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Tanzania in Four Parts – Part 2: Zanzibar 

Okay, if you have been following my blog from the beginning, the promise of a 4 part blog series in a few weeks and then my substantial failure to deliver that promise should not be a surprise to you… apologies for the lateness of this next post. All will come, eventually. Also, sorry for the mix of present/past tense writing – I wrote half of this post while still in Zanzibar and the other half in Japan!

One of the best parts about the Watson is that things are not locked-in. That is, they expect and almost encourage us to change our routes and plans from the ones set in our original proposals. Things come up, disasters happen, ideas shift, you arrive in places and they are not what they seemed, etc. When things like that happen, you need to adjust and either find a way to make it work, or leave that place for something new. Like I mentioned in my last post, that is what happened for me in Tanzania. Dar es Salaam and Madale did not turn out to be places that seemed “right” for my project, so I turned to Zanzibar. It was the best decision I could have made. This part of the series will just be on Zanzibar, the culture and my life here in general, with more details about the work I have been doing to come later! 

Part 2: Zanzibar

  

 Technically, I have been living on the island of Unguja, which along with Pemba Island and many other small islands, make up the archipelago of Zanzibar. And (technically) the area of land on continental Africa that most people know as Tanzania, is Tanganyika. Together, the grouping of islands that make up Zanzibar and the continental land area of Tanganyika form to be The United Republic of Tanzania (Check out Wikipedia if you’re interested in more). Most people aren’t so technical though and call the mainland, Tanzania, and Unguja, Zanzibar… Since its revolution in 1964, Zanzibar has been apart of the Republic of Tanzania. Before that, it had been a state of Oman, and a British protectorate at the end of the 19th century. 

Zanzibar, and specifically Stone Town, has been an important port for centuries. Initially (and still stoday) for the many spices taht are grown on the island, most notably cloves and cinnimon. Later, the island was a major port in the slave trade with Europe and America. Now, it’s a significant pull for tourists in East Africa. Old buidlings on the island have been repurposed into galleries, homes, hotels, cultural centers, museums, simeltaneously preserving and breathing new life into the island’s identity – the island seems to renew itself. Finally, Zanzibar is also known for it’s beutiful wood-carved doors, with both indian and arabic influences. Walking around each and every day was inspiring, there was always someting new to see and fall in love with. Because of its rich history, the culture on Zanzibar is unique to that of mainland Tanzania, and sometimes feels like it is a completely different country (or could be). There are English, German, Arabic, and East African influences, all swirling together to create something completely unique and unlike anywhere else in the world. It’s truly an amazing place.                         

If I am being honest, this place is like a seesaw for me; I hate it and love it. Some days it’s absolute paradise, but other days I want to leave as soon as I can. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about this place that gives me the seesaw feeling… I think it is a combination of the vast cultural and lifestyle differences that both fascinate and excite me, but frustrate me unlike anywhere else I have ever lived before (I think I am going to say “interesting” and “fascinating” a lot in this post… forgive me). Living in Zanzibar is unlike anything I have done before or expected to do this year. It’s hard for me to explain Zanzibar… There are kind of two sides to my time here; two distinct kinds of experiences. For a lack of better terms, there are more “local” and more “western” . While the traditional culture of the island is pervasive, there is often a clear western influence that in certain place creates this hybrid of a culture where sometimes I forget I am on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean and not back in the US.  

    This hybrid culture mostly exists in Stone Town, which is like a different world from the rest of the island – and there are different worlds within Stone Town itself. Stone Town is the most touristy part of the island, with many visitors and a number of ex-pats living in the center along with local people. The center of town is full of hotels and more western restaurants, bars and shops. The small alleyway like streets close to the center are crammed with tiny shops, whose owners stand outside, calling to you as you pass by to have a look inside because, like they say, “looking is free!”. Following the cultural customs here, my shoulders and knees need to be covered in public. But There are few times when I can wear shorts or a tank-top – mostly when I am in Stone Town at more touristy places or going out to a bar at night. 

