"We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service relationship to humanity." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mwalimu watoto mzungu?!

The great thing about standing out in a small town is that running into someone familiar everywhere that you go is inevitable.  The not-so-great thing about standing out in a small town is that running into someone familiar everywhere that you go is inevitable.  It all depends on the mood of the day.

Yesterday was fantastic.  While bumping down the dirt road to Mwasama, I noticed a large group of my students walking down the road.  I had Elias pull over, hopped out of the van and joined them.  They were on their way to visit the under-construction new site of Mwasama, about two miles outside of Bagamoyo.  So, we walked, and walked, and walked.  I thought about just how much my students in the states would complain about the walk - kids here are built tough and know how to live without mobile phones, or TV, or iPods.  It's refreshing.  After a rather hair-raising moment getting all of them across the treacherous Dar Highway (see previous post for details), we walked in a single file line down the side of the road, teachers posted at the beginning, middle, and end of the line.  I brought up the rear.  It was a perfect post, as I was able to watch the reactions of drivers by, seeing the normal sight of schoolkids walking down the road, followed by the somewhat befuddled expression as they saw me (again, I don't blend well).  A man rode his bicycle past, with another man sitting sidesaddle on the back of the bike (seeing two or more people on a bike is normal, as is seeing people on said bike carrying multiple large bottles of water, bags of rice, lumber, or live chickens - often a combination of the afore mentioned items).  The man on the back of the bike surveyed the situation with a puzzled expression.

"Mwalima watoto mzungu!?"  He didn't intend it to be heard by us, but by the driver of the bike...but it carried.  The teacher of the students is a mzungu?!

Students turned to see my reaction.  Once they saw that I was laughing, they busted up, too.  I'd like to think that it was a bonding moment, but am pretty sure they were just laughing at me.

When we arrived at the "new" Mwasama, the school's owner, Mama Mwajuma was there to meet us.  Students ran all over the new space, chattering excitedly about it.  I spoke with Mama, about a correspondence program between my classes and some at Mwasama.  I also started a discussion of incorporating more literature into the students' time.  She seemed open to the idea and said that she'd welcome a meeting to continue a discussion.  She's a benevolent woman, the students obviously appreciate her presence, as they all greet her with, "Good Morning, Bibi." (grandma)

We walked back toward town, students fighting over who got to carry my bag.  I was able to talk with many of them and learn more about their lives.  Kids are very much the same here as anywhere.  They want approval, to succeed, and to feel like they matter.  After we returned to town and dropped the students at the soccer fields, I left them, feeling somewhat inspired and excited about the possibility of making a lasting connection and contribution between myself and Bagamoyo. I stopped by the town's only ATM and, by some rare stroke of luck, it both worked AND had money in it!  I started a circle through town, stopping in at some shops and other volunteer placements to say hello or pick up items.  After a rather thorough tour through town, down to the beach by the fish market, back by Rasti's to discuss some artwork, with a quick stop at AMAP to say hello to the kids and pick up a shirt she'd made plus a birthday gift for another volunteer, I worked my way through Baga, stopping to say hello to new friends.  Walking with a spring in my step, I passed two wazungu, said hello, and about fell over when their reply was with an American accent.  Most other foreigners, while rare, are from Europe.  I stopped and talked to them a bit - two Peace Corps volunteers stationed in South Africa, just up in Bagamoyo for a few days.  Later, I learned that another volunteer from our group had met them last weekend at the Full Moon party on Zanzibar!  All the way in Africa, it really is a small world.  I turned the corner to head up the hill to the internet cafe just as a group of about 25 nursery school kids crossed the highway.  They immediately surrounded me, some wanting to hold my hand, others a fist pound, others just skipped in front, shouting, "Mzungu! Mzungu!"  Somehow, when it's little kids saying it, it's cute.  I must admit, the use of it by adults is growing old.

As do most Americans these days, we've turned many things that were never meant to be into verbs.  We have contests to see how many times a person can be "mzungu-ed" or "shikamoo-ed" each day.

What I appreciate most is when I'm greeted in the way that anyone would greet a local, especially by the traditional women.  Men usually try out their english skills with thoughtful and creative statements, often shouted from a distance, such as "Heeeellllooo, girlfreeeend," or "I loooove you!"  But, when a women, dressed head to toe in kanga (more on that later) greets with "Hijambo, dada!" it's an honor.

The kanga, a cloth rectangle about six by four feet, often colorful and including a border and swahili proverb, is right up there with the bucket when it comes to an ultimate multitasker.  Women wear them as shirts, skirts, belts, head coverings, and all in about a thousand different ways.  Babies are tied to their mothers using kanga, and a rolled up kanga, coiled on top of the head provides a cushion for a heavy water bucket.  They're beautiful, come in many colors and patterns (there's even a Barack Obama kanga) and I've already bought four...though one needs to be careful, as the proverbs aren't always nice and salesmen looking for a sale will always tell you that it says something sweet.  I had one of mine translated after I bought it (the man said that it meant, "Thank you, Mama").  Its real meaning? "If you don't like me anymore, get rid of me."  Close.

We're off on safari tomorrow!  We'll leave after placement in the afternoon and drive six hours on dusty roads to the Udzungwa Mountains, a rainforest mountain range in the center of the country.  We'll stay one night there, then hike through the forest on Friday.  After lunch, we'll drive to Mikumi Park, where we'll stay at a tented camp (permanent tents with full furnishings inside - no Coleman camp tents here).  The previous visitors awoke to an elephant outside their tent!  The tents are suspended on a raised platform, with plumbing and an electric generator, so it's safe.  We'll do a few game drives on Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday morning before returning to Bagamoyo.  I'm so looking forward to seeing more of the country and, with any luck, elephants, giraffes, and lions!

Wonder if they have a "My friend went on safari and all I got was this lousy kanga" kanga...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Zanzibar, Speed bumps, and Home for now

I’m not really sure if it was incredibly fortuitous that I met Kennedy the way that I did upon my arrival, or if I’ll end up having to sacrifice a goat to repay him for the benefit of his connections. Either way, the guy pulls some serious strings. On Friday afternoon, we all piled into a van and headed toward the Dar ferry. Along the way, Kennedy and his rather imposing breath, gave me instructions and details about this trip and our safari, which we will do this weekend.

The highway (again, use the term loosely) to Dar is a paved, two lane road. In theory, Tanzanians drive on the left side of the road, though many apparently get bored with that arrangement and simply drive down the wrong side of the road until a large truck forces the driver into the correct lane. There is a speed limit, though I think that most regard it as a minimum speed requirement. The government’s response? Speed bumps. In the middle of a highway. Usually there are sets of smallish speed bumps, a bit of a warning speed bump, followed by a “speed mountain” – a speed bump about three feet high and ten feet wide. We all joke about the number of people who’ve launched themselves into the future over such bumps. Sense a little foreshadowing here? Read on.

