Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Buck Doesn't Stop Here

The Era of Tanzanian Discovery is soon to come to an end. All of the omens are pointing me in a new direction. Listening to the universal language of my heart, of the world, I feel that it is time to come home.

The past few months have been absolutely wonderful. I was able to take some time off of work and go on a real legit vacation. I spent some quality time with the sun, sand, the Quatraro family, and my girls from Njombe who have finished Peace Corps and now live/work in T-Zed. It was a great time to gain perspective, fed my soul, and get real with what I am trying to do here.

Arriving home to the Californians was a sweet treat. As always, their insights, conversation, and unyielding support bring a level of confidence and pride in the path I choose.

Daraja is my family, and as D Day get approaches, I mourn the distance I’m going to put between myself and my gang. The newspaper is fully functioning with very little support from me. My role has been played out, and I have gained so much from the experience (and hopefully was able to share a little too). We have started the first month of 2 issues per month, and I have no doubt that everyone will do just fine. I have never been more proud, or inspired, by a project and the people involved.

Before hitting the door there are a few things that I’ve decided to do for the newspaper crew. This leads me to where I find myself now, in Dar, getting ready to really put my big girl pants on and Do It…! I’m excited and anxious, the final test! 3 years: bush, vill, town, and city girl?

And, as always, business will be mixed with pleaser as the universe has intervened, putting 4 of my closest lady friends from Peace Corps in Dar es Salaam on the same weekend! One long weekend of gossip, banter, and unconditional love n understanding, oh yes!

Everything is illuminated, life is Beautiful,
I’ll be stateside in the quick blink of an eye.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ode to the 3rd rainy season in Njombe

Rain, rain, go away come again sometime before 8am and after 6pm so I can walk to and from work.

Things in Njombe are moving fast. The Daraja team is rock solid, and the longer I am here the more I get to know and love everyone for their uniqueness, personal motivation, and for the insights they bring to what we do. The newspaper is getting printed right now in Dar. Issue #6!!! We’re getting better and more efficient every issue. Starting in April we will be printing two issues a month and looking for potential places in Iringa Town to set up a separate division of the same paper (We are Kwanza Jamii Njombe and it will be Kwanza Jamii Iringa, there will be different copies of each paper).

Daraja, as an organization, is being considered for funding from the Knight Foundation, a mass media mogul in the states. We are hoping to set up another program within our organization that uses cell phones and text messages linked to internet databases to collect information from people out in the villages. Basically we will train X amount of people to use survey software, give them a cell phone, text them surveys and they will be responsible for filling out the survey on the phone and texting it back to us, which will be sent to an internet database for us to check out and make use of (like in the newspaper….!) The whole project is going to be excellent, but is contingent with the funding…the good news is that we’re only competing against a ton of other organizations for the same funds…! If you’re interested in knowing more check out the grant. This is the link:

My roommates, while in the states, made their organization official. Ohana Amani ( is now a Non-Profit Organization. While they were home they worked hard to raise awareness about their mission, and raise funds to get this baby off of the ground. They have 600 acres of land donated to them from the village in which they are going to build. It’s a couple of hours south west of Njombe town. Currently they are trying to readjust to life back here, and getting ready to spend a lot of time on their land finding the ideal place to build their home and education center, lives and future. I give them nothing but big ups! It is truly inspiring to have people in your life that will come this far to do what feels right.

In other random updates, Keith is probably summiting Mount Kilimanjaro right now. He’s been climbing since Sunday morning, along with 6 or so other Peace Corps volunteers. Mt. Kili is the tallest mountain in Africa and draws in billions of dollars in tourism every year. It is a huge deal for travelers and Tanzanians alike. I frequently find myself wondering where in the world all of this money goes…

Like I said, things in Njombe are moving fast but life in the fast lane slows down a tad when the fast lane is a dirt road and the season of rain has begun. It suddenly becomes life in the mud zone, and you’re bound to find yourself half dressed in the morning staring at your closet (which is just 2 massive spoons hung from the ceiling with rope) wondering what in the world you can wear that 1.) matches 2.) will be warm in the morning, but not too warm in the afternoon, and 3.) is mudproof. Being so fashion savvy, I’ll end up wearing some outfit that matches if you believe that Earthy Rainbow is a matching color scheme, jeans/shirt/skirt that are all too big from intense hand washing, one scarf, dirty shoes, a bright green raincoat, and ridiculous sunglasses that are unnecessary when it’s apparently gray. Ambassador of Class.

(The closet...)

So yes, the Mud Zone. It’s sort of killing my jive and vibe here. The good news EVERYONE IS BACK!!! And my house is full of Love, Energy, Ideas, Food, and Conversation. Also, there is a ton of stuff to look forward to. February is full of visitors! Meesh and Justin, two PCVs who came to TZ with me, are both landing in Dar TODAY! Brie (another old PCV) got back about 2 weeks ago and came on down to Njombe last weekend. Sarah also just crashed the pad for a week and I am going to see her again at the end of the month when I go to Zanzibar Island to spend a few days in the sun and sand!!

Today at the bank I considered losing my cool when the 10th person cut in front of me. I was dripping wet, mud covered, and not in the mood. But, the tellers were blasting Bob Marley.

“EXODUS, MOVEMENT OF JA’ PEOPLE!” And all I could do was sing in line (imagine, singing in public.... wait, that’s not shocking…)
“Open your eyes and look within, are you satisfied with the life you’re livin??”

Well, are you?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

One dead donkey all covered in Pine

Holiday madness. Love it. After only a short snafu in Amsterdam which left me sitting in a plane, stuck on a snowy runway for over 3 hours before take-off, my return to Tanzania was a great success. Everything, including myself, made it back in a single piece, and my post-flying plane gut wasn’t that bad. A holiday miracle.
After getting back to country Keith and I made our way to Njombe for a few weeks of make-shift domestic life, before going to Matui (the village he works in as a Peace Corps volunteer) for Christmas. While in Njombe we did good making Christmas. We chopped down a large bush, cut out some ornaments, strung popcorn, hung lights twice (both strands burnt out), found a Christmas flag, hosted a few Mexican nights, hung stockings with care, wrapped presents, baked cookies, brownies, pita bread and hummus and made pasta salad to share with my co-workers at our Christmas party, where we indulged in the open(ish) bar and closed it down with some of the great people that I work with.

A few days before Christmas we hopped on a bus to Iringa, spent the night there, accidentally took the dirt road to Dodoma town (which was a 10 hour long ride of beautiful sights outside the bus and awful everything- baby feeders, music, body odor- inside the bus), we almost clawed out each other’s faces but upon arrival promptly downed a few beers, got over it, and went to his village on Christmas day.
Upon arrival in Matui village (a Mecca by my standards, as no village should have over 15,000 people, albeit still a vill with no electricity and seriously scarce and dirty water) we met up with 2 other volunteers who came to spread the cheer with us.

As we hiked up to Keith’s house we noticed that an animal, a donkey it turns out, was being butchered right on the side of the road. Very unusual. And disgusting. Apparently the donkey* just up and died on Christmas day, so the owners decided to make a Christmas feast out of it, leaving the guts to rot on the side of the road, as we noticed later on our return trip back to the “heart” of the village….

Although, before returning back to the “heart” the few of us went to Keith’s house, busted out a box of wine, 3 liters of homemade wine, one bag of homemade cookies, one container of PB brownies, and some Christmas music. We immediately got to getting drunk, filling up on sweets, and putting on our Santa hats (well, Keith did) and reindeer horns so we could pass out candy canes to all of the kids between Keith’s house and the “heart.” It was hilarious, and maybe not the best idea, just because kids already think we should have candy all of the time anyways, but it was fun. Some of the kids got the “Happy Holidays” saying down so we got from random people for the rest of the night. Once in town, after passing donkey guts all covered in pine branches, we hit up the bar, had a few laughs, watched a bar flight, came home, crashed out, and a few days later (after yet another amazing Mexican feast) I find myself back in Dodoma anticipating a fun New Years Eve and wondering how it is already going to be 2011.

*Am I alone in finding total irony of a dead Donkey on Christmas day. What if the donkey carrying Mary, carrying baby Jesus, just up and died on the side of the road. They would have never made it to Bethlehem to find all the inns full, the child savor would have not been born in a stable, but en route (if at all) and then where would our heart- warming Christmas tale be?

“…And as Joseph carved up the dead donkey to make a post-natal stew for Mary, the three wise men arrived just in time to help salt and preserve the unreliable beast.”

HAPPY NEW YEARS!!! I’ll post pictures next week.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

No time to West

Meab (my co-worker) and I were walking through Njombe town the other day, and amidst the chaos, I noticed a truck that had a special decal saying "NO TIME TO WEST." Assuming it was an attempt to say No Time to Waste, Meab and I got a good laugh at the drivers expense...but the more I think about it, maybe it wasn't wrong...

Let's just do this via pictures.

This is a man who sells peanuts, biskuti (cookie-esque) and other small typical TZ treats. He is reading a copy of the newspaper I work for...Kwanza Jamii!