  

  

      

 The farther out from Stone Town you get, the fewer and fewer mzungus you will see. Mzungu is a Swahili word for “visitor” or really, “white person”. Most people call me mzungu in a friendly way, but there have been times where, even though I don’t speak Swahili, I could tell the inflection was much more negative or biting. It is nearly impossible to get on or off of a daladala (small vans/busses used for public transport on the island), without someone commenting or calling out to me “mzungu!!”, and after three months, it has become a little draining. It’s this interesting kind of race, ethnicity, and class relationship I have never truly had to confront in my life. — While I have thought about and explored these relationships, tensions, and confrontations through discussion and personal journaling, I’m not sure if I have any coherent, succinct way of expressing how I feel… and honestly, I don’t know how much of it I want to share on the Internet, at least not at the moment. A lot of this year, and especially my life in Zanzibar is something that I will need to process for a long time to come – maybe soon I can circle back and write more about those confrontations — For now, being noticeably different and constantly pointed out, even harassed for my physical and assumed (albeit, correctly) economical differences, it has made it difficult to feel like I really have or even ever could, integrate into the culture here.  

       

For most of my stay here I lived in Bububu and Fuoni, small towns just 10 minutes outside of stonetown. The name “Bububu” comes from when the island had a train (why, I am unsure because it takes an hour or less to drive anywhere…), and the village was named after the sound the train whistle makes “buuu buuu buuu”. My stop on the bus was called “Bububu – Bamboo”. Try saying that five times fast… I loved living outside of the center of Stone Town. It was such a nice break from the repetitive, same day-in and day-out places and routines I and others fell into when in the center. Very few, if any, short-term tourists visit places like Bububu or Fuoni (there isn’t really a reason for them). So, unlike in Stone Town where tourists are everywhere, I stood out on my evening walk to et mishkaki (delicious meat kebab) for dinner. Prices are higher in Stone Town and other resort/touristy places (e.g. a coconut should cost 700 shillings (39 cents), at a resort, they will charge you 10,000. TEN THOUSAND. That’s like $5.50). – it has not been cheap to live in Zanzibar, with food and things costing nearly as much as it would in the states, but it’s been fascinating to live in an economy and that is so tourism-centered.  

         

I visited many parts of the island during my stay. Every part was just so beautiful. My favorite trip was to Michamvi with Anna. We stayed in this adorable little house and the beach was INSANE. I lost my glasses that trip.. We had laid out our thing on the beach, then went swimming. All of a sudden we turned around and the tide was crashing into our stuff! We scooped it up and brought it higher up shore, but amidst the hurry I think I forgot I had set my glasses on my blanket and they got swept away! Jinkies! hahah. No worries though, I brought a spare pair with me on the trip just in case something like this happened… the same frames, of course. 

                      

The norhtern part of the island was also super beautiful. Villages like Kendwa and Nungwi had some of the most beautiful beaches and clearest oceans I have ever seen. The blues were incredible… I honestly don;t know if I have seen or will ever see something as beautiful as the crystal shades of the water agaist the clear skye – everything so blue, it almost hurts. One day freinds and I took a day trip over to Changuu Island or “Prison Island”, which is home to a species of giant tortoise, orginially from the Seychelles, brought to Zanzibar as a gift. Some were 130 years+!! Here are some pictures from up north, as well as Changuu:    

              

 What else should I mention..? Food! Well, it was a mix of a lot of things. In Stone Town, you can find basically anything you want – there’s Italian, Thai, Chinese, American, Tanzanian, etc. – pretty wide-ranging for a small island. My favorite local food was mishkaki, or kebabs, and chips mayai, a kind of omelet with french fries in it. SO GOOD and so cheap. It’s amazing I’m not 500 lbs. 

             

Every night there is the Night Market at Forodhani Park, which is basically a big street food fair every night. Stands like “Mr. Big Bannana” and “Mr. Nutella” sell Zanzibar Pizza – this crepe meets Taco Bell’s crunch-wrap supreme thing that is so delicious. Other stands sell fresh (and not so fresh) seafood, french fries, fruit, and my favorite, sugar cane juice. Made from squeezing fresh sugar cane, the juice is not too sweet and almost milky. Many dinners were spent sitting by the water with friends, enjoying Night Market.  

