New Blog!

If you've enjoyed reading about my experiences in Tanzania here, check out the new blog I've started on Wordpress as of November, 2017. It's called "Back to Tanzania" and you can read it here. All new adventures in Tanzania from an older, wiser, more experienced expat.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

No, I'm Not That Brave

Some of my friends, when they hear about my activities here in Tanzania (or Peru or Morocco or Mexico or ...), tell me I'm brave. Well, to all of you, this morning I came across a passage that eloquently lays it all on the line. Here's how I almost always feel before I move to the next place and before I leave home and how I've been kind of feeling for the few days since I arrived back here:

"I have been a traveler my whole life, and yet at moments like this I feel completely untethered. There is such a wave of loss it borders on grief. There is so much unknown just down the road I feel a disorientation bordering on vertigo. Part of me always wants to crawl back inside my house and curl up under the quilt with a gush of relief. Part of me never wants to go anywhere strange again. Wants to go to a movie for excitement and come home. Make tea like we always do at night before sleep."   Peter Heller in Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave.

I'm letting myself feel it, knowing I'll move on to other feelings next, back to the excitement of being in a strange place. I know that I need just the right mix of hiding in my house alone and forcing myself out into town to experience it all.

K2 is up on the mountain in the middle of a 10-day trek. Anna's working in a new job and she has the flu. A friendly Australian invited me to a party to watch "Aussie Rules" on TV--not sure what that is, but if it was Australians it would've been fun. However, I went to the wrong place and missed it. 

But, tomorrow morning I'll make myself get up early and get out of the house and get over to Jordan Institute. I'll sit in the classroom crowded with all those 20-something-years-old Tanzanians and soak up some of the joy that radiates out from them, even while they're studying English. That should do the trick!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I'm baaa-aac-k! Here's a sampling of things that have happened in my five days back in Tanzania that really let me know I'm back.

K2 picked me up at the airport. It was so nice to see him again! The Suzuki was really dirty, which was surprising because K2, like most Tanzanians, is meticulous about the car and washes it often. He was appalled when he returned from treks and found the car filthy in my care. So I gave him some attitude about the dirty car. Ha ha!

The first evening in Arusha, K2 said to me, "You gained weight." He followed this with the classic up and down appraising look, and, "It looks goooood." I love Tanzania! Although I am still American, so I just want to say it's not even two pounds.

The jacaranda trees are in full bloom. It's as if lovely lavender smoke floats over the city.

And real smoke hangs over the city, and oozes into my house under the front door. People are burning trash, and the weather is overcast in the mornings, so the smoke stays low. Just a couple of hours most days. But now I'm scared about it, because a U.S. doctor said the smoke here probably caused the pneumonia I took home to Utah with me.

After two months, my house was kind of gross. There was an ant parade running up to the shelves holding mostly dry foods. I took down all the food and cleaned the shelves. There were spills of honey, sugar, and flour pulling in the ants. When I took down some bags of dried beans, I found them infested with little black beetles. Yecch! The ants originated in this one creepy under-counter cabinet next to the sink. I haven't been using it. The counter is made of concrete and the cabinets are thick wood. The sink was leaking for some time, and some of the wood is rotted. When I open the doors a musty cave smell wafts out into the kitchen.

I sprayed insecticide in the crevices. Ants didn't pour out. A half dozen smallish cockroaches poured out. And some more of those little beetles. Double yecch! Across the kitchen on the dry side, I opened the under-counter cabinet where I keep the pans, and something big (for the insect world) and dark made an actual rustling noise and darted down the inside wall away from me. I immediately thought cockroach and slammed the door and ran out of the kitchen. Upon sober reflection, I realized it was more likely a gecko. Geckos have been pooping on the windowsills and bathroom fixtures, so I don't know why it made me feel better to have a gecko in there than a cockroach, but it did.

We had chicken and chips at Ceti Gardens. They have a car wash next to the outdoor restaurant so you can eat dinner while you wait for the guys to wash your car, which can take 45 minutes or more here. K2 loves Ceti Gardens because he so loves a clean car. When we got into the car after dinner, the front seats were wet. Turns out I left the sunroof open a crack earlier in the day.

