Saturday, October 18, 2008

And she still marches on!


My house!


My choo!


My shower!


My jiko and one of my 2 pots!

October 13, 2008

E.S.P. For me it’s not a 6th sense. Nope, it’s another acronym to add to the slew of abbreviations in my life. (P.eace C.orps V.olunteer, P.re- S.ervice T.raining, I.n-S.ervice T.raining, C.lose O.f S.ervice, E.arly T.ermination). E.S.P. Emotional, Spiritual and Physical. So how is your E.S.P. today?
Well, since you can’t tell me right now, I’ll let you in on mine:
E.
As I have stated time and time again, the highs and lows here are beyond anything that I have ever begun to understand. But, I’m starting to get the hang of it.
Loneliness has set it’s deadly venom into my veins, but I’m thinking more time making friends and forming a make-shift family from my villagers is the antidote that will hold me over.
That, and actually starting to do some work. Which I have been doing, In all irony, me being a health volunteer and not an environment volunteer, my first big work has been ripping up my “patio” and planting a little garden inside my courtyard. I decided that was the best place to start for a number of reasons. One- the chickens can’t eat my digs, Two- I don’t feel like trying to explain to all of the Tanzanians why in the world I am planting all this stuff they have never heard of (cilantro anyone?). Three- I really have no idea if it’s going to pan out, and in the case of a total failure, everyone does not have to know.
For purposes of my label “health education volunteer” I went to the Awali (preschool) and taught the kids a song about washing their hands with soap before they eat and after they use the choo. Haha, that’s not work, that’s play.
On the whole, I am jiving with my life here and I’m happy, which is a solid underlying constant emotion.
S.
Before getting into my spiritual, I think I need to add a little cultural note. If you are a Tanzanian, EVERYTHING that happens is because of God or witches. Yes, everyone in this country, weather Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Muslim or anything in between believes in both God and witches. When you get a lift from a stranger on a long “safari” (I can’t even think of the English word anymore) it isn’t because you were on the same rode, it’s because of God. When your neighbor cooks rice and meat and invites you for dinner, you had better thank God because your neighbor really had nothing to do with it. When your baby is born dead, it’s because of witches. Nothing just happens, it’s always God or unseen spirits.
Personally, I can’t buy into it. (Like you find that hard to believe). Parts of me wish that I could just chalk everything up to something else, but that’s never been my bag. It’s riding on the totally annoying side, already, that everything that I do for anyone is not because I want to do it, it’s because of God. I hear “Asante Mungu” (Thank you God) or “Mungu ibariki” (God blesses) about 200 times a day. Really? Yeah, I did buy you those onions, um, I guess I missed the part where God put the money in my pocket.
It’s practically impossible to get people to understand that what they do is what they will get. Example, if you plant an acre of corn, you will have food in a few months, God didn’t bless you, you did hard work. If you have sex and never use a condom and then get HIV a witch didn’t curse you, you were just being really unsafe.
Culture. It’s a tough nut to crack.
Aside from that, I am feeling very at peace with my spiritual self. I have never felt so together with Mother Nature. I have never before felt the warmth of a billion stars. I have never felt such happiness from just ripping open the face of the Earth, planting a little seed, and then bandaging her back up. It’s beautiful, It’s wonderful. If only I could find a way to skip my Sunday morning mass at the Lutheran church to go to the waterfall and just love life, I would be a walking ball of Zen. Or the 1st lit candle on a Menorah. Or a Buddhist priest on the path to enlightenment…
P.
Wow, the P. I always dislike the P. I’m glad it’s last. Physical. Let’s see, I have been living off of a diet that consists of corn in all of it’s forms, served at, or available to cook at, every meal. My body is not the happiest about it.
Knock on wood my friends, I have yet to get deathly ill or suffer from anything more major then slight dehydration (no worries, I got my water filter all rigged up now) and on again, off again harisha (this one is a no brainer).
Yoga, which could be E or P, has been my little release and that always makes everything feel better. Also, in the last 4 days I have ridden my bike about 80k. Which isn’t really that far until you count the extra variables; I live in the mountains and every time I go flying down a hill that just means that I have to go back up it, it’s the hot season now and I have never been one to loathe the sun until recently, when I felt as though I really was going to dry up into a large piece of human jerky.