     

Overall, I still don’t know how I feel about Zanzibar. I loved the sun and the beaches, but sometimes the heat was unbearable. The culture was fascinating, but from my view, so oppressive towards women and misogynistic. Time there wasn’t this linear progression, but felt cyclical and repetitive; groundhogs day, always. I made wonderful friends, but also found it hard to trust people (more on friends and people in the 4th part of this series). I loved my work, but know there is SO much more I could have done and feel guilty but helpless in leaving. Like I said before, it’s a seesaw kind of place. I have a feeling it won’t be the last time I visit the island… the whole repetitive time thing has lodged itself within my brain and needs more investigating. 

In the next part of this series, I will talk more in depth about the Watson-related work I was doing over the three months: working with recovering drug addicts in two Sober Houses called Detroit and Free at Last. 

  Until then!

xx. H.

Tanzania in Four Parts – Part One: Beginnings in Madale Village

So much has happened since Christmas. I since the beginning of January, I have been in Tanzania – mostly living in Zanzibar, but with some time spent in and around Dar es Salaam on the mainland. This leg of my year has been unexpected in many ways and with my flight out in just under two weeks, I am sad to think about it ending… I am actually actively avoiding thinking about leaving and soaking up as much sun as I can, but I wanted to share while I am still in-place, before I am distracted by the newness of the next destination (TOKYO!!!). 

So here for you over the next week or so is Tanzania in Four Parts: Beginnings in Madale Village // Zanzibar // Just for Today, TRY // “Life Attracts Life”

Enjoy!


Part 1: Beginnings in Madale Village I arrived in Dar es Salaam after a long journey with multiple planes to find it incredibly hot and humid – bleh, such a big change from the cold and rainy London I left from. I was glad to be somewhere warmer but the humidity here is crazy – I’ve come to get used to near constant sweating… That same day I went to the beach, touching the Indian Ocean for the first time and letting my INCREDIBLY pale skin see sun for the first time in months (Seriously though, how was I so pale? … Wait til y’all see photos of my now). 



For my first two weeks in Tanzania I lived about 45 minutes outside of the city center of Dar in a village called Madale. The village has about 5,000 people and is pretty rural – no running water, dry toilets, lots of farms, and few homes have electricity. The most beautiful part of Madale is that you can see the Twiga Cement factory from Wazo Hill. At any time of the day or night, I was transfixed by this huge industrial castle-like thing, perpetually churning smoke out in the distance. It was scary but beautiful, alluring but ominous. 




The house I was living in was built for volunteers working with Art in Tanzania, an NGO that supposedly* does community development work through arts programming. Collectively we were a big group, with people from Finland, Australia, Canada, Sweeden, and Denmark, living in the house together with the Tanzanian staff. We all shared living spaces, had bucket showers and dry toilets, minimal electricity, ate meals together at a big family table… it felt a bit like summer camp, but it was fun!  I’m so glad to have met the group that was there.  We had a ton of fun, and I think I will see a few of them in July when I am in Australlia (Lookin at you, Sacey, Steph & Jo)!!

*More on AIT and the “supposedly” later. 









There wasn’t a lot of arts programming going on that I could jump into or observe for my project, and there were talks of some starting up a little later on, maybe I could create my own, I just had to wait… so for the first two weeks I worked in local school, helping with the Grade 2 class. The kids were horrible at first, not listening to my friend Stacey or me. They had the right to be horrible though. Who were we to just come in one day and instantly expect 30 kids to respect us? Well, Stacey has a degree and is professionally a teacher, but… That’s something with short-term volunteering I’ve started to have a problem with. While helping others in any way is never a bad thing, the almost violent entry and exit of short term volunteering – showing up one day, building some bonds, and then quickly ripping them away – makes me question if the work is hurting more than helping? Maybe it is doing both at the same time? But is the help work the hurt? I’m not sure. It might not always be possible but long-term, goal-oriented volunteer work seems to be valuable to all parties involved. — Anyway, for those two weeks Stacey and I helped with Math, English, and we did a few Art lessons! The excitement and joy the kids got out of drawing and the amazing creativity they had while doing it was inspiring and affirming.



