how do you spell Misungwi?

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Wow, it's been a while since my last post.
Two weeks.

I've been insanely busy, working with primary school inspectors from several districts near me to help train them for the AMREF program I participate in [see info on the side of this blog, and AMREF website]. That was for the first week.

Then my friend and fellow teacher here in Misungwi helped me to facilitate a 4-day seminar for secondary school teachers on how to teach HIV/AIDS and Lifeskills to their students. It was fantastic, though fantastically tiresome. But the teachers were passionate, active, inquisitive, really enjoyed an opportunity to speak with some guests who are members of a PLWHA group [living with HIV]... in general it was just a great time.

Maybe the one disturbing part came up during the final evaluation. I asked everyone to write 'one good thing' and 'one bad thing' - the good things were all great, because they were all compliments for me and Dominic on how great we ran things and the interesting topics. The bad points were typical [food, transportation] but then one bad point ran something like this:

"In general, I found the services of the hotel where we stayed unsatisfactory. In particular, that there seem to be many young girls who hang around and have sex for money, and what seems to be a very small amount at that."

This was obviously a concern, as the whole seminar was about trying to help people change these behaviours. So I went and spoke to the guesthouse owner, and showed him the comment. I also showed some of the young women who work in the bar/guesthouse, and whom I suspsect may be the ones mentioned in the comment.

One of them said, and this is almost a direct translation, "How embarassing!! This guy wrote that we have sex for very little money!"

The emphasis there seemed to be on the little money part, i.e. they were ashamed they weren't getting paid more.

Point missed.

However, overall, it was a great experience. One which I will have NO time to digest, because tomorrow my parents are arriving!! That's right, for the next two weeks I will be showing them around my house and Tanzania at large, living it up as much as I can and squeezing them for as many nice meals as possible. So this is an advanced warning for the long blog-entry hiatus forthcoming. But hey, since most of my readers are in the States I assume, and it's summer, get off your butts and go outside and enjoy the weather!!! I'm doing the same - it's the dry season here, and actually a bit cool - or at least not unpleasantly, excruciatingly hot.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

It's all about perspective and crap

First, I'll apologize for my last post. It's not awful, but not particularly exciting either, and definitely not very well written.

Part of the reason for this is, as I had written, work has been crazy and I have about a million things on my plate. Another reason is that I was starting to feel sick.

I've written a bit about health issues here in Tanzania before, and then swore that it would be the last I had to say on the subject. Well, I feel like talking about it again. So for those of you who are too lame or wimpy to continue, skip down towards the end of this post. For anyone up for a good laugh, or 'ew gross', let us continue...

I wrote my last post from the internet cafe at the Mwanza Post Office, and I hadn't even made it from there to the bus stand when I started to feel 'bloated.' Now, there are many reasons someone might feel bloated, and this is certainly not a first for me here. So I just did my best to ignore it on a particularly nasty ride back to my town, then passed out in my bed and got a good 10 hours of sleep.

The next morning, I woke up feeling great. Hooray! I must've just been really tired. OK, so all's clear, I went about my work for the day. Except that, come about 11am, I started bloating up again, with a fever to boot. Now this sort of thing in the States, while it still sucks, would typically prompt regret over a bad burrito or something and be left at that. In Tanzania, fever/bloating/nausea/diarrhea could be symptoms of any of the following:
amoebic dystentary
bacilic dystentary
food poisoning

So we PCVs are taught, ala pavlov's dogs [minus the drooling], to hear alarm bells in our heads as a response to any symptoms that are vague and increasingly discomforting, and we start paying extra attention. By paying attention, I mean really 'getting in tune with the inner workings of our body.' Which may mean regular temperature taking, drinking plenty of water, resting, etc. It may also mean an overly critical analysis of our feces.


So yes, I had diarrhea yesterday. Care to know details about consistency, frequency, color, blood, etc? I thought you might say yes!! Not the diarrhea where you're making a dash to the toilet every 2 minutes, but the kind where you hear rumblings and gurglings for a few hours, and then spend 10 unpleasant minutes, as I wrote in my previous entry, 'unloading a heavy parcel.' At least this type gave me enough time to relieve myself in the comfort of my own bathroom.

