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Paris, Take Two

After not posting an update for more than 3 months (whoops) I have so much to talk about!

I am currently living in Paris after visiting the city in September and coming for a couple of interviews.

In January, I started my internship at GfK Retail & Technology, a market research company! I flew into Paris a few days early to start my search for housing. Looking for housing in my jet-lagged state was very stressful. I should have realized that it wasn’t going to be an easy process when so many people were stressed out in November and December trying find to Paris housing. But I had it in my head that I would be able to find something in a few days… After much searching and many phone calls about apartments, I found a studio apartment that’s perfect for my stay in Paris.

I also joined a handbell choir at the American Church in Paris. After not playing for a few years, it’s good to be playing handbells again and I love having something musical every week.

In February, I traveled back to Reims to take my retakes for my fall classes. To celebrate the end of exams, Anna and I took a day trip to Luxembourg! The weather wasn’t very cooperative–it rained the entire day–but we still had a lot of fun exploring the city. We took a bus trip around the city, visited a museum of modern art and found a cute, local shops to duck into to get out of the rain. It was awesome to discover the mix of languages present in the city. French, English, Luxembourgish, and German are spoken there which is so cool :)

The following weekend, I took the train to Grenoble to visit Anna. It’s in a valley surrounded by the Alps and  was blown away by how gorgeous it is! We took a bus to a little mountain village and explored the mountain side. We found a little coffee shop that served hot chocolate in bowls :) We also went to the movies, and to the Bastille–a “fort” on a mountain that allows you to see the entire city. Since I haven’t explored France much yet, it was awesome to see a new French city.

I stayed in Paris the following weekend and meet up with Anna, her sister Katherine, and her sister’s friend Katherine who were visiting Paris for the weekend (yes, that wasn’t a mistake, there were really 3 Katherine’s). It was so much fun to explore more of Paris and eat delicious falafel and chocolate.

My mom and a friend visited me in France last week and it was so good to see them!

Stay tuned for more updates and photos :)


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Expedition in Lake Nakuru

I spent the last week on an expedition in Lake Nakuru National Park. We started the 8-hour drive Sunday morning. We got to drive through different parts of Kenya, which I really enjoyed.  We drove around the outskirts of Nairobi (we took a route to avoid the city) and saw the city from afar. It was interesting to see a different landscape of the country, and to see bustling cities, since we spend so much time in the middle of the bush.

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The ultimate bird-watching geek, Keenan

Five minutes after entering the gates of the park, we spotted a leopard. The first car saw the leopard in a tree, but by the time we got there it had hopped down and was walking through the grass. I caught a quick glimpse of it. Amazing. Our camp was a fenced in area at the end of the park. Hundreds of buffalo stood just outside of our camp grazing all day and night. At camp the girls were split up into 2 rooms. The rooms were huge with about 15 bunk beds squished inside of them. 13 girls in one room for 5 nights. It sounds like a horror movie, but it worked out really well. Meanwhile, the boys had it easy with one room of two and another room of three.

On the first day we had a traveling lecture for Wildlife Ecology throughout the park in the land cruisers learning about the invasive plant species in the park. We also learned about how Lake Nakuru is the only national park in Kenya to be completely fenced. It’s positive because it helps to conserve the wildlife, but it also has negative effects such as overgrazing of vegetation by animals. In the afternoon we did a game drive and saw 5 FEMALE LIONS taking a little catnap under a tree. About 10 feet away from them was their dinner, a half eaten warthog. We ended the day at a lookout point over Lake Nakuru.

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One day we had a lecture at the top of a lookout point. It gave us an incredible view of the entire lake and made it hard to pay attention. Classic Africa. Anyway, as we were about to leave everyone was in the cars except Clare and I. I was taking pictures of something about 10 feet away from Clare, and she was standing outside her car eating a banana. This huge baboon climbed over a nearby fence and lunged at Clare, trying to grab her banana. You know those situations that happen so quickly and you have so many things you want to say or do to help but you just stand there helplessly and scream? That’s what I did. She wacked the baboon off of her with her arm and ran away. She’s totally fine but got a little scratch in the process. She didn’t get her rabies shot before coming her, so as a precaution she went to Nairobi to get the appropriate booster shots. However, Kenya doesn’t have them so she had to fly to South Africa to get them. Clare is okay though, just taking precautionary measures.