This is our Daraja driver getting in trouble with the traffic police on the way to Dar es Salaam. They are the ones in the shack wearing white and yellow. You wouldn't now from the shack how much money they get in bribes everyday.

This is the truck that we hired and the banner we had made to drive around town and announce the coming of our paper- Kwanza Jamii! It was a traveling music show for 3 days.

This is my nyumbani. Karibu.....

When I come home from work and wonder, "Seriously...?" I check myself, stand on my front porch and admire the little valley. It always chills me out.

One day while i was in a meeting our secretary, Stella, came in and told me a man upstairs wanted to use my camera. She didn't know why so I said no way. KUMBE! He wanted to take a picture of this newborn with backwards legs and send it to some doctor overseas to see if it's possible to fix...I'm glad I went to investigate what he wanted even though it's awfully heart breaking.

This is Keith. We just finished eating 2 massive salads (with lettuce, cheese, and olives!!!), aone large veggie pizza, and more then a few goblets of wine.
What are smiles really say: "Holy shit, if this is what America is like all of the time you better love me fat!"

Then I canned my first thing ever...Beets! Who knows if I know what I'm doing, but I go SOOOO excited about finding beets in the veggie market in Morogoro town (a mear 10 hours away) that I just bought a ton and figured why not...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Inky black newsprint love meets pure white hippie love; Insanity ensues

There was a time in which dreams were visions of hot baths, live music and endless rows of coffee shops. I’m not particularly sure where that dream has gone. I now dream in black and white, of the grind of TZ journalism and the endless warmth of CA hippie love. I dream in non-sensible chaos and piles of compost. Altogether its confusing on the level of life goals, and yet personally enjoyable.

Taking in all of these different energies is wonderfully exhausting. It’s almost as though I’ve become some sort of battery charged by the mixture of resonating energy exchange, absorption, and distribution.

Some of the bigger events of the past few weeks have included the launch of the first issue of Kwanza Jamii Njombe newspaper (Community First…or First Community Newspaper… check it out, OR facebook Daraja). The event was held Monday August 30th. Our team rented out a huge outdoor venue, hired a traveling car and speaker system to advertise the kick off, enlisted some music groups from inside Njombe and a semi-famous Dar es Salaam singer, invited special and important people from town, had T-shirts, caps, beanies, and 3,000 copies of our paper. It was awesome. The response was great. People are pumped. The Daraja team pulled together to get it done, and after a nice dinner with the guests of honor and the famous musician, we had a few drinks and then all went home to pass out after the longest Monday of our working lives.

I’ve been selling/ gifting copies of the paper everywhere. It seems that distribution is a slight problem. Next time…People are STILL loving it, and everyone is very excited for the next issue.

After the kick off we got Thursday and Friday off of work, so the hippies and I took a road trip out to Ikuna Village to greet the family and get some of my left behind goodies. Mama Witi was happy to see that I was alive and doing well. She was wearing a Kwanza Jamii hat when I got there, which just tickled my heart. She was highly impressed by the paper, and even more shocked to see that there was a picture of me in it. It felt wonderful to make that woman so damn proud. After some food, and chatting at the mgahawa, but before a fight broke out over which one of us girls got to hold Benja we headed home. It was just a quick trip. Everyone is doing well. Benja has teeth and is crawling all around. At the end of November I am going to stay a few days/nights for Benja’s birthday. I’m still trying to put more time in between town and village life.

It would behoove you all if I told you some more about my awesome roommates. First, I should stop calling them the CA hippies because they don’t really love love it. However, it makes it easier to understand how much I jive with them and everything that they have going on. Right now there are five. Chevy, Curry and Jose are all planning to start their own NGO in Tanzania. Chevy and Curry are sisters and their other sister, Georgia, is also here traveling and checking out the TZ scene. Her friend Shannon was studying abroad in Kenya and came a few weeks ago to stay until the end of the month when everyone (but Curry) is going back to the states. So, it’s 5 ladies and one gentleman living in my little red house on the dirt mound.

About my house. It’s made for a Tanzanian. By that I mean there is a showering room, but no shower head. There is no hot water heater, but there is an outdoor dish washing station. There is a small kitchen sink and a little pantry. There is a drop toilet (porcelain hole in the ground), but also a western toilet…however the lid is broken and it’s in the “off limits” room. There are 3 bedrooms and one living room that is also off limits (but we’re using it regardless) and is missing all of the glass for the windows. It was just build last year and they did no landscaping so we’re surrounded by a wooden fence, on a little hill of dirt. Also, the land they chose needed to by sliced into to make a plot, so when you look out the back window you’re looking at a slice of inner Earth. My roommates have taken the planting seriously, and I should have beans, some weeds, and a bunch of great little plants that they got clippings of on some of their random adventures. I’m only worried that it won’t be enough to keep the house in place when the rainy season comes and we’re getting washed down the hill with no vegetation. …maybe that’s when I’ll move again.

For now I am in a stage of intense learning, sharing, growing and good life living. Balance, play, friendship, love, excess, and nothing at all is here. Pieces of me are just missing home, but the whole of it all is happy with how its rollin’. I hope the same is happening for you.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Being a slacker.

It’s pretty evident that I have been putting off updating. The thing is that I cannot possibly sum up my Peace Corps experience in any commentary that’s worth reading. Nothing witty or awe inspiring comes to me, and that is terribly disappointing.

Leaving Ikuna was yet another Hallmark “Strange Transition.” Due to a slight calendar error the full good-bye party is planned for sometime next month. We managed a half good-bye party which included some songs, poems, dancing and presents…and a few not so brief speeches. It was all very sweet and entirely overwhelming…I’m not too sure what’s going to happen at the good-bye again party. Maybe it will be more like the Peace Out in 2008 party with homemade piñatas and kegs…that would be amazing.

The morning of departure Mama Witi came to see me off and we had a discussion that I feel would make a great independent film. Sitting outside under a cold, gray morning sky, on my dad’s canvas Cabellas bag full of crap we just kept saying to each other every minute of so, “This is a dream…right?” Suddenly I was whisked away in a taxi, and I am sure she believes that I will never return again.

After that I dumped off all of my belongings (which include 4 buckets of various sizes, and assortment of metal pots, and a whole set of mismatched dinnerware) and headed to Matema beach for the wedding of two Peace Corps volunteers. Attendees of the wedding included a bunch of other volunteers, a TZ Rasta man named Goba, a money named Monkey Baby, a random puppy and a crowd of gawking TZs. Naturally. It was absolutely beautiful.

After the wedding I headed to Dar es Salaam to complete all of my final Peace Corps paperwork, and say adios to a lot of the people who came to TZ with me. It was slightly traumatic and awfully scary thinking about being here without them (which really means wondering why the hell I wasn’t getting on a US bound plane too.) The day I finished up my stuff I headed out to the beach for a few days of rest and relaxation in the sun before heading back to Njombe to start my job.
Boom. 4 days later I started my job.

2 weeks later and I’m still here. I’ve been living in a hotel, but will be moving out on Wednesday, if all goes according to plan. On Saturday I am getting some roommates from California who I meet a few months ago in town. They are super jive and I’m excited to see what happens.

About my job. I absolutely love it. Making a newspaper is the shit. Making a newspaper in Tanzania, with Tanzanians, for the people that you have grown to love is kick ass. Sure, there are glitches in the system, and I know that still being here is going to get a bit weary, but I’m game for this, and thus far it’s been a healthy challenge.

Working with educated, informed, motivated Tanzanians could not be more different then the world I just came from. It’s incredibly empowering to me just to see these people in action, and it really makes me believe that good things are happening….good things coming from, and driven by Tanzanians.

As much as I am in love with everything that I see, I keep reminding myself that although opinions stemming from my mind are valid, they aren’t actually that useful, and can be pretty much counter active to the whole idea of what is going on at Daraja. So, I’m staying busy under other peoples direction, studying the psychology of this new, old, newish world, and trying to find the invisible line that links us all, inspires us all, and makes things work...naturally.

(In case you were wondering, I talked to Mama Witi, Baba Eliza and baby Benja on the phone a few days ago. Everyone misses me, but other then that life is as it was.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Random Shots!

Here are some random pics for you all

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Seriously, Going the Distance

Wrapping it all up is a lot more awful then anything ever. I know that I’m not really saying good-bye to the village cause I’m moving 40k away (which is considerably less then my relative distance from you cats right now…). What I’m saying good-bye to is this footloose, easy going, self-motivated, self-directed lifestyle that I have come to embrace fully. What I’m about to walk into is a Monday through Friday 8-5. Yeah, I’m balls to the wall excited about the actual organization that I will be working for, sure I cannot wait to get er’ going, but I’m a damn liar if I don’t say that my heart feels pretty sad about leaving behind the “Margaret scheduled” life of yoga, dog walking, neighbor visiting and baby loving.

So, that’s what it all comes down to. The last 2 years of my life can be summed up by stretching, walking, talking and loving. Not an ounce of me feels disappointed in that. Reflecting back on my goals coming into Peace Corps, I have surpassed all of my own imposed expectations.

