Friday, September 23, 2011

Buses, Trains and Mushrooms

As an environment volunteer, I have heard many times that the second year is the best. Projects within your village begin to develop; there are opportunities for travel; and basically, an overall better feeling of knowing what you are doing. So far this has held true for me.

When I first decided to do Peace Corps, I thought ‘what’s two years in the whole scheme of life?’ Then I got here and thought ‘oh no, that’s 24 months…
26 including training…what was I thinking?!’ In my American-constant-fast-forward-mode, I could not understand why we do not just move-in, bang out a few improvements and then return to the wonderful land of hot showers and 44 choices of peanut butter at the grocery. Now I cannot believe I have only one more year to get things done. With the cultural and language barriers, the first year really does help to develop the relationships and trust required if you want any hope of making a sustainable difference.

So that’s where I am mentally. It’s been too long since my last post because physically I have been much more ‘shagalabagala’ or crazy and messy! There has been lots of travel, lots of fun and lots of really bad internet connections. When I have been in my village, I have been trying to focus more on interacting with my villagers and getting away from the mind frame of wondering what’s going on in America. Here is a few brief updates on the past couple months…

In July I traveled with other PCVs in the Mbeya region to the neighboring Iringa region for a new type of meeting the PC staff have added this year. Tanzania may be a fraction of the size of the US but the environment and land is just as varied. Regional meetings have been set-up to help those of us facing the same issues come together to discuss what we are doing and how it’s working. I really enjoyed this set-up and got a lot out of it. PLUS, Iringa has an Italian man who has opened a soft-serve ice cream shop!

July also started the new school term. My standard 6 students had been studying environment since I started teaching last September, so I decided this was a good time to switch them over to Life Skills. PC has a great manual for teaching Life Skills which includes lessons on HIV/AIDS, decision making and communications. The head teacher liked it so much I was able to add on a Life Skills class for the standard 7 class in addition to keeping my environment class for standard 5.

I have been so proud of the 5 girls I took to our Girls Empowerment Conference! They have really stepped up and helped teach without much embarrassment or nervousness about touchy issues like HIV/AIDS and condoms.

August was my one year mark for living in the vill! My training class gathered in Dar es Salaam for our Mid-Service Conference. Making it to MSC felt like such a huge accomplishment and none of us could believe it was already time for it. Sessions were held to update us on policies and procedures. We also had physicals and dental exams. I was relieved to be get the check up but strangely disappointed they did not test my poop…found out later I had to ask for that. Noted for my Close of Service med exam.

Besides all the good food and good visits with friends I had not seen in months, a big highlight was traveling back by train! Every time I go to Mbeya town from my vill I pass by the train station and had really wanted to take the train somewhere. A class of education PCVs were having their COS conference in Dar as well so I got to travel with a few friends from that group.

The train is really inconsistent on times so we decided it best to take it back from Dar when we would not have to be somewhere by certain time. This was really smart as we ended up with engine problems and sat for over 5 hours waiting on a new one! But the great thing about the train is having to sit is not so bad. We had our cabin to hang out in, watch movies off our computers, food from the restaurant car and -my favorite- a BATHROOM! So it didn’t matter how much water I drank. Whereas on a bus, you are at the mercy of when the driver wants to pull off the side of the road so you can use a bush.

I could write tons more on this trip but, alas, time and space are limited so you’ll have to wait for the book on this one.

You may have read a past post about the mama group I was working to start. That group has…well, been a frustration to say the least. Women in the village are so busy it can be hard to convince them the benefits of joining a group. At times it feels like the ones who do attend are just there to see what and how much free stuff they can get out of me.

Luckily, I have found there is already a group of women meeting in my village. Don’t ask how I did not know there was already a group…still a bit embarrassed on that. But it’s common for PCVs to learn these type things later than expected. Again, that first year of learning culture and language really does come in handy!

This group is exactly what I was hoping to create. They meet weekly about agriculture issues and already have the officer structure and leadership established. They are also really interested in having me TEACH them not just hand out money. So I am quite excited.

They have started a small edible mushroom crop and want help to enlarge it. Just by going through the mushroom info I received from PC I was able to show them a couple improvements to how they are growing them from bags. They really need a small house built of straw and bamboo to be able to add water to the air. So I am looking into writing a grant application through PC to help fund the project. I’d been a bit if-y about grants because I’m the first in my area and they are still learning PC comes in to teach not provide money. But I feel this is different since it’s a project they have already started and put their own money into as well. More on that to come!

In America I loved being involved in organizations and having lots of things going. So to help fill that need of my personality, I have been really trying to get more involved within PC. I am really excited to have been elected as the Mbeya region representative on the Volunteer Advisory Council. VAC is basically like student government. It meets three times a year in Dar, and reps bring up issues from their region.

I am also really excited to have been selected as a PCV Facilitator for the next training of environment volunteers! During 5-6 wks of the 9 wks of training before being placed in a village, current PCVs are chosen to spend a week helping with training and facilitating sessions on subjects they are particularly involved. I really relied a lot on starting my Environment Education in my primary school to help integration into my village, even though we did not receive training on EE until a later training. So I am going to help lead sessions on EE so those like me who want to get more involved earlier have more info on how to go about it.

That’s it for now! I promise to get another post up soon...well, I promise to try anyway :)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ode to My iPod: An Eulogy

Recently I was parted with my iPod. I have been adjusting to a life without it ever since. I’m not going to lie. There have been some very hard, long empty hours. Most friends are valued for their ability to listen. However, I valued this friend because in a village of Swahili speakers my iPod spoke to me in English and never expected me to always reply back. My iPod had the ability to transport me back to American for 3-4 minutes at a time. It could motivate, delight, thrill and entertain.

