Monday, June 21, 2010

First Real Dar Experience

Written Sunday, June 20, 2010

Today was quite momentous as Peace Corps let us out on Dar es Salaam for the first time! For safety and health pre-cautions, we stay within the convent during our week in Dar. So we were all really excited to see the city and test our new language skills.

Our homestay groups of 4-5 PCTs led by our Language and Culture Facilitators walked all morning. It was so interesting that I did not even realize how far we had walked. The town's population is beyond packed. People are walking and driving everywhere. The cars are pretty much packed to capacity and drove by people constantly honking and swerving. It was so crazy. I hear automobile accidents are the highest percentage of deaths…..though I almost wish I had a car so I could get on the road and drive like crazy with them….no comment from anyone who has ever rode with me J

Our first stop was a flea market type set-up with all kinds of vendors. First on our list was to check out the kangas and tangas, which are the long pieces of material that women wear wrapped around them as dresses, skirts, tops and even head pieces. I got a pretty tanga and a beautiful batik print that I can give the local seamstress during my homestay to make into a skirt or dress.

We then walked on into town where it was more store fronts but usually opened to the street. Then walked through an open food market with all types of veggies, fruits and more. None of us bought anything there, but we did end up at a grocery store where we got a few essentials for our own rooms. Toilet paper was the key item as it is not frequently found here and what is found is not an ideal quality….to put it nicely.

The currency is about 1300 Tanzanian Shillings for $1. It is so hard for me to remember not to think something is too expensive when it has such a large number as the price!

After the grocery store experience, we took a dala dala back to the hostel. These are the public transportation buses which are a hotbed for petty thefts because they are so crowded. I was so paranoid about being scammed that I did not realize when a worker was needing my fare! He was shaking a hand-full of change just as many of the street vendors were. So I thought he was trying to sell me something. I politely shook my head and thought I had safely avoided trouble. Then one of the others later mentioned she had paid for all of us and then we all realized what had happened. Well…better safe than sorry!

Planes, Tour Buses and Really Strong Toilets

Written Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Peace Corps Pre-Service Training Manual states PST "is a time to test your assumptions about being a volunteer, assumptions about Americans and Tanzanians, assumptions about what is right and what is wrong, and the differences here."

Boy, is that an understatement.

At 30-years-old, I have gained a lot of professional experience and, without meaning to sound completely conceited, I took pride in knowing I was someone my co-workers and peers could rely on to know my job and for advice if ever needed. It's crazy how much a few thousand miles can change one's self-perception as those abilities are certainly not how I would characterize myself in this moment.

Two flights, a missed connection and an afternoon spent in an airport instead of important initial meetings got me to Philadelphia on Monday. I did get to meet the other Peace Corps Trainees, PCTs, that night for supper. They are all totally fabulous and have wonderfully unique stories of their own.

Tuesday was another early morning as we had to be on the road to get our first immunization shot (yellow fever) by 6 a.m. We then boarded two group tour buses (seriously, I just can't get away from these things!) and headed to NYC. I really do try to hide my inner-country-hickness but driving through Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan even had me at the edge of my seat. Funky pizza parlors, the New York Times office and even a park I swear to have seen on Sex and the City had me seriously wanting to stay at least a day.

But we were quickly at JFK and not so quickly onto the plane. Who knew moving 41 people each with two bags not weighing more than a total of 80lbs or total dimensions of more than 107in could take so long? Three flights with stops in Zurich and Nairobi, 21 hours of travel and an eight-hour (CST) time difference got us all to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Africa. Needless to say, I slept very little and was a bundle of nerves once we finally landed in TZ!

Our home until next Wednesday is at a convent in Dar. Training started bright and early at 8 a.m. the next day but I think my "assumptions" were tested as soon as we arrived at the hostel. We were grandly welcomed by the PC Tanzania staff and almost immediately given our malaria pills. Then we were shown to our rooms. Granted after three days they do not really seem that bad but, at first arrival, I was thrown off guard a bit. The room is small with the bare necessities and a 4'x 5' open-floor-plan-bathroom with a working toilet and a shower with a drain.

I never understood why everyone at home was so surprised that I would want to do this, especially as it was my first time out of the US let alone an under-developed country. But at that point of exhaustion and being a bit overwhelmed by it all, I was quickly understanding the surprise and how a previous trip could have helped me prepare for the voyage.