Soon into those two weeks I realized that there wasn’t ever going to be arts programming or work that was really “right” for my Watson. So I soon began to ask for other options. Someone mentioned the recovering drug addict community on Zanzibar and my interest immediately jumped. I wasn’t sure if it would be the “right” kind of work either, but I knew I had to get out of Madale and at least try to make a change; if Zanzibar didn’t work out, I would re-evaluate my options and possibly leave Tanzania all together. I am so so so happy that I took that chance and came here to Zanzibar. Not only has the work I’ve been doing been fun, enlightening, and challenging, it’s a beautiful paradise and culture that I never thought I would get to know so well. I’ve been here for almost two and a half months now and will devote the majority of this series to this island’s people, places, sights, sounds, tastes, and a billion other things it has gifted me, but that’s to come later. For now, here is a sneak peek… 





Finally, out of this four-part series, this is the only space I want to devote to Art in Tanzania (AIT) because I don’t think they deserve any more of my time and effort than they already have. Let me just put it out there that while AIT is the reason why I am in Zanzibar and I am thankful for that, I wish I had never worked with them. They are a travel tourism scam, making promises to travelers they cannot keep and basically robbing them of their money and time in the process. It’s unfortunate that basically anyone can make a nice website, send professional emails, and have all the credentials of a reputable organization (NGO status, multiple locations, partnership with the UNICEF Children’s Agenda, etc.), and then take advantage of people. Kari, who is the Founder and Director of Art in Tanzania was one of the first people I made contact with in planning my Watson year. He was immediately welcoming and excited for me to partner with AIT, promising me that there were many community development programs through the arts I could participate in and/or help organize. Everything he said to me was a lie. There wasn’t any programming, as I said before, only a few opportunities to work in schools. My experience with AIT was an incredible lesson, and while it has made me a little jaded and skeptical of any NGO promising opportunities or work to travelers, I am glad to have had the experience. And to anyone who is reading this and planning on traveling and working/volunteering abroad: just GO to the place. Don’t rely on a larger organization. Yes, it’s a little scarier and you have to be independent/take a lot more initiative to find housing, work, etc., but if I have learned anything this year it is that there is ALWAYS work to be done and people who will support and help you. Being on the ground, in a place, makes all the difference – it’s impossible to really get anything done or know the truth when all communication is mediated by a computer screen. As one of my best friends (who I miss incredibly) taught me in high school: BE BOLD AND MIGHTY FORCES WILL COME TO YOUR AID. 

xxo

H.

<3 <3

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Bonjour from Paris! I’m writing to you with a belly full of baguettes and with eyes and feet that are the happy-kind-of-tired from an entire day spent at the Louvre. I’ve been in Paris for a while now, and will be here until the New Year. There was the possibility for my family to come visit me for Christmas, but for a bunch of different reasons it wasn’t the best time for a trip. So I last-minute decided to get out of London, and have myself a merry little Christmas in Paris.

I just posted a whole bunch of selfies… but I thought a bit of an update would be nice, too. I know it seems silly to still be talking about Bolivia when today marks two months since I left, but I can’t help circling back to a moment in Bolivia as I think about being ‘alone’ this holiday season. On my last night in Cochabamba, when I was out to dinner with my beloved roommates, Jody and Grace, Jody said to me, “No one is going to Love you in London”. I remember being so struck by how honest blunt, and raw that was – not many people will tell you ‘how it is’ like the way Jody can. And no matter how sad it may seem to type it or to read it, Jody was right – there is no one that loves me in London.

But this ‘Love’ that Jody was talking about is one that is measured on a relative scale, influenced by proximal places, people, and experiences. I can’t say I have had the same degree of ‘Love’ in London. But, then again, if you are comparing the kind of love I have from friends and family at home, then you could say that no one ‘Loved’ me in Cochabamba.

