how do you spell Misungwi?

Sunday, April 30, 2006

random thoughts

I'm in Mwanza town, having just enjoyed, REALLY enjoyed, a smaller scale version of the breakfast brunch that I enjoyed in Dar. nice.

Last night I came into town to teach another period at the Teachers Training College. I went on Thursday to attend the graduation, which was a fantastic experience. I got to see traditional dancing [ngoma], songs, poems, speeches, and my 5 good friends who were in the Lifeskills club who were graduating were VERY excited to see me and take pictures. It was a nice break from normal work, and a rare opportunity to really see some of the impact that I guess i'm having on these folks.

However, graduation combined with Easter, Muslim holidays [id el something i forget], Tanzanian Union day [celebrating the merger of Tanganyika, i.e. the mainland, and Zanzibar], and the upcoming May 1st national holiday [woohoo socialist roots!!!], has led to major disruption of our studying schedule. So they invited me to come spend the night at the college, and stay overnight in one of the guest houses. So I came, and we met to study the disease progression and testing procedures for HIV. Well, we started at 8:00 with about 15 people and finally finished up at quarter to 11 with a good 30+ club members!! I was really shocked and pleased, they didn't even appear to be too tired, all seemed very interested in the topic at hand.
It also provided me a very interesting opportunity to see college life here in Tanzania.
It's not that different from the states. Crowded, loud, dirty, noisy, but full of youthful energy, passionate conversations, and hard working people. I dare say harder working people - how many american college students get together to study on Saturday night, and then make it to Church the next morning at 8?!?!

There is one other thing that always amazes me when I'm on my way out to the TTC. There is a big market on the corner of the main road and the unpaved one that goes out to the college, and there are ladies selling all kinds of fruits and produce, woven mats to sit/pray on, clay pots, clothes, etc. Now those of you who know me well know that I hate shopping, and thus have very little expertise when it comes to department store sales. But one thing i'm most sure of is that if any department store in the States tried to display their clothes the way it's done here, they'd be out of business.

Imagine a coat hanger. It's a triangle, right? Now take that triangle and make it into a circle. Then make it bigger. Then stretch a dress or skirt around it, making sure that the waist area of this garment looks like it's about to bust because of this circle of wire. This is how Tanzanian women assess their potential purchases. By making sure there's plenty of room where it counts, because that IS where it DOES count, at least in this culture. There's even a swahili word for 'big butt', which is 'wowowo' [i like to think it means whoa whoa whoa because people are impressed].

Speaking of wowowo - sometimes in Swahili, in order to add emphasis or slightly change the meaning of a word, it is repeated several times. So 'hapa' means 'here,' and 'hapahapa' means 'right here.' For some reason the other day, when I was at a nearby volunteers house feasting on some excellent chilli they made to celebrate Union day [even though there's no connection remotely between Tanzania and chili other than that there's lots of beans here....], I commented that this chili would be really good with a baked potato. But that there's not enough big potatoes here to make it work. I was then challenge - 'why sure, there are big potatoes here!' To which I replied, in English, 'well yeah, but bakedpotatobakedpotatobakedpotato?!!' It made sense at the time....

Rains are improved, though it hasn't rained since last week, when I had gone to the big weekly friday market to buy dustbins for condom disposal in guesthouses, and got caught in the downpour on my way home. Tanzanians, despite having a 'rainy season', don't really deal with rain. The basic strategy is that, if it starts to rain, you seek out the nearest awning or house and wait until it stops. Because it pretty much always does. So that's what I did, I stopped.

There was a kick-ass rainbow that followed, one that reminded me of a science class from 7th grade. Every rainbow has a second, complimentary rainbow above it, which is fainter, and is also inverted in colors [VIBGYOR]. I think at one point in my life I started a band called 'inverted rainbow', but that seems awfully lame looking back on it....

All this typing has got me hungry again - time to go find some yogurt. Which the more I look at it is really just chunky milk here, but I like it. None of this skim crap.

Friday, April 21, 2006

and.... i got nothing

I've just spent 5 minutes staring at a blank computer screen, trying to figure out what to write.

But that's OK, because there's air conditioning!!!

Well, so things are going pretty well here, other than a boil on my knee (?!) that hurts.

SUNDAY - Easter day. I slept in until 9am, which is basically unheard of here [in fact, I believe it is the ONLY time i've slept in past 8 in the year and a half i've been here]. I spent the day hanging out, baking brownies and banana bread to bring to my neighbors, then GORGING myself on an Easter feast of goat, spiced rice, milk, fruits, and the cakes. I ate full meals at 2pm and again at 8pm, and didn't eat on Monday until late lunch. stuffed.

TUESDAY - I didn't do anything. It was nice.

WEDNESDAY - Part two of my condom seminar for workers at the guesthouses (hotels) in Misungwi town. Can I just say, after I finish my two years here, I believe I will look back on this as the most fun of any of my projects. The participants NEVER have gotten any sort of trainings like this (some didn't even attend school - of 12, 3 could not read or write their names). They wore their fancy clothes, brought their own notebooks and pens even though I provided them, and were really excited and anxious to participate and show some pride for the underappreciated work that they do.
The highlight was easily a roleplay session on how to sell condoms. I started by roleplaying the guesthouse worker, basically doing the worst possible job I could and making it very difficult for someone to buy condoms (raising the price, laughing, ignoring, not being too discreet, etc).
Then I asked for volunteers to roleplay ways to improve on my performance, to correct the mistakes I had made, and almost every single participant ended up doing a little drama - and doing them damn well. It gave me a whole lot of confidence that these folks can really get the job done. I plan on following up with them in the upcoming weeks to make sure that they have condoms available at each guesthouse, advertisements are up, displays are ready, etc.

