Saturday, February 24, 2007

Camels, Baboons, Gazelles, and More!

Hi everyone! I hope all is well with you.

Kristin and Keith are not using the computer at the moment, so I wanted to update you on my trip.

I had a very exciting day on Tuesday. Kristin woke me up VERY early (5AM) so we could get ready for a field trip to a school and a hospital. We met David and Sunday from Camp Lemonier. They work with Tony and they are very nice. They drove us to the United States Embassy in Djibouti at 6AM sharp!. We went there so we could pick up a few more people for our field trip.

I couldn't understand why we had to leave SO early. But then someone at the Embassy told us it would take more than 2 hours to get to a place called Tadjoura. Tadjoura is a major town north of Djibouti city.

I rode with Keith, Malcolm, and Kristin in the back of a Toyota Land Cruiser. It was a very strange vehicle. It didn't have a back seat! Instead it had little benches mounted to the sides of the cargo area. The Land Cruiser also didn't have seat belts (and the road was VERY bumpy at times). But don't worry. Kristin made sure I was in a safe place behind the driver's seat.

I wasn't very excited about having to ride in a Land Cruiser on bumpy roads for a couple of hours, but Kristin told me I could get to see lots of interesting animals. Guess what? She was right!

I saw donkeys, camels, and lots of goats (there are goats everywhere in Djibouti...even in town!). I also saw flocks of very funny looking sheep. They have a wide tail. Kristin says people in Djibouti call them "wide tail" sheep. I didn't get to take a picture of one, but trust me, they are really funny looking!

But the most interesting animal I saw on the side of the road was a baboon. I have never seen a baboon before! It looks like a super-size monkey and it has a red butt! I really wanted Kristin to take a picture of the baboons but she said we didn't have time to stop. :(

I saw the baboons not far from the city of Djibouti. They were sitting on small rocks in the sand. The area looked a lot like the desert I saw outside of Doha, Qatar. But not long
after we saw the baboons, I started to see lots of hills. The hills were a dark red color and the rocks around the hills looked like they had been poured from the top of the hill.

Kristin told me the rocks are from a volcano. How cool is that?! Our guides for the day told us there are still some active volcanoes in Djibouti but that we wouldn't get to see them. But I was able to see what Kristin says is an "inactive" volcano.

The volcanic rock is really interesting. It has lots of holes. I asked Kristin to take a picture of the volcanic rocks for me. Can you see the holes?

After an hour in the Land Cruiser, our driver stopped so everyone could stretch their legs. We stopped in a place far above the Gulf of Tadjoura. It is by the Red Sea. Here I am with Kristin.

It took us another hour to get to Tadjoura. Before we could visit the school, we had to stop and see someone called a "Sultan." Kristin says he is one of the leaders of Tadjoura. I think this means he is like the mayor of the town. Anyway, Kristin and Keith's group had to meet with the Sultan and several other people to get his permission to see the school and the hospital. I asked Kristin why we needed permission. She says it is always a good idea to let local leaders know when you are visiting. She called it "a courtesy." I'm not exactly sure what that means but the Sultan did give Kristin and Keith's group permission to see the school and the hospital.

We went to the school first. It sure didn't look like Louisa-Muscatine school. Five white concrete buildings surrounded a dirt playground. Keith says the United States government helped build the school through a program called USAID. He says USAID helps build schools and houses and feed people in lots of countries around the world. Who knew?

The side of one of the buildings had a very interesting painting on it. I couldn't read the funny letters (Kristin told me they were French letters). But the paintings looked like something in my science book.

I was able to watch some of the students in what I think was a math class. Here are a few pictures Kristin took of the classroom.

After math class, Kristin said we were going to see the lunch room. I was really surprised when I saw the lunch room. It doesn't look anything like the one in my school. This one had rows of wooden benches and tables.

At one end, several women were cooking something in the largest bowl I have ever seen. Kristin told me they were making rice.

