how do you spell Misungwi?

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Brace yourselves, for there are about 5 posts that follow, dated differently but all posted today. An explanation:

· Electricity rationing continues, though not following the normal schedule.

· Internet continues to be a problem in Misungwi town.

· I had to spend Monday at the office all day, waiting for people to turn in reports for me to type and bring to Mwanza.

What does all this together mean? That I had an unexpected day at the office WITH electricity, and not much to do. I did, however, have a ton of stories from trips and encounters over the last few weeks that I had yet to document, as well as a bunch of pictures.

The result is a slew of posts that do a decent job of getting me caught up on a busy few weeks.

BUT oh no, it's not over yet!! This week has been full of dramas, medicine men, drum dancing, and other general craziness. More to come next week.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


I’m listening to Tanzanian music, called Bongo Flava, which is like rap/hiphop/pop with an occasionally rasta/reggae feel. I’ve written a bit about it before, some of the songs are good, a lot are bad. I feel that FAR more have a better message, though, than in the States, and often the most popular songs tackle issues like AIDS, poverty, etc. The song I’m listening to know features two popular artists who are arguing over a woman. Each one claims that she is actually his lover, and not the lover of his fellow rapper. The funny thing is that the chorus, translated, goes something like this

‘I say, this dame is mine, and she is currently carrying my child…..
No, I disagree, she is my girlfriend, and the one who got her pregnant is ME and not YOU.’

Can you imagine American rappers fighting over paternity?!! As in, fighting over claiming and not denying paternity?!! Not exactly a typical argument you’d hear in the states.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, men here in Tanzania also have a very different way of showing affection for one another. For two men who are friends, it is very common to hold hands and walk down the street. Men often joke around when hanging out and wrap arms around each other. Sit on each others laps. And, a few times, I’ve seen grown men straight up hugging each other on the street. Young, old, they all do it. And why not? Why shouldn’t friends hold hands and joke around?

Clarification: It is only a gesture of friendship, as homosexuality is illegal, culturally not accepted, and in general not practiced here from what I gather.

At the same time, signs of affection between a man and a woman are incredibly rare and taboo. Which in part may be because it is just much less likely to actually see men and women walking around together – most women are at home with children, chores, and cooking, something the men are not excited to help out with. On any given evening here in Misungwi, if you were to walk down the main street, I would say 80% of the people hanging around are men. The ones holding hands with each other.

If there are unmarried women holding hands with men, they are often assumed to be promiscuous/prostitues. Part of me is VERY grateful for a lack of PDAs that plague the streets back home - holding hands is fine, but make out at home please. But at the same time, part of me recognizes that if men and women could be as free to express love and friendship as men are allowed to with each other, there would be a lot less hiding, ducking behind bushes, and other dangerous behaviors that can lead to multiple random partners and increase the risk of pregnancies, HIV, STDs, and general gender inequality. I sometimes cringe even when I see a man and woman holding hands [especially within a 100 meter radius of a bar] as I see a high likelihood of the man pressuring the woman to have sex, possibly for money, and probably unprotected.

And unfortunately, while rappers may rap one thing, not all Tanzanian men will fight over illegitimate children, especially if they are married to someone else. And even if they do claim pregnancy, there's no assurance that they'll do jack shit to help the mother raise the kid in the first place. Hey, I guess the cultures have similarities too....

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Last Friday, I went to the village. AGAIN. Another village. Not cow village, but a small town called Sumve which was highly developed by Roman Catholics – there is a huge hospital, two large schools, and a church – but not too many houses or stores, much smaller than Misungwi. The main problem, or you could say adventure, is that the easiest way to get from Misungwi to Sumve is by getting on a bike taxi and riding for about an hour and 15 minutes. So that’s exactly what I did.

It was a great trip. I will start out first and foremost by saying that, as per Peace Corps rules and regulations, I most certainly wore my bicycle helmet for the entire duration of the trip. Absolutely.

A bike taxi is just a young man with his bike, on the back of which he has installed a carrier and put a nice pad on it to carry a passenger. They are all over Misungwi, I’d say about 200 in total. It is the only realistic way to get around the town and to nearby villages, since noone has cars and you’d need a all-terrain vehicle anyway to get most anywhere ‘in the bush’ that you’d want to go. Typical fare around town is 200 shillings [20 cents]. I take them occasionally, but mostly just try to encourage these guys to keep at it, as they do incredibly difficult but important work, and are not very well respected despite what I consider a very noble effort at self-employment and self-dependence.

The young man who carried me is a good guy, and was one of the bike riders I was with a few weeks ago in an AIDS seminar, so he likes me, respects me, and was happy to haul my fat ass over mountains and rivers and all kinds of crazy little paths. I would have gotten completely lost on my own, but he has been driving his bike taxi for 4 years so he knows the way [he’s 22 now, has been doing this since 18].

It was a great trip. The scenery is breathtaking, though pretty dry and desert-like at the moment [it's a bit hard to get a panoramic view because of the bike guy's back, but it was still nice. I’m trying to figure out how to post a MOVIE clip, which is hilarious and gives an impression of how these bike rides go]. I got lots of great reactions from villagers biking to and from the main market in Misungwi, lots of YOOOOs and YEEEEHs which are the loud screams of surprise that Sukuma men use and absolutely crack me up.

