how do you spell Misungwi?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

holy crap i'm so bored right now.....

Butterball turkey, yum. How does one write that sound that homer simpson makes when he's drooling? That's the one I'm making right now.
I did decide, however, that enough is enough, and after writing on Wednesday in town, went to the 'Mzungu' supermarket and bought a super expensive packet of italian sausage/pepperoni thingees. Set me back about 3k shillings (something like $2.50). But it was worth it, and my ColdCutCombo craving has indeed been fed. Multiple times. Cuz I made like 3 sandwiches that night, since I don't have a fridge. And I didn't want to blow the whole $2.50 on one of my makeshift cooling systems that I occasionally use for other things (a bowl of water, a hole in the dirt outside that i water, asking my neighbors).

Even if I did have a fridge, which again, I don't, it wouldn't do me a ton of good here. Granted I do have electricity unlike some volunteers, but it's not incredibly reliable. It cuts out maybe twice a week for at least a couple of hours, and has, like clockwork, been cut for the entire day every saturday for about 3 months now. Yet people still seem baffled when I tell them I don't have a fridge, nor do I see the practicality in buying one. Maybe that stems from the fact that, if my host family was representative at all of Tanzanians, they tend to use their refrigerators to cool beverages, basi, that's it.

So what's new? Nothing. I am so bored it is unbelievable. Having electricity cut every Saturday sure doesn't help. This weekend, I was hoping there would be at least some excitement with the scheduled national elections. Well, on Wednesday or Thursday, the days blur together here so much at this point that I couldn't remember which day for the life of me, one of the candidates for Vice President died. So, according to the constitution, a 60-day mourning period/publicity blitz for the new guy is in order, and elections are now scheduled for mid December. Which leaves this weekend----eventless. Maybe that's why I'm writing so much on this blog - I don't even think I would be updating so often in the states with 24/7 access to internet, but I sometimes feel there's just nothing better to do here (which is not true, but doesn't prevent me from interneting more than i should. oh, and did I mention the internet 'cafe', meaning 2 computers in a little closet, has air conditioning? :-)

On a positive note, after a good 5 days of cooking myself dinner at home, I finally went to my neighbors to eat there. I practically had to, they send a few of the kids to come fetch me every day, and always look a bit dejected if I decline. So I went, and I was so glad I did! I quickly remembered how much fun it is to eat with other people (not to mention to be cooked for by other people). The kids there are pretty freakin funny too, we spent a good 45 minutes singing Tanzanian rap songs (me, the 5 year old, and the 13 year old), and trying out ridiculous dance moves. The kids are way better at me, both singing and dancing.
When I first moved into my house, I ate there almost every day. Lately, I've been staying home much more, or going to my other friend's house (the home-owner's wife's brother). Now I think I'm gonna try to achieve more of a balance, maybe 2-3 nights a week at their house. And bring fruit every time too, so I don't feel like a mooch. Now if I could just master the Sukuma language, I would understand a bit more of what's going on when I do visit.

Speaking of which, not sure how this happened, but a complete stranger at the Mwanza main market on Wednesday called me 'Masanja,' a Sukuma tribal name that I had been given by a few mamas here at the market in Misungwi, and one which has since taken hold pretty well in the area. I like the name a lot - after a good few months having no idea what it meant and not remembering to answer if called, i've gotten used to it. It means 'someone who is agreeable' or 'someone liked by some people' or something like that - generally a positive meaning. But has it spread all the way to the big metropolis of Mwanza?!! Jeez, people talk, I I just hope whatever people are saying about me is good.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


My pumpkin pie tasted like a soggy sponge.

My masterpiece, the pumpkin itself, is in the compost pile. Guess I forgot that the weather back home is becoming cool and crisp, while here it is warm, moist, and petridishy. Within it's four-day lifespan, however, I am pleased to say many Tanzanians were deeply puzzled.

Speaking of holiday related food, could someone please send me a turkey? Preferably one without H5N1 Bird Flu, if possible.

Ukiriguru is indeed spelled with two Rs. Mystery solved? Turns out the letter that is NOT in the Sukuma language, the dominant tribal language in the area, is R. So why is it not spelled Ukiligulu? The English. Ahh, the ever culturally-sensitive days of colonialism. Certainly helps explain [read: confirms my previous suspicions] why there is a neighborhood set up the mountain a bit with a handful of fabulously grandiose, western-looking houses. Regime change started four decades ago, and it continues here today - I will never again write Ukiligulu with Rs.

My guard asked me for money again, but then also got my garden looking very nice and ready for planting as the rains begin. Current plan: give him a few months notice, and have him stop coming after my long trip away from site in early January.

My house is still infested with termites, but my perspective on them has changed slightly. Tolerable, somewhat. Tasty, definitely. Less tolerable, and presumably less tasty (though meatier), are the 5 or so cockroaches I've seen in the last week. Much bigger than anything I ever saw in Chicago.

The 'coaster' scheduled to begin service between Misungwi and Mwanza is, like a little over half of everything else in Tanzania, experiencing technical difficulties.

However, I did experience my first isolated battle in victory, in the ongoing daladala wars. Yesterday I paid only 500 shillings instead of 1000 to return from Ukiligulu (screw you brits), and didn't even have to stand up!!! Stickin it to the kondas...

