how do you spell Misungwi?

Monday, November 28, 2005

lions and tigers and bears

ok, so none of those things.

But on my drive through the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater area, I saw a LOT of giraffes, elephants, dikdiks, impalas, other deer-looking thingees (I'm not that romantic about safaris - in all honestly, most of the time you just see a bunch of deer), a few hippos, a lone hyena, a TON of zebras, wildebeest and other cow looking things I'm not sure of (OK, lets just say most of a safari is looking at deer and cows. Hey! I should start up a 'Wisconsin-safari' tour company and clean up on all these wazungu suckers shelling out big bucks to come to TZ!)

The sheer number of these deer/cow lookalikes will remove any remaining guilt I have when I taste, which I am now determined to do, some of this 'bush meat'. Hear Zebra meat is tasty too. Oh, in addition to all the (tasty looking) animals, I saw some Maasai people herding ther cattle/sheep through the parks (in Mwanza all they do is guard work, other Tanzanians are scared of Maasai). It was interesting to see, but I had no touristy desire to take countless photos around their huts (nor any intension of eating them, for that matter).

So now i'm at a hotel in Arusha during the first day of our group AMREF meeting. And if there's any way I can sum up how fantastic this day has been, it's with the following two words:


Saturday, November 26, 2005

finals week....

Not only has the past week been exam week for secondary school students here in Tanzania, but the insane amount of work has brought ME back to Hyde Park for a few days and those fantastic, nauseating feelings of impending finals and papers and all-nighters, oh my....

That said, it really was a fantastic week. On Tuesday I held a small seminar for food-sellers from the Misungwi market, 15 in total. We spent the day discussing 'balanced diet' and 'nutritious meals,' concepts which most of them had heard about, but many felt involved kilos upon kilos of meat and fruit and 3 sodas for every person etc etc. So it was nice to dispel some of these myths and show that a healthy diet is possible on a limited budget, and it didn't hurt that we had some nice examples during our meal breaks (great yogurt, fruit juice, eggs, telapia). They really liked the seminar (one said we should have filmed it to air on TV!!!), and am hoping I can help them take this new knowledge and spread it to the other market vendors and, eventually, to the shoppers themselves.

On Wednesday I went to Mwanza for an AMREF meeting where we brainstormed further areas for intervention as part of the reproductive health program I am working on. Spent a lot of time discussing really interesting techniques and strategies like video shows, parents groups, how to target young mens groups, care for people living with HIV/AIDS, and many more.

Then on Thursday I met with 14 primary school teachers from a nearby ward to discuss how their lessons have been going this year (we trained them in May to teach reproductive health) and to discus the merits of the essay contest that I am help running in their schools as part of World AIDS Day (the topic is 'role models'). Now, the only bad part about this day was that we were scheduled to meet at 8:30 am and people started showing up around 10:30, but THAT is really what Tanzania is like. It is infuriating and frustrating (especially since primary school students are beaten for being late, but for teachers strolling in leisurely 3 hours late seems understandable.....). But once they finally got their shit together and arrived, the discussions went really well and made me very optimistic both regarding the essays as well as their teaching capabilities and the benefits our program may be providing for their students.

Friday was my day to wrap up loose ends work-wise (lots of AIDS related money coming to my area in early December so had some big meetings with people to plan early phases of implementation), and then spent a good chunk of the day saying goodbye to people. Even though I tell people I'm here for two years, if I go away for a few days they invariably tell me when I come back 'oh my, I thought you had left back to Europe for good!' (here in TZ, Europe and America are the same thing).

Tomorrow I am off with the AMREF team for a week long meeting in Arusha, near Mt. Kilimanjaro. Even if it were in the middle of the freakin desert I'd still be thrilled to go, I desperately need a change of scenery. It doesn't hurt that the mountain IS there though, nor that I get to pass through the Serengeti National Park on the way!

Friday, November 18, 2005


HA! Hahahaha. Man, I was in a really crappy mood about 10 minutes ago, then decided I would write a blog entry about the languages I use here when i'm NOT writing on this thing, then I picked 'maboopya' to be the name of the entry, then I started laughing. It is one of the dumbest sounding words I think I've ever heard. And it's meaning is 'loofah', not too far off in ridiculousness.

