how do you spell Misungwi?

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Here is a link to an album of my photos from Tanzania:

Thanks to all who shared this incredible journey with me!


Peace Corps Volunteer - Tanzania
Health Education Project

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

How DO you spell Misungwi?

I have been back in the US now for about 2 weeks, and I think it is starting to feel normal again.

Tanzania had become home for me, I felt comfortable in my house and with my friends and at my job, and honestly coming back has left me feeling a bit lost. There’s no turning back – I could have extended my time in Tanzania had I wanted to, but I chose not to, and really am ready to move on with my life here. But I feel like I’m stuck somewhere in between, not fitting in there nor here.

After a few days back with my extended family, who were very supportive and a joy to see again, I went to pick up my new cell phone at the store. My first bizarro moment was, well, that it was a store and not a kiosk on the side of the street. The second was seeing about 100 phones that I would be expected to choose from, and each phone with 2 models and 5 colors. But what really messed me up was speaking to the salesperson – a nice, busy young man who clearly had quite a bit of experience at his job, and who was thus able to rapidly fire off about 10 questions and give the standard spiel about what they had to offer, all in about 30 seconds. I was left stunned, overwhelmed, and felt like what I imagine a speed junky would feel like after coming down from a high [I can imagine this thanks to Requiem for a Dream].

I miss fruit, I miss fresh food. I miss children. I miss cell-phone and soda and soap commercials, since that’s really mostly what’s advertised in Tanzania [certainly no car, erectile dysfunction, or pizza commercials – but oh wait, there IS beer]. I miss talking to people, my friends, riding buses with people [but not with the slobs who smack on sugarcane the whole ride], eating with strangers, going to the market. I don’t miss goats, but somehow miss chickens and cows walking in front of my yard or down main street. I miss most of the things I liked about Tanzania, and many of the things I didn’t.

I realized just yesterday that my hair has grown quite a bit. This came as a shock to me. Why, you ask, would this be surprising? Especially since there are mirrors EVERYWHERE here, whereas there were very few in Tanzania, and none were big enough to see more than an eye or your teeth so you can floss, so noticing these small details about oneself should be even easier? The main method in which I have judged the length of my hair and need for a haircut over the past two years has been as follows: after soaping up my head, how many small pitchers of water do I have to pour over myself to get all of the soap out? If it’s very short, 1 will do. If medium length, it takes two. And I know I need a trim when it takes 3 or more pitchers. Well guess what, I don’t need any pitchers here, I sit under the hot shower for about 5 minutes when I feel like it, 2 minutes when I’m in a rush, without any hesitation of ‘oh shit it’s going to be freezing cold’ and without psyching myself up to actually dump the cold water on top of my head. The water just flows, it is warm, and it is wonderful. And while I don’t need a haircut anymore, to conserve water or prevent dust build-up or cool things off, I still want one. I’m not sure why.

The other day I went to the dentist. I went to the dentist AND got a sandwich in town AND fixed up my resume at home. That is, count ‘em folks, 3 things done in one day. I felt like a superman speed demon task master champion. Then I told someone that, and they said, ‘that’s it?’ One thing a day doesn’t cut it here, I now remember.

So what is next? My immediate plans called for a couch and netflix subscription, but I am tired of sitting at home watching TV, and constantly catching myself looking for a place in town where they might sell roasted corn or porridge on the street. I enjoy the hot showers, but not fetching water from outside, which only took about 5 minutes, seems to provide me with more free-time here than I know what to do with. I need to get a job, get a life, move to someplace with enough noise and traffic and if I’m lucky live chickens as well, to flood my senses and get me back in the swing of things.

This will be the final entry of my blog, How do you spell Misungwi? I am done with my Peace Corps service, and starting a new chapter in my life. I could write some sort of paragraph here, about what I have learned and what I will take with me, the way forward, deep and profound life changing moments, yada yada blah blah and all that crap. Actually, I wish I could do that, but it’s not my style. Mostly because my brain hurts from all the TV I’ve been watching. But also because I don’t believe I could ever be able to adequately summarize what I know were and imagine will be two of the most amazing years of my life, in a nice neat concise anecdote. The life lessons, the memories, the profound [and more frequently not so profound] moments are the entries in this web diary, and I look forward to rereading it in the years to come.

