Sunday, February 6, 2011

Good- Bye Party Pics

August 2010

Goodbye Image
Jessica, my village nurse who turned away for the picture


Jen surprised me by coming from her new village.
Speech time
Accepting gifts Are you kidding... more fabric. Children staring at me, nothing new. The only way to smash peanuts... in high heels.

Primary School Choir performance
I like to move it, move it...

Women's choir performance

Anna doesn't understand what is going on.

Primary School Teacher's performance


It isn't that good of a look when you are white...

Mama John- wrapping me in more fabric

Village women dancing

Primary school student drumming during part of the dancing

Primary school girls dance in leaf costumes

The chalkboard in the meeting room that we ate dinner Felix, my village chairman, and Sodike, my head teacher, and Anna, feeliing very protective over me Some Dancing

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teaching in Tanga

"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours."

Henry David Thoreau

July 26, 2010

I am on the bus. I have refrained from speaking much about the long cross-country bus trips that must be taken from Njombe to Dar, mostly because I didn’t want to scare my mom. I have seen many disturbing things in this country, things I am not sure that I will ever be able to talk about, most of those were on Tanzanian highways. According to Peace Corps, Tanzania has more fatality accidents than any other country in Africa, but maybe this is the only country that keeps track of anything like that, I can’t be sure. Our main road from Njombe up to Dar is paved, windy, with many of it climbing mountains with steep drop offs on either side. Cars and buses in Tanzania are very poorly maintained leading to many malfunctions. There are no hard and fast rules for driving. Basically go as fast as your car will take you is the main rule. This bus rides terrify my friends and I. We choose what we believe will be the safest area of the bus, put in our iPods, emotional eat, and attempt to distract each other for 11+ hours.

The ride to Tanga and back, I have to do alone. It is eleven hours from Njombe to Dar and then another six from Dar to Tanga town. I have been chosen as Peace Corps Volunteer of the week, which means I go up to Tanga (the training site) to teach 45 fresh, newly arrived PCVs about my service and life in Tanzania. I am excited about this opportunity to share my service. I am not excited about the ride. On the way, I reflect on how did I really come to accept this culture as normal? A man carrying logs on the back of his bicycle has encountered a problem, in the middle of the road the have become unattached and now are laying on the roadway. He attempts to gather them up, not get hit by a car and move his bicycle to the side of the road. The bus stops and about five men jump off and help him resituate until he can go on. I knew this would happen. I don’t question if this added time onto our trip, because even though I am still an American, Tanzania has also done its best job to rub off on me, so what is good for one person is good for us all. I snack on fresh cashews, which I offer to my neighbors like a good Tanzanian. It is not rude to eat in front of others as long as you offer what you are eating. I wonder if anyone in America offers and accepts food when they don’t know each other? No, Americans are too worried about poison, about annoying ones neighbors, about making a connection… I am squeezed between two young guys one in a shirt with a huge bald eagle that proclaims in big letters “Proud to be an American,” and I am sure he would be if he were. The other one is in a pink Old Navy shirt that could have only once been placed in the women’s section. Pinky asks me if I am married and I tell both he and “the American” an elaborate story of love, intrigue and heartbreak between my husband and I. This eats up some of the bus time. Eventually the woman behind me taps me and throws her, maybe two-year-old, child forward. The little girl casually looks at me, as I pass her to Pinky (he is closest to the exit) he asks the driver to stop, gets off with the girl and pulls her pants down. She squats on the side of the road; he pulls up her pants and carries her back onto the bus where she is passed back to her mother. Pinky and this girl are not related. If fact, they have never seen each other until that moment. This happens all over this country because this child is everyone’s child. This is a collectivist society. “All for one, one for all.”

