Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Citified Maisha

I know, I know….way past time for a blog update. I feel like every post starts this way. And I blame Facebook. Now that I’m sitting at a desk most of the day-every day, my insightful comments on the world and updates on my bowel movements end up as Facebook statuses instead of fully thought-out blog entries.

So it’s time for……….another way-too-condensed update on my life!!!

The last time we visited I had just returned from wonderful, wonderful America. I brought back tons of goodies carefully distributed among three suitcases and 13.5lbs not-so-evenly distributed on my body. I’ve been working off the latter. My walk to work is about 35 minutes and my walk home is about 15 minutes. How does that work? Well, my morning walk is down a big hill, aka a small mountain. At the end of the day, I usually walk half and then take a daladala (public van) up the worst of it. Also I’m doing kickboxing videos 2-3 nights a week….which is also great for working off the aggression city life can cause.

While we’re on the subject, I should talk about my new city life. It’s quite different than my old village life…both in good ways and bad. Good ways include what you’d expect: electricity, hot water, gas stove. Housing in general has taken a huge step up.

When I first moved to Mwanza, I was placed in an apartment across the street from a public open space used for very large and loud events. Let’s just say when I would try to listen to my iPod or a movie on my computer to drown out the noise; it was so loud that I could not hear what was coming through my earphones! Tanzanians love their speakers and sound systems.
I was also a block away from three nightclubs. Perfect for nights out…not so great for the other six nights a week when I needed sleep. I was VERY lucky and appreciative that Peace Corps let me work with the landlord to break the lease. It’s not a standard solution in a country where respect is so important, but I was also lucky my landlord had worked before with foreigners so was very understanding.

I returned from home leave basically homeless! But lucky yet again another Peace Corps Volunteer had an open room at her house. She’s here working with Baylor and living in a house they have for their visiting doctors and med-students. We thought I’d just be able to stay till I found my own place….a feat much harder than expected. Mwanza has grown over the past few years, and housing has become expensive.

This week we found out I was approved to stay till my 3rd year ends next August! There’s one other girl living in the house and working with Baylor through a Princeton program. Plus, the house is kind of a duplex with another 3-bedroom house attached- even accessible through a door in the pantry! We all get along great and have fun together. So I’m feeling great about my new housing. We’re also making fun friends from various countries…wonderful to have a social life again!

Another bonus for living in a city? I found an awesome lady to cut my hair! She of Indian decent born in Tanzania and her family moved to the UK when she was a child. That’s also where she first studied hair. So she knows what she’s doing and how to deal with white-people-hair.

The not so great parts of city life…..there’s not really a sense of belonging to the local Tanzanian community. In my village, I had finally become one of them. There were still those few villagers who would ask me for money and gifts, but for the most part, I had earned their respect. When I walked through the village, I saw the same people who were interested in talking with me.

On my walk to and from work here, I see different people every day. To them I’m just a foreigner…a walking ATM. It is much harder than I expected, resulting in so many emotions. Anger that they ask, sadness that they live a life where they think it’s acceptable, guilt that I have so much more than they do yet I never give handouts.

It was a standard among Peace Corps Volunteers. We barely make more than they have so it was easy to say no. The only exception being those few villagers who I knew would pay me back. Or paying for work they did for me. Village kids loved to catch me returning from town, so they could help carry my bags and I’d give them candy.

Plus for us PCVs, we could rationalize it by saying hand-outs aren’t sustainable. Sure, it might help them that day, but what are they learning from me giving them money? This train of thought at least helped with the guilt.

At the same time though, I almost feel more immersed in Tanzania now than when I was living in a village. In the village, I’d leave my house for a few hours here and there. I’d go teach or visiting, to the market or meetings. Otherwise, I could be in my house doing activities to help with the stress and home sickness: reading books in English, listening to American music, talking to other PCVs on the phone in English.

