how do you spell Misungwi?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

uninspired factual update (after a long bus ride)

I am writing from an internet cafe here in Dar es Salaam - i'm out of the house past 9pm!! How exciting.

Less exciting was the long-ass bus ride to get here - 30 hours from Mwanza, passing through Kenya. Did get to see Kilimanjaro though - I had already seen it, but was still pretty pleased. I miss snow.

Tomorrow I believe I am getting up at the crack of dawn to take a ferry to Zanzibar, at which point I will make a beeline to the beach to go for my first swim in a LONG time. Lake Victoria looks beautiful, but is infested with schistosomiasis (blood flukes), so swimming is sort of a no-no.

I have already begun to catch up with some of my friends, many of whom I have not seen in months. This blog sure has helped me maintain my written english communication abilities, but spoken word is another thing - I literally find myself stuttering occasionally, or searching for appropriate words to express so many abstract feelings.

Mango season is slowly winding to an end, and it is sad. The coming months, howeer, will bring more oranges and guavas than I could eat in a lifetime.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 26, 2005

calm before the storm...

It was raining just now in Mwanza, but in Misungwi, hamna kitu (nothing, in Kiswahili).
However, there are ominous clouds on the horizon, and I have no drinking water, so here's hoping....

Had two guests at my site from Saturday til this morning - a personal record!! Not many visitors here. Well, 2 of 3 (myself included) are not Christmas celebrators, but we still used it as an occasion to cook a feast (though, to be honest, just visiting other PCVs is usually occasion enough, cooking is a big deal here). On Sunday, Christmas day, we cooked and then consumed, per person, the following:
3, 1/3 pound hamburgers (except for the vegetarian)
2-3 mangoes
3-4 tacos (with spicy ground beef, refriend beans, salsa, guacamole, homemade tortillas)
several slices of banana bread
fantastic homemade brownies
pilau (spiced rice) and goat meat (brought to us by my neighbors)
2-5 FANTA organes (michelle was hands-down soda champion of the day)
3 french hens, 2 turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree (not really, though they do raise doves here for eatin'. not sure what the hell the 'turtle' part is about, and the doves themselves look pretty gamey, not a whole lot of meat....)

The first thing I said today when I woke up: "I'm hungover, but from food."

I am now back at site (and actually hungry again!). Am looking forward to a relaxing few days of hanging at home, talking to friends, and reassuring everyone that even though I won't be around the next two weeks, NO, that does NOT meant that I ran back to the States and left them without really saying goodbye (so damn possessive, these people of Misungwi are).

Then the real fun begins - a 30some hour bus ride, hop on a ferry, and 3 beatufiul days of swimming and reading and sipping and storytelling on the beach.

Thanks to all who have sent holiday greetings, cards, and good vibes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

it's a plane??

there has been a small-engine aircraft circling over Misungwi for the past week or so.

Last Friday I heard it go by no fewer than 6 times, then it seemed to have gone away, but this morning (bright and early)'s baaaack!

My first thought, of course, was that one of the presidential candidates used a helicopter to get to and from political rallies (not to mention as a FANTASTIC way to draw airplane-curious voters, i.e. everyone who isn't both deaf and blind, to listen to his speeches), and maybe he was still cruising around. But wait, the elections were last week, so that makes no sense.

[speaking of which, the election results were announced yesterday, and despite the impressive aerial show, this candidate recieved only 6% of the vote. The leading party, CCM, once again won the elections, with President-elect Kikwete recieving over 80% of the vote. He will be sworn in today]

Very sketchy reports from people here suggest that whoever is in the plane is scouting the terrain looking for some sort of precious minerals (probably South Africans, they're all over this region when it comes to such things - there are a few gold mines just west of here, and a huge diamond mine a few hours south). This seemed like a reasonable explanation, until I started thinking. Now, i'm no geologist or whatever other professions involve looking for minerals and surveying landscapes and whatnot, but, um, what precious minerals can you detect from a small single-engine aircraft? And how? What machines do you use to find evidence of gold or diamonds or Tanzanite or who knows what, underground?


Sunday, December 18, 2005


means "network" in Kiswahili.

It's also what people say to refer to the two big cell-phone towers that are perched on a 'mountain' (aka big pile of rocks) about maybe 5 or 6 kilometers away from my house. Because it's on a mini-mountain and set up higher from Misungwi town, I had heard that it offers fantastic views of the surrounding environs. Of course, my lazy ass took a whole year after hearing this to actually get up the energy to go check it out.

