Post CFSIA: Ending Where It Began

I’m writing this from the Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi as I drink a very expensive bottle of water (hopefully the last bottled water I’ll be buying for a long time). I’ve been here for 6 hours and I still have 3 more to go until my flight leaves for Paris, and I admit I’m going a little stir-crazy.

Liam and I got a bus from Lusaka to Kapiri Mposhi no problem on the 21st, and managed to buy American dollars for our visas back into Tanzania before getting on the train. 24 hours to Mbeya felt very short in comparison with the 50 hours we had spent going the other way, and we made friends with a couple of guys from the Peace Corps whom Liam was sharing a compartment with. Once we got to Mbeya we walked into town and found a cheap hotel right across from the bus station, the Millenium Inn. Our plan had been to go to Dodoma and then Arusha and then Nairobi, but we decided to stay an extra day in Mbeya instead and then bus to Moshi all in one shot and go to Nairobi from there.

The extra day in Mbeya was a good idea. We ate pastries for breakfast, went to the bank and the Internet cafe, bought our bus tickets, and stocked up on snacks. As a side note, we had dinner at a pizza place and ordered fruit salad with ice cream for dessert. The ice cream was great, but the “fruit” salad consisted of… carrots and cucumbers. Only in Africa 😛 it was surprisingly not bad. The one thing that marred our time in Mbeya was that I tripped and fell into a drainage ditch in the dark, badly scraping my elbow and knee and wrenching my ankle in the process. Luckily my ankle wasn’t sprained and now I’m just dealing with the slightly troublesome (ie. potentially infected) knee scrape.

We thought that was the end of our misfortunes. But no, there was more to come. The day before yesterday we got on our bus to Moshi at 5:30 am and left Mbeya. At some point in the early hours of that 18 hour bus ride, someone stole Liam’s bag out of the overhead compartment while we were sleeping. Along with books, money, the memory cards the thieves in Dar kindly let him take back, and a few other random things, his passport was in that bag.

We got to Moshi at midnight, exhausted, stressed, angry, and in disbelief. There was nothing we could do that night so we went back to the Golden View hotel we had stayed in before and went to bed. The next day we filed yet another police report and Liam called the American embassy in Dar es Salaam. Today at 6 am when I got on a bus bound for Nairobi, Liam got on one bound for Dar, where we swore we’d never return to, but where he’ll be able to go to the embassy tomorrow and maybe get a new passport in time for his flight to join me in Paris in two days (our flights were always two days apart because my passport expiry date means that I can’t leave Africa after the 27th and so when I changed my original flights this was the closest I could get to match his). There’s a good chance the process might take longer and so I’m not sure how long I’ll be alone in Europe for, but I’m taking it one step at a time.

So here I am in Nairobi once again, where this whole African adventure started. I still have a lot of mental processing to do but this is what I just posted as my Facebook status:

“Over the past three and a half months, I have done zero loads of laundry in a washing machine. I have had zero drinks from Starbucks and have gone to see zero movies in a movie theatre. I got mugged, bashed myself up by falling in a drainage ditch, and had to go to a police station yet again when my travel partner’s passport got stolen. I haven’t been able to walk down a street without getting pointed at or yelled at and probably have had to use the ground just as often as I have had the luxury of using actual toilets (and the highest luxury of toilet paper).

But also during the past three and a half months, I saw four of the Big Five, climbed the world’s highest free-standing mountain, visited one of the seven natural wonders of the world, went to the source of the world’s longest river, milked a cow for the first time, swam with dolphins, watched a goat be slaughtered and ate a piece of it, got used to hyenas calling at night and chickens on public transport, slept on a cowhide bed in a mud hut, put a new language to use, crossed a country by train over two days, studied human-wildlife conflict in its most relevant context, took a course way out of my comfort zone (anthropology), wrote exams on the beach…

But even more importantly, I have learned so much from an incredible culture and have had my perspectives changed on so many things. I have experienced the kindness and generosity of strangers even in the most harsh and desperate of situations, and have met amazing people, some whom I’ll see back at McGill and some whom I’ll likely never see again.

These have been some of the best and hardest times of my life, and this has been by far the most meaningful semester of my university career. Thank you, Africa. Leaving is bittersweet. Now briefly to Europe, then home!”

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