how do you spell Misungwi?

Friday, May 19, 2006

bang! bang! bang!

No, I did not get shot, nor see fireworks.

I'm just a bit surprised at myself, because this is my third post in a week!! I had some errands to do in Mwanza and so decided to make a day of it. And since I was supposed to pick up a parcel at 2pm, and when I showed up they said 'whoops it's late come back at 5,' I figured what the hell, lets go for a triple play this week.

I'm not too proud of that baseball metaphor, especially since I don't like baseball and Tanzanians have no clue what it is.

So for the past week, a mobile VCT [voluntary counseling and testing] unit was in Misungwi to test people for HIV. There were about 200 people who got tested, which is fantastic. On average at the ANGAZA centers [means 'light' or 'illumination' in Swahili], around a quarter of the people who come to get tested are HIV+. So i'm hoping that however many were tested here, they have gotten some counseling and should be aware of the group for people living with HIV/AIDS. Which just recently divided itself into 2 separate groups, as membership had risen to over 40 people. I briefly debated whether or not this is a good or bad thing - but almost instantly decided it was nothing but good. Yes, it means there are more people with HIV, but those people were there already, and now they will be getting services and support that they need.

I had just come from visiting the tents they had set up to do the testing, having spoken briefly with the coordinator, and was feeling very positive about the incredibly difficult work that they do. So I went to search for yogurt [chunky milk], and found that they had run out at my two favorite spots. I went to a new 'kibanda' [wood shack] that was set up recently, and drank some there. Not very smooth, but still tasty. As I'm sitting there, enjoying my beverage and raving about the protein and calcium that I was getting [people all around me were drinking CocaCola], a young man on a bicycle pulled up and began speaking with the woman working at the milkstand. Now, this woman is already married, but has no children. I learned this because she is new to the area, and I hadn't been there for 1 minute before someone else had asked her this question. Well, she was asked again [by another person] after bike-boy had arrived. I call him bike-boy because when i say young man, I really mean boy - maybe 17 or 18 years old, an age at which men here still look fairly young.

I continued to sip my chunkymilk, my carpenter friend arrived and bought me a cake, and all the while we traded greetings and news briefs we observed the milkgirl and bikeboy chatting. It seemed bikeboy wanted milk, but milkgirl didn't believe [nor did I] that he had any money with which to pay. So she shyly, awkwardly, still an outsider, tried to express this to him, while he tried to reassure her that there was no problem, he had money, he would give it to her later.

I left with my carpenter friend, and immediately asked him
'so, what did you think of that bike boy?'
My friend said 'um, I don't really know him. But he seemed ok, for a youth.'
'Oh, yeah, so do you think he really wanted milk?'
'Maybe, yeah.'
'Oh. And anything else?'
'Yeah. He was [kutongoza] the milkgirl'

I can't think of a good English equivalent for that word. It's not flirting. Even 'hitting on' doesn't fit. Maybe 'tapping that' or some other crude slang. So yeah, it's as I had thought and seen. A young man, probably just recently finished primary school, blatantly hitting on and trying to bed a newly married woman. Well that's nice!

Of course, it's much better than what I saw about half an hour later. There is a spot on the main road called 'The Traffic Mango Tree', where lots of people sell roasted corn, porridge, peanuts, cassava, etc. So a young woman wanted to buy an ear of roasted corn. And the young man selling it said 'ok, lets go over there [pointing to an unfinished building nearby] and i'll sell you some corn,' with a really nasty dirty grin.

On a more positive note, electricity recently came to Misungwi Secondary School. So to celebrate, I decided to invite all the seniors to watch a short video on Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Talk about a party!! These students rarely get anything other than lecture in class, so they were thrilled to be able to watch a video. Of course, the lovely electric company decided to cut power about 2 minutes into the film, but the students [and teachers!] were so excited that they went and sought out a generator from the house of the teacher who lent the TV and VCR, and so the show went ahead as planned.

The video is graphic. It shows babies with gonorrhea infection in the eyes. It shows genitalia, male and female, in various stages of infections with blisters, puss, open sores, cuts. I mean, nausea-inducing. A classroom that I never expected would be able to be quite were absolutely silent for a good 10 minutes. Not even the expected snickering or murmuring. I of course gave them questions to answer after the video, which they have not yet answered [figures]. But I am betting the video not only bought me cred as a teacher, but also gave them something interesting to do on an otherwise humdrum afternoon, and hopefully scared them off of sex for at least a few days.