I am very lucky some VERY awesome friends back in Paducah are joining forces to send me another one. I hope they understand how thankful I am for their love and support. But before I can say hello to a new iPod, I must give one final good-bye. For during this new found free mental time, I came up with a little poem…..

Me and My iPod
Oh, how I recall first seeing thee-
You so bright green and shiny,
Me so new to the wonders of your technology.

Together we flew across the Atlantic
For adventures we did seek!
How you comforted when I was first meek!

Courtyard dancing to Vanilla Ice and Black Eyed Peas,
Celebrating our survival with macaroni and cheese-
How dear I hold these memories!

Did we part due to hands of another or my own?
The answer to this I have not known.
If only my dreams had foreshown!

Then we’d still be like two peas in a pod,
Me and my iPod.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sikuku Kimarekani: July 4th

Who could have guessed a 4th of July without fireworks would end up as one of the best ever? This year I spent the holiday on the shores of Lake Malawi at Matema Beach, where the lake borders the Mbeya region.

The trek getting there is crazy! The last time we went we had to change buses three times- each one getting a bit worse than the previous. This time there were enough of us to rent our own dala for the last half of the trip. We were all quite excited about this until we hit our first bump in the road.

After about 30 minutes on the road, our driver was held back at a regulation road block for the equivalent of driving with expired tags. This took another 30 minutes to take care of.

Then not long after we turned from paved roads onto the mix of dirt and large gravel common for rural roads, we got a flat tire. The driver immediately took the tire and hopped a ride on a passing truck back to the closest town about 30min away….3 hours later he returned! After all this, we still arrived about one hour quicker than public transportation!

Matema is a popular vacation spot for PCVs in my area because it’s basically village beside a beach. This means it is super cheap. Seriously, if you are ever traveling through a country with PC, find the volunteers. No one knows better how to travel cheaply and get the most bang for a buck! Village restaurants sell basically two things: rice & beans and chipsi myai (a tasty fried egg and potato meal that I’ll post the recipe for later). We stay at a nice Lutheran Center with rooms holding two bunk beds. If you cannot take another meal of village fare, you can get some of the best pizza in TZ at the Lutheran Center’s restaurant.

Swimming in sedentary water like a lake is not recommended due to schisto, a disease from snails. But we know many who have swam here and not gotten it. Plus, it’s curable by pill so worth a few days of swimming fun.

We were able to work in a few American pastimes including our version of baseball- beach wiffle ball. To play the batter hits from the beach and then has to swim the bases. It’s quite fun; I highly recommend!

The big highlight of the trip was hiking to a waterfall. I was again surprised by the difference in what a “hike” means here. Hiking back home means basically following a nice worn path through a forest. The biggest fear is running out of drinking water. Here hiking means that plus some death defying factors. The biggest fear is being able to hold on to your drinking water while scaling large boulders and leap frogging rocks across a raging stream.

Ok, I am exaggerating….but just a little! At one point, I seriously lost my footing and was hanging from a root. There was not a path, just little notches in the rock. Our guide had to take and place my feet where it needed to go. Couple times he even had to brace his own foot on the rock for us to step on!

Then when I got to the bottom I was still a bit freaked so he got on his hands and knees for me to step on his back and lower me to ground level. No joke! I really did not need that much help, but I still appreciated it! The waterfall was definitely worth the scare. I had never gotten to swim in one before so it was amazing.

On the way back from the hike, some of the gang were able to buy half a pig off a villager. They then built a pit at the beach for it to cook in. So we even got bbq on the day of the 4th. Though call me crazy, but I have never attended a BBQ in Kentucky where we all stood around the pig sharing utility knives to cut off meat!

Celebrating 50 Years

The Sunday after our Girls Conference I had to hightail it back to Mbeya town to catch an early Monday morning bus to Dar es Salaam for the TZ 50th Anniversary Celebration of Peace Corps. I was really excited to be attending- not only had I had to apply to attend but also TZ was one of the very first countries to receive Peace Corps Volunteers.

Activities began Wed morning with a round table discussion between the 32 PCVs in attendance and Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams visiting from DC. Both he and his staff were wonderful to hear from. All of us PCVs enjoyed how personable he was and how much he wanted to hear from us.

That night was a dinner with entertainment at the US Embassy. I was proud of my good friends largely involved in singing, dancing and speaking about their Peace Corps experiences. I was also amazed by how many American ex-pats were in attendance. Good to see there are a lot of opportunities for PCVs who want to stay and work in TZ.

The next day I got to meet up with another environment volunteer who has been a big help to me. She is extending a third year and putting together a book of environment education lesson plans. Another PCV and I have been using these plans so we were able to give our feedback and add a few lesson plans of our own. I am excited to play a small part in something that will live on and help future environment PCVs.

Along those same lines, I also really enjoyed getting to attend an evaluation meeting for the environment program. TZ has three different sectors: environment, health and education. Every five years a sector gets evaluated, and this year is environments time. We had really great discussions on what is working and what is not. It even made me start to realize how much I miss duties that went into my past pr/marketing jobs. I think by the end of my second year I will be ready to get back into an office job….maybe.

This Dar trip was not all work. I was excited to find a Mexican restaurant has opened and it’s cheap! There were also trips to a good burger place, the movie theater, the casino and an ice cream place that would rank right along with American ice cream!