In Tanga, I have to convey this cultural message. The new PCVs must adapt to a life like this instead of the individualistic attitude that we have always known and valued. I meet the new PCVs, eager and clean, cute in their new “Africa clothes”, they look of people who have recently eaten sour cream, blueberries, sweet and sour tofu. Dust has not entered every crease of their bodies. They talk about music, movies and TV shows that I have never heard of. They miss America… Have I forgotten? Instead of missing America though, I miss my friends. Other people that have never held an iphone, do not know what music is in, are only able to wash their feet every few days. The people I belong with- Kate, Sarah, Katalina, Margaret, Greta- the Njombe girls. On a very conceited level it is sort of enjoyable to be in the process of finishing something that 45 people are on the precipice of beginning. I have just done what is these people’s dream to do. They ask me cute, concerned questions and I so remember being there. Was it really two years ago?

Monday, July 12, 2010

New Life

Baby Gare Bear, an hour old

"Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it."
-Anais Nin

I am dozing on my couch when at 10.15 pm my phone rings, it is William. He says, "you have to go to my house right now, my wife is having a baby. I am in Njombe and the car is broken." I sleepily answer, "why didn't you call Jessica (our village nurse)?" He did, but she is traveling. uh no.

Some background: William is one of my closest friends in my village, he is 29 and married. He grew up in Image and we mainly became good friends because he was my old village executive officer's motorcycle driver. Then it turned out that his primary school level education makes his kiswahili perfect for me to understand. Plus he is just a generally nice guy. He lives way far into one of my sub-villages, so I have actually never visited him at his house. I am sure that I have greeted his wife very nicely at various times, but I have no idea which village woman she is, mostly because Tanzanian men generally only spend time with their wives in private and no one has ever pointed her out to me in the context of her being his wife. I know that they have one physically handicapped child and that she has carried two more babies to full term to have them arrive already dead. I also know how badly they want children, all in all, I am pretty freaked out. Especially that he has so much faith in my ability to make sure that this child arrives alive. So I do the only thing that I can do... I throw on a pair of jeans and go running like a mad woman to William's mother's house.

Luckily, Tanzanians almost never sleep, so I am able to get her out the door in a matter of minutes. She and I, at a quick, let's say, gallop fly over the rutted dirt road in the dark. It takes us about half an hour to arrive. The scene that I am met with leaves me shaking. The house is a one room, dirt floor, thatched roof number that is so typical of Tanzanian homes. There is one candle burning and through the flicker I see a woman curled up in the corner moaning quietly. When I reach her I can see that her eyes are as big as saucers, she is sweaty, but freezing cold. Is she in shock? Is she going to die? I feel like Prissy in Gone With The Wind as I think to myself, "Aw Miz Scarlett, I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies." I have been at many many Tanzanian births, but never one that I felt was so high risk or that I felt so alone for. Mama William ran out to get a neighbor woman who brought some warm water, some of her fire, and some fabric. I figured coordinating help was all that I could really do, so I began to make an exit. William's wife looked terrified at me and asked in Swahili "your leaving?!? but I need you. You are my husband's best friend and you are good luck." What was I supposed to do? I would feel horrible if the baby died and they believed that it was because I wasn't there, but what if it died and I was there? That thought terrified me.

It was a long night. One of my longest ever. I mostly just held her hand and kept talking, trying to calm her (and honestly, myself). At some point, before light, she gave birth in a squatting position, she sort of half caught the baby herself, and then it lay there on the compacted dirt. I quickly wiped it and looked at it and miraculously, it cried. I cried. Mama William squealed with delight. His wife smiled, satisfied, tired. I quickly looked over the tiny visitor. All limbs- perfect. Face- beautiful. A head of soft black hair. A strong, beautiful baby boy, which, culturally, is the best thing that can happen to any Tanzanian family. I looked up through the thatched roof to the fading stars and thanked the universe.

After cooking chai with Mama William and bathing the new baby, I set off toward my home to get some much needed sleep. Feeling a warmth in my heart and missing the small weight in my arms of the child a few moments old.