I arrived, met one of my friends whom I had been working with at the Teachers Training College, and got a tour of his school [the school is an all-girls school, and when I left they were doing their laundry. probably the most colorful scene i've seen in Tanzania, second only to a Masaai market - both dominated by reds] We headed back in the early evening, another great ride and even better so since much more of it was downhill than on the way there, so I didn’t quite feel as bad for my driver. For his effort, 2 and a half hours hauling me around, I gave him twice the going rate, a whopping 5 dollars. Far more than most make, and the equivalent of my daily salary.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Last weekend I went to yet another village – cow village. The name of the village in Kiswahili, Ng’ombe, means cow. There actually weren’t many cows that I could see, though there was a soccer field full of shit, a telltale sign that a rather large herd had slept over the night before on their way to Mwanza, eventually Dar es Salaam, and finally someones dinner table.

The reason for the visit was to finally see the house where my best friends Dominic and Deus grew up. Dominic, Deus, and their 10 other brothers and sisters [one of whom, Mama Leo, is my neighbor and I eat dinner at her house almost every night].

No, I didn’t accidentally hit the 0 key. That’s right, a total of 12 kids [11 still surviving]. Kind of mind boggling. The first one was born in 1960, the last in 1992. That’s 32 years of childbearing for Mama Ndembeje, but she looks surprisingly resilient and active.

Just for fun, we did a bit of calculating. I added up all the people in my ‘clan’ on both sides of my family. In other words, both of my grandfathers, their wives, their children and their children’s spouses, and their grandchildren [myself included]. Total was 35 give or take a few.

Then we looked at my friend Dom’s family. Dominic is a few years older than me, his brother Deus is my age. If you take JUST his parents, and then count the number of grandchildren they have [i.e. children of Dom and Deus’ brothers and sisters], they alone number more than 40. Yikes!

Most of the family has already dispersed. Mama Leo lives in Misungwi [my neighbor], as does her younger sister who studies at the high school. Another younger sister still lives at home with her husband, as does the youngest brother who still studies in primary school. The father was away on business, but many of Dominics other brothers and sisters still live nearby, creating an atmosphere that the entire village was basically one big extended family. It certainly made it complicated to walk around and get a sense of the place, as we had to greet everyone and eat 3 or 4 times [sweet potatoes and tea mostly], and I was constantly being introduced to relatives of some sort or another that I couldn’t keep straight.

The house where they grew up is very small. They like to tell me stories about how the young kids and parents sleep in beds, but then when the boys got big enough they got kicked out of the beds and slept on animal skins on the ground. They also used to herd the cattle around to look for food. We got to see the house and outdoor kitchen etc. I also got to see some of their means of income, namely cattle pen [not many cows though, around 6], and a tobacco shed [will try to get a picture of this up soon - they all started laughing hysterically when I pointed out that they had placed a padlock on a building made of straw which could easily just be broken apart in order to enter…]

We sat around mostly, because that’s what you do here, especially in the villages. Of course it would be nice to chat with the people you are visiting, but they are usually busy preparing food and the likes for the guests. Dominic’s mother spent basically all her time in the kitchen, so I just hung out with Dom and Deus. They killed us a chicken, which tasted really, really good.

We then spent the afternoon on a tour of the village – churches, health center, primary school, various rock formations that offer great views of surrounding environments, etc. It was all rather ordinary, but ordinary in a very peaceful and relaxing way.

By far the most entertaining part of the day was when we were all sitting around back at the house. There were about 8 of us sitting around chatting when a group of 4 women came by the house to visit. As they approached, the greetings started.

And kept going.

And turned into one of the funniest moments I think I’ve ever witnessed.

Imagine each one of these four guests exchanging elaborate greetings with each of the 8 seated residents. Not a simple ‘hi’, but a ‘Hello how are you? I am fine how are you? I’m great, how are things at home? Things at home are good, are your children well? Yes they are well, and how is everything here?...’

MATHEMETICIANS: project. Someone do the calculations as to how many greetings were exchanged, as I don’t have enough time or brainpower to do it here. Lets say there were 4 of them and 8 of us, each of them exchanged greetings with each of us, and lets say a ‘greeting’ is a question/response, and that EVERY person offered 2 greetings as part of each exchange.

I had a difficult time holding up my end of the greetings exchange, as I was holding back hysterical laughter, but I managed to calm down enough to be the last to greet the visitors [in Sukuma, of course].

Sunday, August 27, 2006


After the camp, I had 3 days of AMREF meetings. A pretty drastic change in energy levels and activities, but interesting nonetheless. One was a community mobilization meeting designed to inform communities of the importance of Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health programs and education. For perhaps the first time here, I actually felt like everyone in the meaning was on the same page, was committed to the small job the committee had at hand, and competently represented the department from which they came. It was exciting, in a dull-meeting sort of way.

The second meeting was with the Council Health Management Team. Doctors, nurses, in charge of STDs and VCT and PMTCT [prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV], and antenatal clinics – all the bigwigs were there. Even the head doctors of the District and Region were there. Big potatoes.

The meeting was again mostly uneventful. We were discussing Youth Friendly Services in health care facilities here. Man do we take things for granted in the states. AMREF is collaborating with the TZ government to try to teach health workers things that I would take for granted: not demanding bribes for services, not being judgmental towards youth [YOU want birth control? You’re too young to have sex!!], keeping confidentiality and privacy [BIG issues here], etc.