An acquaintance dropped by my house unannounced my second night back to ask me for money. I gave her some. Two days later, she asked me for money again.

Another acquaintance started a conversation with, "But what else can you do here in Tanzania besides teach?" This is always the run up to convincing me that I should start a small business, as any hard-working Tanzanian with a bit of  money would do. I told him about an idea for importing some Tanzanian items into America. He thought that was too cumbersome, due to the need to have an agent in America handling things. Then he launched into a description of his own business plan, a cement block-making business that would require purchase of two or three machines. This is always the run up to asking me to invest. I've developed a talent, though, for avoiding the direct request at the end of the pitch by dropping discouraging comments into the sales pitch. For example, "That's why this importing idea is good, because I could start with a very small investment until I see how it goes." No Amway or Nutralife or Mary Kay here, but it feels the same sometimes!

My Dutch friend Martina went out to dinner with some friends at a nice restaurant and left her company car, a Suzuki that looks like a cross between a Jeep and a golf cart, parked in the restaurant's lot with its security guards (askari). After dinner, it wouldn't start, which has happened before. Her friends helped her push it for quite a way, and it still wouldn't start. She left it overnight, with more askari nearby in front of a bank. When she returned in the morning with a mechanic, it turned out that thieves had opened the hood and stolen the distributor while she had dinner.

I came home in the dark and flipped on the kitchen light. I heard loud rustling from inside a cardboard box I'd stuffed with empty plastic bags. It was loud enough that I was thinking mouse or gecko. I gingerly carried the box outside, turned it upside down and shook the bags out. The biggest, blackest cockroach I have ever seen (and don't forget I lived two years in the Philippines, which is a hotbed of giant cockroaches) scuttled out and took up his position on the porch steps. Since he didn't run away, I did--back inside the house and slammed the front door, in case he might have been attracted by the light inside. Oh, wait, cockroaches run away from light. Anyway, I stayed inside for an hour listening to the plastic bags blow all around in the wind until my conscience forced me outside to pick them up. The cockroach was gone and I haven't thought about where he might be now. Before I left for two months, this house only had geckos (cute) and mosquitoes (annoying, but manageable with a mosquito net). While I was in America, all insect hell broke loose.

I was walking through a busy shopping area and passed two young men unloading a truck. From behind me, one of them said, "Oooh, Mami, mazuri!" in a lascivious voice. By which he meant roughly, "Ooh, baby, nice a**." It must be the extra two pounds. I love Tanzania! Of course I pretended I didn't understand and kept walking because he was obviously not a nice man. This is what I was talking about in my previous post about the difference between mama (or mami) and ma'am , where I said mama is a respectful, affectionate form of address for an older woman. Except maybe for the respectful part.

In Tanzania, we leave our shoes at the door and slip into flip flops to keep the floors cleaner. We also wear flip flops into the bathroom to avoid creating mud when the floor's wet after a shower. I needed to buy some flip-flops. After passing the young men and their truck, I approached a big outdoor market and kept asking women "Wapi naweza kupata ndala?" "Where can I get flip flops?" They answered me in Swahili, most of which I didn't understand, and did multi-phase pointing, indicating some type of corner to be turned. I ended up at a narrow alleyway leading back among the stalls with a young man guiding me (for a tip). We wended our way through dozens of stalls selling dried beans, spices, and plastic kitchen wares. After several twists and turns, we stopped at a stall with flip flops hanging on the outside. The guide, and three of his buddies who swooped in, called back and forth to the proprietor who was deep inside the stall unpacking boxes. We passed different sizes in and out until I found what I wanted. I drove a hard bargain--I got him to come down from double the local price to 1.5 times the local price, and bought four pair. I was pretty sure I was lost, so I made the guide take me back to the street before I tipped him.

