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  • 3/18/98 Letter - Farrell settles in... The Pelum Project... Different ways of Zimbabwean living... Home stay in a rural household
  • 4/28/98 Letter - Preparations for PELUM College students... Rock rabbits... Lake Chivero National Park horse safari... Amazing!
  • 6/7/98 Letter - Mana Pools... Cape Buffalo... Elephants and other Animals

Letter from Farrell Hochmuth
Writing from Zimbabwe

Dearest family and friends:

Jambo! Mambo Poa. Habari? (Hello. I'm doing well. How are you?) Shona? No, Swahili. Yes, I have just returned from another adventure--a one week holiday in Tanzania and Zanzibar. The official language in Tanzania and Zanzibar is Swahili, so I had the chore of both learning a new language, and remembering Shona upon my return to Zimbabwe.

PELUM College Opens!
Things have been great in Zimbabwe, especially regarding my work at PELUM. PELUM College Zimbabwe (P-C-Zed, affectionately) was launched on May 4, and I couldn't have hoped for a bigger success. The students are diverse in personality as well as experience, intelligent, and ready and willing to learn. Opening day took place at a permaculture farm (an alternative way of farming: organic, incorporating biodiversity, etc.) about 20 minutes outside of Harare called Fambidzanai Permaculture Centre--Fambidzanai is one of the sixteen organizations involved in PCZ. Most of the PCZ Board members and training managers were able to attend, which was really supportive for the students. The setting was perfect, the day beautiful. We all met in an open air rondavel set amongst banana trees and granadilla plants. There were goats bahing, cows mooing, and pigs snorting. My biggest achievement, I believe, was getting Zimbabwe's national newspaper, The Herald, to cover the opening-clip that baby!

The students spent their first week in orientation at Fambidzanai, and the second week at University of Zimbabwe Faculty of Agriculture and the Institute of Environmental Studies learning soil science and research skills. The students really enjoyed their time at UZ; it is a big status symbol to attend University (none of them have a University education), so they all walked around like hotshots on campus for a week. At the end of the two weeks, they were tired and fulfilled. This first group is doing a "sandwich programme," which means they attend two weeks of classes every two months. On opening day, one of our donors gave a speech wishing us a "delicious, nutritious, and digestible sandwich programme." We will see the students again in early July.

To Tanzania...
All work and no play makes Farrell very sad. Two friends, who are also doing research related work in Zimbabwe, Kerrie and Allison, invited me to join them on their holiday to Tanzania and Zanzibar. PELUM wished me a good trip, and I was off.

We left on Wednesday, May 20 on an early flight on Air Tanzania. Despite hearing many horror stories about Air Tanzania, from late arrivals to skidding around the runway upon landing, the flight was relatively uneventful. Allison attended a workshop last year, and became friends with a girl who lives in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania named Muele. After passing immigration (the most friendly immigration officials I've ever dealt with), Muele's two sisters picked us up from the airport and drove us to our hostel. El Nino has really done a number on the roads in Dar. At one point, the potholes were so bad that Muele's sister said, "They are more like those things that soldiers hide in." Yes, they were as deep as trenches!

We dropped off our backpacks at the hotel and hired a taxi to take us on a tour of Dar es Salaam. Tanzania is only two countries north of Zimbabwe, but the differences are great-Zimbabwe is representative of Southern Africa, where Tanzania is more of an Eastern African country. There isa strong Muslim/Arab influence. The women are very modestly dressed, with skirts down to their ankles. It is rather culturally insensitive to wear shorts, so we all ended up buying some Congos-- large pieces of fabric tied around the waist to simulate a long skirt. I might as well have just worn shorts, my congo kept coming untied!

Walking along the streets of Dar was incredibly interesting. The city is so different from "modern," clean Harare. Dar was honestly pretty dirty, but had so much more culture than Harare. Every so often, you'd hear a prayer calling from the Mosque broadcast over loudspeakers on the streets. A friend of mine that visited Dar awhile ago was sitting having a late lunch alone in a cafe. All of a sudden, a prayer calling began. His waiter ran over to him and said he would be gone for 15 minutes. My friend asked where he was going, and the waiter replied, "I have to go get salvation." Can't really argue with that. The prayers sound beautiful (even though I have no idea what they are saying), and talk about setting the ambience!

The fruit in Tanzania was delicious. Men ride around Dar with baskets on their bikes selling coconuts, oranges, and bananas. Other hot items for sale were fabric to wrap into skirts or make into clothing, and statues carved out of ebony wood.

