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...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

English Class and Soccer

Hi everyone!

I hope all is well with you. I am still having a great time here in Djibouti.

Guess what? This week Keith, Kristin, and Malcolm went back to school! OK, they didn't really go to class. But they did visit a school where students are learning English.

I really didn't want to go to English class, but I wasn't going to argue with Kristin. Now I am glad I went. The school didn't look like any school I have ever visited. The school was in an old building near the center of the city on a very dark road. The "road" was actually mud. Can you believe it? I thought all roads in cities were streets like they are in Muscatine. Kristin says there are many places in the world that do not have paved streets. I had no idea!

The school had only three small classrooms. It didn't have desks like the ones in my school. Instead the desks were long tables and the seats were benches. Very strange.

Kristin says members of the military base visit the school once a week to help the students learn English. They don't use books. Instead, the soldiers talk with the students. Kristin says this helps the students talk better. Who knew!

It was very HOT in the school and there were SO many students that Kristin could barely walk around. So I decided not to have my picture taken.

Here's Kristin and Malcolm taping some of the discussion. The students and soldiers were talking about women and sports.

And here's Kristin interviewing the head of the school program. Notice the funny looking lights? Those are Malcolm's lights for TV. Kristin says they make her look "good." I'm not sure what she means by that but she does look different when Malcolm's lights are on!

The day after the English class, we went to an orphanage just down the road from the military base. Kristin says an orphanage is a place where children who don't have parents live. I have never heard of such a place. I thought everyone had a Mom and Dad. Kristin says there are many children around the world that do not have parents. Kristin says this is why people from the base come and visit. The soldiers play sports games with the boys that live in the orphanage. I think this is very nice.

The orphanage is not very nice. The buildings are very old and don't have glass windows.

The soccer field does not look like the soccer complex in Muscatine. The one at the orphanage is full of trash and does not have goalie nets.
I told Kristin that I would not want to live here. She says I should be thankful that I have a nice home. I think she is right.

When Kristin told me the boys do not have parents, I thought the boys would be very sad. But they looked very happy playing soccer, basketball, and volleyball.

Here I am watching a basketball game.

It was REALLY hot outside, so I fell asleep in the car on the way back to the military base.

That's all for now. Until next time....

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Too Busy To Write

Hi everyone. I am having SO much fun here in Djibouti that I have not had time to update you on my trip.

Keith and Kristin are so busy that they haven't been able to let me use the computer. I promise I will give you lots of updates when I can. I forgot how many LONG hours journalists have to work!

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the past few days. Here I am with Kristin standing above the Red Sea.

And here I am with my friend Malcolm and LOTS of camels. Have you ever seen that many camels in one spot!?

Until next time....

Monday, February 19, 2007

My Visit to Camp Lemonier

Hi everyone one! I hope all is OK with you.

I am SO excited. I just spent an entire day on a military base. It is SO cool.

Keith, Kristin, and Malcolm are in Djibouti to visit the military base. It is called "Camp Lemonier." It is home to something called the "Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa." Kristin says that's a fancy name for a military unit that is working in this part of Africa to keep bad people from hurting Americans. Here I am with Keith near a sign outside the camp commander's office.

The base is located near the Djibouti airport and it takes about 10 minutes to get there by car from the hotel. But, getting past the first entry to the base isn't easy. Our driver is named Tony. He is an Air Force captain from Oklahoma. He is very nice! Tony has to stop at a series of gates or "checkpoints" in order to get on the base. Soldiers with big guns guard each of the checkpoints. At the last gate, everyone in the vehicle has to show their passport. I was really worried when I heard this since I don't have a passport, but Kristin told me she had made special arrangements for me. Whew!