Speaking of which, I grew loofah sponges at my house. Have never used one before, nor do I much care to (though I will). I planted them because they grow on a vine, like wildfire, and have nice big leaves that will hopefully provide me some shade if my guard ever gets around to building a little outdoor hut like I asked him to.

The national language of Tanzania is Kiswahili (Swahili - the 'ki' is used to denote languages and to make adjectives). It is a beautiful language which I'm proud to say I'm pretty much fluent in. It's a whole lot easier than Russian (silly cyrillic and crazy ass grammatical rules) or German (unsettling umlauts, nonsensical noun-class groups, and just plain stupid separable prefixes). There are 8 or so main groups of words which take varying modifications in different parts of speech, and come with varying prepositions and possesives and demonstratives (this/that/etc) - so that's a bit hard to memorize. And the word order is different than in English [adjectives follow nouns - 'Jina langu Brian' = 'Name my is Buhlayani'].

But two things make Kiswahili super simple, and are very pleasing to people like myself who like structure and consistency. One is that everything is written phoenetically, so even if you have no clue what a word means, you can still say it (this has saved my ass some embarassment more than a few times). The notable exception to this would be the L/R dilemma that has been a recurring theme in my life here and in my blog entries. The other thing that makes Kiswahili so simple is that there are really pretty much NO exceptions. If you learn how to decline a verb in the past tense, you know how to decline ALL verbs in the past tense [here is where English sucks]. If you want to name a person as a direct object in a sentence, you ALWAYS insert an 'm' into the middle of the verb. And ALL words are stressed on the second-to-last syllable, another handy faking-it tool when giving speeches. The construction of a sentence, though I doubt many Tanzanians realize it, is a very structured and orderly process in Kiswahili, much more elegantly put together than American English.

Now that I have elaborated, boringly, on the structure of the language itself, lets have some fun looking at my favorite words in Kiswahili (maboopya is Kisukuma, the tribal language. 'Loofah' in Swahili is 'madodoke')

theme one - repetition and alliteration
a lot of Kiswahili words do both of the aforementioned.
barabara - road
wasiwasi - problem
kizunguzungu - dizzy
kutukanana - to insult each other
Also, a whole ton of verbs can have a modified meaning if repeated. for example,
'tembea' - to walk, tembeatembea - to walk around
cheza - to play, chezacheza - play a little bit
zunguka - to go around, zungukazunguka - to make rounds

and an example from Kisukuma: (Sukuma - Swahili - English)
igoko - kuku - chicken
igogo - kiti - chair
igolo - jana - yesterday

theme two - dipthongs
first, let me just say that the word 'dipthong' makes me proud of English. HA!
Kiswahili has lots of dipthongs, as every letter is pronounced.
au (ah-oo) = or
ua (oo-ah) = flower, fence, or to kill (HA!)
ijayo (ee-jai-yo) = next (for certain noun classes)

theme three - multiple meanings
ok, so actually we just saw this in theme two. One word for flower and to kill!!! Sweet!! Kiswahili has much fewer words than in English, and many of these are borrowed from Arabic (eg 'safi', meaning clean, but also like saying 'Cool'). Sometimes this is really awesome and convenient, sometimes frustrating (there are just a few words for 'good' - nzuri, njema. in Kisukuma, there's one - mola. it gets kinda boring during greetings. How are you? Good. How is your family? Good. How is work? Good. How are other things? Good.....)

theme four - hard to say ng words
there are a whole ton of really freakin hard to say words that have the Ng' sound.
Ng'ombe - Cow
Kung'ong'oneza - to tell a secret
If the ng' has an apostrophe, it's supposed to be pronounced like the ng at the end of an English participle (going). If not, it's two distinct sounds. Hard!

theme five - ji's and other fun words
there are just some words I think are fun for no apparent reason.
almost any verb can be turned into a noun, often by adding U in front and JI at the end
kutekeleza - to implement
utekelezaji - implementation
kuendesha - to drive
uendeshaji - driving
kuyeyshua - to digest
uyeyushaji - digestion (HA! I love that word)

my favorite word so far
is also one of the longest and most complex i've seen here. but it is a great example of why I love the structure and sounds of Swahili.

kitakachowachangamsha - that which will make them energized

Ok, sorry so long, I'm out of words now. Check out the new link I added to a Kiswahili dictionary. Back to all English next time.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

tastes and sounds

It's amazing how sensory-driven emotions can be.

