how do you spell Misungwi?

Friday, March 31, 2006


even though my work schedule isn't THAT based on the 5 day work week.
what do i do on a typical weekend?

first, friday i usually get home from work and dont go out again. friday in Misungwi is the big market day, and lots of people from surrounding villages come to buy soap and maize and all kinds of stuff, some important and some junk.

while the people of Misungwi are used to me, many of these villagers are not. and so I don't like having to deal with them. today i went and got a glass of yogurt (not yogurt like we think of it, more like chunky milk - but it's great with a little bit of sugar) and came up to use some internet (AC!!!)

my housegirl cooked for me, rice and beans today, which will go nicely with the avocado i got in mwanza yesterday, make a little guacamole and stir in some cumin in the beans and i'm having mexican! will go even better as i plan on stopping by a neighborhood bar and picking up a cold beer or two (which is plenty, beers are bigger and stronger here than in the states)

tomorrow i will spend the day walking around and greeting people, since i spent the last 3 days in Mwanza for work and will be going next week to Dar for a meeting [short meeting, LONG bus ride]. so gotta remind people, once again, that i'm not leaving for good so don't be surprised when i return.

i also have to invite my guesthouse workers to part 2 of my seminar on condoms. one of the funnest projects i've done here, and i can't wait for the follow up. i could talk about this stuff all day.... oh wait, i DO!!! it's my JOB!!!!!

then i'll top that off with some more yogurt, watching some tv at my friend Dominics house, playing cards with the neighbors, finishing my book [see link to the right] and the fun task of picking a new one [thanks aunt karen!!!!!], changing my cats litterbox (disgusting), hiding from either sun or rain, whichever of the two is harsher, and i'll round out the weekend by finally getting a chance to talk to some of the new volunteers in our region, whom i've met for all of 5 minutes 4 months ago.

by the way, yesterday i had the most fantastic grilled fish of my life. i even ate the head, it was that good!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

on a lighter note...

last couple of entries have been fairly heavy.
now something...not.
there are many cultural differences between America and Tanzania. Some of them are easier to get used to, others more difficult.
one which has been a real pleasure to adapt to is like this:

Tanzanians pick their noses. anywhere. anytime. in front of anyone.

it took me all of, i'd say, 1 day to get use to this and decide to jump right in and do it myself. and can i say, how fantastic it is?!!

i mean, i've thought about it a lot as I teach various groups about the immune system (usually in relation to HIV/AIDS). snot (mucous) is part of the immune system, designed to capture particles that enter and remove them through coughing or sneezing or the like. what does this mean? it means boogers are SUPPOSED to come out, i think something we were all aware of.

now the question is, why should i sit there uncomfortably while there's a big booger in my nose, just so i dont make other people uncomfortable watching me pick it out?!

i say pick, it has been a fabulous liberation while i've been here, and will be a hard habit to break when i return to the states - which is why i've decided not to break it. watch out folks, upon my return i'll be a lean mean nose-pickin machine....

Sunday, March 19, 2006


the last time i wrote, i was
"out of breath," "irate," "here in Mwanza," and "not just irate, [but] also sad."

fast forward to about 30 minutes after i left the internet cafe two days ago.
new descriptives: i was 'confused' 'pissed off' and 'felt like a chump'

i haven't gotten a chance to write about it, and my feelings have subdued, but given how passionately i wrote my last entry i felt i had better write a follow-up to explain change of sentiments.... [if you haven't read the entry previous to this one, you better stop and go read it before continuing]

by the time i got in the car to head back to Misungwi, i had started replaying the whole scene in my mind. something felt not right, and it wasn't just a sense of despair about human compassion, responsibility, and the like. something didn't seem to fit.

where had i heard about something like this happening before? i couldn't put my finger on it...
through some sort of intervention [though not divine, since i don't believe in that sort of thing], i happened to be staring blankly out the window of the car and saw someone walk by in a University of Chicago sweatshirt.

my first thought was - 'HEY, U of C! Sweet!' my second thought was 'YO dude, it's freakin roasting out, why are you wearing a sweatshirt?!' and my third thought was 'BING'

