Entry #018: Friday, June 14, 2013 (Arusha, Tanzania)

So, I'm back at the Arusha Budget Hotel right now, I head out for my Kilimanjaro climb tomorrow (though that's just the meet-up day; we head to the mountain on Sunday), and my stint at the orphanage is now done. The last several days have found me in a wide flux of emotions, ranging from a very acute sense of "I'm over it" to genuine feelings that I'm going to miss the place and the people.

But first, an update on fundraising stuff. I had put out an open question regarding doing a fundraiser to get some supplies for the children, and the responses I got were positive. So, I did a little bit of research, to see if I could do this in a streamlined manner. I was thinking that I could just get the items on Amazon (because people don't seem to even know about abacuses here, where could I even start looking for one?) and then ship them over. I was thinking four abacuses, and four large, roll-up, adhesive whiteboards. (There was a suggestion to get chalkboards instead, but nuts to that! I have despised chalkboards with all my soul for my entire life, and the sooner we wean them out of existence, the better.) All in all, this would have cost about $150, with tax, which I felt would make for a very doable fundraising goal. However, shipping costs have to be taken into account, so I looked into it. I couldn't find any numbers from DHL, but for UPS, a 12"x12"x12" box with the weight of these items, and taking into account that they are dutiable items (Tanzania is quite strict about that), it would cost $450 to ship. However, I'd likely need something bigger than that, as big as 24" in one direction to fit the whiteboards, and this would cost me - I kid you not - $1,100. Even if I felt confident that I could raise that money, the idea that 88% of your donations would go to a UPS...it doesn't really inspire, does it?

So, the better means would probably just be to raise some money, and wire that directly to the orphanage, perhaps with the specific instructions to use it for the purchase of these types of items. (And I realize that it may seem a bit trivial of me to be harping on things like abacuses when it could also be used for clothes or maybe even medicines, but I honestly don't think anyone, even the teachers, is doing enough to educate these kids. It was painfully obvious that I was the most study-focused authority figure they've had.) And maybe some can be shipped in from Kenya or South Africa, keeping costs lower. Either way, I'll keep looking into it, and keep you informed. You also have the ability to donate to them yourself, but wire transfers cost $40-50 a pop in bank fees, so pooling funds would probably be more effective. Stay tuned!

I'm going to skip Sunday, because nothing noteworthy happened; the kids were mostly busy with church, the Bishop was out being a bishop, and I was mainly relaxing in my room. But Monday...Monday I wasn't in the best of spirits. That whole day, I just kept feeling those three words: "I'm over it." I dunno, maybe whenever I get close to the end of something, that's just what's going to happen to me. Like, what I'm doing now is no longer an opportunity; it's just something holding me back from my next opportunity. This would explain why all day, I was saying "Just two more days..." At the time, I just wanted those two days to go quickly, so I could move on. What didn't help was that it seemed like I was being ignored from all sides. And this I think is going back to language barriers - while the people here generally have a better grasp of English than your rank-and-file Tanzanian, that's not really saying much, and if ideas can be properly communicated at all, the nuances are lost.

One example is with the kitchen staff. Every single meal since I've been here, I've told them they've given me too much. When it was just me, they cooked food for two. When the Bishop came, I thought things would even out, but no, they started cooking for four. But no matter how many times I told them, the meal portions were too large, and I felt like a waster. This was exacerbated in the time after I had malaria, when my appetite was generally low. And even moving onto now, my desire to eat hasn't been that high, though I don't think it's malaria-related. Remember how my first entry after arriving had paragraphs of verbal food pornography? Note how I've been writing decidedly less about it over time? That's because it's been a lot of the same stuff. And I've grown quite loathe of it, especially rice. I've never really been a big fan of rice, and generally replace it with lettuce when I'm having a burrito bowl or broccoli when having a teriyaki bowl. Empty calories; that's how I see it. But this isn't the US, where I can make those kinds of trades. I have what they serve me, or I have nothing. So, I've grown accustomed to just taking a small scoop - enough to give me the necessary nourishment - and move on. But then it seemed like the chopped-up leafy-green stuff has been served with every meal at this point, and I was tired of the taste. I found this odd, because I am notorious for cooking a huge pot of something at home and eating the exact same dinner six nights in a row. Have my tastes become more capricious?

Sorry about that tangent. Anyway, I was trying to discreetly do some exercises in my room when lunch was brought to the apartment. The kitchen staff, who used to call for me, were calling for the Bishop (being a native Tanzanian, I think they liked him better, but in any case, I didn't mind). When they set the things down, the Bishop called for me, and I responded by telling him that I was preoccupied. He then knocked on and subsequently opened my door, telling me, "Come, take lunch." I was actually quite annoyed at this, because whenever I've told him that either breakfast or lunch has come, he has never once come out to join me. But, him being the first to eat, I was obligated to join him now. And for some reason, the kitchen staff was just sitting in our living room, which had never happened before, and was quite awkward, them watching us eat. They exchanged some words with the Bishop in Swahili, and I, for the first time in a while, had those foreign feelings again, the sense that I didn't belong. I also wasn't too keen on the meal (nor very hungry), so I just took some small scoops of everything. "Oh, you eat so little!" said the Bishop. "You climb Kilimanjaro, you need lots of food!" "I'm not climbing it today," I retorted, "No food I eat today will give me any extra energy a week from now." I then had to go on to say that not all Americans eat super-size portions, and said flat-out to the kitchen staff, "You give me too much food, I can't possibly eat it all." Their response: "Thank you." I wanted to bury my hands in my face and kindly inform them that it wasn't a compliment, but I let it pass by thinking to myself, "Two more days."

