In Loving Memory of Jazz Virdee You will always be with us

Pictures and Adventures

Excerpts from blog posts Jazz made during her epic travels through Africa with Anouk, Nikki and Emily.

March 28, 2007

I don’t even know where to start, the $575 USD I spent on 5 days at Lake Manyera, Serengeti and Ngorogoro felt painful to dish out but I can’t think of a better reason to dive into debt!

On the first day at Lake Manyera baboons tried to climb up into our vehicle, I saw dik-dik’s galore and enjoyed make enough jokes about their name over the next few days to write a small book. Then as we were driving past tree, tree, monkey, monkey with bright blue testicles, tree, tree, I saw (and screamed) ELEPHANT!!!! Although this was just an elephant’s ass I felt pretty awesome (in a safari-ish way) about spotting it. Within the half hour though I felt that my reaction to an elephant’s ass was wasted after driving towards gawking giraffes, a sexy warthog, zebras, a bandit mongoose’s “honeymoon” as Hailise called it, and to top it all off elephant bath time!

And that was all in day #1!

The next few days were surreal, we saw the “big 5”, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippos and lions and so much more. The leopard gnawing on a reedbuck in a tree was intense and got all of us vegetarians bloodthirsty and dying to see something kill something else. The cheetah mother with her four cubs that our guide spotted from so far away was great, especially since the longer we waited the closer and closer they came.

Of course coming into the park we were all excited about seeing lions but all the ones we saw were so boring and just sleeping, that is until day 5 in Ngorogoro when as we were watching a rhino we noticed that a bunch of vehicles were parked up ahead, when we reached them and stopped the car a lioness walked straight towards OUR car, stopped looked at us crazy muzungu’s with our heads popping out of the roof like kebabs and then crossed the path and walked to her pride about 10 meters away on the other side, it was amazing. Did I mention that the entire time was amazing? It was amazing!

April 14, 2007

I met a really nice shop owner in Zanzibar stone town. I was looking for a bao board (a Swahili game I learned to play on the beach) and started chatting with the shop owner who was showing me different things in his store. When I got back to my hostel I realized that I was wearing this beautiful silver bracelet that he had me try on at one point. The next day I went back to the store to return the bracelet and the shopkeeper insisted I keep it as a gift so I promised to come back and do my entire souvenir shopping through him on my last day in the town. I went back and picked out a large enough collection of random things that should have cost me about $60-$70, I was splurging but I knew I was getting a great deal – Rashid, the shop owner wouldn’t let me pay more than 20,000Tsh (about $20) for everything, and even that was after I explained that there’s no way I was taking everything for free.

I’m telling you, Zanzibar really is a vortex.

April 22, 2007

Yes, missionaries left the residence that I am staying at in Kampala with my left shoe, in turn they left me with another left shoe but it’s just not the same. I’m still trying to figure out if this is punishment for my general hedonistic character or if they really were performing god’s work and needed my shoe. Either way I now pray to Bata Shoes. So, I’m back in Uganda. I was just walking around the city (shoe shopping) when it suddenly began to rain dogs and cats and gorillas and hippos so I ducked into this internet cafe. I’ll be returning to Gulu to get ready for the next group of volunteers to come in a couple of days, after 5 weeks of safaris, beach bumming and general debauchery I’m not exactly in the volunteering mind frame but I have a feeling that once I get back into it all thoughts of escape will disappear into a pile of work. That sounds pretty negative but actually I’m really excited to get back and see how all of the projects we started are progressing.

I last left you in Zanzibar, ahhh Zanzibar, we had planed to be there for 4 days before making our way slowly back up the coast to Kenya and then Nairobi where Anouk had to fly out of, instead Anouk stayed until the day of her Nairobi flight and flew there from the island while I said “I think I’ll leave tomorrow” almost everyone of the 12 days I spent there and went I finally did purchase that damn ferry ticket to Dar es Salaam I ran into a friend from earlier in the trip in Kendwa and wanted to cry since I locked myself into leaving within the hour.

In Dar I met my cousin that lives in Tanzania and he showed me a great time around the city. I spent my days walking around or lounging in the hotel room he put me up in (having my own personal bathroom was the best thing to happen to me in 3 months) while he showed me around in the evening. I decided to leave Dar the same day as my cousin was heading back home to Dodoma to save my cash and chill out in Kampala for free for my last week of “vacation” so I got my bus ticket on Saturday for Sunday morning at 6am when lo and behold I meet some friends from Kendwa Saturday night and want to stay! I spent the entire night debating whether or not to stay and finally left almost straight from the bar to the bus station and 30 hours later and in desperate need for an ass massage I’m back in good old Kampals – missing lots of people and happy to see others ahh, the joys of traveling.