So while I think Jody was right in this horrible way, I also firmly believe he was wrong. Love is relative, and can be found in even the most annoying and horrible parts of life (like waiting in lines to get in EVERYWHERE & ANYWHERE in Paris the past few days…). Just because, for me, there wasn’t the same kind of love in London as there was in Cochabamba, or at home, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t shared love with people here. I have true friends in London that care for me and that I have grown close to. I am so incredibly thankful for the generosity and kindness of once-strangers, now-friends in London. I have had days and nights full of great conversations, laughter and jokes that have made my time in London unforgettable. With people like Gibbons, Rosalie, Frances, Elie and Ruby, Robyn, Ben, Maddy, Benji, Joe and Tom, the past two months have been full with love (shout out to all you homies – don’t know if you’re reading this, but couldn’t have done it without ya)

And I’ve been alone this holiday season but that does not mean that I haven’t been or felt loved. I’ve Skyped with people that are the closest to my heart, shared smiles with strangers on the street, received warm and thoughtful emails from friends in Bolivia, been invited to dinner parties of AirBnB and CouchSurfing hosts I met just an hour before, gone out for curry with the funniest soon-to-be-doctors I’ve ever met, played the ‘Animal Guessing Game’ for hours, and eaten the most delicious steak of my life with the nephew-in-law of my mom’s, friend’s, mother’s best friend (did you follow that?). Love is there, always. If you think no one will love you, then no one will. Or, if you’re caught up in how difficult it is being ‘alone’, you won’t see how much love is wrapped up in daily happenings. I think being alone and traveling for 7 months now (!!) has made me more eager to look for it in unexpected places – a habit I hope not to lose when this adventure is over.

I am alone, but that is a privilege. This year is an incredible gift- where I get to explore what I love, discover new loves, and feel loved all over the world.

All the Love in the world,
Haley

ps.
Go Solo

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In no particular order, here are just a few of the things, people, and places I have loved over the past two months.

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Janet, a friend who became such a role model in Bolivia
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London
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Robyn, we met at our hostel on Halloween and now she is my best friend in London!
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Remembrance Day Poppies at the Tower of London
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Cy Twombly
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One of my best friends in Bolivia, Selene
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Thanksgiving in London
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So lucky to have spent the day at Tottenham with Ben
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The V&A
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Eiffel Tower
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Victory
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Macaroons for Christmas
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This crazy painting of goats at the Louvre
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Notre Dame for Christmas Eve Mass

xohma

ME & THINGS

Selfies: we all take them. I’ve been taking a lot of selfies recently and in sending them to some friends, discussing my “eye in the corner selfie” style (source: emack). I thought that it would be nice to share them with all of you. Ever inspired by my Dad, who I am starting to believe is the Selfie King*, I’ve begun to try and perfect my craft.

*See Examples A, B, and C below
Example A:

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AHHHIDON’TKNOWWHYHEISMAKINGTHATFACE

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I ask how Christmas Eve is ? Perfect selfie opportunity.

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Roll Logs.

SELFIES – Me & Things
The good, the bad, and the ugly from the past 7 months…
**Some may be repeats from previous posts
***** Some of the labels are WRONG… but I’m too lazy to sort through it all to fix them. I tried, and WordPress is giving me issues.

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Where it all began.

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Me & Rafi (pre-rain) – Tacoma, Washington
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Me & Emack (post-rain) – Tacoma, Washington
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Me & Abbie (Goth Fest) – Leipzig, Germany
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Me & Kristan – Leipzig, Germany
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Me & Beer (I <3 NJ) – Munich, Germany
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Me & Ferris Wheel – Leipzig, Germany
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Me & Night Bike – Munich, Germany
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Me & Kris (Pre World Cup I) – Leipzig, Germany
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Me & Kris (Pre World Cup II) – Leipzig, Germany
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Me & Kris (Pre World Cup III) – Leipzig, Germany
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Me & Ice Cream – Germany
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Me & Abbie (Pre World Cup IV) – Leipzig, Germany
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Me & Kate (4 days home) – Princeton, NJ
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Me & Cochabamba (RIP 2nd nose ring)
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Me & Teleferico – Cochabamba, Bolivia
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ME & EL CHRISTO – Cochabamba, Bolivia
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Me &Los Esapñoles – Torotoro, Bolivia
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Me & Jody’s Hat – Cochabamba, Bolivia
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Me in a Hardhat – Torotoro, Bolivia
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Me & Caves/Friends – Torotoro, Bolivia
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Me & Canyon! – Torotoro, Bolivia
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Me & La Paz – La Paz, Bolivia