In the city, I’m working a regular 9-5 office job. I’m in an office with only Tanzanians and eat lunch 2-3 times a week at a little restaurant near the office where only Tanzanians usually eat. This is usually fun as it’s almost like Ruby Faye’s back home….they know my name and what I drink!

Most of my co-workers speak really good English, which is helpful when we are discussing more technical matters one-on-one. Still when just talking amongst themselves or casually talking with me, they speak Swahili. On one hand, I’m glad because it has helped my Swahili, whereas most volunteers lose their Swahili after moving to a town. However, on the other hand, I get so frustrated by sitting in meetings and barely knowing what is being said. I’m not able to contribute much or feel useful. I recently realized I have gotten way too use to going through life not completely aware of what’s being said around me.

All in all, I am still really glad I am getting this experience. It has opened me up to a different part of the Tanzanian culture and is a good transition back to the working world.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Home Leave Top 10 List

Oh America. Sweet, sweet America. My last three weeks of home leave were fairly eventful. To keep from having the world’s most ridiculous long blog post- as you know how I love to write and write and write- I’m going to make this more a list of brief observations rather than a full write up.

So here we go:

1) Roadtrips were always a favorite of mine. Now after traveling in a more “backpacking” type of travel, I love driving vacations even more!
Reason #1: I remembered when you drive yourself you can pack as much as you want!!! You don’t have to carry any of it by hand or on your back.

Reason #2: Rest Stops. None of those side-of-the-road bathroom breaks with me taking too long to find a “private” spot and then having to run after the bus….yes, this has happened more than I care to admit.

Reason #3: After two years of 12-hour, cramped bus rides, a 5-hour trip in my own car goes by SO fast!

2) Related to #1: To all ye of little faith in my driving abilities, I want to point out that I did successfully drive myself all over Kentucky for SIX weeks without any speeding tickets or wrecks.

3) I was not prepared for the new standard of traveling with GPS and Smartphones. Realized this when trying to get directions for various places and was simply given the address to where we were meeting.

4) My hygiene standards for men have definitely lowered after two years in a country with less than ideal water availability. Realized this when I was checking out a cute-in-a-scruffy-way guy. Then I remembered I am in America….making this guy dirty and a hobo.

5) Nothing beats the combo of a hot shower and a towel fresh from the dryer.....well, unless it's BBQ nachos and sweet ice tea :-)

6) The most common questions I got were about wild animals….if I’d petted a lion? if giraffes roamed my village? if I’d rode a zebra? Ummm, that’s all a no. Come on people, wild animals are wild animals. Do bears and wolves sit around on the patio furniture in your back yard?

7) Related to #5: the closest I’ve been to a wild animal was when a bobcat ran across the road in front of me between Dad and Uncle Kenny’s houses last week.

8) Also related to #5: I really enjoyed and appreciated how everyone was so supportive and interested in Tanzania, its people and my work. But….after 6 weeks of it, I was about to start banning any talk of Tanzania, its people and my work.

9) Hardest temptation? Not to go through Sam’s Club buying a year’s supply of honey mustard, Cheetos, granola bars, Chips Ahoy...well, you get the point. I did carry around a pack of 2 big bottles of honey mustard before realizing it was silly.

10) Another hot topic was what I planned to take back with me. Here’s the final list of what made it in my suitcases:
- comfy, sturdy, cute walking shoes and sandels….5 pairs. (No judging!)
- new lap top and digital camera (just glad old ones held up as long as they did)
- new tennis shoes
- fly swatter
- sheet set (fitted sheets rare)
- pineapple peeler
- pancake flipper
- bowl scraper
- multiples of shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, face wash, toner, makeup, lotions (brands I can’t get and things over priced in TZ)
- cotton balls
- wet wipes
- Tide wipes
- year supply of contacts and solution
- collapsible canvas shelves
- closet organizer
- clothes…so many new clothes (most I owned prior to home leave were stretched out, worn out and hole-y
- honey mustard (small bottle)
- pumpkin flavored mixes
- country gravy mixes
- craisens
- candy for Tanzanian coworkers
- magazines and new downloaded music to share with other PCVs

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Radio Nyota

I'm a radio star! Not really, but since I've been home, I have really enjoyed a bit of my old 'life-of-a-pr-professional'. Lots of friends have invited me to talk about my life in TZ to their civic groups and churches. AND this past Wednesday I got to go on-air at WKMS during Sounds Good. It was a great time! If you missed it, not to worry. They taped it and posted the audio on their website! Check it out here:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Usually I write about what HAS happened. But today- with this awesome American constant access to internet- I am writing about the future! 

