On the Road Again!

(…or should I say “in the air”?)

Well, the time has finally come. Tomorrow morning we are leaving our Youth Hostel in Geneva, Switzerland at the dreaded hour of 6am to head to the airport. From here we fly to Munich, then to Philadelphia, and finally I will be arriving in Pittsburgh at 6:30pm tomorrow. It looks like my NINE country (Belgium, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and France) tour of the world has come to an end.

The past two weeks in Europe have been… let’s face it, much harder than expected. I was ready for culture shock, but not to such an extreme level. It seemed that all of my friends changed, life became 10 times more expensive, and food became 100 times richer. I had mental break downs on a daily basis, diarrhea at the Pope’s summer palace, and allergy attacks from pollen overload.

Reflecting back on it, I think the roughest part of all was the fact that I changed. The place I once fit in life didn’t seem to exist anymore. In addition to that, it seemed that no one really wanted to hear my Tanzania stories. In reality, touring a medieval German castle wasn’t the best time to explain that all of the ivory being shown was a product of colonizing slave labor in Africa, and maybe speaking Swahili while others were trying to learn German/Italian was a bit confusing too.  Somehow, over the past two weeks, I’ve pushed through these struggles, attempted to find my place and tried my damnedest to enjoy Europe.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved getting my science-nerd on in Europe at sites like the Vatican Observatory, Munich’s Paleontology Museum, the Einstein Museum in Bern, and CERN. Instead of just learning the “history of science” I got to take a physical tour of where these people lived; and for me especially, the added “influence of religion” was all the more fascinating. We saw beautiful cathedrals of all shapes and sizes, each of which took my breath away for different reasons.

Today, we went on a tour of the Gruyere Cheese Factory and Castle. I went off on my own for some time, sat in the palace gardens, and just contemplated life… These past three and a half months have been so challenging, yet I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I have grown an astronomical amount as a person, and I view my new found speculation and appreciation for things in this world as a treasure. I may not know where I want to be five years from now, next year, or even this upcoming fall semester, but that’s okay. I am nineteen years old. Theoretically I have a lifetime ahead of me to make decisions, mess up, and start all over on various paths. Instead of making a “new life plan” on a daily basis, I just need to go with the flow and make sure that I am happy. I realize that certain situations call for a serious attitude, but in general, I just want to enjoy life. I have no idea what the future holds, but for me that is all the more reason to strive for everyday happiness and general peace with my life.

In case any one was wondering, after my much anticipated two weeks home this summer, I head up to Camp Lutherlyn. Have I mentioned that this is one of my favorite places in the entire world?! Going off of my “enjoy every moment” theme for life, I will be working as the Crafts Director all summer! Yes getting a research lab position or hospital shadowing experience could be beneficial to my future, but for some reason I cannot allow myself to do that. I want to spend my summer outside in nature, enjoying the beautiful creation God has provided for us, and empowering youth to do the same. Who knows where I will end up next, but in my mind, anything is a possibility.

My view of the Swiss Alps as I contemplated life…


Kuku, we’re not in Kayanga anymore!

I have no idea how to wrap up the end of my experience in Tanzania. Partially I think it is because so much happened in the past ten days that a summary cannot begin to do my memories justice. In addition to that however, writing one final blog about Tanzania means that my time there has really come to an end. I’m just… not ready for any of this.


The yellow line highlights my trip from Karagwe to Dar.

After leaving Kayanga two weeks ago, we drove straight to Bukoba. From there we took an overnight ferry with 1,000,000+ bananas to Mwanza.


Arriving in Mwanza the next morning, we got picked up by our safari guides and headed to the Serengeti National Park. We spent an entire day bouncing around in our safari vehicle searching for animals. That night, we camped in the middle of the park. (TALK ABOUT TERRIFYING!)




The next day we drove out of the park and headed for Arusha. On our way through the Ngorongoro Crater, we drove right through the great wilder-beast migration. They were in packs as far as I could see, and my guide said millions of this species participate in this cycle every year.


