I came back and hit the ground running! Literally. The past two weeks I’ve been working out with the group of students who were chosen for the Kili trip, and I feel great! I was convinced that “exercise releases endorphins” was just garbage when I was in college because the only good I ever felt from our workouts was that they were over. However now that I’m running at my own pace and after over a year of being a blob, I’m pretty sure it’s true and exercise does make you feel good.
Let me back up a bit and explain this Kili trip. Jen and I have been talking about taking students to climb Kili since the day we got to site. It’s a pretty popular trip with Peace Corps Tanzania volunteers and we thought what better way to end our service than with a few students we’ve spent over a year teaching and getting to know on the trip of a lifetime! We each held essay contests at our schools asking the kids why they wanted to go on this trip, what qualities they have that would make them a good choice, what they hope to learn, how they’ll teach others when they get back and also to come up with an action plan to get ready physically for the trip as well as be able to contribute towards the cost of the trip. I had 61 students participate in the contest and had to narrow it down to just a lucky 6. Together with Fred, another teacher at the school who will be going on the trip with us, we read all 61 essays. Some were great, some were really bad and some were pretty entertaining. (One girl wrote she wanted to check out the beer situation on the mountain because she heard Kilimanjaro beer is made right there.) One thing that struck me was that a majority of the kids wrote that a quality they had that put them above the rest was that they can read and write. At first I was thinking how ridiculous it was to consider that an extraordinary quality, but after reading it so many times I realized that here it really is something to be proud of and I was just overlooking it because it’s so taken for granted that everyone can read and write at home.
We had decided on taking two kids from each of the three grade levels participating. After choosing 5, we were torn between two boys, Marijani and Juma, from form 4 who had both written great essays and were great students. We went to the Head Master to get her opinion and she recommended Marijani because his grades were better. So it was set. From form 2 we had Abilahi and Jabili, from form 3 Mwanahamisi and Njambila and from form 4 Sauda and Marijani.
I went to the school for morning assembly that Monday to announce the winners and as they all came up to stand in front of the school we noticed one was absent, Marijani. Right then and there, in front of the entire school, the Head Master announced that since he wasn’t there Juma would take his place. I have to say I felt pretty bad that this kid was made an example out of on the one day that the Head Master decided to make a point about truancy. However, it was definitely Juma’s lucky day and he had the biggest smile on his face every time I looked at him so that made me happy.
I met with the six of them that afternoon to explain the whole trip to them. They could hardly contain their excitement, which isn’t surprising considering four of them have never even left the Mtwara region. We planned our workout schedule and they decided they would like to make beaded bracelets and sell them as their contribution to the trip. So far we have gone on a few runs, taken a hike down to Mahuta Kisimani at the bottom of the plateau where the water supply for Mahuta is and we have a bike trip to Newala planned where we will meet up with Jen’s students who are going and they are going to teach us how to make these bracelets so we can get our little business started! J
While working with these kids is the most exciting thing I’ve got going on, I do have a couple other things that are fun too. Mwafo and I trained the Hamasisho health group on permaculture techniques and we have started a garden. The goal is to be able and sell their yield along with their business of selling chicken eggs and meat which they’ll hopefully be able to start soon. We are just waiting to see if the grant proposal for the chickens I wrote gets approved. We might have a slight delay because of fund availability from different pots of money, but one way or another it should work out.
Other than that I’m still teaching, but none of it is too exciting and I’m actually pretty bored and over it myself. Aside from Peace Corps work, I’m trying to get myself ready to re-enter the real world in 5 months. I’m tweaking my resume and writing cover letters with the hopes of getting it out to employers well in advance so I don’t end up getting home in August having done nothing. Who knows how much I can realistically accomplish from the African bush, but I’m trying.
The countdown was on. 13 days until our trip to
The first thing I did when I got home was take a nice, long, hot shower. I got to shampoo AND condition my hair, and then the best part….blow dry and straighten! It’s ridiculous, I know. Then we headed straight to a great Mexican restaurant for a giant burrito and margaritas. I think it was the most delicious food I’ve ever eaten.
Throughout the next two weeks I definitely got my fill of every food I’ve missed, and it even got to the point where I didn’t want anything else because I was just so sick of eating. Never thought that could happen! Other than enjoying all of the luxuries available, the highlights of my trip home were: seeing my sister and meeting her boyfriend for the first time, Christmas Eve service, visiting the class of 5th graders who have been pen paling with some of my students, and even getting surprised myself when one of my very best friends came down to TX from the Big Apple to visit me!