Me feeling good after a really long bike ride!

So, I am pretty proud of my 80k. Who knows if it was really that far, all I know is that I can’t really feel my thighs right now and the though of getting back on my bike anytime in the next week makes me want to take up jogging. (Insert fake audience sitcom laughter here).

So, that’s my E.S.P. Right at this very moment

(AKA 1/2 of my furniture)

The view from my courtyard wall

October 15, 2008

I wish I could rewind to how I was feeling the other day. Right now is the heat of the day, the high of my frustration, the time when the sun reaches its peak in the sky and burns my scorching core.
Frustration. I hate this part. I never thought that I would come so far, literally, mentally, emotionally, and still find myself dealing with the same old shit. What would that same stinky mess be? What load of crap follows me (and everyone else) around no matter how many times we clean up, or wash up, or hurry up in attempts to lose the doo in a dark alley of our past.
That load of garbage is the human condition. Maybe I’m in a stroke of self actualization. Lets “actualize” this: here I am, in Tanzania, with over 1,000 villagers who live ½ bush and ½ American- we cook with fire and piss in holes, but we also listen to 2-Pac, watch MTV and drink beer. We have to literally grow anything that we would like to eat, and struggle hard to buy the rest (oil, sugar and spices), but then we hop in cars or ride on motorcycles if we want to go somewhere really far.
All of this half and half still isn’t enough to make these people white enough to be white (give me a minute to get to what being white means) and because it’s half and half the coffee isn’t black anymore, it’s not pure, it’s not strong, it’s just beige. Tepid, run-of-the-mill, lousy old beige. It’s fighting the same fight, trying to ward off the human condition, or I guess in the case of Americans, trying to embrace it with an unnatural gusto.
Maybe that’s the truth behind my fallacy. I am trying to ward off the human condition. I don’t want to want things, I don’t want to rip people off, I don’t want to see them for only their value to me. I do want to bury myself in the Earth and see if anything springs of from the seeds of my body. I do want to be free to smile or cry or dance with, at, and for whatever reason I please.
Okay, so I should back all of this ranting up. What in the world is going on here? I am sure that you are wondering, if you actually kept on reading. It’s been building up. It’s a classic issue. One that I have mentioned before, just not in the same amount of detail that it occurs, nor in the dept that it exists in my mind. It all started back in Kilosa with the school kids who would yell at me everyday to give them money. Yes, everyday the little parrots, who knew no other English, would chime over and over, “Give me Money.” At first I thought, these kids don’t even know what they are saying and left it at that. After a few weeks I started teaching them that if they said “Give me money” I would give them a thumbs down and stick my tongue out. Stupidly, I thought that these were universal signs of “Get a Grip,” but I was wrong. That just made them ask more often because they loved to laughed at my crazy faces.
So, that went on and on and I can’t really recall it stopping. I just knew that 12 weeks later I was ready to choke the next snot nosed kid who asked for money. Then again, maybe some teacher had just taught them that as a funny joke, really they couldn’t actually know what in the world they were saying. Could they?
Who knows, I don’t and I don’t care to know. I will stay in my ignorance bubble on this one and say that they had no idea what they were yelling at me.
Anyway, so I leave Kilosa and get to Njombe and then to Ikuna. I’ve been here for about 2 months now and I don’t have enough digits, or limbs, or expansions of my core to count the number of times people have asked me for money. Seriously.
Then a few weeks ago I find out that the day that we 1st came to our village our VEOs were given an envelope of money to pay for our transport to the village. I actually saw Sanbanye with that very envelope, full of cash. I didn’t know that it was for my transport, and he sure didn’t stop me when I paid my fair and the cost of transporting ALL of my luggage (which seriously wasn’t cheap). Okay, so strike one.
A few days after I got to the vill, I ordered some furniture and was totally overpriced ( I would say about 100% higher). I told Sambanye, my VEO, and Jaffet, another village officer of some sort, that I was paying too much and they told me they would go and talk to Macow, the fundi, and get the price lowered. Which, unsurprisingly, they never did. Alright, we’re on the big Strike 2 now.
About 3 weeks into living here, I finally got Jaffet to come over and look at my door, which was falling off the courtyard wall. He told me that he needed a large sum of money to buy a new door and cement. I like Jaffet, he’s a nice middle-aged man who goes to church and is a fricking seamstress in his spare time, so I gave him the money, and I asked Sambanye if it sounded right (this was before I knew about the bus fair shenanigans) and he said yep. Well, it’s 5 weeks later and I have a new door, but no cement, still waiting, wondering if and when that will ever happen. So yeah, number 3, we’re out.
I just totally frustrated. I would normally add some explicit language here, but in attempts to remain PC I will just yell them in my house…………………………………..
Okay. That’s settled. This is what burns me. I don’t care if my door isn’t finished until May, I don’t mind so much that I paid a lot for my furniture, and really, if Sambanye REALLY wanted that money, he should have just told me and I would have said, pay the fair and keep the huge chunk of change. What burns me is that all of these things happened for one reason and one reason alone: I am white. Yes folks, I know it’s a shocker for all of us, this crazy news, but I am actually a white person.
And what does that mean? What is this “being white” entail? Well, thanks to King Leopold and his lovely expeditions into Africa, thanks to Livingston, thanks to every Non-Prof, NGO, GO, and aid organization- being a white person in Africa (we’ll leave South Africa out of this) means that I have the unnatural ability to crap, grow, and cultivate money, because that is my job.
Okay, so who can blame them? The Tanzanians have totally been classically conditioned to think that I can just say POOF and money appears, that my family is rich, that I a rich because I am here. Really, in all logistical sense in their minds, I get the point. Here kids live with their parents or parents live with their kids and everyone farms until they die. The end. Nobody actually has enough money to just let one of their kids go wandering off into foreign countries because they need them to work the farm. So, my family must be loaded. Well, we’re not. And I’m still white.

