how do you spell Misungwi?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

habari za siku nyingi? is the news of many days?

it's been a while since my last post. what has happened to me over the last 2 weeks?

I got violently ill and threw up all over the road and my house. Am pretty sure it was food related. My first time getting sick in over a year, so I really can't complain. The first time I barfed was around noon, I was coming back to my town from a nearby secondary school, and simply hoping against hope that I could make it until my bus stop before projectile vomiting all over the place. I did, by about 10 seconds - as soon as i got out of the car, my breakfast got out of my stomach. Which is a shame, because I had eaten like 2 big bananas and 5 of the little tiny sweet bananas [which are way better, by the way - some people here only eat the little ones, and use the big ones, the ones we're used to in the States, to make banana beer]. So my appetite for bananas has been pretty much non-existent for the past week. It's a shame.

Getting sick is not fun, but nothing has made me feel more loved and accepted here in the community - my neighbors immediately came to my support, cooking me sensitive-stomach foods (uji -porridge, soup broth), checking up on me, etc. Well ok, my neighbors cook for me a lot on a regular basis anyways, but they were EXTRA concerned now. And since all of Thursday and Friday i was stuck at home, by the time I got around to the market and walking around town on Saturday, everyone was asking 'where've you been?' and, upon hearing that I was sick [for those who hadn't already heard - not many white folks hunched over puking on the side of the road by the Catholic Church on a regular basis, so when it does happen people talk], giving me their regrets (i'm so sorry! pole sana!!).

When not getting sick, I have been continuing to bump my shins on stools and burn my hands with wax while fumbling around my house by candlelight in the evening. Electricity is still a problem - enough said.

My coworker here in Misungwi, who is also my boss and good friend, left this past week. She got a job helping to ensure delivery and proper use of ART drugs (anti retroviral therapy for people with HIV/AIDS). I'm happy for her, as this job makes good use of her doctor background, and she's working on behalf of my personal hero - the job she got is with the Clinton Foundation.

I started working again with a new club at the Teachers Training College in Mwanza - the members from last year have left to go do practice teaching out in the field, so we've started up again with new college members. I wanted ideally 15-20 people, but 45 came to the first meeting - started off right away with some interesting discussions, when I gave them the 'Question of the Week' - should condoms be available free at secondary schools? Lots of hands shot up, and got some very intelligent and well-defended answers on both sides. After the discussion I began relating what it was like at my high school, and then began wondering if the changing political climate has affected policies like these....

RAIN!!! It's rained a few times in the past weeks, enough for me to collect a ton of sweet, sweet drinking water (rain is really the best here, and much cleaner - just boil, dont even usually have to filter). Of course this is also good news for the farmers, who while mostly giving up on rice, will hopefully get decent crops of 'hunger' foods like sweet potatoes, cassava, and millet. Not sure how this perception came to be, since maize and rice are not native crops here, but they are really revered by almost everyone, even in villages - if you have money, you eat this, if not, you eat the others (what i called 'hunger foods'). Which is sadly ironic, because as i have seen first hand this year, the corn and rice crops are SO sensitive to weather conditions, if the rains are not enough or late or whatever, harvests are seriously affected.

One last moment that still sticks out in my mind - I went to visit a friend of mine, a 'fundi' (carpenter), who I hadn't seen in a few weeks. He made almost all my furniture in my house for me (pictures soon, I promise!) and recently, just in time, helped me install shutters on my windows to keep out the blowing rain. And he's fun to talk to - very lively and energetic, likes teaching me Kisukuma, and though he only studied in primary school (imagine stopping at grade 6), he loves having intelligent conversations with me about development here in Tanzania, global environmental issues, you name it. He doesn't feel too comfortable stating his own opinions, but he loves hearing me talk about things, and usually I just end up saying what he hints at in more concrete and clear language (my kiswahili is sweet these days).

So I went to visit. He was busy with his apprentices, making a coffin for a nearby villager whose father died, and who was sitting there watching them make it. I of course felt that I had intruded, but he invited me to a chair and was very excited to see me. Soon we began talking about death ('you mean in America, you don't go to your neighbors funeral unless you are his friend?! why?!?! you mean it's possible to not know your neighbors?!'), the current economic condition here, and a myriad of other things. We got to talking about how the old man who had passed away lived in dirt house with thatched roof, but had over 100 cows - which, sold at 100,000 shillings apiece, would build a really kick-ass house here [think mansion, or wealthy chicago suburbs]. The son then told me, translated through my fundi friend since he only knows kisukuma, that at home there are sacks and sacks of rice and corn, but that the family still doesn't eat enough.