So this morning I got up and, with the company of my friend Dominic (secondary school Biology teacher) and his brother Deus, we went to see if we could make it to the top. We did, turns out it's really not as far as it looks from my house (which is kind of in the 'suburbs' of Misungwi, not right in the town center but set uphill a bit in a wealthy part of town). When I get my camera I will return and take pictures to post here, but I'll just say that the view was not spectacular, but very, um, what's the appropriate word, nice? More than nice. In between nice and spectactular. Informative too, because it gave me my first glimpse of Misungwi as a whole, it was interesting to see where the city has experienced a spurt of growth, where people are building modern houses vs. mud/straw huts, and how the city is slowly merging with small surrounding villages. I also got a view of Lake Victoria (check out a map of Tanzania - the lake has a finger that extends south - what would we call that in English? Not a bay, maybe an inlet? Anyways, from what I saw today, it looks like some pretty nasty, shallow, schistosomiasis and crocodile infested water to me).

We also met two crazy guys who are hired to 'guard' the antennaes. I guess if they weren't there people would come to try to steal the wiring and whatnot, the main ground-line phone company in Tanzania is currently offering a reward of over a years salary for the average Tanzanian for any information about the numerous theives who dig up their cables for wires, so I assume these guards were preventing other hooligans from doing the same.

All in all, it was a very nice morning hike. Which is good because, as has been the case every other day the past few weeks, by the time it hit 11am it was already hot as hell and not a cloud in the sky.

'Mtandao' is also street-slang for HIV/AIDS, since the spread of the disease through various sexual networks can be more complex than phone wiring.

Friday, December 16, 2005

looking for somebody women special and have wide knowledge

I was stuck on a title for this entry because, in all honesty..... i got nothin to say. But then when I clicked in the little 'title' box the autocomplete feature provided me with a few choice options, the first of which I have graciously accepted from a previous internet user. Judging by a quick glimpse at the history section (a feature I'm almost positive most Tanzanians have no clue about), I have deduced that the aforementioned user, and author of the title of this entry, was searching for a perfect match on one of the following personals websites: Christian Singles Mingle, SexOnNet, or Blackplanet. I'm guessing it was not SexOnNet though, unless I'm misreading the meaning of 'wide knowledge,' though I find it hard to believe the no-good punks who usually look for porn on these computers would be nuanced enough to use such language.

So today promises to be another uneventful day. I have to wait for a good 2 hours at the offices of TANESCO to pay my electricity bill (a good argument for the privatization of utilities, though I'm still not entirely convinced). Then I'm going to go buy some bath soap, and hopefully some running shorts so that I can start something that might resemble exercise. Am mildly concerned that the whiteness of my legs could make unfortunate witnesses and bystandards to my attempts at exercise go into various forms of sensory and/or cardiovascular shock, but will probably give it a whirl anyways.

Which brings me to an interesting question I recieved recently: what do my neighbors think of some white guy moving in next door? Most of what I write in this forum is my thoughts about my neighbors, what would they write about me?? I think this is a terrific question, and one I should answer before I start showing them my legs and trying to explain...
"where are you going?"
"i am running"
"where to?"
"i am just running around"
"up the hill and back down"

Unfortunately, I don't think the answer is particularly exciting - because, honestly, I think my neighbors and close friends are pretty darn used to me and see me as just another dude in the neighborhood. This in part makes me feel very proud at my efforts to get a good command of the language as well as to integrate into daily activities here in Misungwi. At the same time, it pisses me off a little because I don't get any special treatment, people just assume that I know what's going on and sometimes take for granted that I actually don't understand all the local customs and traditions.

There are some things that never cease to amaze most people I talk to on a daily basis, things that greatly influence their perceptions of me. For example, the fact that I can grow facial hair suggests I am probably 30 years old, and should be married with 3 kids by now (5 in Misungwi area, the Sukuma people have a LOT of children). Combine with this view the fact that I have recently been getting a large number of visitors, and that many of these are female, and my image begins to take on qualities of a slimey middle-aged cassanova.

Despite a few image blemishes, I am thankful that most people who aren't used to (read 'bored of') me continue to shower me with praise and respect. Many are shocked that I have become so accustomed to life here after only a year, and others can't imagine why on earth I would volunteer to leave the States for over 2 years to come work for such a low salary in such a hostile climate. Many are impressed with my education and my desire to share my knowledge with others in a simple, straightfoward way (and if you saw any of the high school exams in Tanzania, you would understand why the 'simple' part earns me respect). When I answer the question 'what do you do here?' by replying "I teach about health issues, mostly reproductive health and HIV/AIDS", there is usually a moment or two of shock or discomfort. But it doesn't take long for most people I talk to recognize the importance of my job and begin subtley probing for answers to questions they have, on a subject that is somehow still taboo despite being in the front of nearly everyone's mind.