Beans have now been fully reincorporated into my diet, though yogurt consumption has been reduced in an effort to effectively control levels of gas.

Recently falling in relative prevalance as part of my regular diet is Ugali. I realize I have not yet written about Ugali (thick porridge) before. This topic requires an entirely separate blog entry, but know that for now, it's absence at the dinner table is greatly welcomed by this author.

Recently making grounds in the battle for kitchen supremacy - the sandwich. Eggs, veggies, guacamole, even hamburgers. Unfortunately, this recent atkins-nightmare bread binge has not killed my craving for a ColdCutCombo. At least I do still have the dill pickles on the side. Now all I'm missing is the cheese.

Alejandro has finally learned that Lucia is his mother, and has severed all ties with his father. He also, in his hot-headed-undies-in-a-bundle way, managed to get mad at everyone else around him, even Soledad, who made this entire revelation possible. Isabella of course was not pleased, and the repurcussions are forthcoming as Rodrigo learned just yesterday from Renaldo that Soledad (Mariana) and Isabella are sisters. This show is ridiculously stupid.

One or all of the following three things may be true:
1) There is seasonal fluctuation in chronograph demand
2) Ad execs have satiated their gluttonous appetite for chronograph portfolios
3) Newsweek execs are reading my blog.
Watch advertisements were noticeably absent from my last Newsweek. Replaced by ads for.... energy companies.

On a related note, have discovered three things about energy companies.
1) Nearly all rely almost exclusively on petroleum-based energy sources
2) Not one advertisement for energy companies talks about gasoline. All about wind energy, natural gas, solar power, biodiesel, hydroelectric, etc etc.
3) If the PR and Policy departments at these firms actually got together, we might have some progress towards fighting global warming!
[#4 is an assumption, not a discovery. it is that #3 is never gonna happen unless mandated by law]

And speaking of changes in climate - the rainy season has finally started here. Now, for those of you who may have the same impression I initially did when I heard 'rainy season', allow me to clarify. 'Rainy season' does not mean 'monsoon season.' Rather, it means the season when it rains, as opposed to the hellish 4 months without even the slightest hint of moisture in the air. Last week I witness two torrential downpours which flooded my house (irate) and filled my 400+ liter capacity water tanks (grateful).
[*side note. Almost wrote 'litre.' Take that you English colonial bastards]
[**second side note. Those bastards are probably all dead or too old to read clearly. oh well]

The weather forecast has only changed slightly though - rain in most places with sunny periods. Must now wait to see if Misungwi will obnoxiously exempt itself from 'most' as it did with 'few.'

Sunday, October 23, 2005

more spelling trouble...

Yesterday I went to speak with the PLWHA group, and to visit the home of one group member. The meeting was moderately successful, we discussed ways to improve nutrition, to ensure that group members recieve all services, testing, and medicine free at their nearby health center (a right that is supposed to be guaranteed at all government health centers, but one occasionally exploited by health workers looking for a little supplemental income), and to discuss ideas for income generating activities (currently focusing on selling local handicrafts manufactured and marketed by group members at tourist shops in Mwanza, possibly setting up communications and markets back in the States, work in progres....)

The town where this group is based is called Ukiriguru, or Ukiliguru, or Ukirigulu, or Ukiligulu. I see the first and second most often, the third and fourth rarely. The local tribe, the Sukuma, do not use both the letter L and R in their language, but to be honest, I can't remember which one they do use and which one they don't. Which pretty clearly illustrates why it's impossible to get a confirmed spelling for Ukiriguru, since no matter how you spell it, it'll be pronounced the same. I get the impression the L/R distinction is not very clear for most tribes of Tanzanian, but that the Sukuma are especially bad at mixing up the two. Which suits me fine, whenever I get asked to teach English and I don't feel like it, I just tell them that I speak American English, then tell them how I pronounce the words 'water' and 'rural', and they stop asking right quick.

Ukiriguru/Ukiliguru is beautiful though, and made me hesitant to return to my house in Misungwi/Missungwi. It is heavily forested there, while in Misungwi I usually rely on artificially provided shade. It's also a bit smaller and secluded there, a bit more of a village feel, and a whole lot quieter. And it dawns on me, as I write that last sentence, that it is a fantastic place to VISIT but maybe not to LIVE. Misungwi is boring enough at times, Ukiriguru would probably drive me crazy.

I plan on returning next week to visit, not work-related, a group member who is becoming a good friend. He's about my age, 25, and is very passionate about a ton of different things, as I am. He has a tree nursery business, but also studied car mechanics and would like to be a driver (as well as get a degree - I wish I had kept that first college brochure I ever recieved, for what was it, the Southern School of Auto Mechanics in Kentucky someplace....) He also, I learned yesterday, has a kid. It seems recently that all my friends here in Tanzania have already had children. Which is fine. Well, sometimes it's not fine because the mothers gave birth when they were way too young and many of the fathers have neither the income nor the sense of responsibility sufficient for the task of raising these brats. But even when it is fine, it makes it awfully hard for me to have friends. I mean, I am still friends with this guy, and a girl at the market, and a teacher at a nearby primary school. But our lives are pretty freaking different, and I wish I could just have some good friends here who have finished school and started work and DON'T want to start a family at the moment thank you very much. Horrifying to think that people here my age are having kids. I sure as hell don't want any for at least another 5 years, at least. Even more horrifying, I recently realized, is that it could very well be the case even when I return to the states!!!