The next two days in Arusha, we wondered the city and shopped in various tourist markets. Eventually I got sick of the high prices these merchants were giving the wazungu, so me and a friend headed to the real Arusha market were locals shop. Squishing through the tight streets packed with fruit and food, this big city market gave us a better feeling of being back in Kayanga. We joked with vendors, bargained prices down, and gained the respect of locals. At the end of our stay in Arusha, we traveled by plane to Zanzibar.


I know I have mentioned it in a few of my blogs, but I feel the repetition is necessary here. It is currently the rainy season in Tanzania!!! This means that Zanzibar basically had no tourists or sun.  Literally our Zanzibar paradise was one giant puddle. We didn’t, however, let this ruin our time. During the rain we went snorkeling over a reef, dolphin watching in the choppy sea, and took a tour of a spice farm.


After a few days in our secluded resort, we headed into Stonetown. The city is a crowded jumble of tall buildings and narrow alleyways.  We made friends, haggled for spices and got ridiculously lost! In the spice market, I had 5+ vendors watching as I haggled for a price, and they laughed at their fellow merchant who didn’t know how to handle my stubborn, Swahili proficiency!


Our last location was Dar es Salaam. We got there via the worst, most choppy ferry ride ever! Literally half of the people on the boat were puking!


In Dar I got the opportunity to visit a disability clinic called CCBRT.  This facility offers free services to children with clubbed feet, mothers with fistula, and people with vision problems. This clinic holds a special place in my heart because some of the patients are from Karagwe; they heard about these services via the volunteer work of one of my peers! It was a great wrap-up for my time in Tanzania to realize that our time spent in Karagwe really meant something to the people we encountered. Though we didn’t come and change the world, the things I have learn and experienced mean the world to me.


As my plane neared the Zurich runway, I looked out at the Switzerland landscape and thought to myself, “Kuku, we’re not in Kayanga anymore!” After crying a bit over one journey’s  end and laughing at my Wizard of Oz (Tanzanian style) reference, I realized that I’m about to start something  new and fantastic.  At this point in time, I have arrived at the Italian Campus safely, and I anticipate meeting my science group this afternoon.  

During my past 24 hours alone, I have come to this revelation: You can take the girl out of Africa, but you can’t take the African out of the girl.


This was me hand washing my clothes in the sink at the Duquesne Italian Campus.

Kwa Heri Kayanga

(Goodbye Kayanga)

My semester in Tanzania has been unlike any study abroad program I have ever heard of. Most people go to European counties with big metropolitan cities to see where their ancestors came from or to join a more “ethnic” and “sophisticated” society. These programs include attending a local university and experiencing classes taught at a different level. For me, that type of trip didn’t make any sense. I have no desire to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars in a foreign class room to take the same notes I could be learning at home. My desire to go to Tanzania was deeper than that. I wanted to immerse myself in a culture, to see a developing community at work, and to see how modernization and different aid works played a role. In the matter of a two hour conversation in the downtown Pittsburgh Amizade office, I was coerced to take that chance, to step out of the stereotypical biochemistry major “life-plan”, and to journey to a country far different than my own.

My journey started with months of anticipation, packing, and questions unknown. I knew virtually no one that had traveled to this side of the world and got much of my advice from Goggle. The internet told me to be afraid of parasitic diseases, to bring lots of anti-diarrheal medicine and most of all to pack lots of sunscreen. All of these answers were great, but was I really prepared? When I began my 24 hour journey from Pittsburgh to DC to Belgium to Uganda, I did not know what to expect and left my mind open to all possibilities. I was afraid of the unknown, sad to be leaving my family, and excited for the potential of adventures to follow. If I had only known what I was really getting myself into…

My time in Karagwe started with an 8 hour bumpy, Land Rover ride from Entebbe, Uganda to Kayanga, Tanzania. After passing board control our paved road was gone and the rocky Tanzanian wilderness awaited us. One of my first impressions of my new home was that living on top of a mountain hours from a major city left us very remote. How would I ever communicate with people back home? I had to sleep under a mosquito net and squat to use the bathroom. Was this real life?