Now after three full days in TZ, I am finally feeling back to my old self. The past three days have been a blur of five of 10 more shots, lessons on the Tanzanian culture, religion and language. As comfortable as I was in my old life, it has been a sharp change that I knew was coming but still a surprise. I have really been struggling with the language more than others in my class, but they have all been really helpful. So much stress is put on being wary of the high petty-crime rate that I have not been really talking to many of the locals who live and work at the convent that our hostel is located inside. But they are good people and very friendly. They are thankful to have PC here in TZ and want to make sure we enjoy our stay, which really describes most of the people in TZ.

Next Wednesday we move in with our host family for the remaining eight weeks of training. I am really excited to meet them and get to experience their daily routines first-hand. During this time, there will be three others living in the same village with their host families, and we will continue to meet up for educational sessions with a Language and Culture Facilitator.

Oh, and the curiously strong toilet? Having an open bathroom with no shelves, I have had to sit my shampoo and soap on the back of the commode. When I went to flush the first morning, my entire, newly-opened bottle of facewash fell in the toilet! Before I realized what had happened, it had been completely flushed down!! Luckily, I have two more bottles with me and a supply at home that my family is suppose to send me. I have not even had any problems with plumbing since then….

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Initial Mailing Address

Jessica Byassee PCT
US Peace Corps
PO Box 9123
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The address above is to the PC headquarters in Tanzania. I will be receiving mail here until I am placed in my village and get my own PO Box. PCT stands for Peace Corps Trainee. After training, I will be a PCV, Peace Corps Volunteer!

I have heard that padded envelopes and small boxes are faster and most likely to reach me. It is good to write "Educational and Religious Materials" on the outside. It is not uncommon for mail, especially coming from the U.S., to be opened and items stolen. If you have to place a value on anything you send, do not list more than $10/item.

Mainly I would love to receive letters and pictures! Several of you have asked what else I might need sent to me. You do not have to send anything but- since you asked- here are a few general things I have seen on current PCV's lists. After I am over there a bit, I may need to personalize the list by adding things like Heinz Ketchup and Famous Amos cookies!!

Drink Mixes
    (Country Time Lemonade, Crystal Light, etc)
    (BBQ, Mexican or just surprise me!)
Toys and Games for Children
    (I have heard that the neighborhood kids like to hangout with PCVs!)
Books and Magazines
    (I will read ANYTHING! Tip: the Paducah Library has a sale twice a year where you can go  
     at the end and buy a whole grocery bag full of books for only $1!)
Office Supplies
Music and Movies via iTunes

Less Than 1 Week!

After a five week whirlwind of roadtrips, goodbye lunches, riding, goodbye dinners, leisure reading and goodbye parties, I found myself this past Monday with only one week left and a TON of stuff to do. Not that I am a procrastinator....I just happen to work better under pressure...

More Official Stuff
I found out that it is recommended to use your ATM card instead of carrying a lot of cash, which is great for me considering that is all I ever do here in the U.S. But I had planned to move my checking account to Clinton so family can deal with anything that comes up. I would not have gotten a new ATM card in time, so we had to get them signed on to my account in Paducah.

While we are speaking of banks, I have exciting news. I am the proud new renter of my very own safety deposit box! I can now safely leave behind my valuables and important paperwork will be easily found if needed while I am away.

Geeksquad Apprentice
Yes, I been promoted from a Geeksquad Wannabe to an Apprentice! As you may remember from my last post, I was getting a bit overwhelmed by technology and trying to decide what type of computer I should take. I ended up getting an Eee netbook. I was initially put off when I learned they do not have CD drives, but I really liked the size and price for my purposes. Plus, I can backup using jump drives and watch movies/tv available online.

Another big bonus on my netbook is that it came with a camera and Skype already downloaded. Last night I had a trial run and successfully spoke via video with a friend in Paducah! If you have Skype, look me up!

I do want to stress here that while I am taking a netbook, iPod, digital camera and Solio they will not be part of my everyday life. Not just because I will lack the power to use them frequently, but I also do not want to become the "rich white person". I will want and need to blend in as best as possible so I will mostly use them in the privacy of my home and on trips outside of my village. I will also be taking care not to waste time using them instead of being out visiting with the people.

King of Prussia Bound!
About three weeks ago I received my staging information. Staging is two days of intense orientation within the U.S. On June 14, I will fly to King of Prussia, PA, a suberb of Philadelphia. There will be several sessions and shots that afternoon and night as well as the next day.
That evening we will travel by bus to JFK in NYC for an eight hour flight to Zurich. Then a staight nine hour, 40 minute flight Dar es Salaam, Tanzania! Dar is a major city where most of our two month training will occur.

Right now I have just over four days before I leave. So I must log off here and get back to packing!