(A few hours later)
So, like I said, I am having EXTREME highs and lows. I don’t know if that was a high on a low or just a low, but whatever, it’s the evening now and I’m back together. The human condition- money, need, wants, all that garb- is off my mind and I’m looking forward to finishing the project that accidentally started while I was ranting.
Olie and Joshua (pronounced Joe-shoe-A) are two of Mama Witi’s kids. They are done with school for the year because they took their tests for standard 7 so I asked them the other day if they could build me a fence. A pile of really long sticks has been accumulating by my door ever since and today, just as I was ready to run down the streets screaming “MIMI NI MZUNGU, LAKINI HAMNA HELA” in my tank top and pants (a total cultural taboo), Olie and Joshua showed up to start construction.
For being 15 these kids can work their asses off. Olie is the bigger of the 2 but not the brains of the operation. He wears two horrible shoes, that don’t match. One foam flip flop and the other is an Adidas tennis shoe that has been sewn numerous times by Joshua, the shoe fundi. Joshua is not actually Mama Witi’s son. His mom is literally insane and can’t take care of him so he has been living with Mama Witi for…well I’m guessing a long time. He is really shy and anything that I ask him, no matter what, he always responds Ndiyo! (Yes!). It’s adorable. As payment for their work I am planning to buy them both new tennis shoes this weekend and give them some sort of cash- depending on how much the shoes are.
Anyway, I pulled out the new tape player I bought, and the new Bob Marley tape and we reggaed out. Digging holes, making cross bars with sticks and fresh bark for rope, weaving sticks in-between, making sure everything was tight enough so chickens and the likes can’t get in, just working for hours under the Afrikan sun. It was good. Joshua, the master of the plan, made sure that everything was up to par. It was kid of like working with Scooby and Scrappy Doo- minus the mystery and musical chase scene. When we ran out of supplies I called it a day, gave them each a huge chunk of cake (the other ½ went to Mwenda, the duka ower/charger of my phone) and made plans to finish tomorrow.
My fence, when it’s done, is going to be AWESOME. First, it will block in my courtyard door do people, AKA little kids will stop going to it to ask for candy. Secondly, it stops the short cut that has been made right though my field from one of the main roads to the other main road. Third, I can start my crazy American garden, full of things that the Tanzis will just laugh at! Also, I will have this nice little Zen spot to call my own. Ah, I am so excited!