My goals before come to Peace Corps Tanzania were:
1- Become fluent in Swahili
2- Integrate myself into a community of rural Tanzanians
3- Guide ONE person in making informed decisions about their reproductive and sexual health.
Done, done, done

Here’s the catch. Peace Corps, with, “ Life is Calling, How Far Will You Go?”, “ What’s 27 Months?” And all of the other advertisement campaigns, is not just about your goals for yourself. It’s about the goals of the program for the volunteers in-country. It’s about the goals of the community in which you work and live. It’s about putting on a pretty face and making it all (the work, the pride, your own nationalism, and your newly found nationalism) look real damn good. Have I done that?

Eh, not so much.

And I feel not so great about it. A tad bitter. A touch tricked. Overall, I’m let down by my own inability to constantly save face and make this country look easy, and by my own lack of desire to fulfill the goals of the program that I was accepted into.

But I don’t want to do it their way. I don’t want to work for the man. I don’t think I can do it better then the man, or that I know more, or that I’m some sort of omni-God who just intrinsically knows what is going to work better then what they are telling me to do.

However, what I see is what I see. What I feel is what I feel. What I know is what I know and what I am driven to work for and towards is where I am going to direct my efforts. In the end my feelings of personal satisfaction in the arenas that I live and work in seem to make more sense then “paper satisfaction” for the policy makers, funding lobbyists, and movers and shakers in DC.

I’m fairly confident that makes me the antithesis of a Team Player, at least in this far-fetched grasp on my reality in the real world. I don’t really care. The team that I’m playing for is on a different continent, drinking Starbucks and having cold draft beers with their co-workers. I cannot justify their demands in my field of work when they are that far removed from everything I am doing, living, breathing, eating, drinking and experiencing. I would not expect someone in my position now to adhere to demands from me if I was sending them from the Mother Land…even though I have been here. “Having been here” and “Being Here” are not the same.

So, I’m not content in my output. I am not okay with my work effort. I do not feel adequate in what I’ve done here.

What am I going to do about it?

I’m going to buck up and DO something that I am Driven to Work for and that has Direction stemming from here, that is relevant for all of the people who I’m working side by side with. That is interesting. That is demanding. That makes clear cut sense from the word “Go.”

I’m ready to kick ass, take names, do it well, and walk away with my head held high. And STILL walk, talk, live and love as a means to accomplish goals set outside of my own.

An 8-5 doesn’t mean that I am finally doing something. It means that I have to show up. I don’t want to just show up. I want this to be amazing. And it will be.

And that’s the final word.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My bag


Clothes enough to last 5 days and then repeat. All dirty, loved and in need of a serious washing machine.

My computer inside of its waterproof case (2 ziplock bags cut and duct taped together to make it long enough)

Charging devices for one phone, 2 ipods, the computer and an outlet adaptor to actually use any of it

At least one book I haven’t started and probably won’t

A notebook full of ideas, letters, plans, memories, and garbage

My planner, sporting a picture of my grandma and me on the front and baby Benja on the back

A medicine kit with hardly any drugs, just some tampons, aspirin, Neosporin, band aids, razor and soap

No less then 5 headbands

The little bit of make-up I’ve been using since 2008

Assorted Tanzanian jewelry

One red camera that is not used enough in travel

A bottle of shampoo, borrowed face wash, toothbrush and paste

The deodorant that Chris and Michelle sent to me last year

Sunscreen I found in the Peace Corps office, and never actually use

Glasses or sunglasses, depending on what is on my face

The yellow and blue shawl from my Aunt Marg, which triples as clothes, towel, and in-bus dust shield

Assorted random papers, newspapers, work papers, receipts, you know- paper

Always, at least, one bit of mail I plan to send tomorrow…or the next day…

My backpack is heavy. It’s always stuffed to the May Not Zip point. I won’t put in under the bus because it will be ganked and I will be shattered. It never fits in the racks above the seats in the bus, so it’s usually under my feet serving as an obnoxious and unnecessary 12 hour footstool. It’s dirty no matter how much I wash it, and I do wash it, I mean, at least 2 times a year. After a long bus journey I dread more then anything putting it on and lugging it to wherever we’re going. By the time I arrive I’m inevitably rocking matching Left and Right red stripes on my shoulders. It’s full of a lot of stuff. It’s full of a lot of memories. It’s the best and worst thing ever and I’m glad that my days of filling it up with all that stuff and all of that anticipation of a new journey are not over.

It’s my bag.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


It’s that time of the year again! The African winter!! Word on the streets is that the past few weeks in MI have been unusually warm. Well that’s just D-A-N-D-Y for you cats, it’s glass cutting over in these African hills and I’m not in love with it. The weather has been gray and cloudy with heavy doses of morning mist and partial sun in the late afternoon. The good news…okay, this typically up and up lady can’t actually find anything good o say about the weather right now. It’s the worst. Well, not as bad as a real winter, that would kill me for sure.

Aside from the weather things here are pretty damn good. Life in the village is wrapping up and I can’t say I’m too terribly sad because I’m only moving about 40k away. That’s right, I’m not coming back to the Mother Land, I’ll be living in Njombe Town working for this non-profit that sounds right up my ally. More details on that at the bottom of this entry.

The last 2 weeks in the village have been busy with lots of planning for an AIDS awareness day in Ikuna. I say “awareness” not because the villagers do not already know about the disease, believe me, they KNOW, the thing is that this is supposed to be an AIDS testing day, however I cannot get either the testers or the tests and I’ve talked to pretty much everyone and anyone that I can think of in order to get this done, but this is TZ and like many things, the system is corrupt and tests have been “lost in transit” or I just am not willing to pay the right price (…for AIDS tests that have already been paid for by some US/European aid organization). Whatever the case really is, I have been trying since JANUARY to get people to come out here and test the villagers of Ikuna, and it’s not possible. I’ve come to terms with this, and I had already requested money to do this, so I am just going ahead with the day and doing all of the planned things without testing. It’s happening tomorrow, I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

In preparation for the day ELIAJA, the health choir, is helping me out to run some information and craft tables and they have been busy working on some new songs they are going to bust out. I’ve been busy meeting with them, meeting with the government officials who have to know what I’m planning on doing, and busy trying to keep myself busy because I only have 60 more days until I’m no longer a PCV (Okay, officially I’ll be an RPCV…haha).

Meanwhile, things at the mgahawa are going per usual. Witi is finally stepping up to plate now that Benja can sit by himself, and she’s been working at her pre-pregnancy pace. I’m digging it and so is Mama Witi, who is finally able to have some free time with her other family members (what this really means is now Mama Witi can go home and cook dinner for her husband and kids every night and he won’t be angry anymore because she was always too busy to ever leave the mgahawa before…Ugh, TZ!). Benja is getting huge, and I’m shocked by the whole thing. Do babies always grow up this fast? It just makes me more leery of motherhood, I mean it’s not that gratifying when suddenly one day you look over and your tiny toddler is walking around eating everything and talking to you…is it? It all feels kind of heartbreaking to me, I already want him to stop growing and he’s only 6 months old. How do you people deal with puberty and then little adults..? I can’t fully stomach laying down to sitting up.

Pakilo is still around. That’s right 7 whole months and I still have the same dog! Take that you Doubters! Are relationship is getting better, I actually patted his head today when he came barging out of the garbage hole to lick me in greeting. He did give me a good laugh today when he was barking at this goat tied up to a pole in the center of my village square. The goat was freaking out and Pakilo was running it around in circles, making the goat get stuck really close to the pole. I thought it was hilarious, the goat owners were less then amused and I pulled a classic “ I don’t really know what you’re saying” move and walked away with Pakilo in tow, laughing all the way home. I’m not always that nice.

I have a lot of random sad village news that is too long of a story to get into. Just know that all of the characters that you have come to know and love are all doing well and are not that excited to see me go, even if it is only 40k.

Which reminds me, Mama Witi and Witi want me to go on a quest to track down their missing daughter/sister! The quest, if I so choose to accept (highly unlikely considering it will be illegal travel, expensive, and probably hellish), would take me to one of the Northern most regions in TZ, the region of Shanyanga. It’s at least 3 straight days of travel there. Their plan to find her is to broadcast their names and phone numbers over the radio and hope they get a hit. The story is that this is actually Mama Witi’s first child. When the daughter was about 8 years old they went up to Shanyanga to visit her grandparents on her dad’s side. Apparently they got there to find that the grandpa was dead, the children all left, and the grandma in desperate need of help so Mama Witi just left her oldest daughter there in plan to return for her. Shortly after returning home Mama WIiti found herself to be preggers with Witi and one thing lead to another and it’s 22 years later. When I was told this story they acted as if this was just some run of the mill story, a kind of story that every family has. I mean, even for TZ standards, this is a little bit out there. So, they are finally going to track her down and I’ve been sequestered to come along. I’m not planning on going at all, but who knows, maybe they will drug me and throw me in their luggage and days later I’ll wake up on the train on my way to the uncharted North. Who knows…

