Disclaimer: The contents of this page, and all links appearing on this page, do not represent the positions, views or intents of the U.S. Government, or the United States Peace Corps.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011 8:34pm

Today I had 6 mangoes for dinner. I didn’t feel like cooking, and mangoes are delicious.

Yesterday I went into the Masai Steppe, just over the mountain and down the road a bit from my village, to a Masai Village whose name I could not even begin to spell because it is in their language. I went with some sisters (the Catholic kind) from an NGO called Grail. They appear to do all sorts of wonderful work (as well as spreading Catholicism in an interestingly competitive environment with the Lutherans) including helping fund infrastructure of water and schools, as well as IGAs (income generating activitys), and health and community development projects.

We went in their truck (it’s always such a luxury to be in a car and have a whole seat to myself!) and appeared to randomly make our way through the brush and scrub until we miraculously found our way to a GIANT boabab tree (Swahili Mbuyu, Kipare – Hemramba) If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s one of those giant trees that have a huge trunk and are often considered symbolic of Africa. Apparently, out here in the steppe – which is a flat expanse of red dirt littered with thorny bushes of all different sizes and types of thorn, each village manages to have at least one boabab under which all it’s meetings are held. This is a helpful source of shade in the otherwise unbearable sun.

The Masai are one of the last tribes in Africa that maintain completely their separate tribal identity as well as their traditional ancestral culture. There are many modern conveniences that they adopt without hesitation, including cellphones and modern transportation. One thing that they have decidedly not changed is their dress, which consists of draped fabric in the colors of blue and red and some shades there within, sometimes also including orange (on top – in the shirt area) and purple (on the bottom – in the pants/skirt area) and patterns generally staying within a checkered or blocked print. I very commonly find myself squished next to a masai on a daladala who is draped in their traditional dress and carrying a staff (they are all traditionally cow herders) while talking on their cellphone. (they smell very strongly of milk, because cow milk and cow meat are their primary foods, and historically they ate very little else) It is an interesting mixture of traditional lifestyle and modern convenience.

But to return to the Boabab tree. The lesson for today is actually a review of information that has been discussed in the past. The sisters have been working in this village for 12 years now. Their PRIMARY goal is to stop FGM (female genital mutilation, Kiswahili – ukeketaje). At the moment, every single girl in the tribe is cut (per se, mutilated) ritually around the age of 3 – 5 years. The villagers who have gathered for the meeting, a mixture of young women and their babies (every single one had a baby on their boob) and elder men (no male youth) easily put together a list of the dangers associated with FGM. But they were able to put together an even more comprehensive list of why it was continued.

This list included: It’s a reason for relatives to get together to eat and have a party.

It was actually one of the first things mentioned.

The list becomes more confusing and harrowing as you continue. Things like, if the girl is not cut she will never turn into a women (ie – go through puberty) Her child will be born still-born. Etc. Etc.

Looking out over that field of faces, 90% of the meeting was women, I know every one of them had been cut in this harrowing ritual where they are beat if they cry out in pain.

It makes you wonder. Shudder in horror, and confusion. Why?

I look at the little babies feeding at their mother’s breasts. They look like normal healthy babies, happy, laughing, cranky, crying, squirming, crawling babylike babies. But then I look into the eyes of those mothers, tired and shy, subdued, resigned.

It is still practiced in Masai culture, if a man who has wealth passes by a pregnant woman whose unborn child is known to be female (how they know I am not sure) he can claim that child to be his wife. When she is 12 (that’s twelve – I didn’t mistype) she will go to live with her husband (who is now, mind you, 12 years older than he was when he claimed her and also already has a few other wives). It is supposed to be so he can ‘look after her upbringing and take care of her’ but as I am told by both the Masai women and the catholic sisters, many of them are pregnant by 14.

Sitting, standing, huddled in small circles of friends you can see their figures are somehow slightly deformed, by their diet primarily of milk (usually only the men have the privilege of eating meat) they are tall and thin, slightly sunken from a lifetime of malnutrition.

Of the group 45 who gathered for the meeting, only 4 could write their name, none of them women.

For twelve years the sisters have been coming. They brought a company who drilled a groundwater well to provide safe drinking water for the village. They helped build a classroom when the school was built, they brought in a machine that mills corn into flour, and built a building where a womens’ group started up a small store. The also started up a preschool which finally fell apart due to lack of attendance as well as an adult education school teaching reading and writing and Kiswahili (many of the villagers, primarily the women, know only kimasai – the language of the masai- which is a beautiful lyrical sound which I don’t even know if I could make come from my mouth if I tried. It is not Bantu (as Kiswahili and Kipare are) and therefore even Tanzanians find it difficult to grasp)

The adult education program was stopped as well due to lack of attendance.

It is difficult to know what to do in this situation. The Masai have been forced for the most part into a more sedentary lifestyle (they are traditionally nomads as they tend their herds of cows) by the TZ government in order that their children receive a primary education which is mandatory by law for every able child (disabled children can go to school until it is decided they aren’t keeping up or learning anymore and then they are just returned home. There are special schools in the cities but they are not government and therefore cost money, not to mention transportation, and are therefore generally inaccessible.)