That afternoon, William returned absolutely thrilled. It is customary in Tanzania for the father to name the baby, when I asked why he said because the mother gives birth to it. Especially if it is a boy the father always gets to name it. This seems a little unjust which, of course, I pointed out. Also in Tanzanian villages, children in the womb are not talked about until they are born. There is no baby shower, designing the nursery, buying baby clothes, picking out names, talking about that a baby is coming at all. When I asked why, the answer was because the baby could die. Can you imagine living in an environment when the chance of a baby dying was so great that you didn't plan for it at all? Anyways, I walked back to the house to visit the family that afternoon. William demanded to know what my father's name was. "Gary", I said. He and his wife looked at each other and smiled. William then tells me, "That is this baby's name. Gary." "What?" I ask. He says, "Well it really is too short of a name (Tanzanians hate short names, they always have long names which they shorten.) His real name will be Garrion, but he is called Gary." This is somewhat hilarious because Tanzanians can barely say the r sound and constantly switch it with an l sound. I tell them that they really don't need to name the baby after my dad and should name it what they want. But they are both insistent. I walk home laughing. In a small village in East Africa there is a child named after my father, I am not sure what could be funnier.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I love America!

"She's got everything she needs, she's an artist and she don't look back." -Dylan

July 1, 2010

After spending months in denial it is time to face the fact that my days on the African continent are limited. I have successfully procrastinated in knowing this for quite sometime. Only on occassion does that knowledge creep up on me, when I get infected with what I call the "last- syndrome", ex- this is the last time I'll go to Iringa, this is the last time I will hear a bush baby scream in the night, this is the last time that I will see you... The thought of no return ticket to Tanzania is unbelievably depressing to me. The sense of loss I feel is overwhelming.

I am nervous about moving back to a country where stories don't start with, "The last time I was on Zanzibar..." or "Today we only got stuck in the mud twice and ran out of gas four times..." Outfits don't always include a slip under a below the knee skirt, and on a long bus ride no one sits down next to you and wants to hear your life story... in Swahili. It is funny, there are so many downright annoying things about being an mzungu in TZ, but once you get used to it, it becomes a pretty fun life.

I will be on an airplane in August. Leaving a country filled with smiling faces, rolling hills, bright fabric, rough roads, white beaches, a snow capped mountain- adventure.

Christmas came in July today as it rained and was freezing at the same time- something is it generally not supposed to do here. I curled up in front of my fire, roasted peanuts from the farm and read a Tom Robbins book. As I sit next to the fire, in my little house in East Africa it occurs to my that the number one lesson that I have learned in my time here is that everything is about attitude. I am moving back to America- I need an attitude adjustment. All things come to an end, whether good or bad and whether I ignore it or not PC is ending. Change is the only constant, best to embrace it. I've decided to make a list about all the things I am excited about to return to in America- friends and family obviously, but what else? Who knows, maybe you will find something that you take advantage of?

I am excited for:
-hot showers
-the cheese isle of the grocery store
-driving a car on paved roads
-when calling a meeting at noon, people showing up at noon, maybe even a little before. Not coming any time between 3 and 6 pm.
-ice cubes
-gyms and yoga classes
-red wine that is not from South Africa
-drinkable water
-a house with minimal spiders, not the maximum amount that can cram in.
-Hollywood Video and movie theatres
-people who understand the concept of standing in line without cutting
-swimming in a lake and not wondering whether or not you have shisto
-not having to follow up everything you say with "Are you understanding me?"
-American efficiency and customer service
-concerts, theatre, dance, art- culture that is not African
-not having to bargain for the price of everything
-not having every negative event attributed to witchcraft
-when ordering something at a restaurant, knowing just what is coming
-sickness that you know is not something crazy/weird
-machines- laundry, dishwasher, mop, vacuum, fridge, freezer...
-being anonymous- not having everyone talk about me constantly
-the absence of the near daily funeral
-a library with books that haven't just been discarded by PCVs
-unlimited internet and TV access
-things that make sense (to me)
-fat cats and dogs and the absence of rats
-not being alone unless desired
-western toilets and provided toilet paper
-Trader Joes
-Having clean, stylish, hole-less clothing
-Oregon seasons
-Implementing PC's third goal (Teaching Americans about Tanzanians)
-New challenges, new experiences, new dreams---

I feel better already...