I had a hard time explaining to the wife of a fellow teacher, whom I visited for dinner that night, why I wasn't eating much that day. Without, that is, going into too much detail. They have the cutest kid, who really likes me, and likes to mimic everything I do. So at one point when I got down on the ground and covered my head ala tornado drill simulation [no clue how we got onto that topic], as soon as I had sat down again this little 2 year old boy stood up, went over to where I had demonstrated this task, and proceeded to crouch and cover like a PRO. It was hilarious.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but diamonds are...

what are they again?

all around my town, there are diamonds and gold.

there are a few big mines [including Williamson Diamond Mine, which if i'm not mistaken is the largest diamond mine in the world], Geita gold mines, and a whole lot of guys running around with shovels digging here and there and anywhere they can.

but it wasn't always this way. you know the game 'mancala'? Well, it's loosely based [i.e. simplified for stupid Americans] on a game prevalant throughout much of Africa. Here in Tanzania it's called 'bao' [wood, original name, huh?].

so it turns out that around my town, back in the day, people used to play this game bao guessed They had no clue what they were. Someone even told me people took them and plastered them onto fronts of their houses for decoration!

i can't really blame them, i mean who would think that a piece of rock could be so valuable? I can blame the Germans/English/Missionaries who first encountered these folks, because I'm eagerly willing to bet that they ripped them off royally to get as many of the diamonds as quickly as possible. even the current president of Tanzania is looking at renegotiating some of the contracts for the mining companies [all are foreign, most South African] because Tanzania apparently gets the short end of the stick.

research project: there is an insect here, it looks like a large black beetle. they are heavy, and make a sound like an old bus trying to climb up a steep hill. and they do the most peculiar thing - they fly madly around and around the ceiling, and the ceiling light, and then without warning they appear to retract their wings and suicide divebomb any of the pieces of furniture, or people, sitting below. then they rest, before they start all over again. why does this happen?!

you know the expression 'chicken legs' in English? well my best friend here, Dominic, has chicken legs. he's just a really skinny guy. so i went to his house on Sunday night because we had bought a chicken, and we killed it, cut it up, and gave it to his girlfriend to cook. so i told him about the expression 'chicken legs', and that it suited him rather well. He was not offended, laughed heartily, and then told me that in Swahili the teasing words of choice are 'walking on your hands'. So his friends in high school would come up to him, stick out their hands, and then stoop down and try to shake hands with his feet. I guess it made sense after i heard it, and it's kind of funny, but chicken legs just seems so much easier.

I had another good chat with one of my other good friends, the carpenter. we talked at length about the preparations he is making for his wife, who is due to deliver their 4th child any day now. I cannot write too much on this issue, as much of the discussion revolved around corruption in the health system, but he seemed overall positive [hoping for a boy], and it was fun exchanging perspectives on pregnant women [they eat dirt here, a sign of iron deficiency. i tried to explain pickles, with great difficulty].
but then he had to stop talking and start working, because he had to build a coffin for someone from a village who had just came, and was waiting to bury his father. i sat and watched for awhile, it was a peaceful but somewhat haunting experience. a carpenter toiling hard [no machines, so all sawing/sanding/finishing was done by hand] and a grieving son shelling out close to 50 dollars [i.e. 1-2 months salary] so his father could rest in peace.
after he was finished, i told my friend that i wanted to be 'burned' [cremated]. he seemed shocked, but then i explained myself a bit [want to put my ashes around a tree sapling or something cheesy like that] and he got really enthusiastic about it. i doubt he would ever be cremated, he will most certainly be buried, but now i get the impression if i were to die today or tomorrow, he'd be there to defend my body from the diggers, and get his apprentices to light a nice toasty fire...

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Internet in Misungwi sucks these days, thus the sporadic posts. This also means that my mind is pretty well clogged with a ton of random events from the past few weeks, and once again I find myself lacking any coherent thread with which to string my various scattered thoughts together.

So better to admit that up front and go for bullet-point, no-flow, points-over-prose, [in the spirit of George W. Bush] black-and-white, up vs. down, good vs. bad, basics. Right? Maybe? Bueller?
I just hope that, were I to do a scientific poll of readers of this blog, my approval rating would more than a cool, paltry 30%.