K2 and I were in the house in the evening and going in and out of the kitchen. I flipped on the light, and right next to the stove on top of the counter was the second biggest, blackest cockroach I have ever seen. I screamed a little bit and acted up, hoping K2 would take care of it. He said, "What?" I said, "There's a giant cockroach in here!" He said, "Kill it." OK, but I used his shoe to do it. All. Insect. Hell.

K2 had told one of the staff at Kundayo Apartments (where I'd stayed for my first two months here in the spring) that we were coming to visit one evening. My phone rang, then the caller hung up before I could answer. It was the Tanzanian Missed Call Strategy, wherein you phone a friend, letting them know that you want to talk to them, but that you are not willing to use your own prepaid phone credits to do so. Often I don't return the call, because I think people can pay for their own darn phone credits. But it was Fatinha, a waitress at Kundayo Apartments. She's young and she's a waitress, so I  know I have more money than she does and I called her back, to let her know that K2 was late and we'd reschedule soon.

Then K2 called me, employing the Almost-Missed-Call. My phone rang from a number not in my contacts, but since K2 was out late, I answered. He said, really fast, "This is K2. Call me back on this number, please," and hung up. This meant his phone battery was dead and he'd borrowed someone's phone and did not want to use up their credits. If he had run out of credits himself, he would have simply sent me, for free, a text message saying, "Please recharge me." Then I would have transferred credits from my phone to his via a text message to Vodacom. He told me the company car in which he'd been expecting to ride back to Arusha had been diverted to the trailhead to meet a tourist with altitude sickness. He was waiting for the public bus and starving, so please buy chicken and chips. And use this number if I need to call him. Three hours later I tried to call him, and the unknown phone was also dead. I didn't really worry, though. With K2's plans all gone awry and him riding a bus through the middle of the night and out of contact, it just seemed like I must be back in Tanzania. Eventually, I received a text message saying, "Recharge me." I recharged him, and he texted to let me know the bus had broken down and he'd just arrived in Arusha and don't worry, he'd see me in the morning.

I returned yesterday to Jordan Institute, the tour guide/hotel management college where I volunteer in English classes. When I entered the classroom, all of the students' faces lit up with smiles and they said, "Oh! Barbara!" Several of them prefaced their English practice pieces with "welcomes" and "pole sanas" ("very sorries"), both for the loss of my mother and for my long journey. When class was over, many of the girls gave me the greeting in which you hold each others' shoulders and rub cheeks on first one side, then the other, sometimes adding a kiss on the cheek. Many of the boys shook my hand in all the Tanzanian varieties of handshakes. In the hour between classes, I spoke with many students, all of whom were so happy to see me again that I felt warmly welcomed back to Tanzania and happy to dive back into the whole adventure. Even if one of the students in the advanced English class, when invited to ask questions in English about America, asked me for the history of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War!

And after three days of focused cleaning, I'm happy to report I've seen only a half dozen ants and no more cockroaches in the last two days. The geckos are still pooping, though.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Back Again in Arusha

This is just a brief note to let you all know that I am safely back in Arusha. The trip was uneventful, except for Delta's usual running late, mechanical difficulties, etc. Anyway, I landed here around 8:30 last night and K2 met me at the airport. And now I'm sitting in an outdoor Indian restaurant with him in Moshi, a small town close to Kilimanjaro. I rode along with him so I could spend the day with him even though he had to run an errand for work. Anyway, I'm exhausted and jet-lagged, so that's all for now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Few Things Different in Utah than in Arusha

Corn on the Cob: In Utah, this is a wonderful summer treat. Boil it or microwave it inside the husk, slather with butter, sprinkle with salt, and it's soft, a bit sweet, and the perfect taste of summer. Best when bought at the fruit stands along the "Fruit Way" section of highway 91. In Arusha, it's served year around as a street side snack, which I often buy on the way home in late afternoon. Vendors roast it on small charcoal grills along the edge of the road and sell it for 100 T shillings (about 1/10 of a cent U.S.). You get a section of a cob. It's halfway between popcorn and American style sweet corn. It's not-quite-crunchy, often with a couple of kernels that have popped while still attached to the cob.

