Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Circle of Life

Written on Sunday, August 15, 2010

Time with my homestay family comes to an end in just over 24 hours. The experiences I have shared with them have definitely been filled with highs and lows.

Two important highs were the births of two little girls. Their mothers are two of my grown dadas, or sisters (actually they are technically cousins but everyone is considered either a dada or kaka, brother), who live on the family farm. One was born at the hospital in the next larger village. She spent about two days there so not much different than the U.S. I believe she went because it was her first baby. The other baby was born at a mid-wife's home in our village. I believe she did not go to the hospital because it was her fourth child. They were named Joyce and Glory....I was really hoping for a Jeska, but it was not meant to be :)

Sadly, a very memorable low came this past week with the death of Mama Eva's brother's 52-year-old son. Though it was not a family member I had met, the loss was a sad experience. He fell out of a coconut tree and died three hours later from related internal bleeding.

This happened on a Thursday morning and by that night people were already arriving from out of town. When I arrived home from training, Mama Eva and her sister sat me down to explain what had happened and what would happen. The room immediately outside my bedroom had been cleared of furniture and mats laid out for guests to sit.

Mama Eva had warned me when people mourn here it usually involves loud crying, but I was still not prepared for how eirily sad it was. At 2 a.m. people were still up mourning; and when I got up at 6 a.m., people were still there. So I suspect it went straight through the night.

Many female relatives and neighbors were busy cooking over the next three days as it is customary to serve food to people paying their respects. The first night I stayed in my room to keep out of the way. The second night I got to help form balls of dough to be rolled by another woman and then fried.

The burial was Saturday. I did not attend since he was Muslim and women are not allowed to go to their burials (at least that is the local custom).
There was not a guest registry but I would guess there was easily 200-300 people come through over the 3-day period. Like funerals in the States, it was a sad time but enjoyable to visit with the visiting relatives.

Back on positive note, there were even a few things I was able to teach my family during my stay. After several meals with greasy, fatty chicken, I politely asked if they ever cook without the skin. I explained we do in the U.S. because it is suppose to be healthier. Every since we have ate boiled, skinless chicken!

Seven children between 4-7-years-old live in Mama Eva's and her sisters' homes. We all eat supper together and for the first week these kids were too shy to talk to me. So one night before dinner, I taught them Patty Cake. After that they have followed me around wanting to play. To change it up, I also taught them If Happy and You Know It; Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes; and The Wheels on the Bus.

Also, the fist bump is a popular greeting especially among the younger folks. So I added a little American ghetto fabulousness by teaching the neighborhood kids to follow the fist bump with an exploding hand. Sometimes I even add sound affects!

It's the Little Things...

Written on Saturday, August 7, 2010

This past week has been one of the best parts of training....SHADOW! I was sent with two other cool peeps to spend four days in a village just south of the city of Moshi with a married couple serving as education volunteers.

On Saturday, July 31, we set off on a bus with a few others also heading to villages near Moshi. Our shadowees were all meeting us in the city as it is their "banking town". This means it is their nearest city which is usually best for banking needs, internet access, a large market with bigger selection than found in the villages and, if you are lucky, some American treats.

In the case of Moshi, we were very lucky. Moshi is located near the base of Mt Kilimanjaro so many tourists pass through it. As soon as we met up with the volunteers, they offered to take us to get hamburgers. After six weeks of mainly rice, you can believe I was one of the first to jump at the chance of anything vaguely similar to American food!

It was literally a hambuger stand on a sidewalk, but the burger could seriously hold its own against any in the U.S. Having not seen so much as seen a lettuce leaf since arriving in Africa, I admit to being pretty exciting about the pile included with pickles and mayo. PLUS, it was served with amazing fries sprinkled with really tasty seasoning and smothered in real ketchup. Probably one of the top five meals of my life.

We then met up with more PCVs stationed in the area and the other trainees who had chosen to eat Thai instead of burgers at a restaurant known for having the best grilled chicken....I just had a bite of someone else's-- I swear! But afterwards we headed to another restuarant that serves ice cream and I did have a big cup of chocolate chip. Not sure how much chocolate was in the chips, but it was still good.

I then went with some girls to hit the shops. Moshi offers some great shopping for authentic African jewelry and knick-knacks. But with the high tourist traffic, prices were higher and shop workers were not willing to barter. Similar to not buying anything in the States unless it is on sale, I rarely buy anything that I cannot lower the price. Bartering is half the fun of shopping here!

After shopping it was time to eat again! We met up with the rest of the group for "street meat". Some local restaurants set up booths on their front sidewalks and cook kabobs and chicken legs right there for you to watch. All very good!