I'm in Mwanza, and stopped along the side of the street to eat a mango. A delicious, juicy mango. They are a dime a dozen here these days, well actually a dime for 2 or 3 but come December, I hear you can pay a farmer 1-2 bucks and go clear out an entire tree. So I'm eating this mango, really really enjoying it, and thinking to myself, "how on earth will I ever be able to leave this place?"

Then, from far away, I heard the wail of a fire engine. I stood still and listened as the siren intensified in volume, then diminished again (by the way I love the doppler effect). My first thought was, holy shit, I didn't know there were fire trucks here! But then I started thinking about my apartments on 55th andUniversity, or 53rd and Woodlawn, and the firestation, liquor store, and latenight chinese takeout restaurants that were all right across the street. I was back home for a good 20 seconds, and I loved it (other onlookers, equally startled to see the fire-engine, were probably even more perplexed by the fact I listened to it with a huge smile on my face).

As quickly as my sense of taste decided I could never leave, my sense of hearing swiftly bitch-slapped that notion right back into the waaaay back of my head.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Alektorophobia, Bromidrosiphobia, Vermiphobia, Nosemaphobia, Thaasophobia...

...are just a few of the fears you SHOULD NOT be suffering if you want to come visit me. Or do the Peace Corps.
Definitions courtesy of
Alektorophobia - fear of chickens (actually, these 'H5N1' days....)
Bromidrosiphobia - fear of having an unpleasant body odor
Vermiphobia - fear of worms
Nosemaphobia - fear of illness
Thaasophobia - fear of boredom

Also courtesy of the aforementioned site, however, are a few phobias that could sure as hell help me out a bit with my work here, including:
Coitophobia - fear of sexual intercourse
Aphephobia - fear of touching or being touched
Cypridophobia - fear of venereal diseases

And finally, one which most definitely helped me out personally on Sunday evening:
Arachnephobia - fear of spiders

I was leaving my neighbors house since my parents called me and I hate being in the spotlight (they stop ALL conversation, stare, and try to stifle laughter while listening to my English conversations). So I was walking out of their courtyard, it was dark, and suddenly I felt something a bit furry scuttle up onto my foot, and instictively kicked my foot out in front of me to get rid of it. 'It,' it turns out, was something that looked an awful lot like a freakin tarantula.

I immediately grabbed a stick and killed it.

Or that is what I would like to be able to say I did. What I actually did was stare in shock for a minute, then call one of the 15-year-old girls who lives there to come look, at which point she immediately took a big stick and very skillfully, with one great thwack, killed it.

I guess it was a combination of shock and wanting to look at it - I really actually don't think I was very scared, though I definitely had goosebumps afterwards. It didn't bite me, so that's good, because apparently it would've hurt, real bad. It was my first such instance with a scary creature of these sorts, but wonder if the recently underway rainy season, and the corresponding explosion of insects, might mean this could be a recurring experience?!

Yes the rains have finally started. A few nice downpours over the weekend, all my tubs and buckets and cement pots nicely filled, and rainwater tastes GOOD. I planted, with the help of my soon-to-be-axed-but-doesn't-know-it-yet guard, squash, carrots, spinach, peanuts, beans, garlic, onions, and potatoes. Will leave the maize farming to the professionals. Same with impossible to grow, bug-infested tomatoes.

The rains have also brought illness, so beware, you Nosemaphobics. Last night I drifted to sleep, under my mosquito net, to the buzzing of I presume dozens of those malaria-infested pieces of shit. Today I have a runny nose and scratchy throat. But I have also gained a bit of weight, so no longer suspect I have intestinal worms. And no diarrhea. And probably no schistosomiasis. There, in a nutshell, you have a picture of the state of my health in Tanzania. Now I am no longer obliged to discus health problems until, say, my 50th birthday.

That's all for now. Oh, and apologies to all you Nomatophobes out there for my last blog entry [Nomatophobia - fear of names]

Thursday, November 03, 2005

name game....

