"The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps."
1 2 3
I should apologize for the lack of updates, but a five month hiatus is so ridiculous that I don't think there's any excuse. I've tried to compensate by noting some highlights of the gap, even if they happened a while ago.
I'm headed back to the US for the end of December (14-28). I expect to spend about a week in NYC, and a week at my sister's near DC. Even better, I will by then be an uncle, as she is expecting early in the month. I'm so thrilled.
I can't write about what's going on at the college right now, yet, because it's a secret. At least, I think it is, and I don't want to get into trouble. But I'll write about it when it's over.
Internet has been down at the college for weeks. We switched providers, and shortly afterwards, the satellite used by the new company went kaput. I've been keeping busy working on an IT syllabus.
We've been on power rationing for a few months. At first it was Fridays, now it's Saturdays and Mondays, and the occasional random day (e.g. Tuesday, yesterday, today). It's frustrating, but the dark days are good for housework. I have some beans, hot peppers, peanuts, mint, and bamboo growing in the garden. My clothes are all clean, my stocks of drinking water are topped up, and I'm caught up on all the back issues of the Economist. Fresh laundry smells good.
Wednesday night I was surprised by a scorpion (1, 2) in my room. Maybe centruroides exucalda ? Definitely ugly. I have read that scorpions are carniverous, and presumably chase their pray then catch it with the claws and sting it, but this one didn't seem to move very fast. Maybe it was tired from already having eaten a lot - it looked pretty fat. I maintained my no-kill policy and shooed it out the front door, but I was tempted to transgress. I hear the little ones are, counterintuitively, the worst to be bitten by. One of the girls in my training class was bitten on the hand during our second week here, by a small one, and she said it was extremely painful - her entire arm was numb for days. Also, I've heard that they like to spend the night in boots, although that might just be in the desert. Anyway I'm checking my boots in the mornings now. And I'm even happier to sleep under the mosquito net.
The new class of Peace Corps education trainees has been here almost two weeks. And that means I've been here a year - hard to believe. One of the newbies is staying with my old homestay family, so I have a new brother. Some were supposed to be training at the college as I did, but there was a change at the last minute, and now they're training at another school. I'm a little disappointed, but I still get to see them all around town. We met up at Dragonaire's the other night and had a fine time.
I'm pretty sure there are geckos living in my attic. There are occasional rustlings above the ceiling boards, and I have seen them zip into holes there more than once. Certainly they make appearances in my rooms from time to time. They're cute and they eat bugs, so I like them. Lately, I'll be sitting at my desk or in my bed, and hear a weird clicking sound; I look around and there will be one on the wall, staring at me. It's kind of like the sound the little lizard in Jurassic Park made, right before he spit acid into that guy's eyes. Someone said they're challenging me for territorial supremacy when they make that noise. Can't we all just get along ?
Finally, a very sad piece of news. I learned by e-mail the other day that my friend Barry Weaver Jr. passed away on September 16 in Houston. I met Barry at Tavern on Jane a few years ago, when he was writing and driving a taxi - a combination that I thought sounded hard, but Barry made seem so interesting. It was always a treat to run into him, usually late, at the end of his shift. He, Stuffy, and I had some great conversations. I had been hoping to visit him when I returned to the US, and he said he might visit me here first. His encouragement of my plans to join the Peace Corps was important to me. I'm really going to miss him. He deserves to be remembered for a long time.
For a while now, someone has been stealing my plants. It started with some decorative grass I had bought (that Alexander seemed to like so much) - One day, just a hole in the ground. Then someone dug up some bamboo I'd planted, breaking all the fronds, yet inexplicably leaving it in a plastic bag at the site of the crime. Lately, it's been some diffenbachia that make the back of my house look less like a disaster area. The frustrating thing is that I have suspects, but unless I catch them red-handed, there isn't much I can do.