As we enter the outskirts of Dar, it is suggested to stop at ShopRite, a supermarket where some of the western foods that we all crave can be found. We enter the store and are welcomed by a blast of air conditioning and fluorescent lighting. I look around at what, for the most part, looks like any supermarket back home (aside from the armed guard stationed at the door). I really, truly wanted to hug something. So, we wander and grab a few things while whistling along to the piped-in overhead music: Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”.

After fighting typical Dar traffic, we arrive at an incredibly frenetic ferry terminal. Kennedy collects all of our passports and payment and disappears. In hindsight, not the best choice, but we went with it. He returns to the car, hands us each our passports and a ferry ticket and me two stapled envelopes: one for the driver that would meet us in Zanzibar and the other for the hotel. He directs us out of the car. As he had on that first day through the airport, Kennedy leads us in a way that seems anything but the conventional method. We pass the huge line of people waiting to board. Another direct to “stay here”. Another disappearance and reappearance. We are escorted to an empty platform, passing all of those already in line, and receiving more than a few glares for it. When the gate is opened and the massive crowd begins to push its way onto the dock, Kennedy says something to each of the dock workers as we pass and move quickly to the front of the crowd. We walk as fast as we can to follow him as he talks us past each checkpoint. Finally, he stops, waves, and we are on the boat to Zanzibar, wondering how much he pays off each of those workers to allow us to get by so quickly.

Upon arrival in Stone Town, we are greeted by our driver, Juma (and his ear-piercing ringtone – a screeching cat) and escorted to another van. We drive, much in the same manner as on the mainland (drive fast, honk often, and utilize the “special imaginary center lane” when needed) for about an hour north to the tip of the island, Pemba.

We check into our hotel, hand over the envelopes, and split into our rooms before meeting for dinner. As seems to always be the case in Tanzania, our hotel looks much better in the dark, but is relatively clean and has hot – well, lukewarm – showers. The group is kind enough to buy me dinner for being the “cruise director” and we enjoy a meal of pizza (yes, with CHEESE) while watching the dance floor heat up. It was strange, to see other wazungu (plural for mzungu). The music, an interesting mix of Celine Dion, Journey, Madonna, and Shakira, along with the collection of Europeans and Americans, make us all suddenly feel as though we could be on any generic island, anywhere in the world. We all sort of miss Africa. As the dance party heats up, we grab a drink, leave the bar and walk down to the water where it’s quiet, talk a bit, and – one by one – trickle off to our rooms to sleep.

A little R & R
Saturday consists of breakfast and lounging on the beach. After dinner, some of us walk over to Kendwa Rocks (a nearby hotel) to experience their famous Full Moon party. It is quite possibly the largest collection of people from all over the world, packed in a small area, dancing and celebrating that I’ve ever seen. Men, dressed as Masai in their red garments and facial piercings, dance along side us and quite resemble the creepy guys that slink up next to women in any club in the states. We wonder though, if they’re authentic Masai, or just local guys who like the attention that they get from tourists and only put on the outfit to get the ladies. So…we rename them “Fasai”.

Stone Town street
Sunday, we ride back down to Stone Town. Along the way, we pass through small villages and can see and smell long strips of cloth laid out, with piles of cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon spread on them to dry. When I come back to Zanzibar, I’d love to do a spice tour. It was the original Spice Island, with spices being a major export, along with the slaves brought from the mainland port of Bagamoyo.
We split up and wander through the labyrinthine streets, most wide enough only for three people to walk side by side and certainly not wide enough for a car. We photograph the intricately carved doors and balconies before finding a rooftop terrace restaurant to relax for a bit and see the city from above. The call to prayer is heard, from one mosque and then a few more, like an echo from all sides. It’s haunting and beautiful.

After a quick lunch and a bit of a race to the ferry terminal, (this is where those expensive “temporary resident permits” come in handy, as it allows us to simply tell the guy that we have them and skip immigration) we make it back on the ferry and take our Dramamine just in time. I fall asleep, listening to my iPod and take no notice of the many around me turning green due to the rough waters. After arrival and the crush of people pushing off of the boat, we are greeted again by Kennedy, who hands us off to our driver before telling me he’ll be back in Baga tomorrow to collect money for our safari. With a “Let’s a-wock and woll!” from our driver, we fight Dar traffic before speeding up on the open road.

The van is quiet until Brooke, sitting in the front seat, asks the driver, “Does it sound like there’s something under the car?”

“Yes. I shall stop and look.”

After lifting up the front seat to expose the engine and pulling out a shredded belt of some sort, he proclaims, “I think it might be of importance,” shrugs, gets back in the car, and we continue down the road….until he slams on the brakes just in time to hit a “speed mountain” at roughly 45 mph. Imagine a Toyota passenger van in the Dukes of Hazzard with a driver who giggles at all of our screams and says, “I sorry I shake you.” I’m still convinced that the front bumper of the van is imbedded in the asphalt where we touched down.

Alas, we arrive “home” safely, recap our weekend over tea while applying aloe vera to our sunburns and stumble to bed, ready for another week.

Famous carved doors of Zanzibar
This morning Sheila, another volunteer, summed it up for me – she said, “I think that you have to leave here and return before it feels like home.” It’s true. Women that I know, at CCS, Mwasama, and the internet cafe greet me with dada (sister). Walking to and from placement today and seeing familiar faces made me feel as if Baga is a bit of a home – for now.

I was able to see the library today. Up a questionable staircase into an attic with squeaking floorboards, past some defunct old computer parts, and a few tables, I found one bookshelf with a few books on it. There are literally less than twenty books for a school of almost four hundred. Zik is in Arusha until tomorrow. I’m hoping to meet with him and the owner of Mwasama by early next week to discuss a literacy program or simply a way to incorporate literature into some of the free time of kids at Mwasama. I’m not sure how it will look, but think that it’s feasible.

Me and a few kids from Mwasama
Students at Mwasama had a lot of free time today, as teachers are busy scoring the exams from last week. So, I wander from group to group, playing and talking with them. One group of boys turn practicing math facts into a game, all squatting in a circle and writing out math problems in the sand, looking to me for approval after each problem. The younger kids race to give me a high five – “Nipe Tano!!” After a while, we walk with the kids over to the “stadium” – really a large, open field that includes three makeshift soccer fields. At one point, I sit under a large coconut tree until another teacher points up to the coconut, hits the top of his head with his hand to imitate a coconut falling on me, and suggests that I move.