Without getting too detailed, each day we had some kind of field exercise in the park and in the afternoon we had game drives.  AKA the whole day was just one long game drive each day. It doesn’t get much better than that. We saw tons of giraffes in Lake Nakuru, which I was very happy about. One day we even got lucky enough to see two giraffes fighting. If you have never seen this before, youtube it. It is a strange and quite hilarious series of events.

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Vervet monkeys

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The Defassa waterbuck, Professor Shem Mwasi’s favorite animal. He once tranquilized one and then cuddled it. “The worst part about cuddling a tranquilized animal is that it doesn’t know its being cuddled”

Lake Nakuru is known as a rhino sanctuary and we saw plenty of awesome rhinos. One day we were had an exercise that required us to do 20-minute observations of every zebra and rhino that we passed. I was looking through my binoculars and saw a long pink string hanging from the rhino. I asked my professor, Shem, what it was and he told us that the rhino had started her birthing process and that was the placenta coming out of her. We wanted to wait around to watch the birth, but Shem said that it would take all day and probably into the night. We saw her around 10 am….God bless that poor Rhino mama. More power to her. We went back later that day to see if she had made any progress but she hadn’t. She was playing around in the mud though and making some strange vocalizations with the other rhinos.

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More lion stories! One day we spotted 3 female lions and 2 male lions lying together in the grass. We got to watch two of them mate! The next day we spotted 4 female lions hanging out on some rocks, and got pretty close to them. They saw something they liked across the road and walked right past our car on their way to investigate. Its times like those where afterwards you stop and turn to everyone in the car and say “Whoa. That actually just happened”. We got to see them stalk some zebra. They didn’t make any attacks, but got into their hunting positions, which was still just as cool.

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Another time it was a beautiful late evening right before a rain. There was a double rainbow in the sky and we spotted a momma with her two cubs. I like to call this one “Play with me mom!”

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Then on the way home our driver took a quick detour without telling us where we were going. All of a sudden there was a huge male lion about 15 feet away from us, sitting alone on a rock. It was raining but we popped open the hatches of the car and watched him in awe.

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Okay, also, something weird happened. One morning I walked into the kitchen the crazy chef Arthur was wearing and Elon sweatshirt. He SWEARS that he didn’t get it from a previous student. His story is that he bought it at a second hand shop in Nairobi, where he lives. I don’t know what to believe, so it will remain one of the many mysteries of the world. Regardless, I was over the moon happy to see some Elon pride in Africa.

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Expedition was an amazing time. We spent all day in the park and every night by the campfire playing games and having our professors tell us crazy stories about their lives. I really can’t wait for our next expedition in Serengeti.

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Now we’re back at KBC. I’m happy – I missed home while we were gone! I missed seeing Kili everyday and I missed my elephants. There are no elephants at Lake Nakuru. But the downfall of being back home means that its exam week. We have two exams on Thursday and one on Friday. Then we have a few days to relax and we’re off to Tanzania exactly one week from today on the 25th!

Also, my collection of animal selfies continues to grow, which makes me immensely happy. Feast your eyes on this beauty with some lions in the background.

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Mambo Freshi

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I ate a KitKat the other night. I think my mouth melted with joy. That’s all. Happy March!


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DDay & Balls For Dinner

Hello, world! So much has happened in the past week.

Last Wednesday we had our second Non-Program Day (our second day off here).  We had the option to beading and make bracelets with Mamas or spend some time with Maasai warriors. I chose the warriors and we started the morning going on a walk outside of the camp. They pointed out different plants and the different purposes they serve. One of them you pull of a stem, bite the end of it till it becomes soft and bristly and you use it to brush your teeth. Its amazing how resourceful they are with every part of the land.

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Maasai warrior

Then we did some spear throwing. Spear throwing is really big among the men in Masaai culture. Sometimes they may have to spear a lion to protect themselves, other times they just play around and can see who can throw the farthest (boys will be boys). The warriors had a good time laughing at all of us trying to throw.