You might think this is a minor incident that shouldn't really bother anyone. You would be right. That's the kind of effects these "I'm Over It" feelings can have. Innocuous circumstances become major incidents for no good reason.

The feeling of not being listened to was especially prominent when I was working with the kid that day. It didn't feel like any of them were listening to me. When I was helping them with their homework - or trying to help, in any case - they seemed less focused than usual. I even did the whole "Are you listening?"-"Yes."-"What did I just tell you?" routine, and caught them every time. Then, when I went into the library that night, everyone seemed to be doing their own thing. A couple of the kids told me to get my storybook, and then proceeded to do something else. Even Harry, the one kid who was sitting next to me with the supposed intention of listening, would begin yelling at one of the other kids when I was in the middle of a sentence. I would stop until they finished their conversation/argument (I can never tell which when it's in Swahili), and then Harry would turn to me and say "Continue." I'd start again, and literally within two lines he'd start talking to someone else. I had to confirm if he actually wanted me to read. (Of course he did, he said.) I don't know if they just enjoy listening to the tones of my voice (a possibility), but it seemed like they may have been hearing me but nobody was listening. It's a very frustrating feeling, lemme tell you.

So Monday was probably my worst day of this week, and there may have been some sneaking remnants of it flitting around in my mind on Tuesday, but overall, Tuesday seemed to go much better, due to the least likely source (or rather, second-least likely). But before that, I was caught working out without a shirt. I was doing my exercises in the living room that day, and I forgot to lock the door, so one of the ladies from the kitchen who was coming in to take the used dishes from lunch saw me. (And it was the one that Josephat tried to hook me up with on day one, no less.) Thing is, people (not just the kids) seem fascinated by how light the skin on my arms are. And my arms are actually not that pale. So imagine what it must be like to see the whitest torso ever for the first time. (With a tattoo across the back, mind you.) And I was doing a boxing circuit when she came in, so I probably looked like some sort of violent madman, but that's neither here nor there.

Also, I found out that one of the goats had been slaughtered. That was kind of a downer. I guess that's why they don't give them names. Admittedly, of the two goats, this was the one I cared less for, but still, dag yo. Rest in peace, brown goat. Rest in peace.

What made me feel better about Tuesday was that I felt like I was legitimately teaching one of the kids. Like, I was giving information/advice, they were listening, and more than that, they understood. And what made it odd to me is that it was Rebecca, one of the kids I had mentioned I disliked for being really disruptive. Here's the thing: she's actually quite smart, and that's actually part of the problem. It's well-known that a lot of the kids will copy her homework answers. And when I'm helping another child with their homework, she'll sometime just call out the answer, even if she's not in that class. I'll put my finger up to silence her, but then the other kid will smile and repeat the answer she just said, which is usually correct. I've tried to tell them about how copying answers is both immoral and hurts you in the long run. (And I thought my logic was pretty sound: "You don't understand Topic A1. You copy answers. Teacher thinks you understand, moves onto Topic A2. Now you're really lost.") But again, this is a side-effect of Rebecca being a smart girl. But she was asking me for help in math. And it turned out, while she seemed to know basic arithmetic better than most of the other kids, she was still struggling with slightly higher concepts. You notice a trend here? A trend of terrible math teachers? I sure am.

Anyway, the problems involved adding and subtracting mixed fractions, converting fractions into decimals and percentages, and vice versa. Each time, I followed the same process. "Do you know how to do this?" "Show me." Then, when it seemed like she didn't know how to do it, I showed her how I do it, followed by a "Do you understand?" If she said yes, I'd give her another problem of my own creation and have her do it. It actually seemed to be working quite well. More often than not, she was able to replicate the process. (She worked way too fast, though, and ended up getting the wrong answer because of simple mistakes, like accidentally switching pluses and minuses, or putting a decimal point in the wrong place. I kept on telling her to always double check your work, or at the very least do a mental check to see if the answer makes sense. ["What is 20 + 1? Is 20.5 bigger than 20? Is 1.75 bigger than 1? Does it make sense, then, that your answer is 2.225, much smaller than 21?"])

The high point of all this was when we got to percentages. I asked Rebecca if she knew what a percent was. She told me a number with a percent sign. So, I took a piece of paper and wrote down "per cent". I explained that "cent" is Latin for hundred. "Remember your Roman numerals from yesterday?" (She had to convert Arabic numerals into Roman ones.) "What was 100? It was C, for 'cent'." Then, I showed her with some dramatic arrows that the elements of a percent sign can be rearranged into a "100". At that moment, her eyes lit up. She took her own paper, copied my %=>100 diagram, and put it in her pocket to show the kids at school. I then showed her that all she had to do was get her denominator to 100, and it's all cake from there. She told me that this wasn't what she was taught, and she showed me the method their teacher had taught them. I actually don't remember how it exactly worked (something about multiplying the fraction by some larger-than-one whole number), but it got the correct answer. I was genuinely upset that it got the right answer, because the method completely sidesteps the whole concept of 100, thus avoiding what makes a percent and percent. The students would get the right answer, but they wouldn't understand why it was the right answer. So I told Rebecca, "In the future, solve whichever way you feel more comfortable with, just make sure you understand the rationale behind it." She agreed, and within 20 minutes I felt like I was a more effective math teacher than their math teacher.

