the start nothing seemed to go as planned. We arrived at the ferry terminal only to find all the tickets were sold out, thinking that we would have to start our Zanzibar excursion the next morning we headed out of the Terminal and down the street. It was then that we met the incredible Mr. James. He pulled us into his office telling us he would just go talk to the Captain of the ship, it was fine. In disbelief we sat there as they scrambled to find us ways on to this boat. After several minutes, some of his employees came back slightly disappointed but not completely out of options. They exclaimed that they could only get the residents tickets on the ferry but they could fly us to Zanzibar on a private plane and book us a ticket for the ferry back. It was only a $20 difference from the original price but they could quickly tell we weren’t completely sold, so with their excellent business skills they started to throw in extra incentives. They started with free transportation to the airport then adding a hotel in Stonetown with free breakfast for only $15 per person. This was deal breaker.Off we were on our private plane to Zanzibar, some people still in disbelieve this would all work out. There was quite a bit of traffic but our driver ensured us the plane would wait for us! Never worry! We enjoyed a quick private plane ride, were picked up at the airport, customs went flawlessly and made it to the hotel. That night we walked to the local food market enjoying every type of fish, seafood and chicken you can imagine while we made our plan for the weekend. It was simple, we would spend the night in Stonetown, in the morning head to the East side of the Island for some beautiful swimming and relaxation. Then Sunday, head back to Stonetown to meet up with a friend and head to Prison Island. That was the plan at least.The rest of the evening and morning seemed to go smoothly, as we enjoyed delicious dinner and breakfast and were able to get a taxi to drive us to the East side. He found us a great quiet place to stay. This was going to be a perfect afternoon laying by the pool, getting a great tan (or burn) and walking by the beach. It was not 10 minutes after changing into ourswimsuits and getting outside that the thunder started to roll and the rain down poured! Change of plans, it would now be a perfect cozy afternoon listening to the rainstorm, playing some scrabble and enjoying some delicious pizza!Sunday morning, we are packed and ready to head out to meet our friend for Prison Island. Per usual in Africa, we have more people than fit in the car, so stuffed with 4 people in the backseat our driver Ali takes off. It should be about an hour until we are in Stonetown, we’re right on time! Not more than 20 minutes down the road we are pulled over by the police, apparently you are not allowed to have that many people in car…who knew! It was easy to understand that through quick conversation in Swahili that he wanted a bribe, not completely sure how this was going to happen we all sat quietly in the back as Ali got on the phone with his boss. A few long minutes later the Police Officer received a phone call and was told to let us pass. As we are speeding off, Ali tells us that he works for the High Commissioner in Zanzibar and he is able to do anything he wants, “Everything is possible!” says Ali. We are all quite impressed with his achievement and sing along to the most perfect Bob Marley song on the stereo, “Get up, Stand up!”Of course, it is not smooth sailing from there. Our car starts to slow to a roll and then to a complete stop. We are out of gas and it is downpouring again. Ali without a worry in the world just out of the car, grabs a empty jug and hops on the back of a truck to the nearest gas station, as we all sat in the car laughing at the events of this trip. A few minutes later he returns on another car with just enough gas to get us to the last stretch to Stone town.We did not make it in time to see Prison Island or enjoy the warmth of the sun beating down on us. We had to pay a little more to get to there and we did not find a perfect paradise of a beach to stay on. Everything we planned seemed to change but in the midst of all this craziness and chaotic trip we laughed. It is incredible how we can focus so heavily on the little details in life missing the pure beauty of human connection. This is certainly a trip I will never forget. What was supposed to be a quick getaway for the weekend ended up being one of my favourite moments thus far in Africa! I am beyond grateful for the many moments of this past weekend that I was able to learn and experience so much with some wonderful new friends. The friendships mean so much more than any souvenir I could ever imagine. I am blessed.

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The Great Ethiopian Run 2013

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I participated in the Great Ethiopian Run last Sunday – and what a blast it was! Originally a few of my colleagues and I were supposed to run it together, but life got in the way and I ended up running it with a friend of mine from the local gym!While there were a minority of runners who were racing, this event is much more of a “fun run” than a race. The course was 10km in total, and there were tons of great distractions throughout. We were drenched with water multiple times, which I really appreciated considering the heat! At the halfway mark there were huge speakers playing popular Ethiopian music, and massive trucks were handing out water balloons. As you can probably guess, a massive water balloon fight broke out!IMG_1228 My friend, Fantahun, and I post-race!The course was flat in some places, but very hilly in others. The sheer quantity of people (40,000 in total!!), combined with the narrow roads (often plagued with pot holes) and (fantastic) distractions actually prevented running in certain stretches of the course, at least for us middle-of-the-pack runners. I really didn’t mind the odd walk break though – racing at this elevation and heat was a bit of a shock!The race wasn’t timed, but I’m guessing we finished in an hour or so. It was tons of fun and I’m so thankful my friend from the gym ran it with me!

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What does a ride with some nice police officers and a mud bath have anything to do with renewing my passport?