The Masai have been taught to farm – which is a new and uncomfortable work for them. Sadly, in our area the farming education was brought in around the same time the rains began to fail and the Masai have all but given up on this labor intensive project that they see very little if any profit from. I have been told that it has, at least, improved their diets by bringing in corn and beans as more acceptable foods in their diet, to the point that they now purchase corn flour (to make ugali) in the markets.

Who are we to tell them to change?
Do they want to change?
Are they HAPPY?
What is HAPPY anyway?

The mothers/women are the ones who are receptive to the education. They have tried to change the diets of their children, they send their children to school, and they go to church. According to the sisters, the church is full of women every Sunday, and about 3 men sit at the side. Generally the men are not receptive at all of changes to the traditional Masai life.

Even at the meeting the only men who came were a few elders, who sat in the back and barely spoke up – unless directly asked questions and even then preferred silence.

At the end I stood up and gave a little talk, something that you become used to after awhile because it is asked of you at pretty much any event, funerals, weddings, government meetings, graduations, you name it – I have given a short talk at it.

And after I sat down they presented me with a beautiful gift – a beaded cross necklace (msalaba) decorated in the traditional masai fashion. (pictures will be posted when I get up to Moshi again)

They want me to come again, to teach them something, and I wrack my brains for what to teach them. My little talk was about change, because the world around them is changing, the weather in particular, their herds are dying and their wealth is shrinking rapidly (as their herds are their only source of wealth) I talked about how in the past there were no cars and we walked to get places, but now we use cars and we can get even farther, see more places, meet different people, etc. And in the past to send messages you sent by word of mouth, person to person, until it reached its’ destination (as they don’t write much, they don’t send letters) now they can speak directly to the person using a phone.

What I WANT to teach about is gender roles. Do an exercise which labels each activity with a gender than discusses whether the other gender is ABLE to to it (could do it) and then discuss whether they SHOULD do it – and why. It opens up dialogue, sets things moving in peoples’ heads. Because it wouldn’t work to go straight in and say men should help women do laundry, wash dishes, and bath the children. But to allow people to realize that both sexes are ABLE to do the labor, along with comparing the burden of labor the mothers carry versus the fathers, it can begin the wheels that will eventually lead them to change.

But some part of me really wonders if this tribe has held so tightly and dear to their traditions for so long, many of which I find abhorable, although many more I find fascinating and beautiful, whether it really is my place to stick my head in and change them. Create them in my image?

They are some interesting catholic-masai culture now.

They believe in God and Jesus and the earth and their cows. But not in that order.

Sunday, February 27, 2011 11:39am

I have had a lot more time to think about the Masai culture, as I continue my insanely busy schedule.

I have come to this conclusion:

Life in Africa is hard. There is physical and emotional pain. There is death. There is violence and corruption. There are limited resources and an ever growing population.

The Masai culture has adapted, if not embraced, that undeniable truth and created a system of rituals to harden their tribe members in order to survive, if not thrive, in this difficult environment.

From the age of a young child there is ritual branding. This is pain, you will feel pain in your life, it is like this. When a baby, or child, or adult is very sick, some Masai tribes still practice the ritual of leaving the sick person far out in the steppe to die. Death happens. Accept it, you will die, I will die, we will all die.

It is an unforgiving culture. It is a culture bent of survival. Some tribes still regularly steal cattle from neighboring villages. I have met people who have been badly injured by Masai for trying to protect their crops from being grazed by Masai cattle, or to try to protect their cattle from being stolen. Historically, most tribes in Tanzania were driven into the mountains by the Masai after many years of battle and suffering. The Wapare (or the Pare mountains were I live) and the Wasambaa (of the Usambara mountains south of me) were driven into the mountains many many years ago by the masai. The Masai prefer the flat land of the steppe to graze their cattle.

There are many practices that still don’t make any sense at all to me. Their diet does not provide them health or strength but they continue to primarily subsist on cow’s milk. They have access to modern medicines as well as education on disease prevention (most pointedly mosquito nets) but do not embrace these changes.

I do not know what makes cars and cellphones ok, but food and medicine not.

Maybe I will be able to learn more when I visit them again.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Saturday February 19, 2011 5:37pm

I’ve had a lot of tired days recently. Missing home. Pushing to try to get projects done, wishing I had the ability to do more, and wishing even more I had even one single day to rest.

In these days since I last wrote I received the ok for an additional grant to complete my rainwater catchment tank project – which is fantastic and very unusual. I am pretty sure it’s the first project which has received a ‘budget extension’ as I am calling it, in the history of PC Tanzania. (usually the rule of thumb is get it right the first time and if you screw up – it’s up to the villagers to pick up the slack, which is sortof silly, but I think is to prevent corruption which is such a big problem here in TZ) It is amazing that I got mine passed. I wish I could extend it even more. Build even more rainwater catchment tanks, help even more families obtain access to safe clean water.

But there is only so much one person can do. I was told a few days ago in another meeting that there are only 450 households in this village. Can’t I build each household a tank?

I wish I could.

But for now we’re building 21. 21 3,000 liter tanks. 13 of them have already been completed. They are working as fast as they can to get them all completed before the rainy season comes in full. We just got our first big rain a few days ago which was a blessing because the water in the spring that supplies 3 of 6 subvillages (including mine) had gone dry. Dry meaning no water. No water for almost a week. The 2 subvillages on either side of mine went for about 3 weeks without water, because the water reaches my subvillage first (we’re higher in the mountains) then goes down to the other 2. They were all coming to my subvillage to get water.