Now, every Peace Corps Volunteer is given the greatest book every published, our bible, which is called 'Where there is no Doctor.' It is basically a book about every possible health problem someone could have, common symptoms, and whether or not to scream for help. Then we also have a guide to health problems in East Africa, put out by PC. So i flipped through them a bit to see if I had anything to worry about.

I'm making myself feel sick again just writing this. SPEED version to finish up this unpleasant, but quite riveting yes?, story:
-bloating increased
-fever went away
-closest descriptive match for my poop in the book is 'Cholera: watery diarrhea classically described as looking like rice water [water used to clean dirt and gunk off of uncooked rice]'
-description in my words: 'peeing bailey's irish cream out of my butt'
-next morning confusion: chunky, but with blood?!! Could be giardia now...

Anyways, the moral to this story is that today I'm feeling quite a bit better, but still tiptoeing around with the anticipation that all this unpleasantness could return without warning. And hoping that it can all be traced back to some funky french fries I had a few days ago, and not worms or a disease with which my only previous contact has been burying friends and relatives, and writing obscene epitaphs, on a third grade trip down the Oregon Trail...


Was woken up this morning by a man walking around our neighborhood with a bullhorn. This happens frequently, I'd say at least twice a week. But they're not talking crazy religious stuff here - he was reading out death announcements.

So the title of this entry is 'perspective and crap.' I talked about the 'and crap' already, so now a bit on perspective. I mentioned in my last post that I really enjoyed the movie 'Constant Gardner.' And it's true, I really did. I especially loved the part [and laughed out loud along with Meena] where the young white woman is bombarded with 'How are YOU?' greetings by the little children, because that's really what happens!! But there was one scene that rather shocked me, and I've been thinking about it for the entire week that has passed since I saw it.

The closing scene shows two young boys, running along the side of the road [probably following the car in which the cameraman was located], smiling and giving 'thumbs up'. Albeit, they were wearing pretty ratty clothing, and this was obviously not the nicest neighborhood in Nairobi, in fact it was probably pretty close to the Kibera slum.

Now, i've been here in Africa for almost two years. And the first reaction I had when seeing this shot was, oh look!, these cute little boys are having fun chasing a car!

Then I heard the soundtrack. It was a sad song, one that is supposed to provoke deep reflection and pity.

Then I realized it. For many moviegoers, these young boys live in an absolute hellhole, have ratty clothes, look slightly malnourished, and will probably die of malaria or AIDS or some other disease or hardship of life before they reach 30. It was a completely different perspective from the one that I had.

I've since been asking myself, if i've just become so accustomed and blind to the problems here, and willing to accept these poor young boys as having a good time with the simple pleasures that are available to them, like chasing a fancy car down the street?! Or were the movie directors condescending enough to claim that only rich people can have a fulfilling, happy life?

I don't know. But it's worth thinking about.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

[insert culturally appropriate greeting here]

so i get to raise an issue on the other end of the greeting spectrum, forget this 'war on Christmas' bullcrap.

One of the reasons I haven't written in a few weeks is that i've been INSANELY busy. I visited my good friend Meena in Musoma, which was fantastic because I got to watch movies [Constant Gardner and Crash, both very good], eat delicious food, and talk to someone that I feel very close to and we understand each other. As much as I love Tanzanians, and even if they could understand my American english, it's just not the same!!

Well, another reason is that i've had a ton of work. Last week I was in a 3 day 'stakeholders meeting' for reform of the district government near me. It was 3 LONG days, though I enjoyed hobnobbing with all the important people in my area [district government folks, teachers, religious leaders]. Seeing as it's on a rather sensitive topic, i.e. how poorly the local government is planning and running the work they do, I will not comment on any of the material itself. Some areas they are really doing well, some not so well. It was fun for me to participate and help them make plans and find ways to improve what is going on, the 'outsider' always has an interesting perspective so I had some fairly bigshots listening attentively to what I say, rather atypical for me.