Tips to survival in Tanzania – most learned the hard way:
* Never assume that a vehicle will stop for you.
* If it doesn’t look familiar, don’t eat it.
* When possible, avoid using your left hand, especially to greet someone of honor.
* Don’t sit under a coconut tree.
* When walking down the street, don’t be surprised if you step on a tooth – a human tooth.
* When asked “How are you? (Habari),” don’t reply with “Have a nice sleep! (Lala salama).” It doesn’t go over well.
* Laugh. At yourself. A lot.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Finding my rhythm

Yesterday, as I left the gate of summer house, I ran into a teacher from Mwasama.  He called me over to a small mud hut.  Inside, was an elderly toothless woman with a small fire, over which was a pot with a boiling liquid.  Offering me a chipped tea cup full of a brownish liquid, Saif explained that it was a ginger drink and that he had it every morning.  Turning down food is not polite, so I had a teeny tiny sip.  It wasn't that bad...and I'm still standing.  The morning had begun. Later, while riding through town in the van on my way to Mwasama, I realized that I’ve fallen into a bit of a routine and feel much more settled.   I hardly flinched when we had to stop because of a donkey, sleeping in the middle of the road.  Yes, there are things that I’m working on getting used to, as well as some that I doubt I ever will, but all in all I’m adjusting well.  I never doubted that this journey would have its difficult moments; I just never anticipated exactly how and why those moments would occur.   The days have begun to meld, one into another, and I realize that two weeks have passed. 

The past few days at Mwasama have been exam days for the students.  All desks, tables, and chairs are spread throughout the grounds, anywhere but inside a classroom.  Tests are handed out, and students quietly get to work.  Yesterday, I was able to sit down with a few of the teachers and discuss strategies and ideas.  It was wonderful, feeling as though we were able to share what works best with kids, regardless of where they are.  Marianna, a teacher originally from Bulgaria but who has been living in Tanzania for thirteen years, was able to become a bit of a bridge of sorts for me.  We discussed at length the curriculum and plans for teaching students english.  Most primary schools are taught in Swahili, while secondary schools are taught in English, as are the tests required to enter secondary school.  A major problem in Tanzania is the English fluency required to pass the secondary school exams.  Mwasama is one of very few primary schools where English is the language used, so most of its students go on to secondary education. 

In chatting with Marianna, I learned that there is no literature instruction, in either Swahili or English, at any primary level school.  Can you imagine elementary school without stories?  Part of the problem is a lack of books, part is the understanding of the effects that reading for pleasure has on fluent literacy development.  At lunch today, I asked Zik (the CCS coordinator) to schedule a meeting with Mwasama’s owner so that we can discuss some sort of literature/literacy exchange program.  So, I’m hoping to brainstorm this weekend some ideas to present that are feasible and sustainable. 

Anyone who’s spent time in a third world country knows that it’s considered decidedly uncouth to do anything of significance with one’s left hand.  Eating, shaking hands, or handing someone something with the left hand is not a good way to make friends.  I’m working on being more conscious of this.  So, when I was offered a handful of peanuts today, I was proud to remember to receive them in my right hand.  I was left, sitting there faced with a bit of a conundrum…
Is it worse to keep the pile in my right hand and eat with my “bad” hand, or to keep the pile in my “bad” hand and eat with my right?

I finally decided on a bit of a combo – switching as needed.  So, whether they think I’m filthy or not, I’m pretty certain that they think I’m a little off.  My peanut problem was interrupted, however when Mzee, pontificating in Swahili as usual, broke away from his stern, macho demeanor.

“Who let zee doogs out?” he yelled out across the courtyard, as I nearly spit a peanut through my nose.

The small first graders ran toward him, yelling “Who? Who? Who?” in response.  Priceless.

We’re off to Zanzibar this afternoon.  It should be quite a marathon.  Remember my new best friend Kennedy from my arrival?  He showed up a few days after I got here and handed me quotes for a Zanzibar trip and a safari.  Since I was the connection, I accidentally became official cruise director for our group.  He’ll pick us up in a bit, drive us to Dar (with a quick stop at the ATM, as the only one in Baga has been out of money for a week…TIA), and drop us on the ferry.  Assuming we arrive in one piece (the Dramamine’s already packed), there will hopefully be a driver there to pick us up and take us to the northern tip of the island to our hotel.  We’ll have all day Saturday to relax in the sun.  Sunday, we’ll spend the day in Stone Town before getting back on the ferry and returning to Baga, exhausted but full of stories, I’m sure.  I know that I’ve been terrible about posting pics, but it drastically increases the cost of internet time, so I’ll try to get some up next week.

One thing that I adore about Africa is a sort of matter-of-fact innocence of its people.  As I left Mwasama yesterday, Shegren and I chatted.  I watched the chickens wander through the courtyard and realized how strange it will be to return home where chickens don’t wander freely.

“You sure have a lot of chickens here.”
“Don’t you have zee cheecken in America, Wembah?”
“Not walking around like this.”
“What do you do for dinner?  Does your neighbor have chicken?”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jitihada haishindi kudura

Another cool, sunny morning.  I slept well - couldn't keep my eyes open much past ten pm.  Before bed, some other volunteers who've been here for seven or more weeks and I chatted - about the inevitable frustration we've all experienced, about comical "mzungu" moments, about life in general.  We talked about the inevitable frustration of cultural assimilation and of the true meaning and impact of this exposure, to all parties concerned.  It was nice to learn that my feelings have been echoed by many and that it passes, to an extent.  The multi-faceted issues of volunteering in a new culture, especially one for which the concept of volunteering is both foreign and misunderstood, make feeling useful somewhat elusive.  At the same time, I must understand that, for a people used to tradition and focused mainly on day-to-day survival, seeing foreigners who already, by their very presence are wealthy beyond comprehension, walk around working for free is cause for consternation.

As always seems to be the case, a message of inspiration and rejuvenated sense of purpose came to me this morning, when it was most needed and from a most surprising source.  Saif, an older, quiet sage of a teacher at Mwsama who seemed rather annoyed with me yesterday, approached me and greeted me.  After talking about our families and his children, he is 52 with three grown children and a few grandchildren, he asked about my family and hopes for my own future.  Then, he asked to borrow my notebook and pen.  He squinted his eyes in concentration as he wrote, very carefully.  When finished, he placed the notebook back into my lap and said, "Swahili wise saying."

Jitihada haishindi kudura.

He helped me pronounce the words and encouraged me to repeat them until my pronunciation was satisfactory.  Under the swahili words was the translation:

"Whatever the efforts you are doing - God's ability is the last."

He smiled as he repeated the meaning in english, again and again.

"You see, you try as much as you can.  Then, you must let go. Hakuna matata."

He grabbed my hand.  I looked into his eyes with my own, now somewhat watery.

"Asante sana. I needed that."