Life, when not terror-inducing, is sameoldsameold. But with a twist of crazy, out-of-place excitement. This week is the last before the national elections here in Tanzania, an event that about 10% of the population of my town looks foward to with excitement and hope, and the other 90% look at as a meaningless exercise in choosing people who don't care about them except during the month before elections when they distribute free tshirts. So anyways, yesterday one of the no-chance-in-hell-of-winning candidates visited. Tanzania is a multi-party democracy, at least has been I think since the 80s when opposition parties were legalized, but much of the political system here is still dominated by the revolutionary party that has held the office of the president since independence, and is expected to win again next week. But that didn't mean this visit of one of the 'other guys' wasn't exciting. It was! He came by HELICOPTER!!! Now, a helicopter is enough to get ME excited, and it was about 100 times more fun seeing the faces of people (big and small) who had never seen one before yesterday.

The other bit of excitement, which should give you all in 'uzunguni', or 'westerner-land', an idea how little excitement there actually is here: today I carved a pumpkin and baked a pumpkin pie. The pie was hard - I have no oven so I have to make do with a charcoal stove [I get the charcoal going, then nest a small pie-pot inside a larger pot using rocks to prevent burning, then put it on the stove and put some charcoal on top to try for evenness]. Still haven't tasted it, it's cooling at home, but without whipped cream my heart isn't in it too much. Will probably just give it to the neighbors, who will either really like it or will force themselves to eat it to respect me and then throw it out later. The carving, though, I have to say, is a masterpiece.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

the lap of relative luxury.....

I've been in a bit of a quandry for the last few days. And more recently, for the last 10 seconds, because the word 'quandry' looks wrong, all I can think of is 'quarry' (there's one on the way from Misungwi to Mwanza, lots of rocks in this region). But I think quandry is right. OR quagmire, another qua word that seems to be a bit heavy for my purposes but might also fit.

So the dilemma (aHA, thats the word I want) for the past couple of days is how to deal with my house help. For those of you out there still under the impression PC is a challenging, roughing-it experience, I'm sorry to shatter those images. I have house help. To be more precise, a guard who also gardens, and a housegirl to take care of chores.

Problem numer one is the housegirl. Her name is Sato, which means Telapia in Kisukuma, and she's nice. Haven't pinned down her age, but figure something like late teens early 20s. I know she finished elementary school and nothing more, but hasn't given birth yet (and hopefully won't while she's working for me! How bad to have the sex-educator's househelp getting knocked up, it would be a blow to my street cred). Anyways, she comes 3 times a week - Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. She sweeps and mops the floors, washes all my clothes (by hand), washes all the dishes, fetches water for me if it's not coming from the pipe in my yard, and cooks me a small meal for dinner. All this for the grand total of 10,000 Tanzanian shillings a month, less than 10 dollars. And that's twice the going rate, I felt generous.

So Sato isn't really a problem per say, just that I feel increasingly guilty having hired her. I'm sure I provide her family with an important source of income, but I nevertheless have mixed emotions. For one, I am constantly defending myself with regards to cooking, and trying to break gender stereotypes that only women can clean and it's not a man's job to do so. Which is absolutely true, it's not a 'womans' job, men can do it just the same! That said, doing these chores is a HUGE pain in the neck here and I would gladly pay three times what I'm paying now to not have to do them. But how do I go about this without making it seem sexist? I guess the honest truth is that it's not sexist, it's classist. I have money and my time is more valuable doing other things, not laundry. That's gonna make me feel a lot better. I guess I'd better just dismiss this and focus on the more pressing problems, like the fact she throws plastic into my compost pile and rearranges my living room furniture pretty much every time she comes. And uses too much oil in cooking. My clothes, though, are pretty freakin clean.

So if 10 dollars for 3 days/week (a few hours a day) seems dirt cheap, get this. I also have a guard, who also gardens. He comes EVERY NIGHT, period, no weekends or holidays. And then he comes a few days a week to do garden work. He gets 20 bucks a month. Why don't I feel as guilty about him? Well, lately he's kind of been doing a shitty job, which is problem number 2. Lately, since an outdoor light near his 'guard-shack' has been busted, he (Mzee Juma) has been sleeping like a baby every night when I come home from Dominics house (on that front - i'm hoping La Revancha is over soon, it's getting good, but these late nights are killer!).

Additionally, he's been pretty slack about bringing drinking water and doing gardening work, and it's starting to bug me. Also, he's asking to borrow money a lot. Granted the money is coming from his end-of-the-month salary, but still. It's kind of put me in an akward situation, especially because the more I think about it the less I need a guard. I have iron gates on both the doors to my house, so short of bringing electrical equipment and fire-cutting through, noones getting into my house. And even if they do - I don't really have any valuables! No TV, fridge, big pile of cash, etc etc. So Mzee Juma really kinda just guards a few buckets sitting outside my house. And since he's started sleeping so soundly, he's not even fulfilling his other function as ears to hear me if I start screaming in the middle of the night with some tropical illness. Besides, I have a phone for those instances.