Roadside Activity: The corn vendors would go broke in Utah, because there's just no foot traffic along the edge of the road. In Arusha, there are hundreds of pedestrians and dozens of bicycles and even a few wooden pull-carts and homemade wheelchairs sharing the shoulder of the road with auto traffic. The first morning I was back in Utah, I drove from my house to the center of town (carefully reminding myself to drive on the right side of the road), and it felt as if maybe the county had been evacuated and I hadn't heard about it because I slept in and didn't catch the morning news (jet lag the first few mornings). The beautiful wide sidewalks were empty. No pedestrians. No bicycles. No sign of life. There weren't even that many cars in the four lanes of traffic.

Static Electricity: This is not a problem in Arusha, where the rain forest crowds the edge of town and springs up in unoccupied gullies. My clothes drape nicely and my hair has a fluffy wave to it with no styling needed. In Utah, where the sagebrush desert crowds the edge of town, my clothes have so much static that they stick to my body and crackle, and it's not attractive. My hair hangs limp like  seaweed on a rock, and is also not attractive. But it's OK because of my blow drier and "product."

Medical Care: From what I've seen so far (which isn't that much yet), doctors in Arusha conduct a brief interview about your symptoms and write a prescription. In Utah, I had an x-ray, an ultrasound, lung function testing inside a glass booth with a breathing tube, a mammogram with three views of each side, a followup mammogram for a fourth view on one side, two antibiotics, two inhalers, and some liquid nitrogen freezing of bad freckles. Half of it was because of pneumonia. Half of it was just routine checkups because I'm over 40. I keep telling myself that's why Americans have a life expectancy 30 years longer than Tanzanians. But I'm starting to feel freaked out by chilled, dimly lit rooms full of computer screens and stainless steel tables. At least the dentist didn't need x-rays this year.

Hot Water: In Utah, my house has a big water heater in the basement that supplies an electric dishwasher, a clothes washing machine, all the sinks in the house, two bathtubs, and two showers on demand. I can stand under a hot shower for about 20 minutes. Aaahh! In Arusha, my house has a small water heater mounted on the wall near each of two showers. I turn on an electric switch, wait about 20 minutes, and have enough hot water for about a five-minute shower. Lots of houses don't have showers, and you take a "bucket bath," in which you heat some water on the stove, mix it with some cold water in a bucket, then use a dipper to pour water over yourself. It all works well enough to get clean every day.

Ma'am vs. Mama: "Ma'am" is a loaded word in America. Usually, it's offered respectfully, but often received as a quasi insult because it implies that the woman being addressed is old. In America, old is bad. Middle-aged women are kind of invisible. I listened to a long discussion on National Public Radio a few days ago in which women my age discussed why they hate to be called ma'am. The author of an article in "The Washington Post" discussed her research about why women hate to be called ma'am. Every speaker started with the unquestioned premise that it's bad to be old.  In Tanzania, most people younger than me, especially men, call me "mama." It also implies that I'm older than the speaker, but being old is fine. "Mama" is respectful and affectionate. Younger people respect older people, notice and greet them, and enjoy their company. I feel happy when Tanzanians call me "mama."

Weight: Being back in Utah, I am barraged by advertisements, articles, TV shows, blogs, and casual discussions everywhere about how to lose weight. The standard of beauty for women here is skinny, but with big breasts (even though the two looks don't often occur together naturally). Having been away for a few months, I notice that American models and actresses are so skinny they look like they must be ill. In Arusha, nobody worries about weight. Most women are considered to be attractive in their natural state, unless their behinds are too skinny. In America, there are more obese people than in Tanzania. In Tanzania, there are more slender people than in America. In both places, there are many people who fall somewhere in between.