The next two and a half months consisted of me making friends, learning to communicate in Swahili, becoming accustomed to local foods, and getting to know Nyakahanga Hospital. No amount of pictures, journal entries, or oral stories will be able to explain my time spent here. I have had some of the highest of highs (like dancing under the stars on a naked mountain, a 2 hours walk from the closest village) and the lowest of lows (like cry in bed for days when the death of a friend occurred and I had no family to lean on).

My mom recently asked me in an email, “Had you known everything you would have experienced, do you think you would have chosen this trip?” It took me a while to think about, but my final answer was no. Six months ago any of my crazy stories would have scared me half to death; I would have questioned my abilities and inevitably doubted my strengths. Thankfully, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This has been the biggest adventure of my life so far, and I still have a month before it ends.

I thank God every night for the opportunities that he has given me, to step outside of my comfort zone and to see how a different part of the world live. Looking back on my initial fears and research, I’ve found that nothing can truly prepare you for adventure like mine. Parasitic diseases?! No big deal, I basically swam in Bilharzia and had mdudu (bugs) living in my toes for a week. Diarrea? What better place to have it than a groggy 3am morning squatting over a hole in the ground?! And sunscreen? I don’t think I’ve used it yet. Why didn’t someone tell me how cold Africa was?! Living in the mountains during the rainy season, we can go days without seeing the sun.

I guess the moral to this story is that life is about living. Sure you can stay in your nice, warm comfort zone all of your life, but what will you have gained from it? Instead, I hope to keep this new found empowerment within me and to continue to push myself toward more unknown advances in the future. A friend recently sent me a letter and attached this verse to the end, “Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” No matter what path I take in life, which will definitely be influenced by my time here in Karagwe, I am going to choose to live by faith and not by fear.

My time here in Karagwe has officially come to an end; we head out on safari tomorrow. I must say goodbye to this home and the family I have created here in order to start a new leg of my journey. In all hopes I will post another blog from Zanzibar retelling my crazy adventures that are bound to happen. However the reliability of the internet connection willing, you may not hear from me again until I arrive in Europe. If all other communication fails, we’ve got a date “History of Science and the Influence of Religion” class for the morning of May 6th where I anticipate meeting you all in the Vatican Square! Tutaonana karibu. (We will see each other soon.)


One of my last sunrises in Kayanga

The Maternity Ward

Well there it goes, my last week at the hospital. How did these past nine weeks fly by so fast? It seems like just yesterday I was introduced to the head matron and got a private, behind-the-scenes tour of the wards. And now look at me, walking around not getting lost, greeting the staff that I have worked with, and feeling like I finally fit in. Yes, patients still stare at the mzungu in the crazy lab coat, but who cares? I’ve made real friends here, and I’ve enjoyed learning from them.

Starting in the maternity ward was no easy task. I had to introduce myself to twenty new nurses, find the doctor in charge, and figure out what I wanted to see. On day one I decided doing rounds would be best. This way I could see all of the inpatient rooms and get a feel for the pace of work here. In room one, which was designated for women that had C-sections the previous day, I watched as the doctor applied clean dressing to numerous incisions. I learned that emergency C-sections are completed with a vertical incision creating an ugly stomach scar, while more laid-back surgeries use a horizontal cut low on the waist. Seven days after the surgery, the mothers must get their stitches removed. This procedure is done to patients staying in room two. I am not sure if the hospital only had thick sutures, or if they wider threaded is needed for such a large wound, but I watched as the doctor yanked these stiches from a mother’s stomach. She screamed and twitched in pain as the doctor aggressively had to yank these out of her stomach. In room three we visited a mother that had lost her child during labor. It was explained to me that every mother expects to lose at least one of her children this way, sometimes even many.