Tomorrow will be a fun blast from the past when I get to visit the gang at WKMS in Murray, KY! I was a student worker there in college, and now I have been invited back for a live interview about my past two years in Tanzania. 

You can listen via Just click on the Listen Live button in the left hand corner (NOT the one in the center as that's their all music sub-station). I'll be on in the noon-1pm hour of Sounds Good....that's Central Standard Time!

Then comment here to let me know what you thought!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Quality of Life: United States vs Tanzania.

Check out this website! It compares your life in one country to what your life would be like in another country. The various comparisons include things like life expectancy, amount of electricity and oil used, amount you spend on health care, etc.

Comparing The United States to Tanzania.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Habari za Home Leave?

Here I am halfway through my 6-week home leave, aka Operation American Indulgence. So far my hair has been cut in a style that doesn’t require the everyday pony tail. I spent an amazing afternoon at a spa getting scrubbed cleaned. I’ve ransacked the summer clearance racks at my fav clothing stores. And I’ve enjoyed so many lunches and dinners out with friends and family that I barely fit into most of my new pants- but I regret not a forkful!!

Being back has been a crazy mix of feeling like I never left and feeling like everything is completely different. Even friends commented that we all picked up conversations like I’d still been around. But then there are those moments when someone asks me the simplest questions and I have no idea how to answer!  

The first few days I was mainly sleeping and visiting. My first trip to Wal-Mart ended up as a 2 hour walk up and down aisles. I finally realized I must have had a strange look on my face when I noticed other shoppers staring at me and how employees kept asking if they could help me find something.

The first major cultural shock moment came when I was finally able to spend a day helping around the family farm. I guess because this showed the biggest comparison with the agriculture and farming ways I had been surrounded by in the village.

My dad had me run water over a horse’s swollen leg. It was something the horse definitely needed. But I was standing there watching ALL this clean, clear, drinkable water being run over the horse’s leg and then onto the ground….it just seemed so wrong, like I was wasting it. I should at least find a way to capture it as ran off the horse’s leg so we could use it again later.

I was also shocked to find that pizza rolls are not nearly as tasty as I remember them! And I can no longer handle air conditioning!! I have to carry around a wrap to restaurants, movie theaters and stores as they usually freeze me out.

One good surprise I have had is being able to see the support I have here at home. So many people have been really interested in and supportive of what I’ve been doing in TZ. Many groups have invited to talk about my work at their meetings. It’s really been fun!

For now, I must run— literally! It’s time for my daily workout to combat all the food involved in Operation American Indulgence!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How My Willpower Finally Snapped

I have now been back in the US for just over 48 hours! A whirlwind took over as soon as I landed. I was greeted by my dad and stepmom, grandparents and aunt & uncle who then treated me to a late (10p.m.) dinner at IHOP! Much sweet ice tea was drunk…and even more since then!

Yep, good food is definitely a big highlight of my visit! But I’ve been proud of not going too crazy all at once. I didn’t make a mad dash to the grocery to buy up all the things I’ve missed. Luckily my small hometown doesn’t have any fast food chains so that temptation isn’t readily available. Though at the Chicago airport, I did have to stop at the McDonalds for a sweet tea, cheeseburger and fries. BUT, I didn’t go for a big deluxe burger or double up on a burger AND chicken nuggets…..believe me, the thought did cross my mind!

