Saturday, September 20, 2008

Origin of the word Mzungu, facial recognition, and thoughts about this patriarchal society.

Another week in the village has already swept by, leaving me standing in the wind, looking at my floor from the doorway wondering; “How the hell did everything get so dusty, I just cleaned this morning!”
This week was not as “eventful” as the last, and all in all it was still quite a week. Monday in Njombe was absolutely the BEST. I snaggled my friend Mick into staying in town with me. He is great, he’s like Dana, Korey Brown and Jared all rolled into one person. He has a little afternoon adventure planned with this random German named Robert who has been in TZ for 2 months. He didn’t really know what we were doing, just that it had to do with a dead goat, beer and a good looking German. Naturally, I went along and it was the best idea ever, We met up with this German and walked across town to the Saba Saba grounds, which are like fair grounds that now look like a desert wasteland because it’s not Saba Sabe. Then we waited inside this office with some Tanzanians, Robert and these fabulous curtains being held open w/ empty toilet paper rolls. After a good _ hour we all suddenly got up and piled into this truck and started driving. Really, I had no idea where we were going, but I figured Mick knew…which was not the case. He was just as stunned as I when we rolled up in the back woods, to this HUGE hostel that was totally glorious, in the mountains with a gigantic garden and a fricking mountain spring, mini waterfall… We got out and 2 Masai man were cooking the goat over some hole in the ground, this would not have been too unusual, but Masai men don’t live in Njombe. Really, they don’t, I have no idea where these dudes came from. Anyway, I went to inspect the water, which was cold and wonderful and totally perfect after a long day of walking the dusty streets of Njombe. I washed my feet, chatted with Mick, another car came full of Tanzanians and then I decided to check out the garden. I was walking along with Mick and this woman named Anneth and I saw some ants at my feet. I though, hmmm ants. Yeah, well now I know that when you can see ants at your feet and you’re standing straight up, it’s not really ants. It’s Siafu and they will bit the piss our of you. So after a few moments of running and screaming, I pulled the siafu off of my feet and legs, but could still feel them on my butt and back so I just ripped my pants off (which is NOT the PC thing to do) and this woman just laughed at me and helped me work it out. After that it was beer and bread and just a funny cultural exchange between German, English and Kiswahili.
I got back to Ikuna on Monday evening after quite an adventure trying to get home. I knew that my plans, as usual these days, were going awry when it was already 12:30 Monday afternoon and I was standing at the bus station with Mick, carrying a bunch of stuff, sweating my buns off, thinking “Man, I’m hungry,” whilst trying to find his counterpart- who has gone missing. I had not even bought my bike yet, let alone start the trek back to the village…
About an hour later, I was finally on my newly purchased Phoenix (the Tanzanian TOP MODEL, a whole 6 gears my friends!) flying down the mountain, away from town, knowing that in a few short moments I would be trying to make my way back up the same mountain. It was after a good half hour walk, straight up hill, that I started to pray to the powers that be that Sembula, my van to and fro, was waiting at the stop in Kibena, doing some shady business that he is usually doing. Well, my thoughts were answered and I was never more happy to see that crazy Slimer green van with it’s Michelin Man stickers. Coaster, the teenager who works “the door” was already laughing his booty off saying “Margie, Margie…ohhh!” and shaking his head before I rode up to the van. He knew by the looks of my beat red face, and totally out of breath stature that I was in need of a lift. So, me, Coaster, and the Duka owner in Ikuna tied my brand new bike onto the back of Sembula Exp. and I hopped in…more like, I got in the back row, and sat with one foot over the wheel well and the other on top of a crate of beer. Haha. It was a ridiculous ride back, as usual. Somehow is was the day for only men to be taking the public transportation, so I sat with a watering can on my lap, _ out the window, knees in my face in the back of a van with 20 men, while they laughed at me for not being able to ride my bike. Ha, the glories of Tanzania. Thankfully I am fully able to laugh at myself, because I am sure I would have lost my cool by now.
When I got home, I unpacked, bathed and went to see Mama Witi, who was sick before I left. Seriously, she was never so happy to see me. She told me she couldn’t sleep the night before because she knew that one of her kids was really far away. Haha, just like a real mom.
Tuesday I was supposed to see Mama Witi in the morning because we had plans for Chai, but she was at the dispensary getting a shot in her behind to help clear up her swelling foot problem…I don’t know, don’t ask. So, we meet later on when I found her at the dispensary, and I gave her a sucker for being a good kid. Haha, she’s like 48 years old. Anyway, the rest of the day was spent meandering around town, telling of my adventures in Njombe and being the random mzungu that I am.