Anyways, we started talking about a ton of differences between TZ and USA, many stemming from budgets/planning/cultural differences such as importance of home-ownership vs. cow-ownership, etc. At which point my fundi friend asked - so, if we have so much here, why are so many Tanzanians still poor? It must be laziness and stupidity.

Now, there are certainly a few people I have met in my time here that, yes, their main problem is that they are stupid and lazy. But i'm talking about a VERY few people here - a lot of the population is incredibly resourceful, and does some remarkable things with limited capital and education (like my hotel-owner friend, who is doing spectacularly for himself, also based on a primary school education). So i immediately disagreed that no, the problem is not stupidity. What then, asked the fundi - why do people here still own 100 cows while they sleep on dirt floors without even a mattress?

That's a hard question. I said it's all about perspective - a whole lot of people act simply on what they know, and until they are able to hear or see a different perspective, only then will they see reason to change. That didn't register, so I gave an example of a farmer and a livestock owner. The farmer just keeps farming by hand, without fertilizer, until the livestock owner one day comes and asks, in disbelief, why the farmer doesnt use cows to plow, and manure to fertilize? The farmer, in the meanwhile, sees how the livestock herder struggles and walks for miles to find adequate food for his emaciated-looking herd - why doesn't the herder plant a small field of leaves and grasses for the cows to eat?

It clicked, and both the fundi and the son, waiting for his fathers coffin, smiled. We went on from there - the whole conversation lasted a good hour and a half, and the time flew. It was the best time I've had in months.

One day puking, the next having life-defining, cross-cultural, essence-of-humanity moments. Good thing my life seems to balance itself out.

how could i forget?

sunday is a day of rest, a day of worship....
and this morning I got one of the weirdest requests ever.

i answered a call of 'hodi' at my gate to find two middle-aged men wanting to talk to me.
they wanted to know if I, or anyone I know, might be interested in purchasing a raw diamond.


yes, a raw diamond. 'do you have it here?' i asked - and then got a chance to see it. it was very clear, and it was pretty small, but i'm sure there is still some value, if it's real. there are diamonds all over these parts - within 100 kilometers of here there are numerous hotspots, and in Shinyanga is one of the worlds largest diamond mines. some places, you see hundreds of little pits dug all over the place on the sides of the paved road, limited-budget attempts at striking rich.

i got to hold the rock, for about 5 seconds. 'no, i dont know how to price diamonds, nor do i have money for it. um, ok, i'll ask around in mwanza and see if anyone is interested.'

is this even legal?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

and now, some visuals

....after a long delay. this post has taken several days to make happen. i originally wanted to post pictures back on monday, but SURPRISE - the electricity was out. So apparently the blackout schedule is indeed settled, and for Misungwi it means no electricity during the day, from 6am until 7pm, every day of the week except Friday (well, now i'm just making this shit up - i thought it was EVERY day, but there was electricity today, so i'm back to having no clue what to expect)

Anyways, without further ado, here is a glimpse of my life here...

... starting with my cat eating a lizard:

This uploading thing takes way longer than i thought. here are some pictures of my house: bedroom, kitchen, and living room...

...or maybe not. WHOOF, I will have to budget a lot more time for this in the future. Or I may set up a yahoo account or something. i dunno, this is a bit ridiculous.

so i guess this post is actually one (singular) visual - but it's a pretty fierce one, huh?

ok, i'm going home now. i puked my guts out yesterday (think it was something i ate - how appropriate, then, that i've posted a picture of my cat eating a lizard. she barfed too) anyways, i need to rest, and try to finish my book before the lights go out again...

Sunday, February 12, 2006


If I remember correctly - it was quite a while ago - one of the first debates between Peace Corps Volunteers when we got to Tanzania was on running water vs. electricity: Which would you rather live without?

