how do you spell Misungwi?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


On Monday I finally got to taste what I had been waiting for since I first arrived... a piece of fruit from my own tree!!!

I am amazed at tropical fruit, obsessed with it, and a little upset at how Tanzanians take it for granted. Even in relatively dry Misungwi, fruit grows SO easily here, mangoes in season are a dime a hundred, and papaya trees bear fruit in - well, not that long as you can tell. I planted a SEED of a tasty piece of fruit that I had eaten sometime around last October, and less than a year later, I got the opportunity to eat an ENORMOUS piece of fruit, red and delicious. I of course shared it with my neighbors, as there is no way I could finish it, and all were impressed at the size and quality - it was nice. Papaya in the states sucks, so I'm getting as much of it here as I can. I swear, it seems like almost everyone from home who comes here says they don't like papaya, but then if you try it here it's like a whole different fruit- it's actually good.

Speaking of food, and eating, two topics which I devote quite a substantial amount of time to on this blog [but in which I feel completely justified doing], the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan started on Sunday. So no eating for Muslims until sun-down. OUCH. I couldn't do it, I like eating too much, not to mention drinking water when the sun is scorching because you're on the freaking equator.

I was actually having an interesting and sort of cynical conversation today with some coworkers. One is Muslim, but I ran into him at the canteen where we both got lunch. He said, and I quote [but in English], "I'm fasting from sin, not from food." I thought it was an interesting point, since I know plenty of Muslims who are fasting but are sure as hell sinning in a myriad of other ways [Christians for that matter too, I love seeing who is Catholic on Ash Wednesday, and thinking to myself "pious, huh, coulda fooled me"]. Oh well. I'm just waiting for the month to end on Idd, when there will be lots of celebrating and drinking.... whoops, I think God is shaking his head on that last point

The start of the holy month probably explained why there were few people at the disco on sunday night, even though there was a famous musician who came to sing [poorly, since he was drunk and stoned. at one point he just squatted on the floor and sang into his hands for a minute, i asked my neighbor if he was singing or taking a dump]. It was pretty tame, which means I should've gone home, but not, I stayed until 4am. This weekend in general was ROUGH. On friday night there was a party to say goodbye to the old [and I mean old, the guy is retiring] head of the District. So I partied and drank with all my coworkers [boy was THAT interesting, though I have to admit they did a good job playing not just old people music] until about 2am. Food was at midnight and after that it was listening to speeches, i.e. falling asleep. So I grabbed my last free beer and then skipped out and went to the disco to meet up with some friends, and got home around 4am.

On Saturday I went to yet another function attended by most of my coworkers, the wedding of the younger sister of the District Executive Director. Somehow I had been in Tanzania for 2 years without going to a wedding, this was my first. Weddings are an interesting cultural phenomenon, but let me be brief in my observations: very structured here, everything went by a down-to-the-minute schedule [though, of course, since it's Tanzania, we were about 2.5 hours behind schedule the entire time]. We drank, we gave gifts, we listened to speeches [and a pseudo-sermon given by a relative of some sort, the groom is a born-again]. We ate fried food, we danced, I danced with my bosses, I danced with THE boss which was kind of fun but kind of bizzarre because I had actually headed in her direction in order to try to dance with her youngest sister who was a bridesmaid and is fairly attractive. The only people who didn't dance were the bride and groom. Nor did they stand up, nor did they say anything, nor did they do much. This is apparently typical. They just sit up in front and look sad like they are going to prison or something, or are on trial, and the bestman/bridesmaid wipe the sweat off of them because they are eating fried foods and under glaring videocamera lights and aren't allowed to leave the room [I half expected to see catheter bags if I lifted up the tablecloth on the head table]. All in all it looked like the night was meant for us, the guests, at the expense of the people who were actually doing the work, i.e. getting married. But hey I'm not complaining, I had fun!