The PCVs then showed us a hidden piece of American there in Moshi. When our cab turned off a busy main street on to a dark dirt road with 8ft cement fences on either side, I was a little nervous. When we were dropped at the wrong gate and had to walk back down the dark dirt road, I was still a little nervous. When we arrive at the right place and I see that it is also dark, I begin wondering exactly what type of place we are being taken to. Then as we walk down gravel steps out of no where appears this amazing brightly lit tiki bar with American music playing! Serious oasis in the dessert moment!

Now I am not really a big drinker but there have been a few stressful moments over the last month and a half. With soda and beer as the most common drinks available in the village (and even then women are not really suppose to be drinking in the village bars), I have a few wishful moments of relaxing with friends, good music and an ice cold margarita. So that is exactly what I did! And here's the best part of this little heaven....an awesome make-shift movie theater that played American movies!

That night we stayed at a hotel and then went to the market the next morning before a lunch of something I had really been craving...PIZZA! Cheese is really scarce in the nothern half of TZ and my sausage was more hot dog but it was still really good.

We then headed to their village to spend the next two days. I really enjoyed getting to see another village and how a current PCV actually lives. We got to sit through one class taught by the wife and help a class make a compost pile for the school's garden.

On Wednesday morning we caught a bus to Dar es Salaam for some admin needs. PC had given us the tickets to Moshi and money to purchase the ones to Dar. In the U.S., I would not think twice about buying bus/plane tickets. But here we needed to speak Swahili while making sure we did not get cheated. It was such a great feeling to do this because we were finally functioning on our own.

Being as independent as I am, I have really struggled with not being able to communicate or having the freedom I took for granted. But this is all working itself out as I learn the language and become more self-sufficient again.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

And the Lucky Kijiji Is.....

Written Friday, July 31, 2010

Today was finally the BIG day everyone in my training group has been anticipating.....Site Announcements! When we first received our invitations to train, we only learned our country would be in Tanzania. Our exact village location for the next two years was undecided until we got to experience TZ and the PC staff got to know us better.

Imagine Christmas morning, your 16th birthday and sorority recruitment Bid Day all wrapped into one day. That is exactly what today was!

After a full morning of sessions, lunch and one more afternoon session, the suspense was bad. But the wait was totally worth it cause PC rocked the announcement process.

We walked from the classrooms over to a outside clearing where people were set-up playing drums and dancing. They got us all up and dancing, but we were still sneaking peeks at a large TZ map outlining who was going where. Each person's picture was covered with a post-it, so we could see how many were going to the individual regions but not who.

The youngest person in our training group got to remove the first post-it to announce where the first person was going. Everyone cheered as that person ran up to the board and then the exact village name was announced. They then removed another post-it from their region and so went the procedure. Once everyone in a region was announced, a description of that region was read. It was all really fun and upbeat!

Plus, we got apples, chocolate and mail. I received a letter from Grandma that included dry powder packets of lemonade and ranch dressing! You can imagine my excitement level was on overload by the end of all this!!

So where am I going? My village will be Mshewe located in the Mbeya Region!!! Located in the beautiful Southern Highlands area, the Mbeya region boasts majestic mountains with the southeastern corner bordering a lake with beaches. Since it is mountainous, the temperature gets much cooler than in the other hot, dry sections of the country.

I am not sure how close I will be to the city of Mbeya but I hear it is a big tourist city for people traveling across Africa. This is awesome for two reasons: I may be able to make use of my professional tourism experience AND Doritos will be near-by! Some American treats like chips and pizza are available for travelers! :)

I am also totally excited about Mbeya because six other fun people from my training group have been placed there. This is in addition to four volunteers already there. We may be a few hours away from each other but close enough for celebrating holidays, birthdays and such!

Celebrating July 4? Yes We Can!

Written Sunday, July 04, 2010

Though I’ve only been in TZ for about three weeks, I feel a certain amount of accomplishment today! One being that it is now July and technically my second month here, and two being that it is my first holiday to spend away from friends and family back home. I know it is not exactly the Christmas of holidays but July 4 has a certain charm of its own. Since fireworks on Paducah’s riverfront or a day at Kentucky Lake is not on this year’s schedule, I am instead doing something else that is definitely all-American….email and blogging!! My group and a second group in Lusanga are taking a dala dala a short drive into Muheza to an internet cafĂ©.

First…An Update
Things have settled in fairly well. We have training from 8-5 Mon-Sat. This primarily consists of learning Swahili, but we also get some interesting lessons on local government structure and agriculture. I have a nice 15 minute walk from the farm to where our classes meet. Plus, we walk around the village some to talk to people and practice Swahili. On Saturdays, the whole training group meets for sessions at a local PC training center. When I get home, I try to explain what I learned that day to my host family, do homework and eat supper.

So I thought it only fitting to use the holiday to describe the Obama-mania we have encountered since arriving in TZ! He is seriously everywhere. Tanzanians are crazy for him. At the center where we meet on Saturdays, I have seen his name written on the backs of chairs. At the duka (aka, market), I have seen Obama bubble gum and ink pens. Even the flashlight I was given to use has his picture on it! The best is something I won't mention yet because someone back in the US may be getting it for Christmas!