What do you do when you have no water? First you don’t bathe (a few swipes with a wet washcloth a day gets it done). Then you stop doing any house cleaning. Can’t really do laundry. You try not to dirty dishes as to have to clean them. But then I am single, I live alone. You can’t not bathe children. You can’t not wash their clothes, especially in a country that has no diapers.

I wrote a proposal to get a groundwater well dug that would be enough for the 3 subvillages that are hardest hit. I took it to Rotary (we have a Rotary Club in Same! Amazing I know!!!!) and they sent it to 2 clubs in the US to hopefully get funding. (IF YOU KNOW ANYONE IN A ROTARY CLUB PLEASE LET ME KNOW – OR ANY OTHER GROUP THAT WOULD HAVE THE AVAILABILITY OF FUNDS TO DIG A GROUNDWATER WELL!!) But it’s an expensive project. And I would want to be here when it is carried out because of the above mentioned corruption that is so prevalent here in Tanzania. So many donors give money that disappears before it reaches the intended beneficiaries. I would say easily 60% of aid doesn’t reach the people. So if a donor was found I would extend my time here long enough to see the project through to completion.

This one big rain that we had the other night also filled to at least half capacity the rainwater catchment tanks that have been completed. The households who were lucky enough to be amongst the first to receive tanks are still using water from one big rainstorm the first week of January. (It hasn’t rained, or even drizzled, or been damp, foggy, muggy, or anything hinting at water in the atmosphere since that first week of January and that was the first rain since the beginning of November)

We are getting huge rainstorms where the whole sky drops and the paths flood and the landscape is carved away once every 2 or three months instead of an actual rainy season in which every day or so it rains and crops can grow and mature. This is global warming. But I digress.

I mentioned before that I have been tired and homesick lately. Mainly just missing the comfort of people that I am familiar with. I miss talking about art. I miss talking about news. I miss talking about all the things that Americans talk about which are NOT the things that Tanzanians talk about. I miss sitting around and chatting and laughing and being with the people I love. I miss you guys.

So today I woke up early to do my laundry before going to my PLWHA Group meeting. I put my Ipod on it’s happy little speaker and put it on a book on tape – The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama. I have listened to it over and over and over hoping it would sink in and I would therefore learn to be happy. But you know when you listen to books on tape like this your mind wanders and you find you haven’t been listening for fifteen minutes and someone’s knocking on your door so you turn it off and go to make some tea.

But today I got lucky and the tiny moment I happened to be actually paying attention the author asks the Dalai Lama about loneliness. The Dalai Lama replies that he doesn’t ever feel lonely because he approaches all people with the same openness, seeing every person as wanting to feel accepted and having the same needs and wants as he (I am quoting this badly so I’ll let you guys use your google to get the right quote, as searching in an audiobook isn’t exactly . . . userfriendly.)

And either by luck or by having this thought bouncing around in the back of my head I was able to have a wonderful conversation with a good friend of mine for a few hours in which we talked about – The internet (even though he has never touched a computer) Internet sales (he was flabbergasted) and then drawing into talking about my art, talking about the project that I wanted to do here in Tanzania, why I hadn’t done it yet, what I was afraid of happening, and what my goals would be to do with it. And he understood (with patient explaining) and said he’d help me do it!

It would be amazing. And he’d be the person who’d really be able to understand. He is a member of the Muhama Group (the ones who are building the rainwater tanks) He finished 7th grade with great grades but couldn’t go on to secondary school because there weren’t any close by when he finished – there was only one in the whole district and his parents couldn’t afford to send him to boarding. But he’s a smart guy and he’s determined to keep learning. He’s more intuitive and ‘worldly’ than most others in the village, either by luck of experience or by his curiosity of the world and drive to keep learning.

Amusingly I have gotten to the point of explaining things to Tanzanians where I simplify the topic as much as I possibly can and then I explain it over and over in different ways until I get it. This can sometimes take a very long time as the concepts are very foreign to them. With this fellow when I start the second round he’s like ‘ok I got you, no need to repeat yourself!’

Anyways I have been rambling on for awhile now and I should go and make myself some dinner before I get too sleepy and decide to skip it and just go to sleep.

(And, More Pictures!)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Friday, November 19, 2010 7:16pm

There is this phenomenon here in Tanzania which drives me absolutely batty. In a normal conversation when I meet someone they always, of course, ask me where I am from. I would say about the third of the time they then have some anecdote about life in America that is almost always inaccurate. (very sadly so – though usually it is associated with the fact that they think America is in Europe, or directly confuse it with Germany, Norway, or recently even more oddly, Arabic countries)

Sometimes it is as simple as saying, “Oh, it’s always so cold there!” which is only inaccurate because the US is large and has many seasons and climates. Some places actually are cold, and a lot are during parts of the year. The frustrating, or dare I say infuriating thing is that when it is something that is much more inaccurate, like, say, all people who live in Miami are addicted to drugs and prostitutes (all, she was not allowing for even a single sober soul), or that Americans only marry within contracts (more on this later) For some unknown reason instead of accepting the truth being told by an actual American who was born and raised there, they fight the point! They insist that whatever misinformed fact they hold dear is indeed the truth and the only truth and nothing I can say will convince them otherwise.