I had figured it out.
In Chicago we had gotten repeated warnings about a popular scam. That's right, a scam. I don't remember how it went, something about someone approaching you and wanting to split a bunch of money they found if you are willing to help them [part of this help means going to the bank and withdrawing lots of your own money - DUH, warning lights and sirens going off, right? right, that's why I never really paid attention and can't remember more details of this scam]

so the details stumped me, but i had already seen the light - could that whole emotional incident actually have been the work of 2 partners-in-crime trying to rip me off? i tried to work out how the scenario might go:

1) simple distraction: i'm most familiar with this from stories of small children in Rome [gypsies], but i'm sure it's pretty popular tactic worldwide. as i'm pleading with this guy to return the cash, he, or one of his buddies, pickpockets me or makes a move for my backpack.

NOPE, wasn't missing anything [wasn't carrying much either, but since I'm white I'm as good a target as anyone]

2) the set-up: i've heard about this with drugs in northern african countries. a dealer and a cop work together, the dealer sells you illegal drugs ridiculously cheap, then the cop busts you right away and they split the big bribe you're forced to dole out. could this have been similar, but
trying to split up stolen money instead?

NOPE: 1st, if you buy into the 'white people have money' preconception that is a driving motivation behind scenario one (which I do), why would some random white dude need to split a few extra bucks with someone he met on the street?! and 2, what police officer would believe an unemployed random Tanzanian dude over a white employee of a well-known NGO? [sad but true]. The case wouldn't stick, and the bribe would suck. I would give up, lets say, another mechanical pencil.

3) hook, line and sinker: the finder of the money offers to go and split it up with you if you don't tell, but of course to do this you'd better go someplace private. once you're there, and probably after realizing that it was actually one big bill rubber-banded around a wad of plain paper, he holds you up and you're left without shoes, pants, or a clue.

BINGO: this seems like the most logical choice, and sure enough, last night I confirmed with a neighbor that he has had this sort of thing happen to him before [seeing someone drop a big chunk of cash, and then recieving an offer to split it, which he turned down having already heard the stories].

Ugh, once i had heard this confirmation, i felt sick. because i don't like being duped. and i don't like feeling stupid. but at the same time, i felt mad. why? because the shmucks who did this were pretty piss-poor scam artists, and that's how i've now internally justified my naivety. I would've figured the scam out, except they ran it so poorly i had no idea what is was!!!

1) the guy who picked up the cash never offered to split it with me. maybe they had planned poorly, and didn't mean to target a white guy? and he was shocked? or maybe they had picked me out but then he got flustered [maybe he was a virgin to this particular operation] and decided to back out? either way, had he told me "yo dude lets go split this up in that alley over there" i like to think that I would've been NOT AN IDIOT and figured out what was going on...

2) the guy who dropped the cash turned back and started looking for it. one key element to this scam is that he's just supposed to keep walking. if he turns back, we have the opportunity, which we acted on, to return the money. if the money is returned, the scam has failed. he should've kept walking and left it to his buddy to try to reel me in.

3) this all happened right in front of a newspaper stand, and i distinctly rememer making eye contact with at least 2-3 other guys when i grabbed the finder by the hand to follow the loser and return the money. is this really a scam you would pull in front of such a large audience, unless perhaps they ALL were part of it?! I wouldn't think so, especially in Tanzania - you see, being a thief here can be lucrative, but also pretty freaking dangerous. If someone shouts 'thief', it usually ends up in huge gang of idle young men suddenly mobilized to chase down the accused as he runs away, and beat him senseless, to near death, or occasionally to death, upon catching up to him. I've been in Mwanza and seen people running down the street with, for example, a big wooden bench, hoping to use to to beat a thief into a bloody pulp. In fact, this is part of the reason I thought the finder finally agreed to follow me to return the money - if he hadn't, if he had started running now that the loser had realized he'd lost it, he might have had some trouble, to say the least. And i'm looking in retrospect here, but did it seem like those newspaper guys were smiling as they watched all this unfold, perhaps just waiting for and relishing the potential opportunity for a chase-after/beat-down?

so anyways, that leaves me pretty confused. either it was a POORLY RUN SCAM, which only worked to the effect that my sympathy got the best of me and i forked over 1,000 shillings to the finder out of pity, or it was really the incident as I first interpreted it, a case of lost and found, with a large side of ingratitude.

i was dejected after writing my last entry, thinking about the poor finder stealing the money if there's a next time, thanks to the losers ungrateful 'screw you'. i'm even more dejected now, as i expect if i ever see anyone drop a wad of cash again, i myself will probably walk right on by....

readers: thoughts? inputs?