So 3 late nights in a row was a bit too much, now the town is chilled out because of Ramadhan, so it's time for me to chill out too. It is 3pm right now, I'm going home to sleep, then go to the market to sit around for awhile, then to my friends house to sit around some more, then to my neighbors house to eat, then home to sleep again. Now THAT's what I call entertainment.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

ghetto fab

Top = children with weapons [see recent blog post]
Middle = me deep frying a vat of around 50 fish for transport into the interior of the country
Bottom = me, a young woman in a nearby town, and her son BRIAN. poor kid will have his name butchered his whole life, unless he shortens 'buhlayani' into 'bula' which is actually a common nickname...


It rained this past week. Monday. For about 2 hours. That was glorious, first rain in I believe about 3 months. Provided much needed water, people were buying it for almost 500 shillings a bucket [20 liters or 5 gallons for 50 cents! expensive!] because one of the main pipes in town was broken. Anyways. It's hot again now.


An interesting site, an interesting man, an interesting idea:


What is new. On thursday I did a fantastic seminar on nutrition for a group of about 30 PLWHA. They are more amazing everytime I meet them and talk to them. They chat, they laugh, they joke about their AIDS [the way you look so good today, no way you have AIDS, i dont believe it!]. And they EAT, alot. We spent the day talking about the food groups, balanced meals, using spices, and how to adjust diet when you are sick. And we ATE. Tea, egg, bread in the AM, then some yogurt. Lunch included: potatoes, rice, pilau, beef, one whole fish per person, beans, cabbage, spinach, salsa, 'kisamvu' which is very nice leaves cooked with peanut sauce, and a big slice of pineapple.

Boy did we eat. It didn't help either that we had planned for 40 people but only 30 were able to come, so we had leftovers [well, we SHOULD have had leftovers, but needless to say we didn't, we ATE].


I have been talking a lot to students of mine. The other day I sat with a big group of them in a small barbershop hut and did a condom demonstration [using a cucumber, lots of jokes on how much the condom stretched, it was a BIG cucumber...]. Then I did another condom demonstration at my house for like 5 more guys. And I've been visiting a lot of them at their homes, helping especially the ones who are about to take their exams and graduate and most of whom probably will not continue on with schooling.

It's been a bit of an eye-opener to see how most of them live - they call it 'ghetto life'. Ghetto means that they rent rooms, each student has a VERY small room in a VERY not nice house, often without electricity or safe doors/windows. There are frequently 4-5 students all renting rooms in the same house. They clean, cook together, study together, and it is a pretty intensely routine life. Of course this life also puts them at risk [have I written about this before on my blog? it seems like EVERY aspect of life here puts people at risk for HIV infection]. They are newly self-dependent, newly free of parental controls, and hormoes are RAGING. I'm convinced there is quite a bit of unsafe sex going on, and am trying to convince them to knock it off, or at least put a box of condoms in the 'ghetto' for everyone to take from if need be.

I do like talking to them though, they frequently ask interesting questions, and every once in a while i have a geniunely interesting conversation with a student or two. I seem to run into them wherever I go, though a favorite hangout is the 'mangotree' bus stop on the road which is just a few hundred meters from my house, and where we often gather for some porrige [think like a smooth breakfast oatmeal that you drink] and to just hang out. I will be sad to see them go when they finish in October, though the ones that I really like, i.e. the ones that don't sleep in class and actually seem to give a damn, will probably [if they don't get HIV] go on to do some amazing things in their lives...


Oh, speaking of 'just hanging out', I never understood why so many people just sit in the road until 8 or 9 pm not doing anything. Why not go home and rest? Oh yeah. Because at home there are 5+ kids who are all screaming their lungs out. I am still baffled why people here are shocked if I say that I might not have children. 'Why on earth not?!?!' they say. 'Dirty, noisy, smelly....' is typically how I begin the answer to that question.


My aunt just recently emailed me a good question about HIV infection. I get asked the most random questions from all directions all the time, and have begun to expect it - i'm afraid i'll be a bit lost when I return home and am no longer the 'expert' anymore, the 'go-to guy', the 'guru'. Oh, and the 'doctor'. I got called that again today, and as I sit here writing in the internet cafe I have a bag full of 4 dollars of produce.