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Marni and I throwing spears

Then they danced and sang for us. The men with long hair like to flip all of their hair around while dancing, so I jumped in and joined the fun.

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In the afternoon we went to a super touristy lodge right near Amboseli National Park (where we’ve done research). It was super nice, with a big beautiful pool. We all relaxed, got some local beer, played in the pool and took funny GoPro videos underwater. Our entire group felt sad that that is the only experience and impression of Africa many people get.

On Thursday we spent all day processing the data we collected for the census in Amboseli. In the evening our wonderful wonderful center director, Okello, threw us a goat slaughtering. We missed the actual slaughtering part because we were in class, but we got there while they were skinning it. I got to help skin it. I don’t know how I feel about it, but I couldn’t say no to the experience. Everyone went back to class but Marni and I stayed back to Okello. He was telling us about how some locals consider raw goat kidney a delicacy and love to eat it. Basically I would say he was egging us on. So Marni and I both went for it. It wasn’t that bad – it tasted salty and fresh. Picture proof:

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Then after class ended we went back to the goat roast and sat around the fire while it was roasting. The tradition of a goat roast is that the youngest male in the group has to eat the goat testicles. But the girls weren’t satisfied that – we wanted to try it to! So I am now proud to say I have not only eaten a raw goat kidney, but goat balls as well.

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Friday we went to the Kimana Wildlife Sanctuary to identify different animals based on their tracks and dung. We walked around on foot, and got pretty close to some zebras. I proclaimed this day as D-Day aka Dung Day. We had worksheets with images of all different types of mammal poop (spoiler alert, they all look the same. Thankfully we had a guide there to help us). I’d like to think I’m an expert on poop now.

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Saturday was community service day, and we visited a primary school in Kimana. My group taught English to class seven, which were 14 year olds. They were so excited that we were there, which felt pretty awesome. After class we set the camera up on self timer and took a goofy picture.

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For the rest of the afternoon we ran around with them, danced, played soccer and took LOTS of pictures. All of the girls were amused with the American girls hair. They all have buzzed haircuts, and they thought our hair was “beaaaauutiful” and loved braiding it. We told them they THEY are the ones with beautiful hair.

My friend Peter and I had a really awesome talk with one of the teachers at the school. For anyone who doesn’t know, TOMS is a shoe company who donates a pair of shoes to a child in need every time you purchase a pair. Peter and I noticed that a ton of kids at the primary school were running around with TOMS on, so we asked a teacher about it. He explained that once a year they get a shipment of TOMS shoes for all the kids at the school and that it really helps them out, because most kids there can’t afford shoes. He said that all primary schools in Kenya receive them once a year, but he said this as if he was a little unsure. Regardless this was pretty amazing, because I’ve known about TOMS for years but have never gotten to visit somewhere where they are donated.

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I’ve had my reservations about TOMS shoes in the past. For example, when they come into a local town and donate hundreds of shoes, the local cobblers are then totally out of business. That not only hurts the cobblers but also the local economy. I asked the teacher is this hurts the local cobblers business. He said that none of the kids can afford shoes from the cobbler anyway, and when their TOMS get holes in them they take them to the cobbler, so the cobbler still gets business. He explained that he was EXTREMELY thankful to TOMS shoes, because kids can’t attend school without shoes.

Last night a bunch of my friends and I posted on the couch, set up my computer on a chair across from us, and watched the entire Beyonce visual album. Claire (fellow Beyonce adorer) and I dropped all of our Bey knowledge on them. I loved how into it everyone was. I also gave one of my professors a few Beyonce songs and he said he actually likes them. I have successfully convereted a Kenyan into a Beyonce fan.  In exchange for the Beyonce songs he gave me two “music videos” that he was in the background of. Gold. Pure gold.

Today we had a field lecture on top of the most beautiful hill. The sky was clear and we had a perfect view of Kilimanjaro, as well as all the hills, homes and goats down below. We set up our chairs, sat under the sun and listened to our professor. This is how class should always be. Tomorrow we are doing our Kenyan homestay and I CAN’T WAIT.