Friday, March 17, 2006

basic human decency

i am out of breath. and i am irate.
i have run to the nearest internet cafe here in Mwanza.
i am not just irate, i am also sad.
i'm not clever or patient enough, nor do i have a good enough memory, to maintain a database of quotes, either on paper or in my head.
but i'm sure that there's is a really good quote out there, somewhere, about how all of lifes problems stem from one basic thing: money.
or maybe two basic things, lest i forget about love, though sometimes i feel the two [money and love] go way more hand in hand than they should...

examples of this, i see them every day. people starving without money, people killing over money, relationships ruined, etc etc.
now, granted, Tanzania is a far poorer country than the USA, so in some ways this is amplified here (i.e. money for survival). At the same time, the profound sense of community and deeply-entrenched attitudes and effects of socialism on Tanzanian society also sometimes make me think that money is not nearly as big a deal as it is in the states.

back to my story. i had a meeting in mwanza today, it went well, nothing unusual.
i left the office, and started walking towards my favorite restaurant, a pizzeria, though i rarely get the pizza, i like the fresh fruit and bread rolls.
as always, the streets were bustling with people selling newspapers, handkerchiefs, etc [i.e. all those people who were rioting last week were back at business].
and then it happened.

one young man, walking directly in front of me, dropped what can only be described as a large roll of cash. or perhaps another way to describe it would be 'wad.' on top was a 2,000 shilling bill, inside i can only guess.
i would say, in approximation, he dropped about 200,000 to 300,000 shillings. could've been as little as 100k, or as much as 500k.
by the way, the average Tanzanian's income is less than 1 dollar a day, so that's less than 300,000 a year. granted in the city it's a bit higher, but not necessarily much.
thus, this young man dropped a year's salary on the street, and i stopped in my tracks.

then another young man, in much rattier clothes, picked it up and looked at me. i looked at him. his eyes seemed to say it already, but he quietly told me 'chill'.
i looked back, and i think my eyes spoke too: 'that money is not yours.'

he grabbed my hand, and we stopped in place. he asked me to stay quiet. in the meantime, the other young man started feeling in his pockets (he was muslim, wearing a full-length robe that i'm not sure of the name), and turned back to look for his cash.
he was panicking.
i would have too.

so he passed by us, and without talking, still hand-in-hand, i walked with the second guy to follow after him, and began calling out 'brother, brother'. he who found it was obviously more reluctant, but i did not have to drag him, and he eventually was the one who got the other man's attention.

so the loser turned around and we approached him, and i said simply 'you dropped this.'
i was prepared to make a comment on the generosity of the finder, when the loser said, without provocation, forcefully,
"i'm not giving up even 100 shillings" [equivalent: less than a dime]
he stormed away.

the finder looked at me, and again his eyes had words for me: "happy now?!"
he began walking away.

i was torn. half of me wanted to follow the loser and CHEW HIM OUT for being such an asshole.
[i have been advised to reduce my use of profanity in this blog to better represent PC, but i am sorry, for me the use of 'asshole' is a mild version of how i could express my feelings for this guy]

the other half, which won out, followed the finder, called out to him, and while reaching in my pocket beggingly pleaded to him "let's not steal from each other, right? at the end of the day, everyone will be broke". i gave him 1,000 shillings, he tersely thanked me, and walked away.

that was the end of it.
i'm trying to remember how this sort of thing might play out in the states. i guess it depends on where and who and when. at home, in wisconsin, wallets are turned into information desks of department stores when found in parking lots, at least sometimes.
in chicago - probably not so much.

but back to here and now. i am still shaking writing about this, i didn't think i could feel this strongly. this guy, the finder, though reluctant, knew that the decent thing to do would be to return this money that was not his to it's rightful owner. i encouraged this, and while it is likely he would not have given it back had i not been there, i in no way forced him to do so.
the loser? a young man, probably sent by his boss to make a bank deposit or something of the like, how does he show his appreciation? by telling us to piss off.

i am sure, guaranteed, that the finder will never again take the good-samaritan route.
and that makes me sad.
and mad.
and so i think i'll go home and talk to some TZ friends about this.
and then try to forget about how i turned one man's lucky day into the fish that got away, and saved the ass of another who turned out to be an ungrateful prick, who didn't even say thanks.

my faith in humanity, reaffirmed and rechallenged in the span of 1 minute.

