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.