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.