Now we will return to this marriage by contract. According to a large number of Tanzanians, both villagers right here in my village and people who live in cities, Moshi, even Dar, have this strange notion that Americans marry for a contract of 5 years at which point (after these 5 years) the marriage is absolved and they are single again to go marry someone else. Has ANYONE ever heard of such a thing? I hadn’t until I got here, to Tanzania, and had person after person after person argue with me that Americans practice this institution of marriage. I can discuss the issue for over an hour with someone (we have long bus rides in this country) and at the end they are still insisting on their superior knowledge of my homeland and our cultural practices. Perhaps it is so bothersome because the insistence in this case and most other cases where they are bound and determined to hold their ground, is them trying to insist that the culture of Americans is immoral and despicable.

But on to other things. I have been very busy, as is usual, I guess. But finally, things are actually getting done. We built our first rainwater catchment tank last week and it is already almost half full of water with these very late very torrential downpours we have had these past few days. I will be meeting with the group to discuss the schedule of the project tomorrow as delays in grant processing caused the inconvenience of our work schedule to be right on top of farming season. But we will get it done. The group is so excited about the first tank (and so am I!) and are willing to keep putting in the work to keep the project moving. One tank completed, 19 to go! Each tank takes a week and after we get the hang of it we’re hoping to have 2 separate teams working on 2 tanks every week.

It’s been a lot a lot of work and no play recently. My time here is slipping away quickly all the sudden, and I feel compelled to get everything I absolutely can done. Which is a lot, but never seems like enough. There is still some other project on the sidelines, neglected. So much I could do in another year, but my student loans loom over my head, and soon I’ll be returning to the motherland to get a job and learn what new technological gadgets have overtaken society since I left. And what change, I am sure both good and bad, has been made by the Obama administration.

The village has become home and I have found my place in it. There are people I am completely comfortable with and people I avoid like the plague. It is sad to me that so many of the people I feel that I need to avoid live in close distance to my house. To clarify, I do not avoid them for any safety reasons, but only for peace of mind. There are, of course, those who are angry that I did not come to their house and teach them, individually, English. Or build them a new clinic (Peace Corps has a policy of not building buildings). Or pay their kids’ tuition. They are angry that I have worked with groups and they somehow think that I gave these groups money (white person means money) and that they didn’t get any. (despite the fact that I have welcomed them many times to join these groups!)

So I just sort of stay away from them.

January 13, 2011 7:35pm

Today I climbed over a few mountains to a village about 4hrs away, way up in the mountains but not so far away that when we were at the tippy top we could still see Same town and the Massai steppe in it’s orange red flatness extending into the horizon. The village I went to was like another world. On the top of a mountain there were banana and avocado trees, coffee, potatos and another potato like plant that they love here, and the usual corn and beans brushed through with gentle cool breezes. What was even more amazing was walking down muddy paths when my village just a short hop over some mountains hasn’t gotten any rain since mid December (this should be the middle of our rainy season?) It was paradise. It was beautiful.

Then myself and a member of my HIV/AIDs group carried back 3 four month old milk goats. We pushed them a bit, and pulled them a bit, but since their whole life they lived in a banda and only came out a few hours each day to play, they were not used to the walking. And so we carried them a lot.

Goats are heavy. But we had a good time. And they are beautiful goats and they will give 3 more families access to nutritious goat milk as well as profit from selling the milk and the baby goats.

Along the road we met a few people who didn’t seem to mind helping us carry the goats which was helpful there being 3 goats and 2 people. They even went out of their way to help us and then retracing their steps to reach their destination.

These goats will finish (I hope) the milk goat project that I am doing with my HIV group. It has been a rocky road, with Flora and I reminding each other over and over and over binadamu ni binadamu (translated directly people are people but really means people are only human) because as we have trudged so slowly to try to get through this milk goat project done. Right after we got the first batch of goats they decided they wanted, instead, chickens. Well, not even, it turns out, instead, but also. And the conversation goes like this. “Jen, we were thinking - we want chickens.” “We haven’t even finished the goat project yet, we should see how things go because this one project is a lot of work for us and could get a lot of great results.” “But we want chickens” “You said you wanted goats” “We also want chickens. We’re not worried, we know you’ll bring us chickens.”

They got nice, half caste/some full breed modern milk goats. Expensive milk goats, and supplies to help build them bandas and a full day seminar on their care and enough medicine for the first 6 months of their care.

But they want chickens. I just can’t even grasp the concept since every single person, even the poorest person in the whole village has CHICKENS. (except me, who even if I go vegetarian will allow chickens in my diet as I see they have as much brains as the average edible vegetation)

And just to clarify, they where the ones who came to me in the first place and asked to do the milk goat project, which we planned every detail together.

But I am home now. My house is a disaster because after my brother left (he visited me – which was awesome – more on that later!) and I went to Mtwara to visit other volunteers (for those too lazy to look on a map – it’s the region that borders Mozambique but also still on the ocean) the day I got back I had people stalking my house looking for me and have been going like crazy ever since. I actually did my laundry when I got home at 9pm. In the near dark. Which is, in case you’re wondering, really difficult.

On that note I’ve gotten 2 visitors since I started writing this and it’s almost 10pm and that’s my bedtime in case your wondering.