Monday, July 19, 2010

From the mind of a blundering idiot...

Sunday in Africa.  The bright blue sky of Saturday has become overcast and the temperature lower, a relief.  The pace of life slows as it does in the states.  Walking through the streets, I see people on the way to church, or gathering water, or burning trash.  I'm continually amazed at the strength of women's necks.  A girl, no older than thirteen or fourteen, strains over the weight of buckets of water, one in hand and one on her head.  The basic way of life is both beautiful and complicated to my western eyes.

After breakfast and an unexpected rain shower, a few of us meander through town.  I stop in at AMAP.  Pili has my dress almost done, I try it on and am amazed at how a few suggestions of style and length were interpreted so beautifully.  We continue down the cobblestone street near the beach and see two teachers from Mwasama before saying hello to Rasti at his art shop. 

On down the beach to Millenium (a hotel), we grab a drink and relax to chat about social or cultural faux pas we've all committed since arriving.  I've never adequately understood how difficult it is to integrate into a new society.  The inevitable lag time between a greeting given, my comprehension and retrieval of an appropriate response, and delivery of said response, is maddening.  I often respond with an inappropriate phrase...

"Very good, thank you."


"You are welcome here."
"Hello. You are welcome."

We're all pretty certain that most locals think of us as blundering idiots at this point.  Many of the people who greet me along the route from the summer house to the main house are accustomed to following their greeting with the appropriate response, which I then repeat with a grateful nod and resigned smile before continuing on. 

This morning, I entered the gates of Mwasama to begin my second week.  All students were gathered in the center courtyard for a morning chant of some sort, followed by the beautiful sounds of the Tanzanian national anthem.  I greeted each of the teachers and began to teach my class.  As I strained to understand the english of the students and attempted to keep my skirt dry (the concrete floor had been overtaken by a large puddle), I realized how exhausting it can be to be constantly comprehending and making sense of a world and a language unfamiliar.  I know that I will never again be imaptient when I encounter someone who is learning the english language.  I know how they feel.

During tea time, Mzee, a teacher and self-proclaimed Tanzanian patriot, stood and spoke to other teachers with force and conviction.  Others replied, all in words unknown to me.  It's lonely, in a world where the familiar is so very far away.  I never thought that this process would be easy, but I didn't anticipate the shear exhaustion and frustration - with myself, with the way of communications, with the complexity of simple tasks. 

Needles to say, I'm looking forward to our trip to Zanzibar this weekend.  There's word of hot showers.  Say it ain't so...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

This is Africa

Every moment I see something that would make a wonderful story if only I could take a picture.  I'm wishing that I had a camera installed in my retina at this point... I wish that it was more accepted to take pictures of adults here, so you could see what I'm seeing.  Some sights make me want to cry, while others (and there are more of these) have me laughing constantly at the ridiculousness of it all.

An average day starts at sunrise.  We walk to the main house for breakfast at 6:30am (all meals are eaten outside under a covered area).  Breakfast is consistently an egg of some sort, crepes (minus real butter or powdered sugar), fresh fruit, juice, and beans.  We usually sit around and talk a great deal about food that we miss.  It's official:  We all miss cheese terribly.

After breakfast, we are piled into a CCS van and driven through Baga to our placement sites, which vary from HIV/AIDS clinics, to schools and orphanages, to adult learning centers.  After arriving at Mwasama and greeting the other teachers, I head to my classes.  The group I spend the most time with are the Grade Three children.  They're a bit of a challenge, but we're making great strides.  They all seem to have learned my name:  Madam Wembah (Amber's a tad difficult for many).  I'm grateful when the wind cooperates and the room's not full of smoke from the kitchen.  When a student from another, higher grade needs a chair, he or she simply walks in and takes one, regardless of its current occupation.  So, I'm left with a few students standing until they ask me if they can go down to the Grade Two class and unseat - quite literally - someone else.  Pencils are an absolute rarity and the acquisition of one is often accomplished with a bite or a slap.  My new favorite swahili word:  Acha! (stop).

After tea time, I'm usually finished, so I walk back toward town and stop in on other placements.  Next week, I'll likely do some assisting at AMAP (African Modern Arts Project) with other volunteers.  The purpose:  to provide day care and art education to street children.  The art that results is stunning.  Pili, the wife of Saidi and the mother of baby Barack (yep, after the Prez), is an incredible seamstress.  Most volunteers have clothing or other items made by her while here.

Eventually, we head back to the main house for lunch, followed by swahili lessons and a lecture or other cultural excursion or activity.  Dinner is at 6:30 and we're free for the rest of the evening.  The food here is excellent, though very carb rich.  We all joke about thinking that we'd lose weight in Africa...

On Thursday afternoon, we had our first feedback session as volunteers.  We were encouraged to share our thoughts and frustrations about placements.  It seems that many are struggling to comprehend and process all that we are seeing and doing.  I knew coming into this that I'd be merely a drop in the bucket but that it is the continuous supply of a volunteer chain of which I'm only one link that does the most good.  What I wasn't prepared for were the cultural differences in philosophy, thinking, and simply getting things done.

Example:  Because Baga is 70km from Dar and has no fire department, when something starts on fire, it burns down.  A fire truck is often dispatched from Dar but never gets here in time.  Last year, the District Commissioner bought a fire truck.  It's shiny, it's new, it's useless.  Why?  No one knows how to drive it.  So, it sits, under a carport in the center of town.  When we asked, during our visit to the district commissioners office, we were told, "It's a very long process.  We are selecting."

The same general philosophy applies to everything, thus the saying, "This is Africa", or TIA.  I'm learning to say it early and often, for things both frustrating and sublime.

After a mini-meltdown over my frustrations, we were off for a game of soccer with the CCS staff...

I don't play soccer.  I never have played soccer.  I think one of the reasons I was swept up in the recent World Cup fever was more about the sudden acceptance of being in a bar at 7:30am than it was about the intricacies of the game.  But, when in Africa (and attempting to burn off the roughly 12.2 pounds of rice I've eaten in the past week)...

There I was, ME, playing soccer with a bunch of people born with a ball attached.  Even Mama Thea played...the woman's got her own cleats!  The field was a mix of hills, sand, and scrub, not the most desirable playing field.  On one side of the field, a school was let out for the afternoon.  On the other, a Masai herded his cattle.  I stopped and thought and smiled to myself, "Ridiculous." 

So, after a rather hilarious attempt at the game, we took a water break.  I heard a strange noise coming from inside the van.  Tuma (one of the night guards), emerged carrying a live chicken.

"Is anyone else noticing Tuma and that chicken?"
"Eet is a game, Wembah.  We will catch zee chicken."
"Er, what?"

The chicken was released, and chased, and caught.  I've not laughed so hard in, well, ever.