All in all, 3 weeks in and I’m a happy happy happy gal.


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Amboseli Part 2

On Saturday, we went back to Amboseli National Park to do the animal census for the Kenya Wildlife Service. We saw a bunch of animals, but I’m devoting this post to one animal in particular.

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These pictures were taken on our drive to the park. The car is on the left of the picture, showing you just how close we were to the elephant.

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Emily, Mary and I popped through the top of a Land Cruiser

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Here, I’ll throw in a picture of two ostriches.

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I keep telling the drivers that my dad taught me how to drive stick, and that I can drive us around in the Land Cruisers. It hasn’t worked yet, but I’m gonna keep trying and I’ll keep ya posted.

Do you think I like elephants?


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Ninakupenda

Happy late Valentines Day! Ninakupenda means ‘I love you’ in Swahili.

The first week we got here, the SAM (student affairs manager) said that we could form committees if we wanted to. Some students started a coffee committee and bought local Kenyan coffee to brew for breakfast. Emily and I created the Sunshine Committee (shout out to EK), to keep up positive moral around camp. Em and I organized a secret Valentines Day exchange. We wrote names and put them in a bowl, and made everyone pick a secret Valentine.

Surprisingly, everyone has gotten really into it. Everyone has made cards for their secret Valentine and left them in each other mailboxes, and a lot of people put money in the duka (store) under their Valentines name so that their Valentine could buy a chocolate bar or soda or something.

My Valentine left me an adorable card in my mailbox and an avocado that they must have gotten from the chefs. I luv me sum avocado.

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Even though they don’t really celebrate in Kenya, the crazy chef Arthur put flowers in his chef hat this morning to “be Valentines-y”. Adorable.

 


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Foot Pop

Yesterday was our first day of fieldwork! We were all so excited to go on our first safari in Amboseli National Park. It was pretty much all of my childhood dreams come true. I’m not gonna lie, I did tear up a few times.

It’s really wonderful and inspiring to be around people who are as big as animal geeks as I am. It’s nice having people to talk about my animal interests with. It’s not that my friends at home don’t care about hearing about my interests, but I’ve learned that its totally different and an amazing feeling to be with people who share the same enthusiasm.

So anyway we had to do a class exercise that required us to name the animal, count how many of them there were, determine their age class, determine their gender identify their habitat, and note their social behavior and the activity that they were participating in (like grazing, resting, running, etc). I’m still working on identifying gender and differentiating between similar species. A Tompsons Gazelle and a Grants Gazelle just look so stinkin similar to me. Also, this is the most scienc-y thing I have ever done in my life. I’m just a communications girl in a science world over here.

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 See, I’m science-y now.

We took the top hutches off the Land Cruisers and got to pop through the roof while driving around and doing our observations. It was straight out of National Geographic. I’ve never felt more cool in my life.

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Even before we got into Amboseli, we passed an elephant and some giraffes. Inside the park we saw SO many things. Elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, warthogs, hyena, hippos, gazelles, zebra, ostrich, buffalo and impala. I know have a newfound love for warthogs (or in Swahili ‘pumba’). They’re just so cute and ugly at the same time. They’re also super skiddish, and would run away like little cuties whenever we approached them. They’re pretty underrated, and I think that everyone/animal should have someone backing them up. So pumba, I’m here for you.

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My biggest regret thus far was not buying a zoom lens for my camera. Grrrr.

The counting was a lot more difficult than I expected. Most animals were hanging out in herds. One time we counted a herd of 98 wildebeest. The counting will continue tomorrow as we get to do THE COOLEST THING IN THE WORLD. Tomorrow we’re going BACK to the Amboseli National Park and will be counting mammals. Our research will add to the Kenya Wildlife Services census. The work that we do will be contributing to a GOVERNMENTAL CENSUS of animals in the park. It’s wild.

You know in Princess Diaries when Princess Mia is obsessed with the idea of a perfect first kiss? She says that according to the movies, all of the best first kisses are so good that your foot naturally pops. Then when she gets her first kiss her foot pops but gets tangled in nets because she’s in some weird beach shack. Well, being in Amboseli yesterday felt like my foot pop moment.