I choose to end the same way I started – with a question. How do you spell Misungwi? Missungwi? Is there one S or two?

From Wikipedia,

"Misungwi is often spelled with an extra 's' to make it Missungwi"

And from the Mwanza-Shinyanga highway, about 50 meters from my house:

Only one s....

Whoops, maybe 2? And this is the Coke sign, which means I hold it to high standards, since Cocacola is responsible for half the signage in the country - literally, without Coke, Pepsi and the cell phone companies, you'd never know where you were. Don't understand the punctuation though, a period before the word??

The verdict - a single S confirmation?



Monday, December 25, 2006

kwa heri tanzania

I am sitting in the Peace Corps office for the last time [hooray free fast internet], as it is pretty rainy out today and I am, well, just incredibly anxious to get out of here already.

I'm glad I decided to hang out in Dar es Salaam for a few weeks after leaving site and before going home - it's given me a chance to do a bunch of stuff I've wanted to for awhile, but also has given me some time to gather my thoughts about leaving my village and made me more excited to go home. Dar is great but it is not Misungwi, and I've done what I've wanted to do here, so I'm ready to move on.

On Friday I walked around downtown Dar to breathe in the sights sounds smells one last time before going. I walked down Uhuru street and saw hundreds of women [well, tens] selling thousands [literally] of brightly colored fabrics and khangas. Then I walked down India street and saw women wearing these khangas, which is ordinary in the village [traditional funeral wear] but uncommon in Dar - I think they were poorer women from the village, who came on a given day at a given time to a given place to be given assistance.

I walked down Kisutu street with it's Indian places of worship [not sure WHAT they're called], Indian places of dining [they're called restaurants and they're terrific], and finally reached the Kisutu market which is a bit sadder now that the street fruit vendors are gone, but you can still get some fantastic bananas and mangoes, which I did, and can now proudly declare I've met my goal of eating one mango a day until I leave. Mangoes, I will miss them so much.

While downtown is nice [another example - the AZAM ice cream shop. SOOO good frozen cone globe thingees only if they had peanuts could it be better] I wanted to explore Kariakoo market one more time before I left as well. Kariakoo is the CRAZY market/street area where residents of Dar go to do their shopping, and the thieves of dar go to do their thieving. Seriously, I got tons of warnings before I went not to take anything, to hold my bag to my chest like a baby, etc etc. I personally think it's a lot safer now that the street vendors are gone and it's just shops and roadside huts. So yeah, I walked around there up and down streets [including Sukuma street] for an hour or so to get my final African-market fix. I think I'm ready for department stores and supermarkets again, though I might miss the feel and hustle and bustle and noise and rotting fruit on the ground of markets here, after a few months maybe.

Lots of great Christmas bargains too. I.e., sellers are desperate for money to buy Christmas presents and meals, and are willing to drop the price as low as it goes, instead of trying to rip me off royally. Nice change of pace. Gotta admit I somehow miss the pre-christmas environment too, though I got a good fix of fake trees and music yesterday - my favorite was what apparently is a Chinese rip-off of xmas classics, my favorite being Jinger bells.

And speaking of the holiday spirit, I spent 4 hours of my Christmas eve at the New Africa casino in Dar. I drank beer, I had a great free buffet of mashed potatoes and turkey and christmas cookies, I talked to a lot of nice lady dealers who were very impressed by my Kiswahili [I imagine the last time I will be able to easily impress women for QUITE awhile, though I don't know how the 'oh yeah, I just got back from two years in Africa with the Peace Corps' line will work], and though I stunk at roulette I managed to end up ahead thanks to blackjack. Oh, and I was surrounded by Chinese men and Phillipinos. Non-traditional, but not a bad day.

But Christmas even wasn't all gambling and cheesy music. I was very fortunate to be able to visit a friend of mine from Misungwi, Alex. He was in town on business - both of his parents have passed away, and as his dad was in the military, the 7 surviving children have a right to claim his pension. Well, he was in Dar going through the processes of getting the money, and unfortunately but not unexpectedly, the government is dragging its heels. Basically, the trip was a long and expensive journey to facilitate a 10-minute 'drop-in' at the appropriate offices to say 'hey, i've got 6 younger brothers and sisters who need food and tuition, so what do you say' and then they responded 'oh, ok, thanks for the reminder, we'll try to get that to you in the next few months.' Alas, government red tape can be extra thick, especially when there's money on the line.

