Sunday, January 25, 2009

It's been a long time running

Kiswahili for the Choo (John)

-Mawazo: thoughts, ideas
-Maisha: life
-Ndoto: dream
-Kahawa: coffee
-Watoto: kids
-Nyota; stars
-Wimbo: song
-Lala: sleep
-Magingira: environment/nature
-Dala: Cheap taxi van, usually overflowing with people, pop and pets
-Basi: DONE

Mawazo (Thoughts)
It’s been a fast track running nowhere. The pre-holiday low of laying in my house, watching the rain fill my water tank, marking off the days until vacation begins, to the during holidays explosion of outrageous extremes from baking carrot cake in a rodent infested kitchen, to going to the mountains of Morogoro, to eating pizza, moving the show to the ocean front tent, to barefoot, outdoor discoing the new year away, to enjoying more American food, and drinking much to much Konyagi, and of course the post-holiday low, returning to the village to a mouse infested, wet couch, insanely weedy garden and no oil to light my jiko.
Ah, the road! The journey of a countless inspired affairs, adding miles to the odometer, but in isolation not able to amass a true destination.
It’s difficult to step back and look at the whole picture. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with this time, these tools, and my constantly growing body of knowledge? In the end, what is the whole picture of my current work in progress? How do I paint a picture when I’m not really sure what the picture is going to look like when I am done? Hell, I don’t know.
Peace Corps, as a government run, PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) sponsored agency, has made sure that my lack of direction has been cleared by a number of goals; definite, measurable and concrete. Because this journal is for entertainment value only, I will not let that value be diminished by writing these goals out. Just know that it involves counting the number of people helped within given deadlines.
In an effort to remind us of the benchmarks that we are to strive towards, Peace Corps held a 2 week long In-Service Training for all the volunteers in the Iringa and Mbeya regions. About 25 volunteers in my class gathered in the town of Iringa, along with their Tanzanian counterparts (who are villagers that we foresee ourselves working with). The seminar was split up into three parts, one was actual IST on starting and executing a project, the second was a piece in PEPFAR and HIV/AIDS education, and the last was the best, a hands on perm culture session that involved making a school garden and a really gnarly compost pile.
It was a long 2 weeks in the big city, highlighted by an outrageous used clothing market, a few great Americanesque nights out on the town, the Masai market (wall to wall shops full of beads and Masai women with their beautiful fabric, XL-earring holes, crazy jewelry and fun bags), delicious bread, the making of one slightly ridiculous movie, befriending the ladies that work their asses off in the hotel kitchen, 5 meals a day, corn on the cob, and of course spending an obnoxious amount of time with Americans.
I guess I didn’t realize that my time in T-Zed would be like every other conquest in life thus far; me trying to do what feels right, what is good for the here and now, but having to somehow make my path converge with the seared out highway that marks “my goal.” What happened to taking the road less traveled? Does such a thing seriously exist? My doubt on the subject is beginning to grow; another pinch of cynicism to my spoiled brew of realism.
Aside from leaving me slightly overwhelmed, IST did fill- to overflowing- my idea tank. Ambitions are always great to have, until you realize that as amazing as Mama Witi is (she’s who I brought to my conference) she may not actually do much to help you out when you get back to the village. Damn.