Long story short, when kids do listen to, and appreciate, what is told to them, it is a damn nice feeling. It also felt good on Wednesday, when the kids got back after school. Rebecca sat down and said, "Teach me math." Not "Help me with math homework," but "teach me math." Both the enthusiasm from her - and the feeling that I was making a difference - made me quite content.

Making me feel less content was a saga that I was continuing from last week regarding my flight from Tanzania to South Africa. I am taking Ethiopian Airlines, despite their notoriety for delayed flights, because it was the cheapest option (natch). Last Wednesday, I got a voicemail saying that there was a problem with my flight, so I had to call the airline. They said that my flight out of Kilimanjaro airport was delayed by a mere 20 minutes, but this was enough for me to miss my connecting flight in Addis Ababa. My option was to either push both flights to June 30 (not happening) or push the original flight from 6:30am on the 28th (6:30am? What the hell was I thinking?!) to 5:30pm on the 27th. This would result in a lovely 12-hour layover in Addis Ababa, but hey, not like I have much choice. At least it's a night layover, so maybe I can take a nap. So, I tell them to make the change. They tell me they can't, since I booked through my credit card rewards program agency. I had to call them. I did so, talked to a very nice lady, who told me she had to put me on hold so she could call Ethiopian's line. So I waited...and waited...and waited. Every ten minutes, the lady came back on and told me she was still waiting. Then, after 45 minutes, she came on to tell me that she was cut off. So, the next night, I called the agency again and explained the situation. They again tried to call Ethiopian Airlines, and this time I was on hold (as were they) for, no joke, 95 minutes before being cut off again. They said that they'd try emailing and faxing Ethiopian Airlines and would inform their supervisor. I let that percolate until Tuesday, when I called Ethiopian Airlines again. The person on the phone was frustratingly unhelpful, telling me that the agency had to contact them, and ignoring me when I told them that there were emails and faxes and everything sent to their office. Thankfully, the agency eventually got through to Ethiopian Airlines by, basically, finding the office number of one of the executives, and making their case heard through him. So, the flight was changed, and all is well with the world. I offered to take a customer satisfaction survey for the agency, as I told them I'd give their team glowing reviews for their tireless (and inspired) efforts, but they said my email was enough. As for Ethiopian Airlines...let's just say they better have Qatar Airways-level of service before I ever recommend them.

As previously mentioned, Wednesday was my big day for taking pictures with the kids, as it seems less weird to ask the for pictures when it's your last day. First up were the little kids (as the big ones were still at school). This was interrupted, though, when I was asked to do favors for both Josephat and Abigail (as a note, I have called Josephat's secretary Eliza, Agnes, and Agatha in this blog, and now I find out it's Abigail. I'm damn glad I never once used any of those names aloud). Josephat asked me to write a letter for him, because it had to be written in English and, well, y'know. It was a request to a company that was closing one of its buildings, and had lots of equipment to give away. I had to explain what kinds of items were needed (computers, tables, dressers, etc.), and for what purposes. Josephat didn't tell me anything, so I made up all of these purposes, but it seemed logical to me. (Computers - we're in the 21st century. If the kids want to be successful in the global environment, they need to be familiar with computers.) It was exceptionally formal, the kind I would write when requesting something at work...well, unless I actually knew who the person I was writing to. I figured that, if nothing else, it would seem impressive. And indeed, when Josephat read it, he told me, "Oh, it's beautiful." Still got it, I thought.

Abigail then asked me to take a stack of newly donated books and put them in the library. I wasn't too hot on this, because my still-fresh organization of the bookshelves was very exact and pretty tightly packed. I wouldn't be able to put these in their proper places without rearranging pretty much everything. Then, when I got to the library and saw everything everywhere, I remembered that entropy rules wherever kids reside, so I just did a little bit of organizing to the stack (religious books in one pile, coloring books in another, paper pads in another), and just placed them on the very top of the bookshelf. Phoning it in? Yeah, but hey, last day.

The kids got home shortly after I finished, and it was time for my last set of homework help. First up was Harry, who was pointing at a question in his workbook. "What are the three elements of the high jump event?" I asked him if he knew. He didn't. I asked him if it was in his notes. It wasn't. I tried looking at the other questions to see if there was any context as to what this was talking about. There wasn't. I asked if the high jump event was mentioned in his book. It wasn't. I asked if his teacher had taught him about it. She didn't. I genuinely didn't know what to tell him at that point, so I told him to write down that the answer was not be to be found. "No," he cried, "What's the answer?" I told him point blank that I didn't know, and neither did he, so just be honest about it. Again, all this time I was remembering those flies in the windowsill, and just thinking that the poor education system is one of those panes of glass.