For the most part, PCVs visiting the States can go fairly crazy eating their fav foods, because they’ll loose the weight quickly after returning. BUT as someone who’s always struggled with their weight, I seriously have to watch myself- especially since I’ll be returning to a big city where good foods are more readily available.

But….this morning….after 2 full days of resisting a kitchen full of my fav snacks….I finally snapped. What were the foods that caused this lapse in good judgement? Sausage, cold milk and Chips Ahoy.

OK, so for you to understand, I need to explain that in TZ they call hot dogs sausage! Yes, really! No tasty, greasy patties or links to be found at all! And I love good Southern breakfasts. So I was excited this morning to have found in the freezer a box of pre-sliced and patted out sausage patties (oh, how I missed America)! So I’m cooking my sausage, egg and toast when I realize I can also have a big glass of ice cold MILK with this meal. You have no idea how this realization excites me!!

So I fix my glass and starting sipping...or guzzling…when I suddenly catch sight of the Chips Ahoy package. The next thing I know I’m flipping sausage with one hand and dunking cookies in my milk with the other…..not a pretty sight. BUT I am proud to say I was able to stop after only 2 cookies. Small servings of much food is my goal for this venture!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Do’s and Don’t for How to Deal with Me

This time next week I will be on my way home to America, the beautiful land of Mexican food, cheese, cheesy pizza, rocky road ice cream, malls, movie theaters, movie theater popcorn and my horses. For six weeks, I will be enjoying it all

It’s been two years and two months since I arrived in Tanzania, and I’ve been here the whole time without visiting home or home visiting me. So it’s reasonable I have a few worries about how I will adjust back to American life and relate with my family and friends. To help ease any initial awkwardness, I’ve made a list of Do’s and Don’t's for how to deal with me post-TZ. Please read and prepare yourself as necessary.

Do feed me! Seriously, my diet the past two years has consisted mainly of starch: pasta, potatoes, rice & beans, ugali (balls of flavorless starch), more rice and more pasta.
Don’t be offended if I can no longer handle some of my favorite dishes.  Living without the flavor and richness of American meals has affected my palate….and bodily functions. So also don’t be offended when I have to follow your scrumptious food with Pepto and Imodium. Oh, and I am use to poop being a popular and appropriate topic of conversation….

Do take me out in public! I can’t wait to see what has changed over the past two years.

Don’t be jealous by my new celebrity. I have grown accustomed to being special and everyone watching my every move. People in TZ are always interested in how my home is, how my work is, what I’ve had to eat, where I’m going, where I’ve been and telling me how pretty I am. I don’t expect this to change just because I’m back in the US.

Do take me shopping! I have long lists of clothes, tech stuff and house gadgets I need to bring back so I’m ready for serious shopping.

Don’t hide when I haggle over the price. If I’ve learned anything in Africa, it’s that the first price is just the starting point. And I find it hard to pay much more than 33cents for a pair of pants. I’m excited to bring this form of commerce to all my fav groceries and department stores.

Do treat me to things I want to do and see! Sweet friends have already been offering to let me plan where we go and what we do when we visit.

Don’t get too frustrated when it takes me half the day to decide what it is I want to do. And then another hour to decide what to order off the restaurant menu. And I’ll need at least three hours to pick out which deodorant I should buy at WalMart. Options are a rarity in TZ. When I find a selection of more than five shampoos to pick from, it all becomes overwhelming and stressful.

Do ask me about my villagers and their culture! I’ll probably talk your ear off…..though best to give me direct questions. Remember options are overwhelming!

Don’t forget your manners. Yes, villagers live a much simpler life, but they are not idiots. And they don’t go around throwing spears at each other. And, please don’t ask me in-depth political questions. I really don’t know all the answers to Tanzania’s problems nor do I want to debate them.

Do spend time just sitting and chatting! I want to hear all about your life over the past two years!

Don’t be weirded out by me sitting in your lap. Personal space no longer exists to me. I may also prefer to ride shot gun in your car along with another friend, the dog, all our purses, our shopping bags, the produce from the Farmer’s Market and whatever else fits in the seat, under our feet and on the console. There’s always room for more!