Wednesday was also pretty uneventful, just cleaned and sorted corn with Mama Witi and Eliza (who I am loving more and more each day). In the afternoon Mama Witi and I went to a meeting for this health group she is in called ELIAJA. It’s to help fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB by bringing education, in a fun way, to the community. I’m really digging the whole thing and I feel so lucky that a group like this has already been formed, and they are new, so my presence isn’t that big of a deal- we’re all new at this. At this particular meeting (this was my 3rd) they practiced some of their songs and dances and it was really great. In a few weeks I’ll be singing and dancing with them. At the end of the meeting I asked the doctor of the group (who’s also the doctor at my dispensary, the same one who told the village that I was also a doctor…!) who they don’t sing about condom use. Well that opened up a can of worms! First he was slightly appalled, because only whores use condoms- according to him. Secondly, if they sang about condoms then they would have no place to sing because nobody would want to hear them. Thirdly, people should “just have one partner…umm… It’s hard for Tanzanian men to have just one woman…so they usually have 2 or 3.” YEAH, duh, that’s kind of why you’ve got a problem. It was a little crazy and awkward. One of the men said that it was not real for women to think that if their husband was drinking and came home and wanted to have sex that they would be able to get him to use a condom…this was coming from THE OTHER DOCTOR (and it was also in Kiswahili, so score for understanding!, but sad news…). I don’t really know where all of that leaves me. I mean I want to work with this group, and I will, but I also want to at least talk about condoms, if only to get rid of some of the BS and stigma that is going on with them. Who knows. I’m not trying to change a culture, I am not trying to ruin the ways of the people here, I just don’t want my friends to get AIDS and I don’t want to meet one more kid who no longer has parents because they have died from AIDS…I guess that’s like being in the Miss America Pageant and asking for world peace.
Thursday was a laid back day, I ate some ugail made from flower that was ground from the corn that I sorted on the day before. It was actually very rewarding to eat food that I had really helped to make. Played cards with Eliza and her kind of brother, Bossie (whos name I can’t say, so I have changed it to Bossie). I choted 2 20liter bukets of water and washed all of my clothes, finished a book (Attonment, which I found at the hostel in Dar on my 1st day in TZ) and I went with Mama Witi to help sort rice and beans for the wedding on Friday. I got home pretty late and cooked a fabulous dinner of rice and dates (yes, I have found dates in Tanzania, I think I can stay)! And went to bed.
Friday was the big day, wedding day. Wow. That’s really all that I can say! How totally different, how totally crazy and strange and maybe wonderful, but not really. I have decided not to describe the wedding as a play by play, but instead give a list of what you have to do in order to conduct your own Tanzanian style wedding, so here goes;
1.First you have to have your parents buy a husband. Some would call it a dowry. I call it slavery in today’s world.
2. You need to organize everyone that you know and everyone that they know and buy 25kilos of rice, 15kilos of beans, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, a goat, and crates of soda.
3. Located a stero and microphone
4. Ask the woodshop guys if you can borrow their shop for an afternoon
5. Tell everyone to be at church on the date, but don’t start until 2 hours later, in which everyone will show up 3 or 4 hours late anyway.
6. Have all of your people come to your house the night before to sort the beans and rice, fill barrels with water, and kill a goat.
7. The morning of, go to church in regular clothes, look sad because you are about to go into slavery.
8. Wait outside the church with a few random people, go inside and halfway get married with about 20 people watching, then leave to change.
9. Change into an oversized white gown, white shoes, white gloves, white veil and don’t ask questions when a person of a different race, who you don’t know, who doesn’t speak your language, starts putting socks on you.
10. Have someone do your hair with lotion, borrowed bobby pins, and your makeup with a black marker.
11. Meet your husband in the hallway (you’ll know it’s him because he’s wearing an avocado green suit with shoes that were once black and have now been polished red).
12. Dance/funeral walk into the church while people sing and make crazy noises with their tongues.
13. Get married, officially…I guess.
14. Get into a taxi to take you to the woodshop, now decked out in lace. It’s like a 3 minutes walk away.
15. Get into the hall, sit in huge seats with a white veil that hangs down and hids you from the crowd.
16. Wait while everyone is called to their appropriate seats (in my case, I was somehow FRONT AND CENTER…hahaha)
17. Have a really embarrassing cake cutting ceremony.
18. Do a gifts presentation. Expect a LOT of small plastic bowls wrapped in newspaper, a few buckets and money. Shake EVERYONE’s hand. And when someone gives you a Kitenge(it’s fabric) it will be wrapped around you & your husband)
19. Food is served. 60 liter plastic buckets full of food will arrive, guests eat with their hands and it’s a fun mess.
20. After food and more prayer (I forgot, basically pray in between every step) get back into the Taxi, have the people chase your car screaming and singing, to your house, where you will go into the bedroom while people Omba (ask.beg.plead) God for everything from good kids, to a happy life….