**a short postscript to this entry. i feel the need to assure clarity of message to readers of this blog. in this post, i in no way have lost faith in Tanzanians, or Africans, or etc. To the contrary, i am still more than convinced that the Tanzanians I have met and know, and even some strangers I don't, are far more kind and friendly and decent than, say, New Yorkers. Sorry New Yorkers, but it's true, you're worse than Chicagoans, and that's why i've singled you out. But even Chicagoans, i'm not sure they can compare to many of the Tanzanians i meet.

So this story could've taken place in Chicago, or Stevens Point, or anywhere else. but it happened here, so i wrote about it. please don't read into it any cultural assumptions, or make collective assessments of the people here. it wouldn't be fair.

***and finally, though this incident has taken up an entire entry, it only reflects the last 10 minutes of my life here. other than that, things are good - i had a fun trip into a village, a description of which you can find in Andrews blog, link to the right. work at the teachers training college is going well, life in Misungwi is pleasantly normal, rain is more frequent and electricity is - dare i jinx it by saying - back on, on a regular basis. and that is the REST of my life, in a nutshell.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

ask for a little.....

yesterday was the craziest day of my life

FIRST, I was in Mwanza to teach my Lifeskills period at the Teachers Training College. That went fantastically well, they performed a great drama and I taught the most tiring and draining lesson that I think any of us health volunteers teach (it's about behavior change concepts. very abstract. vague answers. )

So what was crazy was what had preceded it: I had gone to the AMREF office and, after waiting fruitlessly for the internet to come back, decided to go get some lunch. On my way walking down the street, I saw some gawkers standing on a corner and looking down the road - usually a cue for me to keep on walking and don't look back. But I rubbernecked and checked to see what was going on, and saw about 10 individuals chucking rocks at a big building.

Over the next hour, I pieced together the following: There are guys who walk around the streets selling all kinds of stuff: pants, underwear, handkerchiefs, sunglasses, toothpaste, cheap plastic made-in-china trinkets, perfumes, electronics (that break after 10 minutes of use), the list goes on and on. Well, they're not supposed to be selling this stuff on the street. Though I later heard a claim that they had been given permission to do so during the election campaign, so no one would get upset, lets not ruffle any feathers. But now action is being taken, and yesterday the police confiscated all of their goods - quite a big loss to people that don't exactly have the easy life.

So they started chucking rocks. And breaking windows. And burning stuff. And vandalizing cars. People were running down the streets, sirens going off, sound of tear gas bombs being thrown. I at this point had gotten to my favorite restaurant, and looked on stunned as the owner quickly rushed to the entrance and locked us all in by slamming shut the big iron gate. He opened it up after about 10 minutes, and I immediately paid my bill and grabbed a cab to the offices, and then got the hell out of town as quick as I could.

Scattered news reports (since electricity was out), 1-3 people died. Lots of business vandalized, even as I was in a car going out of the city yesterday I saw that ALL the businesses had shut their doors, very unusual for middle of a Wednesday, I temporarily felt like I was in a war-zone, it was abandoned. My first thought was, 'this is the stuff that most Americans usually see on the news about Africa, funny I'm seeing it for the first time and it's completely unreal.'

So that was exciting. But I got out, taught my lesson, got a car home, and arrived in my house just in time.....

...for the biggest freaking monsoon of a rainstorm I have ever witnessed in my life. Winds, hail, pouring rain - my house flooded, I did my best to barricade doors and shutters and windows, though it didn't do much good. Moved a lot of stuff into my dry bedroom, which doesnt flood. All this while the electricity was out and it was too windy to use candles, so I was going by the faint glow of my cell phone light.