That night, Allison's friend Muele picked us up and took us into town for some excellent (and cheap!) Indian food. After dinner, we settled down at a nice bar near the beach and sampled the local beers: Kilamanjaro, Safari, Serengeti, and Nlovu (meaning elephant in Swahili). It was really interesting talking with Muele, whose father was Prime Minister in Tanzania for a couple of years. She had some neat insight into the country. Soon enough, however, we were all tired from our long day of trouping around Dar and had plans to leave early the next morning for Zanzibar. We went back to the hotel, tucked in our mosquito netting, and crashed. (Top)

...and Zanzibar!
We got up early the next morning and had a breakfast of fresh papaya and pineapple, toast and eggs. Great fruit! We stopped at a local craft market on our way to the ferry to Zanzibar, but didn't have too much time to wander. The ferry ride from Dar to Zanzibar takes about 2 1/2 hours. As per the usual, I got a little too much sun, tee hee.

When we got off the ferry in Zanzibar, we were barraged by men wanting to show us to hotels. These men get a commission from the hotels when they get visitors to stay there, so they are quite persistent. Not really having any clue about Zanzibar, we accepted one man's offer, who actually ended up being really nice. He offered to take us to a couple of hotels to check them out. We ended up staying at the Stone Town Inn--lots of atmosphere and only US $10 a night, breakfast included.

The main city in Zanzibar, Stone Town, is indescribable. It was absolutely wild, and I wish I could even begin to explain how amazing it is. It is like a labyrinth of narrow streets lined with old stone buildings with intricate detailing. There are amazing carved wooden doors and doorways. The Muslim influence is even stronger in Stone Town than in Dar; the women are dressed from head to toe, with only beautiful, mystical eyes peeking out. I wanted to photograph the whole of Stone Town, but the Muslims feel that having their picture taken takes away their spirit. I only have the pictures in my mind.

Our first day in Stone Town we just wandered around taking it all in. The street food is delicious, and extremely cheap. One of the staples is "flat bread," almost like a pita but heavy. You can stuff your flat bread with mashed potatoes rolled into balls and cover it with a spicy sauce, throw in some falafel and down it with a cup of sugar cane juice. Mmm. I tried a lime veggie based soup with salad mixed in. We also had some "Zanzibar pizza"--pastry on the outside with salad and egg on the inside, formed into a square and covered with tomato sauce (catsup). Not my favorite, butinteresting nonetheless. Other stands offered grilled octopus, skewers of beef and chicken, and a few things I didn't even venture to guess what they were. Stick to the things you can identify!

Spice Tour
The next day we went on a Spice Tour--Zanzibar used to be one of the Spice Islands. Our tour group of twelve was ushered into the back of a pick up truck lined with benches-Solomon was our tour guide. We travelled to many places testing the fruits and spices grown on the island. In one spot, we picked star fruit right off the tree. I had only seen star fruit at Whole Foods grocery store, so it was neat to see it at the source. Although a little tangy, it was good. We tasted three types of mint, saw vanilla pods, burned our mouths on fresh peppercorns, picked coffee and cacao beans (funny, coffee is sweet, cacao is bitter), saw nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, smelled lemongrass and jasmine--quite a sensual day. Solomon kept saying, "And when-a you-a leave Zanzibar and-a you-a taste deese, you-a gonna remember Solomon!" What a character. For lunch, we stopped at a local village where food had been prepared using all the spices that we had just been shown. At the end of the day we went for a swim-my first time in the Indian Ocean! The sand was white, the water clear and warm as bath water. Standing in 5 feet of water, I could still see my toes. Solomon had a hard time getting me out of the water. (Top)

The Coast
The next day we went "north." Each day, minivans take about seven people from Stone Town to Nungwi, the "town" in the north. The roads leaving Stone Town are great, concrete and smooth. At the first turn-off, the concrete was not as smooth. Soon, there were more potholes than concrete. After that, the road was just dirt. Then, we turned off into what looked like a big green field with a path running through it. My friends and I thought the path must be leading to one hotel. The path, however, led into Nungwi. The "town" has one sand road, about four youth hostels, two places to get something to eat (can't really call them restaurants), and a bar. We got a room at the Anaan Hotel, dropped off our backpacks, and ran for the beach. There are so few people in Nungwi that if you walk ten minutes, you have the whole beach to yourself...well, to yourself and the crabs that kept peeking their heads out of their sand tunnels. I had brought my mask and snorkel, and spent much time exploring the fish and urchins (ouch!).