After becoming extremely sweaty and dusty, we walked back to the summer house.  I made my first, and feeble attempt at laundry in a bucket.  It didn't go well.  After placing all of my items in said bucket, filling it with water and soap.  I stared.  What next?  Do I just stir it around?  It was bad.  I'll be paying the neighbor lady to do it from now on.  Dinner that night was at the Hillside Bar, a buffet with, yep...chicken.

So you see, it all seems a bit ridiculous here.  I've started paying attention to the t-shirts that I see along the road, many quite obviously started their existence on a frat boy or a kid in the states.  Some of my favorites:

* Support our Troops (with a Canadian flag)
* Virginia is for Lovers
* WWE Smackdown
* Puerto Vallarta
* Vote for Pedro

And my personal fave...  "My Nana is a biker".

More and more often, I see my students out and about.  Yesterday after lunch, a group of us walked through town.  I bought some fabric, then took it to Pili and ordered some things made.  She has three other seamstresses working with her, all bent over old-fashioned pedal-run sewing machines.  They can make anything!  We wandered down past the fish market.  The boats had just come in and a crowd assembled on the beach to buy their fish.  I heard a faint, "Madam...Madam Wembah" before I turned and saw shy smiles.  It felt good...like I'm becoming a small part of the community.

We continued down the beach, stopping at a small hotel for a pineapple Fanta before heading back for dinner.  There's a music festival at the arts college (and they use the term "college" loosely) this weekend.  Some of our group are off on safari or to Zanzibar, so those of us who remain went to Baga Point for a Tusker beer before going to see the music.  After ordering from a window, we found some plastic chairs around a table.  The stars were brilliant and the talk mostly surrounded the oddities of our day, our lives back home, or what we'll eat for our first meal back.  We had to talk loud due to the deafening croak of nearby bullfrogs.  Eventually, we continued on toward the theater.

While crossing the field in anticipation of authentic african music and dance, I heard the first thump of bass coming toward us from the theater...  followed by the scream of an electric guitar.  Something was familiar here.  A female voice, flowed across the field, in english, "I love rock and roll, put another dime in the jukebox, baby!"


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Welllllcome Teeeeee-cha!

Finally, a decent night's sleep.  I woke this morning and listened - roosters crowed, the Islamic call to prayer, to the sounds of our neighbor building her morning fire so she could cook breakfast.  The air here is always heavy with the smoke of cooking fires, or worse, fires used to burn trash and plastic.  I'm already planning one fire when I get home, to burn my clothes.

On Wednesday, two teachers from my volunteer placement, Godfrey and Shegren from Mwasama came to CCS for lunch.  After a few questions about my education experience came questions about my marital status.  I'd been warned that this is often a question asked of new friends.  When I told them a bit about my life and my house, the two men looked at one another, chattered something in swahili, looked back at me in disbelief, and asked, "You have your own house?  By yourself? Did you build it?"

Today, I decided to walk to the main house by myself for breakfast.  After leaving the gate and stepping out into the dirt pathway, saying good morning to the toddlers running toward me in bare feet, yelling, "Mambo!  Goot mo-ahh-neeeeng!" I was on my way with a smile on my face.

I followed a young girl on her way to school, her navy blue skirt bouncing with each step, her red shirt wrinkled up behind her tiny green plastic backpack.  She turned off at the next street.  Another young girl passed, looked at me and said, "Shikamoo" - the swahili greeting for someone in a position of respect.  I smiled and chided myself for not recalling the obligatory response of "Marahaba" (I accept).  I won't forget that one again.  I grabbed my greetings cheat sheet out of my backpack and continued on my way, dodging a rooster after a rather unhappy hen, and nearly got run over by a motorcycle. With the extremely narrow streets, bordered closely by extremely deep ditches and lack of ANY pedestrian right-of-way plus the insane motorcycle drivers, I take my life in my own hands every time I walk anywhere.

This morning, Chief (the head of Mwsama Primary School) asked me about how we get our water in America (Ah-mer-eee-ka). This led to the discussion of sanitation. I attempted, rather poorly, to explain trash collection (you try explaining a robotic arm that picks up a large bucket from the side of the road) while keeping one eye on a roach the size of a rat (which I saw yesterday) crawling along the wall. I've become rather used to the interesting bugs here, all of which are much larger than your run-of-the-mill American insect. Spiders don't seem to enjoy being inside much, which is fantastic, considering that most have a body about the size of my thumb, legs that stretch out to well over the size of my entire hand, and webs that cover distances of six to seven feet across. They seem to prefer trees. Thank God.

When Maddy and I arrived for my first day at Mwasama yesterday, we entered a dirt courtyard about 20 yards by 20 yards.  Under a few trees sat three small tables.  At each table, one to two teachers checked piles of makeshift notebooks.  After a few introductions, I met Manuel, aka Chief Casanga.  He led me into a room containing a few old wooden wardrobes, a table holding a few notebooks and a box of chalk, and a large easel with a handwritten schedule on it.  This, I determined was the teachers' office.  At least that's what was written, in chalk, on the door.  This room, like all other classrooms at Mwasama, has crumbling painted walls, concrete floors, windows that contain metal grates instead of glass, and no overhead lights.  After figuring out what I'll be teaching and/or assisting, we were off for a tour.

Chief and I entered each classroom. Students immediately stood and began a synchronized chant in swahili that ended in english with, "Welllcome teeeecha!"  Classrooms are small, some little more than oversized closets, chalkboards are literally slabs of what looks like raised concrete painted green on the wall, walls crumble, students share chairs, tables, benches.  The primary students, of course, were eager to give me a fist bump a la Obama.  Older students pretty much gave me the same once-over I'd probably receive from adolescents in the states.  It's a pretty small school, with one classroom for each grade, nursery (kindergarten) through 7th.  As such, it's easy to find my way around, especially considering that the third grade classroom is in the room clearly and conveniently labeled, "Grade Five," the fifth grade classroom in the room labeled, “Grade One”, and so on.  Upon leaving the fifth grade room, Chief Casanga asked the teacher, "What happened to your door?" as he noticed it, completely off of its hinges and leaning against the wall.  No one knew, so he shrugged and we continued out the door, around some roosters, and on with our tour. The outdoor kitchen is off to one side, under a thatch roof, awith smoke constantly pouring from it. The perimeter of the school is lined with clotheslines and (of course) stacks of buckets.

Students stay in the same classroom all day long, with teachers rotating through. At ten o'clock, a hand bell rings and students pour out into the center courtyard for break. Teachers congregate under the tree, around the tables in the sand. On one table, a tray of tea cups, a thermos, and a container of rolls.  Another passdown from colonial times - tea time - which, by the way, I’m considering instituting at my school this fall. We sit with the other teachers and discuss the American and Tanzanian education systems, joke, and generally chat.  They ask about salary, schedule, working conditions, and students...and of course, my marital status.