There were some interesting English/Swahili language issues in the meeting, a few mistranslations, and somehow the African nation of Mauritius was assigned the characteristics of being #1 in the world for tourism and for condom usage [huh?! Someone will have to do research on that, but I highly doubt both attributes. Mauritius does, however, have a much lower HIV infection rate than Tanzania, which is what brought this discussion about].

By far the most interesting part of the meeting was when one of the research presented findings on a ‘Simulated Patient’ exercise. Basically, the took 4 young people from Mwanza town and taught them how to act out 3 basic situations: 1) a young man wants condoms 2) a young schoolgirl wants birth control and 3) a young schoolboy is afraid he has an STD and wants advice. They were then sent to various health facilities with hidden microphones to see how they would be received and what services would be provided. INTERESTING!! Oh man, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so fascinated by something I’ve read here! These young people had all kinds of experiences – some places they received great treatment, confidentially, privately, by health workers who knew their stuff. Other places – oh man. They were charged excessively for services that are supposed to be free, they were asked in front of 10 village elders what their problems were, were denied condoms because they were uncircumcised [but first they had to STRIP in front of a nurse to ‘prove’ if they had been circumcised or not!], etc.

I spend all my time teaching young people to go to the health center to get advice, get condoms, get treatment [so many young people here with STDs! as high as 1 in 3!]. They roll their eyes sometimes, but typically agree. I can see why it’s easier said than done. However, there really are some FANTASTIC people here who are doing TERRIFIC work and making a difference in a system that, all things considered, has come a long way in recent history from what I can tell. It’s just the few bad seeds that really spook these young men and women from getting services that could be life-important.

On a similar note, after leaving my meetings I met up with some of my fellow AMREF co-workers, who work in a mobile VCT [voluntary counseling and testing unit]. They basically drive around all over the region to set up and do HIV testing. It is incredibly popular, especially since people do believe that confidentiality is low and are afraid to test for HIV and the health center close to them.

They were in town, and decided to go to the high school. The students went nuts!! So many of them listened attentively to advice [much more so than when they listen to me in the classroom, received counseling, read materials on nutrition and protection and the like. And around 50 or so students actually got tested. I stressed to them that this isn’t a game, it’s serious, and they should only get tested if they are ready to accept the possible outcomes. Statistically, of the 500 students at the school [300 boys 200 girls], probably a handful of boys [3-8] have already been infected with HIV, and even more girls [maybe even 10-15]. It’s terrifying. A study done in Misungwi in 1998 found that 5% of 15-19 year old girls had HIV. And the numbers go way up when you look at both men and women between 20-34.

So some of the students tested, which is great. Even more importantly, I think, is that they ALL saw the testing unit come, saw some of their friends testing, and confronted it as something that is important in their lives and is reflective of some of the major issues they will face as they begin exploring and entering adult life.

I’ve kind of become hopelessly dependent on the youth here, emotionally, in terms of having a prayer of changing directions and reducing HIV infections in Tanzania. There are lots of middle-aged men and women with shit behavior – they sleep around, they don’t use condoms, and especially older men: they really like to have sex with young girls still in school. It’s disgusting. But even though these youth are growing up in this environment, I have hope that things are different, that this generation is different, they’ve grown up in the era of AIDS and have seen it’s effects, and they can and will rise to the challenge and start turning things around. I really, really need to believe this.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Ouch, I’m disappointed with the lack of response to my SCREMBO challenge. I’m not sure why I found that word so amusing, as there are phonetically written misspelled English words all the time here. I guess it’s just that I’ve never even heard anyone use the word when referring to eggs [scrambled], so I was shocked that anyone would even understand what scrembo means in the first place…

After nearly a month, I’ve given up on growing out my pinky nail. It’s something quite a few Tanzanian men here do. I’ve tried to explore the cultural significance, at the same time sharing with very interested Tanzanians the meanings I’m familiar with from other cultures [i.e. East Asians who grew fingernails, all of them if I recall, as a status symbol to signify wealth, since obviously farmers would never be able to maintain them. The other meaning I’m aware of is pinky nail as a convenient method for snorting cocaine]. There seemed to be one hypothesis floating revolving around the very secretive tradition of some Tanzanian women wearing beads around their waist as a very sexual body decoration. Someone told me that the pinky nail was thus rubbed against these beads to create a sort of rattlesnake sound and provide stimulation. I’m unconvinced, and at this point leaning towards the theory of blind, ignorant imitation of other cultures. Plus it’s handy, because the meat here is really tough and there aren’t always toothpicks.

Catching up on news from the past few weeks, I spent the weekend before last helping out at a youth camp in nearby Usagara town. There were 60 some young people who spent the night learning about HIV/AIDS, watching educational videos, and trying nobly but not rather successfully to play Frisbee [I had a good time watching them, though]. It was a great opportunity for me to talk with some of these young boys and girls about various issues and answer questions that they had probably been holding onto for quite a while but were afraid to ask any of their teachers or any of the people who might actually have correct answers. And it was fun for me to just see young people having FUN.