Soda: People in both Utah and Arusha drink a lot of soda. I tend to drink a lot more soda when I'm in Arusha, although I'm trying to make iced tea and keep it in the fridge. A few times Tanzanians have made remarks to me implying that Americans are odd because we like to drink water. Soda comes in smaller servings there, about 12 oz. It comes in the old reusable glass bottles. I like this size much better than the American 20 oz. plastic bottle. Diet soda is available in only a few places, and only in cans. There's no recycling in Arusha, and garbage disposal is not as regulated as in America, so I drink regular soda from bottles. At home, I drink diet soda from cans. While I was here, I had to remember to always order the smallest drink at fast food places so I wouldn't get 32 or 46 oz. of diet Coke. And I'm sure the Coca-Cola Company would deny it, but the regular Coke tastes better in Tanzania. Maybe it's like Mexican Coke, with sugar cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.

Cars: Although there are plenty of newer cars in Arusha, there are a lot more new cars in Utah. Cars here come in a wider variety of makes and models. White cars are very popular in both places. Even though America, especially Western America, is notorious for big cars, our cars are not as big as Arusha cars. In Arusha, all those giant safari Land Rovers that can haul 10 paying tourists have got us beat. 

Twilight: Arusha is in the southern hemisphere, but very close to the equator. All year around, it gets light at about 6:30 am and dark at about 6:30 pm. Here in Utah, I've been enjoying those beautiful, long summer days in which the sun doesn't go down until 9:00 pm and being home before dark is no problem. Even being here for only two months, I've noticed the days getting shorter as we ease into fall.

I have allergies that play havoc with my sinuses in spring and fall. Now that we are easing into fall, my allergies are kicking up, so it's time to head back to Tanzania. I've started packing. Last time, I packed light, mostly travel/hiking clothes and no accessories and certainly no household items. This time, I'm packing a few more things. Almost everything I need, I can buy in Arusha and don't want to carry it back and forth with me. But there are just a few things...

Sheets and Towels: I bought sheets and towels in Arusha, but I couldn't find any high-quality, luxurious ones. Most are imported from China. No 300-thread-counts. K2 and Cece urged me to buy second-hand things, because I could have gotten high-quality sheets and towels from America or Europe that were used and donated somewhere and found their way into the Arusha second-hand market. Logically, I should have done that. But it made me shudder to think of using someone else's sheets (I know, I've slept on sheets used by other people every time I've been in a hotel). I think it's a culturally-based aversion because several of my American friends shuddered, too, when I told them about it.

Contact Lens Solution: I found an optometrist shop in Arusha that sells the contact lens solution I use, but they charge about $18 for it! It costs about $10 here in Utah, which used to seem like a rip-off to me, but now I'm good with it.

Accessories: I seldom take scarves or jewelry when I travel, because I can live without them for awhile and they'll probably just get lost somewhere. But now that it feels less like traveling and more like living somewhere, I want some of my scarves and jewelry so I can be stylish when I teach at the tour guide school or eat out with my friends. Oh, and some of my cuter tops and skirts instead of all hiking clothes all the time. Oh, and also some workout clothes and my extra-wide sneakers. I could buy those in the South African department store in Arusha, but they'd be really expensive.

Vegetable Peeler: I found everything else I wanted for my kitchen, except this. I did find one, but it was so dull, it wouldn't even peel carrots. So I'm packing one of those little aluminum jobs that cost something like $2.49. K2 can peel potatoes with a knife in a jiffy, but I can't because I'm used to my peeler. And he laughs at me.

Over-the-Counter Drugs: Maybe if I worked hard enough at it, I could find everything I want at various pharmacies in Arusha. But they tend to sell super-strength combo meds. When I tried to buy phenylephrine, a decongestant that I use so I can avoid suphedrine which makes me sick, it was mostly formulated in pills that included suphedrine. The closest I could come to plain phenylephrine was phenylephrine plus caffeine. I did find ibuprofen and bought a foil card with eight doses. When I asked to see the large bottle of 200 tablets, it turned out that the pharmacist had opened it and was selling it one dose at a time. He also had a few one-dose packets of things marked as samples not to be resold. Although, all the expiration dates were current.