As you all probably noticed, I was unable to get on the internet this day. I got settled in with a very slow computer when the electricity for the whole place went out! We still had a blast traveling to the bigger village and celebrated the independence of America with an African beer. :)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Kunywa or Kunwa

Written Sunday, June 27, 2010

Alright, it is time for the post that is practically mandatory for all Peace Corps Trainees…..a report on choos and poo. As my digestive system grows accustomed to the local foods and weather, I have realized how very lucky I am to have my own choo attached to my room.

First I should start by saying that my big African weight loss plan has been thrown a curve ball. People in TZ eat even less healthy than people in America! We only thought the down home style cooks of the South fried everything. They could even learn a few things from the locals here. Plus, it is not uncommon to sit down to a meal with rice, potatoes and pasta!

And I was completely serious when I said in the last post that the family mama expects everyone to eat. The first night was extremely hot and I could not eat much without a drink. So when I first tried to ease out of the situation by saying “Ninanymbasheba” or I am full, she was like NO eat more.

So it was no big surprise when the second night was spent mostly in the choo. What was a surprise was that with the mama’s room right next to mine, she could hear me each time I had to get up and would yell through the wall “jess-KA, you ok?”. Not exactly a situation where you are wanting to yell the play-by-play through a wall to someone you already have limited vocabulary.

Otherwise the choo situation has not been too bad. For those who may not know, a choo is basically a hole in the ground into which you use the bathroom. During the day my group meets at a local government building and we use the choo of one of the other PCTs who lives almost next door. This one is a more typical choo being outside the house and shared by the whole family. It is in a small brick outhouse-type structure with a thatch roof. It is also where you take bucket baths.

My Nyumbani is Your Nyumbani!

The homestay aspect of the training process made me nervous even before I found out how bad I am at learning to speak Swahili. I really was not sure what to think about eight weeks of living with complete strangers in a different country. I just chose not to think about it..... “after all, tomorrow is another day”

But as you guessed it, the day eventually came when my tomorrows ran out. This past Wednesday we left our safe haven in Dar es Salaam to drive five hours to Muheza where a PC Training Center is located. But do not think of a five hour driving distance as in the US! This road was nice but two lane so we did not actually drive that far from Dar. Remember those crazy drivers I mentioned? Our bus driver was passing everything in sight!! Thankfully, I was able to focus on the amazing scenery- even a monkey!

We are all divided among the several neighboring villages with the 4-5 person homestay groups I mentioned last post. I am in Lusanga “A” with three others. Two girls who will be health education volunteers from Boston and California. The other environment volunteer is a guy from Louisville so we’ve got some great Kentucky representation!

After a quick overview at the training center each group with all our luggage piled into a small van. Of my little group, I was the first one dropped off. We started on a decent road paved road. Then turned onto a nice yet narrow dirt road heading into the country. I am still feeling pretty good at this point. Then we turn on to a rutted dirt path surrounded by corn fields…..I start thinking what the h*ll am I doing??!! I seriously just started laughing at the craziness of the situation!

Then the house finally appears and all is good! It is a really pretty “estate” with three widowed and divorced sisters. The family owns the corn fields we had driven through and each sister has their own house where lots of their family members live as well. I am still figuring out who lives where.

I seriously lucked out with my living situation! My mama (we are suppose to totally integrate ourselves into the family) lives in the main house. My room is huge and- unbelievably- has its own choo!! Most homes have one that is outside and the volunteers have to share with the whole family so to have my own attached to my room is a huge luxury.

So we pull up to the house and all these people come out from everywhere to greet me! I catch bits and pieces as they are all talking in Swahili. My extent of the language at that point was to introduce myself. As they start serving me chai, I am arming myself with my note cards, English to Swahili dictionary, Swahili to English dictionary and photo albums. Then it quickly gets dark and I realized there is no electricity. I begin to think I am completely SOL cause it is too dark to read my aids. Then I realize their English is starting to get a lot better as my small extent of Swahili is leaving with the sun. Come to find out the sisters were taught English by a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s!

Once everyone went back to their homes, a few of us started on supper. I am proud to report that I was taught the correct way to stir beans! We sat down to eat and I found two big differences….no silverware and no drinks. The latter being the hardest for me by far. My mouth got so dry and I started having trouble getting it all down! African mamas make sure everyone at their tables eat a lot…and I mean a lot. Luckily, one of the older sisters read my mind and called for someone to bring me juice….the second surprise of the night was that it was icy cold juice!! Seriously the BEST juice ever, a lime and orange mixture, made even better by not having had anything that cold in almost two weeks!

With their small amount of English, we have been able to communicate better than expected, and they are a huge help in my own lessons. Another surprise came the second night when I got home from training, went to another sister’s home and found they have electricity, which explained the icy cold juice!