But at the same time, I felt guilty. The camp members spent the night at the primary school talking, watching movies, and hanging out. I went home early, at 7pm, because I felt tired and not up for an all-nighter. Which led to the guilt. I can’t stand it here sometimes, the pressure can be excruciatingly intense. I feel like I’m always at work, 24/7, that just LIVING here is work. There are so many students teachers parents youth adults with so many projects questions activities lessons stories that I get overwhelmed by it all. Maybe there was a young boy at that camp who had important questions about using condoms, for example, and wanted to ask me when there were fewer people around. But I went home, so he didn’t ask, so now maybe he’s going to go have sex without condoms and could potential get a girl pregnant or get HIV. I think it’s a combination of how much work there is to do here, and how much importance the work has in terms the lives and futures of these people, that makes life here so heavy at times. It’s just one end of the spectrum of my feelings here, and it makes things rough.

The next morning I went back. On the way in, we passed by a small village that was having their weekly ‘big market,’ and I thought about how young kids at home in the States would be watching cartoons this Sunday morning, while young boys in this village were busy rushing up to our car with their wheelbarrows, eagerly greeting the businesspeople who had brought big bundles of goods to the market. These boys would gladly haul these bundles the 10-15 minutes to the site of the bazaar, for maybe a dime a trip.

The morning got heavier.

But I arrived at the camp and almost immediately felt much better. We played camp games [telephone, chain-tag, human knot type stuff] and continued with more lessons on STDs. There was time for Question and Answer, and informal discussions. One young man, a student at a nearby secondary school, had about 50 questions to ask me that clearly suggested he was sexually active and was NOT using condoms, or using them incorrectly. But he expressed interest in hearing what I had to say and getting some advice, which is all I can ask for when trying to do my job.

We also took pictures, a few of which are included here, which of course got them all VERY excited. I also found out that one of the young woman with babies [there were about 5 in all who brought children with them] had named her young son ‘Brian.’ Between that and the Dr. stuff, I’m not sure when I’ve been so flattered! It was a much lighter day, which I needed.

Some young people at the camp

Me being swarmed

Will try to get a picture up later of me and my namesake Brian, and his mother
[Just for extra clarification I am NOT his father...]

Thursday, August 24, 2006


OK, contest: who can figure out the meaning of the title of this post? I'll give a hint next time if needed, but use your imagination and I think you can get it...

The electricity ration continues, and has started becoming irregular. Fantastic. Every night from 7pm to 7am we have electricity. On Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday it gets cut at 7am. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday are thus electricity days. Well, this past Saturday it was unexpectedly on, and now on Tuesday it was off.... so things seem to be all messed up again. Just another month or so til RAIN = RIVER = HYDRO = POWER.

Quick updates:
I have been running around like a headless chicken, my work schedule is INSANE.

Last Friday and Saturday I went to some villages with a local community group to teach about HIV/AIDS, I was brought along as the 'expert' but I think I did them damage because I'm not sure how many people believed the super random white guy who just showed up in their village...

Villages. Here that means rocks, a 'center' that might have a few stores and a few bicycle taxis, a few houses visible from the 'road'..... and that's it. It is BORING. But the crazy thing is that like 90% of the people in my area live in villages. They just live on farms and in houses in the bush, so it's hard to see them.
But if you want them to get together, you blare loud music in the village center. They come RUNNING.

I think two of the People living with HIV/AIDS that I brought together for one of my projects have fallen in love!! They came with us to tell people about their experiences [incredibly, incredibly brave] and were holding hands and virtually inseperable the whole time.

American aid, in the form of corn, has started arriving after a bad rainy season this year. I was shocked upon the first request for corn [why the hell would I have corn?!] but then it became clear. Though I'm not sure these people would ask me for it, since when does food aid come with an actual mzungu to distribute it?! It's definitely the least personal of all forms of help that I usually see, kind of like "here take this food now go eat and stop your crying, see, we're good politicians, we are helping you"

Everyone here knows EVERYONE. It is insane, it is scary. Because a lot of them are also starting to know ME.

I don't know why, but every time I do any sort of official activity or seminar or something, people really like taking pictures while we eat. Sometimes, if we take a group picture, people bring their food WITH them so that they can appear to be eating in the picture. Huh?!

I saw an old man when we were heading out to one of the villages who was wearing a Wal-Mart greeter's vest. He looked like he was about 80 years old. I see a lot of used clothes from the States that make it over here, and always get a good chuckle at how language misunderstandings can result in young men wearing 'worlds best grandma' shirts or old grandmas wearing one of those obnoxious teenage-girl shirts with 'princess' or 'total bitch' or something written on it.
When I saw the old guy, my gut reaction was HA, how funny, how absurd. But then I quickly realized, oh wait, he's probably about the age of the real greeters. Probably the most appropriate use of American attire I've seen yet...

Whew, not done, still lots more stories, but will have to wait for next week..

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dr. Highpants and the preachers

It sounds like a band, it's not, just the only way I could title such a mishmash of subjects.

I was at the district office the other day, and heard for the first time a NOT behind-the-back joke made to someone wearing high pants.

Clarification: high pants is a style that some Tanzanian men seem to find rather fashionable. It involves someone, preferably with a large belly, hiking up their pants to about belly-button level or a little above, and then belting them so they stay up there. The large belly helps keep them up, and I actually suspect this style might have something to do with showing off already prominent midsections, as fat = symbol of wealth.