You are never, never, EVER allowed to smile, show affection, show emotion, hug or kiss your husband. You must kneel with everyhand shake, and you should never look anyone directly in the eyes. Also, everyone may dance except you and your husband, and you should just remain grateful that his parents excepted your parents dowry.

Really, that’s how the wedding was. It was fun, and I hated being the center of attention, like when I danced 300 people started cracking up. It was nerve wracking, even for me. I just wanted to tell the girl that it would be okay, but I thought that she might cry at any minute, so I just went along and watched. The whole thing was cool to see, but it’s just insane how male oriented this whole society really is. Like the bride was just a side kick and he was all smiles and happy and “cool” the whole time. The whole thing was crazy. Like when we 1st went into the church I was thinking there was no way that this was really a wedding because the bride just looked dead. Ah, too much.
I did get to see Hefferitte, my little 4 year old sister. She’s just the best. She fell asleep on my during the reception part of the harusi (wedding). And it was adorable. Tonight Malisalina told me that a man in the village next to us died this morning and earlier this week a woman died too…My life is some sick version of “3 Weddings and a Funeral” except it would be called “3 Funerals and a Wedding.”

What else? Well, I thought that I would add a little informational bit in about why I am called mzungu. Basically mzungu means "a person who walks in circles." The first Tanzaians who saw a white person thought that they kept seeing the same white person over and over again because the person was walking around in a big circle. It's funny to me to think that Africans have just as hard of a time telling differences between white peoples faces as we have telling the differnece between African or Asia or Hispanic faces. Like really, I cannot tell you how many times already I have met the same people over and over again and not remembered that I have already met them.

So, that's it for now! Love and miss you all, who knows maybe next time I'll share some of my crazy Malaria medicine dreams and freak you all out : )
Peace and Love as always!


aunta said...


I can't believe the things that you have been experiencing. I guess if anyone can take it all in stride, it would be you. Maybe you can't change the world, but I know that you are making a difference for the few people you have met.

Keep your chin up!! We are all so proud of you!!

Love, Aunt Anne

Faye said...

wow, that is totally so unreal. I've seen some documentaries about weddings before and have seen the whole "don't smile, don't touch or kiss your husband, don't dance" thing, I'm thinking it was a Hindu wedding, not sure.

Keeping doing your best, you are very sincere and will definitely change something about that place. Whether or not you see the change while you are there or not, it will happen!

You birthday present is coming, it will arrive late! Sorry,

Love ya,

Rose said...

Hey Margaret,

It's been a while since I last posted, but have been following along all the same.

South African weddings sure are different from the ones I experienced in North Africa.

But the one thing that is totally the same is the fact that Africans, Northern or Southern are never on time for anything. Fact: If a start time for an event is at one in the afternoon, you can expect to start around three in the afternoon, maybe lol. Time is just not important to africans, something never to be taken too seriously.

I Love the fact that you have a top of the line 10 speed bike, ah technology, african style. Now if they could just make that mountain a bit easier to ride up, lol.

Anywho, I just wanted to touch base and let you know that I am still loving your posts, and really believe that what you are doing is a totally wonderful thing, and takes a special person to do it.

I always wanted a daughter, but ended up with two boy's, if I could have had a girl, I would have wanted her to be just like you, I really mean that.

Kudos to you my friend on being the wonderful and special person that you are, the world could use a few more Margaret's...

Peace Out!