Category Archives: Africa

Different is Not Bad

My name is Coryl Jackson, and for the next four months I will be studying abroad in Ghana. Follow my blog posts to hear and see all that I will engage in during my experience here.

 

coryl

 

About a week ago, I arrived in a country within West Africa called Ghana to continue my studies, and also to experience as much of this wonderful country as I can. My main goal for this blog is to describe Ghana to the best of my capabilities as I experience the country with a desire for an expanded, open mind that can absorb this new environment.

While my attempt at describing what I have already seen and done here in Ghana may be in-efficacious, I can only hope to share a taste of what I have absorbed and grown from already. When reading about culture shock, it seems like a fairly basic concept. One might think that they are prepared for not being used to what they have always known, but experiencing culture shock is not something that can be left with a few words. As I begin to adjust to my new life in Ghana, I can not help but comparing everything to what I have always known. The music, people, places, and even the toilets are foreign to me. One aspect of the culture here that is considerably unusual for me is the concept of time. Today, I showed up for class about thirty minutes early only to find that the professor was not to come today. It was a bit frustrating, but the Ghanaian students seemed to accept it without any hostility towards the professor.

At orientation we learned the saying ‘time is time.’ Time is treated differently here, and many are late even to important events like weddings and funerals. It is easy to get angry about little differences here that I have never had to experience before. ‘Time is time’ has become a sort of a motto for many of the international students here when dealing with a difficult situation. I have begun to accept certain characteristics of the culture here (such as what I would call at home an invasion of personal space) with the outlook that this is how things are done here. Market vendors may grab a potential customer in order to get their attention, but no one finds this strange.

However, there are so many parts of the culture here that I adore. I love going to the night market by my hostel and bargaining for fresh mango and pineapple for breakfast. I cherish the people who have welcomed us here with open arms and minds because that is the way it is done here. I get excited when I wear the garments that the local seamstress sewed for myself and many of the international students. It is vital to understand that different is not bad, just different. I have only been here a week, and yet I feel I have seen more than I ever have. I had the chance to canoe to a village that resides on stilts in a thick marsh west of Accra. I have been paddle boarding in the Atlantic Ocean on a lovely beach on a particularly hot day. I have been to a bustling market in central Accra where people barter for various goods. Moving forward from this point, I wish to learn everything that I have the chance to immerse my mind in, whether this be through my classes, or the adventures I will partake in outside of the classroom.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Coryl in Ghana

Living with the Maasai

The Maasai are an incredibly fascinating people, living off the land as pastoralists. They have managed to tightly hold on to their culture, despite the western influence constantly pushed upon them. It wasn’t until the last 15 years that the Maasai have begun to feel the changes that development brings. Clothing that was once goat and cow skin has now transitioned into the brightly-colored cloth shukas that Maasai clad themselves in. Where once Maasai spent their entire lives living as pastoralists in bomas, now many move to cities and are employed as guards or in the tourism industry. And for many years Maasai people went uneducated, until the local government imposed a law requiring all children to attend primary school. However, in spite of all this, they each still maintain many of the cultural customs that make them Maasai. From their clothing and facial piercings to their rituals and ceremonies, Maasai culture is very much thriving.

After spending several days living in a Maasai village near the edge of Lake Natron in northern Tanzania, I was able to get a glimpse into the culture and lifestyles of this fascinating tribe. Over the course of 4 days I lived side by side with the Maasai, sleeping in dung/stick huts known as bomas or outside under the stars atop a cowhide, all while being taught the Maasai way of life by my home-stay family. I learned to bathe in the river and collect firewood in the forest while carrying the load back on my head. I battled bedbugs, an endless swarm of flies, and the equatorial sun. I felt like a child as my mama and sister would have to dress me each day, as I was too incompetent to tie the Maasai cloth robes onto myself. I spent my nights sandwiched on a single cowhide bed by my sister, mama, and a 4 year old child. I was also welcomed by the kindest hearts and biggest helpings of food I could ever imagine. All of this I would never trade for the world.