Ok, that’s a good start to help us back into being friends and family members. I’m sure if you simply follow these guidelines we’ll have no problems and you’ll agree with my new better ways of thinking. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

PC TZ: The Movie

NOTE: There should be fun music playing! If you are not hearing the fun music, click here to watch directly from YouTube for optimum viewing pleasure.

I was super lucky to have gotten to put together the video/slide show for my Health and Env PCV class. I had so much fun collecting the pictures and remembering many of the moments. Also, this past year I started a fun tradition of writing silly birthday poems for PCVs in my region. So I had to incorporate some poetry into this video! 

The movie premiere was held during the first ever Tanzo Awards at our Close of Service conference in May. Some extremely funny PCVs produced a top notch awards show complete with a musical opening number, host/hostess banter, well-played roasting of various volunteers, dramatic reading and an award for each COSing PCV. My award? Oh, well thanks for asking. You see, unbeknownst to you all back home, I've become somewhat famous in Tanzania for mass texting. It is a special talent cultivated during the occasional blocks of hours upon hours of free time in the village. I would dramatically write up a text of typical TZ craziness, my own musings and the ever-popular Song of the Day where everyone had to identify a song lyric. Good times.

As for the above video, be prepared. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want to start your own PC application.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

3rd Year: New Home

You would think after two years there would be little TZ could throw my way and still phase me. But this past week was rough. Really rough. I think mainly due to the perfect storm of anything possible of going wrong, did go wrong. 

After an emotional last week of saying goodbyes to my villagers and friends around the Mbeya region, it was time for me to move across the country to Mwanza. If you look at a map, the route looks like it’d be an almost direct trip north. But there’s no road. So you basically have to go east- almost the whole width of TZ- and then start the trip upwards. This makes a full two days by bus.  

Typical TZ Travel 
In usual circumstances, travel via TZ buses is exhausting. Rough roads, cramped buses, vendors selling everything under the sun and my skin color viewed as a walking ATM machine. Really, by now I’ve got this under control. Easy, peasy. I travel with just my backpack and a tote bag- perfect for quick, sleuth-like maneuvering through crowded, noisy bus stands. My iPod is always fully-charged allowing for ‘zone-out’ time and occasional napping. I even have these awesome question cards from America for when I have travel buddies to talk to. I got this travel thing down to a science!  

This Trip 
But this was different. I was moving my whole life x-country by way of a TZ bus. There’s no sugar coating it. It was miserable. I had given away and sold very cheaply most of my house to villagers. This left the bare essentials of seven big, heavy bags of clothes, work-related books, fun books, American kitchen gadgets- that I would not part with if my life depended on it- and few other odds and ends. 

Well, long story short, I don’t remember a time when I’ve ever been on such a short fuse. I was almost, maybe, kinda starting fights with those annoying men viewing me as the ATM and wanting to ‘help’ for a price. Not my proudest moment. 

The second day’s bus arrived at my stand 2 hours late and then had engine issues all along the way…making it well after midnight by the time I arrived in Mwanza. BUT, finally, light was shining from the end of the tunnel! Two nice, polite TZ men from the company I would be working with picked me up from the stand. And since it was so late, they’d decided to take me to a hotel instead of my new, empty home!  

The Hotel 
Ah, the hotel. It was not just any hotel. This place was upscale NICE even by American standards! And it made me realize I can no longer function in the NICE world. Within minutes I screwed up all the settings of the flat screen tv remote. Having not eaten supper, I was starving and ordered room service. After the best hot shower EVER, I heard a noise…and kept hearing a noise…I couldn’t figure out what it was but eventually it stopped. A bit later, I realized my room has a doorbell and that had been my food! It was gone forever. But didn’t care too much as I was practically already asleep on the most comfortable pillows EVER.