So, we tried some math. Harry's homework was about finding the perimeter of circles and half circles. My god, this took a while. I first established that he knew what circumference was, both in concept and formula, and then did an SAT-like comparison. "All circumferences are perimeters, but not all perimeters are circumferences." I then had to hammer home the point that on a half-circle, the diameter becomes part of the perimeter through the most convoluted analogy ever:
Imagine a large cherry pie. The perimeter is the outside of the crust, and that is (22/7)d (they're still using approximations instead of actual π). Now, imagine that we cut the pie in half, and take one half away. Now when we walk around the crust, we only walk (11/7)d. But oh, no! All the cherry filling is spilling out. Quick, take a strip of dough and cover that side. There! Now, you have a crust going along the diameter of the pie, and so you all this length to the perimeter you already have to find the perimeter of this half circle.
I'm not terribly proud of it, but it was a spur-of-the-moment metaphor, and it helped Harry understand...I think. At the very least, he was able to muddle his way through the rest of his problems. After that, and after helping Rebecca with some of her work, Sally asked me for help with her math homework. This was the first time she's asked me for help in any class, so I found it odd. I found it even odder that it was the exact same work as Harry. I knew they're twins, but she seemed, as rude as it may sound, overall smarter than Harry. Well, I found her Achilles heel, because she seemed totally lost on this. I asked if she as listening when I was exhaustively explaining all this to her brother. She said no, and so I had to go through it all again. Eventually, she got to the right answers, but it was a draining process, and I don't know how much of it was really understood, and how much was just good guesses. But I told her that if she wants to be a lawyer like she told me last week, she needs to make sure to try to understand all of her schoolwork. Being the contrarian she is, she told me that she never said such a thing, but I know better. I have a blog.

After the kids were done, there was an impromptu soccer game, which I joined in briefly until I was told I was making it unfair. So I just went to the sidelines, taking some pictures and fetching the ball when it got kicked over the fence. All of a sudden, there was a ringing, which meant it was time for dinner. I told them to enjoy their dinner, and began going up to my room, but was stopped by Sally, who told me I had to eat with them because it was my last night. I knew from my birthday experience that this was going to be awkward, but went up regardless. And you know what? It was awkward. Apparently, the "I-have-to-eat-up-there-on-my-last-night" was not communicated amongst everyone, because there was a tray of my dinner, ready to be taken up to my room. I told them I'd sit down at the table and eat with the kids. Thing was, this was when the little kids were eating, and the big kids were prepping their dinner. I asked to help out by peeling some oranges. Peeling oranges here requires a knife, and as I was doing this, the knife slipped a bit. Thankfully, I was holding everything in a safe way. "Did you cut yourself?" one of the kids asked. I told them no. They then said, "This is a better way of cutting the oranges," and showed me a peeling method that seemed entirely less safe than my own. Still, they insisted I try it. I did so, and the knife slipped again. This time, it hit square on the tip of my thumb. Not terribly deep, but in a very inconvenient place. Luckily none of the kids saw this, so I was able to excuse myself by saying, "Oh, I forgot something in my room," going up to dress up the cut. When I got back to the main building, I began eating, albeit very slowly, trying to still have some food left when the big kids started eating. It didn't work. By the time they began, I was already finished. And, like in the birthday dinner, the room was silent except for the news on TV and the occasional statement in Swahili. And I for one had nothing that worked as a good conversation starter. So the dinner was mostly just spent with me sitting silently and watching the kids eat.

It got a little better after everything was cleaned up, because then everyone gathered around me, and I was asked if I had something to say. So, I muddled together a quick-and-dirty speech, which was still heartfelt. I told them that it was a pleasure to be there, that they were great kids, that I wanted them to work hard and study hard and be successful, and that God shines a special ray of light upon that place. One of the older children then said a few words of thanks on behalf of the rest of them, and that was that. It was time to go down to the library for my last reading session.

Ironically, there was no reading done at all. For a few minutes, I took out an atlas, and drew out my trip itinerary. They then kept asking me about my country, so I gave them all sorts of information about the US (which, I repeatedly had to explain, was not in Europe). After that, I told them I wanted to take some pictures, so it became a photo-shoot session. Wow, this got out of hand quickly. I had planned it to be just one or two shots with me and each of the kids, and then maybe a few group shots. But when you put a camera in a kid's hand, it's like it takes over their minds. They just started taking pictures of everything, and then insisted that pictures of themselves were taken in all sorts of poses. I had to remind them that I wanted to take pictures with them. This was further complicated by the fact that the kids kept on trying to screw with whoever was taking pictures, by waving miniature flags in front of them or bumping into them or something. Unfortunately, this resulted in a bunch of the pictures being suboptimal; slightly blurry and all that. It's a shame, but I suppose you could look at it as that they're "real" and "alive" and all that. At least we did get a couple clear ones. And apparently "fresh" is the watchword when taking pictures, because we were constantly asked for "fresh" poses (which seems to be some sort of combination of cheeky, thuggish, and basically, anything not normal).

We then somehow got on the topic of national anthems, and I had them sing the Tanzanian national anthem (which went on for nearly three minutes), in exchange for my own rendition of the American national anthem, which I did an admirable job on until I reached the rockets' red glare. They then asked me to sing something else, because it's fun to watch people like me sing, I guess, but I told them I had something else for them. On my phone, I had downloaded a song called "Baba Yetu", which is a sung version of the Our Father (in Swahili). It's the theme from the videogame Civilization IV, and is the only videogame music piece to every win a Grammy. I thought the kids might get a kick about hearing what is essentially a new piece of gospel music for them. So, I take out my phone and begin playing the piece. They put their ears close and start listening. No more than two seconds after the lyrics begin, they start singing perfectly, with the appropriate tune and timing. I was floored. This wasn't a traditional song; it was composed specifically for a game in 2005. I asked about it, and apparently some other volunteer (a gamer, most likely) had given them a copy of the song a year ago or so. Great, there goes my thunder. But they liked the song, and liked looking at my phone, so they kept repeating it until it was time for them to go to bed.