But one of my favorite yet most annoying questions is about HIV infection and tongue kissing, i.e. making out. I was at a school assembly at a nearby secondary school and they asked this, and it was probably the 30th time I've been asked, and I kind of lost it and got really sarcastic. I said something to the effect of this. HEY LOOK. Noone gets HIV by tongue kissing. OK it's true that if you have cuts in your mouth and your girlfriend has cuts in her mouth and blood is coming out and you decide to kiss each other you might get infected, but WHO THE FUCK KISSES PEOPLE when there is blood spilling out of their mouth?!?! Common sense here folks!! The real kicker, and I told them all this, is that people are so paranoid to ask me questions about using razors at the hairdressors or tongue kissing, but they seem PERFECTLY ok having unprotected sex at a rate that would shame even the noblest of rabbits.


A new cell phone company officially opened up service in my area last week. They did it as any company looking to promote their merchandise around here does - they come with their big open bed semi truck, blast some local music, and have attractive men and women doing amazing and, to me, incomprehensible things with their bodies [mostly their waists and hips]. I have never seen a bigger crowd in Misungwi, and probably wont see the likes of it again. Of course very few who came to watch probably bought a cell phone card, but at least they got some good laughs...


Time is up - hope to post some more pictures the next time I get a chance, and tell a story about one of my good friends who is, drumroll, an ORPHAN!!! Isn't that exciting and positive? Seriously though, while no OPRAH material he is somehow inspirational and somehow tragic. Will gather my thoughts on this topic before I write, as it is a serious issue here [I would say half of my friends my age, i.e. 25-30, have at least lost 1 if not both parents].


Monday, September 18, 2006

too crazy

no electricity during the daytime except for sporadic generator-induced email access - this was announced last friday, and is reportedly effective for between 2 weeks and 2 months while they fix a machine or something in Dar es Salaam...

super busy week this week - 2 discos, 2 seminars for PLWHA on nutrition, 2 funerals this past weekend and probably at least 2 more this week, a meeting/intervention with one of my young friends [aged 22] who has 2 wives and 2 kids and 2 much time on his hands anyways [and who likes meeting young college girls, who are 2 weeks away from arriving to start the term, thus the 'intervention'...], and 2 weeks left before the form 4 [seniors] at the secondary school take their examinations

it's all a bit too crazy, but seeing as I only have about 2 months left here, I'm too excited nonetheless...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I got billy dee! I got billy dee!!

The title of this post is a quote from the movie Big Momma, starring Martin Lawrence.

I saw it on Sunday at my friends house. That's right: I'm white, I'm in rural poverty-stricken East Africa, and I watched a popular African-American movie with my good friends who are... wait for it... ARAB. Omani, to be precise.

I really like them. First, moreso even than Tanzanians, they force feed me a lot of food. GOOD food, food with spices, and really soft nice pieces of meat. And the 'man of the house', Hamadi, is also a recent arrival. He is Omani, though he has visited Tanzania before he hasn't stayed much. He came to marry one of the women who was in the house. He knows Swahili [apparently a LOT of people in Oman and Yemen and UAE etc know Swahili - I'm not sure. A few of my friends in Misungwi told me that a lot of Arabs who were living in Tanzania and Zanzibar left after independence and when the Arab countries started better exploiting the oil riches back home...] but he does NOT know prices, so people try to screw him over almost worse than me!

Second, they are nice to talk to. They have lots of opinions about Tanzania and the Arab world and life in general that seem, at least from my perspective, to be refreshingly free of the bias or preference for one group/place over another. They shoot straight and tell it like it is, and in a really comedic way, too.

Third, they have a lot of movies. Of which I've only just started watching, though I caught bits of Lord of the Rings last week and plan on watching Big Momma 2 sometime in the next few days..