FRIDAY - this morning I managed to make 2 little kids cry, just by looking at me. New meaning to 'freaky friday', as I do indeed feel like a walking sideshow on occasion.
I'm off to the big market today, which is a weekly thing on friday, to look for small dustbins to give to the guesthouse workers to put in the bathrooms for condom disposal.

That's all I got. I'm gonna have to regroup on this blog thing, it's falling apart.
I once again request suggestions/questions for future topics.

Friday, April 14, 2006

champagne and granola, rice and beans

i haven't written for about two weeks, in no small part because 4 of those days i was stuck on a bus. i think the title of this post sums up rather nicely, in order, the 1st and 2nd of these weeks


I spent the first week in april traveling to and from Dar es Salaam to attend a meeting of volunteer representatives from all over the country, to voice volunteer concerns and address these issues to the peace corps staff. blah blah blah blah...... even though I only got to stay for 3 days in the big city, i had a blast spending time with my fellow volunteers whom I rarely get to see [or meet new ones i've never even met], and do all the things american volunteers love to do when they get the chance, including:

going to the American Club, which is like a country club that is free for all Americans, and you can rent DVDs, get great food like sandwiches and mexican and burgers, go for a swim in the pool, etc.

going BOWLING?!?! that was kind of a surreal experience. it was remarkably similar to a bowling alley at home, only a lot more Indian people, and the average weight of the bowlers had to be a good 20 pounds lower than in central wisconsin. I bowled like a 115 or something - not too bad since i haven't played in 2 years...

surfing the internet at the PC office volunteer lounge, without paying! and it's fast satellite internet!! this is my excuse why i haven't written a blog entry, i was too busy reading news, searching for good books in the lounge library, watching comedy central clips, and the like.

and finally, perhaps the highlight of the entire trip to dar, and the thing that made the 4 days of sitting on a busride through Kenya to get to and from Dar [yes, 4 days on a bus for a 3 day meeting, isn't that nice?!] ----- the Holiday Inn breakfast buffet.

The Holiday Inn is one of the top hotels in Dar in terms of luxury. They have a breakfast buffet every day of the week, which costs a whopping 12,000 shillings [about 10 dollars, expensive even in the states!!]. So what on earth would make a PCV shell out 2 days worth salary to eat at this breakfast buffet? In no particular order of preference, here are the answers to that question:

individual pots of coffee, hot chocolate, or tea
breads with assorted cheeses, cheese ball, and deli meats
assorted flavors of yogurt
granola oats with option to mix raisins, apricots, cashews, prunes, dates, etc....
a large variety of fresh fruits [mangoes, banana, apple, pineapple, etc]
sugary cereals available in those fun travel-sized boxes [i had cocoa krispies]
eggs made any way you like [fried, sunny side up, scrambled, omelet]
fried tomatoes
assorted syrups and sauces [including chocolate sauce]
assorted fresh fruit juices

and the real kicker - this is a buffet. Which means once you start, you can keep going until they kick you out at noon. We got there around 9am, left around 11:30. I lost track of how many plates I managed, but i didn't eat much the rest of the day, that's for sure.

fast forward

i survived the bus ride back despite a breakdown near arusha [for those interested, trace the main road north from Dar, through Nairobi, and back to Mwanza - that was my route]. i was very warmly recieved by people back in Misungwi. In fact, i took it as a sign of my level of integration that some people didn't even notice I had been gone - apparently i manage to blend in as much as a white person can that I'm no longer the spectacle i once was.

i also brought back with me a bunch of 8 coconuts, which i got for about 80 cents on the road out of dar. As much as i hate bus rides, i REALLY enjoy purhcasing things out of bus windows, since at every potential stop or crossroads en route, there are MOBS of older women or younger men trying to sell coconuts, fruits, buckets of tomatoes, dried fish, souvenier crap, you name it.
so i bought coconuts, and this past wednesday my housegirl cooked rice and beans for me. rice and beans and COCONUT.

this is something that we had every day when I was staying in Morogoro, but Mwanza is by a lake, not the ocean, and there aren't too many coconut trees so they are expensive. Needless to say, suffering withdrawl after the holiday inn extravaganza, the ZING provided by the coconut [as well as the side of guacamole] really made coming back to rice and beans OK.

other news in brief:

the rains have improved, and while there is still talk of 'hunger' this year [and corn is continuing
to be distributed to those in most need], at least some crops should work out this year.

i will be using my long easter weekend, and the fact that the schools are closed next week, to finish up work on my Condom project with guesthouse workers. FUN! looking forward to it.

i knew i was settled back home when, after taking my larium on Wednesday, i actually had a dream in which i was speaking Kisukuma - kiswahili i've been dreaming for months now, but this was the first in the tribal language. Impressive? try confusing - i was, for some reason, speaking it with a bunch of other white people...