PC says that the hardest time in a volunteer's service is the re-adjustment to America. This is probably true, but it certainly doesn't have to be. I choose to focus on what I am going toward, not what I am giving up. Life goes on and Peace Corps is only part of the adventure. On to the next one!

"Adventure is worthwhile in itself." -Amelia Earhart

I Choose Love

"The full life is filled with vulnerability, not defense... You face whatever feeling there is." -Virginia Satir

End of June

My village is crazy right now. So a lot of people in my friend, Osmond's family have died recently. Turns out that my villagers have decided that his uncle is dabbling in witchcraft. This has caused Osmond's baby to die, his mother to die, one of his uncles and two of his siblings, all in not very much time. By the time I got back to the village from some travels, they had already searched his house and found some "witching devices". When I pressed what exactly these were, I didn't get a real answer but I have an idea because when William and Nicki were at my house recently William accused me of witchcraft jokingly because I have shells laying around and Crystal Light in a water bottle. (So knick-knacks and colored water=witchcraft). Anyways, then they called some creepy people who took Osmond's old uncle out into the bush and killed him. Or Image villagers think that they killed him, we cannot be sure, but I have been told ominously, "that we will not hear from him again." My villagers seem very okay with this. It will be odd to live in a country very soon that does not explain everything by the occult. When Jane, my house girl, started working for me, multiple people told me to clean out my hair brush. In response to my question of why, I was told because she could steal my hair and give it to someone who could curse me. Really?

About the time of all this Osmond's-uncle-witch-business, I get really sick. I woke up with a fever, weak, and then threw up for four days straight. What I called the stomach flu, they call witchcraft, poison...blah, blah, blah. Many Tanzanians open drinks in front of who is going to drink it, so they can be assured that it does not contain poison. This week I have taken up my own self-taught Rwanda course, where I have read together "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families," about the genocide, and "Gorillas in the Mist" of course, by Dian Fossey. (I figured that it was time for me to expand upon my obsession of young women who live alone in Africa with great apes. I would like to say that I relate to them, but Kimulimuli is a pretty pathetic ape.) I highly, highly recommend both of these fascinating books, however, read at the same time "Me Talk Pretty One Day," by David Sedaris, not because it has anything to do with Rwanda but because when you are tired of balling your eyes out, this will crack you up. I had nightmares for a week straight about decapitated gorillas and people. Anyways, my point is these books both really seemed to illustrate the concept of fear.

Fear makes people do funny things. I can laugh all I want about witchcraft in my village but there are examples from all over the world, America included, of people acting in weird and rash ways out of fear. I read somewhere once that fear gets in the way of love, or something to that extent, and I wonder about that statement. I am pretty sure that every problem in the world goes back to someone's, or a group's fear, whether real or imagined. When I think about the genocide in Rwanda, what is going on now in Sudan, in Iraq, in many places... isn't that about someone's fear of someone else? What happened during the holocaust, to Black Americans, Native Americans, gay Americans... was that not related to someone's own trepidation? How much more effective would we be as a world population if fear was not a driving force in most people's lives? Would there be a lot more love? I think probably yes.

Anyways, I did recover from "my curse", but the interesting thing about being sick in your African Village is how much love there is. From the first moment that I was sick, someone was always at my house, I didn't ask for this but to Tanzanians sickness equals death and it was important to them that I was not alone. Someone spent the night on my couch every night, water was constantly being heated for me to bathe, wood added to the fire, lemon ginger tea made... One evening everyone was busy. I was feeling better but my village guys insisted on putting a mattress in the front of the TV in my village bar because my Mama had to work so that we could all watch the world cup together. (Side note: Next to South Africa, my village must be the next best place to watch the World Cup.) So I curled up with dusty, ring-wormy kids, while my mama cooked dinner, my friends gathered round, and felt loved.