As the boys started shuffling into their room, I called for them and told them to give me some hugs and say goodbye, as I wouldn't see them the next day. So, one by one, I got hugs from most of them, with a few high-fives scattered throughout. Then, about halfway through the process, my attention was drawn to the fact that that Harry was standing in the doorway, his cheeks drenched. "He's crying because you are leaving," they said. So, I had to go on my knees and give him an extended hug, doing the whole, "It's all right, it's all right." Remember, this is the kid who was bawling when I told him I couldn't fix his watch. I told him to be strong, and to work hard and all that, and that everything was going to be fine. I had him promise me that he was going to take good care of the watch I gave him, and then completely took a page out of E.T.'s book by telling him, "Remember, I'll always be right here," pointing to his heart. He nodded, and then went to bed, still teary-eyed. Interestingly enough, the only person I didn't get a hug from, and who showed the least amount of attention to me, was Sally. She was just lying on the couch, and when I told her goodbye, arms slightly outstretched, she responded with a very fast "Bye." After a second, it was clear she wasn't going to get up, so I repeated my goodbyes to everyone, walked out to look at the stars for some time. Part of me was expecting she'd run out after me, playing her whole, "I'm not going to bed" routine. (She didn't.) Really for being Harry's twin brother, she was completely different from him. Despite being my hanger-on, despite messing with me at every turn, despite taking no dozens of pictures at me with some university student's camera, she barely said a word when I left. Odd girl. I have a sneaking suspicion that she was just trying to not let her emotions show, but I'll never know for sure. Anyhoo, when I had gotten my fill of the night sky, I breathed deeply, went to my room, did a little bit of packing, and went to bed.

On Thursday morning, I awoke, as I was accustomed to, by a knocking on the door. It was breakfast. To my genuine surprise, they were serving crepes. I say I was surprised because I had specifically asked for the crepes for my last meal for the last week (they were easily my favorite breakfast, and recently they were serving nothing but really poorly cooked eggs with slices of cucumber on top. (Trust me, they don't mix.) I had resigned myself that they either couldn't understand me, or just didn't care enough, but wrong I was proven on both accounts. Top it off with some banana slices (I've gained a new appreciation for bananas since coming here, and since reading an article about all their health benefits), and you have yourself a good breakfast. I then spent the rest of the morning cleaning out the room, packing what was left of my stuff, and making sure I wasn't leaving anything behind. I then took a slip of paper out of the scratch pad I had bought and wrote a small goodbye note for the kids. It was a simple I'll-miss-you-take-care-be-good note, with a cartoon version of myself drawn on. I was originally thinking of drawing all the kids as well, but this would be difficult because a) there's 20 of them, and b) I'm not good at capturing the details of people's faces, and considering that their appearances didn't stand out as much as my own (mainly because they all have the same haircut, which is my main identifier in drawings), they'd probably all end up looking the same, which would just seem really racist. So I left it at myself and called it a day.

I told the Bishop to start getting ready, as he was taking me into town, and then started saying my goodbyes to all the staff at the orphanage. Unfortunately, Josephat had gone into town, so I never had the opportunity to give him a final goodbye, but I suppose I could always email him later. Abigail meanwhile surprised me by giving me a certificate of proof of my volunteering. It was a very nice certificate, and it sucks that I'm pretty sure that within hours of getting it, I lost it. Never even had a chance to take a picture. I just hope it wasn't taken by some immigration officers. Then, right as we were about to leave, the kitchen staff came out with a final lunch. I wasn't going to refuse. It was some sort of mystery meat (my bet is goat) in a not-quite-curry sauce. It was pretty gristly, but not terrible. And there were fries, which is one of the things I never got tired of in all my meals here. (Probably because the Irish in me will never get tired of any sort of potato product.) And there was watermelon, which is another thing I'll never get tired of. I explained to the Bishop that I call watermelon the Jesus of fruit. Every summer, when watermelon is at the store, it's like it appears on a hillside and says "Forsake all other fruit and follow me." He got a chuckle out of that, but then, he chuckles about as much as Dr. Hibbert from The Simpsons (that is, all the time).

When we were finished, it really was time to go, so I got in the car, waved goodbye to the staff (again) and we started pulling out. As we were going along the driveway, a number of the kids that were there began walking up to the car. I reached out the window to give a hug to J (the child with the mental disability). I know it sounds borderline pandering to say that he had a pure heart and spirit, but hey, it's true. Some waves to the rest of the kids, and we were on our way.