Nilifanya nini kwa mwezi ilopita? (What have I been doing with the last month?)
One whole month of bus rides, and late nights, Kiswahili and an exuberant amount of English (which is extremely hampering my Kiswahili/Kibena skills)!
For starters, I love this country. To be precise, I love the countryside and the women, the crazy fabric, the admiration for our new American president, and the ability to buy fire roasted corn at every bus stand. Ah, Tanzania!
After a muddy Christmas in Njombe, my banking/gathering of wazungu town, myself Greta, Kate and Brie headed out on the 6am bus to Morogoro for a pre-Dar extravaganza, and that it was. We stayed with this education volunteer that none of us had ever met (the beauty of Peace Corps) who lives in an absurdly American house tucked into the mountains, surrounded by mango and banana trees on a Secondary school and college grounds. We got off the bus on the side of the road about a half hour out of the actual city of Morogoro (with all of the Tanzanians wondering what the hell we thought we were doing), and we walked with all of our crap down the road for a while looking for the college. It was the middle of the afternoon with good old Mr.Sunshine blazing down on us. I had my backpack, my refugee bag full of crap and a tent. All of us were a little more then weighed down, and I was defiantly wishing that I had just been born a camel so storing water inside of my body wouldn’t be a chore. Eh, whatever, it was hot and we were tired but Tanzania is seriously breath taking, plus we knew that at some point a dala would pass and we could just hop in and hitch a ride up to the school…where ever that may be.
After a while of walking, sweating, swearing, admiring the mazingira a dala did finally pass. Yes, just pass. The Konda (door man for a mini-van!) stuck his head out of the window, asked us where we were going, laughed at us and kept right on going. After some brief thoughts that this might really be the end, that making it to a totally unknown destination was never going to happen, a Pepsi truck/lorry passed and we flagged it down. The driver just laughed at these 4 white chicks with a bunch of bags walking down a shade less road in the middle of the afternoon and told us to hop in the back, and that we did! The trip up to the school gates was only like 10 minutes from there, but possibly the best lift in country thus far. Anyway, we made it to the school and our friend Justin (he’s in our training class) met us at the gates and walked us up to Luke’s house [Justin and Luke are buddies cause they live in the same region, much like me and all the people in Njombe].
After removing some sweat drenched clothes and taking real life showers in a bathtub/shower combo (with no curtain and a full length extra wide mirror on the wall to give a more grand “Oh damn, is this really me right now” effect) we headed out to a wazungu joint in the big city.
Dragonairs is notorious for its brick stove pizza, extra cold beers, and chill Tanzanianless vibe. Perfect after a long hot day of riding on a stinky bus, walking in the merciless sun and trying to figure out what they hell we’re doing here. The gang (Kate from Arizona but grad of U of M, Greta from NY, but former kids petting zoo farmer, Brie, a jive turkey from Portland who always smells of natural everything and my only remaining Vegetarian comrade and Justin, who’s probably Boston’s only leprechaun) made our way from the village into Morogoro for a chill evening of the above mentioned amenities.
We took a taxi cab (yep, a real life cab) back after a good evening and, due to a lack of sleeping space (i.e. 3 beds and 8 people), Greta and I set up her two man sent on the front lawn and crashed out. I woke up with the Muslim call to prayer at the crack of dawn, with the realization that my pillow was a rock under the tent and my legs were chow for the mosquitoes, but swelling with bliss in Muslim mantra of waking life. What a way to start the day!
The gang had Chai in the village by Luke’s house which was totally adorable. The best Chai places are the ones that have just white curtains for walls. You can sit and eat your choice of fried bread, drink your milky tea and listen to the morning life of Tanzania, feeling as though you are waking and knowing that the rest of this country has already been busy at work for hours. Ha, it’s a hella kick in the butt, but hey that’s a cultural difference that won’t be changed overnight.
After some clothes washing we headed out to hit the city back up for some serious shopping and random sight seeing. It was nice having an afternoon just being girls. We checked out the sweet safi duka after a late lunch of rice/ugali and beans, and we grabbed some snacks, went back to Luke’s to watch movies and pass out. I got lucky with a real life bunk bed stuffed into a closet.
The next morning we got a taxi out of Moro to go to Dar and get there in time for a champagne brunch. Before food we stopped at Megan and Patrick’s (old PCVs) house to drop off our stuff. They are friends of Greta’s and offered to let us crash with them for free. I don’t know what I had imagined their house in Dar would look like, but I can certainly say that air conditioning, cold water, hot showers and EVERYTHING American was not what I had expected. Plus Megan had collected a huge box of goodies for us to share. It was almost mind blowing. Anyway, we went to brunch when it started and stayed long enough to eat breakfast and lunch and drink our share of champagne then boogied over to the mall. Yes folks, the mall. Of all the places that I end up in this third world country it is the mall, shopping for clothes and considering watching a movie. No lies, I had a bit of an anxiety attack, all of these people speaking English walking around like it’s just another day in America Tanzania for eating and spreading incredulous amounts of money, so I called up my friend Idris, who lives in Dar and drives a car, and had him come and pick us up. We went over to another pretty American joint and chilled for a little bit before going to Q Bar, the most notorious prostitution joint in the city.
I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we were amazed at how gorgeous the prostitutes were. It was crazy. I can fathom a million reasons why these women end up doing what they do, but I just can’t see how they can get their conscious to go there or why they don’t try and use their good looks for something else. It’s totally heart breaking and incredibly disappointing seeing these women just got for the quick buck. I understand that being a woman in this country seriously hampers opportunities, but I wish that it didn’t have to be this way for women to live…LIVE here, and by going to the bar and acknowledging that this is what they do there, and still spending money there, are we supporting this discouraging cultural norm?
Ah, anyway, after that we just chilled back at the pad in the AC. The next day we didn’t move basically all day. The 4 of us just stayed in and read O magazine, cooked lunch on a real stove and got giddy over the box of American beauty supplies. In the afternoon Brie meet Megan for yoga and Kate and I went swimming in an Olympus pool overlooking the ocean. How crazy to swim in a pool and look at the ocean, but really absolutely perfect.
The next day we hung in Dar and then headed over to Kipepo, a little private resort on a peninsula. It requires taking a ferry and then a dala to get to and it’s basically wazungu city, but they have bandas on the ocean front and the beach is really clean. Plus you can camp for super cheap and get food and drinks at basically any time. There we met up with almost everyone from our training class and spent a few days celebrating New Years. I stayed in a tent the whole time and it was hilarious and random. One night I woke eating the side of my two man tent because three of us were in it and my friend Meesh was on her back, post-up passed out in the middle, one night I had to clean somebody else’s puke out before getting in, one morning I woke up with my feet half out and so it goes. I can’t even begin to describe how much I enjoyed the beach. The sun and salty water, the waves and random T-Zeds selling beads all day (my future profession). It was glorious! I didn’t want to leave and I can’t wait to go back, I was having such a good time being lazy with all of my peeps!
The sad news is that I did have to leave after grand celebration and random times, but no worries, when I got back to Njo it was cold and rainy and I felt right at home. Haha!
Going back to the village was a lot of build up and anxiety, but in reality kicked ass…well that’s until I tried to get on my bus to the village and found out it was broken down and I now have a flat bed with a canvas top to ride in to and fro. : )
My house was well looked after in my absence, Mama Witi’s sons stayed in it while I was gone. My only troubles were that the hole in my roof leaked lots of rain onto my couch cushions, causing a putrid smell and I have a new mouse problem, but other then that my transition back to the village was seamless.
I was only in my village for about a week before having to bust out again. During that time all I did was farm my time away. What I found out was that when you plant a crap load of veggies and then go away for a while, you come home and find more weeds then you can deal with. That and the fact that Mama Witi and I are doing work for each other, she helps me and then I help her, so my progress on the weeding has been slow. In fact, when I actually left the village only about ½ of my farm was done being weeded but there was really nothing more that I could do with it. I had to leave Ikuna again to go to IST.
IST was what it was. Long, full of too much info, fun, bad, entertaining and boring. That plus my vacation = no time to write a journal, so sorry to all of you guys who have been waiting to know that I am alive! Really, I’m here, just rocking T-Zed like it’s my job or something. I’m actually totally exhausted right now, and I can only imagine why…basically 14 days of being in a classroom learning what I am supposed to be doing here, and trying to remind myself that Peace Corps is not a competition, it’s my experience, my village, my thing and I can do with it what feels right for me.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to getting back to the village today!!! I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed, carry my own water and start my own projects! It’s an exciting and nerve racking time here for sure!