“Madame Ahmbah, are you married?”
“No. Not yet.”
“Why not?”
“I guess I talk too much.”
“You talk too much? Ohhhh, that's bad.”

This, followed by questions regarding how I view children and how many I'd like to have, is a rather typical conversation with the majority male teachers. The few female teachers are a little more quiet, but seem to be slowly warming up to me. As the conversation fades, I watch. Children play soccer with an empty plastic bottle instead of a ball. Most don't wear shoes, but none seem to mind. Their uniforms are ripped and stained, though that doesn't bother them, either. Other, older students stay in their classroom and dance. I'm sweating like a pig, and they're wearing sweaters! Another bell.  Students run toward the makeshift kitchen under a thatch roof each carrying a plastic mug.  Porridge time. As tea time ends and I walk over to the spigot to rinse my cup, I hear a voice. “Madam.” I look around, not sure where the voice comes from. I hear it again and look through the screen of the grade seven window. A large smile and eyes look at me... A smile and a wave are returned before I head back to the teachers' office to grab my chalk and walk to the grade three room to teach some English.

After Mwasama, we walk to downtown Baga and visit other volunteers at their placements. I meet dreadlocked Rasti (I’m pretty sure that his real name is Matthew) at his tiny hut where he paints incredible pieces of art. We continue down through the fish market after a stop at a small art school where street children are taught and wander onto the beach. The tide is out, so the large fishing dhows list to their sides on the sand. Fishermen are hard at work, repairing and loading boats. It’s clear that this scene has changed little for hundreds of years. Because of the gradual slope of the beach, we can walk out quite far, turn around, and see the ships, German ruins (evidence of former occupation), fishermen, and a few hotels. On the way back in, I ask a few fishermen standing on the side of a listed boat if I can take their picture. They say no. Most locals aren't too fond of having their picture taken, the belief being that I'll sell it and make money. I can respect it, but wish I could show you the beauty of this entire culture. We continue through Stone Town, the older part of Baga. I see a Maasai in traditional costume, passing time as so many Tanzanians do, sitting on a doorstep, greeting and watching passersby.

Baga is a very arts-oriented community. It is home to a well-known center for African arts and dance, so many artisans call it home. Yesterday afternoon, we were able to visit some of the most famous Bagamoyo residents. The Zawosi family consists of children, cousins, and grandchildren of Dr. Zawosi, a tribal polygamist from the Dodoma region of Tanzania. He began performing traditional dance and music with his family many years ago. Today, the family all lives together in a sort of compound where they make their own instruments and perform all over the world. Watching them perform was incredible. All family members took part and many different instruments were used. Women drummed and danced, children even had their moment in the spotlight. Each took a turn flipping and shaking. After one boy got a huge response with a few hip thrusts, the boys pushed one another aside to repeat the thrust in hopes of gaining our approval. Kids truly are the same everywhere on Earth.

This afternoon, we had a speaker from the local secondary school come to chat with us about education.  Only about twenty percent of the population completes secondary school.  She wants me to come to meet with her and her teachers next week to discuss teaching strategies and reading achievement.  I'm excited.  A doctor (one of only three MD's in Bagamoyo district, population 290,000) also came to share about local health issues.  Fifteen percent of local residents are afflicted with HIV/AIDS.  A child dies every five minutes from malaria.  Both are easily avoided with simple, inexpensive (and often offered free-of-charge by NGOs and the Tanzanian government).  I find that the unseen or unconsidered cultural issues blocking advancement run deep.  It's maddening and somewhat disheartening...but at least I'm trying.  Or something like that.

So, while I found myself tired and somewhat frustrated with myself and the obvious cultural roadblocks in education and healthcare today, I know that I'm here for a reason. Each day has been full of experience, both amazing, and difficult. When I'm tired, I miss home. I'd kill for a cheeseburger right about now. But, when children approach me with a smile or a greeting, or I laugh with new friends, I know that this time will begin to speed up and will someday be but a memory. Getting used to a new culture is shocking and overwhelming. What is normally simple becomes complicated and what seems complicated becomes superfluous. I know that I'm learning and can't ever look at my life and my world the same way.

Don't worry, Mom...I've no plans to start doing my laundry in a bucket on the front steps.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Journaling by bulleted list... (Now with pics!)

Being in a new culture is exhausting.  Living in a picture out of National Geographic?  Unbelievable.  The last few days of my life have been so full of amazing sights, people, sounds, and - unfortunately - smells, I am a bit overwhelmed in attempting to document it all.  In fact, I've had so little time to even sit down, I have literally resorted to keeping a bulleted list in my journal.  A sampling:
  • Buckets - the ultimate multitasker
  • "Why hapana, mzungu?"
  • My new BFF, Kennedy (and his wife, and her friends, and her bucket)
  • Robbing a bank
  • "Mambo, mzungu!  Poa!"
  • Chickens, chickens everywhere
  • A brand new fire truck - but no driver
Allow me to elaborate on at least a few...  Before I do, please know that what I am experiencing is so far beyond what my suddenly grossly inadequate vocabulary could ever do.  Every waking (and some sleeping, thanks to my anti-malarial medication) moment is full of wonder and discovery and translation...

Saturday, July 10, 2010 - Dar es Salaam - Holiday Inn
Shortly after submitting my last post, I checked out of my hotel and waited in the lobby for my new friend Kennedy to pick me up as he had promised the night before.  Knowing that most Tanzanians view time and schedules as loose guidelines, I went down a few minutes before his promised arrival of 2:00pm, fully expecting him to arrive around 2:15.  Surprisingly, he rolled up in his Suzuki SUV right at two, got me loaded, and hurtled us into the busy Dar traffic.

"My wife is finishing her term at the finance college, so I must stop to pick up her things.  She boards there."

Now, I had heard that taxi drivers in Tanzania continue on with daily errands and responsibilities while driving fares.  He drove through the streets, all the while, talking on his phone (the silent button doesn't seem to exist on cell phones here...and they all have a Jason Derulo or Shakira song as their ringtones).  I watched crowded dala dalas and bujajis (essentially the same thing as a tuk tuk in Asia) jockey for position in traffic, along with cars, large wooden carts pulled by men full of everything from bottled water to mattresses, people carrying all manner of goods (often contained in ten gallon brightly-colored buckets) on their heads, and bicycles follow a traffic pattern that they seemed to understand, but made no sense to me.