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A few weeks ago I had an unforgettable experience in renewing my visa in Costa Rica. Catherine, the other intern with Mi Credito, and I went to Liberia, about an hour from the Nicaraguan border. The first experience I had was seeing the economic gap between the two countries, and it was hard to miss. The living standards in Costa Rica are higher and the country uses 95% renewable energy. Based on the history in Nicaragua it hasn’t been able to develop as Costa Rica has, but it has potential that it’s sometimes hard to comprehend that it isn’t a developed country yet. Nicaragua has rich and varied land, with different soil, climatological, and altitude characteristics. The country’s many rivers and volcanoes offer easily exploitable sources of both hydroelectric and geothermal energy, and internal waterways facilitate inexpensive domestic transportation. As well, the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea over international importation and exportation. This was the first part of the experience that I thought was interesting.The second part of the experience in Costa Rica was Liberia itself. From Managua to Liberia it takes 6 hours, including stopping at the border and going through customs. We arrived mid-day and wanted to do something relaxing after sitting on a bus for so long. We went to a beautiful waterfall, Llano de Cortes. However, our relaxing tropical waterfall didn’t turn out as we had hoped; my passport was stolen. It did, on the other hand, create an amazing story that will never be forgotten.

To begin the new passport process we hopped on a bus at 3am to head to the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose. By 7:30 am we were in the Canadian embassy. Even with all the stress, it felt nice to be in the embassy, a reminder of my country with French and English signs everywhere and the Canadian flag decorating the office. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful; I got a new passport the same day! We then travelled back to Liberia, a 4 hour bus ride from San Jose. After this very long amusing and frustrating day, it was kind of like it never happened.  The next day we went to a national park, El Rincon del Viejo (Old Corner), which has fumarillos (steam vents) and paillas (mud pots). We hiked for three hours with monkeys jumping over us and we were surrounded by hundreds of Coatis, the cousin of the raccoon. We met a nice French couple that knew all about different species of plants and animals, they were pretty much our own private tour guides. After the hike, we were taken to a hot springs that included a mud bath. I might as well have owned the hot springs because there was no one else there. It was paradise and losing my passport was like a dream (or nightmare, depends how you look at it). It was definitely a week that I’ll never forget, that’s for sure! Through all my amazing and sometimes frustrating experiences with travelling, I have incredible memories and an understanding of new and different cultures that could never be replaced.

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Hiking through the Blue Nile Falls!

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My time in Bahar Dar came to an end on Saturday evening. I was back in Addis by 9 pm, and while already missing the lush vegetation, I was more than happy to be back in my own bed.I took advantage of an empty Saturday morning and arranged to join a tour group to the Blue Nile Falls, a beautiful waterfall connected to the Nile river. The Blue Nile Falls is known as “Tis Abay” in Amharic, which means “smoking water”.I was picked up in the early morning, and we began our adventure with a 45 minute drive over the bumpy roads of the outskirts of Bahar Dar. From there we began our trek throughout the surrounding mountains, which I LOVED! Hiking is definitely one of my favourite outdoor activities.It took us about an hour to reach our destination. And then we were able to get a bit closer!After passing the falls we hiked some ways longer in order to reach a traditional (read: rocky!!) boat to take us to the other side of the shore. After a short walk back to the car, we were on our way back to the city center.A quick costume change later and I was on my way to an afternoon conference, and shortly thereafter I was boarding my flight home. Overall, I’d say I enjoyed one awesome weekend!

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Ox, Donkeys, and Umbrellas in Church… or, how I spend my weekends

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I’ve had many people ask me what life looks like over on this side of the pond, so I figured a few of you would be curious to read it! While my weekdays are pretty busy, my weekends are typically just as filled… mind you, with a little more fun stuff. That being said, other than my visit to the National Museum, I haven’t really mentioned what I’ve been up to during my weekends! I try and get out to experience something Addis has to offer every Saturday...

 

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Goodbye Personal Space

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This past week I was able to spend some time in Capetown, South Africa. So many things about this place reminded me of North America, it is definitely not what one would imagine when thinking about Africa.The uniting language between strangers on the street is English, the roads are nicely paved, the price they tell me, is the price I pay (No bartering…my worst nightmare)! It was definitely a very different scene from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania but one thing that was not completely different was the train station at rush hour.I spent the day surfing, while my friend Marina was at school and work. I jumped on the train around 5pm to head back to her place before dark. I sat third class as I normally do. At first it didn’t seem like a big deal, I was still able to get a seat but with in the matter of three stops the train filled up so much that I wasn’t even able to see out the windows. I wasn’t quite sure when my stop was so I decided to stand up which at least would let me see out the window so I could get out at my stop.After a few more stops, I must have had a look of panic on my face because a map had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Where are you going?” with quite the questioning tone. I told him Observatory and asked, “This is the right train isn’t it?” He laughed and told me, “Yes but I was still about 7 stops away!” Phew, at least I wasn’t completely lost. He offered to tell me two stops before mine, and when to walk over to the door. Within the next few stops that train filled up so much that I was now spooning someone from every angle, there was no where left to stand, or so I thought but somehow they kept piling more people into this car.The kind man told me it was now my time to head towards the door. I looked to the left and the right, unfortunately I was standing directly in the middle of the train. I had no idea how I was going to be able to get to the door. I tapped the shoulder of the woman beside me, “Excuse me, can I sneak by?” and the man, “Excuse me, my stops coming up.” They all started to giggle a little and moved about a millimetre to let me by.  I had moved barely at all and new I had very little time until my stop so I started to push my way through, apologizing the whole way.Finally at my stop, they helped push me through the door. Once I stepped foot on the ground, the whole train started to clap and laugh at me. I once again was the centre of attention! I am not really sure how I get myself into all these situations where I seem to have all eyes on me but it sure does help me make friends easily.My trip to South Africa was wonderful, I was able to surf, climb Table Mountain, see the penguins and meet many wonderful people. It is a very different part of Africa, so much that some times I even forgot I was in Africa. I have only been to a few places in Africa so far but I am learning that the Africans are unbelievably kind, friendly and joyful. Even in the most stressful situations they are able to put a smile on my face!

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