The first few weeks, there actually seemed to be some discussion around this point. At the time, I had both electricity and semi-running water from an outside tap source, so I didn't have much to input. Then something happened to the pipe, a clog or a leak or i dont know what, and for a period of 2 or so days there was no water. My mind was changed.

Fast forward a year. Ask almost ANY of this same bunch of volunteers now, and I'm willing to bet 95% will answer, without a moment of hesitation, that they would rather have running water than electricity.

Well, looks like our decision, having running water or electricity, has been made for us - THANKS A FREAKIN BUNCH, mother nature.

Tanzania depends on hydro-electric power generators for at least a significant portion of the daily electrical output (not sure what percentage, but it's high). Tanzania is also, at pretty much a nation-wide level, experiencing a severe drought this year - the expected rainy season from December to January basically DID NOT OCCUR in numerous parts of the country.

The effects of this, then, are two fold. As they say in Kiswahili maji ni shida sana, 'water is a big problem.' It is dirty, it is expensive, and it is hard to get. I have heard scattered reports of cholera outbreaks increasing in frequency and scale. FUN!

**Food for though: Prior to coming to Tanzania, the most I ever worried about cholera was when guiding myself and my family/friends through the interior of the country on the Oregon Trail, trying not to capsize our wagon, while shooting as many 200 kilo bison as I could (yes, I know, not very wise given that I was fully aware of their once near-extinction numbers).**

So water is a problem. Of course, this problem also then extends to food, since there are basically no irrigation systems in the country and farmers rely heavily on rains for maize, rice, and other crop harvests. Here nearby Lake Victoria, a few farmers are having a field day planting and harvesting bountiful crops - in places where the lake has receded so much that large new areas of farmland have become available. Again in Kiswahili, tutakuwa na njaa mwaka huu, 'we will be hungry this year.'

But getting back to the topic of the water/electricity debate, since water is a problem that means - BING! - so is electricity. And as of last week, they have officially begun a nation-wide rationing of electricity. In Misungwi, we did not have power from Wednesday through Saturday, though I hear that once the rationing system is well settled our area will be cut off on Thursday and Saturday, from 5am until 11pm. Mwanza town is on a different schedule, which will probably be coordinated beautifully to coincide with the days I'm most frequently in town being the days without power.

So it's a pain, but what can I do. Quite a few volunteers live without electricity ALL the time, the problem is that I've gotten used to it, to my appliances, to putting off my work until 9 or 10 pm, and so when the power's cut it is just a huge pain in the neck. I don't even have a kerosene lantern, I just use candles.

[to give you an impression how bored I was the other night, I found a shutter-delay feature on my new camera that allowed me to take a picture of the candle, move the camera around really fast, and have the image come out looking like the flame formed a loop or a line in the air. this kept me occupied, quite intently, for a good hour and a half. At least the power wasn't cut out for the finale of the African Cup soccer tournament, in which all my neighbors were sorely disappointed that Egypt beat the Ivory Coast - there is definitely a 'sub-saharan' vs. 'northern' african rivalry here, or as most of my neighbors put it, 'black africans vs. arabs.' Ah, gotta love the political-correctness]

So anyways, thats the situation here, and it also explains why I still haven't gotten around to posting pictures - had no interent access, the office has been closed, and since my fan isn't working i've been generally too lazy to do much of anything that involves leaving my house after 10am or before 5pm. But I keep talkin about em, so as soon as they are available I will be posting (starting with the cat/lizard, followed by my boredom-induced candle experiment, and then some shots of my house).

One last thing speaking of pictures - it's weird having my picture taken with friends/neighbors/other people here. I guess I've never explicitly stated this, but I might as well now - you see, everyone around me is African. They are black. This is not a sensitive term here - Tanzanians will say, when trying to describe to me someone I'm not sure I know, 'that really really black one' or 'the white one' [meaning not as black as others]. But yeah, everyone here is black, with the exception of me and a few albinos whom I rarely see because they live in a nearby village, and I assume keep indoors for protection most of the time.

Now, I know that I'm white, and I know that everyone else is black, but to be honest this is not something that I notice on a day-to-day basis. And I also feel very proud to say that there are at least a few people here, perhaps many, who no longer notice or particularly pay attention to my whiteness. But then I'll have my picture taken with a group of students, or the neighbor kids, and I can't help saying to myself 'damn, I am really really freakin white.'