On Friday I went, for the first time, to the Disco in Misungwi town. It was actually a pretty fun experience! I hadn't gone yet because I had heard stories of brawls and commotion and just general unpleasantries, but people say it has 'chilled out' since I first got here, and a few famous artists were coming so I figured I'd check it out.

It was a little bizarre going to a Disco where EVERYONE knows you and you know most of them. In a way it made it awkward - I saw some of my students who DEFINITELY should not have been there, and were behaving in a typical rebellious teenage way that portrays utter confidence in their actions but for us 'old folk' we cringe and shake our heads and think "in a few years, they'll regret THAT... and THAT...". I also saw some teachers and coworkers, most of whom asked me to buy them beers [um, no]. And I ran into a friend of mine who has a family - a wife and 3 month old baby - and who brought the whole crew along with him. Friday night, 11:30pm, I'm dancing to 'Candy Shop' or some other raunchy song [is Mystikal out of jail?!], and I turn around to see someone passing me a wide-eyed 3month old kid. HUH?!?! I danced/bounced him around for about 20 seconds before I got freaked out and just passed the kid along to the next person who was willing to take him [no worries since everyone knows each other, well worries about kidnapping. I think the act of taking a small child to the disco in the first place is a tad disconcerting....]

But knowing everyone also made it kind of fun. Since the disco is in the village, it is much more difficult for young women to come - they must stay at home with their parents and do housework, and it would be MOST inappropriate for them to be seen at the disco. So it was mostly men. But even the women who were there, since we all knew each other, it had a very relaxing and friendly atmosphere. People were drinking, talking to each other, enjoying life, dancing for the sake and enjoyment of dancing. Not like Mwanza or Dar, where the men seem to enjoy going from introduction [which is optional] to nasty hip grind dip hump etc etc in less than 5 seconds, despite the protest [or with occasional encouragement] of the women [prostitutes would be the exception].

So I had a good time, and people were really happy to see me there. In general, actually, people seem really happy to see me these days. On Sunday I greeted more people than I think I ever have in my life, i.e. a one-day record. Even last night I had gone out and was walking home late, and had everyone who passed call out greetings to me [not very helpful, though, since I have no clue who they are - I don't think it's racist to say that it's harder to tell black people apart at night than it is to distinguish that someone is white, no?]. Well, greetings or asking me to 'sell' them the young white Belgian women I was with who are doing their studies here for the next month [I told them they're not for sale, and if they were these guys couldn't afford it - pretty inappropriate huh?]


I saw some men destroying an old, traditional mud-brick home. When I came upon them there was one wall left standing, and the preferred method of demolition was for 5 guys to stand next to the wall and start pushing. It was practical but also incredibly amusing to watch - I wanted to take a picture but they actually had the wall down by the time I got my camera out...


Young men like hanging out at the small wooden huts that act as hair-dressers. Well, barbers, since all they do is usually shave their heads [most of them are too young to have facial hair, which Tanzanian men start growing later than American men, and if they DO have it they are too proud of it to want to shave it off]. It's fun to stop by sometimes and greet them, and yesterday I decided to do an experiment and took my good fundi friend, who has a barbershop next door, and taught the young guys who work there all about CONDOMS. Very informal classroom, just giving them the basics and answering their questions, but it was highly enjoyable and is one of the more rewarding aspects of my work [though often unreported in my work summaries].


My time here is winding down, now less than 3 months, and I'm liking it here more every day.
It's gonna be hard to leave, but I think in the end I will be ready for it. I need to come home, work a little, go back to school, and start thinking about the next job I can get that will bring me back here...

Friday, September 08, 2006

hustle never sleeps

Electricity - it's back!! Well, back to the glorious 4 days a week scenario, instead of the completely confusing, unpredictable, sporadic, and ill-timed 2 days a week [including Sunday] that had been the schedule for the past few weeks.

Rumor is that Mwanza is getting a break on electricity because the city needs it for the fish packing factories. Lord knows there are lots of small-scale Tanzanian businessmen and women who are trying to earn a days living, but no need to worry about them, what is clearly important is that rich white people in Europe get their much needed fresh-water fish. No but seriously, it's so important for these little guys, so at least they've cut us ALL some slack and provided us out of the city with the same rationing schedule as the big guys...