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Me & Lago Titicaca – Bolivia
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Me & Los Scouts – Cochabamba, Bolivia
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Me & Big Ben – London, England
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Me & London Bridge – London, England
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Me & London Eye – London, England
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Me & British Parliament – London, England
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Me & Queen’s
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Me – London, England
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Me & Richter

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Me & Eiffel Tower (Left) – Paris, France
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Me & Eiffel Tower (Right) – Paris, France
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Me & Arc de Triomphe – Paris, France
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Me & Louvre – Paris, France
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Me & Notre Dame (Night) – Paris, France
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Me & Notre Dame (Day) Paris, France
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Me & MY GIRL MONA

xoxox
Haley

Hello!! This blog still exists!

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Hello!! This blog still exists! I’ve been so bad about updating it. I knew it would get this way once I got further into my year. You see, what happens is that the year became more of a life rather than a trip. After a month or so in Bolivia, I developed habits and customs. While life in Cochabamba always, always, always surprised me and was new each day (like finding that trunk full of doughnuts at the market), I found a groove in the city, with it’s people, with my Watson work there. My groove diverted me from writing…

I say “there” because I’m no longer in Cochabamba! After a day of tears, packing, and a wonderful despedida (goodbye party), I boarded a plane (three of them actually…), and headed to London. It’s already been super overwhelming but amazing to be here, but I don’t want to jump ahead and write about London here just yet. Bolivia still deserves more.

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This post is going to be about the end part of my time in Bolivia, a short trip I did to La Paz and La Isla del Sol, and the amazing friends I had to leave behind. I want to do another post about my Watson project, a bit more reflective on what I’ve learned. While the two are not separate – my friends and my trips have highly impacted my Watson work – I feel like I need to designate separate space.

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Todo, todo a Torotoro!

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Torotoro is a national park about four hours from Cochabamba. All of this was a while ago, but the trip was so much fun and the park was so beautiful, I figured I had to write about it!! A few of my friends, Richie, Barbara, Sandra, Carmelo, and I traveled to Torotoro via minibus on Friday afternoon after work.

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The beginning part of the ride was really beautiful – the sun was setting behind the mountains that surround the valley Cochabamba is nestled into, leaving traces of blues and pinks. After four hours of driving along dirt road swithcbacks and gaining a lot of altitude, we arrived in Torotoro. The town is normally quiet, but for a Friday evening around 9:00, it seemed unusually so. We walked, found a hostel and something to eat before going to bed. We had to get up early the next morning!

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The next day, we got up and met our guide, Casi, who would be showing us around the park for the next two days. She is the only female guide within the Torotoro guide organization and was the absolute best!! If you ever go to Torotoro, ask for her! We spent the morning walking and hiking. We got to explore caves carved out a billion years ago by water (not that long ago, but I´ve forgotten the facts…). There were drawings on some of the walls, many of which were of the Pachamama, or “Mother Earth” a snake fertility goddess worshiped by people of the Andres region. There was a story Casi told us: once each year, the Pachamama, in her giant serpent form, would visit each house, bringing good luck to the family. Sometimes during her visit, while looking for the offering the family had left, the Pachamama would slither into the bed and on top of those sleeping… the people would just have to lay still, careful not to disturb the snake that would not bite them. I don’t know if I could handle a giant serpent surprising me as I was sleeping, no matter how powerful of a goddess she was haha. Each place or plant we passed by, Casi had a story or some sort of fact to share with us, or she helped us notice details in our surroundings most people would pass by. I normally do not like guided tours while hiking, but it wouldn´t have been half as good if we weren’t with Casi. We hiked for a few hours and eventually ate lunch overlooking a huge mountain range. It was perfect.