So that's where I am now. At this point, thinking about firing the guard and asking the housegirl to come every day and kind of be both cleaner and 'house-watcher'. That way I save money and the people I think deserve it get a reward. But I hate firing people. What am I talking about, I've NEVER fired anyone. This should be fun.

**An update on the daladala wars, which is officially what they are since I lost it this morning at the Mwanza main stand. The price is still high, but there's a new guy coming to town with a big 'coaster' oversize van (or small bus if you will), who plans on dropping prices back to usual. This morning I finally lost it after the dalaldala proceeded to race at break-neck speed, even over speed bumps, all apparently while the front left tire was moments from wearing completley out and falling off. They got caught by police in town and, of course, lied to the woman asking where the conductor was. So when the conductor (I knew who he was) asked me for money, I told him that I already gave it to the konda, who they had told her got off outside of town. He of course knew this wasn't true, the driver got all mad, and I basically got them in even more trouble since I busted them for lying to the police officer. I still had to pay, but felt pretty damn good about what I did. What goes around comes around. It was my turn to say 'touche'

Monday, October 17, 2005

unrelated series of events

No theme to this entry, just a few random thoughts after a hectic but fun weekend...

Had a friend from college come visit me, very briefly, over the weekend. It was a lot of fun, though tiring. As much as I rag on my mother for acting like a freak when we have guests come to visit, I guess I've kind of inherited that trait (granted her guests are usually just family, and they're usually just coming from central Illinois to central Wisconsin, not quite the pressure situation of recieving someone from halfway around the world)... That said, my house (or I should say my room, the only part of my house not cleaned by my housegirl) was pretty funky and, as always, having a guest was just the motivation needed to get everything spick and span, as spick and span as a house can look when there are termites and hard cement floors and such.

But it was a nice visit, I get so few guests in my little town that all the townspeople were excited to tell her that I'm their friend and to brag about all the cultural/lingual knowledge they've passed alogn to me. It was fun for me too, seeing how much I've integrated and kind of getting a weekend through the eyes of someone completely foreign to this area. Increases appreciation for some of the little things around me (fresh fruit and veggies), and helps me realize that some things I struggled without I've now almost completely forgotten (hot showers! ok, not yet completely forgotten....)

While in town Saturday, I managed to find a TERRIFIC little grocery store that is not a 'wazungu' palace (wazungu means 'white people'). Which means that all the good stuff I want at a grocery store was there (powdered milk, cocoa, peanut butter, coconut powder, ketchup, evaporated milk to make pumpkin pie!, even snickers bars), but at a decent price. It's a nice balance, I get all the stuff I need in one store at good prices, versus going into the Mwanza main market, which is a crazy zoo of vendors and thieves and stuff stacked up haphazardly everywhere you look. Also, this store has price tags, so I know I'm not getting ripped off. I've decided recently that it takes so much time and energy to bargain in the main market, since they jack the prices up at least 50% when they see me, that it's just easier to pay a bit more (not much now that i've found this new place) and get set prices than try to haggle.

My soap opera is getting good, and I hope by getting good, that also implies it's nearing the end, because I really don't want to waste more of my time and delay more of my sleep on a piece of junk that, nevertheless, I really do have to watch. Isabela got shot by Sabbas (hired by Rodrigo) a few days ago, which was finally enough to get Soledad to tell Alejandro it's over, though he doesn't agree. Now Emperatriz has just found out it was her husband, so will she continue to collude in crime with him or go back to Remelia and Lucia whom she betrayed??!!

I was reading a magazine on retirement the other day. It was pretty scary, especially because I don't even know what I want to do after Peace Corps, let alone after a career. One thing I am thinking about, and becoming more convinced of, is the idea of retiring outside of the US - maybe Central America or East Asia or hell even East Africa again. Much cheaper, and the opportunities to do other non-profit work would hopefully be plentiful. Hell, I could even reenlist and do the PC again, I greatly admire some of the older folk (60+) doing PC here in Tanzania (few but strong), might not be a bad second bookend on the work-dominated-phase of my life. That said, my number one goal in life at this point, no let me rephrase that, the only thing that I am certain about in my life is that I, under no circumstances, no matter what curveballs are thrown my way in the game of life, no matter what problems or struggles I face, even if I need an expensive hip replacement and this is the only way to finance it, I will NEVER, EVER, WORK AS A GREETER AT A WALMART STORE.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


is my latest obsession. Not sure exactly what goes into it, but it's some kind of honey/sesame seed little candy that one of my favorite mamas at the Misungwi market sells for 10 shillings a piece. That, my friends, is penny candy. Or I should say was before the exchange rate rose. Now it's less than a penny. I frequently splurge and buy a good quarters worth.

Yesterday in Misungwi I realized just how long I'd been here when I said goodbye to one of my good friends, who runs a pharmacy, and who left today for some sort of doctor-school in Tabora. I guess I forget this place is fluid, changing. I kind of assume sometimes that I got plopped down here, things were always like this, they always will be like this. I'm positive this has in part to do with the slower pace of life here, but maybe also I have been looking at my experience a little too much with the perspective that life in Misungwi revolves around me (hey, it often does, especially for little snot-nosed kids), not the other way around. Anyways, I'm excited to go visit him with another of our friends, I hear Tabora has some pretty sweet and cheap honey, good for tea.