So I got on a few daladalas that I had never even heard of before [mbagala mtokijichi?!] to get out to his aunts house, which is in the outskirts, dare I say 'suburbs,' of dar. I also had to take a 15 minute walk on footpaths through streams and backyards to get there. But it felt comforting to get out of the downtown area for an afternoon, and to see where I imagine many of the newcomers to Dar relocate themselves, where land is still somehow available, and where one might honestly feel they are in the village and not 1/2 hour out of the biggest city in the country [wealthy newcomers, I should say. I imagine quite a few others end up in the more crowded areas like mwananyamala, close to downtown, which I went through on a sketchy daladala ride at night on my way to the University to visit a good friend of mine. That was a whole different experience, the highlight of which was definitely a 10 minute standstill at an intersection due to 3 stubborn drivers, ours included, who were all bumper to bumper and refusing to reverse - real mature. When I finally got to the final stop, it was dark and the lights at the stand went out. I was a tad afraid of being robbed, but on the bright side the black market guys instantly came out so I was able to buy a handkerchief that I needed, but really I digress].

After visiting his aunt, Alex and I came back to civilization and went to the Dar handicraft market to buy what a friend of mine refers to as 'Afri-crap.' Paintings, sculptures, masks, carvings, trinkets, and the like. I picked up a few gifts, had fun bargaining [and was definitely aided by having a Tanzanian friend around], and saw more ebony wood carvings then I will ever see again. It was very interesting to see the carvers working in the background, though many of it still seemed generically produced. To date, my favorite ebony carving is the model penis that Michelle had made for me, which aided in many a condom demonstration [I left it behind in the name of further condom mobilization, but I did take a picture for memory - inappropriate to post here however].

That was Christmas eve - I said goodbye to Alex and then the cards began. Today I tried to go to a casino to change my money, misinterpreted the cashier that I had to play to exchange, and after some lucky 4's at the roulette table 5 minutes later I got denied, though I left 50 bucks richer.

TONIGHT I FLY HOME - next, and perhaps final, entry will be from the states. Peace and happy holidays to all.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

making the rounds

Several of my most recent entries have been incredibly verbose. So here is a brief description of my trip over the past week to the Southern Highlands to participate in a training for a newer group of volunteers, and a stop in Morogoro to visit my homestay family from 2004.
Dar. Infection on my ankle hurts like hell, luckily I had a physical with Jean-Luc the doctor. Very in-depth physical. Now know my urine acidity and blood sugar-level.
Iringa. Rain. Bus ride. 10 minute dash to scarf down nasty fried food before the bus leaves you, which it will without hesitation. 2 minute dash for it to then leave your system, about an hour after the food stop. More rain. Nuns = bread meat cheese jam yum. Passed on a small bit of my experience and knowledge to the new group, very rewarding. Cold! Car ride back = every stop my bosses buy something else. First potatoes, then tomatoes, then onions, then bananas….

Morogoro. Mountains! See picture. See short homestay parents. They are healthy and doing well. More rain. Two turkeys, 3 cows, goat died, but otherwise livestock well and roaming the neighborhood. Host brother John not there, Herman there, little Japhet has grown up, and still remembers me! Hike with Herman through jungle to waterfalls. Mama Derrick – John tried to hook me up with her during first stay, she remembers but now has cute kid and big husband. Went up mountain, hidden beautiful neighborhoods, listened to 10 hail marys on the radio before going to the bar to have ‘a few for the road.’ All major flashbacks to my first week in TZ.

japhet in 2004

japhet in 2006

He's grown up quite a bit, but if you needed another indicator, check out the shirt. Ironically, it's the same one, just very very worn.

And a few pictures of the dense vegetation up in the mountain, on a hike with Herman.

Dar. Annoying salesman selling Chinese shit on the bus. Annoying passenger dropped bag of bricks on my head while disembarking the bus. Tanzanians in a rush to get on/off any form of public transport but then just stand around and get in my way on the street. Back to YMCA for final few days - but i'm not the only one looking for a place to stay.