After room three, the doctor headed into what I thought was another patient recovery room. Boy was I wrong. Karibu (welcome to the) labor room! In here I found some students training to be midwives who were going over proper paper work procedures. Since I was too scared to go up the ramp and find the source of the ear-piercing screams that I was hearing, I decided to sit and learn with these students. For the rest of the afternoon, we discussed proper pre-labor check-up techniques, what to do for a mother in the first stage of labor, and the reasoning behind American super markets.   All in all, it was a great first day. I even learned the 4 P’s of obstructed labor (issues with… the Passage, the Passenger, Power asserted, and Physiological problems)!

Day two. Oh geez, was I ready for this? We started off in room one for rounds again. An HIV positive mother had just given birth, and the health status of her child was unknown. Due to the hospital’s lack of equipment, it could take up to 18 months to determine whether or not this child had HIV as well! After this, the doctor tricked me into the upper labor room by using a different door! Boasting over my knowledge on how to find a fetus’s heartbeat, the doctor left me alone with the patient to do so as he checked on someone else. Right as I found the beat and started timing it, a mother two beds down started screaming in agony. I looked down the row just enough to see a bloody head emerging from this woman. Holding back my vomit, I turned right around and hid behind the curtain! Many of the nurses laughed at me and tried to coerce me into joining them. Thankfully the head doctor said we were needed in another room, so we departed the scene!

This next room I jokingly named the “gaping wounds” room. If a C-section incision gets infected, it can reopen and cause a huge hole in the woman’s stomach. These holes must be rubbed raw to rid infection, dosed in iodine for cleanliness, and then smothered in honey to draw out the bacteria (Yes that’s right, I said honey… bee parts and all!). One mother in the room was in a motor traffic accident and was missing half of her heel (therefore qualifying here a bed in the “Gaping Wounds” Room). We cleaned this wound the same way, making sure to scrub out all of the green pus. By the end of these procedures, I was done for the day. I can only handle so much estrogen!!

As for day three (which happened to be my final day at the hospital), I walked around the maternity ward conversing with the friends and taking pictures (featured below). Though I wanted to learn more about what the ward had to offer, my time at Nyakahanga was up. It was more important for me today to visit my previous wards and say goodbye to all of my friends. I don’t know if I will ever find myself in Karagwe, Tanzania again, but this hospital and all of it’s’ staff have carved a special place in my heart. Using the same farewell given to me today by a friend, Nyakahanga “God bless you. We shall meet again if God wishes.”

A View of all the Ward

The Lower Labor Room

The Lower Labor Room



One of the recurrent questions I get when corresponding with people back home is, “What is the food in Tanzania like?!” Since I love talking about and eating food, here is a blog of just that!

BREAKFAST: At around 8am every morning, Eggbert walks around to the front of Misha with the food basket on his head. Always offering a “Habari ya asabuhi? Karibu chakula!” (How is your morning? Welcome to the food!), myself and the rest of the students rush down to our common room for breakfast. Once the table for 10 is set with dishes, cups, utensils, food in hot pots, thermos and any necessary condiments, we all sit down to eat. The food options brought vary with 3 to 5 choices at breakfast,  but the overall assortment is as follows: chai ya rangi au ya maziwa (plain tea or with milk), ugi (a thick porridge), chapati (a greasy burrito like wrap), chipsi miyai (eggs with French fries), chipsi ya mboga (eggs with vegetables), chipsi (French fries),sambusa (a meat filled pastry), keki (a banana flavored cake), popcorn, nanasi (pineapple), ndizi (bananas), papai (papaya), tunda ya passion (passion fruit), fanesi (jack-fruit), and maembe (mangos).

LUNCH: Once again Eggbert arrives with food, this time at 1:30pm. Taking the 15 to 20 minutes to just prepare the table, he asks me about the hospital and I inquire about Mama Roidgas (the restaurant where he makes our food in town).  At this meal we get 6 to 8 different choices, but the overall food options consist of wali (rice), ndizi (bananas this time cook with beans), ugali (a tough porridge), tamvi (noodles), chipsi (French fries), maharagwe (beans), pilau (a spicy rice mixture), viazi (potatoes),  kuku (chicken), ng’ombe (beef) , mbuzi ( goat), miyai (hard boiled eggs), mboga ya majani (cooked spinach and other greens), peanut sauce, fruit salad, a salad with vinegar dressing, popcorn, jusi (juice) and all of the fruit mentioned above.

