A collection of journal entries of two students from the University of Western Ontario, Dallas Curow (June-August 2005) and Jonathan Birinyi (June 2005-April 2006). Feel free to read and explore their journey working on the Western Heads East probiotic yogurt nutriontal project in Mwanza, Tanzania, Africa.


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My last full month in Mwanza was filled with quite a few adventures along with some major developments with the project. This included getting some head-way building the community kitchen and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

To start off the month, on the first of October Rita and I were walking to take a swim in the Mwanza pool when we (oddly) bumped into a former Kivulini employee Michael. He worked for the organization for over two years and lived in the same apartment as the WHE interns up to December 04. We had never met the Swiss-born psychologist before this day, but we recognized him immediately from pictures we had seen. Apparently he had decided to visit Tanzania for a couple weeks to see old friends and colleagues. Throughout his stay, Michael and I talked quite a bit on how much Mwanza has changed over the last few years. For example, he said that the condition of the roads had improved drastically. Before the (main streets) were paved, the pothole-ridden roads were a nightmare to drive on, especially for long distances. Apparently it took about 3 hours to reach the airport to what is now about a 20 minute drive. I was also interested to know that there was a river running through the street right by our apartment. He said that unsuspecting pedestrians would often fall in the water.
Later that week, Rita and I decided to throw a small dinner party for Michael, Lori (see previous posting) and the Kivulini coordinator, Maimuna. It was a special treat to see that Michael brought a fondue set complete with authentic Swiss-manufactured cheese. It had been a while since I had good cheese and needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Rita on the other hand was diagnosed with Giardia (a nasty stomach bug) earlier that day and couldn’t appreciate dinner as much as she would have hoped!

As previously mentioned, there was some significant work done with the community kitchen construction in Mabatini. We managed to install an outside water tap as well as construction of the floor, door, windows, roof and electricity within a two week period. Taking part in all of this seemed at times to be an adventure in itself; I’m not terribly knowledgeable regarding building construction which always made me weary of what and how much I was being charged for.
The process for most of the construction coordination involved seeing the Mabatini secretary (a street leader), who would then give me a list of items involved in the construction of a particular thing. For example, the electricity list included things like wires, grounding rods, sockets, fuse panels, and (always) labour. I usually go over this list with a Kivulini employee, Mkono (lit. in Swahili ‘hand’) who you could say is a “handy”man (haha, sorry). He would tell me if something was either too expensive or unnecessary and suggest a price change accordingly. Most of the times, I gave the money directly to him to deliver to the appropriate “fundi” (Swahili term for labourer). For a few items, I would play a more active role in actually purchasing and delivering equipment to the kitchen site. One rather lengthy item to obtain was the steel door for the outside of the building; it took about 6 hours from when we left Kivulini to when we dropped the door off in Mabatini.
Besides coordinating the community kitchen construction, the rest of my working time in October involved working on reports/attending workshops with Baluhya (preparing for funding requests) and scouting the situation for cow shelters
With the latter, I visited 5 potential sites with the yogurt mamas and Baluhya. Some spots were better than others, one of them being near-perfect for the construction of our cow shelters. This spot was already in an area where cows were being kept, as well, the location was only a 2 minute walk to the kitchen site in Mabatini. After reviewing the sites, we asked the mamas to collect more information on costs and usage-availability with the current property owners and get back to Baluhya and I as soon as possible.

In regards to developments back at UWO, we had a new member join the WHE team, Jethro Odanga. Jethro is married to Bernadette, who was our previous coordinator – helping train Dallas and I before we left for Tanzania. It was nice to hear that Jethro was the replacement – both he and Bernadette spent a considerable amount of their lives growing up and living in Kenya. They are equally experienced in knowing how to work in East Africa, being able to provide valuable insight to problems/issues I might be experiencing. One of Jethro’s initiatives is to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between UWO, Kivulini and NIMR. It’s an important document to develop because it outlines the roles of each group and the overall goals with the project. With more input from Kivulini and NIMR we hope that MoU can be developed further to ensure that everyone is clear with their responsibilities and commitments to the Western Heads East program.

For the last week and a half in October, I took the rest of my designated vacation time to do a bit of a safari across north-west Tanzania. Ian (a microbiologist at NIMR) and I planned to do the trip along with two of his friends: Gary (who Ian knew since grade school) was coming down from the U.K and Andy, a road developer Ian had met when he lived in Jamaica.
We planned to take a hired safari car and drive through the Serengeti, visit Ngorogoro Crater, Lake Manyara and stop at Moshi, where we would then do a 7-day climb up Mount Kilimanjaro. Ian, Gary and I were to do the drive and Andy was meeting us at Moshi.