I say disaster area because I have been working on a new project: compost. I want some for my garden. But composting poses a challenge, because if I put any garbage out, dogs and children go digging through it. A while ago, when Aaron was visiting, he was kind enough to help me digging out the drainage trench next to the berm in back of my house - it fills up with leaves, plastic bags, old shoes, whatever. In the process of digging it out, I noticed that at the bottom, the leaves and dust had gotten pretty rotten, and were full of worms and even frogs - perfect compost. We put it in a big pile next to my garden, and I intended to churn it in during the next few days. Apparently someone else had the same idea, except in their garden instead of mine, because when I came back the next day, it was all gone. Nevertheless, I thought, "I can wait for more compost to form, and use it just after harvesting, before anyone can steal it".
So, the drainage trench is full of stuff, including my kitchen scraps, and looks messy. And now I have nothing but diffenbachia roots, because someone has stolen all the leaves and stalks. Not too pretty. I was mad. What should I see one morning out my window, but a bunch of primary school students (boys) digging plants out of my neighbor's yard. I went to ask them what they were doing, but they took off. Then I walked around my house, and what should I see amongst the students filling their water jugs (a daily, noisy occurrence) ? A girl holding a diffenbachia stalk/leaf. Our eyes met, she said it wasn't mine, then she ran, leaving her water jugs.
Well, I'm embarrassed to say, I was seeing red. I took those two water jugs and stomped up to the primary school. I was looking for the headmaster, whom I know, but he wasn't to be found. I found the staff room, slammed down the jugs, and told whoever was there that I was sick of their students stealing my plants. Now, I should have seen what was coming next, but I didn't. One of the teachers there told me to wait, went outside, and started shouting at the students who were nearby. He eventually rounded up four girls.
They were stood in a line, and out came the switch ("fimbo" in Swahili). Each was hit on the hand a few times, to much grimacing if not hysterics. I thanked the teacher and left.
Happily, I had a chance to attempt reconciliation of the situation, as two of the girls came to my house to "replant" the stolen plant parts (they were wilted and dead by the next day). I said, as best I could in my muddled Swahili, that I was sorry that they were hit, and thanked them for replanting the plants. I explained that plants away from the house were okay to take, but plants near the house were not to be touched. Then I gave them cookies. They seemed okay with the situation.
My plants have remained unmolested since, for the most part. Someone keeps stealing onion stalks. But I don't think it's schoolchildren.
I made the journey this weekend to Songea, in the southern highlands, for the (in?)famous party known as SeptemberFest. The first was last year, and apparently it was so fabulous that they decided to make it an annual event. Peace Corps administration may have other plans.
There were over 50 kinds of wine, homemade by volunteers in the region. I think in this case "wine" was a generous term for what might more accurately be described as "hooch". The basic recipe was described to me as "boil up some kind of fruit with sugar, add yeast, let it sit for a few days, voila!". Heh heh. My favorites were coconut, tea & clove, cinnamon, and ginger. It was a fantastic time - wine-tasting, dancing, philosophical conversations, coronations, even a dagaa piñata. Check other volunteers' blogs for pics - I haven't tracked them down yet.
I travelled by Scandanavia bus lines ("Scandi"), known as a "luxury" line. Luxury because, instead of five seats per row, there are four, and they serve soda & cookies (morning) and water (afternoon). Also the tickets cost more. In a triumph of high-tech organization, I was able to make a reservation for the return trip over the internet, and it worked !