May 15, 2007

Being a Support Intern apparently has it’s perks. My program director, Peter, took me to Murchison Falls for a game drive on our way to Kampala for the weekend.

I have to admit that it couldn’t compare to the Serengeti and I had to work hard not to say “when I was in Tanzania I saw…” every few minutes but it really was great to see wildlife like I did so close to where I’m living and we had a great time.

On the first day when we got there we got on a ferry that took us down the Nile to the falls. Along the way we saw elephants, hippos and huge Nile crocodiles, the largest crocs in the world according to our guide. We were also told that hippos are in fact the most aggressive animals in the park especially out on land where they become very defensive, however, when we got off the boat and saw a hippo on the shore our little group of four couldn’t resist trying to get a little closer to snap a shot of the 2 ton 2 year old male. Peter and I thought we were pretty daring when we estimated that we were about 50ft away from the hippo and turned towards the car feeling rather satisfied with our encounter. As we began climbing into the car we saw that the hippo had made it’s way grazing towards us and was pretty close to the park warden’s building, so the two of us made a rush into the building to see him through the window. It doesn’t sound like much but to see this monster covered in scars and open wounds from hippo fights at only 2-3ft away from us was amazing! I had grabbed Louyse’s camera, who we were traveling with and can’t wait to get those pics when I’m back home!

June 07, 2007

Despite the fact that I’ve stayed longer in Gulu than any other CVAPer from Canada I still feel like I haven’t been here long enough and am really sad to leave.

Going to Nairobi for 5 days last week for my cousin’s wedding was an interesting experience but my mind was in Gulu the entire time and I even rushed back a day early at the last minute because I missed everyone and wanted to see how all the projects were progressing, especially since we’re so close to the end. In the end though I’m really happy that I left, I had a narcissistic fear that if I left everything would fall apart, I was happy to come back and see that that wasn’t the case and that my successor was doing a great job and would continue doing so after I left.

The wedding was beautiful. It was my first wedding and I played the role of a sister to my cousin which entailed wearing Indian clothes and stuffing him and his bride with ludoos. As one would expect I also took the opportunity to see Steve (my bestest Nairobi friend) at Elegant Exhibitions (my favorite store in the world – thrift or otherwise) and came back enough that I’ll probably pay a hefty fine at the airport.

Overall I’m sure I’ll be excited about traveling once I leave but for now my mind is still Gulu’s and I have a feeling that next Friday will be hard for me. It’s my last Saturday night in Gulu though so I’m hitting the town!

Excerpts from Jazz’s Mongolian Blog, chronicling her experiences:

March 27, 2008

The last week in Ulaanbaatar has been a combination of work related meeting and workshops, language classes, socializing with other volunteers and exploring Ulaanbaatar.

Last weekend started with a fashion show put on by the Foundation for Wool & Cashmere Development NGO which a couple of VSO volunteers are involved with. The clothes where modern, innovative designs that I’m sure I could only wish to afford! I’ve been trying to get my hands on some wool yarn to knit with but thus far everyone’s been telling me that it’s impossible unless you’re a mass manufacturer, I am determined to prevail though!

On Saturday I ended up at the Museum of Natural History. Dinosaur fossils have been excavated from several areas in the Gobi Desert for decades. There was a 3m tall 5 ton flesh-eating tarbosaurus, and the “world famous fighting dinosaurs” – a velociraptor with it’s teeth buried into a protocerotops buried alive when a sand dune collapsed on them 80 million years ago forever preserving the attack!

Sunday I walked just south of Ulaanbaatar with a few other volunteers and laboriously climbed a big hill on the top of which were some ovoos. Ovoos are big piles of rocks found on the top of mountains where Buddhists come to make offerings to spirits. In accordance to the tradition I walked around the ovoos clockwise three times, tossed an offering (another rock) and made a wish. We walked along the ridge of the hills for a bit sucking in the view of the steppe on one side and smoggy UB on the other and then walked through a forest on the other side to get down.

That night I went to Иx Монгол, a bar where I saw an awesome local band which uses traditional Mongolian instruments and throat singing to perform wicked rock-ska-punk music. Their CD is supposed to be available for about $5.50 – if anyone’s interested email me!