Teaching Wasichana

One of the most chaotic, stressful and most rewarding weeks I’ve had so far was last month’s Girls Conference. Each of us 12 volunteers in the Mbeya region brought six girls from our villages together to teach about healthy living, HIV/AIDS and life skills such as communications and decision making.

Selecting my six girls was much harder than I expected. I thought I’d be able to identify the six best in my oldest class of standard 6. But then I realized I could easily choose 10 different girls. I worried because attending this conference could be a life changing event- motivating the girls to go on to secondary school and hopefully university. And what if the girls not chosen became depressed and unmotivated?! Ok, I overreacted but I really felt the pressure of these girls' futures being in my hands!

I finally decided on my six and had their parents sign permission slips for the condom education and demonstrations. Condoms are still fairly new in the rural areas of TZ and not all adults understand their necessity, even with HIV/AIDS such a prevalent problem. Plus, like in American, some adults here worry providing education on condoms is promoting premarital sex. Not all parents consented in their children sitting in this session.

The morning came for us to travel to the technical college outside Mbeya town where the conference would be held. We’d catch a large truck, or lorry, passing through our village then change to a dala in Mbalizi, a larger village at the bottom of the mountain. At the last minute I learned one of the girls would not be able to attend and another would be meeting us in Mbalizi. (She lives in our village with her sister. Her parents live in Mbalizi, and she was staying with them through the school break. This is very common in large families here who may not be able to afford all their kids.)

We got on our way only an hour later than I planned- I was feeling good! Then we arrived in Mbalizi, and I got nervous. Mbalizi is crazier than most larger towns. It’s the agricultural hub for the area, so there is usually all kinds of trucks, carts and people hurrying around. I have my hands full just keeping myself from being ran over or attacked by the street vendors. Now I was also looking out for four pre-teen girls who had never been out of their village. I definitely have more respect for teachers who lead field trips back home!

The girl meeting us was not there, but I figured she’s be at the next dala stand and would hop on then. We get there and she is not. Before I can decide on the best way to proceed, the dala is pulling on to the road and my other four girls are yelling they see the fifth! I politely ask the driver to pull over, but he won’t! I then start yelling in Swahili- a few English curses may have slipped in- that we need off, but he won’t stop!

We went on to the village just outside Mbeya where we would need to change to a taxi. Luckily, I’d been able to reach a couple other volunteers already at the college and able to help my girls if I sent them on without me. I was then able to jump into another dala heading back to Mbalizi to find the MIA girl. I got there, searched but could not find her.

Feeling so guilty for losing this girl, I have no other option but to head on to the college without her. Then on the way I get a call that she somehow managed to get herself there! I’m still not completely sure how she got there, but I was too relieved to ask questions. Again, much respect to all my teacher friends out there!

The rest of the week went much smoother for the most part. I was amazed to see the transition of the girls from the first day to the end. Particularly my girls- being some of the youngest there- were really shy at first. Before long they were participating with everyone else.

The schedule was Tues: HIV/AIDS; Wed: Life Skills; Thurs: Women’s Health; and Fri: Career Day. Mon and Sat were travel days. On Tues morning we gave a pre-test. My girls having not ever had any health education scored no higher than 15 out of 50 (fairly average). But then at the end of the week they did much better scoring no lower than 20/50. I was really proud of the improvement!

Friday afternoon was a talent show. Since my girls were so shy, I offered to teach them a song. I translated the little bit of English in the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight and they loved it! I was a little concerned about them memorizing it, but when they saw it written and how much of it is repetition, they confidently said “hamna shida” which means “no problem”. They were so funny!

They wanted to practice all week and even made up a dance to go with it. So you can imagine my disappointment when their turn came and they sang a different song!! After I (strongly) encouraged them to go again, they sang our song and did an awesome job!

The whole week was one that reminds me why I am here. It was hard at first being someone use to leading events in the US. But here the conference was entirely done in Swahili, so we had to rely heavily on the few volunteers who are really great Swahili speakers. I had to adapt by remembering we all have our strengths and that’s how we best work as I team. So I still got to jump in and lead some fun energizers and games!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

First Year: Outtakes and Statistics

Written June 16, 2011

I have now been in Tanzania one full year! Since the 6 month post of few stories that hadn’t made it on the blog as well as a few statistics was such fun, here are a few more “outtakes” and some statistics for the whole first year…..

• I have found the best technique to bond with Tanzanians is to cause myself bodily injury. Once when riding on the top rung of a lorry I was texting and didn’t see a tree limb coming. It caught me smack in the face while everyone else was bent down looking up at me and laughing hysterically. Another time I was getting out of a dala with my heavy backpack and didn’t see a guy carrying a big burlap bag of potatoes on his shoulders. The bag hit me in the side of the head….again providing entertainment for all Tanzanians around me.
• Since helping weigh babies at another PCV’s health clinic, I have been visiting the clinic in my village on baby weighing day! It has been a lot of fun and a great way to meet the women in my village. It occurs once a month and last about 5 hours. The first time I went I made 6 babies cry just by looking at me! It was kinda the Santa Clause effect….
• Back in March I returned from a weekend in town to find my house had been broken into. I didn’t blog about it sooner because I didn’t want to make a bigger deal of it than it is. Like any place where poverty is a big problem, theft happens. I figured I would deal with it at some point but was disappointed it was in my village, where for the most part a volunteer’s villagers want to take care and protect us. I was lucky all my important tech gadgets were with me and I don’t leave money in the village when I am away. They mainly took little things like battery operated alarm clock and lantern, eggs (which are really expensive here), toothbrushes, candy, etc.
• I had a Mary Poppins moment when I got to teach my students how to play Follow the Leader, Red Rover and the Hokey Pokey! We had a blast! They even taught me one of their games which included holding hands in a circle and running around while singing something in Swahili and then falling down. That was fun too.
• I’ve gotten two haircuts here. First by another volunteer last December. In April, it had gotten so straw-like that I held out the ends and cut it myself. Work pretty well.