Finally, and sadly, a few Tanzanians sometimes seem puzzled why I came here, because while they are bombarded with images of the States and western culture (thank you very much, R. Kelly, for making my life that much more difficult), they assume (correctly) that Americans don't know and, frankly, don't care much about Africa as a whole, let alone some little village in Tanzania. They assume Americans are all rich, and rather than deal with issues personally or creating relationships to explore solutions, we'd just as soon throw money down from on high to the throngs of people begging below. I say sadly because, to a certain extent, this is true. But in my many lengthy discussions with some of these folks, I hope I have served America well as an ambassador of understanding between two different countries and cultures. After serving for over a year here, I am now convinced this IS the most important job of a Peace Corps volunteer.

Wow, funny beginning, serious ending, and an overall lengthy entry. Pole sana (sorry about that!).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

polycentric fluxations delineate a myriad of spatial/temporal constructs

So that sentence doesn't actually have any meaning, at least none that I'd venture to put forward.

It's over a year since I finished school at the U of C. It was a fantastic four years of my life that enriched me culturally, personally, and especially academically. Fast foward to now - I feel like an idiot.

These feelings, as well as the title of this entry, arose as I have been trying recently to read a PhD dissertation on Sukuma culture written a few years back by a dude from the Netherlands (see!! this is what I mean!! Is 'a dude from the Netherlands' Dutch or Danish?!! I'm losing my mind...) Anyways, it's a beast of a dissertation, as I guess most are. I started struggling through the first part, and have since adapted a strategy that also came in handy in some of my more anthropological or sociological readings in college - I read the interesting data and observational sections, and skip the dense (BORING) analyses. So I'm learning some cool stuff about this dude's perception of rural Sukuma traditions and culture (I'm too urban to get much of this experience, Misungwi being the regular metropolis it is). But not learning AT ALL how the Sukuma of Mwanza fit into the broader ongoing debates within whatever fields this 'polycentric fluxators' mumbo-jumbo applies to.

What has caused me to digress so much in just a little over a year?! Part of it I'm sure is the intellectual fatigue I felt after finishing, and a concious effort I made shortly thereafter to remove myself from anything 'academic'. But another part of that might be that most of my friends here are very intelligent, but in a 'street-smart' way rather than a 'institution of higher learning' way, and by 'street-smart' I really mean 'farm-smart' or 'cow-smart' or 'very-small-business-smart'. This is not meant to be condescending at all, just an objectively realistic appraisal of my surroundings. It also has led me to frequently question just exactly WHO this dutch/danish dude was writing for. The end product of 2+ years of research here is great reading matrial for anthropologists and professors and people with bifocals in offices, but seems pretty clear to me that it won't benefit his actual research subjects a lick (I guess I'm questioning the field of anthropolgy itself?? Apologies to all anthropologists I have thus offended)

Ok, at the same time, I am not ready to go back to school for my Masters or even for a once-a-week evening class. Maybe next year, or the year after, but not now. What I do want is to catch up with a few of my PCV friends and have some stimulating conversations (in English!!!!) as we sip beers on the beach. I think that makes about 3 straight entries where I've mentioned my trip to Zanzibar - can you tell I'm pumped?!?

*** Warning regarding the following paragraph: Tanzanians are blunt. They say what they think - if you are fat, and they don't know your name, and they're talking about you, they'll refer to you in conversation by saying 'oh you mean that big fat guy?' Well guess what, I'm blunt too now, moreso than I was in the States.****

You know what else might help me spark my intellectual curiosity? Some good book recommendations! Or even better, SOME GOOD BOOKS!! Yeah, the 'holiday season' has mostly escaped me, but I wouldn't be American if I didn't have a little greed streak come December (unless I had lived in a cave, perhaps, which I didn't - despite having no cable TV). Volunteers here have a pretty good library of novels that float around from one place to another, but I am thinking about some interesting, well-written, but not overly academic non-fiction books, or recommendations for slightly more challenging works of fiction (Ayn Rand comes to mind - though all I have access to is Atlas Shrugged, which just seems TOO LONG for my first read).