The joke was something to the effect of: a young man who has been increasingly hiking his pants for the last few months [he does not have a belly, and originally his pants were at normal level] recieving a warning that he might choke himself to death with his belt if his pants-raising rate keeps up.


When I go into Mwanza to my AMREF office, it is right across the street from the super-safi supermaket [safi means nice]. This is where all the expats and rich people shop. I rarely go in, since I can find most of the stuff for cheaper elsewhere, but there is also a group of young men who stand outside the shop and sell exotic fruits and veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, zuchinni, apples, pears, carrots, etc [exotic for Mwanza at least].

For my first year here, I rarely bought anything from them. But lately i've been buying a lot, especially apples, which I had sorely missed. But I dare say, I think one reason I've been more inclined to purchase from them recently is that they've started calling me 'Dr.' [in Kiswahili, 'Dakta'] Now, I can appreciate a good ego massage as well as the next guy, but I never thought it would sucker me into buying a whole days salary worth of apples.

Last week in town, they called me over [Dr! Dr! come buy fruit!], and I went. One of the young guys muttered under his breath "him? a doctor?! what kind of doctor could he be, he's only our age." His friend kicked him in the shins and called out to me, "Dr, Dr, come buy apples." I bought 10, at an expensive 500 a pop. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but THIS doctor plans on buying a lot more from these guys, as long as they keep our little charade up.

[Just to point out - as much as I liked being called Doctor, I have absolutely no intentions of putting in the minimum 5-10 years or howlong of hellish schooling to actually BECOME a doctor. I might, however, start walking around in a Doctors lab coat...]


My neighborhood church choir has been replaced by a neighbor who must own at least 6 of the minivans that act as bus transport to Mwanza. They are very quiet except when they pull into the 'garage' [yard] at night. In the meantime, the choir continued to haunt me - yesterday I turned on my favorite radio station to listen to some local music, and BAM their song was being played....


Coming back from Mwanza, I was feeling pretty good, and pretty full of myself [I had, afterall, just become a Doctor]. I went to the bus station to buy some small bananas and ran into a man with a bullhorn. Can you already tell this is bad news, people with bullhorns in bus stations? It is certainly bad news in the states, and sure enough, was bad news here. I managed to catch, just as I was paying for my bananas,.... "God sent AIDS as a punishment for our sins, and God can cure AIDS for those already suffering." He went on, trying to encourage people to listen and come to his church and get cured of ALL their ailments, including diabetes and liver failure and skin cancer and albinism [ok, so diabetes might be sin of gluttony, and liver failure alcoholism though I don't think thats a deadly sin, but skin cancer and albinism?! what is that, sin of sun-worship and sin of....being born?!].

I decided, against my better judgement on most days but WELL within my judgement as a Doctor, to confront him. I asked him just how exactly God cures AIDS, and just why exactly He sees fit to punish little innocent children who are born with HIV. I got a nice response, which was the bullhorn in my face and repitition of what he had already said. I tried to push the bullhorn out of my face and he looked like he thought I was going to hit him - he asked me to 'respect him', and continued. In the span of about 10 seconds, I had a crowd of at LEAST 50 people around me waiting to see what would happen next, many of whom were no doubt rooting for a brawl - who wouldn't like seeing the only white guy in a mile radius getting into a fistfight with a preacher?!

I asked the preacher dude for 10 seconds of my OWN on his bullhorn, which he refused. But he started moving away, and I decided to make do with what I had, and started shouting at the top of my lungs the truth about HIV/AIDS, and the most important messages: that we should all seek professional medical advice, test early, get treatment, and protect ourselves by abstaining or having safe sex. I fielded a few questions, including one from the Mama who sold me bananas, and then headed for my bus. It seemed like none of these people listened or believed what the man was saying, and looked to him for a source of entertainment and a way in which they can test their own level of sanity. Which was very reassuring for me, since they understood very easily what I was saying, and seemed to very much appreciate what I did, even if it didn't involve throwing punches....


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


It seems the closer I get to being done here, the more wildly extreme my emotions are.

I see some of my students that I think have a future, or some of my friends that I haven't seen for awhile, or just a cute little kid, or I hear a little bit of news like some of my friends competing in a rap competition in Mwanza, and I get the hugest, dumbest grin on my face and can't help but to show how happy I am to have seen them/heard the good news.

And of course, the other extreme too. I was talking to one of my good friends who is an electrician, and I would say is about 25 years old. I recently bought him a soccer ball so that his team's resources can at least somehow match their level of play in upcoming matches [they are good, but just look at little raggedy]. I walked home with him after he had bought two huge sacks of beans, and he informed me that half were for selling and half were for use at home. You see, his parents are both dead, and he has 5 younger brothers and sisters to care for. He is the head of household. Only one of these younger siblings is old enough to work, he helps my friend out with the electrician business. The others are all in school.

I literally teared up talking to him, and felt pretty stupid considering he manages to keep his cool and stay collected most of the time. Although it seemed like he might have been starting to choke up too, when he said he'd better get going and kind of ran ahead a bit - I think if I had seen him even swallow heavily like he was upset or hodling back teaers, I probably would've lost it.

On Sunday I cooked tacos and ate them with Dominic, which was fun. Not as fun as telling everyone I could what I was doing though, since 'tako' in Swahili means buttock [just one though]. They were GREAT tacos. So great that, yes, I became somehow emotional about them and started thinking about everything i've cooked or eaten here, yada yada yada. I'm losing it, right?