So every morning, they greeted us as follows:

Salaam alekhoum? [alekhoum es salaam]
Bwana Yesu asifiwe? [amina]

That's a muslim greeting basically saying 'are things peaceful', and a christian greeting saying 'don't let Christ die' or 'Christ hasn't left us' or something like that [response = 'believe it!]

where was the secular greeting, 'good morning'? there was none. I wasn't a huge fan of that.

other highlights of the meeting:

no place to take a crap. this was dealt with using very delicate kiswahili, i.e. 'if you feel anything heavy, you may want to go unload it now before we start our work for the day'

my name was spelled BLIAN at least 5 times

the last day was incredibly long, lasted until 8pm, and I was dead tired. we had spent the day making plans for policy, which included the following headings
Department, Area, Goal, Priority level, Justification, Policy action

so for example....

Department:Office of Water
Area: Well water
Goal: Clean drinking water for every village by 2010
Priority level: TOP
Justification: poor water causing diseases in villages currently
Policy Action: Survey and build 1 deep water well per village

So I got pretty darn tired, both physically and mentally, and so I sketched up my OWN policy plan and shared it with one of my friends. She started laughing so hard she had to leave the room, and then proceeded to show a bunch of respected government people, including the ward executive officer of my area..... I was afraid they would be offended, but they all apparently thought it was the funniest thing they'd seen over the entire 3 days, and couldn't stop talking about it.

Department: BRIAN
Area: Todays work
Goal: Achieve complete rest and relaxation by 6:00pm
Priority level: TOP
Justification: I am freakin tired
Policy Action: Skip out on the rest of this seminar and go home

and let's see, the final highlight of this experience may have been seeing my old landlord. Now, had this meeting been 2 years ago, he would've been involved in the finance committee. but he had 'problems,' and lost his job. so here we all are, listening to the facilitator, and i look out the window and see this man [who's rather chubby] having an incredibly difficult time trying to steer/rope a goat that had apparently escaped. he was kicking, pulling it, pushing it, and even picked it up for awhile. I couldn't help laughing, nor noticing that I wasn't the only one amused....

In other news:
My good friend who fixes my bike was apparently ditched by his wife. He's a fantastic guy, seems very sensitive and pretty quiet even though he's a welder and is rather rough/ragged looking, so when I asked him 'what's up' the other day, he was hesitant to share.
He had asked to borrow my bike the other day because he missed his wife and wanted to visit her. She had told him she went to visit a sick relative about a half an hour away. I couldn't lend him the bike because I needed it, so I said sorry and told him we would meet up later.
So he shelled out his hard earned money to get a minibus ride to his wife's village. Well, to near it, and then walked for abotu 2 hours. And when he got there? She wasn't there. Nor had she been there that week, that month, or in recent memory.
At first he presented this very straightforwardly, and then kind of lost it and teared/choked up a bit. I had a hard time figuring out how to console him, definitely couldn't give him a hug [his shop is right next to the main market, very busy area], but wanted to show some support. So I said something stupid to try to cheer him up, something that would normally provoke eye rolling but at the time seemed appropriate. She still hasn't turned up.

There's a new soap opera, but i'm not watching it. It's not very well done, it's Phillipino and people always say I look like one of the main characters. Umm...

Speaking of which, the soap opera led to an interesting conversation the other day. Why do ALL white women have fake hair? Um, what do you mean, I asked. Well, they all wear weaves, and have really long hair. Why aren't there any who just braid it or leave it natural?
Oh, I exclaimed. Then went on to clarify that, in fact, the long hair they were referring to was real, that white people [and asian people, and other people who aren't black Africans] have naturally sleek and long hair. They were apparently shocked by this revelation, I have rocked some worlds. Namely the worlds of the ladies who spend 3 hours a week at the salon getting a bad wig woven on, or having their hair relaxed against all natural forces.

I was offered a camera in Mwanza a few days ago. 'Only one hundred dollars my friend' I dont have a hundred dollas. 'Because you're my friend [never met this guy before], i'll sell it to you for 50'. I don't have 50 dollars, I have 10 dollars. 'Twenty'. I have ten. 'Fifteen'. I walked away.