Yeah, so that's that, my hour of air-conditioning is up for today. Time to go home and hide, I'm slightly deformed today thanks to a very mild rash around my mouth brought on by my gluttonous appetite for mangoes (don't freak out, mom). I feel like I'm in the 'Scarlet Letter,' but with a much less interesting sin. Can someone do the research for me on why the hell mangoes can make people break out in rashes?? After my diatribe on the state of my intellectual ability, I'm too tired to find the answer to this myself.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

mola duhu bebe

Feeling better since my last entry. No news on the housing situation or my landlord the thief, but I decided that there's not much I can do about it so I'm just going with the flow. It helps that whenever I am feeling mad about the situation, I think about the landlord himself, who is fat and wears his pants up above his belly button like Steve Urkel. What a tool.

I spent the weekend meeting and greeting the new group of Peace Corps Volunteers coming to work in the Lake Victoria area of Tanzania. I didn't spend long enough getting to really know any of them, but came away with the impression that they seem very FRESH - definitely a good thing. Two years of this job I think is enough for anyone, and there reaches a point where it's just time for someone to go, and someone new to arrive. Am looking ahead to see if my time to go will be at the end of next year or if there's any chance I will want to extend for a third year - but I think in order to consider this sanely, I need my Zanzibar vacation first.

Which is, in fact, the main highlight on the horizon. Work is done for the year except for report writing and a few brainstorming sessions with the District HIV/AIDS Coordinator and an AMREF coworker on Secondary School health interventions. Ok, so actually there is work to do, but nothing that takes the preparation and provides the stress of running a seminar. That craziness wrapped up this past Wednesday when I finished part 1 of a seminar for hotel attendants on proper condom usage and how to improve services to make sure more people have access to condoms. The following day I went for a drink at the biggest hotel in town, and there was a special trash can labeled for condom disposal, a prominent display of the popular male condom brand, and the advertisements I had distributed were boldly informing pretty much anyone making a visit to the toilet to "play it safe" (cheza salama). Put a nice smile on my face.

Am looking forward to a few weeks of hanging out - playing cards, playing checkers, talking, playing pool, talking some more.... yeah, so there's not really a ton to do here in terms of 'hanging out'. But I enjoy it and plan on doing a lot of it, that is, a lot of nothing.

Which leads me to my last point - it is very hot here. The 'internet cafe' has air-conditioning. I will be coming to write at least a few entries a week, especially if my fan continues to go psycho as it has the past few days. But I don't have a ton to write about (please refer to the previous paragraph). Is anyone reading this? Anyone? Bueller? If you are, comment! Email me! Ask me questions! Tell me what to write about!! Tell me really boring information about life in the States*! If you don't, I'll be sure to REALLY rub it in your faces when I get back from my fantastic new-years-on-the-beach-getaway (with hopefully the added feature of pictures). PS, how's the weather back home anyways?

(*EXCEPT for medical conditions, please keep that info to yourself thank you very much)

Friday, December 09, 2005

happy anti-corruption day, and to celebrate.....

....i may be getting kicked out of my house.

Yeah, if I understood correctly on the radio, today is something like 'anti-corruption day,' here in Tanzania? or Africa/worldwide? I have no idea. Anyways, after having lived here for a whole year, I think I can say three things with near absolute certainty.

1. There is corruption in Tanzania.
2. Tanzania, compared to many other African countries, is not as corrupt.
3. Corruption in Tanzania is much more obvious, i.e....
"I'm a police officer give me 20 dollars or I'll arrest you"
and not
"I'm a powerful Vice President so I will let my close friends draft our national energy policy, screwing over future generations so that my fellow fat-cats can stuff their already enormous and overflowing pockets" (a purely hypothetical scenario, mind you)

There are multiple approaches to dealing with corruption. One is to try to fight it. This is very difficult. Another is to participate in it. This is probably very fun, unless you have professional ethics and/or personal morals.

The third, my current approach, is to try to work as best as possible in the system, acknowledging that it's just not practical to fight it. For example, if I hear that a group has received a ton of grant money for fighting HIV/AIDS (happens all the time), I am more than happy to help that group use as much of that money as possible to do some fantastic work, even if I know full well that some group members are pocketing cash for personal use. Or that they had to pay someone in the local government to even receive the money in the first place. Much better than say taking that large amount of money and blowing it ALL on personal use, or the money just being stolen at the government level in the first place. It's a tad cynical, but this approach has allowed me to do some fantastic work with minimal resources lost under-the-table.