The drive down was fairly uneventful, at least until we got into town. It should have been easy to find the hotel. After all, I had my phone guiding the way to a starred location on my map, and I'd been there before. And yet, as we got to the place where my map said the hotel was...it wasn't. We tried going around again - maybe we had missed it - but no dice. I was getting confused and a bit frustrated, and I thought that maybe the fact that we driving was contributing to our being lost. After all, when I found it the first night (in the dark, no less), I was on foot. So, I told the Bishop to let me out. He refused, telling me it wasn't safe to walk around. I appreciated his concern, but by the time we looped around twice more, I told him I was bigger than 95% of all people in this city, and would be fine. He finally relented and parked. We traded goodbyes and business cards (although my business card was of the phantom variety), and then he drove off. I checked my phone again and walked right to where the big star was. There was a building there, to be sure, but it looked nothing like what I remembered. I walked around a bit, and found myself increasingly frustrated. Add to this the fact that, unlike my previous time in Arusha, people were swarming over me with "Hello my friend." I shooed them all away and kept walking. I couldn't help but feel embarrassed when I would walk by those same people again five minutes later when I ended up looping around. Finally, after maybe a half-hour, I finally relented on my pride and asked one of the people who came up to me where the Arusha Budget Hotel was. I told him I'd give him 5,000TSh if he helped me (I wanted to set the price ahead of time, to avoid any conflict). He replied with "It's okay," which made me think that East Africans need to learn the nuances of the word "okay." In almost every English-speaking culture, saying "It's okay" in response to an offer is usually a way to decline, as opposed to just another way of saying a basic "okay". But I digress. This guy said he knew where it was, and then took me quite far from where we were. Like, streets over. When we started going through alleys, I mentally began switching to self-defense mode, in case this turned out to be an elaborate mugging. But no, he was on the level, and before long we reached a building I recognized as the hotel.

I thanked him and gave him his money, and immediately checked my phone. Sure enough, I was five streets over. Do a quick exercise. Go onto Google Maps. Type in "Arusha Budget Hotel", or perhaps "ABA Hotel Arusha". See that first result? That's where I thought I should have been. But it turns out I was supposed to be on Livingstone Street, between Pangani and Swahili Streets (if you look up more results, you'll see that this is marked as "ATA Tanzania", as it's all part of the same parent company. Now, this sort of confusion became more relevant today, as I'll explain in a bit. But I don't blame Google - not entirely, at least. The fact is, like in many of the other countries I've been to, there are no street numbers here. I never thought I have ever appreciated the rigid structure of the American address system. If you have an address and some means to get your bearings, you will find that place eventually. Not so here. It's like the island in Pirates of the Caribbean: you can only find a place if you already know where it is. The bigger question that popped up in my mind, though, was one you may have been asking already - how the hell did I find this hotel the first time? I don't remember ever changing the location of the star on my map for this. How could have been so radically different, but with me being able to find it so easily the first time? Did Google Maps just troll me or something? I don't think I'll ever know.

Anyway, I signed into the hotel (and I think this is where I forgot and left my certificate, though nobody at the front desk has any recollection of it), and then went up to my room briefly to get settled. I didn't stay long, because I wanted to get a couple more snacks at the local Shoprite (the same one I'd been to before). The hotel's friendly neighborhood Taxi driver offered to drive me there for 3,000TSh (under $2), saying I could walk back. I questioned the logic of why I would why I would do the harder activity while carry groceries, but it was a moot point, because I wanted to walk both ways. Here's something interesting I noticed: remember how I was being swarmed when I arrived? That wasn't happening now. Sure, there were a few motorcycle drivers lifting their heads towards me, motioning to their bikes, but a quick shake of my head and the surrendered without fuss. I would bet dollars to donuts it was all because of one element - the backpack. With a backpack, I'm ever so clearly a money-loaded tourist. When I seem to have no qualms about walking on the street, and don't have a backpack, I could easily be an expat. So here's my expert and utterly unique advice - if you don't want to be hassled, don't look like a tourist.

I got to the Shoprite and got some water, and some of the same things that I had gotten on my last trip. A loaf of bread (much smaller than before), a couple cans of Diet Pepsi, etc. When I got back to the hotel (the receptionist seemed genuinely surprised that I would walk a full 20 minutes carrying grocery bags), I immediately popped open a soda and tore off a piece of bread. Remember how I was praising this stuff a little over a week ago? Well, now it seemed...plain. Slightly unappealing, even. So that's twice I've grown loathe of food I was previously praising. I think it's gotta just be cravings for things I haven't had in a while. Like, I've been craving Subway for weeks. This isn't helped by the fact that I am subscribed to Subway's mailing list. And yet, if I were to get Subway, I'd soon...no, bad example. I never get tired of Subway.

Not much else happened that evening, save for me having a surprisingly filling dinner in the hotel, with the least-appealing looking steak I've ever seen (but surprisingly and unquestionably tasty, giving some possible credence to my theory above), a huge pile of semi-boiled/semi-mashed potatoes with carrots and peas mixed in, and a big bowl of vegetable soup. For seven bucks, I could do a lot worse. But yeah, I mainly just relaxed that evening. Oh, and I also found out that my issues with Blogger (and a number of other sites) is more than likely due to the USB modem that I'm using, because when my I used my phone's browser to open Blogger with my computer as my Wi-Fi source, I couldn't open the post correctly. But when I did the same thing while logged in to the hotel's Wi-Fi, it did work. So, logging onto a proper Wi-Fi source should mean that all will be working well again...I hope. Unfortunately, I've yet to have an opportunity to test this fully, as my laptop won't get a proper signal from the hotel's Wi-Fi for some reason. Don't worry, we'll power through this.