I'm in Mwanza town today, and am more irked than I was when I wrote my last entry. Of course with the whole daladala full of people trying to get into town this morning (since tomorrow is a public holiday, the anniversary of death of first president of Tanzania, Julius K. Nyerere), we stopped for gas on the way in. Took a good five minutes, plenty of time for me to both get a good look at the written price, and to confirm that's how much money the konda gave the gas station attendant. It's gone down to 1,020 now, which is LESS than what it used to be a few months ago (1,050). Pointed this out, none of the Tanzanians really seemed to care. The konda smiled and lied to me, said no, the price really is higher. Ok, here's my extra 500 shillings, shall I shove it up your........?

Yesterday I was feeling guilty about work. Basically, I had planned to do it, and then stuff just came up and I did't accomplish much, didn't teach a lesson at the school because I was late, didn't meet with a market official to talk about my nutrition program, missed the staff at the VCT. I felt bad because, well, I kind of just accepted the situation as it was. This is Africa, things happen, so nothing got done. But then I remember how many times that motto screws ME over (this morning I came into town early to meet with Angaza staff in Mwanza - hawapo. They're not there.) So I started feeling pretty bad that I didn't push more to get things done, or at least one thing. Today I'm feeling much better, in part because I did get stood up by the people I had an appointment with. And in part because it is nice and cloudy in Mwanza, and my friend from college is coming to visit for two days. New things are ALWAYS good things here, unless they're new bus fares.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Before I begin, I have to say that I have made a conscious decision, which may or may not be subconciously ignored, to write in a more positive tone.

You see, I've been here in Tanzania for about a year now, and that time span has allowed two things to happen. One, I've gotten used to and begun taking for granted all the small positive things that happen every day. Two, at the same time, all those little annoyances and frustrations have slowly built up until they're starting to explode (I am ashamed to admit that Swahili profanity has entered my vocabulary in recent weeks).

Haha, now that I've said that, let me talk about a common experience here in TZ that, while it may sound negative or seem like I am complaining, it is merely a part of life here that I've become accustomed to and would actually miss (a very, very little) if it were to change. That experience revolves around the most common means of public transport here, a small minibus commonly referred to as a 'daladala'. I am positive that any of my friends reading this here in Tanzania, and probably most other countries in Africa, are already laughing. Stop it!! You haven't even heard my story yet!!!

I really wish I had a picture of one of these bad boys to help my non-living-in-Africa friends. Using your imagination, picture a large van. Like those Ford Astrovans or whatever they were called, I don't think they make that model anymore. Then fill it with 4 rows of 4 seats, since TZ was a British colony put the steering wheel on the other side, and then age the sucker for about 10 years, and that's the typical daladala. I once rode on one that had been reconstructed using mostly plywood. Yeah, these things happen.

So anyways, the whole experience of riding daladalas is quite comedic, and even though I have to ride one anytime I want to go into the big city for work or leisure (about 1-2/week), I still often catch myself smirking about something silly/shady/scary going on around me. But lets take a typical example of a trip - after getting a ride into town this past Saturday, I headed for the main Mwanza bus stand to get a daladala back to Misungwi. As I see it, there are about 4 factors that make any daladala ride an adventure (and granted, it's pretty flat and the roads are nice near me - my friends near Kilimanjaro would probably add factors up to 10):

Factor 1: Getting onto the daladala. At the main Mwanza bus stand, there are about 5-10 daladalas all just sitting there waiting to fill. And instead of being sensible and filling one before starting another, they all attract customers sloooooowly, until 3 fill up at about the same time. Which often means I'll sit in this hot sweaty sauna-of-a-car for a good 15-30 minutes before going anywhere. It also means they are desperate for me to get on THEIR car, and not another. By they, I mean the conductor ('konda' in Kiswahili, original), who is in charge of taking money and telling the driver where to let people off along the way. So when I get even remotely near the daladalas going to my town, I begin to hear shouts of 'Teacha' or 'Mzungu (white guy)' or 'Brayani (how they say and spell my name)' or 'Masanja (a Sukuma name they gave me)' or sometimes they just come and grab me and drag me to one car or another. And the fun begins.

Factor 2: How many people can you fit into a Ford Astrovan? A lot. I never can seem to count, as limbs of random people can be hard to trace (whose arm is that?!), and usually my face is smashed against a window, a seat, or someone else, so it's hard to get a good view. But I'd say average is the driver, 2 people in the front seat, then 19 people sitting forward and backward in the back portion of the car. This figure does not include babies, which I would say on average number 3-4 per car. Then you have people standing. Or, if it's a low-roof daladala, slouching/hunching. They can get up to another 6 or 7. And then the konda hangs out the window. So total is typically from around 20 up to 28 people per car. I'd compare it to sardines, but here the small sardine-like fish they eat sit out open in the market and not in cans, so I'd dare say we travellers are MORE tightly packed than sardines.