Do you see the metal bowls on the tables? That's the rice the women were making. I asked Kristin where the rest of the food was. She told me that rice was the only food available for lunch. I think Kristin could tell I was surprised. She told me that the students were very lucky to have the bowl of rice. She says boys and girls in Djibouti who don't attend school don't have a lot of food to eat because food is expensive. I had no idea! I thought everyone got to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had some pop tarts and granola bars in the Land Cruiser to snack on during our trip. I asked Kristin if I could give the students some of our food. She told me that that was a nice idea but that we didn't have enough for everyone. She was right. But I was sad I couldn't share my food. Kristin told me the best thing I could do is be thankful that I have lots of food to eat at home. She is right.

The children here eat the rice with their hands. Kristin says this is because silverware is very expensive. I think it would be cool to eat rice with my hands but I am sure my Mom wouldn't like that!

After lunch, the students ran into the playground and were screaming and jumping up and down wanting to talk to Keith, Kristin, and Malcolm. They kept pushing Kristin, Keith and Malcolm...especially when they wanted their picture taken.

I decided to stay away from the crowd. While I was waiting for Kristin, I noticed there were goats running around on the playground. How funny is that?

We went to lunch at a hotel after we left the school. The hotel had lots of concrete buildings and a small restaurant along the Gulf of Tadjoura.

The water was very pretty but the hotel didn't look all that nice. I was glad Kristin, Keith, and Malcolm were staying at the Kempenski in Djibouti! Kristin said this hotel reminded her of a place she and Keith stayed at in Kisangani, Congo. Yuck! I'm glad I didn't go on that trip!

It took a really LONG time for lunch. That's when Kristin reminded me we were on "Africa time." I am beginning to think that means it takes a LONG time to do things here. While we were waiting for lunch, suddenly an animal that looked like a small deer walked up to the table! Keith told me it was something called a "gazelle." I think it looks like a deer.

The gazelle was really nice. It walked right up to Kristin and tried to eat her shirt! Don't worry. She kept the gazelle from eating my coat! Here's a picture of me and Kristin and the gazelle.

How cool is that?!! I even got to pet it!

After we left the hotel, our driver took us to a village called Sagallou. This is where the hospital is. The hospital is located down a VERY bumpy dirt road. Our driver had to go very slow at times. He also had to stop and honk his horn lots of times. I bet you can't guess why. There were camels in the middle of the road! Can you believe it?! It was just like having to stop for deer in the road in Iowa....except we were stopping for BIG camels!

I was expecting to see a big hospital building like the one in Muscatine when we got to the village. It turns out the hospital in Sagallou is two small buildings. The buildings are white concrete and each has two floors. The buildings looked a lot like the school buildings I saw earlier in the day. They sure like to build white concrete buildings here, don't they?

There were lots of people standing around outside of the hospital. I thought they were waiting to see the doctor. But Kristin told me the people were waiting for food. She says women in the village that are going to have a baby or who have small children get a sack of food and cooking oil once a month. She says the food has lots of extra vitamins in it to help the babies grow.

I did get to walk around the hospital buildings. The large "exam" room only had two tables and a few cabinets. It looked more like my doctor's office than a hospital room! Kristin must have seen the surprise on my face. She told me that the village didn't even have a hospital until this one was built with help from the United States a few years ago. So I guess it is good thing that the hospital has some equipment, even if it doesn't look like my hospital.

Here's one of the hospital beds (I hope I don't have to stay in a hospital like this!).

Another camel was just outside of the hospital gate. Two men were watching the camel and they let me have a picture taken with them.
Behind the camel was a group of small metal shacks and something that looked like a big mound of hay with a plastic sheet on it.

Kristin told me those were the houses of the people who live in Sagallou. Kristin says the metal shacks are for the people who plan to stay in the village for awhile. She says the house that looks like a mound of hay belong to people who move around a lot. Kristin says people who move around a lot in this region are called "nomads." Who knew?

I asked Kristin why the people in the village didn't have houses like mine. She says the people here are very, very poor and they can't afford anything else. I guess I am lucky that I have a nice house.

We didn't stay at the hospital for very long. Mal and Sunday said we had to get back to Camp Lemonier before it got dark. I was SO tired from seeing the school and hospital that I feel asleep in Kristin's purse long before we reached the base.

Until next time...