how do you spell Misungwi?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

sunny periods with rain in few areas

Yeah, so that's been the weather forecast for the lake region of Tanzania for like the past month and a half. What is it really like? It rained for about 2 days a month ago, and since then it has been hot and dry. Well, in Misungwi at least. And since this past saturday, it has been hell. In Kiswahili the word they use to describe the sun is 'kali,' which I guess the closest translation in English is 'fierce.' And fierce it is. I stand outside for about two minutes and I feel like I'm frying. But then again, I'm at the office in Mwanza today, and it's only 40 kilometres away, and its pretty lush and green here. Still a hot sun, but not a hellishly-hot dustbowl. So I guess the forecast is true, but for Misungwi (my town) the applicable part is 'sunny periods' and not 'rain in few areas.' I like where I live, but today I wish I lived in one of those areas."
Especially after yesterday. I finally went to the water office in my town and, short of screaming my head off, firmly articulated my concerns that water was not coming out of the pipe at my house while other houses are getting water, although sparingly, at least regularly. Water (second Swahili word of the day - MAJI), has not come out of my pipe since last Monday. A week and 2 days. And since we're at the end of the dry season and everyone is struggling, the people who push carts around selling water (yes, thats right, a significant number of young men in Misungwi are self-employed by pushing around water for bathing, doing dishes, flushing toilets, cooking, drinking, etc) have jacked the prices of water. Now, 20 litres of water costs about 200 shillings, which is about 20 cents. Not a huge deal for me, but a big problem for my neighbors with big families. And even though I have plenty of money to buy this water, I don't want to. I don't think I'm in denial about my comparative wealth. It's just that I know there are luxuries I want to pay for (trips, pizza in Mwanza, beer) and those I don't want to pay for (water!!! it shouldn't be considered a luxury, everyone should have water. sigh.) So I hike about 200 yards to my neighbors house, and since he has a big tank and i'm pretty sure bribes the local water officials, he has plenty of water and sells it for 20 shillings a bucket, or 1/10 the price. So yesterday I hauled around 100 litres of water to my house. And granted this took about an hour of my time which could've been better spent (there was, of course, a queue at the spigot), I didn't really have anything else to do. After all that, I indulged myself in my third bath of the day, which took for about 15 minutes before I got hot and gross again.

While water and weather suck, life in general is fairly good. I have been hanging out more with a couple of my really good friends in my town, 1 a secondary school teacher and the other a business man. Dominic, the teacher, is helping me learn the local tribal language, Kisukuma, which is only difficult because the pronunciations are so whack it's hard to write anything down and speak it correctly later. But progress is apparent, and everytime I use what I do know I just shock people and make them laugh, so the conversations do not usually last too long anyways. Lately I've been going to Dom's house every night to indulge in my other guilty pleasure (the first being up to 3 baths a day, but not every day, that'd be too guilty). So there is a Latin-American Telenovela (soap opera, yes, i admit) called La Revancha (the revenge - see what a catchy title, aren't you interested already?!). So Dominic has a TV which is great, I come over and we watch the news and discuss what is going on in Tanzania (big news is election stuff, more on that another time) and then watch this soap opera, in English, every night Monday-Friday. I really can't wait until it's over, because it makes me tired and sucks up ton of my time in a very unproductive way. But it's really so bad it's good, I've even tried drawing a diagram of the intricate web of relations between the main characters to explain to a few of my other neighbors who watch but have no clue (it's dubbed in English, not Swahili). Maybe I'll post that another day. For now, all you have to know is that Rodrigo proposed to Soledad that she help him get revenge on Isabela and Jose Luiz, which of course Alejandro isn't happy about since Soledad left him on their wedding day, but Isabela is actually thrilled because Rodrigo doesn't know Soledad is her sister and that he killed their father, so she sees it as a perfect opportunity to have a mole insider in the Arcinegas household. Oh, and Rodrigo proposed all of this business stuff in the hospital after his heart attack, which by the way, his wife Emperatriz didn't come visit him and Lucia overheard her talking about inheritance and while he was in the hospital Rodrigo learned the truth about Renaldo and Reina which Renaldo's wife Merceditas also found out from Emperatriz.

