This Christmas/New Year's was one of the most unique and memorable holidays I've ever had. I traveled overland from Kampala to Dar es Salaam with 4 other PCVs, the "Fab 5" (Matt, Dave, Charlene, and Lisa). We eventually met up with a bigger group of PCVs on Zanzibar Island to celebrate New Year's together. As stunning as Zanzibar was, and it was absolutely breathtaking, I really enjoyed and appreciated my time in Dar.
After living in Uganda for close to 2 years, it doesn't take a lot to impress me. Don't get me wrong, I love it here...but it's not always easy. The capital is filthy, harassment is an every day occurrence, you have to bargain like mad just to buy a head of cabbage in the market, you always assume people are ripping you off. It can be wearing. I was so ready for a vacation (especially after being evacuated from my last 2...) but I also didn't have terribly high expectations. We were traveling by bus most of the way to get there, and it's still Africa, right? Wrong.
Yes the traveling wasn't ideal. It was even less than ideal when we found out the train wasn't working due to flooding in Dar and that we'd have to take an even longer bus to get there. Honestly, we were so excited to be on vacation that the traveling didn't really get to us...until the last day...when it took us 4 hours to travel less than 100km. By then we were more than ready to get off that damn bus! We endured hours of speed bumps that didn't even make a blip on our driver's radar. It was kind of fun at first, especially since we were at the back of the bus. But by about the 2nd or 3rd hour, when we were trying to nap a bit, it wasn't fun anymore, especially since we were at the back of the bus. The driver didn't even pretend to slow down over the bumps. In fact, I'm pretty sure he accelerated before going over them! It was so bad that other passengers were complaining to the patrol officer when he pulled us over...for going to fast. That was a first for me. Combine this with sitting behind a speaker (the only speaker on the bus) blaring Bollywood music for hours on end and you can maybe begin to get a glimpse of just how uncomfortable this bus ride was.
Fast forward to Dar, Christmas Eve. It was our first time being in a place for more than a night and we were more than ready to relax and really let our vacation begin. The streets were clean, the roads were marked and posted with street signs, boda bodas weren't allowed in the city center, the people were friendly, all the buildings and shops had signs. It was organized! And did I mention clean? I was in love. We checked into our hotel and explored the town a bit before finding ourselves on the rooftop bar/restaurant of the Holiday Inn. I don't think I'll ever be able to capture in words just how special this night was to me. It was my first time spending Christmas without family and here I was, in Africa, sitting on the rooftop smoking shisha, just enjoying the company of those around me and thankful to have finally showered. I was so happy! It got even better when Matt's dad called him and read "The Night Before Christmas" over the phone to us. Being able to glimpse into someone else's tradition was an amazing feeling. I almost started crying not because I was sad to be missing Christmas with my family but because I was so happy to be spending Christmas with my family, my Peace Corps family. It was such a surreal experience and one that I will always cherish.
Christmas day we took a ferry to Kigamboni and spent the day on Kipepeo beach. First Christmas ever where I drank out of a coconut and barely wore anything other than my swim suit the entire day. We took advantage of the absurdity of our celebrating and had a photo shoot. The Christmas tree is courtesy of Dave's grandma and it survived the transit from KLA to Dar. We took the ferry back to mainland and decided to check out the fish market for dinner. It was closed but some of the street vendors were cooking FRESH octopus, squid, and fish and there was a man making chapati which meant only one thing...FISH TACOS! We stuffed our faces. You may be sketched out at the idea of buying and eating fish cooked at the side of the road by a group of men that barely understand English, but we were ecstatic! You can't get decent seafood in Uganda! One of the best parts was when Lisa, Charlene and I sat with a group of men and greeted them with out limited Kiswahili. They men were so excited to share a meal with us they gave us half of their fish. I have no idea what kind of fish it was but it was fantastic. My Christmas dinner consisted of octopus tacos and fish that I ate with my bare hands. After dinner we cleaned up and found a club to go dancing. The cover was a bit steep (we were still used to being in Peace Corps mode at this point, which means being painfully cheap) but we decided to pay it anyway and enjoy ourselves. We danced until close to 3 in the morning. Another first for me: dancing to a Christmas carol at the club.
We spent Boxing day in Dar and then left for Stone Town on the 27th. On Boxing day we were able to go to the fish market. BEST LUNCH OF MY LIFE. We picked out fresh from the sea, just caught snapper, squid, crab, scallops, etc. At one point we didn't even want fish but the the men dropped the prices so low we couldn't turn them down. I've never had such fresh seafood before. I already miss it. Below are the before and after pictures.
We met a few different groups of Peace Corps volunteers from Zambia and Namibia. It was really refreshing to see how we automatically have this unspoken bond and friendship with each other. I've never experienced something like that in America and it makes me excited to meet returned PCVs when I come home. We did a spice tour in Stone Town and I learned all about cinnamon, vanilla, pepper, nutmeg, etc. It was actually really educational.
We left for the beach on the 29th and stayed in Bwejuu until the 4th, when we flew back to Uganda. Honestly most of the days blurred together. It was a whole lot of being lazy, lounging on the beach, taking naps, swimming, and hanging out. Matt introduced us to "Zanziball," the beach form of Bocce ball and everyone spent a lot of time playing that. The tide had really extreme highs and lows and we could only swim during the high tide. We went snorkeling and kayaking on the ocean. I got my first ever massage. It was truly what I needed...a relaxing vacation.
Here I am back in Uganda and starting to think about what comes next. For the longest time I didn't have to think about COS (close of service) until after GLOW, until after Zanzibar. Now it's after GLOW and Zanzibar.
I'm here finishing up projects until the end of March when I leave for 6 weeks in Thailand for one last adventure before coming home. Then I'll be back in May. Get ready for it!