Though to be honest, my whiteness is not so much today. I''ve got a nice coat of dirt that gives me some color. I haven't bathed yet today [my guard used up the water, yaargh], nor did I bathe yesterday [not a fan of cold baths, too lazy to heat up my water on a charcoal stove]. Ahh, the joys of a water shortage/electricity rationing.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

this blog entry is written with one purpose in mind....


I'm a big fan of 'to-do' lists, because they make me feel productive. Also, i'm scatter-brained enough that if I don't write them, I have no flippin clue what i'm supposed to do at any given moment.

I usually pack such lists with overly simple things, and occasionally things i've already actually done, so that I am able to cross them out and feel good about myself.

Ok, no judging folks.

Unfortunately, procrastination is an evil temptress. [is 'procrastination' feminine? not very many women I know seem very good at it. maybe that's why they're not tempted by it/her??]

Thus, I am sitting in the internet cafe, reading news, checking movie reviews, talking with my friend about good Tanzanian music. All the while, being taunted by my 'to-do' list, sitting on the computer desk next to me, in plain view.

Here's what it looks like:
[commentary will be presented in brackets - a grammatical tool, along with parantheses, that I am perfectly aware I overuse]

'SUNDAY' [block letters so I don't forget what day it is] [that last comment is not a joke]

- take a shower
[start it simple - though to give myself credit, taking a shower here is not as easy as it is in the states, especially since i was low on water today]
- use internet
[hey!! so it's actually not procrastination if I plan it into my schedule, right?! ok, i'll buy that]
- ngao spray/mop
[ngao is cheap, effective mosquito killer. i mop my floors with it and spray curtains and doorways once every 4 months or so. still malaria free after 1 year+!!]
- kitchen light
[has been busted for a few weeks. so i cook by candle light, or eat at the insanely early hour of 6pm, or at the neighbors house still]
- buy running shorts (bukta in kiswahili)
[good running shorts are imperative before starting any exercise regimen. this is what i've been telling myself for the past 2 months now. i have yet to start running. but i still keep it on my list]
- text Rehema, Mosquitonet
[Rehema because I want to meet to talk to her about The Revenge, which ended last week!! Thank goodness, because I was starting to become seriously upset with the amount of time I wasted watching that stupid show. Also, her cousin is visiting her from California for a few weeks - along with her friend. Nudgenudge, winkwink, saynomore.]
[Mosquitonet is a friend from the Teachers Training College, whose actual name is Chandarua, which in kiswahili does indeed mean mosquito net. gotta remind him to make an announcement about our Lifeskills club]
- visit shoe guys
[I have some good friends who work at a shoe store. haven't talked to them for awhile, need to stop by and say hi, plus I need a new pair of shower sandals, the ones I really liked and had fixed up oh 4-5 times have finally bit the dust, I will post a picture of them when I get a chance, yes i took a picture of them because I really liked them]
- practice LSAT
[self explanatory, yikes! planning my future is scary, but at least i like logic/reasoning problems. so i figure this is an acceptable balance. actually registering for the text might be more nightmare-inducing, especially if it's near larium-night]
- read Form III essays, lesson plan for Tuesday, peer-educator selection
[ok, so i have to throw in some work in here too. preparing to teach at secondary school on Tuesday, as well as teachers college on Wednesday, and the impending surge of AMREF workshops, meetings, seminars, supervisions, etc that have started this past week and will be picking up to a level of near-insanity until calming down again sometime in June]
- read Augie
[like I said, gotta keep some of this stuff fun, and budget time for my current novel]
- neighbor spy
[not as bad as it sounds - more like 'politely start chit-chatting with my next door neighbors who have a very loud church choir rehearsal 6 days a week, to see if the rumors that they are moving into the old TANESCO (electric company) office building are true, and if it is offer my assitance with the move, and then once I get back into my house doing an embarassing dance to celebrate, and if it's not true sighing and going to visit some friends far away until they are done with rehearsal at around 7pm']

WHOOF. it's 3:30 pm, and i've managed to do numbers 1 and 2 on this list. however, I never actually check off 'shower' on my list, since often times the other list items that follow it, combined with oppresive equatorial heat, require at least another rinse in the evening.

ok, time to get started....