Random stories from the past month
One day during my adventures on the beach I had to go to town to buy my bus ticket. My friend and I hopped on a dala and headed over to the bus stand (which is like 40 minutes away). When we got on I started talking to this Mama about her trip to the US and how she cooked ugali for some Americans, then she got off and this dude got on next to my friend. He got into a fight with the Konda about the price of the ride, he was basically arguing over a dime, and when the driver couldn’t take it anymore he pulled the dala over and started yelling at the guy, who they tried to get out, but wouldn’t budge. Then the Konda ran up to the front of the dala (where I was sitting next to the driver) and opened the glove box. I started freaking out thinking that he was going to pull out a knife or a gun, instead he pulls out a screw driver and attempts to screw driver assult the man out of the dala until my friend and I just got out and then, because the wazungu left the car, everything was suddenly okay and we all got back in and drove away. All of this over a DIME!
The other day, on the way back from IST with all of my Njombe people, my friend Sarah and I decided that we really wanted to buy some corn from out of the bus…guess you should know that in T-Zed you can basically buy anything from eggs to a switchblade via the bus window. So, we got to the stand about 2 hours outside of our town and were asking about the corn from our seats and nobody ever came to the window. About 5 minutes later, as the bus was in motion, I saw a kid on the side of the road selling corn so I “Njo”ed him (Njo is like come here), held up two fingers, screamed run and managed to buy us two cobs of corn out of a moving bus. Magnificent!

Alright, I'm going to wrap this up with just a thanks to my Aunt Marie and my rents for some sweet packages. I have been getting a lot of stuff and it's hard to remember who I've said thanks to thus far and who I haven't so I think I'm just going to stop saying thanks via blog and send ya'll letters : )
Peace and Love and all good things!
Missing you all, even when I hear it's 14 below and I'm busy getting sun burned on the ocean.Don't be jealous. I'm really working here!! Really...


Rose said...

Hey Mags;
Was wondering where you are these days, had been missing reading your posts, but this one makes up for it. Glad to hear that you were able to steal away a vacation, it sounds fabulous! As I read your stories it never fails to take me back in the day to similar memories I have of my time in Africa. I know that I have mentioned that before, forgive me but it brings back great memories for me as well. I too loved swimming in a pool and looking out at
the Ocean. It was wonderful and I'm glad that you are able to experience it for yourself. Take care and good luck with your Garden Of Weeden hahaha! Peace & Love!

Faye said...

Sounds exciting. It's like 12:30am here so I'm not going to get too much into it, so I'm just going to say: Don't paint the picture without putting yourself in it too.

I don't know if that will make sense. I guess the theme here is "Interconnected-ness".

I should write you another letter soon (I don't remember what I wrote to you the last time) if you want. I can send you a book too.

Love ya!