Friday, December 22, 2006


CHAIRS!!! Look at them all, 4 of them and a coffee table on the back of a bike! This is my clearing out my house, selling my belongings to a nearby primary school teacher starting up his life. While he took the large majority of my stuff, I also gave some flowers and big water tanks to my neighbors, and pots to Mama Leo and Sato my housegirl. Those weren't carried on a bicycle though. Actually, one of the flowerpots was carried on my neighbor girl's head, which made quite a sight [see her a few pictures down with water on her head].

FRIENDS!!! One last picture of the gang, me with Dominic and Deus, two of my best friends in Misungwi. Backdrop = my passion plant, pretty much ALL of my pictures over the last few weeks were with a beautiful green background, which is NOT typical [that would be bare empty farms/fields], but anytime you want to take a picture here they find the greenest area around and that's the spot.

BANANAS!!! Although it took the entire length of my stay, I did manage to successfully grow and harvest a big bunch of small, but oh so sweet bananas. And then ate them all in one day, with the help of my neighbors and guard. Baba Leo joked that I must have been planning it from the beginning, since we harvested only a week before I am scheduled to leave. FYI - 88 bananas in total, give or take a few.

FLOODS!!! The rains have come, but perhaps too much? Many farms are flooded, and this was before I left - apparently the rains, and flooding, has gotten worse since then.

MEAT!!! This is at the big weekly market in Misasi [will write more about this in future entry, well, future entry about my last week at site]. The woman in the picture is the head of the ward, and she is in charge of a big stand with MEAT. Lots of goat meat, goats, goat heads, goat stomachs, etc...

MAPOSI!!! That means poses. And I had some nice ones during my last week at site, took a ton of pictures - here I am with my friend Anton who runs a guesthouse, and his wife and children and younger brother. His eldest daughter [in yellow dress to the left] is a top student in 1st grade - I know, I looked at her homeworks and exams for about 10 minutes. Nice picture, though the shocking whiteness of my upper arm is disturbing.

MORE MAPOSI!!! This time with some of my favorite people at the Misungwi market. Same day, same shirt, same white inner-elbow showing up clearly...

TIRES!!! This guy makes sandals out of old car tires. I bought a pair, though I expect they will be somehow uncomfortable to wear. Creativity and resourcefulness, however, that I expect I may miss once I get back to the land of plenty...

WATER ON HEAD!!! This is my neighbor Kabula carrying water on her head, a big bucket of it. This, actually, is not a big deal, but is something that I will miss seeing when I go back to the States [though I do NOT like the idea that Tanzanian women expend considerable time and energy just to fetch water, a service that should be more accessible to all].

HUSTLE!!! This is my favorite daladala from Misungwi to Mwanza, in part because the conductor guy is really funny [picture of him later, maybe], and in part because the wording is priceless. Indeed, hustle never DOES sleep. There are about 8 of these in total, others reading 'On my way to Church' or 'Machavelli.' They all park in the yard across from my house, and it's fun to watch the parade of them drive off on the mornings I manage to get up before 6am.

FEET!!! I was taking pictures of some of my Masaai friends, who guard the resthouse that I stayed in for the first 3 months in Misungwi. After taking the pictures, I showed them on my digital camera how they turned out. At that point, I really wished that someone could take a picture of THAT site, me surrounded by 10 Masaai in traditional garments, laughing and being amazed about their pictures. Well, noone to do that, but I snapped a few pictures of our feet to give some sense of what was going on. I count feet belonging to at least 7 people in this one, including my self [guess which feet belong to me?!]

More pictures coming soon, when I get back to the states, that is if I can find someplace with connection better that at my parents house, which is still a dialup, a SLOW dialup connection...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


It has been about 2 weeks since my last entry. Since then, I have cleaned out everything I owned, said goodbye to pretty much everyone I know, and left my house in Misungwi.

I spent a night in Mwanza with a great goodbye party from my coworkers at AMREF. There was good food, good company, presents for me!!, and lots of laughing when I told them all I don't do goodbyes, so we'll just say 'see you later.' I especially like hanging out with one of the younger guys there, JC, who most resembles where I am in life, well, except that he just had a baby boy named Elvis but other than that we see eye to eye a lot. The next day was the flight to Dar, where we got a ride from a Peace Corps car from the airport, which is good, because cabs are expensive and Dar is RIDICULOUSLY HOT these days [summer here]. Well, Dar is ridiculously hot all the time, but especially so now. So we dropped our bags off at the office, bought tickets for the Zanzibar ferry the next day, and got some rest. And some chicken. Chicken tikka, at a place called who knows what since all the volunteers just call it 'street chicken', one of the tastiest restaurants in town. I got spicy prawns and a half a chicken baked in the tikka box thing, I don't know what they do or how they spice it but it sure tastes nice.