However, in fantastically ironic timing, the state of corruption in Tanzania has bit me in the ass. I will try to explain this as simply and, to a certain extent, as vaguely as possible, so no one gets in trouble and it can't do any further damage. Basically,
- I am living in a house that is rented for me, from a private landlord, by the local district government
- The landlord is a former local government worker, who worked in the treasurer's office
- The landlord got fired from work a few months ago by the current District Executive Director (something like county supervisor or thereabouts).
- The landowner got fired, along with several others, for stealing a ton of money from the government
- I'm pretty sure the reason I am in my current house is that the landlord and another member of the district government agreed that the district would rent this house for me, on the condition that the one in charge of choosing my residence got a sweet payoff from the landlord to ensure his house was the one chosen, and the resulting higher rent check was passed off to the district government.

Not sure how much sense that makes, but thats the story. The problem is that the contract was only for one year, and the landlord doesn't seem too keen on renewing it, having been fired by his boss, the rentor (renting on my behalf). So where does that leave me? Homeless as of March 1st, at the moment.

Speaking of corruption, next Wednesday is the Tanzania presidential elections. All the campaign ads I've seen (all from the currently ruling party) have asked for 'free and fair' elections, respectful of human rights. Lets just hope those in charge of ensuring this can't be bought off for 50 bucks.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

rumble in the jungle

I wasn't alive for the first one, but this latest one I was on the scene baby!

So I figured I'd write to let everyone know who had heard about what apparently was an earthquake of 6.8 or so in the DRC that all is unsurprisingly and disappointingly normal here in Mwanza.

I was showing pictures of the states to a recent highschoolgraduate friend of mine, when I heard a low rumbling noise. I thought it was a train, then realized there are no trains remotely near Misungwi. Then the student said 'oh, an earthquake.' I probably wouldn't have known if he hadn't told me. PC gave me a call to see if everything was ok, I said I was great because I was excited, I had never felt an earthquake before! Of course now I'm just hoping that the quake didn't kill anyone, I haven't heard any news about it despite looking (but if it was in Lake Tanganyika or DRC I suspect very few were affected).

Anyways, I wasn't happy for long, as mother nature appears to have been royally pissed off yesterday and wanted to make sure I was aware of that fact. At about 8pm, just when it got good and dark here, the electricity cut out and it started POURING rain - the biggest thunderstorm I've seen in a few years. Which of course started flooding into my house through open windows and cracks under the doors, since I still have no shutters and no pipe to divert water out of my courtyard (thanks to my guard and my carpenter, what a dynamic duo of utter incompetence).

mother nature - what a whacko

Monday, December 05, 2005

umepotea wapi?!

where did you get lost?!

I have been back in Misungwi for, oh, about 4 hours now, and have already been asked this question 5 or 6 times. It's like these people think they OWN me and that I have to ask every single person permission to leave! It is nice to be missed though, and it's always nice to return home.

Arusha was great. I didn't actually see any of the city (nor it's crown jewel to Peace Corps Volunteers, a SHOPRITE supermarket), because I was at work from about 8am til 6:30 pm every day, and then in the hotel bar drinking my 2 free beers a day (and then purchasing more myself). On top of a good 4 beers a night, we had 5 meals a day - breakfast, 11am tea, lunch, 5pm soda/snack, 8pm dinner. I probably gained at least 5 pounds, and loved every second of it. The food and amazing company of my very energetic and talented coworkers was definitely the highlight, but work planning was very helpful as well. I'm too burned out by this year and intimidated by the daunting number of seminars and follow-ups to be performed next year to think about any of it at the moment, but after I get back from Dar (and Zanzibar!) vacation, I will be ready to start preparations for a very challenging and exciting work year.

REQUEST: Anyone who can help me in the next 24 hours (in America, by Tuesday early AM) with a small research project. I am holding a seminar for guesthouse workers in Misungwi, 14 in total, to teach them proper usage of condoms and also to help them develop marketing strategies to improve sales and make customers feel more comfortable purchasing them. So aside from lessons on condom misconceptions, facts, demonstrations, etc... I was hoping to provide a fairly in-depth and amusing history of condoms, from the early sheepskin ones used by Egyptians right up to Trojans and their counterparts, with an emphasis on the Salama condoms in Tanzania. Anyone want to help me by writing up this brief history and sending it to me?? I'll do the best I can, but it would be fantastic to have someone help fill in the gaps, and how often can you say you helped out a friend with a research project on condoms?!?