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 Em & I

(I got some better pictures today in Amboseli. Will upload them sometime when I can get a strong enough internet connection)


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Mamas on Mamas

Yesterday (Feb 10) was my favorite day here yet. After our Swahili and Social Culture class we visited a boma. A boma is a local Masaai community that consists of a bunch of homes. Masaai women are called “mamas”. It doesn’t matter if they are ACTUALLY a mom or not. They wear beautiful fabric and tons of jewelry.

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When we got there they stood in a line and sang a song for us, then broke into Masaai dancing. This dancing consists of jumping up and down as high as they can. They started jumping towards us like jumping beans, grabbed our hands and had us jump around with them. It was really moving and wonderful that they were ready to accept us into their culture with open arms.

The Mamas have a strong connection with SFS. Since they live a 4 minute drive away, SFS always brings students there to see and experience the local culture. Mamas spend time beading, making jewelry and sewing fabric. When SFS comes it really means a lot to them, because they get to sell all the things they make, and in turn support their families. It is not common for a group of 30 people to come to their boma just to buy things, so this really supports the local community.

They all sat in a circle and laid out their little stations of goodies.

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As soon you as you walked up to one, they would start throwing necklaces around your neck or putting bracelets on your wrists. I bought some fabric from this Mama.

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The kids who live in the boma were standing far away, just staring at us. I don’t think they get to see white people a lot, and we really terrified some of them. I started saying ‘Hello, my name is Sarah’ in Sawhili to this little girl who was a solid 30 feet away from me. She immediately burst into tears and her brother had to carry her out of sight. Great. Also, everyone here is totally amused by the heard of white people that all travel together. When they see us, they scream “mzungu”, which means ‘white’.

Update on the sling shots: They have backfired on two of my friends, so Sam and Anna now have blisters on their hands. Meanwhile, the baboons are more in control as ever. But don’t worry about me, I know how to operate my weapons.

Other thoughts:
-I’m obsessed with my Swahili professor, Daniel. He thinks he can do Taekwondo. He lies all the time to try to trick us, so I tried to trick him and told him I have 7 kids. He said he’s a biologist and he can tell when people lie. I took that as a challenge, and made him play 5 rounds of two truths and a lie with me. He picked my lie out every. single. time.
-Playing soccer in Africa doesn’t make you better at the sport, but it does make it way more fun. Especially when the sun is setting in the horizon.
-Everything is a lot bigger and a lot more beautiful here. The bugs all seem oversized. Like they were put in that machine from “Honey I Blew Up the Baby”. Slugs, caterpillars, beetles, you name it.
-We are encouraged to write down food suggestions in a box for the chefs. I was going to write tacos. I didn’t even have to, we’ve had tacos TWICE since we’ve been here. BOO YAH. Then when I was on cook crew I told the chefs we should have pizza. Arthur, the chef, said he didn’t know how to make pizza. The next night for dinner we had pizza. They are wonderful. And crazy.


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Jambo!

Disclaimer: This was supposed to be posted Feb. 7th, but East African Internet did not allow that to happen. I also wanted to upload a lot more pictures, but it was IMPOSSIBLE. I tried probably 30 times.

Today was my first full day in Kenya at the Kilimanjaro Bush Camp (aka where we live). We landed two nights ago around 9 at Kilimanjaro International Airport and a wonderful wonderful mane named Moses from SFS was there to pick us up.

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This is Moses at the duka (‘shop’ in Swahili), which is located in the chumba (‘room’ in Swahili). The duka is Moses’ baby. He’s the one who works it. They sell snacks, chocolate, soda, shirts, all kinds of little things.
This time I had no help carrying my bags, so I wore my backpacking backpack on my back, my daypack on my front, my duffle bag over my left shoulder and pulled my huge rolley bag with my right hand.  I’m surprised I didn’t topple over. We drove to a hotel in Moshi, Tanzania for the night. When I woke up in the morning, THIS was my view. Un. Real.