Read: 76 books
Drank: approx 720 bottles of water (1.5L size)
Time spent waiting: 93.15hrs at bus stops, on meetings to starts, etc.
# times played Kodiak on iPod: 410
# word finds completed: 210
# times explained my name is Shali or Jessica NOT “mazungu” or white person: 1,983…approximately
Coolest new gadget I’ve seen from America: the new Heinz ketchup packet which allows you to squeeze it all out OR dip
Biggest culinary accomplishment: learning to cook and eat oatmeal

This is the longest I’ve gone…
Without watching a weekly episode of Friends since 1996
Without so much as seeing a live horse, let alone get to ride
Without getting to annoy my sister and brother by humming along off-key to the radio
Without at least a weekly trip to Wal-Mart (probably why I’m a lot calmer now)
Without a daily glass of sweet ice tea

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mwezi wa Farasi

Volunteers are all encouraged to share our American culture with our villages. I’ve enjoyed doing lessons on how we celebrate Halloween and Easter…and now the Kentucky Derby!

As a Kentuckian, what’s May without the Derby? So for my classes May became Mwezi wa Farasi, or Month of the Horse. My horse is one of the main things I really miss. Since horses are few in TZ- none in my region- I wanted to share how horses are used and the care they require.

I also wanted to use this opportunity to get the students’ creativity flowing. I had done one other lesson were the students were to draw there their sources of water, food and shelter. It flopped as they just copied what I drew as an example on the board. Art is rarely incorporated into classes here so they don’t know what to do when given the opportunity.

So with the help of tons of great art supplies sent by the Clinton First United Methodist Church, my students and I had a blast with horse-related crafts and games.

Week 1
Looked at postcards from Kentucky featuring horses and the Derby. Colored big white horse cut outs.

Week 2
Traced hands on fabric, cut out and glued to a sheet with a horse painted on it

Week 3
Stick horse racing! I cut the head off 3 of remaining horses from wk 1 and taped to brooms and a mop. Pictures weren’t taken this week as it was too chaotic!

Week 4
This week was the last week of school before being out for the month of June so all students were helping harvest the corn in the school's field. Standard 4-6 picked the ears while the younger shucked.

It was great fun!

Let It Snow!

For those of you who haven’t had to think about geography since 6th grade, life on the other side of the equator means it is now winter!

The heavy rain season is now over. As much as I enjoyed being able to wash my hair in the rain and having an excuse to read all day, I am relieved to see the sun and get more vitamin E.

So far this is my favorite weather of TZ. The day times get up in the 90s while the nights get down in the 60s. Warm enough to feel like summer, and cold enough to need to be snuggled under a blanket!

Plus, everything is really green and tropical from the rain. This will last until August. September-November are hot and dry turning most everything brown. Then December starts the rain season again!

Shamba Mama

This past April I finally got enough courage worked up to start a Mamas Group. Many volunteers work to organize Mama Groups as way to help empower women and serve as an outlet to educate them on various health issues.

I’d been procrastinating because of the language barrier. Though I feel good about the amount of Swahili I now have for getting around and working with children, speaking to adults is another thing. Remember the episode of Friends when Phoebe tried to teach French to Joey? That’s how it is when adults try to correct my pronunciations. To my ear I sound just like them….if a little better with a Southern flavor added.

Well, I remembered procrastination isn’t my style, and I needed to get a move on. So I spoke with the guy in my village who speaks some English and he put me in contact with his tutor, a retired English teacher. I thought he’d be able to attend meetings for a few months and I’d wean off his help. Then when he arrived he asked to make sure I knew he lived about an hour away! Typical just when you think you have it figured out something happens to mess it up.

I can’t pay for him to attend the weekly meetings but we can get money through Peace Corps to pay tutors. So it worked for him to come early and tutor me in Swahili….a blessing and a not-so-much-blessing. But something I needed so I’m really glad it’s worked out.

The first meeting had two women attend. Then the word got around more and 22 attended the second! Meetings here are a bit different than in the US as you may have to wait at least two hours before people arrive. This drives me crazy!

I explained the purpose of the group and options of income generating projects at least 4 times. It was also too many for what they were comfortable working together to make money. So the first 12 to arrive parted off and decided to grow Chinese cabbage. The other 10 decided to grow green peppers. I was glad as I was pushing for it to help diversify crops grown. Tomatoes and onions are basically the only things available on a regular basis.

Both groups have already cultivated plots donated by a member of each group, planted seeds and have started paying a membership fee that helps to reimburse me for the cost of seeds, fertilizer and pesticide. Hopefully after the first harvest they will be able to sell enough to build coops for a bigger chicken project.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Needed: Popo-Man Signal

Written April 7, 2011

My superhero-level bravery was tested just two nights when I was attacked by a vampire bat with a wing-span of five feet! Well, there really is no way of knowing if he was really a vampire…..and the wing-span was probably more around 1 ½ feet. But the tale is still scary!

It was a dark and stormy night in my village. I was having trouble sleeping as the previous night had been a deep unconsciousness of 12 whole hours recovering from food poisoning- which I say to warn if the meat at your butcher has been hanging long enough to look questionable then don’t eat it….no matter how much you are craving fajitas.