My little Maasai brother Naayo

My little Maasai brother Naayo

The lessons I learned about the Maasai way of life during my short stay were far greater than any book or documentary could ever show me. And I still don’t even know the half of it! But from what I did learn and witness, it is worth sharing to those who may never get a chance to meet a Maasai.

 

Cows are the world to the Maasai, and some even believe that all the worlds cattle were gifts of god to the Maasai people. They are usually only slaughtered for large celebratory events, such as weddings. Otherwise, cows are used for their milk and their blood, both forms of sustenance which can be taken without needing to have the cow killed. Cows are also a form of currency, used for settling disagreements or as dowry for wives. It is possible to judge a Maasai man’s richness by the amount of cattle he possesses.

A Maasai boma

A Maasai boma

 

The boma (the name for both the individual mud huts and the overall fenced in cluster of huts belonging to the patriarch) is constructed of cow dung and sticks, and is a surprisingly sturdy structure. The Maasai women are responsible for building their own boma after they are married. A single Maasai man may have upwards of 10 wives, meaning there will be 10 of these bomas in a single area. The lifestyle here is incredibly community oriented, with all the women looking after one another’s children. It feels like one big family, which extends to the idea of personal property. I discovered that if I wasn’t using my shoes or my flashlight, or really any of my belongings at any given moment, they then became fair game to anyone in the area. I would wake up one morning with my shoes missing, only to find my Maasai sister wearing them while she fetched water. I would see my headlamp being worn by little children and my Maasai mama alike. I soon came to realize that there really is no such thing as personal property, and much like everything else in the community, most things are shared.

A young boy at the entrance of the boma I stayed in during my time in Maasai land

A young boy at the entrance of the boma I stayed in during my time in Maasai land

 

Circumcisions and child births are the most celebrated events in Maasai culture, with elaborate ceremonies taking place for each. A boy can not transition into warrior-hood until he has undergone the circumcision process with his age class. Female circumcision is also a continuing custom, and most girls undergo this process shortly after puberty.

My pictured with Jackson, a warrior in my boma

Me pictured with Jackson, a warrior in my boma

 

Women spend their days cooking, beading and jewelry crafting, or gathering firewood and water. Maasai warriors, the Morani, spend their days hiking long miles herding cattle or goats, often napping in the shade of trees during the heat of the day.

 

Marriage occurs at a very young age, and children are revered, so having as many babies as possible is both desired and respected. Courting occurs between young women and warriors during night gatherings called asothos. Here, warriors dance and make a display of jumping as high as they can, shaking their hair at women that catch their eye. Women respond with a shoulder-shaking dance move, shimmying at the men. Both parties are chanting and singing all the while–females with their occasional high pitched additions to the men’s guttural growls and barking sounds. These gatherings last far into the night, with ours starting around 10 pm and lasting past midnight. The Maasai were very excited to have a few of us students attempt their dance moves!

Me and another student, Dan, with our Maasai families

Me and another student, Dan, with our Maasai families

 

Overall, the Maasai way of life is hard, monotonous, and sweaty. It would certainly be an incredible struggle for me to take to this way of life permanently. The Maasai however, flourish in maintaining the old ways of life. The only obvious modernized aspects of Maasai life include their use of cellphones and their going to the local town store to buy rice or a treat of soda. Time will only tell how development and modernization will affect the Maasai in the coming years, but for now, life remains simple. Beautiful, fierce, soft and kind, the Maasai are a people to be reckoned with.

Me with my Maasai mama and little brother Naayo

Me with my Maasai mama and little brother Naayo

My Maasai father, Matthew, and me

My Maasai father, Matthew, and me

My Maasai sister and her friend

My Maasai sister and her friend

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Ari in Tanzania

Tanzanian Food Culture

pilau with spinach and banana

pilau with spinach and banana

Food in Tanzania is simple, yet tasty. Dishes consist mainly of carbohydrates and lots of starches (think rice, spaghetti, potatoes, savory bananas, and breads), with the occasional meats and veggies on the side. Spices aren’t as prominent as I had imagined in East Africa, and almost no food is prepared to be spicy–though pili-pili sauce (chili) is readily available as a condiment. Fresh fruits and veggies abound on every street corner, with large outdoor markets remaining very much a part of the culture. Best of all, local dishes are incredibly affordable, with many meals costing only $1-$2 USD for a heaping portion.