Opening presents on Christmas Day was funny because a lot of the gifts I got (which were everything I asked for, wanted, and was excited to get) were so bizarre in that situation. If I had opened packets of taco seasoning or parmesan cheese with my PC friends in
All in all, it was a pretty perfect trip. Not too long that I got bored and just long enough for me to relax and recharge for the last part of my service. I don’t think I really thought about how long a year and a half is to be away from not just home and family, but every little thing that has been familiar your whole life, until I came back to the states. It didn’t seem that long while it was going on, but when I was thrown right back in it and realized how much time had actually passed since I was last there, it was surreal. Here I am back in
Almost nothing went as planned, but that was expected, and in the end it was a success. I had told all of my students, the teachers and my Hamasisho group that we were leaving at for Newala to be there in time for opening ceremonies at . At about our truck finally showed up and we were off. After having to take some back paths because the road is “under construction” (it looks like destruction to me) and overheating once, we got to Newala around to find out that none of the district officials were where they were supposed to be and opening ceremonies had been moved to the other side of town. We were told they would all make their way back to the government offices and walk in the parade with us so we waited for them, tried to appease our hungry students, teachers and other community group members, and made several frustrated phone calls until we were told just to start the parade ourselves. So an hour and a half later, and with no official opening, we asked one of our Mama’s groups to lead the way and sing a song to get everyone going. Once we made it to the other side of town where everyone was, we had amassed quite a crowd and were welcomed by the government officials who had started without us. The next three hours were filled with drumming, dancing, singing, skits and speeches all with some sort of HIV/AIDS themed message. Our students and other groups set up their areas to teach their lessons about transmission, how HIV affects the body, nutrition for PLWHA and prevention. I have to say the condom demonstrations that were being done by my Hamasisho group were a big hit especially since we were passing out condoms to the people who came to be taught. We tried to put out Si Mchezo magazines on each of the tables for the students to pass out after they taught their lesson but it was such chaos as soon as anyone saw them that unfortunately we had to just put them away. My Femina kids prepared a song to sing for part of the entertainment but by we were all hungry, tired and nowhere near our turn in the schedule so I told them they could all just go and we scratched them from the set. Tanzanian officials love to give speeches, and if you give them the opportunity they will take full advantage of it. The “short speech” by one of the less important officials went on for about 15 minutes. Needless to say, we bolted before the guest of honor gave his.
After a quick power lunch of ugali and beans, Jen and I headed over to set up the community center hall for the Femina Party later that day. On the way we called the Femina representative who we had confirmed the week before was coming down for the event and to present our three Femina clubs with official certificates. We hadn’t heard from him yet that day and wanted to make sure he knew where the party was but he told us, unapologetically, that he didn’t come down to Newala after all, that he was up in Tanga for another World AIDS Day celebration. This was the only part of the day that really upset me. We had promised our kids that someone was coming and that they were being presented with certificates. They had prepared speeches and songs in his honor and had been looking forward to it for over a month, only to be let down. It just made me mad that once again the
We did, however, have a pretty awesome party that I’m sure partly made up for the earlier disappointment. Our kids still gave their speeches and performed their songs, a guy named Horace, who heads up a youth group in Newala, got the kids going with a good discussion on who/why either boys or girls are a bigger problem in the spread of HIV, and then it was time for the disco! It was a good time. The kids definitely were having fun, and it just made me happy seeing them happy. I hate dancing more than just about anything, but there’s something about watching Tanzanians dance, without a hint of inhibition, that makes me want to try. J
Only after we sent the Mahuta people on their way back, and the rest of the students from Newala had gone home could we finally relax. Jessica, Emily and Stevu were all in for the day so we went straight to the bar and had a much needed drink to unwind. Glad it was over, but more importantly a success, and completely drained we went back to Jen’s, watched a couple episodes of The West Wing someone had recently gotten in a package, and fell asleep.
It’s cashew season again! Mwafo gave me my first batch of cashews from his farm the other day so this evening I invited all the kids who were on my porch to come fry them up and eat them. Since they are straight from the tree, they are still in the shell and it’s a cool little process to get them out…first we throw all of the cashews on a piece of tin over an open flame, then the oils inside the shells get so hot that they light themselves on fire and pop and shoot firecracker-like flames. After they’ve been on fire for a couple minutes you dump them in the dirt to put out the flames, let them cool off a little, tap off the charred shell with a stick and you’ve got warm fresh cashew nuts! As much as I don’t want to start with the sappy sentimental stuff already, tonight when I was sitting amongst seven of my favorite kids tapping off the cashew shells with my stick, I couldn’t help but think I won’t get to do this with them next season.