Okay, I'm finishing up this post a few days after I started it. It's 11:30 pm and I leave for Tanzania tomorrow morning. I'm having a bit of a problem fitting all my purchases and my nicer clothes into my two biggest suitcases. Plus, I'm waiting for the last load of laundry to come out of the dryer. I can't believe I'm up this late. Why didn't I do my laundry this morning?

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Taste of a Western Summer in America

I'll be back in Tanzania in less than two weeks now. I expect I'll feel disoriented for a few days when I get back. I say that because I felt quite disoriented for about three weeks after I came home to Utah in July. The two places are worlds apart from each other, and the speed of travel between them leaves me feeling displaced. I spent a couple of weeks visiting Idaho and working with my brothers and various funeral directors and lawyers and accountants because of my mother's passing. Then I spent a couple of weeks hiding out inside my house resting and recovering from a mild case of pneumonia.

But when all of those sad, difficult things were finished up, I headed outside and hit the road in the beautiful western American summer. Here are a bunch of pictures and a few comments on the stuff I saw out there, which was a nice taste of all the different stuff you can see Out West. This post is really not about Tanzania, except as an illustration of how the two places are, indeed, worlds apart.

First stop, Alpine, Wyoming, and the Grand Targhee Bluegrass Music Festival with my friend Megan. She always hosts me at her idyllic log house with a view of the Tetons from the front porch. She is also known as "the Martha Stewart of the Wilderness" because of her thoughtful, enthusiastic hosting of as many guests as she can round up.

The drive from Sugar City to Driggs, Idaho, with the Teton Mountain Range drawing nearer.

The audience setting up lawn chairs in front of the stage. The music lasted for over 12 hours. Of course, all the good bands played last and I had to stay awake past midnight, which is hard for me--but worth it this time.

My group of friends, all former coworkers at the Forest Service. Megan, Carol (who also frequently hosts me at her house in Idaho), Carson (actually the daughter of a coworker), me in the big hat, Lisa, and Heidi. That's Doug, Heidi's husband, lying down in front. He was a good sport and spent the day with five of Heidi's funnest girlfriends and just smiled no matter how much we harassed him.

Megan and Heidi settling in for 12 hours of bluegrass.

One place in Wyoming where you'll see more "hippies" than "cowboys."

She might be both a hippie and a cowboy, 'cause she's got the hat, but she's wearing it with batik.
All hippie. No cowboy.

Grand Targhee is a mid-size ski resort on the back side of the Tetons (if you concede that Jackson is the front side). I skied here all through my teenage years. My little brother used to get me to follow him through that clump of aspens on the left (the trees with the white trunks). He was fearless, and I always thought I might die. Anyway, it's a beautiful spot for a summer concert.

Next, I drove to the Seattle area to visit family. (You can read more about that in a previous post .)

My cousin Jerry with his cat Milo. That's a typical thing about Americans--we love our pets!

But how could you not love handsome Milo? (Photo taken by my cousin Chris)

 Snoqualmie Falls in Western Washington state. The power company is currently modifying the hydroelectric facilities, so there's less water and more construction equipment than usual. Still an impressive waterfall for those of us who live in the desert!

 (Photo by Chris)

 (Photo by Chris)

 The Austin-Healy Club of Portland, Oregon were all in the parking lot at Snoqualmie Falls.

Another typical thing about Americans-we love our cars, almost as much as our pets. Even if they're British.

 The sun through the Doug-firs in the temperate rain forest near North Bend, Washington.

 Me in a typical pose, outside pointing my camera at something. (Photo by Chris)

 Here's what I was pointing my camera at. Another favorite of Americans, a cute little chipmunk.

Driving home, I took the interstate freeway through Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, and Southern Idaho.

 Eastern Oregon, between Pendleton and the Blue Mountains.

I spent a night in Baker City, Oregon, not far from the Idaho border (which does not require any immigration formalities to cross). I ate dinner in a really good Mexican restaurant and had a chicken mole enchilada. I miss Mexican food when I'm in Tanzania! The waiter/owner was from Guadalajara, Mexico, so I practiced speaking Spanish with him. Every time he asked me a question, I would say, "Ndiyo (Swahili for 'yes'). Si (Spanish for 'yes')." For example, "Quieres mas agua?"  "Ndiyo! Si!" Which translates as, "Do you want more water?" "Yes! Uh...I mean...Yes!"