There was an interesting incident on the way home. We passed by a broken-down sister/Scandi bus; our driver stopped and talked to the other driver, but did not let any of the stranded passengers on, which seemed good to me since there were no seats for them. But when we pulled in to the next stop, Njombe I think, there were quite a few people who were waiting for the broken down bus, plus a few who were supposed to get on our bus. The bus conductor for some reason was unable to maintain order, and everyone piled onto our bus - standing in the aisles, sitting on luggage, even kicking the conductor out of his seat. I hear that on a non-luxury bus standing is more normal, but by law everyone is supposed to have a seat, and for the past few months it seems like police checkpoints have been enforcing this rule. So the bus driver said he wouldn't go until the standing people got off. This did no go over well, and one mama in particular got pretty agitated. Then the driver said he would go to the police, and the mama said "fine, go ahead". So we drove to the police checkpoint, and sure enough, the police said the standees had to go. The mama, by now the ringleader/spokesperson for the group, said the bus had to take them back to the bus stand. So we turned around and drove back, with two police on board. Once we got there, though, she refused to get off the bus. More police were called. But this mama was tough. She faced down every police officer that got on that bus. Meanwhile we weren't going anywhere, and the bus was getting hot. My sense of order was definitely being disturbed, and I wasn't the only one. Eventually we went back to the police checkpoint, the police got off, and we rolled on, packed to the gills. Somehow, we did not get stopped at any other checkpoints, even though we were obviously over limit, and I made it back to Morogoro safely. I would be interested to see that mama face off with some of NYC's finest.
This week was training of trainers for the new group of Education volunteers, coming in a few weeks. It's interesting to see Peace Corps training from the other side of things. For each week, they have a different "PCV of the week" who presents some technical topic, plus serves as a general resource for questions from someone who's been out in the field. I don't get to be an official PCV of the week, but was invited anyway, I guess since I'm in town. I'll help out Alex, from my group, with his ICT presentations, and maybe make a few of my own depending on how it goes. It was as always fun to work & hang out with PCVs. Though it was expensive going out most nights - everyone else was getting per-diem, but none for me since I live here.
Here is the write-up I got in the guide for the new trainees:
How do you go from a Yale graduation to raising a goat [sic] in the bathroom of your Tanzanian home? You can ask Albert Lingelbach, ICT volunteer at Morogoro Teachers College. While youíre at it, ask him about work. We all know that PCVs are in it for the fame but this former New York resident wanted something more: an easy job. He's still looking. His training groupís eldest, Mzee Albert demonstrated his superior wisdom by not participating in the 2006 Pan-African Mulletfest. His loss. Between the ponytail and ever-present combat boots lies more patience and reason than most possess. Enjoy his presence while you are in Morogoro and be sure to check out his electricity-free computer classes.
I had a great visit to Sepuka, near Singida, home of Kate. The trip is not for the faint-hearted - 12 hours in a bus, about half on dirt roads. But I arrived intact, if dusty. One secret is to take the luxury bus, in this case Mohammed Trans.
A funny thing about the particular bus that I took (Dar->Mwanza) is that, because it's expensive, most people taking it go all the way to Mwanza. When the conductor checked my ticket, he noted that I was going to Singida, so I didn't think anything more of it. At some point, I got into a short conversation with the older mama sitting next to me, and she asked where I was going, and I said Singida. She said that was nice.
Towards the end of my journey, it was getting dark, and we were finally back on tarmac road, so I knew we were getting close. I was eagerly awaiting our arrival to the Singida bus station. Suddenly, the nice woman next to me said, she had thought I was going to Singida, but she said she must have been mistaken and I was going to Shinyanga, and which was it ? I said yes. Wait, what ? I checked my ticket, it said Singida, so I was pretty sure that's where I was supposed to go. She shouted up to the front, and general mayhem ensued. The bus actually turned around in the middle of the road, in a kind of 7-point turn, and proceeded to backtrack. I collected my bag, stumbled to the front of the bus, and waited with no doubt a confused look.
The conductor verified that I was going to Singida. The bus pulled to a stop alongside a road, that was pretty much the opposite of what I was expected in terms of a bus station - no one around to sell me anything, help me find a bargain on a taxi, just a little store down the road. I asked if this was the bus station, and the conductor pointed off in no particular direction and said, "it's over there". Off the bus went. I had a beautiful view of a lake, and a number of curious glances from folks at the store, but no idea where I was, and darkness coming on.