I took advantage of the fact that this room had a ceiling fan, and turned it onto its highest setting. I then slept in the nude (mental image of the day), to have the most purposely cold and uncomfortable sleep in a while. I wanted to get used to sleeping in cold, because guess what? Kilimanjaro is gonna be pretty cold. It's supposed to snow on the mountain today and tomorrow (though thankfully not in the first few days of the climb, at least), and temperature on the summit? -7 degrees. Granted, this is in Celsius, and that equates to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. But still, I'm a SoCal boy. That's cold in my book. So I best get used to it!

I spent the majority of my after-breakfast morning checking up on some things, and writing. About 12:30 or so, I decided it was time to go get my rental equipment. I had called the company I was climbing with a while back, and they told me that I could rent my missing equipment at a place by the Arusha Clock Tower, which was just a 15-minute walk from the hotel. I look it up online, and sure enough, I see there's a "Kilimanjaro Expeditions and Safari Adventures (KESA)" right in that vicinity. Easy as pie. So, I walk out and make my way over to the clock tower. Here's a spoiler: it wasn't easy as pie. No matter where I looked, I just couldn't see a sign for the store. Now, I wasn't wearing a backpack, but what I was wearing was a vexed, consternated face, which is another telltale sign of tourist. So, people began coming out to talk super friendly to me. My stubborn pride had risen up again, and this time I brushed them off with an "I'm late!" excuse, walking all the faster. This worked against me when I walked down a street that turned out to be a dead end. I didn't want to walk back, because then I'd pass by the same people I had just brushed off, proving that I was ripe for a guide. So I did the cowardly thing and ducked into a hotel cafe next to me. Hey, I hadn't eaten lunch anyway. So I ordered a margherita pizza and a "Local Delicacy" called a Queen Cake. For some reason, I thought this would be a crab cake, but it ended up just being a pretty boring muffin. I was shocked by the pizza - it had to have been at least a foot in diameter. It was also layered in grease, which meant I had to use my napkins (which are a rare commodity here) to soak up the stuff.

I used this time to get my bearings. According to my phone, the place was just across the street from me, and down a couple buildings, in...an evangelical Lutheran church? What the hell? So, I walk down and see said church (which is really more of an office building) and walk to the reception desk with the most confused look on my face. When I explain what I'm looking for, the receptionist and some other people talk amongst themselves for a bit in Swahili, and then a man tells me, "Yes, it's on the second floor, room 209." So, I walk up to Room 209. There's a logo on the door, which looks nothing like a mountaineering company; rather, more like a militia. I knock on the door, and two guys answer it. As expected, they aren't renting equipment, and don't know where the company I'm looking for is. I decide to search up and down the building, but find absolutely no trace of KESA. I leave, absolutely perplexed, and go to a nearby cyber cafe. I had to do some printing/scanning regardless, so I used the time to also look up some other equipment rental options. There seemed to be a couple. The most promising one was just a street over. In fact, it was in the same hotel whose cafe I'd eaten at. So, I grab my stuff and go. It was supposed to be in Room 119 of the business section. So, I go up to the first floor, and...it stops at 116. When I ask the receptionist, he tells me it's in the other building. After muddling around for some time, I manage to find this other building, and go up the stairs. I then see 119...but it's a hallway behind a locked door. So I go downstairs and ask the guards (who are carrying AK-47's, as a refresher) about how to get there. They tell me this roundabout way, but it gets me to the door. There's no logo or anything on it. I knock...I knock again...I knock a third time. No answer. I decide to leave. Oh, and on my way out, I somehow managed to smash my face into a glass door. I'm legitimately impressed (and thankful) that it didn't shatter.

I continue milling around the area, looking for something - anything - that could give me a clue as to where to get this equipment. Then I see the Holy Grail of lost souls - a tourist information office. Surely they must know a place. I go in and ask them. As a matter of fact, they did have a provider of record. Cody's Equipment. They handed me a sheet, and I took a picture of the address and phone number. It was just one street over, in the "Vohora Building". So, I go to that street, and walk up. I don't see a sign for Cody's Equipment. I don't see a sign for a Vohora Building. I didn't see anything that could help me. I went to the parking lot of a hotel and asked the guard there if he knew about the Vohora Building. "Vohora Building?" he said at a loss. I showed him the address on my phone. He called someone over and asked them about the Vohora Building. They stammered about with it before calling over someone else. And this person called over someone else. I am not exaggerating when I say that before long, there was a group of eight men standing around, agreeing that they had no idea what the Vohora Building was, despite the fact that this address said that it was on this street. Finally, one of them said, "Go down to the post office that way; it's across the street from it." So I walk down. I still don't see the Vohora building. Hell, I don't see the post office. I decided to go back to the hotel. It had been four hours at this point, so I was getting a bit concerned. I called Cody's phone number from Skype. Unfortunately, he could only hear about every third of my words, and then the connection was lost. So, I go downstairs and ask if I can use the reception phone. I'm told no. I ask if I can borrow the receptionist's phone. She dials the number and gives it to me. This time, Cody hears me loud and clear. I begin describing what I need to him, and *CLICK*, the signal is lost. I ask the receptionist about it. She tells me her minutes just expired. I ask if she can recharge it; I'll even pay. She tells me it would cost 100,000TSh ($60+) Nuts to that! I go upstairs and send a text message to the friendly neighborhood taxi driver, Dickson. He seemed like the resourceful type; he must know some place.