Typical lunch in Tanzania

Typical lunch in Tanzania

The national dish of Tanzania is a corn flour mush known as ugali. It resembles mashed potatoes, though has the consistency of day-old play dough. Alone, it is nearly tasteless so it is often paired with sauce along with veggies, beans, or meat. Though most food in Tanzania is eaten with utensils, ugali is almost ALWAYS eaten with the hands, where mushing the corn flour into balls before dipping them in a gravy-like stew is common. Another local favorite is kuku (chicken) served with sautéed spinach, a thin tomato based sauce, and accompanied by fries, rice, ugali, or chapati (an Indian-like tortilla bread).

chips mayai

chips mayai

Wali maharage (rice with beans) is a popular staple among locals, usually served again with a side of sautéed spinach or cabbage. My personal favorite local dish is chips mayai, which is essentially a french fry omelette. Doused with ketchup and garlic chili sauce, chips mayai is good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a late night snack.

For drinks, I’ve come to be prepared to drink chai (tea) several times a day. This may take the form of plain spiced chai, or chai maziwa (milky chai). Sugar is used liberally, and if the chai has been prepared for you, expect a full cup of sugar to have been added to the batch (I personally, have no issue with this!). Soda is the other common drink to have with meals, with Coca Cola, Sprite, and Fanta dominating the market. In smaller villages, sometimes people will sell homemade breads and juices directly out of their homes. I can’t attest to the sanitation of homemade juice, but from this method I have found the best ice-cold avocado/mango/passion juice mixture on the planet. Not to mention, the mama who I buy juice from reuses returned bottles–yay sustainability!

Food culture in Tanzania is also something worthy of mention. When eating with a local family, as I did during my 3 week Home-stay in the rural village of Bangata, I learned to expect to be served portions of overwhelming size. Being large is respected, as it shows you have wealth, so the locals did their best to fatten us up with a plethora of hearty foods. Although breakfast would simply consist of a several slices of bread and butter, lunch and dinner could be a mountain of rice with beans, banana stew, goat meat, and spinach. Even after you have managed to finish as much as you possibly think you can stomach, local mamas with make sure to refill your plate, just as high–if not higher–as before.

In contrast to western etiquette, it is polite to leave a small amount of food on your plate instead of licking it clean to show you are satisfied. An empty plate signifies that you are still hungry, and you can expect to be served another dollop of rice if you make this mistake. “Nimeshiba,” or “I am full” became a popular phrase I used, often needing to argue that I indeed really was!

I truly believe that food is one of the great doors open to you for experiencing a new culture. By trying new things and dining as the locals do, it has allowed me the opportunity to not only taste exotic ethnic cuisine, but also to make friends. After eating several times at the same local lunch spot, the cooks and servers came to recognize me. And, simply by eating at the non-touristy food spots, I often found myself in conversation with other locals–they get a chance to practice English, and I get to work on my Swahili. There is no rush in the Tanzanian food industry, and fast service is non-existent, but if you learn to embrace the slow pace and take your time to enjoy your meals and interact with others, you may realize that finding a meal can be an incredibly rewarding part of each day.

an outdoor market

an outdoor market

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Ari in Tanzania

Traveling is SHOCKING!

Jumping head first into a cold swimming pool is never at the top of a list of things I want to do, yet coming from Arizona and Texas, a summer without swimming is not a summer at all. The shock of cold water is in many ways compared to the culture shock of jumping into on an airplane to travel to foreign lands. Many people have had this same shocking feeling that seems to have different levels of effect on each person.

DSC_0978
While here in Senegal, I have experienced culture shock. One would think that after 3 months of showering with a bucket, the faint squeal that escapes my mouth would soon become a natural part of life; it hasn’t. The culture shock of Senegal comes in different forms and although I have learned to cope and love some traits of the culture, other parts of the culture just never seem to get to the “comfy” level.


