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Trip Report: Tanzania & Uganda

Recently a group from CAC traveled to Tanzania and Uganda, with two of the participants being our CAC youth! The team compiled the following trip report, and we're excited to share this update with you. What a blessing the trip was for all involved.....

This trip was by far the most spectacular, full of unexpected surprises beyond what we had hoped to accomplish and experience. Before we even touched down on African soil, we had a 24-hour layover in Zurich, Switzerland. With so much time on our hands we decided to hop on a train from the airport to Stoos, Schwyz and hike the Alps. Just seeing the countryside with the lush green valleys around the azure of Lake Zurich as they fold into the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Alps was unforgettable. It was raining, and as we arrived to Stoos we had to take a bus to the cable tram. Markeithion's fear of heights became apparent as the bus zoomed around tight corners and narrow, winding streets upon wet pavement. His fear was then shared by the group when we stepped onto the tram, swaying gently with each footstep. We were accompanied by four or five other passengers in this small car. Suddenly we found ourselves going up, the ground disappearing, evermore distant during our gradual ascent. Not only was it windy as we rose higher in elevation, but this was the world's steepest funicular car. When we looked out, we were shocked by the view. It was majestic! Markeithion was still nervous as we stepped onto the platform and then onto solid ground. These fears melted away as we began to play in the snow and hike around the peaks of the mountain for a few hours before making our way back down the mountain to take the train back to the airport. This small adventure, however, was just the appetizer. The main course was still to come, and it was just on the other end of a nine-hour flight south!

While we were in Switzerland taking trains, planes, and automobiles, we were surrounded by German, French, and Italian. Dior and Markeithion were fascinated with the languages, trying to listen to and decipher them. They asked a lot of questions. When we got on the plane to go to Tanzania via Swiss Air, we heard the announcements first in English, then in German, then in French, and next in Italian. Finally, we heard each announcement a fifth time, but in Swahili. The language was very different, and it was an indicator to the experiences awaiting us upon landing. We arrived in Dar es Salaam for a 13-hour stop before heading to Arusha in the north. We had time to walk to the Indian Ocean along the coast, arriving in time to watch the sunrise over the ocean. Just seeing the city itself was impressive. It is a vibrant mix of tradition and modernity. We saw people in more traditional clothing as well as jeans and t-shirts. We saw large paved highways and tall buildings everywhere as far as the eye could see. This is a metropolis, larger than Los Angeles. We then headed back to the airport to catch a plane to Arusha for the next leg of our odyssey.

The plane we took was smaller, and we landed into Arusha after a short, one-hour flight on a Tanzanian airline. The landscape had changed from the bustling, urban panorama of Dar es Salaam to the grasslands of the Savannah. Arusha the city itself was also very much a modern city, slightly larger than St. Louis. Within the city there are tall buildings draped with tropical, verdant vines and trees. Our kids' view of Africa was changing. It is not just rural poverty. There are cities and infrastructure. There is vibrant culture and industry. We got to work with a local gym of MMA fighters and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners. We gave three grappling seminars, always finishing up with a time of reflection. While Markeithion and I went to train, Dior and Kia were accompanied by Anita and Amira, two of our hosts, on a trip to the market. They took a tuk tuk or bajaj, a 3-wheeled motor taxi imported from India, and got to see what the local markets were like.

We also went to see the Mills family. They run a media ministry, making kids shows in Swahili to broadcast the Gospel, with an appearance of an East African Sesame Street. It was amazing to hear their stories having worked in the field for eight years. We learned more about their work, and they cooked us a delicious meal. It was certainly inspiring for our kids to see and hear first hand what it is like to devote oneself to to going abroad to share the Gospel.