The three of us (and our driver) left Mwanza before dawn on the 20th. It takes about 2.5 hours to drive from Mwanza to the west entrance of the Serengeti. During the day, we slowly made it to the middle of the park, seeing a slew of animals along the way. Just so you know, the way the Serengeti works is that there is one main (dirt) track that you drive along, and you have the choice to veer off of it for other designated trails with more abundant wildlife. It’s illegal to go off-road driving and highly recommended that you don’t leave your car unless you’re at an official campsite/rest-stop. Payment works on a 24-hour permit, plus a fee for the car and sleeping arrangements within the park. We decided to camp (outside) for our entire safari-journey since it’s the most economical (and fun) thing to do...some lodges within the Serengeti cost upwards of $700 USD per night.
One of the highlights of the first day in the Serengeti was seeing a massive hippopotamus gathering in one of the main rivers. The hippos usually stay in the water during the day to keep cool, and leave during the night to eat. They are actually one of the most dangerous animals in the Serengeti – one would want to make sure that you never get in the middle of a hippo and a water source or the rest of the pack.
Other memorable things from day-one were seeing a small herd of elephants, a pride of (sleeping) lions, and several baby animals in the park (evidently, it was just after birthing season for most of the wildlife).

Zebra in Serengeti
Serengeti Plains
Large Lion
Buffalo playing in the mud

The next day we traveled from the centre of the park south and made our way to Ngorogoro crater (with one of the most abundant concentration of wildlife in the world). Unfortunately, the weather that day wasn’t the greatest and it most likely prevented us to see more animals than we should of. However, we did get to see a couple interesting things. One was the extremely-rare black rhinoceros. Another cool thing to see was two lions sleeping next to the carcass of a recently killed wildebeest. Many of the scavengers (jackals and hyenas) were trying to approach the corpse to eat, but they were too scared of the nearby lion to get anywhere close.

Flamingo in crater

The night spent on the rim was probably the most amusing and somewhat-scary events of our trip. Since we only had two tents, two of us had to share (our diver slept in a special drivers-lodge). Because of the extra room, we put all our food (which was in boxes and coolers) in the single-tent. That night it was Gary and I sharing a tent while Ian had the other one to himself.
Sometime around 1am that night I woke up to the sound of what sounded like a dog lapping water outside the tent. Not too concerned, I tried going back to sleep. Minutes later however, I heard some grunting and then a large crash-sound followed by more grunting. I immediately got up to see what was going on. The animal outside our tent wasn’t a dog but rather (of what we later concluded) was a wild boar. The thing had pulled out one of the cardboard boxes and started eating some cashews (the lapping sound), when it was finished with that it rammed Ian’s tent, ripping the enclosure and tried pulling out one of the coolers. When I got out, the thing ran away, but the three of us had a mess to clean up to prevent the animal for returning for more food. After that, we managed to put the rest of our food supplies in a makeshift kitchen structure where the animals could not get in. I guess that’s what you expect living out with the wildlife!

The next day we made our way to Lake Manyara, probably the most Animals animals we saw on our three day safari. Here, the three of us saw dozens of giraffes, even more elephants, baboons, exotic-birds and the rare tree climbing lion (apparently this is essentially the only place in the world where lions climb trees).

On the fourth day, our animal-watching leg of the trip ended and we arrived in the town of Moshi – where our lodge and Kilimanjaro tour company was located. Ian had arranged this through his office-partner, Dean – his son’s god mother owned the travel company we were climbing with. Later in the day, Ian, Gary, Andy and I met with the guides that would take us up the mountain, Amani and Lemani. One of the things they did was check the items we planned to bring up the mountain. It was then that I knew that equipment-wise I was severely under prepared. My sleeping bag was rated at +5 Celsius and I was told I had to rent one with at least a -15 rating. In addition I needed to get: climbing poles, gaiters (to keep stones/water out of my boots), sunglasses (mine broke in the Serengeti), a poncho, gloves, and a sleeping mat. Everything except the poles (which I had to buy) could be rented. Wondering what exactly I was getting myself into, I began to realize that this trip could not be taken lightly.