Last Friday we [myself and my friends Meena and Ness] headed to Zanzibar, the spice islands, for some much needed R&R at the beach. We took the morning ferry, which was a pretty calm ride, though the ferry tickets make sure to point out that the company is not liable for any 'acts of God' which I would imagine being natural disasters. No disasters, we arrived ok. We had MORE good chicken, this time in soup form, with plenty of zanzibar spices mixed in to really give it a nice kick.

If Dar is hot, Zanzibar is a steamroom but outside. It is hot as hell, I would imagine, unless you are right on the beach with a breeze. Luckily there IS a breeze in the daladalas there, which are basically pick-up trucks with benches in the back and a roof on top. So we all piled into the bed of the truck and made our way to Kendwa, the chillest beach I've ever been to.

This is not the hotel we stayed in, but the one next door.
We went next door to try to get a deal, and sure enough they 'punguza'-ed or lowered the price from 80 dollars a night to 50 dollars a night, so for the 3 of us it was not bad. It helped that it wasn't high season yet, not until Christmas and New Years, so the beaches, and most of the hotels, were relatively empty.

Highlights from the beach:

Fish. Every night we got to walk around and decide where to eat, and what fabulous food to eat. I had burgers, and chips, etc etc, but the best was by far the kingfish and snapper in coconut or tamarind sauce. Very tasty.

I had fun walking on the beach for several reasons. One, my feet got very clean thanks to the fine coral sand. Second, I got tan in places that hadn't seen the sun for awhile [I NEVER wear shorts or go shirtless anywhere in Misungwi]. Third, I talked to a bunch of beach vendors that I had met in June, some of whom remembered me!! One guy was thrilled that I knew his name, Mkude, meant he was from Morogoro, and I sat and watched him work for awhile. He got me a great deal on some paintings of a friend of his, so that'll make a nice souvenir. I also helped out by correcting some poor English on one of the paintings. And of course, just like last time, any conversation where I mention the work that I do eventually led to a brief review of HIV prevention and condom usage. These guys spend the week away from their wives in town, if they have wives - if not they sleep with tourists or locals. High risk environment, big surprise.

One rather shocking example of this was a couple we saw on our second day. A 35 year old, 200 pound white Italian woman was getting rather cuddly [kissing, hugging, rubbing on suntan lotion] with a 20ish, 100lb skinny-ass black Tanzanian man. Love comes in many shapes and sizes, true, but this pairing was a little eye-raising. Jack sprat. Whatever, to each his or her own, as long as they are protecting themselves and each other and no-one else gets hurt. Though this sort of thing makes it difficult for other white female tourists to come, or female PCVs, as some Tanzanians get the impression that white women are easy.

I got a massage the last day, on the beach. Half an hour long, about 3 dollars. Perfect.

After two wonderful nights at the beach, Ness and I headed to stonetown. Stonetown is insane. I think i've written about it before, but it is basically a MAZE of small little alleys with tall buildings on either side to complete the disorientation. We decided to play a game - at the first intersection, I made the call - left, right, or straight. At the following intersection [i.e. after about 20 seconds], Ness made the decision. And so on and so forth. The result is that we managed to cover a LOT of ground and get THOROUGHLY lost after about 10 minutes. But we found some neat finds, old trees, a shoe fundi to fix my sandal, some guys painting tingatingas who allowed me to take pictures and ask questions about their work [they bust their asses for little pay, considering they sell a painting for 3 dollars that a tourist will buy for 30]. But we weren't always entirely lost, I actually REMEMBERED a few of the passages from the last time I was here. I'm not great a directions, and stonetown is impossible, so I was impressed with myself.