I’ve decided that Tanzania is a land of extremely strange occurrences, twists of fate, and random chance.
For example, a few weeks ago I was on the bus on my way to Dar as Salaam for my Close of Service Conference and there was a MASSIVE traffic jam. Apparently a truck had flipped over right in the middle of the road and no large vehicles could pass. This created a dead stop string of busses and trucks of at last 4k. When my bus got to the line of waiting vehicles people were basically just setting up camp on the side of the road, so naturally I went to join them (who the hell would chose to sit in a stagnant bus for God only knows how long). I went out of the bus and quickly realized that I was the only white kid stuck in this mess for as far as my eye could see. Hmm, a least 300 aggravated TZs standing on the side of the road, not really a good time to make friends. So I just walked around a bit, tried to flag down some smaller cars that were still moving in hopes to get a lift to Dar and avoid the whole scene, averted the stare from some dirty truck driving men, and just tried to figure out what to do. As I was sitting in the grass, pondering my situation, my hypothetical arrival time in Dar, and what the heck was going to happen if I had to stay there, a man just walked up to me and introduced himself and out of all of the hundreds of people on the side of the road, this man and I both knew all of the same people in Njombe, and he was very familiar with Peace Corps and had actually heard of me from this guy in Njombe. It’s VERY rare to meet a TZ who knows about Peace Corps, even more so when you are traveling, even more so when you are meeting one person out of literally hundreds. It’s even more rare to meet someone who knows of you (rare as in it’s never happened before and I don’t think it will ever happen again).
It’s not just things like this that are just strange, but other things that are just lucky (or un-lucky). Like when you missed your bus and at the very moment you realize you’re screwed a random man is paying for a cab to the next town (which never happens) and you can just hop in without paying anything and get to the town before your bus does and then just get on your bus in the next town.
Or when you are stuck in Ethopia on your way home from America and you have no idea what to do, then you run into the only Tanzanian that was on your flight and missed the same connecting fight as you, and “Would you like to eat dinner with me?” And then you’re emergency friends and then, “You’re from Ikuna Village!?!?! My mom was born there!!” And come to find out her mom was Mama Witi’s friends.
Or it’s 2 days before you are supposed to be testing a lot of people for AIDS and every person you’ve contacted to come and test has turned you down, so you rely on Old Faithful, your village nurse, he can’t not be around and he’s certified, and then WHAM his wife has a baby that dies in labor and you don’t know if you want to just cry until next week or pull out all of your hair out or both.
It’s celebrating the fact that your teenage street kid “brother” got himself a job in town and then running into him 2 weeks later to find out that he quit.
It’s writing a blog all about your life as if it were Alice in Wonderland and then reading the next day online about this Alice in Wonderland movie that JUST came out and you really had no idea…
It’s wanting to go home and see your family and friends and just be American in America then getting a job offer you cannot refuse from a company that totally compels you, working in the only place you’d like to work in, and being able to just prolong what is turning out to be quite an adventure.
It’s meeting people for the first time and they say, “Oh hey, I know you, I read your blog!”
It’s meeting a person who you think is the cats pajamas but you only know them in TZ, are they really that great outside of this context? You can’t even know right now cause you are here.
It’s watching a totally random movie about the French singer Edith Piaf and then being sent her CD, without asking for it, months later.

Anyway, that’s enough examples off the top of my head.
About this job, in case you’re dying to know. I’ll be working for an organization called Daraja, which means bridge in Swahili. (Check em’ out at daraja,org). They are a non-profit funded by the UK to help connect rural Tanzanians with the government of Tanzania. I’ll be part of the team doing a project in Njombe called Twende Pamoja (Lets go togther). We are staring a newspaper in Njombe to serve the town and entire district (this would include farther out places like Ikuna and all of the other villages). The idea is to try and get information relayed “all the way other (t)here” and to create a venue for readers of the paper to share their own opinions on politics and news and relevant issues. There is a lot more to it that’s just too much to explain, but that’s the basics. I’ll be moving to Njombe Town in the beginning of August and starting then too. I’m thrilled, for real for real, this project is going to be great if we can do it right and sell the idea to the general public. I’m all about it!

I can only hope that you guys are all about continuing to read my blog for at least the next year!

Also, this is just a random article from Central's newspaper a few months ago...

That's all she wrote! Peace N' Love!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Calling Every Place Home

I’m currently wallowing in my own exhaustion, sickness and itch for change. I’ve been everywhere man and I just need to get back to Ikuna. I have no news that will make any sense so I’ll just throw up some blog poetry and call a spade a spade; I need a vacation from my mind, a way to make everything good and a Purple Heart Winter Coat Program to appear in Ikuna, with me and 20kilos of pig in toe so I can just have one last Hoorah and get this show moving somewhere that makes me feel a little more valid…The strangest thing is that I want that place of validity to be here. Oh Tanzania! How illusive you truly are!

Just for now. And here we go….
Fighting it out.
Lets not get bitter in the end.
Come and go.
Move me, move over, move mountains.
Making sense of the senseless.
The Atoms in my body going from super power charged to a beige shade of neutral.
Sounds reminiscent of manic depressive to me!
Key number 23 in the unofficial Peace Corps Survival Handbook: expertise in self diagnosis and treatment.
Ughhhhh. Oooooh. Annnnnnnnnd……

Let’s you and I build an empire. Of sunshine. And flower gardens painted with hues from the iVibrant! color selection.
Or maybe the journey continues,
and the story never ends,
and Mama Witi takes her throne next to God
and God steps down to duke
And Humanity is RIGHTeous…
…no, humanity cannot be right it just never fails to feel so damn wrong.
After thought, after thought. Is there ever forethought?
It’s only true that hindsight makes unreachable grasses greener,
and nothing that was once So Good will be thus again.
But back to that empire of sunshine,
the ideas that free flow through time,
and a garden that grows from a natural underground lake.
No rain, no need,
A mystical, thuggish, love infused candle burns both ends
and this is the result.

These are the people from my training class that live around Njombe: Kat, Greta, Ralph (back), Kate, Brie, Me, Sarah, Teresa

Friday, April 30, 2010

Vacation Part II

In the Land Rover in Ruaha

The last week of Mike’s Tanzania Bonanza ended well. Flat Stanley came from Elmwood via mail to join us on our adventures. Witi taught him how to eat ugali with beans, greens and pork. I had forgotten how sticky and weird it is when you first try it out. It’s a delicate matter of quick fingers and little palm. We stayed at my house for 2 nights. On the first night another volunteer decided to crash the cab and come over too! It was fun. We got fleas (seriously, it’s the new battle against Mother Nature at Margaret’s house), made smores, hung out with the family, watched a boring movie, made a massive bed on my floor, and didn’t sleep because the mosquito net was too small for the bed, but I insisted that we try and use it. The next day we made breakfast and real coffee (confession: I was dying for that cup of coffee before I even started the vacation). We washed clothes, visited the fam dam again and wet for a sunset walk through my favorite hills. The next day we went back to town, waited for a bus and then Mike and I headed off to Morogoro. After a mere 8 hours of bus we got to Morogoro and changed our lodging plans at the last minute. We opted for a less fancy but more scenic guest house at the base of the mountains, with plans to climb it the next morning. I totally freaked Mike out by bringing him to this super nice, very “white guy” restaurant just around the corner and I’m pretty sure he ordered something called beef chili pork spice….and was pleasantly surprised by whatever came out. We tried to burn up 50,000tsh on dinner and drinks, but were not even half way successful. The next morning we went and hiked up the mountain just a little bit because we had to check out of the guest house at 10 and didn’t want to be lugging baggage all around. The we went into town and Mike confessed that he was done with bussing (as if I could blame him, I think total bus hours during trip were around 24…not including hours spent in all other modes of transport), so he splurged on a taxi to Dar. 3 hours and some kick ass AC time went by in a snap and we found ourselves in Dar es Salaam. After checking out the situation of Icelandic volcano ash, we made way to the beach. This required a decent walk in the afternoon heat, luggage in toe, one 5 minute ferry ride, and then a little ride in a 3 wheel motorcycle taxi. By the time we got there is was early evening and I think that I can say I had not only kicked Mike’s ass, by also my own.
We chilled out on the most beautiful patch of beach and ocean front that I know in TZ. The next day some of my PC friends come and kicked up the party for Mike’s last hurrah in TZ. Oh, and at some point Mike got terribly eaten up by bed bugs and/or mosquitoes. Yikes, I feel terrible, but how could I have known?? So on Friday we woke up and milked our last few hours of beach time, went back into the big city and cleaned up a bit. It’s amazing how sandy and salty everything gets on the beach. After some relaxing and beer drinking with the random people who were in Dar at the time, we took a cab to the airport and Mike headed home. I headed back to the guts of the big city and the next day hopped a bus headed in the direction of home.

I am excited to get some feedback from Mike about his trip after he has time to figure out what happened. It’s totally awesome to have a guest who has no idea what to expect about any of this. It’s like watching an American kid at a Toys R Us in China. They are so overwhelmed with everything and they want to touch it, taste it, ask about it, but they don’t know if it’s okay or they don’t have the right language. It was just kick ass to see everything with “baby eyes” again and kind of give myself a little pat on the back for being able to make sense of this crazy TZ system. That being said, it was totally exhausting and I love you all very much, but if you are planning on trying to spring a last minute trip to TZ on me I only ask that you wait until July, that’s how long I will need to recover.