So I’ll cut this short so I can actually post it instead of this other November post that hung around on my computer in limbo for 2 months because I was interrupted mid-writing and then got SUPER busy.


Good night

Usiku Mwema (Kiswahili) Ooo See Koo Mweh ma

Kio Chedi (Kipare) Kee Oh Che dee

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September 16, 2010 Thursday 8:57pm

First: Pictures from Mom & Dad's Visit!

And, New Pictures at the end!

Now, for the blog...

Yesterday I climbed Vumari Mountain. All the way up into our forest where I have been told there are ‘dangerous wild animals’, or maybe there were long ago.

I went with Vumari’s Forest Committee, Kamati ya Msitu Shirikishi, the mwenyekiti (chairman) of the village, and 2 ascari (police officers) totaling 9 people. Our mission: to arrest people illegally cutting down trees in the protected forest. The police officers carried guns, old machine guns with wooden parts. I know nothing about guns so you’ll have to wait for the pictures if you are interested.

I left my house around 615am to meet up with the group and start up the mountain. We started off at a quick pace, which wore me out quickly as we were climbing the mountain at a near run. But no one else seemed even winded. We walked as quietly as we could, listening carefully and looking for signs of cutting, and fresh footprints. By some stroke of luck, our trek was only 2 days after the first rainstorm in months, so it was actually possible to make out new footprints.

And we climbed.

Within the first hour we heard the first group, and slowly ambushed from different sides. I stayed towards the back, as I had no idea what to expect and didn’t want to get in the way of their strategy. The 2 male youth ran in different directions, and for a split second the mama in our group had caught a hold of one, but he threatened her with his panga (large knife/thing they use for pretty much everything – not as sharp as a knife) and she let go of him.

They left one pair of sandals, an ax, a jembe (hoe), and a huge pile of old growth trees stacked up and ready to be transported. We stood around the loot for a few minutes, discussing how we would use certain items to try to ascertain the identity of the youths, and then continued our climb at the same hurried pace.

A few hours in it was apparent I was not holding up as well as the rest of the group. Climbing uphill nonstop at near jogging makes me a little breathless, but the rest continued as if it where just lazy stroll. At last I had to stop as my legs refused to move any longer. I realized I had made a mistake in not bringing any food. I had thought we would be back down the mountain for lunch, and only brought water and my camera. But as lunchtime was rolling around, and we were still only nearing the top, I was worrying just a bit.

The higher we got the lusher and more beautiful the forest became. An exotic, almost prehistoric looking mix of tropical trees and moss and cool air. Banana trees, palms, Neem (don’t know if there is another name but it is a medicinal tree in Swahili called Marobaini which means the tree of 40 medicines), and MANY other medicinal trees that the man I call babu (grandpa) (who was winding me the whole way without fail) would point out. I wasn’t able to take that many pictures because I was trying not to hold the group back, which I already felt I was doing. Luckily by around 1pm we had reached the top and we followed the ridge awhile, climbing and then descending, so I wasn’t as exhausted as I was by the steady climb.

We wandered through and under and over, without any trail at all, being led by my babu. We passed a number of places where there was obvious destruction going on but we did not encounter any other groups in the act. There was one place my babu pointed out where a certain tree was growing that was not native to the forest. It was a pretty big tree and by looking at it and the surrounding environment, he ascertained that about 10 years ago that space was used as a cooking area for those who were cutting trees from the forest. The tree is Msele – they take the leaves from the tree and let the dry in the sun, then they mill them (they LOVE to mill things in this country!) and make a powder that they boil to make this green paste the consistency of snot (really) which they eat with ugali. I eat pretty much anything in this country, but I DO NOT LIKE msele. Most Tanzanians love it which is great because it is very nutritious.

Along the ridge of the mountain you could look down on one side and see parts of my village. On the other side, Same. It was easier to see Same because the drop off on that side of the mountain was very steep. Which became tricky in coming down.

I might mention at this point again my lack of preparedness for this trek. I had worn a skirt because it was in the village and I know how they don’t like me to wear pants in the vil. I wore an easy to walk in skirt, but a skirt nonetheless. And my chacos. Which are more comfortable in the heat than hiking shoes. Because I thought we were going up the trails I had already been on, or more like them. I did not, mind you, realize that we were going over the mountain. Next time I will ask more questions. . .

So walking through high grass, brambles, and all sorts of new thorn bushes and awful prickly things, I just gave up trying to avoid them. The pain of whatever was scraping against my legs mingled with the momentum of the trek. I just kept going.

My legs look disgusting right now. When I got home after I scrubbed off the mud and dirt I just sat with tweezers for over an hour pulling out thorns. Just one seems to want to get infected, but I just keep cleaning it out and neosporining it again and again.

I thought going up the mountain was difficult, but going down was nerve wracking. We spent at least 2 hours wandering the ridge looking for a place we could descend. The Same side of the mountain is strewn with huge boulders, which when you’re on top of them make cliffs. It is also, as I mentioned previously, very very steep.

So finally we just started down the best we could. We scaled the rock where there were enough vines and trees to hold onto. The soft mountain dirt just slid under my feet, but the mwenyekiti and sometimes others took turns making sure I didn’t fall down, finding sure footing and then taking firm grip of my hand. After awhile I learned to look towards the mountain. Looking out the other way made my head spin.