On our last day in Arusha, we went to Tarangire National Park on safari. We were expecting to go to the less touted Arusha National Park, when one of the people we trained with in the jiu jitsu class offered us a even cheaper deal to go to Tarangire. Before we even got to the park we saw giraffes, zebras, and ostriches. It was migration season, so we saw the animals in large groups. When we got into the jeep in the park, we were followed by a large herd of zebra. We then saw a lot of impala, and everywhere we went we saw large groups of elephants, easily over five hundred on the whole trip. At one point a large bull male approached our jeep. Our guide said elephants can't see well, so they rely on sound and scent. The motor of the jeep attracted his attention. The guide turned off the vehicle, telling us to be completely silent, as the elephant stuck his trunk almost into the car to sniff out what was going on before turning back. After stopping for lunch, we saw a lioness in the distance laying between a termite mound and a tree. Suddenly she jumped up and rushed out with two other lionesses and four cubs! They were being chased by a large elephant! We would encounter this group again twice more. The third and final time we saw them hunt and catch a warthog. It was like living in a documentary, and our kids saw it all!

Heading further north, we took a 7-hour bus ride into Kenya, where we would have just two days. The countryside was incredible, seeing Masai herders, ostriches and zebra in the shadows of immense mountains larger than those in the Alps we had seen earlier in Switzerland. This scenery changed though again coming into Nairobi from tall peaks to skyscrapers. Nairobi is very much a world class city. We were met by Lestie from the One Tribe Jiu Jitsu gym who took us to the mall to eat. We then went to our host's house, Tete, a Kenyan who owns a construction company. He is pretty busy as his company was finishing up a school. We went to teach two seminars on grappling. The first of which, we found ourselves crunched for time to get to the house and back out, as traffic in Nairobi, like any city as large, is horribly congested. Our only option was the boda bodas, or nduthies as they are called in Kikuyu. The language had changed again, as our friends explained that Tanzanian Swahili was more of the proper, almost Shakespearean Swahili versus the rough slang of Kenyan Swahili, which was then mixed in with the sounds of Kikuyu being spoken as well. Nonetheless, these boda bodas were motorcycles.

They fit three people each, and Dior was terrified at first. She rode with Kia while Markeithion hopped on with me. I thought he was going to break my ribs as he squeezed while we zipped along. I was wondering how Kia and Dior were doing. Within seconds of that thought, I watched them pass us while Dior saw Markeithion quaking in fear. She was relaxed and gave an ironic look of disappointment. We arrived at the house, and the girls were exhausted. They decided to stay and rest while Markeithion and I went to train. We took the boda boda again, but he was ready this time in spite of the trip being nearly twice as long. After that it seemed to be the only way he wanted to travel!

We worked with around 40 people in the seminars. It was a good crowd, and we were able to help promote combat sports as well as some events coming on the heels of our trip to grow participation in them. Our goal was to promote combat sports as an industry that helps create businesses and jobs on top of athletic opportunities and character development in community outreach. One of our seminars even had journalists there to take pictures and promote it locally. In our reflection time that evening with Tete, we learned a valuable phrase in Swahili. Kuishi ni watu. To live is people. We saw how Tete was so warm in his interactions with everyone. He mentioned this as we did devotion together at his house that night. Sharing God's love is about the way we connect with people, all people regardless of their background. God loves us all. In our cultural observations, we often take note of superficial things like what people wear and eat, or how they drive, or what their homes look like. We should instead focus on what we have in common with one another, seeking to build relationships. Shortly after the devotion, Markeithion said he wanted to come to Kenya for his foreign exchange. It is an option on the list with the Quest Foundation, and perhaps it is a calling.

The next day we went to the Masai market. This market is not fixed as all the others we have explored in other parts of Africa and in Central America. This market moves from day to day. We had to call in to find out where they would be. That day they were on the third floor of a mall. When got to the third floor we saw all of the merchants selling African artwork. Textiles, paintings, jewelry, sculptures, masks, and many more beautiful pieces were on display. In the center we saw a dance troupe and some musicians putting on a show. This was great for Kia since she runs our African dance and praise dance team at the CAC. We purchased our stuff, and then we headed to the airport en route to Kampala, Uganda for the final portion of the trip.