Anyway, I was hearing sounds on my roof which I chose to believe was my neighbor’s cat. Then just as I was about to fall back to sleep I heard the unmistakable rapid flutter of bat wings flying above me! He had somehow slipped through a gap in the way the roof is made and could not find his way back out. Luckily, I always sleep with my mosquito net tucked in even on nights like this when it’s too cold for mosquitoes. I never want to catch anything else wanting to snuggle.

At this point, I have flattened myself against the bed and shrieking like a girl- which I am not ashamed of since I am girl. After a few minutes he flies into the living room. I realize he is not going to find his way back out so I have to do something. I figure if Indiana Jones can slap off caves full of them I can handle one.

So I slowly pull the net up making sure to undo enough that I can easily jump back under it if the bat decides to give a surprise attack. I jump up and run to my bedroom door where I can reach out and open the door that goes out to my courtyard. Then I quickly close my bedroom door so he can’t come back in and then jump back under the mosquito net. I believe I did this all under two seconds but I didn’t think to time it.

After a while, I stop hearing him flying around the living room so I decide to brave a trip to the bathroom. I am able to grab a broom for protection as I run across the house to where I keep my night-time-pee-bucket- which I ironically have inside to keep from encountering any bats in the middle of the night on my way to the outside choo.

Just as I am relaxed and heading back to my room I see him flying right at me! I had forgotten bats are blind! So instead of flying around the room away from me like birds do, this bat was flying towards the light that I happened to be holding. Luckily, I still have my broom and able to get a few good swipes before running back to my bedroom. I think he got the message that he needs to be outside eating bugs and not inside scaring me.

Back closed-off under my net, I have no choice but to wait until he realizes he can get out the door. Sorry I don’t have a more exciting ending to include here. I spend most of the next day wondering if he’s hidden in house’s wood beams waiting for the sun to set to come back out. But I am glad to say he’s out of the house! At least for now…

Monday, March 21, 2011

Kupika Chakula!

Written March 18, 2011

Here we go….the long awaited post on how I cook! I had no idea food would play such a central role in my day to day here. During training, conversations were primarily about our last meals in the U.S., what we planned to cook as our first meal in the village and how we craved a Taco Bell gordita crunch. Well, that last one may have just been the conversation in my head.

Not that we did not enjoy our new TZ menu. It was just different. Coming here I thought the things I would miss most would be internet and tv/movies. I have never been that picky concerning food. But I quickly realized I’d forgotten my general dislike for white rice and beans…..the two staple ingredients for just about every TZ dish.

Plus it’s interesting to note that as the ‘melting pot’ of many nationalities, we Americans expect a variety of food both for a single meal and for our meals over consecutive days. If we have meat loaf one night then we may want Chinese or Mexican the next. This is not so for other cultures, particularly in under-developed countries.

So I was quite excited when I arrived at my site last fall and was able to start cooking more to my taste. I also really enjoy opportunities to share my cooking with my villagers. Particularly in my region, many ingredients for healthy meals are available but locals are use to eating as they have for generations and do not realize there are other options. One day I had neighbor visit while I was eating a tuna sandwich. I made one for her to try and she did not know how to eat it. She was picking at the top piece of bread instead of eating it like….well, a sandwich!

Food Availability
First, I am really lucky to have been placed in the Mbeya region. Besides having great soil for growing a variety of vegetables, there are enough Europeans/Americans living here that more of our foods are available at the nicer grocery stores in Mbeya town. Pasta, tuna, Doritos, Pringles and Cadbury chocolate are a few of these that I treat myself to during shopping trips every 2-4wks.

I am also really lucky to have wonderfully amazing family and friends sending me awesome care packages. There is rarely a day that I don’t have a meal with something from America….seasonings, mixes, cheese, etc. They are all much appreciated!

The How
During training my homestay family- like most villagers- cooked over an open fire. This tends to be easiest when cooking for a large family, but it is also slow. As we are normally cooking for just ourselves, most volunteers use a kerosene or charcoal stove like what we us in America for camping. For my first meal in my village, I used my charcoal jiko and it took 2 hours to boil pasta! I don’t have the patience for that everyday so I bought kerosene at my first chance.

Chakula Cha Asabuhi
Even in America breakfast was a hard meal for me. I love traditional breakfast foods but who has time to cook them before running off to work? Here my issue isn’t as much lack of time as lack of being a morning person. I can’t seem to face the kerosene jiko first thing every morning. So one of my monthly splurges is cereal- also available at the nicer grocery stores in town. Throw some bananas in a bowl of Rice Krispies along with powder milk and room-temp water…..mmm, that’s some good eatin’ there.

Chakula Cha Mchana
Lunch is one of the main reasons I am most glad to be cooking for myself now. The heat here does not affect Tanzanians like it does us Americans. So it’s nothing for them to throw back a big plate of rice drenched in a hot vegetable stew with a heavily fried bread.

For my mid-day, height of the heat meal, I usually do tuna with tomatoes, peanut butter and crackers or a local type of Romein noodles with an avocado. Now that it’s the rain season and some days are cooler I may make a big pot of chili or mac and cheese that I can also eat for supper.

Chakula Cha Usiku
Supper is the meal where I do my major cooking of the day. My village has mainly tomatoes and onions daily in the market, but I can also get carrots, green peppers, eggplant, avocados and garlic in town. There is also an Indian woman in town who sells a wide variety of spices and popcorn that I can pop over my jiko.

Most of my meals are pasta or potato based. I have gotten really good at making spaghetti sauce and a vegetable stir-fry. I also like doing garlic mashed potatoes from scratch.