The front of the fence that I built!

October 17, 2008
So, the fence is finished. YES! It’s wonderful. I know that it’s looking pretty shabby from the pictures but, really it’s about as strong as it gets here in terms of building anything. I re-used the old door from the courtyard and now it’s golden. I’ve got my own little spot in the dirt- just dirt. Yes. What more can a girl ask for?
Other then finishing the fence, going to the school and hanging out with the kids while Mama Witi does whatever it is she does, I made Ugali at her house today and she was impressed by my skills, then we dried the flower that we had made yesterday (which entailed drying a crap load of corn after I washed and sorted it all…like two 20 liter buckets worth), I picked some berries from her tree, and chatted with her for a while. She is such a crack up. I am so lucky to have her. I think that at least once a day I do something or she does something that has us both laughing to tears. It’s good. She’s a little town gossip and I don’t really care because she gets me, or at least I think she does, and that is a really unusual thing when you’re trying to get messages across translation.
It’s so crazy to think that I spend all of my days talking in Kiswahili. Really, how and when did this happen? Typing in English or even talking in English feels so good, but so does talking in a new language. It’s my new fun game to play where I act like I don’t know what’s going on (or maybe I really don’t) and then suddenly I will say something and the person is just like, Oh crap, she knows!
Haha, I love that, and I love when I say greetings in Kibena and the old, drunk farmers will just go crazy because I know their native language, which I really don’t know at all!
Anyway, I just finished reading Middlesex, which I think is a MUST READ for anyone with an open mind, or who was raised on the East Side. Really, it was hard to stop reading because I felt like I was actually at home. Yes, I do miss my home. I miss my friends, my family, my neighbors, my everything in between that. I’ve been having crazy pains for a Saturday football game, my flag, a long boring lecture about synapses and neurons, homework, textbooks which I always think I’ll read and then never do, house parties, costume parties, making jello shots, drinking jello shots, salads and endless bags of frozen crinkle cut carrots…I miss it a lot, but I’m finally starting to grow some roots here and find little ways to make the things I miss come alive. It’s challenging, but it’s new and strange and totally “my cup of tea.” Which reminds me, here is the recipe for tea in Tanzania:
One pot boiling water
One palm full of loose tea leaves
One (or more) cups sugar
Mix, filter, drink.
It’s so insanely sweet, but I’m so used to it now I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drink non-sugar tea again. Haha. It’s funny. People here never drink water. It’s either sugar tea, soda, beer/pombe, or nothing. It’s not a huge mystery why nobody has teeth past 40.

So in re-cap of my last 2 weeks this is what happened:
-I got some totally amazing packages from Aunt Kath, Aunt Marg and Devon. The candy inside has been used as a bargaining tool to get kids to chote water for me.
-I bought a used bathing suit (complete with neon orange triangle in the middle of my stonach) with Greta, we washed out the crotches and wore them swimming that day at the Kibena Club in a maybe greenish pool.
-I returned home from Njombe safe, and hungover, but with no serious ailments.
-I went to a meeting with the Mbunge, some parliament guy, in which I almost ripped everyone’s faces off because we sat there, in little kid benches for FIVE HOURS, and I didn’t understand anything past hour 2.
-I taught the kids at the Awali a made up song about washing their hands.
- I rode my bike to see Brie and we made cake and Mexican food (and that hummus Aunt Marg, it was good. Doctored it up with lemon and garlic, THANK YOU!).
-I rode my bike home and thought for sure it was the end of me.
-I Made it Home!
- I went to Nyombo to see Whitness (Mama Witi’s daughter) and was proposed to.
-I went to Ninga to this outdoor market that comes once a month, and was proposed to.
-I made my duka man a cake.
-I talked to some loved ones on the tele.
- I gave Mama Witi pictures and a letter from the last volunteer, Danelle, and she’s been showing them to EVERYONE. Seriously Danelle, I feel like I was AT your wedding at this point.
- I made Zoomy and Adena a mixed CD.
-I bought Haferitte a new dress for 300 shillings (30 cents)
-I cooked dinner for me and my neighbor Anita.
-I had a meeting for ELIAJA and nobody came.
-My fence is complete.
-My indoor garden is good.
-I am cooking 5 tomatoes and a handful of leaves for dinner and I have never been happier!