On Tuesday a few of us caught the North Korean Circus’ last performance which was spectacular. The balancing acts and trapeze show were unlike anything I’ve even seen and with my stomach in my mouth I really felt that the performers were truly risking their lives to entertain me at times!

Those are my adventures as of yet, I’m in Ulaanbaatar for another 8 days with lots of plans so hopefully many more to come!

March 28, 2008

It’s spring time in Mongolia, after a long winter Montrealers celebrate the coming of summer. In Mongolia spring brings sand storms, cold winds and “changeable” weather ranging from +20C to -20C in a matter of hours. I went to Terelj National Park today when I left in was sunny and hot, then it was freezing, and then it was beautiful again, now it’s snowing! My language teacher told me that if someone’s moody you can say that they are acting like the spring sky, I get it now.

Terelj Park is not far from Ulaanbaatar. A few of us volunteers went up for the day where we saw some domesticated camels, they’ve got the furry two humped variety here, we checked out Gϋnjiin Sϋm, a Buddhist monastery used as a meditation center by monks, and a famous rock formation called Turtle Rock. The view of the park from the top was beautiful, if anyone out there is inspired to meditate with some Mongolian Buddhist monks this seems like a good spot to do so!

Most monasteries were destroyed by the Russian’s during the soviet “influence”. Gϋnjiin Sϋm once walled six temples and a tower, for some reason the Russian’s didn’t destroy the main temple but everything else was demolished. Some of the few monasteries which survived Mongolia’s communist days are supposed to be magnificent and I’m excited to check them out. There’s your Mongolian cultural lesson for the day!

April 3, 2008

Before leaving for Mongolia I had to get 3 rabies shots at a price of $250 each, I love VSO for covering those costs. Ulaanbaatar is strife with stray dogs and the countryside is supposed to be even worse. Average or not, being a westerner I am terrified of being alone with one of these mongrels, on Tuesday afternoon I gained some confidence in the way I would deal with such a situation, and for a moment, relief that $750 will keep me from foaming at the mouth.

My journey beings with an invitation to Mongolica, a cheap good Mongolian restaurant with, lo and behold, vegetarian options! When I accepted the invitation the night before I evidently wasn’t paying too much attention its whereabouts. I soon learnt that it was a 30 minute bus ride westward from where I’m staying in the city center. I’ve been on two buses in UB so far and neither of them merited the horror stories I’d been told. On Tuesday I took my first bus alone. It was 6pm and I was scheduled to meet my friends at a roundabout called Sapporo at 6:30pm. I let 3 buses pass, all packed like sardines before finally sharpening my elbows and shoving onto one. The conductor fascinatingly found a way to get to me and the other new arrivals for the fare but I was trapped on the steps of the doorway with no where to go and more people getting on behind me at every stop. Finally after about 10 minutes I made it up the stairs where I got stuck in the middle of the bus with enough room for only one of my feet to stay on the ground, unable to grab onto anything, with one arm sticking straight up in the air, and a little girl about 4 years old clutching onto me for dear life. I’m still finding bruises from the ride!

I was a bit concerned about missing my stop since I couldn’t see out the dirty windows but being in such close quarters with everyone I managed to make some friends, especially with the two other people forming a circle around the little girl with me. I didn’t know how to ask “how far is Sapporo” in Mongolian so the best I could do it keep asking “энэ Sapporo уу?” which means “is Sapporo here?” every five minutes. It worked! I saw the landmark and it was time to get off, I even saw my friends outside the bus looking out for me… I finally dragged myself off the bus 4 stops later and a 15 minute walk away. I felt like I lost 20 pounds in sweat and couldn’t stop exclaiming these loud “ahhs” and “whews” for a little while, people must have thought I was insane!

However, the journey didn’t end there. Walking down this street feeling like the lightest, freest person in the world, I noticed a lot of stray dogs on the street. One dog coming up was staring me down and inching forward towards me, and although there were lots of people on the street I thought it prudent to remember what my Mongolian Security Briefing had specified about dealing with stray dogs, so I bent down and picked up a rock. Success- knowing the possibility of what could come the dog turned around and scuttled away! I walked for about 10 more seconds feeling very proud of myself when all of a sudden I felt something bite my calf! I turned around half expecting something to jump up and mangle me (don’t worry ma, that doesn’t happen), when this Mongolian guy jumps up and starts laughing! A good way to get my attention to say the least.

I felt much better once I was sitting at Mongolica at 7:30pm with my veggie dumplings, a telling of my story and a rock in my pocket.