We descended through the jungle-like high forest to the rocky grassy midland. One of the ascari (police officer) dislodged a rock from the path above that missed all of us and hit the other ascari in the arm. (imagine a rock falling off a ledge pretty much straight down, that was what we were scaling) He wasn’t badly injured, in that he could still use it, but it was obviously causing him a lot of pain. We traveled more slowly after that, and those in the front watched for loose rocks and moved them far out of the way.

Anyone who has done any mountain climbing knows how hard going downhill is on your legs, and as we finally reached an area were we were actually just walking and not scaling, 3pm was rolling around and I had not eaten since 6am. My legs were wobbly, and I was lightheaded. I knew if I kept walking we would get to Same and food and water (mine had long since ran out since I shared it as no one else carried anything at all) so I kept walking. At one point we reached a water pipe which had a leak. Since my water bottle was already empty we filled it again and again and people took turns drinking. I knew the water was unfiltered and could have all sorts of worms and microbes and such in it, and as my job as a health teacher I did tell them before they drank that they were putting themselves at risk. But I drank it too. We were really thirsty.

The Same side of the mountain is not as forested and the sun beat down on us overhead. It was only moving forward. Thinking about a cold fanta. Moving forward.

We reached the road about 4pm. We walked a small distance down towards a primary school that we had agreed to meet the other group which had covered a different area in the low-lands. And I was so happy. We had made it. I had scaled Vumari Mountain, through the forest and climbed down the steep cliffs to Same town. The group watched over me like hawks. Making sure I was ok, always there to give a hand when I needed one (most literally) And we had all arrived safely.

We hadn’t actually arrested anyone, which I was a little let down by. The group had decided to change paths after it was apparent that climbing steep slopes for hours was not within my ability, at least at their pace. I didn’t know this until later and felt pretty bad about it, though it didn’t seem to bother them. They said it allowed them to survey a different part of the forest they hadn’t been through in years (which is why they weren’t sure about where to cut down to Same)

So there we sat in the grass in the shade of some pathetically dried up little trees, waiting for the car to show up to take us into town to report. And the other group came up and we chatted and exchanged stores and information. I was feeling a little light headed, so I went and sat down.

And then I decided to lay down, and then I was out.

I was lucky that an older woman was walking by with a bottle of water. Which they thought just as good to pour on me as in my mouth. In less than a minute they had sent some child running to get sugar to put in the water and in no time I was drinking the most delicious mixture of water and sugar that anyone in their life has tasted.

And then I drank a whole soda, and a liter and a half of water, and then kept drinking. The car finally showed up and we went somewhere to eat, but somehow the rice and beans did not want to cooperate with my newly awakened stomach so I just kept drinking.

None of the other people in the group seemed at all out of sorts. They were tired, a little sun weary perhaps, and they ate with their normal fervor. But I was the only one who thought that it was unusual to climb a mountain from 630am till 4pm without food or water.

But, after all, it was also my total misunderstanding of what we were actually headed out to do. If I would have known, I would have brought snacks and more water. And worn pants and hiking shoes.

Now I know for next time.

But I wouldn’t take it back for a second. It was amazing.

Babu stopped in on me today to make sure I was doing alright, as well as a few other folks that heard I was ‘sick’ which I guess is how it seems to them. I didn’t realize how worried they were, as I considered it quite normal to pass out if you climb over a damned mountain practically at running pace for 10 hours without eating and without drinking enough water. But I am under their care, and they take care of me as their own.

I decided, for the first time since I have been here, that I would take a ‘day off’, and on the ride home from Same, canceled the Tree Nursery Group meeting that would have been the next morning. Somehow the thought of hiking back up into the forest only to carry back down huge bags and buckets of forest floor compost (for the tree nursery) seemed . . . impossible.

So today I cleaned my house, did laundry, and in the afternoon walked down to the secondary school on my still wobbly and very sore legs. I sat through some of their graduation practice and scored some free mediocre food.

Came back home, cooked up some eggplant and thought how good it would be if I only had some cheese. And then realizing I did, used up the very last of my parmesan that my parents brought me from the US of A. I am so glad that I finally convinced my mom that cheese can last without being refrigerated, and that I just might eat it anyway if it has gone bad a little, it’s still cheese!

On that note, I’m gonna get some sleep. I have a village government meeting in the morning and a PLWHA meeting in the afternoon. And I’m up WAY past my bedtime. . .

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September 12, 2010 Sunday 6:32am

I have been in my village for more than a year now. The year mark passed August 20th (I happened to be in Lushoto as my parents where visiting). The year mark in Tanzania passed months ago – June 18th. I was in Same town with some girls I was teaching English. I bought us all icecream as a treat, and not being used to the cold food, they all threw theirs out after a bite or 2.

The times flies by and I know I will blink a few times and already be back in the US. I have so much work to do, though. And everything (but time) moves so slowly in this country.

My parents where here for three weeks. Traveling around Tanzania with them was the first time I looked at Tanzania from a tourist perspective. When I returned to my village everything became new again. A woman with a bucket of water on her head, balanced without using her hands, and her tiny baby tied to her back walking down the path towards her home is suddenly impressive, exotic, and beautiful, and sad. It had come in this year so commonplace that I didn’t think a second more of it before picking up my water buckets and lugging them towards my house. I am glad that I have reawakened my senses.

For these few days cooking over a fire will seem novelty again.