Close Of Service Conference

"It is precisely the possibility of realizing a dream that makes life interesting." -Paulo Coeh

Beginning of May

A few months before Peace Corps service officially ends, they have what remains of the group that you came in with go to a conference. The purpose is a last time together, information about how to leave your village, medical issues, etc. and how to adapt back to America. I had greatly anticipated the fun part of Close of Service (COS), being at a resort outside of Dar with all my friends, but not really thought about that it actually means that my time in Peace Corps is coming to an end. It is safe to say that I had a bit of a panic attack when they began to talk about resumes, health insurance, saying goodbye to your village, interview skills, how many stool samples they need, buying your plane ticket to your home of record, that Michael Jackson died this year, that nothing in your life as you know it is going to be the same in a few months...

Without realizing it, I had succeeded in completely becoming wrapped up in being a Peace Corps Volunteer in East Africa, my foresight being where I should get water or charcoal, how to say "such and such" in Swahili, when I should go to Njombe next... Suddenly, everything seems to be crashing down. For the passed two years, I have had the identity of "The American", "An Image Villager", "A PCV"... who am I if I am no longer different because of those things? How do I go through the day without texts from Kate, Sarah, Mags, Greta and Kat? Did two years really go that quickly? Furthermore, I actually LOVE Tanzania. How does one say goodbye to a country? A Village?

There is also an overwhelming sense of pride. It probably looks small to anyone reading this, but in 26 years, finishing the Peace Corps was the most challenging, most rewarding, coolest thing that I have ever done. It is my biggest accomplishment, which makes it hard to let go of. I really lived for two years in an African Village. But it is over. Wow.

Adventures in the West Part 2

The MV Liemba- The German World War One Ship that I spent three days living on. My own African Queen!
Looking off the edge of the ship where the Tanzanians are loading and unloading cargo.
Me, taking an opportunity to go for a swim... off the side of the ship.

"And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything than you risk even more." -Erica Jung

From Kigoma we boarded the M.V. Liemba... Taken from

"The MV Liemba, formerly the Graf von Götzen, is a passenger cargo ferry that runs along the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. The ship was built in 1913 in Germany, and was one of three vessels operated by the Germans to control Lake Tanganyika during the early part of World War I. It was scuttled by its captain on 26 July 1916 off the mouth of the Malagarasi river, during the German retreat from the town of Kigoma. In 1924 the ship was salvaged by a British Royal Navy salvage team and recommissioned in 1927 as the Liemba. The vessel is now owned by the Tanzania Railways Corporation and runs between the ports of Bujumbura, Burundi, Kigoma, Tanzania and Mpulungu, Zambia with numerous stops to pick up and set down passengers in between.

The ship was the inspiration for the German gunboat Luisa in C.S. Forester's 1935 novel The African Queen, and the subsequent film version."

So we had a cozy first class cabin on that boat for two nights and three days. Honestly, there was not a lot to do during that time except read, look at the DRC on one side and Tanzania on the other, and talk to the other passengers. In true Peace Corps form, we enjoyed conversations in Swahili with Africans from all over the place, we made friends with everyone including the cooks in the kitchen, the bartender, and an old man we called Baba Boat. There were also a few backpackers from various European countries on board. We were interested in hearing about their travels and exchanged stories for awhile, until one evening they all got on a bit of a high horse. Where a major debate went on where many of them were convinced that the entire problem with African society is American volunteers. We defended the PC to no end, not because we think that we are saving the world, but for sure because we are not doing any damage to it. They felt like what they were doing, back packing through and putting in a lot of money to Tanzania was more beneficial than what we were doing. They didn't even just think that we were useless, but that we were actually damaging to Tanzania. So let's just say that these people were never going to be our close friends. However, it was interesting that in our final time on the boat, it seemed that these Europeans, who were so much better than us destructive volunteers, seemed to be leaning on us a lot when anything involved any Swahili, since they couldn't understand a word of it.

