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.


mom said...

Now that's what I'm talking about. Great blog. I think Kate had a similar experience. Glad to be home, glad to go back to her other home. You all make me proud. This is for sure is life changing . Enjoy your 8 months,but I expect more blogs. Hugs to all. Carol

chrisc said...

Great blog Margaret!! Very thought provoking & mojo working inspirational! With Love Hugs & Tears Of Pride ! Dad.

Faye said...

Great blog. I hope Mama Witi and everyone gets a kick out of the pictures you brought back! Love ya!! Faye