The next morning- after another hot shower- I head to find the complementary breakfast. Usually in TZ, this means bread, fake butter, tea and maybe an egg and/or fruit. So when I came across a dining room with TWO buffet lines full of different dishes, I couldn’t believe THIS was the free breakfast! I asked a few different people and still sat expecting to be thrown out. Perhaps the most mshamba (redneck) moment was going through the hot buffet line, I got a boiled egg- a common staple around the village. Then a few steps farther, I realized it wasn’t a boiled egg…it was raw for the omelet station! A bit embarrassing to put back but at least I realized before I cracked it!  

New Home 
Well, my new home was a quick reminder that I’m still a PCV. It is also a good example of what a Tanzanian values in a home compared to an American. In many countries similar to TZ, the word ‘privacy’ either doesn’t exist in their language or is looked upon negatively, like loneliness or forced isolation. Tanzanian households tend to include large numbers of people so someone is always around you. Or you are always out working and socializing, not in the home. On the contrary, American homes usually allow for privacy and space. It’s our time to rejuvenate and prepare for the next day. 

Now granted I may need a weirdly large amount personal space and quite time by American standards, but this is especially important here when I need time away from being watched and studied by everyone around me. And- having grown up on a farm- I especially need to be able to relax outside. I loved my house in the village because I had this great brick enclosed courtyard with views of trees and mountains! 

Anyway, taking all this into account, you can imagine why I personally was disappointed to find my new home was a two-room apartment with no kitchen or outdoor space and attached to a store in a busy neighborhood. But because of all this, I get the perks that Tanzanians view more important: security and added value. Because the store is run by the landlord’s wife, I get the benefit of continuous security by someone I trust. And because it is all connected, the utilities are included in the rent which is paid by a third-party. This is a huge bonus on a volunteer’s salary. 

I can definitely see the benefits of my new home and have already enjoyed being in the vicinity of a really good fresh produce market. I’m also a 30min walk from my office and the downtown area which is great exercise and keeps me from dealing with public transportation. The company I work for bought me a great gas stove. With my home leave just a month away, I’m looking forward to shopping for organizers I can bring back to create my kitchen. Best of all, the landlord and his family are super nice and have given me the green light to paint. So I know with some sprucing up I can make it a nice home for the next year.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Was It Worth It?

So much time has been spent dreaming of this moment. Now it’s finally here. Is it what I expected? I don’t know. I am not even completely sure of what I expected. Relief, sadness, pride in what I accomplished, regret for what I did not, excitement for the next phase in my life, worry that it’s what I should be doing.

Time that went so slowly in those first few months completely flew over the second year. When I think over my time here, the most prominent memories are not those of frustration, anger and sadness. What I think of the most are the incredible moments I had working with the students and women. These friendships along with those created with other PCVs and ex-pats will forever color how I view the world.

Sure I have struggled. There were many moments when I wanted to cut my loses and return home. But I didn’t. And now I am so grateful. When I first arrived in my village, I remember a group of education volunteers preparing to COS (Close of Service). The sense of accomplishment and completion they had was what I wanted. It’s what motivated me through those hardest initial months.
Now I have that and it is sweeter than I imagined. Yes, I can now say I lived for two years in an African village without electricity, modern plumbing or even seeing my friends and family in the US. But what is so sweet is not all that. It was the culture sharing moments…

--Communicating in Kiswahili to explain how my family’s farm operates as compared to theirs or to share good news like when my sister and her husband had their baby

--Teaching my students to play Hoki Poki and Red Rover and then having them teach me local games…as we’re surrounded by the backdrop of mountains, banana trees and other “African-looking foliage”

 --Being surprised by my birthday party thrown by the women’s group….especially considering in the local culture Tanzanians rarely celebrate birthdays or even know their own age

 --Giving a tour of my village to two American women from VA….one of whom was 80-years-old and had lived in my village around 1932-36 when her father worked on the coffee farm

 --The Mwezi wa Farasi, or month of the horse, to celebrate the Kentucky Derby by doing arts and crafts projects with my students

No, I did not “save the world” or even do much to improve it. But- contrary to popular belief- that is not what Peace Corps is all about. As the TZ Peace Corps staff likes to remind us, two-thirds of the Peace Corps Goals is about cultural exchange: sharing my culture with my host country and then sharing their culture with Americans. In turn, we are opening the realm of possibilities for our villagers and helping Americans see the world outside of our own bubble.