In Ikuna news, things here are just silly. I am feeling frustrated and incredibly overwhelmed with this crazy emotion I call Love. I feel frustrated because sometime during my travels with Mike I got a call from the man who was supposed to be guiding me and starting projects with me this whole time. He called to say that he is ready to start working with me… now. Why now? Because he needs my help to get a new doctor at the dispensary. Why does this frustrate me? Because I told him in SEPTEMBER that I would help him do this. I asked him why he just left me here to do whatever and nothing for the past 2 years and why he thinks that now, just as I am trying to say good-bye, I will be willing to work with him. He didn’t really have an answer, but did admit that he totally dropped the ball on me. I would like to punch him in the face, and I would also like to kiss him on the cheek, because if he had not dropped the ball I would never have the relationships that I have in the village. So I guess, in the end, I’ll just do my best to help him now, and be happy as hell that I was able to do what I have done here.

Mama Witi and family are all really great. Mama Witi is getting fat and is happy as a damn clam. Witi is also growing in that dreaded East to West direction, but she seems to think it’s the cat’s pajamas. Benja has been renamed! He is now Messi…thanks to his dad (?). Benja Messi Baby Love is probably going to break my heart. We have a very special relationship and I do not look forward to leaving him in a few months. Randomly, I think that babies in TZ grow a lot faster then babies in America. I guess it’s cause they don’t “baby” them. By the end of this week I predict that he will be sitting up by himself. The kid is only 5 months old, does this seem ridiculously early to anyone else or am I just experiencing the “shocked at how big he is” psudo-mom phenomena?

The season of cold, gray, wind and light rain has started in Ikuna and I cannot say that I am terribly excited, but it is kind of a nice break from the sweltering Dar heat. I will be going back to Dar es Salaam on the 2nd for my Close of Service Seminar. I cannot believe that it is already time to say good-bye. After all of my bitching and mood swinging, after all of the lonely and lost moments, and all of the feel good weeks, I feel totally unprepared to leave. I do not feel like I am done here. I don’t know what to do about any of it…well, I do, but it’s not ready to be blogged out yet.

Until I figure it out, or someone just tells me what the hell is going on, I’ll just say that in the end all that I have ever felt was love reciprocated: a constant exchange of objects in motion staying in motion, as my heart fills to exploding from the volume and ever expanding degree of all of this awesome Energy.

My HizzHouse

Flat Stanley Visits Morogoro

Beach Sun Rise

Sunday, April 18, 2010


A Piñata Full of Desire and here I find my guts on the ground. Better nab it before it’s no more cause this Desire is laid flat out dead on the floor.

What I mean to say is that life is a grand parade in celebration of something absolutely wonderful that I have yet to be informed of, so I will just stand on the outside and cheers to its passing me by.

No, no that’s really not it either. This piñata full of Desire is defiantly in it to win it. Grabbing life by the horns, sucking on the marrow and consequently choking on the bone. Things here have been totally unplanned, unpredictable, and pretty damn good in total randomness.

A few weeks ago, after the disaster of an event that I planned and planned and tried to execute but was totally unsuccessful at the last possible minute, I decided that it was time to go to the dentist about some serious teeth problems that I have been having. So, I abruptly headed to Dar and ended up crashing a big Peace Corps meeting of different representatives for all of the areas in TZ we have volunteers. What started as really sore tooth turned into 2 cavities, a mouth guard for sleeping, a few crazy nights and a hell of a good time. I then took the 12 hour trip back to Njombe and back to Ikuna and was in the village for 5 days before VAROOM off again back to Dar to pick up Mike from the airport. Mike is a friend from high school who came to crash TZ just cause he knew he could. Sarah and I traveled together to Dar and after Mike got here we met up in Zanzibar.

Mike and I stayed in Zanzibar for 2 nights which included: one 2 hour ferry ride, one crap hotel room, one Ocean Virgin finally meeting the ocean, a lot of translation (and probably feeling lost in it), one day on Spice tour checking out the origins of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, ginger, random fruits, papaya liquor, cardamom, and other, one day spent in the company of a bunch of wacked out Europeans, one night with Rasta men at the bar, one day of walking through a maze of tall white buildings and row upon row of ancient wooden doors leading somewhere awesome, one cotton candy machine, ¼ liter of fresh street dates, 3 plates of spicy rice, who knows how many beers, 4 man sized freezers stuffed with homemade chocolate popsicles, one phone call to America to wish my pops a happy birthday, one American girl who knew what was going on (or doing a good job pretending), one American boy who didn’t and was being a trooper.

After Zanzibar we went back to Dar (via ferry) and then woke up early the next morning to make way to Iringa. After a 6am bus ride we got to Iringa around 3, cleaned up and went for food. Mike meet Huruma who is finally studying at secondary thanks to help from his Peace Corps buddy Ben and some moral coaching from me. They hit it off. We had an early night because the next day we planned a safari to Ruaha National Park. We headed out of town around 10am in our own car with a driver named Felix, who was just the bomb. We got to the park around 1 and spent the rest of daylight trying to track down lions. We found giraffe, hippos, charging elephants, wart hogs, birds of all color shape and size, impala and moneys. When we went to the bandas that we had arranged to stay in the lions were waiting for us…well, they were about 2 football fields in length away from the tin bandas and an elephant was checking out our sleeping area when we pulled in. The whole set up was right next to the river. After some food and a quick phone call we busted out the Captain and watched the stars and listened to the sounds of wile animals…in the wild. I don’t even have words. The next morning we got up before 6 and headed out to watch the sunrise. We saw lions attempt hunting as the sun broke the horizon. We pissed off some more elephants and tramped through the alligator hang out during the peak of rainy season. We climbed a baobab tree and walked a rope bridge and I sat in lotus on the roof of a Land Rover trekking through the African bush in the glow of mid-morning light and just enjoyed the hell out of life. Around one we left the park and got back to Iringa just in time for some cleaning up, dinner, and Friday night drinks with some of the best Tanzanians that I know.

What I have learned is how much I have forgotten. Swahili is not just a language you can pick up in 5 days, nor is TZ culture or understanding that things are always strange. Mike was a little overwhelmed by it all so decided to take a vacation from the vacation and spent yesterday in Njombe catching up on rest, breaking from this crazy life and gaining perspective before I take him to Ikuna to get down to the real heart of this whole country- Tanzanian villagers and Mama Witi. That’s happening in a few hours, but I thought I’d give a little update. Thus far all is fine, I’m ready to stop traveling for a little and just be in Ikuna, but I’m still gaining perspective, I’m not watching the parade go by, oh no, I’m in it and loving everything.



Monday, March 29, 2010

6 of one; half dozen of the other

Life, life, life, life, life!
Man, I want to say and FEEL like its Beautiful. I want to say and KNOW that the sun is going to shine down and warm my face every morning. I want to say and BELIEVE that everything is just Fan-fucking-tastic!

But I can’t.

It would just be me lying to myself, lying to you, which would only add more deception to this already terribly twisted and awful façade that we have built ourselves into.
Instead I will say that life is what you make it. Another cliché to add to the mountain of metaphors and metaphysical theories: the foundation of the House of BS that I have built around this here person. Me.

Yeah, 120 words down and it’s already quite apparent that I have had a bit too much thinking time. I can’t just shake it off and give you the Sesame Street jist of “Life in Tanzania.”

Today was one of those days where you kick your own ass for trying to re-invent the wheel, and upon countless invested hours of time, money, energy, and patience, you go to test drive your new wheel only to find out it doesn’t actually fit on the car that you wanted it to drive.

Prior to today things have been going. Life in the village is basically a constant of strange and unexpected. It’s either all happening at once, or nothing is happening at all.

Pakilo (my dog) absolutely hates everything about me. Let’s be honest here folks, I don’t even pet him. I hate dogs. He has ticks. He pees in my house and craps in my bathroom. He whines when I try to play the guitar (as if I didn’t already know that I suck). He refuses to eat ugali- the staple TZ food. He has a rat tail. I think it’s disgusting. He sleeps on a pillow in my house for 80% of his waking life. The other 20% is divided between walking with me (yes, I hate him but not enough to make him stay inside all day) and crying at the NYC sewer sized rats that have taken over ¼ of my house. I have never been so glad to give a dog such a stupid name. Pakilo is Kibena for nighttime. I tell people that I have named him that because that is when he is mean and bites (this is a lie, he is a baby all of the time). The truth is that in the nighttime, when I close my bedroom door and finally crawl into my Jersey cotton sheets, I rest assure knowing that a dog is in between me and anyone who might break in. That is the only real purpose he serves me. It is totally selfish to see things only in their value to me, but in terms of cost benefit, Pakilo is hardly breaking even.

There is a lot of work for me to do here still and I have no idea if I have enough gumption or time to actually do it. I am at the point of just throwing my hands up and walking away, making a large pot of coffee, locking my door, feeding my dog to the village kids and then picking up a king sized novel on the history of Japan.

I am running on empty. Luckily, I am solar powered and the sun is regularly accessible here. Luckily, I still have time. Luckily, I have good friends who will kick me in the ass and say- JUST DO IT MARGARET- and at some point in the future, I will be able to “cross the finish line” knowing that I tired real damn hard.