It had been awhile since I had used the meat grinder, but I definitely plan on utilizing it more frequently in the near future. Meat is DELICIOUS, there is a new butcher in town who has greatly improved the hygiene standards in town and thus increased my comfort level when purchasing beef [not to mention I hear they actually kill healthy cows, instead of just the sick or old looking ones].

Yesterday was NOT a good day. It had it's ups, namely a lesson at the Secondary School where the kids gave compliments to each other [building self-esteem], and a few came up after class to get advice on rather personal issues which proved to me that, while these are regular teenagers with regular teenage problems in an unfortunately irregularly dangerous environment for teenagesr, they also have heads on their shoulders and were handling things in a surprisingly adult fashion. And talking about it, and that is a HUGE step here, as a lot of these issues [ok, you guessed it, it's almost always about relationships and sex] are not openly discussed.

But then for some reason the day went downhill. I just kept looking around me, at all the youth on the street, joking around, smoking, drinking [there was a promotional van that had driven into town to sell us vodka and gin], drunk old people asking me for money, coworkers of mine in rather unrespectable places, people not listening to each other, crumbling old buildings, the list goes on and on... pretty much everything I looked at looked like shit, pretty much everyone I looked at was doing something shitty or being a shithead.
The day, quite frankly, turned to shit. And I felt like shit, and felt shitty for feeling like shit.

My use of profanity here makes me seem angry, but it was really much more resignation that I felt yesterday. Anger yes, a little. But mostly sadness. I'm not sure if it's legitimately stemming from my surroundings, or more likely that i'm sad that i'll be leaving these surroundings in just a little over 3 months.

Yikes, could I really be this fragile?! I'm hoping this was just an isolated incedent, and that the next few months will be on the up and up full of soda drinking, picture taking, and all those others things that have made most things the past few yaers enjoyable.

Wow, I'm really glad I've finished writing this entry, I'm feeling MUCH less emotional already... just the way I like it.

Friday, August 11, 2006

ooooh, ahhhh....

First, be amazed at the superspeed pace which I have set by posting again after only 2 days!

Yeah, I won't keep it up.

Second, ooh and aah over my new blog layout. What do you think? I needed a change, I was bored with the old one.

Third, here are a few pictures - albeit from a bit back - to admire. I have a flash disk now so I hope to get the chance to upload at least a couple with every post. The first one is me with my counterpart, Dominic, and his niece and nephew [Sato and Godi]. The second is me with a few Secondary School teachers that I had trained with my fantastic counterpart in early June. The third is me with some of my club members at the Teachers Training College in Mwanza at their graduation.

Back with a bang, huh?!

I am in Mwanza again today to meet up with another volunteer and discuss grant writing - and have some pizza. And maybe go to the casino, since it turns out none of the banks or travel agents will take 'old' american money [bills before 2000] but I'm thinking the casino might - when do casinos turn down money?!

I have amazed at how much Mwanza has developed in the last several months. Nearly all the roads that I use on a regular basis - to the bus stand, to my office, to the post office, and to the pizza place, were in TERRIBLE condition. Currently, 2 of them have already been improved and the other 2 are under construction! And there seem to be a constant stream of new 4-5 story buildings going up, additions being, well, added, and other general improvements made to make the city nicer and busier. It is quite impressive, and kind of makes me feel like I'm going to miss it when I leave. Even if I get to come back after a few years, I think it will look and feel like a VERY different place - something that, despite nostalgia, I think is a great thing for the development of the region and the people living here.

OK, it's pizza time. I'm stuck between pineapple or avocado....

[Jo, Luke, Mom - sorry I deleted your comments! But thanks a TON!!]

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

playing catch-up

Habari za masiku jamani.
It's been a long freakin time, huh?!

I am finally back in Misungwi, and this time for good - I have about 4 months left of work before I head home, and I don't plan on doing any travelling between now and then. Time to hunker down and finish up projects, hang out with friends, and contemplate how I'm going to leave this wonderful place and return home where things have been going on without me - and quite a bit faster than they've gone on here - for the last 2 years.

I'll play some quick catch-up with my last bout of travels, again nothing too detailed but the general specs and my impressions, and from here on out I hope to get back to writing about the little things that make my life both exciting and boring and a bit more understandable. By the way, thanks for the encouragement from my Uncle for confirming that the blog fairly well conveyed what he saw on the video my dad took of Misungwi, and from my Aunt for confirming that my blog entries about poop are pretty darn entertaining. Unfortunately I don't have anything new on the poop front to discuss, but I doubt little that something will come up at least once before I leave :-)

So after my fantastic extended vacation to the Serengetti, Ngorongoro Crater, Zanzibar, Morogoro [all that with my parents] then Dar es Salaam, Morogoro, Udzungwa Mountains, Ifakara, Bagamoyo [by myself and with fellow vols], I started an even MORE fantastic journey, which was one by plane, with my great friend Meena, to return back to Mwanza. Hard to compare a 30+ hour busride that involves midnight dinner break and 3am border stop to a 1 hour flight where you are provided a cheese roll, free beer [I had 3 cans], and AC.

