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