That’s the total insanity of “Life in Tanzania” this is all about me and not about me at all. Not even a little bit. I gotta stop white knucklin’ it, let go of the death grip choke hold, and just give into this being bigger then me. I’m actually not that important in the whole grand scheme of how this plays out, just another character in the novel- even if the novel is Alice in Wonderland, and I assign myself the lead.

So yeah, a grand summation of this blog update: High on cynicism. Obnoxious amount of reflection. Low on team moral. Hates dogs. Needs a life. Driven harder then ever to do this with all that I got left.

In the end I’m nothing but an overstuffed piñata of Desire.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lewis Carroll comes to Me in Dreams and This is The Result

“I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say ‘Hello!’ ‘Goodbye!’ I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!”
…Or so I would be if my name was White Rabbit and I ran around worrying about the direction of the arrows scowling at me from my watch face.
LUCKILY, I’ve opted to take to role of Alice- living more or less in my own Wonderland for countless, consecutive days. Also, I’ve been eating strange foods that make me (okay, just my stomach) grow and others that induce less then optimal shrinkage (AKA excessive bloating and unpredictable body clearing diarrhea). In Wonderland there seems to be no difference in the right and left side of a mushroom that causes stomach pains, just the whole damn thing. As for the cookies, well they taste like stale shortbread and after week-long binges, it does seem that I have grown in a East to West direction (Which when facing West means I am 3 inches closer to home at all time…!)
AT a tea party hosted by the very petite and toothless Mad Hatter (in the form of a 60 year old village farmer grandma) I learned all of the Wonderland gossip. We celebrated the very Merry Un-Birthday of a certain unborn child. After tea, I was pulled aside by a drunken man (not a mouse) and given the most heart-breaking news that he, along with his lover and the unborn Un-Birthday Object of Attention, may all have AIDS. (We have planned to go and see the Great and Powerful “Wizard of Oz” for confirmation, but hat is not until next week and a totally different story).
I shyed away from interactions with the not-so-wise, giant, hookah smoking caterpillar (other wise known as the Masai witchdoctor) but, I did get close enough to listen to his latest magical antics- which included assaulting and ‘cursing’ a village bar owner because he intervened in the pipe smokers plans of a midnight rendezvous with a village bar maid.
THE Queen of Hearts, as it turns out, is only foul tempered when you act like a total idiot. I have learned that when in her Royal Court- or mgahawa- and would like Royal Attention- or food- then manners must be used accordingly. If you happen to be in her Royal Service then do make sure that the kitchen in cleaned, the potatoes are peeled, the bread is baking and the Roses are painted Red before Her Highness awakes from the mandatory afternoon slumber.
TWEEDLE Dee and Tweedle Dum seem to have multiplied in numbers, become an earthy shade of Night, lost the suspenders and found incredibly 1980s fashioned T-Shirts. They are much more shy then I had predicted, but all Fifty (or more) or them, manage to suspend shyness just enough to ask the same question, “Where are you going?” Such a difficult question to answer from my position of perpetually Lost (and Alone).
THANKFULLY, The Cheshire Cat (who’s not really a broad grinned cat, but a whiny, tick covered puppy that pees inside and enjoys long afternoon walks) is able to keep me on track. It seems that no matter where I go he’s there to guide me home- or rather I’m there to tie a rope onto his collar and drag him home crying all the way.
THE Walrus (my Village Executive Officer OR the man who is supposed to be helping me out here) and the Carpenter (the ‘next-in-line’ village government representative appointed, by others, as my liaison) seem both be up to their same old shenanigans, tricking not the oysters but the villagers and anyone with anything worth tricking out of having.
NOW, you may be wondering how it has come to be that I’ve had enough time to check into all of these comings and goings, but, like I said, I’m not the White Rabbit and I do not have a clock to stare me down. Instead I use the sun and moon, or some of the auditory cues that occur on some sort of time schedule (like the bus passing at 3:30 or church choir starting at 5:30). These are my means of telling time and I have found they are very reliable, although I do admit that things were a tad easier before I dropped my phone (the last remaining clock after the watch battery died and rats at the digital alarm clock) into a mug of hot coffee.
WHAT perplexes me, beyond being lost and totally timeless, is that my broken phone was stolen from the Castle of the Queen of Hearts (the mgahawa) by one of the members of the Tweedle Dee and Dum Squad and even though the Walrus and the Carpenter pledged to work it out, they were to distracted with the business of trickery to help. The White Rabbit just ran around yelling and heating people over the head with his watch (which somehow morphed into a large time telling tree branch), in a vain attempt to get, “More timely answers!!!” The hookah smoking, giant caterpillar was too far-gone to be reached for help in any manner (including unnecessary curses). Apparently the Mad Hatter is forced by a recent economic decline to harvest her own tealeaves in order to host her weekly tea parties, and was in the farm doing this when the incident occurred.
FOR now, I am left to identify the culprit Dee or Dum with the help form the Cheshire cat (…, or dog) and Mama Witi, who could never actually be anyone but her own amazing self in any story- tall or true.
THROUGH the Looking Glass and back again, this past hunk of time and space in Wonderland would really be a chapter called, “Biding Time.” Although it makes a good tale, things here are stagnant, and as either Alice or myself, I’m beginning to feel that it's high time to go back up the Rabbit Hole and get into a more ‘normal’ state of reality~ even though being in this perpetual Wonderland never fails to be interesting.

this is a blog that I wrote in February but never posted...just figured I'd throw it up here since I wrote it...

It’s 9:14 pm, do you know where your kids are??
Well, if your kids are Peace Corps volunteers then they are most likely in bed, cause that’s how cool we are.
If your children happen to be Tanzania village kids then they are most likely outside (even though its pitch black and they have no flash light and the only kerosene lamp is being used by you, cause you’re the Mama and you better be cooking) trying to gather or cut fire wood, trying to wash dishes or get water or just sitting outside wishing that you would hurry up and cook already!!
It’s 9:14 pm on a Tuesday night and what is going on in Ikuna village?? Well, every Mama (except Mama Witi and Mama Tekila- cause they are running mgahawas) is at home in front of her respective mode of cooking (for about 95% of these women we can safely assume that is fire via wood…not charcoal, which would make up the other 5%). They are probably stirring corn flour into a boiling pot of water right now. Which sounds like a hell of a lot easier then it is. You gotta stir- with 2 hands griped to “white knuckle strength” and use your upper arms- until every little bump and chunk is out. You gotta be sure that for each mouth you have to feed there damn well better be a size of ugali (what you were just making with that flour and water) equal to the size of their head, cause your family hasn’t eaten for about 8 hours. You better be sure that the leafy greens that you just cooked up in oil with some salt, one tomato and 1/8th of an onion are steaming damn hot, but not burning hot, once the ugali is ready. You also need to have hot water at the ready because before anyone can dig in you or your oldest daughter need to wash the hands of everyone eating- the oldest man first, to the youngest man then the women in the same order. Hopefully you did good and everything will go smoothly, everyone will be full, and you can do the dishes in peace. Unless of course the fire starts getting smoky and your husband starts getting aggravated, or you get a random late night guest, or really only God knows what could happen.
This is all going on, right now as I lay in my bed typing these words, listening to Blues Traveler, and wondering how Mama Witi got so lucky…or did she?
Right now she is at the mgahawa with at least 20 people crowding that 25ft X25ft room. The generator is running and they are watching “The 10 Commandments” dubbed in Swahili while Mama Witi cuts dough to make fried bread, fries the bread, all the while Benja is tied to her back. Meanwhile Witi is serving all of the customers and Tuma (the new helper!) is sitting around a ring of blazing hot charcoal “stoves” (imagine a portable fire pit in the US, but its maybe 1 ft tall and 1 ft in diameter), cooking up tea, chips, chips and eggs, warming food, and trying to finish cooking the bread that is always supposed to be for tomorrow, but will be consumed tonight.
Right now Chuzi, their next door entrepreneur, is selling liters of moonshine by kerosene lamps and listening to so crappy “Bongo Flavor” music. He’s trying to make the room stop spinning, which isn’t going to happen any time soon considering the amount of moonshine he’s consumed in drastic contrast to the lack of food.
All at the same time Suzie, my little 8 year old cutie, is at her house cooking dinner for her grandma, the last living relative she’s got. The two of them eat together every night in the vast emptiness of their large cooking area, sitting in the smoky room, unfazed by the rats lurking in the corner, trying to make conversation stretch from one to little to understand and one too old to break the beautiful innocence of childhood. Next month marks the anniversary of Suzie’s mothers death from AIDS.
It’s Tuesday night and someone somewhere is drunk and horny. Someone somewhere is trying to get laid. Someone somewhere is not using a condom. But you know what, maybe someone somewhere is.

I think about all of this. Life. It’s going on right now and I’m laying in bed trying to figure out how the hell I fit into this whole scheme. I’m not cooking dinner for my family, I’m not running an mgahawa, I’m not tending to my grandma, and I’m sure as hell not trying to get laid. Am I living here, or am I just like the kids who stare in awe, watching something I think I understand, but really don’t even kind of grasp….?