Factor 3: I've been called to a car, and packed in along with the other hordes of commuters. Now we're starting to move, thank God, because I'm sweating like a pig and finally getting some air. But now we're starting to REALLY move. All daladalas go fast, but since the road out to Misungwi village is so paved and nice, the cars going out my way go REALLY fast. Scarily fast. One good reason I never ride up front (head on collisions are most common kind, since there are few crossroads). Now, speed wouldn't be awful if there weren't also a ton of obstacles on the road, from speed bumps to animate, that turn it into a variable video-game car-racing scenario. Sometimes there are cows meandering in the road - the Sukuma people really like cows. Sometimes there are goats. Not sometimes, there are ALWAYS goats. Goats are stupid and noisy and I hate them, but that's another topic for another day. Frequently there are dogs, which, while I also believe they are stupid and I hate them, these dogs I feel must be suicidal, because they get hit a LOT by the daladalas. And they seem to plan it that way, darting out just in time to make sure they get it good. And besides that, there are all the people walking here and there, riding bikes, transporting huge bushels of tomatoes to market by bicycle, sometimes transporting goats by bicycle (now THATS a sight, one I like. One less goat, lots more tasty meat!). Always expect to see something new on a daladala ride, that is if you are one of the lucky handful out of 30 who actually can see whats going on outside.

Factor 4: Lately another factor has been added into the mix. Now, this is something that in the states I wouldn't have even felt too ashamed talking about, and here in Peace Corps, I don't even think twice - bodily functions and bowel movements make up a good portion of our conversations, especially early on in our service (by now we've gotten used to things that would probably send some of you back in the states screaming). So Tanzanians eat a lot of beans. Stop laughing! I haven't finished the story yet!!! Yeah, sometimes they eat toooo many beans. So, after about a year riding the rollercoaster of legume enthusiasm, I had a breakdown in August of 2005 and stopped eating beans. It was great, a much needed break. This, however, led to a problem - namely, starting to eat beans again. Which I've started doing recently. Now, once you get used to beans there is typically no 'problem,' and when I say 'problem', I mean flatulence. When you're not used to eating them, 'problems' are inevitable. I have been having 'problems' for the past two weeks or so as I get back into my bean regimen. This problem is not really that bad - most buildings in TZ are open air, a lot of times I'm at home. But I tend to ride the daladala back from Mwanza in the evening, after a nice lunch in town, and making it for an entire hour without 'problems' is, well, problematic. Aren't you glad you've read this far?!!

Factor 5: I know I said 4, but there's a fifth, and it's the reason I've decided to write today about daladalas. When I got on Saturday evening, I was shocked to find the price had risen from 1,000 shillings to 1,500 shillings, quite a steep hike without any warning (from $1 to $1.50). Now, when I started griping and threatened to refuse to pay, I wasn't the only one. EVERYONE was doing it, some were practically yelling. We were told the price of gas has gone up, which it has, but I did a little mental math based on numbers provided by his excellency the 'konda', and quickly discovered that they were using the excuse of gas prices to really jack up fares well beyond what was needed to compensate. I pointed this out, it went something like this....
me: "you know, even if you had raised the prices only by 100 shillings, it would have paid for higher gas prices"
konda: "but gas prices went up"
me: "yeah, I know, but i'm saying, even 100 would have been enough"
konda: "bus gas is expensive now"
me: "lets do this - i'll give you 1,200 to Misungwi instead of 1,500. ok?"
konda: "no"
me: "you're killing us here, how are we supposed to do our work with such prices?!"
**[a roundtrip between Misungwi and Mwanza now costs me 1/2 a days salary]**
konda: "[aunti! aunti! njoo kaa hapa basi!!! come sit here in our car!!!] what did you say?"
me: "i don't have 1,500. i'll give you 1,000"
konda: "stop complaining. we're trying to make a living here. you're white. you have lots of money"


Saturday, October 08, 2005

nimesahau (I forgot)....

to make a request for assistance from someone with more web-surfing-around time than I do. It would probably help if this person were as equally bored as I am, but that's not likely.

Need some information on medical care for African albinos. Read that last sentence again, and then agree that it is indeed what I asked for, and not a mistake in spelling or the African sun frying my brain and making me crazy. There are some albinos here in my town, and I want to see if there is special care (beyond staying out of the sun) that I can offer them. Anyone who can point me the way to webistes or literature, it would be greatly appreciated.
As/if more people begin reading this blog, these requests may become more frequent. Indulge me, I'm in Africa for crying out loud. Thanks (in Swahili, Ahsante).

I wish I was Kurt Vonnegut...

I am not feeling creative today, but am loathe to leave my blog for next week out of fear that a long weekend will prematurely sink my attempt at good communication. Thus the title - he is my hero, I just read a NYTimes article about him (Christmas gift ideas - he's got a new book coming out). And I really dig his writing style. Short chapters, lots of zingers, incredibly sarcastic and cynical and funny at the same time. He is a UofC grad (granted he seems to be not overly proud of this, but hey, in a way, I can respect him even more for that). And he swears. I like it when writers swear in their work, I mean, it's part of our language, self-censoring is bad (I wanted to use a curse word here instead of 'bad', which totally lacks the emotional meaning I had with regards to self-censorship, but I'm not sure what blog rules are. or who is reading. damn it.)