What is new. I just came from the office, where I managed to get all the work done I needed to but did NOT buy the eggs I had wanted to buy. Friday is always an interesting day, as it's the main weekly market, and so walking around in the middle of our office building are nice but slightly slow and definitely not 'city' ladies carrying big buckets of tomatoes or green peppers or spinach on their heads. Or eggs. I wanted the eggs, since the villagers sell them for 70 shillings but here in town I buy them for 150. But I swear, and I think i've written about this before, the women who work in the offices must be able to smell these people coming or have some 6th sense that I don't have, because all the good stuff, including the eggs, never makes it to my door....

This week has been full of a lot of, um, 'down-time.' I'm sure I've written about this too, but in Tanzania there is a LOT of time spent 'waiting' for something, anything. Yesterday I went to visit some secondary school teachers whom I had trained in a seminar, and spent a total of 3.5 hours waiting for various forms of dilapidated transportation [plus another hour walking when there were no other options but my legs]. The day before I spent an hour waiting for the generator to start working so I could send an important email, although that hour was MUCH more exciting than the ones waiting for cars because I spent the whole time talking to a guard at the internet cafe and office building, a friend of mine who took a long vacation and just came back, and who happens to be a Mmaasai. So I got updates on his family [he has like 50 brothers and sisters, since his father has 6 wives], his business [he walked god knows how many kilometers recently to sell some cows in Kenya, which itself is shocking not for the distance but that a Maasai would want to sell his cows...], and got a chance to ask some questions I'd been wanting to ask for awhile. His Kiswahili is much better now, as is mine, so we actually understood each other! I don't have the time or energy to explain much here, but here's a website that I haven't looked at but may be informative....

The day BEFORE that, I was once again sitting around waiting for a car to go to Mwanza, though this only took about 45 minutes. And I was sitting with some people I know, and eating boiled maize, so that helps pass the time. And I saw one of the wildest [well, not wild, but crazy, or not crazy, but difficult] things I've seen here - a mama who was riding a bicycle while, without hands, carrying a huge bucket of fish on her head. I asked around, turns out they have competitions for this, and this mama placed 2nd last year in the whole of Mwanza region. She can apparently ride her bicycle even while carrying buckets of water. That's heavy, yo, in case you hadn't figured it out. And she doesn't even use her hands to hold it up there. Very impressive, and picture worthy...

Sometimes I feel like Tanzanians do a lot of things that, were Americans to try, we would severly injure ourselves. Such as buckets of water on the head. And opening soda bottles with teeth. And eating sugarcane as a dangerous activity in and of itself.

Another example - Tanzanian children are trusted highly, more than I think they deserve to be, with large machetes and knives. They use them to cut... wait for it... sugarcane, as well as to peel potatoes, other foods and vegetables, and to just play with. Oh, and razors for cutting their fingernails. I have countless pictures of children smiling, holding sugarcane in one hand and a big machete in the other, both pressed up to their faces, always wearing big smiles. Of course it helps that most machetes and knives here [do we even USE machetes in the states?!] are dull as crap, I couldn't even cut myself if I, well, if I tried really hard to cut myself. Although I did see some rather clever guys at the weekly market LAST week who had turned their bicycles into grinding stones and, while pedaling, sharpened the knives of market customers [who, of course, came to the market WITH THEIR KNIVES so that they could eat sugarcane, or just in case they might need a big enormous blade for something...]

But fortunatley for the children, I never hear about them cutting themselves. Usually they die of malaria, or AIDS, or lack of basic drugs, or scalding themselves on the open-flame fires that dominate everyone's yard [read: kitchen] in the evenings, but rarely knife fights or accidently self-impalements. Which is kind of surprising, because if there's one thing that children are better at then wielding knives that are half the size of their torsos, it's dancing. The children here can dance like Shakira at the age of 5, gyrating their hips and stomachs and stamping their feet and having a grand old time. And sometimes I see these children dancing while they are holding onto these sharp instruments of torture/food preparation.