But Kristin forgot to tell me that I was going to be separated from her at the last checkpoints! At the last checkpoint, everyone in the vehicle has to leave ALL of their bags (that includes Kristin's purse). Keith, Kristin, and Malcolm then have to stand in a certain spot and they cannot have their hands in their pockets. While they stood in the special spot, a soldier with a big gun opens all of the bags and looks inside. Kristin told me not to worry. She says the soldier is just looking at the equipment. I guess this is like security at the airport. But there isn't an x-ray machine, so it isn't as fun. (And don't tell Kristin, but I was kind of afraid of the soldier with the gun).

I asked Kristin why the solider has to look at all of the equipment. She says the soldier is just double checking to make sure everything is OK. I guess this makes sense. As soon as the soldier is done, Keith, Kristin, and Malcolm have to hand their passports to another soldier. He then gives them a special badge that they must wear while working on the base.

Keith, Kristin, and Malcolm are very busy in meetings and talking with people who work on the base. I don't really understand what people are talking about in the meetings but it sure sounds important. And, I am not sure who Keith, Kristin, and Malcolm are meeting but Kristin tells me they are very important. I am going to have to believe her on that.

Look carefully here you can see me and Keith helping Malcolm tape a television interview. Keith and I are holding a special vinyl circle that helps Malcolm's TV lights.

How cool is that?! Now I am learning how to be a television journalist. But I have decided being a radio journalist is MUCH better (shh...don't tell Malcolm that!). Malcolm has LOTS of heavy equipment that he has to carry everywhere. Keith and Kristin have a lot of equipment to make radio programs, but it all fits into one bag. It is also doesn't weigh as much as the TV equipment.

In addition to the meetings, we were given a tour of the base. Tony says the base is 95 acres. I think that is really big, but Tony says it is small. Our first stop on the tour was a watchtower at one end of the base. Keith and Kristin got to climb to the top. You could see the entire base and the ocean. It was really cool. I asked Kristin to take my photo in the watchtower but she told me that it was against the rules. She says it has something to do with the security of the camp.

Although I didn't get my photo in the watchtower, Keith and Kristin were allowed to take some photos during our tour.

Most of the military people working at Camp Lemonier live in tents.

I thought it would be so cool to sleep in a tent until Tony showed us his tent. It is dark and he lives with 15 other people! Tony's space is MUCH smaller than my bedroom at home. Now I am glad Kristin, Keith, and Malcolm are staying at the hotel!

People who are really important or who have worked on base for a long time get to live in a special trailer like the ones in the photo below. They don't look all that special to me!

Camp Lemonier is like a mini-city. It has a big gym, an outdoor basketball court, a movie theater, stores, and an outdoor restaurant. This is a photo of what Tony calls "downtown" Camp Lemonier.

This is the fire department.

Did I mention to you that it is REALLY HOT here in Djibouti? It is 90 degrees and sunny outside. Kristin also says it is really humid. I'm not sure I know what that means, but it does feel kind of wet and sticky outside. It is just like the weather in Iowa in July. There are special colored flags and signs on the base that tell people about something called the "Heat Stress Index." Kristin says it is a measurement of the temperature and that humidity stuff. She says when the humidity is high, it actually feels warmer outside than the temperature on the thermometer. I had no idea!

Green means the heat stress is low. Whew! It is hot enough already outside!

Because it is really hot, Kristin says we have to drink lots of water. There are big yellow boxes like this one all over the base. They are filled with water bottles. I guess we won't be thirsty!

Everyone on base has been very nice to us. We even get to eat in the camp's big cafeteria. There is SO much food in the cafeteria. It has way more food than the cafeteria at my school. I really wanted my photo taken in the cafeteria. But Kristin can't even bring her purse inside the cafeteria. I guess it has something to do with security. But, Kristin does let me peak outside of her pocket.

There is a small Burger King trailer on base. We haven't eaten there but here's a photo of it.

There are a few places on base where there are BIG guns on display. Kristin says they are NOT loaded. They are just on display. Here I am with Kristin by one of the guns.

There are SO many neat things to see and do at Camp Lemonier that I could write about it all day long. But Keith and Kristin need to get back to work so I guess I better let them have their computer back.

Until next time....