So here’s the chart! After reading it, I would agree that it’s fairly accurate. Fortunately for me, it is not my first time traveling abroad, and I feel that the more often a person travels, the smoother and straighter the line becomes. The best part about this chart is that it gives a general emotional roller coaster to an experience that has several more ups and downs. I felt with each characteristic of the new culture, I was excited, then annoyed, then accepting. For example, the food was so exciting to begin with. I loved eating rice and fish and everything Senegalese. After a few weeks of eating the same things day in and day out, the food lost its luster. However, I am sure when I return home, I will get cravings for a good poulet yassa or ceebu jen for as long as I live. The timing of the food culture shock was different from the timing of the culture shock with my family.

DSC_1125

Just like jumping into the cold water prevents people from going swimming out of fear, traveling scares people from going to foreign soil. Especially with misconceptions of the current EBOLA outbreak, travel to the country of Senegal is ceasing. The fact is that EBOLA doesn’t exist here. One case was cured and the country has an extensive health and sanitary department that promotes healthy living and combatting the EBOLA virus. Don’t be the person who spends each summer of life outside the pool due to your fear of the shock. Travel. Be uncomfortable. Expand your horizons.

DSC_1012
Just like you know it’s time to get out of the pool as your fingers start to wrinkle and become prune like, I feel that my time in Senegal is soon coming to an end. It’s bittersweet to leave, but I know that I will get to jump back into the shivering cold pool of culture shock and travel soon. Bottom line: I love jumping feet first into adventure and every time I do, the culture shock shocks a little less.

Comments Off on Traveling is SHOCKING!

Filed under Africa, Joshua in Senegal

Interning it up in Dakar

This past semester I have had the privilege of working at an NGO (Non-governmental organization) called Culture D’Enfances (in English-childhood culture) that serves children in less fortunate economic backgrounds and gives them an opportunity to explore artistic and creative outlets that are usually not part of their daily routine.  We run activities at a cultural center that is situated in a “rougher” neighborhood and also visit many orphanages and schools.

The excitement of the vision of the organization keeps us motivated to continue and improve this start-up NGO. I have been able to write journals about the different work environment and work attitudes that contrast from that of America and see the difficulties for funding a non-profit organization.  I get to use a variety of skills (that I may or may not have had before) to create theater skits with kids, create and edit videos, paint, and even create logos for the organization.

My internship has molded my career plans by showing me the difficulties of running a NGO and the necessity for NGOs to help fill in the gaps of the state. Although I don’t feel that my particular NGO is having a great influence on the whole world, I do love to see the smiles it puts on each child’s face. It reminds me a lot of a short story about a starfish thrower (author unknown). It goes something like this:

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance, as he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water.

Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.

As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water.

The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied, “I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. “But”, said the man, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.”

The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw it back into the sea. He replied,

“I made a huge difference to that one!”

I’ve realized that no matter what I choose to do in my career, I need to focus on helping individuals and that a difference can be made. Although it would be cool to say that you cured cancer or solved the problem of world hunger or helped alleviate poverty, helping one person at a time is what counts most.

I am attaching a photo of a painting we made at an orphanage that translates to say, “Our future paints itself with the hands of our children.”

Josh Boatright - culture d'enfance

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Joshua in Senegal

Week One: Tanzania

During this first week, it was hard to have first impressions or preconceived notions because we had not yet interacted with anyone outside of our staff at the refuge camp area, but now I have had an extra week in Tanzania exploring cities and national parks and have developed a few thoughts.

I am not entirely sure what I expected in Tanzania, but I know that everything I have experienced thus far would not have been imagined even in my wildest dreams. I think I expected to struggle adjusting to new foods, a fear that was almost completely diminished when I had my first taste of our amazing camp food. I also didn’t expect the stark contrasts between the westernized tourist areas and the rural mud-stick hut areas almost next door to each other. Though some of the main differences I have encountered between Tanzania and the United States lie in the customs and common attitudes of how people interact with each other. Here are just a few examples of these differences:

1) In Tanzania, it is always customary to say hello and engage in a brief greeting to any and every stranger you pass on the street (I have found this is only true in certain areas back home for me).
2) When asked how your day is going, never respond “bad”, things are always good. Unless of course, there has been a death.
3) There is no rush when it comes to service. You may wait over an hour for your meal order. Things just seem to run at a slower pace and people often spend a tremendous time eating and talking before paying the bill to leave.
4) Clapping is the appropriate way to get someone’s attention, whereas yelling is considered rude.
5) Locals will often approach you on the street hoping to practice their English and then become essentially your personal tour guide taking you around the city for hours to find whatever you are looking for. The only compensation they ask for (if any) is usually just that you will visit their relatives’ store, in hopes that you may make a small purchase.
6) You must bargain if you want a good price as you are almost always quoted double the value of an item and expected to haggle your way down to something reasonable.
7) Public displays of affection are basically non-existent. Although behind closed doors affection is allowed to be expressed fully, once in public even hugs are considered inappropriate.
8) Depending on the area you are in (rural, city, campground) the appropriate attire changes dramatically, especially for women. While on safari it may be appropriate to wear shorts and a tank top, in many towns and rural areas you must cover either your knees, shoulders, or both with a traditional fabric cloth known as a kanga.
9) It is easy to find a good full meal for about 2,000 Tanzanian shillings, the equivalent of just over $1 USD.
10) There are distinctly different greetings and methods of addressing people depending upon if they are younger, older, or your peers. It is rude to mix up these greetings with the wrong age group.

Each day my mind continues to expand as my brain is shaken by new ideas and the complex issues in wildlife conservation and political ecology. I am thoroughly excited for my next few weeks where I will be living in a remote village with a local family, taking Swahili classes each day and being fully immersed in this unique culture.

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Ari in Tanzania

Hujambo! A first glance at preparing for, and living in Tanzania

The two weeks leading up to my study abroad program were a complete whirl of excitement and anxiety. Preparing to leave the country for four months was one thing, but preparing to spend a significant amount of time in the wilderness of was a completely different challenge. Thirty-three nights of camping in the African bush is a part of my upcoming program, and that’s not exactly something I could slack on preparing for. However, between balancing time with friends and family, and taking care of numerous pre-departure tasks (vaccines, banking business, and the like), I had almost no time leftover for all the other things I needed to prepare for. My last days in California were spent racing around town buying tents, compact sleeping bags and sleeping pads, water purification tablets, and malaria medication. I was up until 3:30 in the morning the day before my flight, as I struggled to cram all of my gear into one 55 Liter pack (I ended up being unsuccessful at fitting everything in one pack and was forced to check that bag and add a second backpack…not the most ideal setup). I spent the rest of my night being nervous about adjusting to a new culture – at this point the excitement had yet to sink in.

Two full days of travel later, I stepped off my plane and into the warm night air at the Kilimanjaro airport. I finally met my fellow wildlife conservation program students. After our group went through customs, we are all shuffled into Safari trucks for a two hour drive to our campsite at the Ndarikwai ranch. We scramble to set up our tents in the midnight darkness, but soon found ourselves drifting off to a chorus of frogs and the low snort-grumbles of impala.AA1

I awoke at sunrise filled with excitement (which was surprising considering the terrible jet lag I was feeling), and was amazed as the real beauty of this area came into full view. The silhouette of Kilimanjaro loomed over us in the distance to one side, and mount Meru towered on the other. A troop of baboons played in the trees as fiesty infants jumped on their mothers to alert them of morning, and the birds provided a soundtrack to the start of the day, with hundreds of species announcing their presence.

AA3

AA5

We were introduced to our program director Baba Jack and the rest of our Tanzanian staff before going on a long hike through the Ndarikwai area–a ranch turned conservation reserve, where Maasai herders live side by side with zebra, wildebeest, and many other wild animals. It is one of the few wildlife areas in the country where you are permitted to walk the area, instead of being forced to remain inside of your safari car. This made for a unique experience walking in the savannah under acacia trees and next to herds of grazing mammals.

 

AA2

Camping in a secluded natural environment for one week was one of the best ways to welcome our group into beautiful Tanzania. We had a chance to connect with fellow students, get to know our director and staff members, and even chat a little Swahili with our camp cooks. It was certainly a great way to ease into being orientated to a new country and culture.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Africa, Ari in Tanzania