Back to waiting - the car that I eventually got in was a 'daladala' also called Hiace, which has written on the side 'HUSTLE NEVER SLEEPS'. True dat. Inside, it had a plush blue velvet interior with a stuffed tomato hanging from the rearview mirror that reminded me of my mothers sewing pincushion. And we listened to hardcore Tanzanian rap and Celine Dion, alternating one after the other.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


I've written about the topic of food [chakula in kiswahili, meaning 'for eating'] before - beans and farting, ugali, killing animals, etc.

Oooh, speaking of which, there is a great new butcher in town. Good meat, good selection. But if you want 'steki' [nice, boneless meat] you have to get up early to get any.

But I think I have yet to write about the PASSION of eating that is so frequently on display here. I've thought about it several times in the past week, for the following reasons:

EATING WITH HANDS: most of the food I eat is with my hands. Ugali certainly is, as is meat. When i go to eat at my arab friend's house [the family is Tanzanian but of Omani descent - thus they are called 'the arabs'], they eat EVERYTHING with their hands, usually rice.

I was eating over the other day and we had rice and chicken, with our hands. I find food far more enjoyable when it is eaten with your hands [refer back to the entry I wrote about the snobs eating fried chicken with a knife and fork]. It tastes better, you eat slower [with rice at least], and the actual art of shoving a handful of food into your mouth with your hand just seems much more dramatic, and thus interesting [vs the subdued melodrama of the knife and fork elitists].

Maybe part of the reason it seemed much more emotionally charged is that we were also discussing topics like Hezboullah, Hamas, Osama, and general Arab-American relations, while shoving the food rather forcefully into our mouths so that we could resume the discussion. These arabs are not big fans of the 3 groups/peoples i just listed, and are rather fond of Americans [though NOT the ones in charge]. They even gave some visiting relatives from Oman a picture of me, after I managed to speak in Swanglish with them for 20 minutes.

Everything we eat here that has bones [cow goat sheep chicken duck fish] we eat with the bones still inside/attached. I've gotten used to this, and don't mind it as much as I did at first, when I was still used to the American-style of pre-prepared, de-boned, eat-it-in-5-minutes-and-get-back-to-work type cuisine.

Fish bones kind of suck though. NOT very passionate, as you are constantly spit-spit-spitting to try to get them off the tip of your tongue and onto the table.

But cow or chicken bones - MAN, do people here love them. They say that to cook the meat without the bones deprives you of the flavor, and wouldn't have it any other way. The other day I was next door and we had chicken [rare, it's expensive these days, as people have harvested their food and are not hungry, so they have less incentive to sell chickens for low prices to buy corn for dinner]. I'm used to the art of gnawing at chicken bones and sucking out the marrow, but the youngest neighbor boy literally sat and gnawed at a bone for a good half an hour after dinner was over. This is a little guy who REALLY enjoyed and appreciated that meal.

Anytime something special happens, there's gotta be sugarcane. Wedding, celebration, holidays, the weekly markets. Invariably there are piles of sugarcane, people walking home with canes taller than they are, and the ground is littered with the spat-out, dried-up remnants.

For anyone who has never seen someone eat sugarcane, it is really a spectacle that needs to be seen to understand. It is hilarious.

I was given some the other day when I went with those Arabs to the weekly market. I brought it home and gave it to the neighbor kids. They immediately went to town, using their teeth to first RIP off the outer shell, then BITE off a big chunk of the flesh, suck on it, and spit it out. The room got quite, and the only sounds that could be heard were slobbering, gasping for air, and the RIPGNAWBITE onomatopoeia that are inadequate to fully describe the pure rapture of sugarcane consumption.

I'm hungry. All I had for breakfast were more sweet potatoes and chunky milk. As per routine, will now head to town restaurant, probably for roast liver, cooked spinach, beans, and rice, spiced with some hot pepper....