Not much is new. Am in Mwanza after meeting, briefly, the new Ambassador to Tanzania. It was a pretty shockingly whirlwind event for a Tanzanian saturday, lunch and greeting and goodbyes in under an hour. I'm used to pretty much looking for ways to draw out activities as long as possible so the day doesn't drag. But it was still fun, fantastic Chinese food is always a plus. Not McDonalds.

In other exciting food news, I tried, and succeeded, in my first attempt at dill pickles.

***side note. I feel bad writing so much about food while all my Muslim friends (I'll be honest, not many would be reading this, as most are here in TZ) are fasting for Ramadan. But hey, I'm not fasting, and food is about the greatest form of entertainment I have here, so if it's good, I appreciate it. And want to write about it.*****

I was so happy, all I would've needed to be in my athiest version of heaven is a BLT sandwich - alas, don't think that'll be possible any time soon. Now the only problem is that I have so much dill growing, I can't imagine I can eat that many pickles. You all out there, whoever that may be, send me recipes for good food using dill. Not, however, recipes using microwaves. Or refrigerators. Or anything packaged that is purchased at a supermarket.

Have also been having a lot of 'uji' lately, which is Tanzanian for - what, I don't know the english, porridge? Basically I have this flour that's a mix of finely ground peanuts, corn, and rice. I put some in water, boil until it has a nice thick consistency, add sugar, and drink for a mid-afternoon snack. It's pretty tasty, pretty easy. My homestay family waaaaay back when used to make it often (with coconut milk, drool hitting keyboard right But since I left I haven't actually made it for myself. Will see if it can help me gain weight, or at least maintain, since I plan on resuming some form of running (read: jogging) regimen when the stupid sun stops being so fierce (guess what word I wanted to use instead of 'stupid'?!).

Work is busy but good. Resumed going to meetings of a community drama group, which is fun. I'm not a drama expert, but I have a few ideas, and I like seeing how excited they all are when they rehearse various vignettes and think about how positively they will be recieved by an entertainment-deprived public (not too difficult to draw a crowd around here). On Wednesday I went to a graduation for the High School, with 68 kids finishing their exams in the coming weeks and, for the many who won't pass, starting their lives. 68 kids, all in one classroom. Sounds bad til you see that the other grades have 70-80 students per classroom. But it was nice, despite a rap that was way too long, to hear some songs and see how excited the kids are about completing. Brought back some recent, semi-fond, memories.

Am excited to get a visitor from the states this week, plans include eating lots of mangoes and speaking lots of rapid-fire American English, two of my favorite activities. If only the little Tanzanian kids would let the mangoes ripen on the trees instead of picking them unripened and eating them bitter, I'd be back in that BLT-induced heaven, with buckets of mangoes for dessert. Hah, fat chance of that.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

performance. prestige. passion for innovation...

"A beautiful plane is a plane that flies well. Here at BREITLING, we share the same philosophy. It is expressed through a single-minded commitment to building ultra-efficient wrist instruments for the most demanding professionals. Our chronographs meet the highest criteria of sturdiness and functionality, and we submit all our movements to the merciless tests of the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute. One simply does not become an aviation supplier by chance."

Man, just keeping a straight face while I typed that last paragraph was difficult. Have been reading, and (yes, i'm bored) rereading some Newsweeks recently, and have discovered that apparently readers of this esteemed journal constitute a significant market for the makers of watches. Did I say watches? I meant wrist-instruments. Or chronographs. [snicker]

That snippet above is an ad for a "Breitling" brand chronograph [still snickering], but it is far from the only one jammed into this piece-of-junk-that-pass-for-reporting. Most of the ads are pretty ridiculous, and while Brad Pitt has a nice face, that doesn't mean I'm pleased to see it on the back of nearly EVERY ISSUE. Selling a 'TagHeuer' brand chronograph. "What are you made of?" he asks, smiling coyly at someone off-camera (Angelina? is that you?!).

Some of the ads are hilarious, some simply confusing. Breitling has another brand watch, somehow (?!) modeled on a Bentley (??!!), that has so many dials and numbers it seems to mask rather well what the actual flipping time is. And, just in case you've forgotten, it lets you know what month it is, how the moon and stars are alighned, and as if month weren't enough (I'll admit even I get tripped up around the starts of new months), what season it is. Sheesh.

What got a fellow volunteer and myself most perplexed was the Breitling ad (the somehow-airplane-related one) which sells a watch that, upon close inspection, features a 'tachymetre.' Ignore the goofy British spelling, and read that word again. Huh? We were fairly startled by the presence of this, um, seemingly redundant chronographical function. Allow me to clarify the source of our confusion through a few simple definitions courtesy of

ta·chom·e·ter (t-km-tr, t-)n.
An instrument used to measure the rotations per minute of a rotating shaft.

ta·chym·e·ter (t-km-tr, t-)n.
A surveying instrument used for the rapid determination of distances, elevations, and bearings.