Wondering What Happened To Top Villagers 1-5? Next week....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Top 10 People Living in Ikuna Village that keep going (#s 10-5)

Instead of writing about myself and my adventures I have decided to write about my 12 favorite people in Ikuna- their stories, and why I think they are amazing.

10: Onesmo Mwenda: This man is a GEM!! He’s a tailor in the village. He is a hard working, sober family man. His shop (which is a 10X10 room with 3 sewing machines and walls racked in fabric) is about a 2 minutes walk from the mgahawa. He’s always polite, funny and he likes to just chill with Witi, Mama Witi and I after he eats dinner at the mghawa. Considering that most of his peers are busy being drunk and causing a shit storm, I just give this man “Big Ups!” Plus he makes the most comfortable pair of PJ pants for under $2!

9: Suzie [and her Bibi (grandma)]: Suzie is an 8 year old village girl. Her story breaks my heart, not because it is the most tragic story I have come across, but because Suzie has the most amazing spirit ever- even after a crap hand at life.
Suzie’s mom dies last spring from AIDs. Her mom contracted the disease during a stint in the town of Makambako working as a prostitute. (It’s very common for village moms to leave their children with grandparents or relatives and go to town for a few weeks, work as a prostitute and make some quick cash). Suzie’s dad does some kind of wak in Morogoro- which may as well be Alaska- and I’ve never met him. Rumor has it that he is just trying to start a new and different life far away.
Suzie now lives with her Bibi who is old. She’s one of those women that’s so old they look as though they were made from the earth and clay itself. It’s beautiful, but also sad and scary. Between the two they maintain a farm, cook, clean, gather water and firewood, have enough extra to donate to church, pay for clothes, soap, salt and any other extras…its pretty much amazing. Suzie is just AWESOME because she does all of this basically for her Bibi which makes Suzie act like this midget 30 year old sometimes, but when she plays she is 100% kid. She loves to have me carry her around on my back, she like to draw, and sing and dance, jump rope and braid hair. She likes hanging out with me, but it’s so funny when she comes over she brinks a basket of potatoes (like a village Mama would do) and will only eat or drink ½ of what I give her because the rest is for her Bibi.

8: Gesu (or Chania Dunani…Which Means “Combs the Earth” …Which is what you do when you don’t wear shoes): This guy is the right hand man for everyone. One minute I may see this 23 year old guy washing the only car that brings goods into Ikuna, the next minute he is helping Witi hook up the power lines for the TV to the generator, the next minute he is trying to learn how to work the electric razor and play Barber and a half hour later it’s likely he could show up at my house with a 30 lb bag of charcoal. He’s just the class clown of the village, he likes to drink and I believe he smokes pot, but people still love him because he’s just lovable and real. He’s not married and has no kids, but he does have a girlfriend…whom I’ve never actually met. He has all types of crazy ideas- like to start up a music shop IN THE VILLAGE, but ideas are good!

7: Chuzi: The village drunk. The village moonshine seller. The man with the fishing hat and ripped navy blue coat he never takes off. The guy who’s sometimes so drunk he can’t walk more then 3 feet. The guy who waters down his tin roof to cool off his customers on a hot and sunny day. The man who yells to me, “HAS THE DOG BURNT HIS TAIL??” When I’m cooking at the Mgahawa and he wants to know if ugali is ready yet. The guy who took part in my Iron Chief competition and made ugali himself, even though all of the village ladies were laughing…specifically at him.

6: Mgana and family: Mgana and his wife, Mwalimu (teacher) Chota are my next door neighbors. Because Mgana is a “Big Wig” in the village government, the man has money. He also has a different wife and a totally different family in a completely different region of Tanzania, but whatever, I can’t disrespect a man for being as he feels he should be. The man says he’s got 16 children across TZ. I’m sure its more like 20. He’s probably one of the most scary looking Tanzania men that I have veer seen. He’s about 6’2 and at least 255lbs. He’s got hands the size of my face, and could possible kill me in one serious squeeze, but that’s one of the many reasons I am glad he’s my neighbor. Also, he’s smart has hell and his kids all look exactly like him. Plus, even though he has money and a TV and a generator and a motorcycle and a million kids, HE STILL DOES PHYSICAL LABOR!! And that folks- well, it’s amazing! Also he loves when I come over in the middle of the night to borrow his cat cause I can hear mice in my house. He’s a funny man with diabetes, and I think it’s weird cause even though he’s black and he lives in TZ, I feel like he could be my grandpa Korte’s African twin.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Back to the Grind, Part Un.

January 25, 2010

After less then 20 days back in Tanzanian I feel like I MUST have been here a lifetime already. Things have quickly fallen back into the place in which they were residing before I left.
Life in the village is mostly unchanged,
Yes, Benjamin (Witi’s baby boy) is fatter and darker. Yes, my house is filled with more rats then when I left. It’s only true that Tanzanian men have beat more women, and wasted more of their hard earned money on booze. But, all of these things were primarily a predicable change.

I’ve noticed that “free time” is a lot more difficult without the joys of text messaging, internet, or nearby family/friends. I’ve noticed that I really do not enjoy any part of Tanzanian cuisine. It’s become evident that time really is not, really NEVER, a major factor is any sort of planning- even for government or village-wide events. It’s now evident how much I miss driving a car….Oh! Being able to come and go as I please!!!

It’s annoying. The lack of bathing. The constant battle against body odor. The fighting for a seat on the bus. The making plans, altering plans, re-making the same plans. undoing all plans, and staring it all over again. I hate it.

But I still don’t hate Tanzania. I have been grilling my mind for how this can be true. I have been trying (mostly in vain and desperation to fill my free time) to figure out how I can convey the true pulse of my life here. It’s difficult, at best, to try and word this out. Maybe I’m scared to ration out all sense and figure out the heart string that keeps me beating along any sort of purpose driven path here.

Yes, yes, Mama Witi and her family are AMAZING. They are the “one person that I want to help make an ‘informed’ choice.” As I said back in 2007 before I meet the beast of a country called Tanzania.

But really, is this it here? Is this why I love Tanzania? Is this, and your support, my only Mojo. (Or really, is this ‘Mojo’ more then any I will ever feel in any sort of ‘life quest’ AKA Career???)

Ugh. Scary.

Well, I’m still grilling me head on how to make this make sense so I’ll get back to that in a different post.

For now, Things in the village are good. Everything is truly the same. I have spent a considerable about of time meeting parents of other volunteers in Tanzania. Last week my friend Kat’s dad came (along with her uncle) . They didn’t get into Njombe until late and they headed out to her village early the next morning, but we did have a few beers and he brought all of this amazing stuff to share with us (Almond M&Ms!!, along with stories from his journies in Tanzanian thus far. He was a total sweetheart.
I also was able to spend some quality time with the parents of Vincent, the French doctor who was here a few months ago doing volunteer work at TANWAT hospital. They wre absolutely adorable and I now have an open invitation to visit them in France (which who knows, I will most likely take up!)

Being able to share this first hand with people is just totally amazing. Any thoughs on coming to Tanzania?? LET ME KNOW  I’m a good tour guide.

For now, I must say Adios. I have little time and patience for the internet today, I just wanted to let you all know that the village is good, everyone is alive and I am trying my damn best not to get disheartened by the fact that nothing really is going to change in massive number…and that’s really okay!

Peace and Love!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

There and Back Again. A Peace Corps Blog by Yours Truly

December 15th, 2009
The Time Has Come

…or the time came and went.
Big news, great news, good news for the land of 24 hour Christmas Jingles and non-stop shopping: Witi had her baby!
Witi, Pakilo (my dog/ newest animal project) and I went to the village of Luduga to wait at Sarah’s house for the baby to come. Sarah’s neighbor is an older nurse with lots of birthing experience and one of Sarah’s good friends. It seemed like the best idea considering there is no real doctor in Ikuna and the infant mortality rate is 2:3.
We waited for 5 nights and 6 days.

On day 2 is coincided with the American Eat Fest called Thanksgiving. Sarah had invited her Tanzanian family over and together we made a feast. Including 2 chickens, mashed potatoes, delicious beans, honey oatmeal rolls and frosted carrot cake (which I was asked a few days later to make again for the confirmation party of a village boy). After hours of cooking and baking on coal pits, waiting for things to be ready and washing dishes we sat down to eat. We all said what we were thankful for, and grandma sang us a song in tribal language. It was a great cultural fusion.

On day 4 of waiting Mama Witi (which really does mean Witi’s mom) came to Luduga to wait it out with us. It was a lot of cooking ridiculous food, dog watching (Sarah has a dog too), sitting in the sun, clothes washing, walking around, chilling out, talking baby and all things you can possibly do with 2 loved Tanzanian women in a land of no TV, no computer, no car, no mall, just family in a time of anticipation and fear.