After wandering around the old part, touristy shopping part, and buying some scarves and spices, we walked past the main market [imagine tons of people and tons of oversized fruits] to look for sarongs that old muslim men wear. We ended up being escorted by a somehow annoying man into the Zanzibar town, the newer part that few tourists ever get to but that is filled with tons of shops, stands, and things being sold on the street. Mwanza the street vendors were kicked out ages ago, even so in Dar, and it was nice to have one last chlaustrophobic African-market crazyness experience before I go back to oversized supermarkets. We got the sarongs at a shop run by a muslim man who liked joking with us, and sold lots of islam caps and full body gowns for men [kanzous].

He actually gave us a decent price too, which was nice. I decided to use the paintings my friend Mkude sold me as a standard to judge how much other store owners were jacking up their prices, and the 3 that I purchased for 10,000 shillings were quoted to me for 45,000 almost everywhere I went. 4x plus!

At night we went to Forodhani gardens to eat a ton of freshly grilled fish and mussles and shark, something called 'zanzibari pizza' which is dough filled with meat veggies mayo and egg and then fried [delicious], and then munched on sugarcane for dessert. There was lots of meat and chips too, which mostly the Tanzanians went for as fish was somehow pricey - kind of a bizarre segregation of dining that turned out to be linked to economics.

One who did not discriminate on prices or types or anything were the cats: they were EVERYWHERE, and they were having a ball.


Now I'm in Dar es Salaam, and of course there's stuff to write about here but I'll wait for another day. I'm going to try to go back and update on the last few days at my house in Misungwi, as they were packed with excitement and emotions, and things that I don't want to forget. So from here on out, I'm writing more for myself than for you. But I still welcome to you read, view pictures [will try to add soon], and enjoy.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My last week in Misungwi

Note: the last week has been incredibly boring, but only because it’s early January and most of the time I’ve been spent in a car or on the couch. This post reflects my thoughts, feelings, and describes the flurry of activity that was my last week in Misungwi.

Addendum to note: It is fantastic writing this at home, where electricity is NOT an inhibiting factor. I spoke with a few friends from Misungwi on new years day, and got a report that the electricity rationing has somehow lessened in severity. My last week in Misungwi was plagued both by the ongoing electricity issue, in combination with the fact that several transformers were dead as a result of people stealing the oil. As a result, I fell asleep at about 9pm on several occasions. Power out = me passed out on couch. Though I did usually manage to wake up around 1am, when the lights came back on.

Wednesday at the Market with Sam
A week before my departure date, I went to the nearby town of Misasi with my friend Sam to go to the largest weekly market in my district. I had meant to go over the past two years, but had still not gotten around to it.


That was a recurring theme of my last week. ‘Well I meant to …. but time just ran out.’ I can’t count how many times I said that. And I knew that my last week would be insanely busy, with lots of things to do, and were I not organized I would not finish. Thus, I wrote a list of everyone that I wanted to say goodbye to and trade contact information with. And though I have doubts that I will be in touch with many of them, I did manage to say so long, farewell, and thanks to the people that mattered to me the most in Misungwi.

GO again.

The Misasi market. Here’s a written walk through. You enter gates off the main road, passing hoe sticks [pieces of wood on which the hoe blade goes]. Then you encounter hundreds of cows and goats. And stands selling cow and goat meat, soup, bbq. Beyond the meat stands is the stand where the cars pull up to, piles of various grains continually covered and uncovered depending on the rain. Knife sharpeners are upside-down bicycles with a blade hooked up by cable to the pedals in order to turn the sharpening wheel. Despite this, most knives used in Tanzania are dull, including, by all indicators, the ones I saw used to kill the goat we ate. Beyond knives are piles and piles of used clothing, several tailors ready to alter purchased clothes or create new ones out of plentiful fabric, piles and piles of cheap Chinese plastic shit, and my friend Sam’s fellow traditional medicine healers. And a small little table for really sketchy gambling, gambling that allows OTHER people to take the money that I bet and play it on a different number [1-6 is written on the table, you bet on a number and die are rolled]. When I called them out on how this was wrong, they clearly realized that I had figured out their scheme and quickly gave me my money back and told me to go away.

When the day was done, Sam and I bought a goat and named him Brian.