We flew into the airport in Entebbe as the sun was setting. Our journey began with a sunrise over the sea in Dar es Salaam and as our journey was readying to close our journey, we saw the sun going down over Lake Victoria. This had already been an unforgettable experience, but the best was yet to come. We went to teach a kickboxing seminar in Kampala. It was packed with tough, talented athletes. There were three world champions training there, one of whom was the personal trainer to Princess Joan Nassolo of the Buganda kingdom. We worked hard with everyone there drilling technique especially for a handful who were getting to fight.

Afterwards, we went to visit the school that our guide and driver, Umar Semata, had went to when he was a kid. It was in a slum in Katwe, the neighborhood he had grown up in. Umar is now a world champion in Muay Thai kickboxing, and he spends most of his time training and fighting in Thailand with Tiger Muay Thai, one of the most prominent schools in the world. It was amazing to see his humble beginnings and to share with these kids who could someday be champions just like Umar.

After lunch, we then went back to the gym in Kampala to teach a grappling seminar. There was a good group. While we taught, Kia and Dior spoke to the gym owner about the CAC and what we do with kids in our own neighborhood in East St. Louis. He was astonished. He spoke about an African philosophy called "Ubuntu" which can be translated as "humanity" or "I am because we are". It deals with the importance of community and creating community in all that we do. In short, what we do is for others because we are here because of what others have done for us. He said that other people had come to visit and speak, but they did not get this philosophy. He had Kia go up and give a speech afterwards to encourage the people who were there for our class and his afterwards.

The next day, we drove out to Fort Portal. It was a six-hour drive one way. The school we were going to visit was still further up into the mountains near a remote village in the Rwenzori mountains next to Kibale National Park and the Congolese border. We were greeted by a brandished British man and his two friends. They ran the school as well as a vanilla factory and some coffee fields. They hosted us at their lodge overlooking a large volcanic crater lake, and we were served with a fine dining experience on a balcony over the lake. In the middle of the conversation, I felt something bump my hand. I looked down to see an emerald snake slithering across my lap and under the table! The kids jumped as the snake disappeared. Our hosts said in jest that it must have been a sign of good luck. We finished our lunch and headed to the school. There were some 50 children there from the village, and we taught a wrestling seminar after Umar's kickboxing seminar. We had a chance to speak to the kids as well. Shortly after hiking back to our vehicle, we began the six-hour ride back home.

The next day was Sunday, and we rested that morning. I was astonished with how Markeithion and Dior had kept up with such good attitudes and humor through so much movement, and our small team deserved a break. So we rested until the afternoon. Afterwards we went to work with a youth outreach program with a local church, which was a lot of fun. We then proceeded to meet with Wesley Gomes, a Brazilian who introduced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the region and has been a driving force to its growth. He let us teach a seminar at his gym, and things went very well.

The next day was our last for this trip. We returned to the gym in Kampala. It was sparring day. We didn't teach. We trained and fought with Dior and Markeithion hanging in with the fighters. Training in the crowd was Princess Joan Nassolo. We were introduced to her, and then we trained. Both Dior and I got to spar with her. She punches hard. She was getting ready for her first fight in Ethiopia. She is very well educated having worked at the U.N. and being a driving force for social and economic development in her region of Uganda, but she was down to earth and humble. There were t.v. cameras and our sparring with the princess along with some interviews were recorded and shown on national t.v. that evening. Markeithion and Dior even did promos for a major sports channel, repping East St. Louis abroad! Still before lunch we went to the local market to pick up things for souvenirs and things to sell back home. We found more textiles and jewelry, and more importantly we made contacts to import and sell more throughout the year, so our kids are now involved in international commerce! We then went to lunch at the Munyonyo Commonwealth, a 5-star resort on Lake Victoria. We walked up to the lake seeing a flock of large Maribou birds walking around. It was serene and breathtakingly beautiful. From here we headed to the airport where our adventure came to an end as flew home. Our kids have now worked with approximately 2,000 people in 11 countries from slums to royalty, even appearing on t.v. or radio in 4 countries. Our kids are globally connected with great opportunities ahead of them!

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