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From there, we drove down to another section of the park to a huge cavern called Umajalanta, that is wedged between two mountains. Going into the cavern was probably the scariest but coolest things I have ever done. BUT before we entered the cavern, Casi showed us the second coolest thing of the weekend: DINOSAUR FOOTPRINT FOSSILS. Imprinted into what was one mud, there were footprints of all sorts of dinosaurs. As someone who was a “The Land Before Time” fanatic, this was mind blowing. Think about it… I walked where a dinosaur did; That dinosaur and I occupied the same space; It may be millions of years apart but a dinosaur and I shared that same tiny space in this huge universe; A real, live dinosaur. !!!!! It seems kind of silly, but I was just so amazed. We saw a few more prints that day, and some the next, but these were by far the best ones.

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Now, Umajalanta. In total, the trek within the cave took us abut two and a half hours. With no outside light sources and a lot of spots where we could hit our heads, we all wore construction hats with headlamps. The chin strap was the worst, sweaty and hot as we moved through the humid cave, but, damn did I look good…

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It was amazing down there. Everywhere you looked, there were stalactites and stalagmites. Casi made sure to point out to us ones that looked like a tree, or some other shape, transforming the calcified clusters into a world of magic. The trek was not easy, and we needed to help eachother to make it through. We would climb up and down boulders, following an exact pattern of footholes and nooks and reaching out to steady each other on the slippery rocks. The whole time we were traveling through, I couldn’t help but think about the first people who ventured into the complete darkness of the cave. How did they know where they were going and that there would be a way out? How did they even remember how to get out??

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The craziest part of the whole thing was when Casi told us we were going to have to crawl on our hands and knees for about 5 minutes, squeezing through a crack – you can’t even call it a hole. I am not claustrophobic, and I don’t usually panic in situations like this, but for those five minutes, inching my way along, all I wanted to do was get out. My heart was racing and I had a real sense of panic. I really didn´t think I would fit. But I just told myself “everyone who comes down here does this”; I wasn’t the first person and I wasn’t going to be the last person wedged in there. Somehow, I made it through and we kept moving along the cave´s loop trail.

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By the end, we were all dirty, sweaty, tired and accomplished. It felt amazing to think back on all that we had done in just a few short hours. It was suuuuper difficult, but beautiful and gratifying. I am so thankful to have visited Umajalanta. I think it will be one of my best memories of the year.

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That night, after fighting over who got to take the first shower, we headed to the town´s market for dinner. It started to rain a little along the way, so we quickly ran under the cover of the market. The market was this big hall where different people cook meals throughout the day and everyone eats together at big, long tables. Just as we were got to the market, it stopped raining and started POURING. The heaviest rain I have seen since graduation!! Haha it reminded me of that day; the rain came so suddenly, and was SO strong. We ordered our food – quinoa soup and chicken with rice – and sat. All of a sudden, the lights went out with the loudest clap of thunder and the brightest lightning I have ever seen. We were all in the pitch black: cooks, locals, visitors, everyone. But it was no problem, we lit some candles and all ate our meal in the dark. It was hilarious. None of us brought our cell phones with us, so once we finished we hurried, arm in arm, back to the hostel, with the blips of lightning as the only light guiding our way.

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Falling into place

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It is a wonderful kind of life here. Things move more slowly than they do in the US, and I am beginning to love it. If the arrival time is 8:30, that probably means people show up at 8:45, and that’s okay. There are mid-morning and mid-afternoon tea and snack breaks (empeñadas!). Best of all, lunch is normally 1.5-2 hours. Here, it is just as important to rest and converse with your peers as it is to work.

This is a place where things happen in place. I have been incredibly surprised by the number of opportunities, open doors, lessons, and friends I have encountered from being here. The past year has been full of planning for the next to come. I thought about where I will be going, who I know in that city, and what I will be doing while I am there. Where will I live? What food will I eat? I am a planner and always have been; I like to have a Plan A. My time in Bolivia has taught me that most of the things I want to plan are impossible continents away, over the internet, and mediated by a screen. You have to be in the place. You have to forget about “Plan A” and let things develop as they will – as they are supposed to. Part of me knew that this was an inevitable lesson of this year – I am incredibly thankful to have encountered it within my first 20 days.