The same foods made from beans and maize and rice are delicious again.

Each extended greeting and slow meandering through the village to stop by houses is comforting, instead of frustratingly making me late to whatever place I was going.

Seeing Tanzania through my parents’ eyes also reminds me of how different their lives are than ours, and when they say that their lives are so hard and our (white people but meaning Americans and Europeans) lives are so easy, instead of having long discussions about it just being different and incomparable, I tend to agree.

Things so simple as water, cooking and food. Most people take for granted. Water is piped into our houses, safe to drink and cook and wash with. They carry water from many kilometers away, every day or every other day, just to get home, use it up, and go out to fetch more. And if they want to drink it, it should be boiled and filtered (but they don’t) We cook on gas or electric, supplied to our houses again, so we just turn it on and it is ready. Or toss the food in the microwave (oh novelty!) and in 20 seconds it is piping hot. They walk kilometers into the brush to gather firewood and cook in smoky brick rooms without windows.

It is comparable. Our lives, for the most part, are easier.

As much as I hate falling into generalizations, I find it impossible to reach any other conclusion.

And probably many of you are saying – well duh – that’s what you’re doing there to help them. But you know there is this purist idealistic little voice within us (or maybe just me) that wanted to see this life as simpler and therefore perhaps in different ways better.

The one thing I am always sure to tell them is that despite their poverty, Tanzanians in my observation, in general, are much happier than those Americans whom they so desperately want to be like.

I have finally fallen into groups working with successful projects, which makes me pretty happy. Our tree nursery is finally almost planted. The plot is cleaned and the day before yesterday we built a fence around it and made steps from the slight slope so the little trees would have a place to sit on.

The health drama club is up and running, and, knock on wood, the grant for my rainwater catchment project is slowly working it’s way through the bureaucracy that is inefficiency. The milk goats are already pregnant, and though they seem to be sick all the time, I am hoping once that grant comes through we will be able to get the project on its feet.

Pictures should be up sometime soon. Whether they go up with this blog post depends on a lot of luck at the Same internet café today. It is unlikely though. [From Dad: they didn't make it...]

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

New Pictures!

Tuesday, June 16, 2010 8:57pm

Beans cooked with pizza spice is not as good as it sounds. Which is truly a shame since it doesn’t even sound all that good.

But it is different. An appreciated change from the norm, and edible. Sadly, the rice too, is plagued by these small mostly clear whitish rocks, which as you can imagine are impossible to pick out when cleaning. Flora warned me about them, as they showed up in her rice too, and explained how to clean them out. But I seem to have failed miserably.

So pizza beans and rocky rice paired with an orange (they are coming in huge numbers from Tonga now) after a day of laundry and cleaning and putting together lesson plans and preparing for the onslaught of tomorrow through Monday.

Tomorrow, ISF will be coming for a meeting. The Spanish version of engineers without borders who have devastated our existing water system and are coming back, I hope, to make amends and fix things. They left the village before I came, and the stories surrounding the event are varied so I will try to remain neutral in saying that the work they completed did not provide adequate water. They were updating and refurnishing an existing system that when they finished provided significantly less water than when started. Part of this is due to drought. The other reasons I will let you speculate in order to remain neutral as a good little Peace Corps Volunteer is supposed to be on a public blog such as this.

Needless to say, the villagers where very upset when water became inadequate, and arguments began. ISF left without finishing most of their work about a year before I came to the village. In order to do my initial report, I tried my best to get an accurate picture of what had happened, and what could be done. Water, as has been mentioned in previous posts, is the biggest problem in my village, and can be traced to be the source of most other problems (along with lack of education). Without water, there is no life.

My initial thought was to figure out the source of the conflict and then A: try to collaborate with ISF to return to the village and finish their work as well as look into the reasons of the failure of completed projects or B: Find the original contract ISF signed with the government of the village as well as the Government in Same and hold them accountable to finish the work described within to an acceptable standard.

Sadly, due to a total lack of adequate communication and a number of failed meetings, and the inability to find the contract due to a change in local government, I put all that by the wayside and started working with the villagers to think of other ways to find adequate water.

And now all the sudden ISF has shown back up. And tomorrow I will sit through my first meeting with them and my villagers. They have come 2 other days now, which I had already scheduled projects.

I am very interested in what they have to say.
I am also nervous they will let my villagers down again.

It might be a contributing reason to their lack of confidence in my larger projects coming through and their reluctance to take part, contribute labor, money, or resources to projects that seem so obviously propitious to all to me. But they have been let down now. And who knows how many other times before.

Friday morning (8am) I have a meeting with the Forest Committee. We will be planting a tree nursery with 2 trainers from Same. We are hoping to plant about 500 seedlings. I have promised to bake banana bread, and made sure that was written into the announcement (meetings are announced by letter which are distributed usually by children or whoever happens to be going near the home of that person, as we don’t have cell network and people don’t own cellphones. . and no, no landlines either) The bread is a bribe for people to show up – as well as show up on time.

Just this last week I went to a meeting, planned between myself and important gov’t officials (I won’t name) about a big project I am trying to get running, and not a single person came. Not even the unnamed gov’t officials. I sat for 2 hours in the hope that another single soul would arrive.

So I have come to bribing them with banana bread. And I pray that it works.