I am a fantastic person
My last week was filled with lots of ego-boosting compliments, though I accepted them with modesty and credit due to all those who helped me. I got lots of praise for my Swahili and Sukuma language skills – thanks to Dominic, my neighbors, and all the other stubborn Sukuma people for basically refusing to speak to me in any other language. I got praise from my carpenter friend in regards to my new pants – ‘you used to dress like shit, but now you’re looking a little better. I didn’t want to say anything before but really…’ He’s a good guy though, and his openness wasn’t mean-spirited [read observations regarding physical appearance below]. After two years of practice, I was deemed an expert at peeling mangoes by my old Arab Bibi [grandma]. The first time she saw me peel a mango, she laughed and ridiculed me, but now I’m an expert. I’ve grown up. I was congratulated, somehow, for being late all the time – I’m a ‘real Tanzanian’ in regards to my tardiness. I continued to bring joy with my camera, though I can claim little credit for it. It will be nice to have so many pictures of my friends. I made people’s days in ways that I can never repeat again: 1) I called a woman FAT [she has HIV, started using ARV drugs but was worried that she hadn’t gained much weight like others she knew, and I comforted her by telling her not everyone has to gain weight and that she looked pretty chunky to me] and 2) I received God’s blessings from a woman because I included my sheets and pillowcases when I sold her my bed and 3) I gave my two favorite mamas at the market a bowl, a plate, and a spoon apiece. Small gestures, but it meant a lot to them, and to me.
Finally, I cannot count how many times people complimented me by saying ‘hey, you can’t go, we’re USED to you!’ I don’t care about being a good person, about doing good work, about giving people gifts, being a language whiz, being the ‘mzungu from misungwi’, etc etc. The biggest compliment I could ever get is that I am just a normal part of life in Misungwi, that they are used to me and I’m used to them, and that my leaving will disrupt the status quo. That was one of my few main goals when I arrived, to just live and fit in and be a part of the community, and I succeeded. It felt fantastic to hear.

Two years is a long time
I saw a young man recently, as shown in picture, that works as a bike taxi driver. I distinctly remember hiring him shortly after arriving in Misungwi, to take me to my office. Well, my office is uphill, and he couldn’t make it way back when – I had to get off the bike and we both walked up to the top of the hill. Instead of getting mad, I gave him twice the going rate [about 50 cents] and told him to go eat a big meal to gain weight and strength. Fast forward almost 2 years, I had rarely seen him in the meantime and had never gotten on his bicycle, but after all this time I hired him to take me once again to the office – and we made it. I gave him a compliment, he gave me a smile, and I realized how time flies.

I also saw a young child that, 2 years ago, I dragged home to his mother for a beating. He had been bugging me relentlessly at my house, climbing on my gate and demanding money – so I chased him and when he fell down, scooped him up and took him home. My last day in Misungwi, I ran into him at his new house – he is two years older, and was the most respectful and courteous little boy I’ve ever met in Tanzania! If only he had been that way when I first got there – guess he’s started growing up.

More final observations
Most, 90%, of Tanzanian men have really skinny chicken legs. No judgment behind that, just fact. Though maybe it explains why they almost all like women with big booty.

Men sleep everywhere. In cards, under cars, in stores, outside of stores, in parks, everywhere. Men also PEE everywhere too. So, one can thus conclude that men potentially sleep in their own piss. Or pee in their beds.

Often storeowners are sleeping in their stores when I arrive. Or they went out for an errand and left the store unguarded. But that’s not a big deal, because everyone knows each other and no one even thinks that there is a potential for theft. I will confess that I only stole once, a 1-cent piece of candy from a guy who sold me expired powdered milk. Jerk deserved it.

I am getting older – young people, TOO young, are talking about sex when I pass them on the street. Hell, the boys’ voices are cracking while telling dirty jokes!! I was shocked to hear stories, as I was just hanging out with a few of my friends, about a young boy that walked by us. They told me ‘hey, you see that guy, he is famous for sleeping with lots of girls.’ I asked, ‘who, that guys father?’ Nope, it was the young man. He comes from a rich family, and $ = power = women. All that = recipe for HIV pandemic.

I went to a soccer game. The Misungwi team lost, and the game wasn’t incredibly interesting. That is, until a goat got stuck in the goal net, and bleated pathetically for about 5 minutes until being pried out by a group of no less than 5 men. I appreciated that the visiting team had jerseys which stated ‘mikasi noma’, street language for ‘unsafe sex isn’t cool yo.’