After arriving at the college and waiting for about twenty minutes, Kennedy's wife and some friends appeared, carrying her things.  I met the friends as Kennedy loaded suitcases and the obligatory bright yellow bucket. Seriously, everyone has one of these things - they're used to carry water, fruit, trash, everything (and usually balanced on their head).  And when you're tired, just turn it over and sit on it.  Brilliant.  I'm thinking that Portland could use a bucket store.  After another ten minute conversation and many goodbyes, Kennedy, the wife, a friend and I were off to the airport.  Slowly.

 Traffic in Dar is atrocious at best.  There are few stop lights, no right-of-way laws, and the horn seems to be the one thing that everyone agrees upon:  use it early and often.  When one comes upon the queue and stops, touts - young men selling all sorts of goods - walk down the center of the cars, making a smooching and whistling noise.  They come to car windows selling almost anything that you can possibly imagine:  Armour All, cologne, socks, fruit, nuts, DVDs, knives, meat cleavers, tires, pillows, a rug with the Taj Mahal on it, badminton racquets, soccer balls, shoes, etc.  As one gentleman approached my open window and attempted to sell me a meat cleaver, air fresheners, or a Kenny Rogers (who says his career's over?) CD, I politely said, "Hapana, asante".  (No thank you)

"Why hapana, mzungu?"  (Why no, white person?)

After finally arriving at the airport, and bidding Kennedy's wife and her friend baadaye, I followed him as he weaved his way through the crowd and up the stairs, where I found one of the CCS drivers and two other volunteers.  Kennedy refused to accept any money for my ride to the airport, a rarity in any nation. Knowing that I'd repay his generosity by using him to arrange our safaris, as he does with most CCS groups, I asked for his card.

"Hakuna matata.  I'll be around."  And he disappeared.

After the other volunteers arrived from Dubai, exchanging $300 to 179,000 Tanzanian shillings (I felt like I'd robbed a bank, the stack was so big), we all piled in a bus and ventured out again into the Dar traffic.  So, there we were, fifteen exhausted travelers in a bus with the stereo pumped...to Justin Bieber as touts attempted to sell us a football or an inflatable mattress.  Priceless.

The 50 mile drive from Dar to Bagamoyo took close to three hours.  Markets, dala dala stops, speed bumps, and lots of honking meant that our max speed was about 30 mph.  The sun set.  Quiet.  We passed villages and saw groups of people cooking over a fire, or playing billiards on a table under a single flourescent bulb where electric was available.  After the chaos of Dar, I found Africa.

In the pitch black night, the bus pulled up to the Home Base in Baga.  We were welcomed with dinner and shown to our sleeping quarters.  Most of us are sleeping in the "summer" house a short walk away from the main house.  As we walked toward the summer house in the black night, children stepped away from their fires to yell, "Mambo, mzungu!" (Hey, white person!)  to which we replied, "Poa!" (cool).

Monday, July 12, 2010 - Bagamoyo, Tanzania

Perhaps I've seen too many movies, but my first night sleeping under a mosquito net was not nearly as romantic as I'd imagined.  It inhibits precious air flow, smells rather musty, and doubles as a surprise attacker when one gets up to use the restroom in the middle of the night.  After staying up a way too late, chatting with fellow volunteers and taking the first of many cold showers, my mind raced and sleep was a bit of a rarity.  Alas, I woke up with my roommate, Maddy from Seattle (she's already been here three weeks and is teaching in the same school where I'll be - I start tomorrow).  We took a short walk before breakfast so I could see a bit of the town.  As we left the gate of the summer house, we were greeted by three children, running out into the street toward us.  They grabbed our hands and shouted, "Mambo!"  The girl that grabbed my hand bounced in her red dress and bare feet, waving as we walked away before her mother, sitting in a doorway washing clothes in a (you guessed it) bucket, called her back.  I fell in love instantly.

Baga is not a tourist destination, even with its rich history.  CCS volunteers are pretty much the only wazungu (foreigners) here.  Locals call our houses, behind their gates and walls the "white people prison"!  We all got a good laugh today when Zik, one of our directors handed our contact cards for us that say, "If you take a pijaji (tuk tuk type taxi), ask them to take you to the 'mjengo nyumba ya wazungu' (house of white people)."

After breakfast, Bagamoyo boot camp began.  Program orientation was followed by a field trip around town.  We visited the Kaole ruins, the remains of the first settlement by Arab traders in the 13th century.  It is because of these traders that the coastal region of Tanzania is predominately Muslim today.  We walked down to the former port, now overgrown with mangroves that stretch one kilometer out into the Indian Ocean, and watched monkeys playing near the water.

Our next stop was a sad one.  Bagamoyo was the coastal stop for trade caravans for hundreds of years.  Ivory, copre, sugar, and slaves - approximately 800,000 of them - were carried or marched by traders inland to Bagamoyo, where they were put on dhows and taken to the Arab trading post island of Zanzibar, before being shipped to the Middle and Far East or colonized Africa.  The Caravan Serai was built by an Arab trader as a resting place for slave traders and slaves, the idea being to restore health to the slaves after their long march before being sent to Zanzibar's slave markets, not for the well-being of the slaves, but to fetch a higher price.  Today, it is a museum to educate people about this horrific time.

Arab traders stole women, men and children (or they were sold by kidnappers), bribed tribal leaders for passage of their caravans, and shot and killed any ill or lame captives before bringing them to Baga.  Men were castrated, which is why, even today, there are no descendants of slaves in the Middle or Far East. As slaves were loaded onto sailing ships called dhows and taken from the shores of mainland Africa forever, many cried, "Bwaga moyo!"  Throw down your heart.  There is not hope.  This is how Bagamoyo got its name.  In 1922, only 88 years ago, slavery was declared illegal in Tanzania.  A messenger was sent through the town, banging a drum to spread the news. 

We were emotionally and physically exhausted, but stopped at another museum near the first Christian church built in East Africa.  After one last stop at a market in Stone Town, the oldest area of Baga (and a place so deserted that the most activity we saw were two of the thousands of resident roosters, having it out over a lady chicken), we stumbled back to the main house for dinner.

Not having slept much the night before, I was exhausted at best.  However, how many chances does one get to watch the World Cup final while drinking a Kilimanjaro beer or a Safari Lager under a palm tree?  The stars were incredible.  The scent of fires and the quiet of a town unspoiled by highways, enjoying a few beers with new friends, while wondering about a home a world away, I was finally able to exhale and think to myself, "Words really are overrated."

Walking home, we passed a small alleyway.  I saw the unmistakable blue glow of a tiny television in a tiny hut.  It reflected off the faces of about thirty locals as they sat, cross-legged on the floor, transfixed.  Like something out of a movie.

I looked up at the stars.  A tiny voice from somewhere...

"Mambo, mzungu!"