I stopped back into Misungwi just to check that everything was in order, and sure enough my house was just as I left it, with the exception that my banana tree has produced fruit! So I will gladly be eating bananas and papayas that I planted. However, my friendly but SNEAKY neighbor girls came over and cleaned out all of the passion fruit that had accumulated on the vine I planted, so will have to wait and see if any more come from that.

Everyone was THRILLED to see me back, and it felt really good to be welcomed and missed so much. Of course I had to tell them that the next day I would be leaving again for a week, but they didn't ask too many questions and we just had fun catching up on what had been going on, what was new [not much, go figure].

On Sunday, I headed into Mwanza to start my long-ish journey to meet up with some friends in Uganda for vacation. I say long-ish because it may seem long to some, but it actually was pretty tolerable for me, since I managed to break it up nicely into legs. The first leg was an overnight boat from Mwanza to Bukoba.

When I was on the boat, I started talking to some young men who work for the ferry company. They seem to be working their asses off, and they say they make pretty good money since they get paid for all hours they are on the boat, which is pretty much all the time, even when they are off-shift. I said this was a good thing - they are making money, and there aren't all the tempations of Mwanza town to spend it all on, so it's a good opportunity to save up money and prevent dangerous habits.

Or so I thought. Turns out these young guys all have their own cabins on the boat where they sleep. Well I also happen to know that there is a whole room full of 3rd class passengers on the boat [I usually go 2nd class, which is a bunk in a sleeping room of 6], and the 3rd class passengers have no bunks and a pretty uncomfortable overnight ride. Also turns out that a lot of them are young women or girls.

I think you all might see where this is going - these girls are uncomfortable, naive, have no future goals or plans, and just want a nice place to sleep for the night. These young guys are young, they're, well, guys, and they're stuck on a boat all the time. The only positive thing that came out of this whole discussion is to learn that the ferry company provides these guys free condoms. Too bad they don't use them too much because they tend to know most of the women they sleep with [frequent passengers] and thus trust that they don't need to use them. Everywhere I turn I run into circumstances like this, life is tough here and just constantly seems to be throwing Tanzanians into dangerous situations.

But I slept well and got into Bukoba safely, and had a great day [though it was drizzling] with a fellow volunteer there. We ate simply, which was great because I had just come off a vacation of all kinds of exotic cuisines and needed a nice simple meal for a change. The next morning, I got on a bus and headed to Kampala, Uganda.

Crossing borders from one East African country to another is kind of an interesting thing. When you get near the border, everyone has to get off the bus and go 'check-out' of the country he/she is in. Then we all WALK across the border, which can be anywhere from a 2 to 10 minute walk, and then 'check-in' to the next country. Luckily, I was sitting next to a nice young man on the bus who was a student in Dar, and he helped reassure me where to go and what to do. Something I'm sure I could've done on my own, but nice to have confirmation. And after the Ugandan border customs guy tried to charge me twice what it should be for a visa, I was glad to have a little support [I did finally get it for the right price, but not without a little sweettalking].

I got into Kampala and made it to the backpacker place we were staying, and met up with my two friends M and J. First of all, I've decided I don't like backpacker places. I guess you meet some nice people [though M and I tried to meet cool people one night and failed miserably - we decided to just sit and 'let the cool people come to us'. there must not have been any cool people there that evening]. But sleeping in dorm beds sucks, and the general atmosphere is a little bizarre, in that it's PACKED with tourists who have varying levels of interest in the local culture, language, etc.

Is an amazing city!! It is packed with people, restaurants, clubs, malls, stores - and most of it still has a very African flare to it. The city is set up in a series of hills, so it's kind of hard to get your bearings, but we had a fantastic time exploring. There are cars and motorcycle taxis everywhere [which I most certainly did not ride, as PCVs are not allowed to do so]. We were 'culinary' tourists, i.e. most of our time in the city seemed to revolve around eating. We did go to see an ENORMOUS, no wait, GI-NORMOUS mosque, but other than that we mostly just walked around town and got a feeling for life there. The main market street is even more swarmed with people than the one in Dar!

I would have to say that my favorite part of all of this was that, at all the nice restaurants and stores and places we went, we were almost always surrounded by UGANDANS. In Dar it's mostly just expats. Probably has something to do with TAnzania's socialist background, but it felt nice to not feel like such an outsider eating at a nice Chinese restaurant. It was a bit frustrating though that Ugandans don't speak much Kiswahili, and thus we had no way to prove that we were seasoned East African veterans and not chump tourists. Though the few Swahili conversations I did manage to have, as always, got us invited many places and quite a positive response from our fellow conversees.

While in Kampala, we stayed up late one night and got the opportunity to see live one of Ugandas most famous musicians [rapper-ish], Chameleon. He was pretty good though he only sang a few songs. It was just nice to chill out in reasonably cool weather, have a beer [though Ugandan beers aren't so nice], and listen to some live music.

After a few days in Kampala, we headed to a nearby town of Jinja which is on Lake Victoria and is the source of the River NILE! Why would someone go to a place like this? Why, to whitewater raft of course! And we did, for a whole day, and it was a blast. I hope to have a few pictures up later, but it was just a nice relaxing day with good food, good company, WARM water [so much nicer than the Colorado!], and some wicked rapids.

We spent the next day in Jinja, a town that seriously looks like it could be in northern Wisconsin [there is a 'main street' with a boulevard of nicely landscaped flowers and trees down the middle!].