+ I met a man from the Congo! DRC, that is, for the politic-savvy. Not sure why this is a ‘plus,’ he’s just a normal guy, not a pygmy, but it seemed pretty cool at the time when I met him.

- I have been cutting up and drying hot peppers for use in my cooking [on the rare occasion I prepare something other than fruit]. I went outside to rearrange the plate and better expose them to the sun, and stopped to pick out a piece that was too big. I think we can see where this is going. About 5 minutes later, as I was reading, I rubbed my eyes. About 1 minute after that, I was officially crying. Another minute, and I was enjoying my second bath of the day, this one unexpectedly cold.

+ It rained a few days ago, so I have 60 liters of fresh drinking water. This is something I’ve raved about on this blog at least 5 or 6 times, but still warrants mention, as it is truly fantastic every time it happens….

- I got into, shall we say, a ‘heated discussion’ with an accountant from TANESCO, the electric company here. They had overcharged me 900 shillings, and I wanted them to remove that from my bill. The accountant had a stunned look on his face and said something to the effect of ‘come on, white guy, that is such a small amount just pay it and let’s get past this, huh?!’ To which I replied ‘hey, jerk, that 900 shillings buys me a nice cold beer at the end of a long day of work, so f*&$ you, fix it.’ Well, I wasn’t that mad at the beginning, but towards the end of the exchange….. Anyways, I got it taken care of, and immediately went for not one, but two beers to calm my nerves.

+ My alma-matter search is complete. After seeing a shirt from P.J. Jacobs Junior High Choir waaay back when during training in Morogoro, and then seeing several University of Chicago shirts in Mwanza, I finally spotted a bright red ‘SPASH Phy Ed’ tshirt yesterday. It was worn by a driver of one of the many bike taxis, the most common form of transport in a town where the only cars are for the purpose of going into Mwanza, but people [myself included] still don’t feel like having to walk around everywhere.

- I gave students at the secondary school a debate topic during our ‘Lifeskills’ period – should the Tanzanian Government make the production and sales of alcohol illegal? I was very pleased that many good points were raised, including the social costs [domestic violence, rape, unsafe sex] and economic pluses and minuses [lost labor time, jobs created, etc]. Yet at the end of the day, globalization reared its ugly head. A good majority of these kids are proud of Tanzanian beers, and think their production should be continued as a great symbol of the industry of the nation. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that half of the ones they listed as examples were owned by South African companies, though they may be bottled in Mwanza. Kinda goes along with people thinking the cell-phone companies are Tanzanian [Vodafone is English], or that Fanta Orange has real Tanzanian oranges in it….

? Speaking of beverages, but unsure whether to call this a plus or a minus – the yogurt that I’ve been enjoying almost every day, so I hear, is produced with milk from African Buffaloes. Well, not wild buffalos in the Serengetti or anything, but cows that were interbred with buffalos on a farm about 20 km from here. The yogurt is damn good, but those ‘Nyati,’ as they are called in Kiswahili, are some scary looking beasts.

+ Breakthrough at my neighbors house. It is rare here for a house to be occupied by just a nuclear family [or should I say nukular, if I’m writing in the spirit of W?]. So at my next door neighbors, where I often eat dinner, there is at any given time between 7 and 15 people staying, even though the family of the owner consists of just himself, his wife, and their 3 children. Sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews [some are orphans], and other relatives [‘ndugu’] fill up the other spots. So a few weeks ago, a young woman who is a relative of the father came, after being kicked out of the previous house where she had been staying. She came with her two small children, aged 2 and 4, even though she herself doesn’t look much older than 20. The two year old is a small boy named Michael who, like many other Tanzanian children, was terrified of me when he first saw me!! ‘Mom, I’m scared of the white guy!’ ‘Mom, he’s close to me!! He’s close to me!!’ Those are actual direct translations from what this little guy said. So anyways, it took about a week and a half, but Michael and I finally got each other figured out. I don’t make any sudden movements or loud noises, and he tries to steal my phone, hit me, or just sit there and laugh at me. It seems to be working out. Thank goodness, because it’s not very pleasant to know you are responsible for making small children cry so hard that they can’t even eat dinner.

