Monday, July 20, 2009

Lake Manyara & Ngorongoro crater

Dear friends & family,

It's week 4 here in Tanzania. I can't believe I have already been here a month. Nearing the half-way point on my time here, has made me realized how much work there is to do. Two months is not nearly enough. However, I will have to make the most of it! My goal is to be completely and utterly exhausted when I arrive in Florida on August 16th.

To summarize my past week, I will begin with stating that it has been a rather short period of time in Kolila b/c we entered our 3-day weekend (time off for volunteers) on Friday. After returning from Arusha last Monday, we only had four days in the village. My group decided to make the most of it & teach in the most vast place we could think of for Kolila: The Sokoni! (english translation: the market)

The sokoni has an official "market day" every Tuesday and Friday where hundreds and hundreds of people come into Kolila to stock up on various produce & products. After gaining word that our "Art Group" friends from last week, had access to a stero system, we knew we could teach in the market on Friday. The Art Group supplied us with 5 stereo speakers & 3 microphones, in agreement that they would be able to perform for the crowd as well. The group had prepared several skits, raps, songs, and other performances about HIV. Though most were comical or satirical, they were highly educational about the epidemic. I am always grateful when artistic people can use creative ways to educate other than lecturing.

So everyone knows I like to be on stage, right? :) WELL, not only did I have a microphone, but our group taught on a major platform in the market. Put Sara Conklin on a stage with a microphone and you know things are about to get crazy. We had so much fun cheering with the crowd and having small competitions to see who was the loudest volunteer. Guess who won? The blonde-haired Mzungu. Johnson would scream "TESTING DAY!" And I would return with "NEXT FRIDAY!" After repeating these phrases over and over, the crowd had to applaud to see which one of us was the loudest. They loved it! It not only grew the attention on the crowd, but solidified us teachers who care about the community.

Small steps to reduce the stigma around American volunteers is always a good thing. It's a common belief amongst villagers that westerners come into Africa and try to change everything. Then once they do, they leave to go home as quickly as possible. SIC works to make every educational opportunity sustainable. We want the education to continue after we leave. For example, when we are teaching a group of Midwives, we not only instruct about HIV, but train them to educate HIV+ mothers in their village as well.

Back to the sokoni teaching: Can you guess how many people were there? 648!!!! We taught 648 people about the effects of HIV and how to prevent it. All in one day! We managed to keep the crowd's attention for over 3 hours as we prepared the lesson and the Art Group performed in between teachings. We also emphasized our testing days over & over & over again. Hopefully we have ensured that hundreds of Kolila villagers will be at out HIV testing day this Friday.

After all our hard work, going into Arusha seemed like a blessing. We could relax for a little while and process the volume of the teaching we had just done. I have never been so proud of my teaching group; everyone put their hearts and souls into reaching that crowd.

On Saturday in Arusha, 2 Safari trucks were waiting outside Meru Inn to pick up 15 of the volunteers for our 2-day Safari! On Saturday we were going to visit Lake Manyara, then Sunday would be spend in Ngorongoro Crater.

It was about a two hour drive to Lake Manyara from Arusha. Lake Manyara National Park is a shallow freshwater lake in Tanzania, that is surrounded by African Wildlife. It is fairly small (only 127 sq. feet) , so there are greater opportunities of seeing animals in one day.

Upon arriving in the National Park, our Safari driver popped the top off of the truck so we could stand half-way outside and half-way inside, protected from being eaten by lions ;). We saw ELEPHANTS IMMEDIATELY and I cried with excitement! I'm lucky that my favorite animal in the world is very plentiful in Africa. You also can't miss seeing an elephant, even when it's trying to hide. My favorite part was when the baby elephant came running up the truck and stood right next to me; I wish so badly I could have reached out and touched it! Of course, we all stood as still and quiet as we could in the truck, so that we wouldn't disturb the wildlife too much. Plus big Mama elephant was just around the corner and we didn't want to anger her. Somehow I couldn't stop singing Winne the Pooh's "Hefalumps and Woozles" the whole time.