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Waking up in Dar

I'm not sure if it's the Malarone or my exhaustion, but I slept so hard, I wasn't sure where I was when I involuntarily woke up.  A pounding on the door, followed by a rather incoherent me opening it to maintenance (apparently there was an issue with the air-con), woke me after about seven hours of sleep.  I opened the curtains to see a bustling Dar.  The Christian church across the street was broadcasting some sort of sermon over the loudspeaker (well, at least that's what I gathered as the occasional words "God", "Jesus" and "moyo" - which means "heart" were emphasized amongst the swahili I couldn't comprehend).  I'm that the early morning muslim call to prayer didn't wake me, though I'm sure that it will at some point during my trip.

Not much new to report.  I'm fed.  I'm still exhausted.  Here are a few pics!  Not sure when I'll be able to post again, as I'll be leaving the big city in a few hours.  Kwa heri...

Friday, July 9, 2010


After what was seriously the longest day of my life, I've made it!  Approximately 28 hours in the air (not including layovers) and a rather sketchy cab ride later, I'm resting comfortably at the Dar es Salaam Holiday Inn.  I'm exhausted, but my body still thinks that it's two in the afternoon, so sleep may be questionable for a little bit.

The flight from Amsterdam south was incredible.  Well, as incredible as a window seat in coach for ten hours can be.  The entire plane seemed to be full of volunteers or people prepping to climb Kilimanjaro.  I sat next to a woman who is here to evaluate programs for the Peace Corps (she works at PC headquarters in DC). I really enjoyed chatting with her about issues that the Peace Corps and other NGOs face in dealing with third world education.  We also chatted with Robert, a guy from NC preparing to climb Kili.  Aside from the conversation and the naps, the view outside was amazing.  As we left Amsterdam, the green fields and red-roofed villages of Europe were clearly visible due to the clear sky.  I saw the Alps and the tiny villages tucked between the peaks, the Italian coast along the Adriatic Sea, and finally the Mediterranean Sea.  What was most impressive, however, was when the Mediterranean gave way to the Libyan coast, which then gave way to the Sahara.  That is one big desert.  It took us twice as long to fly over the Sahara as it did to fly over Europe.

As we approached our first stop in Kilimanjaro, it struck me how dark it was.  Electricity is a luxury, so even the rather large town of Arusha was little more than a few specks here and there of blue fluorescent light.  I'm sure that the stars above Bagamoyo will be breathtaking as a result of this, though I doubt I'll want to walk anywhere at night; I'll probably run into something!

After landing in Dar and waiting just long enough for my bag to ensure that my heart rate considered going into panic mode, I stepped out into the humid Tanzanian night to see a crowd of eager faces, waiting for family, friends, or a fare.  I scanned, looking for my Holiday Inn airport shuttle driver.  He was nowhere in sight.  And, well...since I don't exactly blend well, I was a bit of a sitting duck for drivers asking where I wanted to go.  After dodging a few drivers and stepping aside for a bit to see if he'd show, a young man named Kennedy said hello.  Did I mention how friendly Tanzanians are?  I was welcomed to the country by no fewer than ten people in the first ten minutes.  Anyway, Kennedy and I began to chat and I mentioned that I'd be heading to Bagamoyo to volunteer tomorrow.

"You must be with CCS."
"Yes!  How did you know that?"
"Ah, Ahmberrrr, I am a safari operator.  I take CCS volunteers on safari."
"Well, fantastic.  I'm sure we'll meet again."

Kennedy told me that he had seen the Holiday Inn driver leave with passengers about ten minutes earlier, but that he could not only ensure that he could find me a safe driver to get me to the hotel tonight, but also that he would be back tomorrow to take me back to the airport, where I'll be meeting with CCS.

I guess when you're a single female in a new country, there's a level of "to hell with it" trust.  So...I handed the guy my bag and followed him toward a parking lot.  He introduced me to Noel, a kid who looked no older than about sixteen, said something to him in swahili, put me in the front seat next to Noel and off we went.  He was a good kid, even though he drove like a bat out of hell.  At one point, he rolled through a red light.  When I asked about traffic regulations here, he said, "I usually stop at red.  Back there, you stop, someone might come to your window.  Not safe, so I roll through."  Gotcha Noel.  Good work.

I've not stayed at too many Holiday Inns in the US, but I've never been greeted with a bellhop, fresh fruit juice, and a cool wet washcloth at one.  So, I'm safe but exhausted.  Shower plus bed...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Go time...

You know how, as a child, there's that one thing, that one ride at the park, the high dive at the pool, that one seemingly Herculean task to which you aspire? Once that fear has been faced, that dragon slayed, you have "arrived".  Inevitably, there comes the moment when you finally decide to do it; to ride the Anaconda (yes, it was really called that) at King's Dominion amusement park (a shout out to my NoVa peeps); to hurtle yourself from the high dive at the community pool.  Once that decision has been made, (and this part is vital) and made public, all things point to the execution of said task.  As your wet feet tremble and claw their way up the steps to the long, grainy diving board, or the roller coaster chugga-chugga-chuggas its way up that first hill, you turn around to see if just maybe there might be a way out if you chicken out at the last minute.

There's no turning back.  It's go time.

Yeah, I'm there.


By the way, I got my placement.  I'll be teaching at Mwsama Primary School.  It's a locally-run private school that teaches mainly street children, orphans, and those from less-affluent (and that's saying a lot considering the average resident of Baga lives on one dollar per day) families.  Teachers at this school make $37 per month.  I'm excited to get there and get started!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

On planning your own party, sticky notes, and lists

I'm a list-maker.  My desks at home and work are littered with sticky notes listing to-do's, grocery lists, cool songs to add to my iPod, budgets, and interesting quotes or notes to myself.  Making lists calms me.  I get a slight thrill with the tug of a clean sticky note off of the pad or every time I cross off a done to-do.  With the all-powerful iPhone, I've moved my calendar into the electronic age, but I'm hanging on hard and fast to my sticky notes.  I'm a planner.

As such, I want to ensure that I see and spend some fun time with my Portland friends before I leave.  A week ago, I sent out an email to a few close friends regarding getting together tonight.  I had already planned on meeting my good friend Anne (who rarely leaves home) for a drink last night.  When I got to the restaurant, I found a table outside and texted her to let her know where I was, as I thought I was the first one there only to receive a reply that she had a table inside.  So, after giving a quick greeting hug and surveying the room, something was unusual...

Hey, there's Tom!  What a coincidence!  Wait, that's Mike...and Jennie.  She said she was busy tonight.  What the???  Oh crap, here come the tears... 

So, though I attempted to plan my own party (which, by the way, is still happening tonight), my lists and neurotic need to plan EVERYTHING was for naught.  My friends beat me to it.

Add to my to-do list:  Thank you.