A short while later, Dickson showed up at the hotel. I gave him my list of equipment, and he said he would call his friends to see what he could do. Finally, at about 5:45, he comes back and says he has a place. So, we drive to a nearby bank, and then walk into this completely unmarked door and down a set of stairs. Down here we see a whole new indoor shopping center. Seriously, it's no wonder you can't find a damn place here. We go into what is basically another expedition agency, I make some chit-chat with the employee, we discuss the items I'm looking for, and he calls his "store" (you'll see why I use quotations in a second). We then get in a car and drive way the hell out the center of town, until we reached some back-road community. We make a turn until we're basically in front of a few mud houses, and the agency employee says "We're here." I get out, a bit wary, and walk to a shed behind some of these houses. Lo and behold, it was full of trekking equipment. Again, it's little wonder I had such difficulty finding this kind of stuff. I was kidding myself if I thought I'd ever find it on my own. I try on some of the stuff, and after getting most of the items I was looking for, we headed back to the agency office. We sat down, and then discussed price. I had paid attention to what prices were online, and I was expecting to get fleeced a bit, but, well...

"How many days is your trip?" I didn't like that question. Most of these rental options were at flat rates. "Twelve" I told him. (Really, it's eleven, but I wanted some wiggle room.) "Okay," he says, "With eight items at seven dollar per day for twelve days, this is your total." He shows me his calculator, which reads "672". Now, it was getting pretty late in the game, so I was feeling a little desperate, but in no way was I that desperate. I made a real spectacle about how that was way too much. And I gave some really good, logical points, as well. Why would I pay $84 to rent a water bottle, when I could buy one at a fraction of that cost? He offered to cut the price in half for me, since I was renting so many things. I told him it was still too much, and that I'd have to take some things out. He asked if we could work something out. I told him I had a budgetary limit of $200. He said he had to call his supervisor, but made it clear that he was interested in making me happy so that I'd give a recommendation for his company to my friends (for the record, it's call African Spoonbill). So, he eventually agreed to $200 (which I got down to $198 through some exchange rate shenanigans). I still paid more than I ever should have, but I'm willing to ride this off as a minor defeat because a) It was literally the night before, b) I am using the stuff for longer than your typical trek length, and c) I like to imagine that someone else may have willingly paid the $672.

So, I brought the stuff back to the hotel (a couple of the items have to be delivered early tomorrow), and gave Dickson 10,000TSh for his services. (He had quoted 3,000TSh at the beginning of the trip, but I figured he would to use the time and effort he legitimately put into this to try to jack up the price to, maybe, 20,000Tsh, so I gave him what I thought he earned, and looked like a generous dude in the process. I then had dinner and then settled down for the night.

Before I sign off, two reflections.

My Time at the Orphanage
Overall, my thoughts of my volunteering time at the orphanage are...mixed. Not that I don't think that it's a worthy practice, nor that I was unhappy to do it. I think it's great, and I'm super happy I had the opportunity to participate. Having said that, I don't know if I worked. Whenever I was in Josephat's office, I would look at pictures of past volunteers. They were always something like the volunteers throwing the kid up into the air, or kids intently watching as a dude was playing a guitar. Me, I pushed kids on the swing, and pushed them harder to do their homework (and did some reading). I was more of a tutor than a mentor. At least, that's how I see myself. I never really felt like I was the kind of figure that belongs at an orphanage. I'm not that vessel of love they need. I started out saying I don't have any paternal instincts, much less maternal, and I think that still holds pretty true. I feel I'm more of a curio for children than a parental figure. Something to fascinate, but not something to be nurtured by.

Note: this is how I feel about myself. It may be that the kids thought I was doing a fine job. Harry seemed to think my brief stay was relevant enough to his life to cry his eyes out at my leaving. And Sally, for all her contrary ways, seemed to want to be in my presence. So who knows? I am no expert at the internal feelings of children, so I'll probably never figure out if I did a good job. I definitely don't think I could rush into another orphanage job anytime soon; at least, not by myself. I'd need a partner to be an emotional nurturing figure, so I can be that mental one.

Climbing Kilimanjaro
So, yeah, my Kilimanjaro trek group meets tomorrow, and we head for the mountain on Sunday. Woo! As you can imagine, I'm both excited and nervous about this adventure. Doing some more research into it, the Northern Circuit is actually one of the more challenging trails, because of its long duration. However, it also has the highest summit percentage rate, also because of its long duration (more days means better acclimatization). So, hopefully if I take it slow, it'll be a success! Also, once I finish that climb, I can finally shave off this damn full beard.

As you'd probably expect, I won't have electricity, much less Internet, when I'm on the Mountain. My biggest concern is my camera. I have to be frugal with my photo taking, lest I run out of battery before summit. But this will also mean that you'll have to wait a longer time than usual for my next blog entry, as I won't get down until June 25. I'll be bringing up a pen-and-paper blog (that is to say, a journal) to try to keep track of anything interesting goings-on, but this is wholly dependent on if the ink in my pen doesn't freeze up. We'll see how it works out.

If you're bored during the time I'm gone...uhhh, check out my book list; maybe you'll find something worth reading. Otherwise, you're on your own. See you on the flip side!

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