DINNER: At around 7:30pm, we all once again congregate on the front porch awaiting Eggbert’s arrival with the food. Though always anticipating a new surprise fruit or special dish, we soon learn that dinner has exactly the same food choices as lunch. However, twice a week a few of the girls and I buy vegetables from the market, always resulting in an exciting adventure.  We find this to be a rewarding process by creating a salad and realizing how difficult it is to prepare food without a western-style kitchen.  We even make our own fresh-fruit dressing.

Considering we get basically the same food options daily, many of the students have taken to interesting food combinations. As a vegetarian, I have an even more limited food options that most. For this reason, I am best known for combining the most random things into a disgusting-looking yet extremely tasty mush.

This is a picture of a normal breakfast. Nothing too crazy, just a chapati with peanut butter, honey and bananas. I also had some cake and tea.

Lunch is when my options become more plentiful. On this day I combined cooked banana, spinach, beans, pineapple, and “spicy mouth” (aka: hot sauce). I also had an avocado flavored juice and a passion fruit! And don’t forget my malaria medicine for dessert!

This dinner is one in which we created ourselves. It is a salad with fresh cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, onion, carrots, pineapple and cucumber. The dressing was especially good that day being made out of passion fruit, mushed bananas, mango, and a hint of white wine.

Last but not least, my absolute favorite dinner meal to create! This mixture is of noodles, greens, and peanut sauce (usually an egg is added, but sadly we had none on this evening). I also had popcorn and fruit salad!

A Day in the Pediatric Ward

After my five weeks in the RCHC (Reproductive and Child Healthcare Clinic), I moved on to the pediatric ward (we’re I’ve been stationed for the past two weeks). Compared to the relaxed atmosphere of an out-patient clinic, the doctors and nurses in the pediatric ward seem to be very serious and busy every moment of the day. While there was plenty of time for things to be explained to be in the RCH, I’ve mainly taken the role of a silent observer these past few days in the pediatric ward. This past week however, things got so crazy that I had to jump in and help with rounds. Here’s a description of that day:

It’s a Wednesday morning at Nyakahanga Hospitali which means that hospital-wide cleaning has commenced and no work will be completed until everything is safi sana (very clean).   Once all of the beds have been scrubbed down, the floors washed, and any depleted supplied refilled, Dr. Grace and I start our rounds. First, we head into the private rooms to check on the “elite” hospital guests (aka: those individuals of any age that can afford their own rooms).  We check the status of a woman with Typhoid Fever, the blood pressure of a man awaiting surgery for his appendicitis, and the mental stability of a bibi (elderly woman) facing health complications in her old age. Once these patients have been seen individually, we head to the general rounds room.

In the pediatric ward, rounds are completed by the doctors staying in one common room and patients being called in for check-ups.  Since we have a lack of space, we cannot do bed-to-bed examinations given that there are 15+ beds to a room (which are designated for different issues – aka: the highly contagious diseases room, the diarrhea room, etc.). While Dr. Grace questions the mothers of the children about their current status, a nurse is near by writing a summation of the visit in her log. Instead of carrying 30 – 50 files around all day, this log is used for the knowledge of administering drugs and other treatment to the patients throughout the day.

On this particular day two emergency patients were rushed into the room. Both children were suffering from severe diarrhea and vomiting, and they needed immediate hydration salt IVs. Frantically running all around, the nurse in charge of the log book instructed me on how to find the information in a patients folder and fill out the columns properly (i.e.: name, sex, diagnosis at admission, and today’s health plan) for the book. She then left me alone with the doctor and our patients for the day so that she could aid these time-sensitive situations.