In the afternoon I have my very first PLWHA (People Living with HIV/AIDS) meeting. This took a long time because they had to become used to me and trust me. Also, I have to be known as working with many clubs and groups in the village. Because no one is ‘out’ in my village due to tremendous stigma, it is important that they are seen as just another group of people that I am working with.

I am excited, which seems an inappropriate reaction. I have met with many of them individually, taken them food and sat with them to discuss the difficulties they face in getting medicine and proper care, and many even adequate food for themselves and their families. One of them is a dear friend of mine who is sick and has been in and out of the hospital, and just yesterday showed me the rash that she has all across her stomach and side. The doctors say it is a bacterial infection, but she is not getting better.

I worry about her. I visit her often.

She is known and loved in her subvillage. I wonder what would happen if they knew she had HIV.

On Saturday I will be heading into Same to teach a group of Secondary students English for the weekend. Mostly form 4 students who will be taking their national exam soon (August I think) and are in Same for ‘tuition’ which consists of classes held by teachers during school breaks (such as right now) for a small fee usually about 100/= (about $0.10) per class.

Anyways, sleepy now. Pizza beans and rocky rice makes for a heavy dinner J

Monday, June 14, 2010

Thursday June 10, 2010 6:55pm

There’s this time of day just before sunset where light rakes across the landscape and I remember why I so love photography. Because really, photography is a love of light. A delicate understanding of the relationship between objects and (as most often in my case) the sun.

I climbed a small mountain, what some might consider a large hill, near my house today. I am on a quest to find personal space, peace and quiet, me time. Most of you who know me know how prone I am to cram my schedule full of productive activities, leaving me exhausted but fulfilled, moving ever forward in my somewhat eclectic life story.

But here, in Africa, in my little village, with my 2,204 villagers spread out over 8 hours of foothills and mountains, whatever I do never seems to be enough. And I am exhausted. So my plan is to do less.

Counterintuitive? Nah. I’m just tired. I feel like all of my projects are suffering from the lack of time to commit to any one single project. So I am cutting back, and wandering a bit, on my own.

And on top of that little mountain, looking down at the sun raking over the cornfields and the scrubby brush, over the mountains beyond, and the mountains farther beyond, I felt happy. And that’s a start.

So I climbed back down off the mountain, aiming haphazardly towards the primary school, cut through the soccer game, and went to my newest phone-signal spot down the road. There, I met a drunk man. Harmless, rather friendly in a comfortingly non-hitting-on-me way, which is unusual for drunk men. Instead he wanted to talk about our local Catholic priest.

In my first week here in my village, I had an unfortunate encounter with this priest. I will spare you the details as this is a very public venue, but needless to say, it was an un-priest-like encounter. Since then I have had numerous conversations with women here in the village, after I got a lot more comfortable of course, and found that everybody already knows that the guy is a creep.

So tonight, this drunk fellow is telling me that his wife’s sister recently got a ride with the priest as she was walking into town (the priest has a car, and is one of the 2 people in the village with this privilege). And he stopped the car and made, shall we say, (again because this is very public, we’ll leave out details) a forceful and graphic invitation.

I try to reason with this drunk man, making him aware that I know of the priest’s behavior and am rather furious and confused as to why the community both knows about it and still tolerates his presence in our village and in our church. He tells me this: because it is the custom of the Pare people, he put a medicine on his wife. If the priest sleeps with his wife, he will be stuck to her, unable to separate. And then the man will know that his wife has been unfaithful.

And my answer is: “Huh?” no but really? I asked him what the name of this medicine is and how it works but he said it was something known to him and his people. I suggested strongly and repeatedly he simply have a few words with the priest about his behavior, and he agreed that he would do that in addition.

And then he invited me to dinner. Which I declined. (As a rule, I don’t go home with drunk people)

So now I am eating my beans. Without rice or anything else cuz I don’t feel like cooking any more. And cooked with tea spices because I misplaced my curry powder cleaning today. Which I have to say makes for interestingly flavoured beans.

It’s these long evenings by myself that kill me.

Sunday June 13, 2010 8:47pm

Tomorrow I will walk into Same. My bike, as usual, has a flat tire, and in the soft glow of afternoon errands I couldn’t bring myself to again ask the fellow who always repairs my flat tires to help me yet again. Sometime soon I will have to learn how to do it myself.

Tuesday I will be leaving early in the morning to spend a solid 24 hours with a local group called Muhama, which is also the name of a local tree, who do a number of great things along with sing and dance in the traditional Pare tribal custom. They have invited me to come with them to guard and celebrate the Mwenge – the freedom torch of Tanzania – as it passes through Same.

They warned there will be no sleeping, only singing and dancing and staying with the torch as it travels through villages and towns. And at least the dancing part I can handle. The songs, I usually catch on in time.

I am not allowed to bring my camera, I have been warned time and again, that the photography surrounding the mwenge can only be done by government registered photographers, and one person even related a story of a poor Norwegian tourist whose camera was . . removed from her possession. So you will only get my written account, but I promise to draw pictures with my words, as best as I can.

For now I am off to prepare for these next few busy days.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I hope you enjoy the new improved blog with pictures! I tried for a good long time to get a nice slideshow from my picasa web album on the side of the blog but it doesn't want to show up in the widget to choose.

So I'm gonna go back to sleep cuz I'm sick and really sleepy.