- On the way to TTC the other day, which was a big + as it was the last period before summer break and club members were there in force, eager and excited to learn, I saw a young woman on the side of the road who looked like a large dwarf. As in, she was short but not really short, and her body structure [arms and legs] showed signs of dwarfism. Behind her were some children, who had just gotten out of primary school, who were laughing at her. She was walking slowly away, and had an expression on her face that registered a terrible mix of emotions like sadness and resignation. I almost started crying in the car. I had to tell myself that what I saw was a short glimpse of her life, and it is entirely possible [and perhaps likely] that she has some great friends, a husband, a family at home. Disability is more common here, and more noticeable – there are many people with twig-sized legs, who do without wheelchairs by pulling themselves around with their hands. And there are albinos, and blind people, and people without disabilities but with rather noticeable scars or deformities or untreated medical conditions [goiter, anyone?]. And when I think about it, I almost feel that they are treated better here than at home, because at least here people in any given neighborhood are expected to know each other, help each other out, greet each other, in other words acknowledge each other as fellow human beings. Is that the case in the States, in large urban centers? I dunno, I can't remember.

+ I’m working with a community drama group to prepare skits to present to the public, often with an HIV/AIDS message. But they were looking for help/advice on some short humorous skits to get people laughing [non-stop ‘AIDS kills AIDS kills’ is kind of a downer]. So I thought about it for awhile, and have done my best to try to translate ‘Who’s on First?’ into Kiswahili. Without, of course, the baseball reference, since they don’t know baseball here.

? Um, this is a questionmark-bordering-minus I think, as it raises serious questions regarding my mental stability. I had a bizarre dream last night [once again thanks to anti-malarial medications], that involved a crude, somewhat explicit, let’s say R rated version of the song ‘You are 16 going on 17’ from the Sound of Music. I mean, what’s up with that?!?! I can’t remember the lyrics, but they were pretty scandalous. Since it’s an awful movie, and rabid fans whom I met when traveling near Salzburg further repulsed me, I seem to have blocked out all details of the film. I know it’s a boy serenading a girl, whom he later tries to round up for encampment [way to go man, you know how to please the ladies]. In my dream version, the person playing the part of the girl was a 30-year-old or so refugee from Burundi [this is a character from a Tanzanian movie that I saw at a neighbors house] and the guy playing the soon-to-be-Nazi role was, um, the same guy who does Harry Potter in the movies. yikes!

+ I am not typically one to cheer against people. I dislike many, but hate few. I applaud winners, but always feel bad for the silver medalists, the losers, their friends and their loved ones. I often prefer passive-aggressive scowling, combined with passionately unenthusiastic gestures of disregard and disapproval, over direct confrontation. Last week the neighborhood hooligans, frequent recipients of aforementioned scowls, finally, after a drawn out battle, were forced to leave the house they had been renting. I had written about them before – they have a church choir which plays, loudly, the same songs over and over and over every day. At top volume. At about 5 pm, which is typically when I get home from work. And lately, on top of that, they had added a good 30-45 minutes of just plain goofing off after the rehearsal [while still relying heavily on their amplifiers]. Well, they’re GONE!! The house is DESERTED!! They moved, and I sat in my yard reading and watching while they packed up. And I celebrated, openly, joyously, with an obnoxious grin on my face that even my other neighbors couldn’t help noting. So the next day, when some of the no-good punk youth [probably inebriated] returned to the house and proceeded to scream, bang, slam doors, pound walls, climb the roof, etc etc, I decided enough was enough and stormed out of my house to tell them off. Except that my guard beat me to it. Yes, he’s still there, and I appreciate him more and more daily. He seems tired/slow/stoned but is actually a rather feared man – they say it’s his tribe, a warrior bunch. So he also pounced, and really told these guys off. Words were exchanged, mothers were insulted, and all-in-all it was quite a spectacle. After about 3 minutes these guys shut up, clearly aware that my guard 1) is mkali [fierce] and 2) knows their father. No empathy at all, serves them right.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

why yes please, I would very much so like a cup of tea.....

It is May. May 6. Mayday has come and gone - to celebrate I conciously chose to decline the 6 or so cocacolas I was offered in celebration by government coworkers [who are, in fact, the only people who get the day off on 'workers' day. Them and teachers]. Doing my part to fight globalization, a very small, futile, part...