Here are some pictures of historic downtown Baker City, Oregon. For my Back East, European, and Tanzanian friends, we count historic as anything before about 1910 out here in the West.


 Looks like I missed a summer fair, the Miner's Jubilee. I had also just missed the Highland Games, so there must have been some Scottish miners who settled here.

 We also love our pickup trucks Out West.

The next morning when I stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere to use the bathroom and buy more coffee, in that order, I saw this sign.

I didn't know you could use those things for bait! After writing an emergency environmental assessment for killing hordes of them before they got to the wheat (or was it corn?), and getting a driving tour through a smear of them on the road (to help me understand the urgency of keeping them out of the corn), I would not be one to pick them up and handle them. Just give me some earthworms. Or maybe those bright pink marshmallows that don't squirm at all.

 And then on the outskirts of Boise, another surprise. Americans also love outlet (discount store) shopping, and here's one that carries outdoor gear. K2 has been looking for a down coat to wear on Kilimanjaro, but the selection is not good in Arusha. I got a bargain on a beautiful one in here. The winter gear was just out on the shelves, plus, it was the start of the Labor Day Sale. Two more things Americans love: Monday holidays that result in a three-day weekend and shopping a holiday sale! Woo-hoo!

I also got to partake of another favorite end-of-summer American activity: the State Fair. My big brother Bob and I spent a day together at the East Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot, Idaho. We both remembered it fondly from childhood. Fairs are bittersweet because although you celebrate the fullness and beauty of summer (you know, by competing for the best vegetables, fruits, and flowers grown all summer), you also start to grieve the end of summer, which is the sweetest time of year in North America. Even if you do love to ski.

 The flower competition.

A lady strolling past the sunflowers in her matching tee-shirt.

State Fair Icon: the biggest pumpkin. This one is 460 pounds, which I think is not very big compared to other parts of the country with longer growing seasons. But still, it's a big pumpkin!

The cake decorating competition. Looks like some serious competitors here!

 The 4-H kids' cake decorating entries.

 The quilts were gorgeous.

 The antique competition. They were judged on rarity, age, and condition. Bobby and I noticed several items that we could remember as part of our childhood, so I guess we're getting old! Or just rare...but our condition is still very good.

 OMG! Where did she find that hat?

Must have been here...

And since it's a fair, and it's Idaho, you gotta have cowboy hats.

 Lunch time! With the traditional selection of special state fair junk foods that we look forward to all summer. And then feel a little sick afterwards.

I'm not sure cotton candy's really a food, but I sure loved it when I was a kid.

Even at the fair, this is going too far. I've been seeking out bacon while I've been home (because the bacon in Tanzania is not good), but even so...chocolate? That's just weird. Battered and deep-fried, maybe...

Riding the giant ferris wheel with Bobby. I'm trying to remember to call him "Bob," because he's a 53-year-old auto mechanic and people laugh when I say "Bobby." But this day we spent a lot of time reminiscing about our Idaho childhood, so I'm going with Bobby.

The view from the top of the ferris wheel. You can see Southeast Idaho stretching off into the distance beyond the midway.


Why is Sponge Bob wearing a diaper? Is this Baby Sponge Bob? Before he got his Square Pants?

My favorite part of the fair: the livestock!

Grooming a cow in preparation for judging.

 A sheep all covered up to keep her clean until judging time.

 That's a pretty ratty-looking t-shirt...don't let the judges see thaaaat!

 Who knew? Sheep got dreadlocks!

 Does this really count as livestock? Miniature horses.

 The sign said, "This area closed for rabbit judging." goats.

 Back to the horse barn after judging in the arena...

 You can see why the horse was a bit jumpy--look at the size of that cow watching the barn...
 Future dairymen? Or just future men?

Y'all come back now. Ya hear?