April 18, 2008

I’ve been living in Hutul for two weeks now where I am stationed to work for the next four and a half months. Things move slowly in this strange world which is great for catching up on reading but a bit frustrating in regards to work.

I came with little expectations as one in development work is trained to do, but out of the few I had one was that I would have an apartment on arrival as promised. Unfortunately that was not the case, the apartment promised to me ended up being rented to someone else so I was stuck in the one hotel in town to start with. The hotel is owned by the cement factory in town, one out of three factories that the town exists for, the other two being one that builds train sleeper cars and a flour mill. As the cement factory “hotel” the residences are mainly factory workers, that in itself isn’t a problem, the problem was that the Friday I took residence there marked the beginning of a Mongolian writer’s competition which came to town, this week-end long competition did not take the regular form of a literary focused gathering as I would imagine it, instead it was a round the clock drinking and brawling competition on the grounds of my residence. There was one shared bathroom with a door that would not lock and at least 4-5 drunken men in the hallway at all times of the day often fighting to the point that even my employer had difficulties in visiting me let alone me getting out of that room.

Two days into this I met an Australian woman who sometimes comes through Hutul to keep an eye on a café-project that she’s trying to start up here. In sympathy for my housing crisis she offered me the pantry in her café to live in; I was ready to say yes despite the ridiculousness of the entire situation when my employer met up with us to let me know that an apartment had been found!

I started with only a mattress (i.e. pile of blankets wrapped around a thicker blanket) on the floor and nothing else but in the past few weeks my employers and neighbours have come together to temporarily donate furnisher, the only major thing missing now is a fridge which is taking a bit longer to scavenge.

I think the playground scene outside my apartment epitomizes the clashing or combination of modern, nomadic and communist eras. In the middle of the Soviet style apartment blocks the playground has some monkey bars, a sand box and concrete blogs painted to represent animals for the kids, and for the adults there are three pool tables that get covered with tarp at night after a long day of use. It’s an interesting image, often I look out and I’ll see kids skipping rope beside groups of men drinking around a pool table, traditionally grabbed elders on the benches chatting, pigs and skinny dogs scavenging for rubbish and at least one horse tied up to the monkey bars or a lamp post.

I can’t say that I’ve made too many friends being the only foreigner in town and having a very limited vocabulary, but the time I’ve spent with my neighbours has been especially great. They dream of visiting Amerik one day and think talking to me is a great opportunity to learn English, so we often sit together in the evenings with all our language resources at hand and generally manage to communicate with a lot of patience. Not matter what the level of communication though everyone here is really friendly.

The one other person I’ve met who speaks a bit of English is a man heavily into the meditative teachings of the “Supreme Master”. He owns the one vegetarian restaurant in town (which I am oh so fortunate to have here) and has been trying to indoctrinate me in the SM teachings while emphasizing that it’s not a religion or a cult. I’m not convinced but won’t go into it, however if you’re curious check out, yes, modern prophets have their own TV station’s and websites in this fast paced technological world of ours. Enjoy your path to enlightenment!

May 9, 2008

Living in Hutul without many English speakers around puts extra pressure on learning Mongolian and learning it quickly. I have a few friends here in town who I spend some time with, the way this plays out is usually them stuffing food down my throat while we teach other a few phrases in our respective languages with the help of a pile of dictionaries and language training books between us. Usually this amusing scene is successful in helping me interact and practicing the few phrases I know but my challenge lately has been in trying to remember the new vocabulary.

I’ve reviewed my notes from these meetings, I’ve tried rewriting words over and over again like some sort of punishment, I’ve even tried Sesame Street style “words of the day” which I would write on my hand and try to use in the day to drill them in my mind but nothing’s been sticking! Finally I decided to go back to what I know.

In my second year of university I enrolled into an elective “The History of Classic Greek Art and Archeology”. As a budding anthropology student I thought it would be interesting to see the physical archeological side of my discipline. I don’t remember why I didn’t drop out of that class but it tore at my soul. We would spend 3 hours looking at slides with 15 centuries worth of pottery, paintings, sculptures and architecture. We had tests every couple of weeks worth just a few percentage points but no matter how hard I would study those pictures the classical Greek names, dates, artists, materials and locations that matched them never connected and I kept bombing one exam after another.