Mexican food has been my big craving. I have learned to make my own tortillas- which turns out is pretty fun to do! Thanks to everyone back home for making Mexican seasoning the most common item sent in care packages. When I get Velvetta too, I eat like I queen! Cheese quesadillas and breakfast burritos- yum! Another favorite dish I’ve created is Mexican mac and cheese by including the seasoning, tomatoes, onions and green peppers.

As a farm girl born and raised, meat is also a big craving. What I wouldn’t give for a big rib-eye! But even here I am lucky for my placement because pork is available IN my village! (See post The Other White Nyama) I can buy ¼ kilo reasonably priced and perfect size for one person (without refrigeration I try not to have leftovers). So I can even make fajitas and pork tenderloin!

Notice this isn’t in Swahili cause Tanzanians in the village do not really snack. I’m not sure if there is a word for it. Between all the work they have to do for their home and farm plus the time that goes into preparing food, there isn’t a lot of free time.

The one exception I have noticed is when a particular fruit or insect is in season. Mangos are largely grown in my village as well as sugar cane. Villagers can commonly be seen chomping on those. There is also a termite that comes out in rain season. Locals like to fry and salt them. A neighbor offered me some and I really wanted to try them….but I just couldn’t!

I will currently pay anyone $20 and the naming rights of my first born for a large, bottom-less glass of American sweet ice tea. Tanzanians live and die by hot cups of chai. I once tried to explain how we drink tea in America with frozen water in it to make it cold. The villager barely believed me, saying it would hurt my mouth!

I drink lots of water- filtered and boiled. I love getting Wylers and Crystal Light drink mixes!

Healthier or Not?
Volunteers tend to be divided on this opinion depending on how they ate in America. Personally, I was too unhealthy. So I have really enjoyed learning to cook with fresh produce and spices. Hopefully, this will be something I will keep doing once I get back.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Getting Re-Energized

Written February 23, 2011

Some times days tend to blend together leaving one feeling like Bill Murray in Ground Hog’s Day. But then out of the blue something happens to remind you why you’re here.

I was lucky to one of these such days yesterday while teaching my standard 6 class. I was on the downhill side of a crazy 24-hour bug that had kept both ends stuck in buckets…yeah, sorry for TMI but important to the story!

It had knocked me so hard I was unable to prepare a new lesson in Swahili. I did not want to miss another day of teaching after being out on vacation. So I decided to review the past three lessons. I always wonder how much they understand of what I say so this was the perfect chance to test them.

I should first explain this is my favorite class. Even when I was teaching the class ahead of them, these students just seemed to get it better. A few weeks ago they were so good I decided on an impromptu game of Simon Says. The kids loved it, and I felt really good.

But then the following week they were awful: throwing paper airplanes, talking, walking around the room. It was a nightmare! The game must have given them a false sense of being able to get away with anything. I even had to put a couple of them in the corner, and they just laughed thinking it was a game too. So when they again wanted to play Simon Says at the end of class, I said no way!

Yesterday I returned to the best class ever. I don’t think they have ever been so attentive! Best of all they remembered what we had been studying. They were able to answer all my questions about soil composition, erosion and habitats. I was so proud of them all.

So when class ended, I was able to explain they were good even to play another game of Simon Says! Though I’m thinking they really don’t get the concept of the game, more like just imitating me. Either way we have fun so it doesn’t really matter.

ZANZIBAR: Music, Beach and Humidity

Written February 20, 2011

As I was preparing to make the move to TZ by stalking the blogs of volunteers already here, I read about this amazing music festival in Zanzibar. It immediately went to the top of my Must See list. Now a year later I final got my chance to experience it first-hand!

As with most trips in TZ there are various legs of a trip because travel takes a loooong time, especially when you are traveling cross-country as we were. I started from Mbeya town with another volunteer living in the Mbeya region, Rebecca. Plus, I got an awesome surprise that the previous weekend Rebecca and a few others in our Mbeya gang had randomly met a married couple, Mark and Annie, traveling through Africa for a college course. They have an awesome blog but sorry can't remember the address.

They had spent the week in Rebecca’s village and had decided to head to Zanzibar as well! To prove what an even smaller world it is, we were all sitting at a pub the night before leaving Mbeya when another guy from their class happens by! So he decided to join us too.

The next day we have an 8-hour coaster ride to Iringa. We had decided to break up the travel into two days so we would not arrive in the big city Dar es Salaam after dark- not the best place to be walking with lot of luggage. Plus I was excited to check out what I had heard was the best cheap shopping. I was not disappointed as I found a much needed bag and beautiful wooden necklace.

Sunday morning Rebecca and I headed on to Dar. The Coloradans decided to enjoy Iringa a few more days before hitting the festival. I love how travel in Africa can be so easily adjusted to fit whatever comes along!

One of the best parts of Dar this trip was our accommodations. We had decided to try out PC’s ex-pat program which matches volunteers with Americans living in Dar and willing to let us stay free. Our ex-pat was very gracious and welcoming. She had two extra rooms so we each got our own….each having its own a/c controls!

Monday morning we head into the PC office to use the internet and library of resource books. We also got to catch up with our program advisors and other staff. I must say the PC staff is always great at making time for us and answering questions. This is comforting when you don’t always feel like you have a clue.

Two HUGE highlights were 1) Stopping by the PC Med I found I have lost 55lbs since arriving in country! and 2) I found the 7th and final Harry Potter book! I never got into the HP craze in America. Then back in October I happened across the first two books and got hooked. I have found books 3-6 at the Mbeya library but had yet to find the last book.