We visited a pool full of Africa's most deadly animal: the hippo. Turns out they kill more people than any other animal here. We kept our distance accordinly, but still enjoyed them wading around in the water. Hippos are not very attractive creatures, and somehow they manage to come across as cute and cuddly in cartoons. They are quite mean and you wouldn't want to come within a mile of those teeth!

After the elephants and hippos, we saw loads of giraffes, antelope, baboons, wildebeests, water buffalo, and warthogs. I don't think I can ever visit a zoo again and not think about Africa. It is a incredibly unique experience to take an African Safari, and you can never forget how incredible the animals looked in their natural habitats.

We spent a long day in Lake Manyara and heading to a campsite closer to the road. We pitched our tents underneath a canopy of the most stars I have ever seen, and spread out around a campfire. Without other tourists around, our group decided we could finally let out all the cheezy things we wanted to say all day.
With risk of being incredibly embarrassed, I avoided (all day) saying out loud:
* "This is so much better than Animal Kingdom!"
* "Look it's Pumba!"
* "I've seen that in disney world"
When we sat around the campfire, our smores brought out the urge to scream all those phrases in laughter and sing various "Lion King" songs with no shame. I mean really, could you go on an African safari and avoid having "the circle of life" stuck in your head?

Day two was in Ngorongoro Crater! UNBELIEVABLE! It covers about 3,200 square miles and is about the size of Crete. Our guide said there are over 25,000 wild animals living the crater. Including Black Rhinos, which are incredibly endagered. Their local population declined from about 108 in 1964-66 to between 11-14 in 1995. Can you imagine only having 11 Black Rhinos left in an entire country? And we got to see one! We also saw Lions catching their prey, multiple elephants & hippos playing, and various other exotic wildlife.

My African safari was one of the most amazing thins I have ever done. I was truly at peace with seeing the beauty of the wildlife here. It is so untouched. Without the barriers and cages of a zoo, I was able to see these creatures in their homes.


  1. SARA!!! Oh my gosh, I can't believe everything that you're getting to see and experience!! I am so proud of you and cannot wait to hear from you when you get home. I hope my letter reaches you soon, if it hasn't already, and I look forward to reading every new entry on your blog :D I love you!

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  3. You should have sung "I went to the Animal Fair" on stage at the market. So few have been able to witness such an event.

  4. Jambo. I hope you know few words in Swahili now. I am always moved when I hear great work from individuals who give their time and effort to do great work for other people.

    All I can say is, I wish you the best in whatever you do and I have no doubt in my mind that you have great future in front of you.

    Kwaheri (Bye)

  5. I found pictures of your performance Carolyn is talking about. Even at the ripe old age of two and a half you could command the stage. And you remembered all of the words!!!!

  6. Sara,
    I am so excited reading your description of your teaching about HIV, how you adapt to each new situation and being so creative in getting the message across. I am dying to hear about your time spent with the midwives..... Kevin and I went on a 10 day camping safari on our honeymoon in '76 and the highlight was being given special permission to camp in Ngororgora crater,I am glad to hear it is still a magical place.
    PS Hippos have always been my favourite, wierd I know
    lots of love coming your way, michelle

  7. That's so funny, I was just at Animal Kingdom thinking "Man, Sara is probably seeing all of this in REAL life!" Miss you, so proud!

  8. Hi Sara!

    I just came across your blog as I was searching online for SIC information, and I couldn't help but read the whole thing! I am considering applying for the SIC program from May - July, and I'm trying to gather as much information as I can to make an informed decision and make sure this work is right for me. Your writing is really vivid, and you really gave me a picture of what Tanzania must be like. I was wondering if it may be possible to contact you and ask you some questions? I would really value the opinion of someone who has been out there doing the day-to-day work.

    I'll check back to this blog again soon to see if you respond, and then perhaps I can give you my email address. Thanks so much! And Happy Holidays!

    Take care,
    Lisa, CA

  9. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks so much! I'm glad you found my blog & found it helpful. Going to Tanzania truly changed my life and I LOVE to talk about it. Shoot me an email, anytime or give me a call.