The ship would stop often and wait for smaller wooden boats to motor in to us from distant shoreline villages. Men would climb up the side of the boat from these smaller dinghys loading and unloading cargo but in their ripped clothes and acrobatic skills they definitely gave the appearance of pirates commandeering our ship. At one of these points, I decided that it was absolutely necessary that I jump off the top of the ship, despite the fact that I am afraid of heights. It was just one of those things that I knew I would always regret if I didn't have the experience of jumping into the clear depths of Lake Tanganyika. Estimated to be about thirty feet above the water, I jumped. What a rush! And in one of the clearest lakes in the world, my shirt and bra ended up around my neck with who knows how many Tanzanian men all right there, think some of them might have gotten more of a show then they bargained for on a normal days work. Once I made sure that I was re-clothed and had both contacts in, I floated on my back and contemplated the blue of the sky, the blue of the water and how, in the last two years, I have done so many things that terrify me, yet also, in my opinion, make my life infinitely more fun. Eventually, I swam to one of the small boats, where I resembled a beached whale as Tanzanian men pulled me in, and then resembling a drowned rat, scurried over piles of cargo until I could climb the stairs, beaming, back to first class.

When we finally docked at the last stop before getting to Zambia, we got out. Cargo trucks waited to load people and things into the back, and one man yelled in Swahili, "Hey White People, I have space in the cab!" Kate and I looked and each other, knowing perfectly well that we are the only two white people that could understand such a declaration and because those Europeans were apparently so much better than we were, we took the guy up on the offer and had a cozy, sunless, cushioned ride. Five hours later we reached Sumbawanga, which must be one of the weirdest towns that I have ever been to. In the middle of nowhere, but oddly nice, we felt like we were in some secret drug town. We didn't like it in the least. Our guest house felt haunted because the light turned on and off all night, and while I was in the shower I looked in the mirror and saw someone's eyes watching me through the high up window, which left me naked and shrieking in our room. We rigged a towel over the window for Kate. Ewww... Peeping toms.

The next morning we boarded a bus to Mbeya- almost home. The road was incredibly rough and the ride would be long, however, we were in good spirits and eager to see our friends. Tanzanians generally do not travel very much, so they tend to get motion sickness, anyways, the bus was packed with people standing in the aisle, when I felt something wet splash on my arm and Kate let out a little yelp. Someone in the aisle had puked on her head which then splashed onto me. We tried to keep our own gag reflexes under control, as we decided that the ride could not get any worse. And then... the wheels fell off the bus. I don't mean that we got a flat tire. I mean that the back wheels literally fell off the back axle and while the bus fishtailed and drug in the gravel the wheels kept going until they passed the dragging bus and ended up in a ditch somewhere. Meanwhile, we were in the middle of nowhere. The Tanzanians told us that another bus would surely come in 6 hours or so.... right. So while the other Tanzanians walked toward our destination, we figured that if we walked the other way, we would be more likely to find room on any vehicle going our direction then waiting with sixty or so Tanzanians. We refused to lose hope that some land rover or something wouldn't pass by and see some oddly out of place American ladies in need of a lift... and sure enough... the ride came. It took us to some hole in the wall town near the southern boarder, where we got on another small bus thing and eventually, through our intelligence, beauty and wit... actually our positive attitude, made it to Mbeya. Where we bedded down at our friend Katie's house, with the Mbeya crowd- Katie, Meesh, Teri and Monkey Baby- ate an obscene amount of homemade ravioli, guac, tortillas, garlic bread, popcorn, blondies, salad, etc. in front of Sex and the City. Oh, life as a Peace Corps lady.