On Tuesday I had to go to the eye doctor to replace a pair of glasses I had lost. I had been curious to see a TZ eye doctor’s office. It was sadly disappointing. The frame styles were a bit outdated but otherwise it was just like an eye doctor’s office in America….sorry no good story there!

But after leaving I stumbled upon a Super Wal-Mart! Ok it technically was not a Super Wal-Mart but it might as well have been. Only difference? The prices definitely were not rolled back.

I can remember many times in college when I a week or two’s worth of groceries for $10-20. Walking through this store on a villager’s budget (which let’s be honest, I make more than most villagers) was an incredible eye-opening experience. I could not bring myself to buy any special treat much less a whole week’s worth of food. Granted this was a “mazungu’s” store, aka for people with money, so villagers would never be shopping here. But it still made me experience how little choice of food there is for villagers other than what they grow or can get at the local farmers markets.

Anyway, back to the trip…..on Wednesday morning we caught a ferry for a 2-hour ride to Zanzibar! At that point we met up with three other gals from our training group and an American friend of Rebecca’s living in Saudi Arabia. The first thing we see upon arriving in Zanzibar? The humidity! Seriously, we can see it rolling off of us.

So we take off to a beach about an hour away located at the island’s northern tip. This is really the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. The sand is white and almost soft to walk on. The water is clear blue. We even claimed a tiki hut with a hammock! I love hammocks!

After swimming and relaxing, we took a small boat out to snorkel. I had never been snorkeling so I am seriously excited. So excited that I don’t stop to realize we are not getting any direction on how to use the mask. The leader guy jumps in so I follow….and get a mouth full of salt water. I start trying to swim towards the guy but then the tide takes me in the opposite direction. At this point I am wishing I had fought a little harder for a life vest.

For what could have been 15 or 75 minutes, I’m swimming against the tide and going no where. The only thing I accomplish is swallowing more salt water. One of the other girls comes to help me and teaches me how to use the mask. But then we can still not get back to the boat and scream for help.

Finally another boat picks us up and takes us back to our boat. After a few choice words, we learn the anchor was broke so they couldn’t come get us. But how were we suppose to know?! They take us then to a better place where we see a coral reef and tons of fish! I loved it so much I now need to learn deep sea diving so I can get closer!

After an awesome pizza dinner, we head back to Stone Town for the music festival. I wash my hair to get rid of the salt water not knowing it’s so humid hours later my hair was still sopping wet!

The festival’s stage was set-up inside an old stone fort it had great atmosphere. Around the perimeter were a ton of booths selling jewelry, paintings and seafood. Drums were primarily instrument of the performers as it set the beat for lots of dancing. For more information, check out their website.

The next day was full of sight seeing around Stone Town. The beautiful town had many stone buildings, hence the name. There were also the smaller paths off main roads that lead in crazy mazes through shops, restaurants, etc. I also got to catch up with a friend who was a volunteer in Mbeya and recently extended a 3rd year in Zanzibar. Good times!

The next day we returned to Dar and our wonderful ex-pat’s home. We then treated ourselves to a night in America! We hit the mall which a crazy collection of banks, a Good-Year tire store and a store like Target!

But our reason for being there was the McDonald’s and movie theater. Ok it wasn’t really a McDonald’s but might as well have been. We stood there staring at the menu forever. This was my first taste (pun intended) of what it will be like returning to America and wanting to order everything on the menu. I ended up going with the crispy chicken sandwich, real French fries with REAL ketchup and soda fountain drink. Why is it drinks from a soda fountain are so much better? There still was no ice but even I couldn’t complain at this point. We then watched Ben Stiller's third Meet the Parents movie.

After another 2-day bus ride I was back in Mbeya and wearing my jacket against the cooler temps!

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Day in the Life

Written February 2, 2011

Many of you have requested details of my daily life. I have been a little slow to write on this subject because…well, life is slow. I thought by waiting something would happen to spice up my narrative. Then I remembered I live in an African village…of course daily lfe is going to be slow!

Life without Electricity
Not having electricity affects your day from beginning to end. Typical village culture dictates the day begins at sunrise and ends not long after sunset. There is even a different way of telling time based on having 12 hours of sun and 12 hours of dark almost year-round. Our 6 a.m. is their 12 asabuhi (morning), similar to midnight. At our 6 p.m., they start over with 12 usiku (night). It can be confusing, especially when planning meetings!

My house borders a main walking path and my neighbor has a hydrant from which others fetch water. So I am usually woken up by 6:30 a.m. by villagers yelling greetings to each other. It’s also not uncommon to be woken that early by my neighbors hammering on their tools in preparation of going to their field. After all, the sun is up so should I be!

(I am leaving out meals and cooking because that all deserves a blog entry of its own! Coming soon!)

The Daily Grind
One aspect I personally really enjoy about village life is every day is different. I teach an environment class at the primary school every Monday and Tuesday morning. This is usually a highlight of my week!

At least one morning a week I wash my clothes with a bucket of soapy water, a bucket of rinsing water and a bar of soap. Many volunteers pay to have someone wash their clothes, but I don’t really mind it…least not yet. I turn on my iPod and usually Kelly Clarkson has the beat and attitude to give my clothes a good scrub.

Other mornings may consist of helping in coffee fields, translating lesson plans or what I want to say at an upcoming meeting into Swahili, or cleaning house. Three-four mornings a week I go to the market and walk around the village visiting.