A recent spurt of interest in Misungwi and Mwanza about my American name vs. Kisukuma name, Brian (Buhlayani) vs. Masanja, has had me thinking a lot the past few days about names in Tanzania.

I have attempted, over the course of the last few days, to try to come up with some general classifications for the names that are either very common among Tanzanians, or ones that have impressed me as especially interesting or unusual. It is a work in progress, but this name research as led me to devise the following 'name groups':

Local/tribal names:
This group, while perhaps not the most interesting or amusing, is my favorite. The novelty of these names has not yet rubbed off on me, and I continue to be both tickled by them and often bewildered by their pronunciation.
Examples: Nyanda, Mabula, Mkote, Masele, Bahebe, Nyanjige, Majebela, and many more

Local/tribal names with meanings that I understand:
Most of these local names have meanings. Most of the meanings are in Kisukuma, and so I have no freakin clue what they are. Like my name, Masanja - it took me a while to pinpoint the meaning of 'agreeable'. However, there are some names that I do know the meanings of, both Kiswahili and Kisukuma. Meanings, in English, are included. These are names of people, mind you.
Examples: Pendo (love), Sahani (plate), Shibiliti (matchbook), Imani (belief), Shitungulu (onion), Chandarua (mosquito net), Jumapili (Sunday), Mashaka (doubt - apparently Mama wasn't sure if she was pregnant or not), Tabu (problem - apparently difficult delivery), Mwaka Mbaya (Bad Year - ok, this isn't a real name, a name of a person in a TV show, apparently born in a rough farming year. But Tanzanians don't seem to find the name unusual....), etc...

Foreign/Wazungu names with meaning:
It doesn't stop at Swahili, though the meanings are typically a little less every-dayish...
Examples: January, Precious, Happy. Really, Happy leads this category, I hear it all the time...

Old People Names:
I am not in any way passing negative judgement here. It just seems that a lot of Tanzanians, young Tanzanians, have names that I typically associate with my Grandparents' friends. Surprisingly, I've found that these names, which would induce extreme ridicule on my part in the States, are occasionally very well suited to the Tanzanians who possess them.
[Note: I have not heard any of my Grandparents actual names, Bob/Jan/Fred/Beverl. Except that in Kisukuma, when greeting my elders, they don't actually greet me but instead my paternal Grandfather. So I do actually use Fred, but it's more often 'Fuh-leddy']
Examples: Leonard, Wilhelmina, Herman, Eunice, Conrad, Edina, Winifred, Godwin, Agnes, Leon, Faustine, Titus, Ruth, Amos, Esther, Godfrey, Adelaide, etc.... (half of these names are those of high school students I teach)

Common Religious Names:
As in pretty much every other part of the world, religiously-significant names are also common. Though not a huge variety here.
Examples: Abdallah, John, Hamisi, Therezia, Emmanuel, Ezekiel. Many more. Though not many Marys, maybe because it would turn out "Maly", which sounds like the Swahili word for 'boat'

Boring Foreign/Wazungu Names:
Like mine!! Though I have to admit, saying 'Buhlayani' makes it more exciting. Sorry to those who might be offended to find their names listed below!
Examples: Christina, Elizabeth, George, Stanley, etc... (have only met one Tanzanian named Brian, a little baby in Misungwi town. Mama Brian is always happy to see me, tells her kid that looks, it's your namesake!!)

More interesting names, but sometimes perplexing:
I think self-explanatory. This category expands every day, and I've pretty much gotten so used to these interesting monikers that I don't even think twice.
Examples: Sospeter, Deus, Selestine, Deogratius, Scholastica, Zephania, Constantine, Revocatus, Japan, Benedictor, Amerita, Singsbert (last name Themosticles), etc...

My favorite name so far:
Students at the Secondary schools seem to enjoy giving themselves names. When I listened to a few wanna-be rappers doing an HIV/AIDS rap at graduation, each one managed to list at least 3 'aka's after their birth name. Often mimicking Tanzanian celebrity names (Mr. Blue, Professor J). Those names I don't like.
However, one of my Form 3 students uses a pen name when writing essays on health themes, and even on in class work.
Her name: 'Silgia'
Short for: 'Single Girl in Action'
Rock on girls' empowerment.