Thanks to all who shared this incredible journey with me!
Peace Corps Volunteer - Tanzania
Health Education Project
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, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misungwi
"Misungwi is often spelled with an extra 's' to make it Missungwi"
And from the Mwanza-Shinyanga highway, about 50 meters from my house:
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.