Following Kampala, we got on an early morning bus and headed south to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. See above for interesting border crossing procedures, other than that it was a pretty uneventful ride. Though the scenery was beautiful, because it is really just rolling mountain-ish hills everywhere you look, with amazingly terraced farm fields all the way up the hills.

We got into Kigali in the afternoon and walked around trying to orient ourselves.
Highlights of the next few days included:

Hot chocolate on the gorgeous rooftop restaurant of the Hotel de Mille Collines [the one in Hotel Rwanda]

Great Ethiopian food, and great Rwandan food at a restaurant down the street from our hotel that serves by the 2somes or 4somes enormous plates of rice, peas, and chicken.

I almost got a part in a movie about the book listed in the link to the side of this entry! well, not a part in the movie, but a part as a stand-in for a day. but hey, it would have paid 150 bucks, so I was excited! Turns out the guy they brought along with me to show the director was better suited because I wasn't 'pale enough' - I guess I took that as a compliment, huh?!! I mean, for 2 years I've tried my hardest not to be a white guy, maybe it's finally paying off?!

Chocolate croissants!! And eclairs! and wonderful breads! Colonialism sucks, but that doesn't mean that French/Belgian pastries aren't nice.

Of course, one of the main purposes of our visit to Rwanda was to learn more about the genocide. We spent one morning visiting the very powerful Kigali Genocide Memorial, which had amazingly well-done exhibitions on the history and aftermath of the genocide, including some impressive pieces of artwork and galleries showing photos of victims. It was one of the nicest museums I've ever been in, just really superbly done. I tried to find the website for it, but had difficulties. Here is the webiste of the organization that helped fund the museum:

and here is a quote that struck me as particularly powerful, by a survivor of the 1994 genocide:

"There will be no humanity without forgiveness
There will be no forgiveness without justice
But justice will be impossible without humanity"
-Yolande Makagasana

Talking about the genocide on this site is too difficult, as it is such a complex issue. One of the hardest issues to grasp for me actually had nothing to do with how human beings could do this to one another, or how the international community could ignore it, but rather how a country MOVES ON after something like this happens?! How do people who were killing each other on a massive scale stop and start living together again?

One day we went to some memorial sites south of Kigali, in a village called Nyamata. In that and in a nearby village, thousands of Tutsi men women and children were murdered in their churches in one day. We visited the churches, saw skulls and bones and clothes and blood on the wall, and I still couldn't quite comperehend.

We were so fortunate to meet some young men on the car ride down to this town, who were from the town, and who agreed to escort us to the sites to translate into Kiswahili [the guide only knew Kinyarwanda and French]. They also gave us small insights into their experiences - one man had a very striking appearance associated with Tutsis [light skinned, long face, skinny, very tall] and the other was half Tutsi half Hutu. Both were lucky to survive, and helped answer some of our questions about how life moves on from something like this. The answer? It just moves on, but very very slowly.

I met up later that evening with one of the young men in Kigali to have a drink and just chat. I think he was excited to try Kiswahili, since he is working in Nairobi. We talked about all kinds of things, from sports to farming to AIDS to life to education, etc. He told me a bit more about his family - his father was Hutu, his mother Tutsi, so him and his brothers were half and half. His father was told that he should kill his wife and children. He refused. This man, of about 30 of his immediate and extended family, is one of 3 to survive. None of his parents or siblings did. He was 10 years old when the genocide occured, and is now around my age.

All this stuff about Rwanda and the genocide isn't coming out the way I had wanted to here, but I guess that's kind of how it was there. Just a flood of emotions and thoughts and questions, and nothing seems to make much sense.

One of my travel companions felt a bit awkward visiting some of these sites, being a 'tourist' in such a way that opens painful wounds not yet healed. I had mixed feelings. I thought it was important to let Rwandans give outsiders their perspective on what happened, since noone really listened while it was all happening. At the same time, we did our best to also appreciate Rwanda as a nation and people to be viewed beyond just the genocide, thus the amazing pastries.

But at one point I asked one of these two young men we met, I asked 'is there ever a day when you don't think, at some point, about the genocide? you just don't remember it at all?'

He said no.

After Kigali, I split with my travel buddies and headed back towards Tanzania. The scenery was even more beautiful than the day before, and the roads were superb. It helped that I had taken QUITE a few crossaints with me for the journey. After two days of various buses and taxis, I got back to my house. It felt great.

I got back to find that my cat had given birth to 3 little kittens, fantastic.

But things are good, I've already gotten back into the swing of work and was invited to teach about HIV/AIDS to a group of 40 young men who drive bicycle taxis around town, and whom once again life has put in a difficult position. These guys drive people around on their bicycles to make a living, and work damn hard.

Well, sometimes young women hire them to drive them pretty far into the villages to go home. Sometimes these trips can take 2 hours. And sometimes these young women, an hour and a half into the trip, confess to the young bike driver that they don't have any money, but maybe they can work out 'other arrangements.' They stop and have sex in the bush, since there's not much these young men could do to get the money that have earned. Life, it seems, just can't get any easier.

So I had a great seminar with them, and now I'm in Mwanza town, and...

WHEW. I'm caught-up. Now it's back to short, boring blogs about small, boring things, and that's the way I like it.