Random pics:

My clothing cupboard!




Mama Witi, Bossi, Joshua and Olie (in that order) in her jiko.



The 4th of July with our patroitic Tanzanians



The day we all baked cake at Meesh's homestay!


Ben's house in Kingeti


Ben trying to fly his owl Itui!


Me holding Itui!


This is what I did during a LOT of training.


A shot of my CBT walking through Kilosa, though you'd like to see the scenery!


Thia is Myjuma, my housegirl from Kilosa who I love so much!


My first peak at the mountains of Morogoro (taken in June!)


Peace and love everyone. Hope you liked the pictures! Thank my parents for sending me my camera charger and new flash drives!

8 comments:

Rose said...

Awesome pictures Margaret. I love a visual. Thanks for sharing. I am keeping an album of your pics. Hope your garden grows well. I'm sure with the amount of love and attention that you will shower on it, that you will be enjoying the fruits of your labor in short time.
Peace and love to you my friend...Miss you!

Margaret said...

Thank Rose! you are such a sweetheart. You have no idea how much it means to me that you're still keeping tabs and checking in on me. It makes me feel so special : ) I hope that all is well in the states. How is your son doing? Miss you too!

Rose said...

Hi Again,
Now I feel special, you really made my day. My son is doing a tad bit better this year (no suspension yet, knock on wood, lol) thanks so much for asking. No improvement in grades though, but his attitude is better, one step at a time. By the way I wouldn't miss reading your blog for anything, I'm way addicted, I love keeping tabs on you, your life is much more interesting than mine is at the moment :) I check your site pretty much daily, and sometimes I re-read your blog to fully understand the names of who is who and what is what. I even read some of the other blogs from the links on your site to get an understanding of the other PCV's that you talk about in your blog. All of you have one thing in common, you all write well, you keep the reader interested, it's enjoyable, and I love to read, especially real life events so I find all of this very interesting. Anyway, Margaret I don't want to dominate your time or your blog, I just wanted to say that the feeling is mutual, I feel special now as well. Thank You, you are a sweetheart too!
Peace Out!

Faye said...

Hey, I hope you get your present.

Love ya,
Faye

Christine said...

Margaret,
Love the pics! The house and fence are awesome!

Love, Aunt Chris

Christine said...

Hey! It's me again! Sorry I haven't been responding to your blog but I got this new computer and totally could not remember my blog account info....I'm a nut! But don't worry, I have been reading it and anxoiusly awaiting updates! I LOVE the pics, it's so nice to have a visual. You seriously need to think about a career in writing! Everytime I read your blog, I go through this routine: laugh, cry, wipe nose, giggle, blot eyes, laugh some more, cry, wipe snot and most importantly: miss you! I can't wait to see how the garden works out because no matter what, you will make it a great story!
Looking forward to your next entry,
Love, Aunt Chris

Patty said...

Thanks for including the pics, it is good to see your smiling face again--and the muscles!! I absolutely love your fence! It's good to see where you live and get a visual of everything you talk about. Things here in the good ol' US are absolutely crazy one week before the election- consider yourself lucky to be there away from this madness!! Continue to keep on keepin on...Love and peace- Pat

Working On Joy said...

Hey Margo, just keeping up with your blog. I wrote you a about a month ago, then somehow lost it, got frustrated, and didn't
re-type. I remember commenting
on the motorcycle/bicylce debate. I'm glad you didn't get a motorcycle. By the laws of physics, motorcylces go faster, therefore you would hit the ground harder.

Your house is great. Actually, that is what most of the U.S. might look like when you get back, ha ha.

Your fence is awesome! Maybe that Dutch lady will give you some flower seeds or something. I can see a great landscaping design going on. Maybe you can get a tree from the mountains and replant it for shade.

I want to come visit you so bad! I would love for Bridget to see other cultures. Plus I'd love to try your fresh cilantro!

All is well. You are Loved...Nancy