Yesterday we had 'wageni rasmi', distinguished visitors. A bunch of them. As in, I got to ride in a motorcade!!! Some big shots from the Ministry of Education came to visit two primary schools in my area to assess the program that I work with, MEMA kwa Vijana, which helps teachers teach reproductive health lessons to students from grades 5-7.

So the visit was fantastic. There were about 50 guests piled into 10 cars [thus the motorcade - I was in the front car, though almost wish I was in the last one to see people's faces after the previous 9 sped by...]. We split up and visited two different primary schools. I went to one that I had been to before, and the teachers there were very excited to see me - I helped to train them [especially on condoms], and it had been a while since I last saw them.

So, the special guests went into 3 different classrooms and watched the teachers teach a lesson, then asked the students some questions. 'How many of you are going to pass and go on to secondary school' - ALL raised their hand. I was amazed at the confidence of both the teachers and the students. Self confidence is often lacking, I daresay it is almost a cultural thing here that people often tend to be reserved and hesitant to vocally raise concerns, opinions, etc. But the teachers and students were very candid and clear, and the guests got it loud and clear - we are doing good work here, and the students are benefitting from it.

After the classroom teaching, we gathered in the courtyard of the school to watch a local drum dance, listen to a poem reading, and finally a rap presented by about 10 young students. The drumming I had already seen before, though it was still impressive. The poem made me tear up, I shit you not. It was amazing!! These students were speaking so clearly, confidently, and about topics that are often difficult to discuss [one young girl firmly stated something like the following - "hey you old men. stop seducing young girls, stop raping us. you are infecting us with your diseases, you are ruining are lives. we want to study, we want to grow, we want to choose what we do with our lives."]

Then during the rap, one of the younger guys had such a great sense of beat and rythym and word-style that I wish I had a recorder to tape him, so I could take it to the studios absolutely sure that they would sign him for a record deal, based on some of the CRAP I hear on a regular basis on the radio....

So it was a pretty whirlwind 3 hours or so, and after it was done we said our goodbyes and piled into the cars and sped off to Mwanza to a fancy hotel for lunch. I had to bite my tongue a bit - there were comments about how poor one of the schools looked, there were dirt floors, students had no desks, there are 6 toilet holes for 600 students [not to mention only 13 or so teachers].... and there we were having a lunch that probably could've boughten ALL the needed furnitures.

But I was too worried about that, you see, I had another problem. Everyone I was with was, well, most of them were from Dar es Salaam, all were fabulously wealthy by Tanzanian standards, and they were refined. That is a word I do not like. I am proud NOT to be refined, at times. Who am I trying to impress anyways? Well yesterday I was a bit ashamed, because everyone was using a knife and fork to eat their food.

Now, is this such a problem? Well, first remember that for basically the last year and a half, 2 of my 3 meals of the day are eaten with my hands. And these are not sandwiches, I'm talking about fish and rice and meat and beans, etc etc.....
Secondly, I felt the whole knife/fork thing was taken to a bit of a ridiculous extreme. I understand eating a fish filet with a knife and fork, but fried chicken?? How on earth can you get all the meat off the bone? Hell, many Tanzanians then like to break open the bone and suck out the marrow, you sure as heck can't do that with utensils!!!

So I did the best I could, struggling for about 10 minutes, then gave in and started eating with my hands. I did not, however, lick my fingers. I don't think anyone noticed, and after lunch I continued to try to shmooze with these bigshots and got no questions or comments like 'Oh, you are from America, huh? And in America do you eat like barbarians with your hands? Or do you have forks and knives there as well?".....

other news:
The way things are going, I will be teaching nothing but condoms by the time I leave here. I had a lesson at the TTC on Wednesday all about condoms, which of course went well, I've never taught condoms and had a disappointed audience. It's far from over though, so i'll be continuing where I left off [female condoms!!!! this is where the lesson gets fun, from giggles and jokes to absolute silence, COMPLETE attention].

My garden, after a series of temporary setbacks, now officially rules. I have onions, spinach, pumpkin, zuchinni, carrots, sunflowers - what next?!! And even better news, one of my papaya trees has started bearing fruit, as well as the passionfruit vine. Now just keeping my fingers crossed for bananas, I just want to eat ONE piece of TROPICAL fruit from a tree that I planted before I leave...

More later. Time to go home, it's trash-burning day!! My favorite time of the week! These are not exclamation points of irony!! Really!