Relationships are very important to the local culture. You may be walking along without seeing anyone when all of a sudden a greeting is yelled at you. And you are expected to ask several questions about their life, which all have a standard answer. This is similar to how Americans ask how you are and you are expected to say “good” even if you have a cold, the heel on your shoe just broke and your cat just died. Here’s an example of a typical passing translated into English:

Villager: How is your morning?
Me: Good. And you?

Villager: eh, good. How did you wake?
Me: Peaceful. And you?

Villager: eh, peaceful. How is your home?
Me: Good. And you?

Villager: eh, good. How is your work?
Me: Good. And you?

Villager: Good. What have you ate today?
Me: I ate eggs, bread, mango and chia. (For some reason, they love to hear what I eat. I’ve learned to add things I didn’t eat because they never think I eat enough. Also, never forget to mention having tea.)

Me: How is your family?
Villager: eh, nzuri.

Ok, this could go on but you get the point!

Afternoons are usually a time of rest. During the dry season, it was too hot to work. Now it’s the rain season and afternoons are too wet or hot for work- though rainy days can be surprisingly cool. I usually spend this time reading, writing, playing cards, choreographing dances to songs on my iPod, re-writing words to songs…

Late afternoon/evenings tend to be when I get visitors. Most families eat late because it takes so long to cook a whole meal for several people. So I prefer to cook at my house so I can eat earlier and healthier. I usually start cooking about 5 p.m. so I am done by 6:30 p.m. Then I can get a bucket bath before it gets too dark.

Once it gets dark, I close up my house. I feel safe in my village, but I do not want to be out or have visitors after dark. I figure it is better safe than sorry but I may change once I am here longer. There is a disco that plays music and movies from a generator that some younger villagers go to at night.

I have solar and battery-operated lanterns so I am able to read most nights. If my computer has power, I may watch a movie or tv show I have saved to my hard drive. Sometimes I am even able to get wi-fi and check Facebook!

That’s it…a day in my life!

I Live in a Cage!

Written January 26, 2011

I recently realized I live in cage. You know the kind at a zoo where you can observe animals inside a cave or under water and then run around outside to watch them laying in the sun. Yeah, that’s my house.

My living room window- complete with bars- looks out on a shared outdoor space of my neighbors. This area is where they have a hydrant many in our area use to fetch water. It is not uncommon for me to be cooking, working or just walk by this window and happen to look out to see a group of ladies or children filling their buckets and watching me.

More industrious children have found they can climb the trees on the other side of my house to see over my courtyard wall and watch me. Some times they offer me mangos and avocados. Cue the Jack Hannah voice over….

‘Today we will observe the female mazungu in her home. Watch as she washes AND peels her fruit before eating.’

Now I am not gonna lie. There have been times this frustrates me. And I may tend to yell at the children looking over my courtyard wall. But, for the most part, I understand they are just curious, especially with me being the first PCV in my village. I enjoy sharing our American ways of doing things. Besides when I particularly need privacy, I can close the shutters on my windows!

It's Christmas in Africa!

Written January 4, 2011

Ever since I was little Dolly Parton’s Christmas anthem ‘Hard Candy Christmas’ has been one of my fav songs of the season. I’m not sure why as many think it’s depressing. Maybe it’s Dolly’s way of rhyming ‘candy’ and ‘dandy’? Or maybe her refusal to ‘let sorrow bring me way down’? Either way I was quite surprised when only a couple of years ago is actually from her movie about whore house being closed at Christmas time.

Anyway, I knew this Christmas would be rough as it’s my favorite time of year and first to spend away from home. But my curiosity and excitement to see Christmas in Africa kept away the initial home sickness. My area of Tanzania is primarily Christmas, and I knew they observed Christmas from a community calendar I had to make with them when I first arrived.

Then I returned back to my village from a training about a week before Christmas. None of my Christmas packages from the US had arrived. Worst of all my two cats I recently adopted from another volunteer had died while I was away. I had left a neighbor in charge of feeding them, but she did not know what had gone wrong. The whole situation was really frustrating because Tanzanians in general do not understand the concept of pets, and she could not understand why I was so upset. Needless to say, I was not feeling the Christmas spirit.

After a few days of feeling good and sorry for myself, a huge rain came. It was the kind of heavy rain that lasts hours and has enough power to wash dishes and shampoo your hair. After doing both of these and listening to 'Hard Candy Christmas', I remembered at the least I came to Africa wanting an adventure. An adventure is definitely what I am getting!

I had turned down invitations to travel over the holiday because I wanted to experience Christmas in the village. But when another volunteer in my region called on Christmas Eve morning, I realized I also needed to be around American friends. So I joined up with her and two others spending the holiday in her village. This way I was able to get a bit of both American and Tanzanian Christmas.

That night we had a Mexican feast complete with home-made tortillas, beans and guacamole. All while enjoying a strand of solar-powered lights my grandmother had sent! We also got to watch the current season of Glee which had been brought back from another volunteer’s recent trip to the US.

On Christmas morning, we baked mango and banana breads as gifts for the two families who had invited us to eat. At both houses, we were given huge servings of pilau (seasoned rice) and chicken, two special occasion dishes.

With poverty being a part of life here, Christmas is celebrated with much less fluff than in America. For the most part, gifts are not exchanged and decorations are sparse. Instead, the focus is placed more on the gathering of friends and family.

Returning to my friend’s house we noticed how brilliant the stars glowed and immediately launched into another of my favorite Christmas hymns ‘Silent Night’. After a day spent basking in the open warmth of Tanzanian hospitality, Christmas could not have ended more perfectly.