The past week and half or so, things have developed and I feel like my project is falling into place in Cochabamba. One of the best things about the Watson, is that we are encouraged to explore and feel the peripheries of our proposal, remaining open to new lenses and facets of our project. With this in mind, I have been busy speaking and working with a few different organizations, wanting to take full advantage of the available opportunities. My time here so far has been divided between working with three organizations: El Instituto para el Desarollo Humano; CUBE; and EnseñARTE/Performing Life.

The most fun has been with EnseñARTE, and organization that aims to help create a better future for children through the arts. Mainly focusing on “social circus”, the foundation provides programming for local children, teaching them circus skills. EnseñARTE provides a small stipend to the families of the kids who attend classes, with the contingency that the money be used to start or support a family business (of any size). While circus is, of course, incredibly fun, the performance, challenge, and creativity that are necessary for circus serve another purpose for the foundation: teaching children social skills. There are connections big and small with social circus: the ability to juggle balls and the ability to juggle/multitask; the self-confidence developed through performing in front of a crowd. My circus skills are horrible, but I am learning! I will be teaching art classes with EnseñARTE, with lessons focused on the same goals as social circus: social and personal development through creativity.

Last Friday, there was a big performance at EnseñARTE for the community, with a delicious BBQ dinner afterwards. The skills and talents of the kids were amazing, with each person/group excelling in a specific skill. There were fire eaters, juggling with fire, trapeze, and unicycles – it was SO much fun!

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CUBE (Centro para una Brisa Esperanza), is perhaps the organization most “focused” on my project. Here, I will be working with the on-site psychologists, helping to facilitate alternative-therapy workshops with children who have experienced abuse. I start next week, and will be sure to report back!

Finally, I am also working with El Instituto para el Desarollo Humano (IDH), an organization focused on the prevention of HIV/AIDS as well as various types of sexual violence. IDH provides workshops and lessons for local teachers, who then facilitate lessons to their students. IDH is an incredibly unique organziation, and the largest of it’s kind in Bolivia. The topics the are concerned with are incredibly important to Bolivia, and especially the city of Cochabamba. During my time working with IDH, I learned that about 23% of boys and 34% of girls in Bolivia will experience some kind of sexual aggression before the age of 18, and 75% of those cases reported happen in schools or at home. Speaking with some of the people here, it seems that the topic of sexual violence is something people avoid or sweep under the rug. But with statistics like that, it’s vital that there’s diligent education and prevention work within the community. I am so thankful to have found IDH, whose team is doing just that.

Each year, IDH has a huge event called La ExpoSIDA/Vida. Over the course of a week, ExpoSIDA educates close to 20,000 middle school and high school aged students from Chochabamba and neighboring cities on topics ranging from HIV/AIDS prevention to sex trafficking. There are posters, talks, activities, and even a theater performance! I am lucky enough to be here for this year’s ExpoSIDA! This past week, I have spent each day with the IDH team helping coordinate and facilitate different activities. This year’s main theme: “Violencia Sexual Enamoramiento”, or sexual violence between couples. It’s an important topic for anyone, but it seems especially important here. It seems like everyone is paired off into couples. One of my first days here, someone told me that the love here is “muy fuerte”, or very strong – people fall hard and fast. Educating teens that certain things like, controlling what your partner wears, threatening to hurt yourself if he/she does not do something, “jokingly” insulting your partner, etc., are forms of violence is the first step towards ending a cycle of even greater violence. It’s been a week about ending pluralistic ignorance and identifying falsities in social “norms”. It’s been the best.

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Theatro de Prevencion!

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So many students!

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I am so thankful to have been apart of such an innovative and impactful event within Cochabamba’s community.

It hasn’t all been work – I have been exploring the city and other parts of Bolivia too! The other week, a group from EnseñARTE and I went to El Christo de la Concordia, a giant statue of Jesus that overlooks the city. It was such an amazing vantage point of the city I am really falling in love with.

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I also went to Torotoro, a national part here in Bolivia! It was absolutely gorgeous – mountains, caverns and caves, fossils, and more! That trip deserves its own post, so you will have to wait… but here is a sneak peak of some dinosaur footprints we saw!!

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Besitos,
Haley