Though all hospital notes are supposedly written in English, I found it quite difficult to decipher the doctor’s hand-writing. All morning I was paranoid by the possibility of writing down the incorrect milliliters for a medicine or confusing the treatment of two patients. By the end of our 3 hours rounds period, we had seen and diagnosed 34 children. The main issues that we encountered were pneumonia, severe diarrhea, and acute malaria.  And to my excitement, most of the treatment plans for today were “Continue with Rx”, meaning I did not have to worry about my literary mistakes negatively effecting sick children.

Though my shadowing for the day was completed at this point, the nurses were only now about to start doing their room rounds to actually hand out drugs. To me, it’s been crazy to encounter the sites seen in the pediatric ward. Just on this day, one of the children I mentioned had to get an IV in their head because all of her other veins could not be found.  I am so thankful for the experience and understand I am gaining during my stay at the hospital. Although each day is filled with new tragedies to see, I am also overwhelmed by the amount of love and support administered.

Patient Files

The Rounds Room

The Search for Diamond

All throughout intermediate and high school, I considered myself a concert rat. At least once a month my friends and I would head down to Mr. Smalls or Club Diesel, usually being the youngest people in the crowd, to see one of the many bands we were infatuated with. These venues usually consisted of shoving crowds, mosh-pits, and crowd surfers. I’ve had my fair share of crazy adventures to faraway shows and completely ridiculous happenings, but none of these memories compare to our recent quest for Tanzania Bongo-Flavor Pop-Sensation: Diamond!

We packed up our bags early Sunday morning and hiked into town at 5:15 am to catch our Bunda bus (like Coach but much more crowded) to Bukoba. After arriving, we headed to the Lake Victoria beach front where we set up our lodging.  Given my life-long fear of large bodies of water, I would have never thought that I’d sleep on a beach under a tarp only 20 feet from the water’s edge, but this was camp.   Once our things were situated, it was time to head into town and to investigate the night’s entertainment.

Arriving at the night club at 10am, the doorman informed us that tickets would not go on sale until later that day; however, we haggled with him to reserve tickets for the evening in fear that the venue would sell out (note the sketchiness of the hand written ticket featured below). He told us to arrive back at the club by 6pm for the start of the show, but this is Africa. We knew that things wouldn’t be starting until at least 8pm, meaning Diamond wouldn’t be showing up until 10pm or later.

We spent the rest of the morning and afternoon walking around Bukoba in the pouring rain inquiring about the current location of Diamond. We attempted to find his posse in hopes of meeting him in person, but no one knew any specific details. Instead, we spent our free time eating ice cream (which is virtually extinct in Kayanga), impressing the locals with our knowledge of Kihiya (the local tribal language), and making friends in the city’s Maasai compound.

Around 10:30 pm, after an extremely belated dinner, we headed to the club. In the outdoor arena there were at least 200 lawn chairs arranged to watch a stage where what seemed like a dance competition was taking place. As the time went on and each dancer got to show their moves, the MC for the evening did a crowd vote to crown a winner for the event. It was just like being on a reality tv show!

Only 4.5 hours late, Diamond finally decided to show up! This cocky, egotistical attitude is common in bongo flavored entertainment. He was clearly lip-singing, but the crazy dance moves that he and his back-up dancers were doing almost made up for that letdown. It was so odd to see random members of the crowd rushing onto the stage to get a picture, give money to or dance with Diamond for just a second. Eventually a dance party was created in front of the stage and everyone joined together to dance in unison to “Moyo Wangu) (my heart – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8AcwGOV_ds).Try to picture me mouthing unintelligible syllables while dancing uncoordinated steps, in the mist of die-hard fans singing at the tops of their lungs and dancing perfectly in unison.

By the end of the show, I was beat. The end of the concert left me in a confused state of not knowing how celebrities in a developing country are supposed to act.  Are they supposed to be charitable donors to poverty stricken communities or is their music which brings happiness enough? How can they get away with charging 10,000 TSH (apprx. $6.25) a ticket, when most people live off of 1,600 TSh ($1) a day? I don’t know enough about this major economic income gap to comment further; however, I will be keeping my eyes open to learn more in the future. Regardless of my inner moral debate, the show was a one-of-a-kind cultural experience whose memories I will highly treasure.

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