As the semester went on I started freaking out, I’d never done so bad in a class and it only got worse after my final exam schedule came out, I had 5 finals consecutively squashed into 4 days and couldn’t spare the time to figure out the difference between Daedalic and Severe sculpture styles anymore. The night before I had to sit for that impending exam I finally pulled out my text book and stared at one clay pot after another trying to drill all the details into my exhausted mind, I was studying an archeological plan which had a long path going up to a main temple, I began picturing the beautiful goddess Hera walking up that path and imagined that there was water on either side of it, as she walked up that path salmon were jumping out of the water over the path to the other side, 6 on the left jumping over 5 on the right, Hera being a bit freaked out by these weird fishes runs into the temple for sanctuary – and that’s how I remembered that The Sanctuary of Hera dating back to 650BC was excavated in Samos.

I spent the entire night fantasizing ridiculous, often perverted, intricate stories and images. At the end of the three hour exam I looked up and found that I was one of the only people still there – not because I was struggling to remember but because I remembered so many details that I couldn’t stop writing!

Now when I have to remember the word for “question” an image of a menacing cartoon interrogation mark pops into my mind since the word for question асуулт sounds like “assault” and if I can’t remember I can say “мартах” because it rhymes with partaay and if you party too much it’s only natural to forget.

May 17, 2008

Hutul is a soum (small town or village) which is considered to be the countryside in many respects, but in the 6 weeks I’ve been living here I’ve had a difficult time coming to terms with that. Yes, everyone knows everyone, almost as many horses as cars and I can walk the length of the area in under 10 minutes, but it doesn’t look like a “typical” countryside.

The town was constructed in the ‘70s by the Russians who built the cement factory here and anyone that came here came to work in the factory, the buildings are all perfectly identical 5 story Soviet style structures in groups of four with a playground in the middle of each. Beyond hills on three sides of the town are the “ger districts” where people live in traditional Mongolian gers or simple wooden houses. Being here had lowered my expectations of Mongolia as a beautiful country. There are beautiful places, but concrete doesn’t conjure up any nostalgia or inspiration.

Last weekend I went to Dulahan a small soum north of Darkhan closer to the Russian boarder. I loved it! The town itself didn’t have any buildings higher than a couple of stories and they were all different shapes and forms all mixed together in one area without any apparent segregation. The hills where higher and rockier than the dusty gray-brown ones surrounding Hutul and two rivers pass through Dulahan, recently unfrozen and flowing again.

We spent only one night there but a friend and I hiked for hours to the tallest hill. It was a strenuous hike but when we reached the top we were surrounded by cherry blossoms and sat on a rock for a long time taking in the beautiful view and the sweet smell. Mongolia is beautiful.

May 28, 2008

For the past three weeks or so I’ve had an awful pain in my hip whenever I walk, I have an ankle problem which used to give me knee pain until I got that corrected earlier this year so I figured it had something to do with that.

The pain’s been getting worse and worse so based on my organization’s protocols I started by seeing the UN doctor in Ulaanbaatar. Long story short she sent me to this acupuncturist / masseuse. As I got out of the stairwell onto the 3rd floor of the building I was directed to, the smell of ointments and herbs was so overpowering that I almost turned around, but determined to give this new experience a try I persevered.

I was ushered into a barely curtained off area in the room where the smells where wafting from, I started with a painful massage given by a young woman who would occasionally go out of the room I was in and giggle with a male attendant while I lay there in my underwear. At one point I had my eyes closed trying not to spasm from her boney figures in my stomach when I suddenly heard her say “bano?” – she nonchalantly talked on her cell phone for at least 5 minutes while jabbing my organs.

Forty-five minutes later that was finally over and I was given acupuncture, mostly on my stomach and thigh. Still lying there in my underwear the attendant my masseuse torturer was giggling with continuously poked his head through my curtain while I sat there with 20 needles sticking out of me, it was difficult to access the professional reasoning behind this considering that he was not attending me in any apparent way.

Finally the needles came out and I’m under the impression that I can finally go and relax after this stressful experience when I’m told to flip over. I lay there with another 15 or so needles in my back and on my ass when all of a sudden I feel this plastic thing on my lower back that the acupuncturist starts pumping into some suction action over the needle – the final result was a semi crescent of fist sized hickies shaping my bum cheek for about a day and a half… and the same pain I started with!

I probably could have given it another chance but was happy to settle it with the expensive ex-pat doctor with a diagnosis of tendonitis and a bag of ibuprofen!

One Response to Pictures and Adventures

  1. Pingback: In Loving Memory of Jazz Virdee » Archive » Jazz’s Work

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