It is also Ramadan right now and since about 95% of my village is Muslim, everything is shut down. Ok that’s not entirely true, but my favorite restaurant to buy chapati at is closed as are most restaurants. However, the end is near and I’m looking forward to the celebration this year! Last year I didn’t even know there was a celebration let alone what day it was, but next Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on the moon, Idd is coming and everyone will be dressed in their best, cooking amazing food, drumming and singing in celebration of the end of Ramadan. Kids run around collecting 5 and 10 shilling coins kind of like trick or treating, and Mamas are busy cooking up pilau, different kinds of meat, and everything else delicious in preparation of breaking their month-long fast. It’s not an absolute fast, but they aren’t allowed to eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset. My neighbors love my yellow cake so I’m baking them one for the party and saving up all my small coins for the kids. It’s going to be a fun time!
Sorry this is a short one. I'll try to have a good entry next month.
I have been teaching my form 1 students about nothing but HIV/AIDS for the past 6 weeks: immune system, transmission, prevention, biology of HIV, disease progression, everything. I saved the lesson on getting tested for HIV for last and gave them the opportunity for bonus points on the upcoming midterm test if they went and got tested at the local clinic. The students in my first class (there are two streams of form 1 students) were all excited and a bunch of them came up and told me after class that they really wanted to go get tested. I was psyched! My second class, who is generally not as good as the first, only managed to annoy me even more when after I announced the bonus point opportunity they asked, “Get tested for what?” Even if there is somewhat of a language barrier, I thought they would have picked up on what I assumed to be an obvious theme. To this I can only shake my head and learn that I shouldn’t assume anything is cut and dry.
I’m finally sitting down and relaxing, kind of, after an enjoyable day and quite a traumatic evening involving a mouse, about 8 kids and a Mama from next door. Fred, my favorite teacher from school, came over today because I promised I’d teach him how to bake a cake for his girlfriend. We whipped up the batter for a yellow cake, set up the makeshift oven, and had 45 minutes to let the charcoal do its magic. He is such a great guy and we had the best, most open conversation about Tanzanian and American cultural, relationships, AIDS, everything. It’s always interesting to hear Tanzanian’s perceptions of American’s and what the
Then this evening I sat out on my back stoop reading a book to my neighbor kids and eating tangerines with them. Three of the really young ones were stomping around in the mud and my favorite, Rama, kept yelling, “Marisa, nione!” (Marisa, look at me!) and it put the biggest smile on my face. I’d like to hide him in my carry-on when I come back… After it had started to get dark is when the drama started. I was standing outside explaining to Mama Lela and some kids what a skyscraper is, and clearing up that no, there are not roads and soccer fields way up in the sky in Europe and the U.S., when I saw a mouse scurry into my kitchen. I asked for one of the kids to come chase it out but of course all of them came in to see. Well, this little vermin was quick and well-hidden. Mama Ashura and a couple of the kids, all armed with brooms or sticks, got him out of the kitchen only to have him run under the couch in the living room. At one point during the debacle I looked around and just started laughing. Mama Ashura was on her hands and knees looking for him under the couch. She and the kids were attacking it with brooms and sticks every time it came into view. Six other kids were just running around laughing and yelling, and I was standing on a chair scared of a mouse who, it turns out, is about the size of my thumb. These are the moments I will remember.
We never caught the mouse, so that’s why I’m only kind of relaxing. I’m still keeping an eye out for it, and I have my broom handy just in case. For now though, I’m going to try to go to sleep.
Today is officially the one year mark of my Peace Corps service. (I could be totally cliché and write a half way point reflection journal entry, but I’m not feeling that deep at the moment.) We swore in as volunteers on August 17 last year, and the new group of Health and Environment volunteers swore in just yesterday. In about two weeks we will have 6 new faces around the
Now that I’m back into the swing of things, and mid-way through the second term of school I’m realizing that I have a lot to do in just less than a year and I can’t put off any more projects since there won’t be a “next year”.