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We got up early and drove to the field station in Kenya. We were driving between 8 and 11 am, so it wasn’t 100000000% degrees outside. I noticed that everyone walking on the side of the road was wearing huge puffy jackets, or fleece. If its 80 degrees outside is everyone cold since they’re so used to the scorching heat? Moses was wearing a fleece and I asked him if he was hot in it. His only explanation was “I’m getting there”. Such a way with words that Moses. Besides the wearing a coat in 80 degree weather thing, a lot of the landscape and wild goats/cows wandering aimlessly reminded me so much of India.

We got to KBC and the other 25 students all welcomed us by holding their arms up over their heads like an arch and making us run through. The camp is so cool. There’s one big room, called the chumba (which means ‘room’ in Swahili), where we have class and eat all of our meals. Attached to one side of the chumba is the kitchen, and the library is on the other side. Then there are 10 bandas outside of the chumba in a semi-circle where we all live. I live with 2 other girls, Molly and Megan. We live in the banda called duma, which means cheetah. I learned to tuck in the mosquito net hanging above my bed under my mattress when I go to sleep so the bugs don’t get in.

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The entrance to the field station.

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These are all the bandas that we live in.

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My bed!

             A lot of things at the field station are kind of summer camp-y. We all wash our own dishes, and rotate being on cook crew. Cook crew gets to the kitchen at 6:20 am (!!!!!!!) to help the chefs cook breakfast. You’re supposed to flick a switch to turn on the hot water in the shower. There is no hot water. It’s a myth here.

Also, there are baboons that run around all of the field station. They think they own the place. They apparently will steal things from people and could sneak into our bandas if we don’t lock the doors. SFS is providing us with slingshots to defend ourselves against them. You think I’m kidding. I’m not.

Today all of our professors gave us little orientations about our classes. They’re all so hilarious and enthusiastic. We all have to pay extra attention while we’re getting used to their East African accents though. After orientation stuff a bunch of us went on a walk around the running trail that circles around the camp. It had just finished raining and Kilimanjaro was poking out of the clouds. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of Kili, so I’ll apologize in advance for all the pictures about her that are about to come.

Oh and today I learned that in Swahili that grandma and tomato are the same word. I don’t remember what the actual word is, but that’s not the important part. The important part is that you can say “My tomato got this shirt for me!”

Also I learned that all that singing in the beginning of the first scene of the Lion King, which sounds like nonsense (you know, “aaaahhhsimbetayaaahh”) ACTUALLY HAS MEANING TO IT. MIND. BLOWN.

It’s Zulu, a South African dialect. Here’s the translation. Enjoy.

Nants ingonyama bagithi baba — Here comes a lion, Father
Sithi uhm ingonyama — Oh yes, it’s a lion.
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba — Here comes a lion, Father
Sithi uhm ingonyama — Oh yes, it’s a lion.
Ingonyama — Lion
Siyo Nquoba — We’re going to conquer
Ingonyama — Lion
Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala — A lion and a leopard come to this open place.


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KEN-YA believe it?

My adventure is off to a shambly start, but I can’t say I would expect anything less.

I was supposed to fly out of Richmond to JFK yesterday, February 3rd. Apparently NYC decided that would be a good time to snow everyone in, and very few planes were flying into the city. My flight got cancelled. My mom and I (meaning my mom – thanks Momma) tried to find a way for me to get out of the country. We tried seeing if I could fly through ATL, but all flights were booked. I’M STUCK IN AMERICA.

Alas, now I am taking all of the same flights just 24 hours later. Heres my itinerary:

Richmond (12:30 pm) — New York (1:56 pm)
New York (5:55 pm) — Amsterdam (7:20 am)
Amsterdam (10:15 am) — Kilimanjaro (8:50 pm)

You can do the math for the amount of time I’ll be traveling, because I don’t think I want to know.

The extensive packing list for this trip required a lot of large every day items, such as sheets, a pillow, a sleeping bag and rain boots, but also obscure things like a headlamp and Tupperware. I (again I mean my mom and I — mostly my mom) crammed all of this stuff into 4 bags. FOUR. BAGS.

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I’m just ready to get there and start living my life as the real live Eliza Thornberry.
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