Ok, so there is a difference between tachometer and tachymeter. Good to know. You see, we assumed that what was advertised as a feature on this wrist-instrument was a tachometer, which measures rotations per minute. And if that were the case, I would be baffled because ITS A WATCH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, I WOULD HOPE THE ROTATION PER MINUTE IS 1, 1/60, or 1/720!!!

But no, it is a tachymeter. The dictionary still doesn't explain how the hell this watch can survey distances, elevations and bearings, or why the average corporate schmuck who buys it would ever need to do any of those things (especially an airplane pilot, since I would assume the cockpit has about 800 instruments with a little more precision than a simple 'wrist-instrument'). But at least they didn't put a tachometer. That, to quote my nemisis Bill O'Reilly, would be ridiculous.

After all this banter, I must point out that Patek Phillippe offers a rather elegant looking chronograph (WATCH!!! just call it a WATCH you stupid ad execs!!) with a feature to automatically adjust for timezone changes. Patek Phillippe, "you merely look after it for the next generation." Oh barf.

Monday, October 03, 2005

new week, same old...

but not entirely.
Today was somewhat exciting - we recieved some special guests. AMREF board members from England, Kenya, Uganda, and Sweden came to visit one of the primary schools where we have been working with teachers to implement a program on adolescent reproductive health. Adolescent reproductive health, who would have ever thought i'd become so familiar with that beast of a phrase, but I literally said it more than 10 times today.

So it was nice. They (guests) sped through the whole exercise, barely got to talk to any of them, and don't feel like I was able to offer them any insight of my experiences here, but I got a free lunch and some good entertainment. We watched a standard 5 class talk about 'misconceptions about sex', in which the teacher did surprisingly well remembering and using the tools we presented in a way-back-when May seminar to get the kids excited talking about pregnancy and STDs and the like. Then we listened to a choir sing songs, mostly about AIDS, then a group of young students do a local song/dance to drum beat, and then a fantastic group of high school students rap about HIV/AIDs. Yes, a rap about HIV/AIDS. Adult Tanzanians say music has degenerated here, but if they only KNEW about rap from the states.....

Anyway, I think a good time was had by all, or so I hope, as they hold an as-yet-not-apparent-to-me influence over funding and the future of our program. Did get a little nervous at one point, when I saw a bewildered face on the Swedish lady. You see, the traditional dance, at one point, got a tad scandalous. They were dancing well, the drum beat was nice, then all of the sudden they all got down on all fours and started thrusting their stomach/pelvis up and down. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but even I couldn't help having a "whoa holy shit" expression on my face for the first couple of seconds. Of course, to complicate things, they were chanting "it kills" (refering to AIDS) the whole time they were gyrating so. But hey, as long as they understand that such beautifully liquid movement and symbolically and traditionally rich dancing doesn't mean they have to go get jiggy with their opposite-sex classmates, i'm all for it - they certainly looked like it was fun.

My fun, as well, doesn't stop there. On Saturday the new Ambassador of Tanzania, Mr. Michael Retzer, has asked to take the few remaining Mwanza area volunteers out to lunch to learn more about our Peace Corps experiences. The lunch will not be at a McDonalds, and for those curious about this clarification, please kindly google name and position for further details. I'm always game for a free lunch, and let's be honest, at this point even McDonalds would pass my rock-bottom, I-miss-fast-food-especially-good-Thai-food, standards.

Aside from that, though, business as usual. Tomorrow I'm meeting with a drama group, another rep of a PLWHA group, and the District HIV/AIDS Coordinator at the hospital. If things go well, maybe one of these people will actually show up! Sarcasm, some peoples worst enemy, my best friend. Yeah, so work is a bit slow lately, what with the schools winding down toward graduations and exams, people gearing up for the upcoming elections, and to be frank, my steam just plain running out after months at site without a getaway (ok, so only since my Nairobi trip in July, but it still feels like a long time). Another thing that's been getting to me lately, which is not unexpected but still unsettling, is the arrival of a new batch of health volunteers and the celebration of my one-year mark in Tanzania. Both have led me to reminisce on my initial optimism upon arriving in Misungwi, and to speculate on where it has, in the meantime, disappeared to. Not there aren't things that bring me joy in my work here, and seeing the kids dancing today was certainly one of these things. It's just that my overall attitude has kind of taken a dive in the last month, a swan dive, from a really high board, into a big, murky, schistosomiasis (or bilharzia, if you're English) infested, pool of cynicism. Good grief, first symptom of such deterioration must surely be awful metaphors.

I'm hoping one of a few things will bounce me back. I plan on starting on my own, since if I don't it seems it will never happen, to visit some of the farther away schools in which we trained teachers, to meet with them and discuss how the lessons are going, and to help them start clubs such as choirs, debate groups, drama groups, reading clubs, etc. Since I know most of the teachers, and got along really well with some of them during the seminars, this holds promise. The other thing is these PLWHA groups, which I hope to get some more experience on when I go to the AMREF office this week, since there is an Angaza (big name in HIV testing) site next door, and I know the clinic director. So hopefully and match up resources and needs and really get some good stuff going, as good as it can be, on that front. Finally, I might go on a trip. Somewhere nearby, lake region, but somehwere that isn't here. That is key.

I have written so much, too much, that i can't justify more time/energy/space for a pithy concluding paragraph. more later this week.