Around 1:30, we decided that it would be a good idea to get off the beach for awhile. We had lunch under a thatch roof hut. In the spirit of the Indian Ocean, I gave up being vegetarian for my stay in Nungwi. I ate a delicious piece of Kingfish with rice and vegetable curry. Excellent meal. After lunch, we walked down the sand path which led into a local village. The village kids all ran to greet us with "Jambo! Jambo!" The kids get so excited when they see the tourists. After our walk, back to the beach for a little more R&R.

That night, after a frustrating shower of trying to get the salty knots out of my hair with no lights (the electricity went off for a few hours) and very little water pressure, we decided to try the other place to eat. We found a table outside on the deck where the stars were bright and the waves crashed below us. We ate a dinner of barbecued Kingfish with salad and rice.

The next day we had planned a Snorkeling/Scuba diving trip. I was so excited, this being my first time to dive in the Indian Ocean. We took a 2 hour ride on a Catamaran out to Mnemba Atoll. The first dive was a wall dive. The corals were so colorful. There were more Triggerfish than I knew existed. I saw the Clownfish-Anemone relationship for the first time in the wild: the clownfish swims into the anemone for protection, and the anemone eats the small parasites off the fish. The visibility was amazing. After that dive, we had lunch on the catamaran, and then back into the water. The second dive was a drift dive. I was floating along, minding my own business, when some eels began to follow us in the water. I had never seen an eel leave its hiding spot in the coral before, and I have to admit I was a little unnerved. Unless you offer them a finger, however, they won't hurt you. I saw blue spotted sting rays, sea turtles, and so many more fish. It was just amazing. Scuba diving tires me out, so I slept the two hours back to Nungwi. Rough life, I know it.

On Sunday nights, a band called the Islander's plays at the bar in Nungwi. We claimed the same table as the night before, watching the stars and listening to the music. I was quite impressed with how good the music was. They really played a diverse song list, from "The Macarena" to "Blue Suede Shoes" followed by "We're Going to Rock Around the Clock." It was interesting that in such an international crowd, everyone knew how to dance the Macarena! Also, hearing Blue Suede Shoes in an African accent was quite an experience....

I was disappointed to hear that a large hotel chain is planning on opening a hotel in Nungwi soon. It is inevitable that a large hotel would ruin the charm of Nungwi. I am glad I got to see it before that change takes place.

Prison Island
The next day we took a dhow (pronounced dow: large, old wooden boats) to Prison Island off the coast of Zanzibar, which was supposed to be used to contain "reluctant" slaves (were there any non-reluctant slaves?). No slaves were actually kept there, for some unknown reason. The island was mainly used as a quarantine zone for cargo coming into Zanzibar. There is a whole population of giant land tortoises that roam free, and the island has been donated money to keep the population going. The island is small, about 1/2 mile long and 1/4 mile wide. There were a bunch of rocks that jutted out above the water, and my friends and I took turns diving off into the blue water. We all wanted to forget that that would be our last time to swim in the Indian Ocean on our holiday.

The next morning we took a ferry back to Dar es Salaam. We wandered around Dar, looking at (and buying) material, eating street food, and soaking in the last of our time in Tanzania. That night, Allison's friend Muele picked us up from the hotel and took us back to her home. Her family has a nice house right on the water. She prepared a traditional Tanzanian meal: Ugali, which is basically like sadza but a little harder, spinach, cabbage with tomatoes, coconut rice, prawns in coconut sauce, and some type of beef (I didn't eat it, but I was told itwas also in coconut sauce). It was a great meal to end our holiday.

The next day, we rose with the sun to catch our flight back to Harare. In some strange sense, I felt as if I were going "home." It was nice when we got back to Zimbabwe, I was able to speak some of the native language again. It is also nice not to have to live out of a backpack. Martha and I had quite a reunion with a big plate of sadza and covo.

I've been wildly trying to catch up at work. I am helping to coordinate an Information Management Workshop to take place in Lusaka, Zambia in July, so that is taking up most of my time now. I am leaving Wednesday, however, for another adventure. I am going with some of the PELUM staff to Mana Pools National Park, home of the elephants (finally, I'll get to see an elephant!), to schmooze three potential donors. I am reallylooking forward to that trip.

So, until next time, take care of yourselves and eat your veggies.Speaking of veggies, I've got to run. The woman who sells covo at the end of my street will be packing up soon. Gotta' get my covo.