Just to keep you up on what all I’m doing these days…Jen and I will start the Peer Education/Sports Tournament we wrote a grant for in two weeks when one of her secondary schools in Newala will travel to Mahuta for the first in a series of football, netball and Femina Club competitions among the three secondary schools we work with. Students love to travel to other schools and rarely get the opportunity so we thought we could put our resources to use and not only provide the kids with the opportunity to travel, but also let our health clubs share the information they get every week from us about HIV/AIDS by teaching the members of the sports teams as well as the fans who come to watch the games, through debates and short plays. We even managed to get a set of uniforms donated from ReproGTZ, another NGO, to award to the winning school!
We recently got VCT (voluntary counseling and testing) again in Mahuta so I’m working with the hospital to encourage people to test by offering a Si Mchezo! health magazine to everyone who gets tested on Mondays from You’d be surprised how well it works.
My adult community health group right now is my favorite group to work with. They show up to meetings every week (believe me, that’s rare), and are really motivated! We sat down last week to outline what our goals for the group were and what we would like to do to help out in the community. They decided they wanted to do something everyone would be able to see, and agreed that sign boards warning people about HIV/AIDS, encouraging them to unite as a community in the fight against AIDS and teaching them how to protect themselves was the way to go. So this week we came up with the perfect messages, designed the boards and I’ll send in the grant proposal next week! They also decided they want to start an income-generating project to help the orphans in the community pay for school uniforms and supplies, so we’re meeting with the agricultural specialist in town to get all the details about raising chickens, and I’ll be writing up another grant proposal to start a chicken project to sell eggs and meat.
Other than all this, I’m still teaching biology, meeting with my Femina Club each week and Jen and I are trying to put the finishing touches on the Newala AIDS Day grant and get it in by Sept 4th to be approved.
On a more exciting note, I have another visitor coming to
As I sat down for a dinner of chipsi mayai at a typical Tanzanian restaurant in Mtwara, and spent the entire time swatting the countless flies away I realized my 2.5 week break from reality was definitely over. I got to spend the better part of July with my Mom, Dad and sister on the most amazing vacation we’ve ever been on. After months and months of anticipation I was thrilled to see them, fanny packs and all, when they arrived in Arusha! The only thing that could have made them look more like tourists would have been if they were wearing khaki safari vests with a million pockets. We had a day in Arusha before we left for our safari so we headed into town to check things out but were immediately bombarded by Tanzanians who were so in-your-face with the souvenirs they were selling, it got to be too much so we headed back to the hotel. The next day we were off to
For now though, it’s back to work in Mahuta. Lots to do in the next year!
p.s. Coach K, congrats on the head coaching job! I’m so happy for you! You and Coach Tate are going to be an awesome coaching team J…..again.
When I was younger the coolest thing there was to see at the Texas Zoo were the bears. Needless to say, it wasn't that much fun, but hopefully they were doing something interesting, and if not we'd yell their name, wave our arms, snap our fingers or whatever to try and get their attention and apparantly that was entertainment enough. Well, the tables have turned and I am now the animal at the zoo that everyone comes to watch.
At first it was expected, and it has certainly died down a lot since then, but after being here for 10 months I don't understand the intrigue of watching me wash clothes or dishes, or sweep my porch. Having people stand outside my fence commenting, pointing and giggling is just bizarre. Or in town people, mostly kids, will yell my name until I turn around and then have nothing to say. While that stuff is annoying at times, the one entertaining aspect for me is terrifying children to the point of tears just by being white. It happens at least once a week. I was walking home from school recently when a little girl dressed all in pink came singing and skipping along from behind her house, and when she saw me, stopped dead in her tracks, screamed, and ran back to her house crying. You really can't do anything but laugh at that because there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
I went up to Chidya this weekend with 8 other PCVs to visit our friend Justin at his site. The night before, about 6 of us were in Masasi and went to a Tanzanian party we think was put on by the hospital. Maybe it was International Nurses Day, I'm not sure, but the theme of the party was Florence Nightengale. It was the strangest party I’ve ever been to for sure. When we arrived we walked into the hall where there were rows and rows of plastic chairs set up like there was going to be an assembly, and everyone was sitting facing forward and not talking. After about an hour of being a spectacle because we had moved our chairs into a circle so we could talk, someone announced on a scratchy microphone that food was ready so we got in line to get our dinner of chicken ( I got the neck) and chipsi and 3 beers. You get all your drinks at once, and after about an hour everyone is drunk and up dancing. It was a good time. The next afternoon all 9 of us got to the bus stand to see that the regular lorry that goes up to Chidya wasn’t running and it was just an open back extended jeep that was already half filled with tomatoes and bicycles and there were about 9 people already waiting. It was quite possibly the most uncomfortable and most dangerous ride I’ve gotten since being here. When we finally got to Chidya, Justin and Steph had prepared a ton of delicious food and even banana cake and chocolate donuts for desert! We all went out to the cell phone service spot that evening to check to see if we had any messages and on the way back ran into a huge group of boys playing soccer and decided that making a human pyramid with them would be a good idea. It provided a lot of laughs, some great pictures and the kids of course loved having their picture taken. The next morning everyone but Josh and I left, and on the way back the car was, of course overloaded, and tipped. No one was hurt and it ended up being another good photo op. Josh, Justin and I hiked about 2 hours to the Mwiti River and then waded a few kilometers up the river just to explore. When we got back, sunburned and exhausted, we played guitar, exchanged tabs and made bagels w/ cream cheese for dinner. Awesome day all in all.