My other friend, Anton, owns two guesthouses, one in Misungwi and one near Mwanza, as well as a hardware store. For someone who only finished primary school, he is incredibly resourceful and hard-working, and I really like playing checkers or cards with him and exchanging ideas on how he can improve his businesses. The latest revelation was the idea of a promotion between his store, his two guesthouses, and a few nearby stores in Misungwi. He seemed excited about the concept that you could ensure customers from one business frequent the others by offering discounts, and given the increasing competition as Misungwi grows as a district center (think County seat), anything to give him even a slightest edge is somehow helpful.

Work is going well, despite scheduling conflicts. A man I talked to in a nearby town has started a group of PLWHA (people living with HIV/AIDS) and I am scheduled to visit with them this weekend, along with a member of the existing group from Misungwi town. The idea is to have them exchange suggestions and experience, so that this new group can work on building both knowledge about HIV, skills to improve their health and protect their immune system from other diseases, and hopefully means to start income generating projects as a group to supplement incomes and ensure balanced diets, medicines, other needs, etc. Depending on how this goes, there is even a possibility of expanding and starting other groups in nearby towns, especially those that have VCT centers (voluntary counseling and testing). As important as it is to teach prevention, which is undoubtedly the main focus of my work, I've begun to understand more and more each day that people will continue to resist testing for HIV until attitudes and environments change. One fantastic way to do that, I think, is these groups. It's pretty tough work for me though. For one, it can be rough playing with the children of group members or even just talking to some of them and knowing that their lives will be cut short, children will be orphaned by this disease. Secondly, even more difficult, is that as much as I try to assist them and reassure them and teach them and support them and give them kind words, I know they face stigma and fear and incredible challenges every day. Probably most difficult for me, though, is that I can never know how difficult it is for them. Never. I may know more about
the biology of HIV than the club members do, I may be better at demonstrating how to properly use condoms, maybe I'm even a really good teacher when it comes to the topic of care for PLWHA. But fact is, I do not have HIV, and I can not know what it is like to live with HIV. The club-members do. On top of that, I'm not Tanzanian. I don't know what it's like to face extreme poverty, while many Tanzanians do. I don't know what it's like to know that 8% of my countrymen and relatives have HIV. Tanzanians do. I say the magic word, I'm back on a flight to the states and life as I knew it before. Tanzanians have no magic word. This is their life as they know it.

So now that i've finished building this fabulous wall between my idealism and optimism and actually helping people (built quickly and soundly of middle class guilt), I better start breaking it down and getting the hell back to work. So I can't understand everything, but that doesn't mean I can't help, or at least try to help. Other work is going well too. Today I'm going to a Teachers Training College for club day to work with my Lifeskills and HIV/AIDS club. I like going there, because the college students are mostly young and all relatively educated, and they all stay in Mwanza town, which means they are somewhat urban and have MUCH more in common with me than those in the villages (yes i know how much exams suck, no i don't know how to farm chickpeas with a hoe). And my grants, which I wrote on a whim, look like they might get approved! One is for teaching about condoms in guesthouses and ensuring their availability (think condom machines in bathrooms of clubs - same principle). The other is to work with a group from the Misungwi main market to spread nutrition education, first to other market vendors and then to people who come to make purchases. I have to say i've been pretty impressed at how the availability of fruit has improved since I arrived, but am still pretty sure that there are tons of low-cost or free ways to improve Tanzanian diets with simple steps (not processing flours, not peeling potatoes, drinking yogurt instead of milk, not drinking soda period, mixing spices in more sauces).

Wow, I've written a lot. Enough. I think I'm pretty excited about this blog, it feels way better writing than emails, and I think I can motivate myself to write on a fairly regular basis. Best part is, I can edit these posts, so if in two months i've once again dropped the ball on communications, instead of eating these words I can just log on and delete this last paragraph.

Peace

p.s. i've been in Tanzania for a year! Somehow I should be feeling more emotions about this landmark than I am. Maybe it's too hot to feel.

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