Mount Kilimanjaro (at 5895m) is the tallest mountain in Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world (i.e. a mountain not in a mountain range). Climbing it can be done from several trails ranging from 5-10 day trips. The slower/more time you take the higher chance you have of making it to the peak. The most common route (oddly) takes 5 days and hence, has the lowest success rate. One can experience altitude sickness (a lack of oxygen) usually at heights over 3000m. Symptoms include severe fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, and in bad cases dementia and vomiting. We were told by our guides that it’s important you go at your own pace, drinking as much water as possible along the way.
We scheduled to take the Machame route, approaching the mountain from the west. It’s considered one of the best routes because of its scenery and wide range of environments. The route can be done in 6 days, but we opted to do it in 7 because of the increased peak-reaching odds. Our climbing team included: two guides, one cook and ten porters! So many porters are needed because of the amount of food/equipment that’s needed. Interestingly enough, they all carry the baggage (up to 23 Kg) on their head. I’m still baffled on how they manage to pull it off, but a lot of it has to do with their body’s ability to acclimatize to the high altitudes.

Because this posting is already running rather long, I’m going to try and summarize the climb in stages and use a series of photos with brief descriptions.

Days 1-4 (ascent) of the climb we usually got up at 7am, took about half an hour to pack, get dressed and “washed up” (using warm water in a bowl). After that we’d be given breakfast, consisting of hot toast, peanut butter, jam, porridge with honey, fruits and tea, coffee and/or juice. We’d then start climbing at about 8am with our two guides. The porters would then pack up the gear, eventually passing us and setting up for our lunch meal, which usually occurred around noon. Lunch varied every day, but again, high-carb meals were common (sandwiches, soup). Afterwards we would pack up again and climb for another 2-3 hours.
This route (like most) required no actual rock climbing. The entire way up was on trails, though some parts much steeper and hard for footing than others. Again, we usually climbed for about 5 hours every day.
By late afternoon our group would arrive at camp with tents already being set-up. At this point Ian, Gary, Andy and I would take a small nap, and lounge around until dinner. Bed time was around 9 pm.

Taking a break
The gang with Mount Meru
Baranco Wall
Andy and I

Day 5 was an exception to the preceding days. The morning climb starts off as usual, but we arrived at camp by around 12 noon. We ate a small meal around 3pm and headed to bed by 5pm. At 11pm that night we woke up for our continuous 6-hour climb (up 1500m) climb to the peak. Basically, this is the make-or-break portion of the climb. Only the climbers and guides do this part – the porters and the cook remain at camp.
It’s hard to describe exactly what my mind went through this portion of the journey. The continuous climbing in freezing cold weather in the dark prevented anyone of knowing much further we had to go. I think because of this I went into a trance, not really understanding why I was putting my body through this, but sure enough you just keep going. Ian, an experienced runner said that it’s somewhat similar to running a marathon – so much of it is mental. If you keep thinking on how tired and cold you are, the less likely you are to make it. Despite this, we ended up making it to the top plateau (Stella Point) by sunrise.
I must say it was the most surreal experience I have ever had. Just realizing how high you are, seeing the stunning view and knowing how hard it was to come here gave an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. From this point, it was a (slow) half-hour walk to Uhuru peak the top of Africa. We stayed here for about 15 minutes, took some pictures and began to head back. We still had a lot of walking to do that day, and you don’t want to get hypothermia.

After the peak, it takes another 3 hours to reach the previous day’s camp. From here we slept for a few hours in the afternoon and descended another 1500m (3 hours) to the last camp. The seventh and final day of the trip we left camp around 9am and made it to the exit gates by around 1pm. Many people live right around the mountain because the area is rich in coffee beans. I thought it was interesting how all of a sudden you’re right back in reality. Just a day and a half before I was on the top of a continent, now I’m amongst schools, restaurants, civilization.

Overall the four of us were pretty lucky and good at our climb. We all made it to the peak, shaving an hour off the average time on the last ascent day. Andy was particularly happy with his accomplishment because two family members had tried to climbed to the peak, both not making it. Also, it had rained only briefly on the third day of our climb; whereas the group that left one day after us had experienced rain everyday practically all day for their entire ascent.
It was a pleasure to climb it with such good people as Ian, Gary and Andy. The three are originally from the UK and often made fun of the “Canadian mountain-man”, wondering if I felt more in my natural habitat in the cold weather on the mountain. The funny thing is that I did.

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