Tanzanians are far less sensitive about physical appearance than people in the states, and also more INsensitive, well at least uninhibited, in pointing out flaws in others. I recently took a trip to the shores of Lake Victoria to ride in a tiny boat. Well, a few outcomes of that ‘visit’ were a sunburnt nose and an infection on my ankle. Another sign that many people in Misungwi know me, and are used to me – upon seeing my nose, I got a lot of ‘what the hell happened to you, why is your nose so freakin red?!’ Way to be subtle, guys. At the same time, there is no shame or sense of insecurity about that! When I was talking to my tailor friend, a larger woman came in to be measured for a dress. And, in front of a store full of people waiting and working and chatting, another tailor announced with little hesitation the full measurements of this woman – and I heard a couple of 40s in there. But that was no big deal. I imagine this is what facilitates the bizarre sight of people selling, and buying, underwear and bras [and mens underwear too] at the bus station.

Healthcare is ‘free’ in Tanzania [except for bribes to get services, which hopefully are in decline] but it is a different world. Relatives are responsible for providing food for patients, who are often 20-30 in small beds in one common room, and occasionally more than 1 to a bed.

And final goodbyes
I said goodbye to my friend Jumanne [Tuesday], who always wears a manskirt similar to the one I own, by having my last cup of rice porridge with him. At first I couldn’t figure out where the mama who sold the porridge was – turns out she was wearing pants, and I mistook her for one of the men who was a regular [only men spend their evenings out for roasted maize or porridge – the women are home cooking].

I said goodbye to my neighbor Mzee [left in picture], which means ‘old guy’ but he’s actually about 20. He works as a conductor on the daladala buses, and so I sat down with him recently to teach him about condoms, as I am well aware of the risky behavior his peer group engages in. I bought him a wife-beater, and one for myself.

I said goodbye to the other daladala conductors by, well, giving them condoms and joking around as always. Given their demographic and high-risk environments, I became rather close to these guys and invested in seeing them protect themselves. One spent a few years in Yemen, and thus understood my outsiders experience like few others could. Another a card shark to trade strategies with. One a 6’5" bouncer-built young man nicknamed ‘bad bug’ who was the most soft-spoken and gentle of them all. Of everyone I know, this was the most final ‘goodbye’ I exchanged – they are all young men, in a difficult and dangerous job, with risky behavior and high mobility. I will probably never see or correspond with any of them again, and that is life.

I said goodbye to my coworkers at the district government in the canteen, over a huge breakfast of beef soup, chapatti, and fruit salad. We also, as is typical, had one last discussion about differences between Tanzania and the USA, and why I was looking forward and NOT looking forward to returning.

I said goodbye to one of my neighbors who has lots of chickens by, well, saying goodbye, and then graciously accepting 2 eggs.

I said goodbye to two of my best friends, the electrician Alex and his brother Godi, by doing what we always do – hanging out and cracking jokes. When I visited them at their store to say farewell, they were talking about the ‘stuff’ and ‘goods’ and ‘cash.’ So I asked if they had started selling cocaine – turns out they were referring to donuts. I also had a good chuckle watching them get excited about the combination lock that I had given them. We must have opened it and relocked like 10 times.

I said goodbye to Babuu, Juma, Hamisi [first picture], Mayunga, Dullah, Adolph, Sato [second picture], Selestini, Singsbert literally – ‘goodbye zachayo’ or ‘goodbye ndebile’ – just because I know it’s the last time I’ll get to say most of these names ever again.

Without fail, goodbyes were said both verbally and physically. Physically often involved hugging, and ALWAYS involved a final, 5-minute handshake. It is difficult to describe a Tanzanian handshake. It starts off like a typical handshake, then moves to more of a hands clasping, then back to handshake, then back into hand clasping, and so on and so forth, until after a few minutes you move into thumb-war position and start thumb-snapping each other for a good minute or so until final disengagement.

I said goodbye to Misungwi – the women fetching water from the wells, the old men and women walking to the farm with a hoe over one shoulder and a radio over the other, young children with bike-loads of sweet potato plantings, young girls setting wet laundry out to dry, young men sweeping dirt in the yard and gambling in the corner of an abandoned building, the young children playing and pelting each other with balls made of plastic bags and stealing fruit from the trees – from the front seat of my favorite daladala, escorted by my best friends.