When I applied for Peace Corps, I needed a change to shake up my life. I got that and so much more. For that reason, I can honestly say that these past two years have definitely been worth it.

Spawning Mushrooms and Leadership

This is a recent Success Story I wrote about my women's group mushroom project. A write up is on of the steps required to close out a PC grant.

Not much more than one year ago twenty-five women in the small village of Mshewe
came together to form an organization named Zinduka Women’s Group. Expectations of this group were greater than those of other village organizations. The members of Zinduka wanted to work together to improve the food security of Mshewe; provide an outlet for the energy and leadership capabilities of the village women; and create a bond of trust and respect among its members.

Members meet every Tuesday wrapped in matching floral kitenge and blue polo shirts with their group’s name emblazoned on the pocket. This sight shows immediately the sisterhood and camaraderie already shared. Together the women have explored various alternative crops adding to the staples of corn and beans. They found particular interest in producing a small trial of mushrooms.

Seeking help from the village Peace Corps Volunteer, the women began a whole new venture of mushroom farming. With funding support from USAID’s Small Project Assistance grant, the group worked with their PCV to strategically plan and budget the building of a humidity controlled banda. The application of water to the banda’s roof adds moisture to the air inside which assists in the mushroom growth. The funding also provided the group with quality tools needed for mushroom farming.

“I am truly impressed by the dedication shown by the women,” PCV Jessica Byassee states. “I feel using a SPA grant to help improve a project already in existence was an important aspect to our success. The group members had the interest and experience needed to drive this project. Now with the banda and tools needed to grow mushrooms, their crop yield can be more profitable.”

Due to the participation and level of interest shown by the whole membership, sustainability is highly possible. The women want to maintain the banda and their new skills learned for growing mushrooms. They are already thinking of ways to use their profits to improve the banda. Members are excited to sell the mushrooms at the local and regional markets and increase the food available for villagers to purchase.

Women's empowerment was also an important result to this project. The support shown by local and district officials proves the respect this group has gained. As the whole village was aware of group's project, men were impressed by what the women were creating while the women gained confidence in working with men and higher officials. The future possibilities are endless.

And So the Circle Continues

Written December 2011

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was so excited to have been selected to be a Peace Corps Facilitator during the training of new environment and health volunteers last fall. The PCFs were a huge source of support during my training. So I was pumped to help show there is a happy life after training!

Training can be intense and overwhelming from the upheaval of everything we know in America to life in a TZ village. So many things- like cooking and bathing- we have to learn how to do as done here. There’s a lot to be said for learning how to poop into a hole in ground…  

Training of Trainers
Before we could be let loose on the group of impressionable new Peace Corps Trainees we needed to be trained to be a trainer. About 12 from my class (6 health, 6 env) came to together to plan our lessons and review the politically correct ways to answer questions and be supportive. It’d kinda be against the point of being a PCF if you told a struggling trainee about all the rat issues at your house or how a project fell apart after months of work.

We were partnered in twos (1 health, 1 env) and spread over the last 6 of 9 weeks of training. Every week of training has a theme of what’s taught. I was placed in week 5 with a good friend and health volunteer in Mbeya. We would be teaching about working with community groups and dealing with gender in development. Great combo!

TOT was a blast for many reasons. Our group was a good mix that allowed me to get to know some I didn’t know as well. Plus, TOT is at the agriculture school where training is held. It was my first chance to return to the area- so many memories came back to me!! I had a strange surreal feeling at first. My time there seemed so long ago. We all got a good reminder of how far we’ve come since we were the impressionable, overwhelmed trainees.