On day 6 Witi went into labor as I was showing Mama Witi how to make banana pancakes. We walked over to the dispensary around 10am. Chilled out while Witi had contractions. Mama, Sarah and I just tried to distract the naked, in pain and scared Witi with funny stories and back rubbing. Witi didn’t want anything to do with it. She was just ready as hell. About 2 hours later Mama got kicked out and the nurse came in. Witi asked Sarah and I to stay and together we witnessed life. After pushing and heavy breathing, having to hold her own legs and just not knowing what to do, Witi pushed out a baby right in front of our eyes. It only took a half hour. It was graphic and crazy. Her baby, a boy named Benjamin who weighed about 7lbs, came out thrashing and just as ready as his Mama. Then she delivered the after birth and got kicked out of the room cause another lady was already in labor and waiting on the sidelines to have her baby. Witi just lied on a foam mattress on the floor for a while Sarah, Baby Grandma, and I took turns holding Benjamin. Witi was too tired to try and breastfeed him, so I spent a while holding him up to her breast while she just lay there tired and helpless. Sarah and I (feeling too much like a lesbian couple who just had a baby) together took Benjamin into the vaccination room and he got a shot while I held him and his little hand.

Later on we all walked the whole 3 minutes back to Sarah’s house and Witi and the baby laid around naked as jay birds while Mama Witi, Sarah, a neighbor and I killed a chicken and made a feast.
Crazy man.
After a day of rest Mama Witi, Witi, Pakilo and I all went back home and now Witi is just holding up inside the mgahawa while Mama Witi and a new helper girl make all of the food and sell is quick as they can.
They are my family. It’s this strong woman unit; this bond that forever lies between Witi, Mama Witi, Benjamin and me. It’s so delicate and near to my heart. These people are not just Tanzanians that I know, they really are people, human beings, whom I respect and love like my own. I think that in order to keep doing this, to keep being here, I had to find this, and I am so lucky and so grateful that I have,

Other good news: The Ikuna Primary School Project is totally finished! We were able to add on a mini sidewalk to complete the whole look. The doors have been installed and the cement has dried and there is still another month until the next school year actually starts! So, not only is everyone totally proud and happy, but we finished it ahead of schedule and it looks really good. There have already been requests from people coming from Njombe for meetings to use the library, which is a really positive head start. Thank you all again and again. Ikuna village is looking better all the time!

This is just a short blog because I will be home in less then 2 weeks!
That’s all she wrote. See you in the states!!!

(And then I became a slacker and didn’t post that blog, came home and now I’m back….!)

January 7th, 2010

Sitting in the Metro- Detroit Airport. Flight delayed. Snow. It figures.
I feel like I am ready to leave this informercialized, life fearing, fast paced, choice filled world we call America.
I cannot wait to go home and see Mama Witi, Baba Eliza, Witi, Benjamin and the crew. I cannot wait to speak Swahili. I cannot wait fight with the men at the bus stand and buy bananas out of the window. Ah, to go unwashed for days and feel nothing but pride in my dirtiness!! Yes, these things sounds wonderful.
I am bubble bathed-out. I’m over stressed about all of the simple choices that we are forced to make each day- from salad dressings to which gas station to hit up- it was all a bit overwhelming. Yeah, I got used to it. Sure, life made it’s usual route back to how things were before. Of course, I LOVE going to the super market and being able to pick up any vegetable I want, when I want it, but guys I gotta get.

America vs Tanzania. Which is better? Neither. Both are unique in their own beautiful ways.
America vs Tanzania. Where does my heart lie? America hands down, making the states the place I will always call my real home.

But for now I just need to rock it out, do my thing, live with my people who never really can be my people, but whom I just love for a million reasons that I guess won’t ever make sense no matter how many words I put down, pictures I take, or stories I tell.

January 10-13, 2010

And I’m back. Almost a full 10 hours and I am already ready to kick my own ass for thinking it was possible to take too many bubble baths, because that is totally not true.

It’s hot and humid here. The rainy season has started. Massive flooding has wiped out a few places, and that’s never really good. Aside from that, everything in TZ is as much as the same as everything in America was.
I got in Dar around 3am due to all types of flight delays, missed connections and craziness.
After spending the night in DC, a whole day in a plane, a long afternoon in a hotel in Addis Abeba (Ethopia) and some serious snooze time from there to Dar I can officially say that I AM TRAVLED OUT.
Oh the woes of a young woman fueled by freedom in the prime of life, having no worries beyond today. Seriously, that’s my life…how I had forgotten in the midst of organized commercialism known as America, one can never know. As wonderful as it sounds, I will tell the truth. Living out of a bag, calling everywhere home and doing it “Anthony Bourdain style”….well, it actually makes everything feel very meaningless and very selfish. It’s like smoking a cigarette, the actual smoking is fantastic, but the after taste is terrible.

This may be why I have enjoyed the past few months in TZ the most, because I have stayed in the village and just enjoyed a home, family, job and real responsibilities there. I must say, as dreadful as the thought of leaving the internet and running water behind sounds, I am very much looking forward to getting back to the village and staying in Ikuna for as long as possible. I’m not a big fan of the “lost soul” or “wandering vagabond” role and even if it means less communication with home and the people I love in the states, I think I can hack it until August.

It’s slightly premature, and subject to change, but I did actually gain a lot from my trip home. Aside from realizing that even with all of its BS, infectious stupidity, advertising of ridiculous products, road raged drivers, and total pricks, I do love America, I also got a big Memory Shock in how crappy it is to say goodbye to everyone that I love. I have been considering staying for another year after I come home on Peace Corps dime in August, but I don’t know if I really have the balls to pack up and peace out for round #3. It’s truly terrible saying bye, and getting on the plane alone is really a kick in the face that makes you wonder what the hell you are doing. I can’t say for sure what will happen come August, I need to get back to Ikuna and re-adjust to TZ. I’m giving myself until the end of January to make a final decision and stick with it…for real real.

…It’s apparent that I have had a lot of thought filled travel time. Sorry for boring you, maybe all of this reflection will assure you that all of the though processes you dedicate to choice making aren’t too overboard. We all do it. ….Right?

Whilst Stateside:
I was able to talk to a lot of interested people about Tanzania, Peace Corps and life here. I met with my mom’s co-workers at PWC who read my blog and we had an informal luncheon. It was awfully sweet to meet everyone and see that people actually read this, think about it, and wanted to know more. It made me feel so reassured in what I am doing here and was a perfect way to start my time home. Thanks ladies!!

I also got a chance to meet with some of the students and teachers at Elmwood Elementary school and talk with them. I can’t say how well that went over because it’s hard trying to describe all of this to 5th graders, but they seemed interested (or at least happy to have no homework) and asked some pretty funny questions.

The day I left I stopped over at Lake Shore High School to see one of my teacher friends and she had me talk to her 10th, 11th and 12th graders. I brought in some pictures and they seemed to get a kick out of the whole idea. Who can say what they really thought, but they were entertained and I was glad to just have a venue to share this experience because it makes me feel good about myself, and feel pride in Witi and Mama Witi who really are just amazing people with lives that we can all relate to in some abstract way.

I also spent some great nights out with my friends, a few out with my family and one night in Mexican town with a fabulous mix of both. It’s possible I may have consumed all of the alcohol and food that I missed in the past year and a half in only 3 weeks. It’s also possible that I may need to quit my professional karaoke career.

Pretty much all of my time was spent talking about Tanzania, shopping for the random stuff I wanted to bring back, hanging out, drinking (coffee-beer-whatever) and thinking about what I am going to do when I get back.
And here I am! With a list from here to the moon of things I’d like to do. And I could do none of them without the emotional support from you guys. It’s truly amazing to even be able to do what I am doing, but it’s hard to rock this life alone, and just knowing that people actually care is sometimes all I’ve got to push me out of the bed in the morning. I guess you could say it’s my “mojo.” For that I thank you all so very much.

On the Peace Corps webpage one of the advertising campaigns deems Peace Corps as, “A Life Inspired.” I don’t know if they mean that Peace Corps volunteers are people who are inspired to live 27 months of foreign volunteerism, or if they mean that Peace Corps volunteers inspire others to engage in (via education, donations, traveling, etc.) an understanding of the world abroad. I would like to think they mean both. I’m glad that you feel inspired enough to take time from your life and just read about these experiences. A lot of people told me while I was home that Peace Corps is not something they could do. The point of doing something like PC isn’t to make other people feel crappy for not doing it, or bad for not being able to “sacrifice 2 years of their life.” It isn’t something that fits for everyone, just like going to college, or working in an office. Being engaged enough to consider other cultures and lifestyles is more then ½ of the make-up of a Peace Corps volunteer, and after all of the conversations in the past 3 weeks, I’d know a lot of globally conscious people who have taken the time to consider stepping out of the comfort zone of the states and at least think about how the rest of the world makes life work. That is more then most Westerners would ever do, so I say keep it up, stay engaged, reflect on your life and what you know of the lives of others, live globally from where you are now because I consider that a life most certainly inspired. You have all inspired me in ways, and I can’t judge how much that matters in your book, but it is a very big deal in mine.

Thank you.

And with that I head off. Back to the village of Ikuna after 5 days of travel and 2 days of sleep. I cannot wait to get back to the family and friends I have grown to love and share with them all of the stories of my trip to the states, which will seem to them as wonderful and strange as my stories of Tanzania seem to you.