I’ll be heading up to Kilosa for a training soon. I get to be PCV of the week during training for the new group that’s coming in June, and I’m pretty excited about it! June and July are going to be a busy two months with a whole lot of traveling coming up but it’s all going a ton of fun! I’ll keep you posted as best I can. Hope everyone is doing well and having as much fun as I am!
I am living two years in a National Geographic episode. I recently decided to make the trip to Newala by bike because it's only about 35 k away and I'd been dying for some kind of work out. Well, I almost died from the workout because it's all uphill, but the ride back was AMAZING! I decided not to leave until the late afternoon when it was a little cooler, and as I was riding I got to watch this storm roll across the sky and ride right into it. It was the live version of the "African Rains" episode where they show the sky change from sunny and cloudless to dark grey/blue with lightning lighting up the sky in the distance in fast forward. So awesome. And I got home minutes before it started pouring.
I also recently had a memorable birthday celebration. My birthday was on a Thursday and I hadn't planned on doing anything until the weekend when a bunch of volunteers were coming to Newala to celebrate, but Brijesh, my friend here in Mahuta, called and invited me for dinner late that afternoon. When I got there all the lights were out so I figured there was no electricity, but he told me to close my eyes and he lead me to the other room where, when he said I could open them, I saw tons of balloons and a cake that looked as if he had dropped it and put the chunks back into the shape of the circle it was baked in. He lit a candle, sang Happy Birthday, and handed me a knife (which i didn't need) to cut the first slice. He was so proud of himself and excited to have pulled off his surprise! It was cute, and a very nice surprise at that. The cake tasted much better than it looked, and was followed by some equally delicious Indian food for dinner. He's a good friend to have here in Mahuta.
Later that weekend, 7 of us got together at Jen's in Newala and used mine and Mike's birthday as an excuse to hand out together. A good time was had by all, especially when we ate the "Bucket 'O Chocolate" birthday cake Tanzanian style, right out of the bucket. Josh, a fellow coffee lover brought me a kilo of some good coffee, which we made the next morning for breakfast. You may be wondering where I got a coffee maker...well, we don't have one. But we found that toilet paper works well if no coffee filters are available.
I am now in Dar with Jen and Thais to visit a bunch of NGOs and invite them to participate in the Newala World AIDS Day we are planning. As usual, there were a few bumps in the road along the way. This time a chunk was missing, literally. We sent out letters to 15 organizations about a month ago to let them know we were going to be in Dar and hoping to set up appointments. Thinking we had sent the letters in plenty of time, we were surprised not to have received a single email response when we got here and checked. Turns out the mail between Dar and everywhere in the Deep South has been a little backed up due to the horrific road conditions. The Deep South is kind of a big loop, with the four corners being Mtwara, Newala, Masasi and Lindi. The road between Mtwara and Newala (which I live on) is not paved and with the rains right now, is more of a river than a road, so buses haven't been passing there in a while now. The road from Mtwara to Lindi and then Lindi to Masasi is paved, but there is about a 25 foot gap about 30 mintes out of Masasi that has caved in. So, the way to travel now, and the way we arrived here, was to take a bus from Newala to Masasi, then jump on another bus from Masasi to the hole in the road, get off the bus and cross the river (hopefully it hasn't rained too much and the current isn't too strong) and climb on another bus that will take you from the hole in the road to Lindi or Mtwara. Needless to say, our letters have yet to arrive in Dar, but hopefully our mailboxes will be full in a month or so when the rains are gone! We were able to meet with 7 NGOs and our little event is shaping up nicely! I'll write more about it as our progress continues. Hope everyone is doing well back home! Until next time....and it might be another month and a half...