Now you do the math here: daytime rioting/tear gas bombs, overnight thunder, and Wednesday is the day I take my 'dream-enhancing' anti-malarial medication. Yeah, that was a fun night.

Thanks to all those sympathetic to the East African drought, but be more selective when asking for rain - we need just the right amount, not too little, not too much. All the corn around here is pathetically sagging to the ground, I can only hope it rebounds.

And on a completely unrelated but incredibly surreal note, the day BEFORE yesterday I was priviledged to watch the Miss World Tourism show, taped in Arusha, Tanzania. Pretty bizarre, when you're used to a culture where modesty is a virtue and women wrap cloth around the clothes they're already wearing, to see 100 ladies strutting their stuff in swimsuits. This pageant looked a little, well, how do I say this politely, 2nd rate. The models were ok, lots of wardrobe malfunctions (though none of the interesting type, the only thing that fell down were lots of bizarre hats). No representative from the USA. Miss Canada was, again looking for polite words here, 'beefy'. Maybe that's not polite. But hey, its cold there, right?!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

back and forth, and back

I've been blessed by a muse since my last update, which may or may not be related to having read the first 50 or so pages of the first Harry Potter novel - i was, to say the least, not impressed. OK for childrens reading, but perplexing when I recall all those businesswomen (and men) reading it on the El on the way home from work....

On Thursday night, after a long day of work at the office and an evening of watching entertaining, but poorly acted, Tanzanian dramatic 'films' [I guess I wasn't as fried as i thought - we watched for about 2 hours], I left my neighbors house and got ready for bed. I was feeling pretty happy - I had recently begun hanging out more with my friend whom I will call 'Ras', short for 'rasta', since he has dreaded hair - this evening I had spent with him and his 6 brothers and sisters, who share closet-sized rooms [curse you Harry Potter, 'closet' reference is NOT my muse speaking] in a somehow rundown building next door to my house. I got into bed and, as I was drifting in and out of stage 2 sleep, heard a seemingly far-off wailing sound. Friday, returning late evening from work, I got word that my friend's 13-year-old brother, who had been coughing and wheezing during the movie, had died late Thursday night. My friend, who is my age and the oldest member of the family around, was responsible for making burial arrangements.

This morning I had a near-nirvana experience; partly influenced by the fact that I was woken up at 8am by the PC car waiting to drive me back to site (I got a visitor today), partly by the car ride itself - can't beat an airconditioned landcruiser, partly by a violent night of 'HOSTAGE - starring Bruce Willis' inspired dreams, partly by a heavy blanket of fog covering both the rolling landscape and my hay-fever affected, itchy-as-hell eyes. The rain has become a steady presence these days, and it shows - grass has replaced the barren dustbowl fields, tree leaves are green and have ceased making amplified crumpling-of-paper noises when the wind blows, and people are out in the fields, farming away by handheld hoes.

It was a quiet, peaceful morning, and I got a good 30 minutes of solid reflection in before being greeted, welcomed, and cruelly mocked by the blaring, thumping celebration of my neighbors' choir rehearsal.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


so I just wrote a post a few days ago, and I'm at the internet now, mostly because every day there is electricity I feel this huge pressure to spend the whole day consumed in front of a computer, television, radio, or reading at night with a little more light than can be provided by a cheap candle....

but now that i've gotten here, i realize i dont have a whole lot to say.

that last sentence, more than the long-winded stories or anecdotes i've ever written on this blog thing, is occasionally the most accurate way of summing up my experience here. i kinda like it that way.

ok, screw blog, forget emails, even the stuff on nytimes is boring - every day it's war, taliban, confusingprescriptiondrugplan, nuclearcooperation (huh?!?! first - was surprised, and i'm being ironic here, that the first article i've read involve "bush" and "nuclear cooperation" did not in any way involve reduction or halting of weapons production. not saying that it was very feasible to get this outcome, but still not surprised. second - whoops, i forgot, i meant to say 'nukular') .

i'm off to drink uji (that porridge, remember?), shoot the shit with some local friends, basically VEG for the next 3 hours.... electricity is nice, but today i'm fried