 I also got to visit the family I stayed with during training. To be honest I was not sure I really wanted to see them. They were super nice but not the type to have created the bond other PCVs had with their host families. I went a little more out of a sense of responsibility. But then I got to the village and as I walked to their house, almost every house I passed greeted me by name! And it was not the usual everyday-passing-by-greeting. These folks were excited to see me! I was shocked they remembered me much less my name and background. I loved getting to talk to them now knowing more Swahili than I had in training.

So by the time I reached my family’s home, I was pumped to see them! It was a great reunion. They appreciated my gifts of sugar, soap and candy. I may have even got a little choked up…if I got this way over seeing them, I have no idea what it will be like returning to friends and family in America!!  

The In-Between

After the week-long TOT, we all returned to our sites due to the first few weeks of training being primarily language and PCFs are not needed. For me and couple others coming from Mbeya, the trip for TOT was a long 18hr bus ride. Going there I divided it over two days…but that’s two days of hard bus rides. So on the return trip we decided to try it all in one day…by the end of which I thought it was one of the most miserable days of my WHOLE life. But it was good to get it over with and have a day to relax in town before returning to my vill.

 I had about a month in-between TOT and my PCF week. Several of my friends who were education volunteers were leaving during this time so many sad goodbyes and parties. There was also my birthday!

I was also busy in the village teaching and working with my women’s group. The weather was hot and dry as it was the end of the dry season. The combination of all this was not good. A few days before I was to head to training for my PCF week, I started feeling bad- exhaustion, fever, etc. I thought it was dehydration at first as I probably hadn’t increased my water intake enough to cover how hot it’d become.

So the day came for me to head to Mbeya town to meet my friend I’d be traveling and teaching with. I was chugging water with dehydration salts and ibuprofen. We stayed with another PCV in town who is a nurse in America…thank goodness. Cause I was standing and talking to them one minute and on the ground the next! I’d literally passed out. Not a great feeling to realize you’d passed out and can’t really converse more than answering simple questions.

But my friends were awesome. The nurse one jumped into medical mode and pulled a stethoscope and ear thermometer out of no where. She realized my symptoms could be flu or malaria….almost scary how the symptoms are so similar. The PC med kits include a malaria test so they were able to prick my finger for blood and test it. Not going to lie…I was scared. The malaria prevention meds can mess with your head and emotions. So when you live in the cold areas like Mbeya it’s easy to fall off the meds. Something I was really regretting. Luckily it was negative and after sleeping most of that day I was better enough to just sit on a bus all the next day. I was not going to miss my PCF week! Plus the PC doctor would be at training that week in case I needed him.  

PCF Week
We were totally excited to be going back for our week. There’s usually more than 100 PCVs in TZ. One group each of first-year health/environment and education. Then also one group each of second-year. To have so many spread across the country, we are a fairly tight knit group. When a new group of volunteers comes, it’s like Christmas. Mainly cause it means we’re getting new American neighbors in our regions…aka: new friends, new ‘family’ members.

We could not wait to meet the new trainees. The first day back in Tanga, they were all in their training groups in their villages. I was looking forward to having lunch with the group staying where I had lived and even meet the girl who is now staying with my family. It was funny cause I got really nervous that morning. I had looked at the PCFs last year as these people who have it all together, know all the answers and have had so much success. Not at all how I feel. I was worried I would end up saying something completely wrong and discouraging.

But it was all great! They were awesome and had great questions that I could answer. I was really excited to meet a guy from Kentucky and talk bluegrass for a bit. I really enjoyed them and getting to hear how their experiences related to those of my group.

In fact that was how the whole week went. We had so much fun getting to know everyone. By the end of the week we wanted them all to be placed in Mbeya with us! Our sessions went well. We also assisted staff sessions on malaria and HIV/AIDS. Mainly we tried to be the energizers of the week and help keep the morale high. This ended up being one the best weeks ever, leaving me energized to return to the vill!