Thankfully, there was cell service, so I hopped on the phone to Kate and described what I could see. I wandered over to the store and asked the name of the street. I got a few different answers; I told her all of them. I bought a water at the store, because it's important to stay hydrated, especially if you might be spending the night on the back roads of Singida.
After a few more phone calls, and some excellent deduction by Kate's ace taxi driver Abdallah, they pulled up, and I was rescued. The rest of the visit was great - I saw the Singida PCVs and ex-pats, ate good food, took an ancient bus that seemed to be out of a storybook to Sepuka, met Kate's friends Mamas Zulfa, Sauli, and Winnie, and made friends with Kate's cat. Abdallah made sure I got a great seat on the bus back, and that trip was fine aside from a couple of breakdowns and a chicken that got loose and tried to drive the bus.
Another funny story about Mohammed Trans: A while ago, I was travelling to Dar with Kate. We arrived, and while at the bus station, she wanted to get a ticket back to Singida, on Mohammed Trans. As usual, when we got off the bus, we were surrounded by guys offering to help us. I generally avoid them, but we did ask one persistent guy where the Mohammed Trans office was. He said "no problem" and led us away. Now, we had seen a large office with "Mohammed Trans" written across it at the far end of the station, but this was not the direction that we were led. We arrived at a tiny office with many names across the top, including "Mohammed T" is small writing. This was the place, our helpful friend assured us. Kate inquired about the availability of seats on the date in question, and was told that the entire bus had been booked by some company. Luckily, there was another bus going, with plenty of seats.
Now, I was getting a little suspicious at this point. I glanced at the clipboard that the clerk was holding, and noticed that it was headed "Trans" but seemed to be missing "Mohammed". I suggested to Kate that we check out the other office. This was not met with cheers by the clerk or anyone else in the office. This seemed to me a pretty good indicator that it was the right thing to do. We had not just our original friend, but another employee of "Mohammed T" follow us right up to the door of the real Mohammed Trans office, where Kate got her ticket with no problem. Interestingly, we mentioned this to the employees in the real office, and they didn't seem to care.
Today the Ambassador was in town, on his way to administer the oath of service to the new group of health & environment volunteers tomorrow. He was kind enough to treat me and other Morogoro volunteers to dinner at the New Acropol Hotel, a beautiful local place with tons of atmosphere - a bar worthy of New York City, mounted game busts, and the indefatigable proprietress Michelle. Special guests included Dianna's mother & grandmother, who were in town visiting.
Dianna's grandmother deserves special mention, because she was kind enough to send me a bunch of jazz CDs after she got back to the states, following our discussion of music over dinner. Thanks !
This weekend I went to visit Gene in Mgeta. It's about 2 hours away by dala-dala. I notice that I haven't mentioned dala-dalas before, so a short digression is in order. Dalas are vans, sometimes with a raised roof, sometimes not. They are filled with benches, fitting four across, 4 deep plus a backwards-facing row behind the front seat. Also, there is room for an infinite number of standees. I say infinite, because it seems that there is always room for one more. You would not believe how many people can fit on a dala - 30 is not unheard of.
Dalas in town are 200 shillings, about 15 cents. The dala to Gene's is 2000 shillings. For Mgeta, one buys a ticket at the stand, then has some time to wait, depending on how full the dala is (generally, they only leave the stand when full). Gene had said that I could probably claim a seat and then do some shopping if it wasn't leaving right away, so I asked the conductor which seat was mine, and if I had time to do some errands. He said yes, and took my bag to put in the luggage area (on the roof). I went to the local store and picked up some treats for the weekend - cookies, drink mix, a bottle of rum. When I got back to the dala stand, the dala was full, standing room only. I looked questioningly at the ticket guy - he shrugged and put me on then next (empty) dala. I guess reservations are only for regulars. A nun who had seen the whole thing came over from the original dala to offer her seat to me, but I declined - I'm not religious, but there's no sense in pushing your luck; it would just be wrong to take a nun's seat.
Related Note from about a month later: It was Gene's birthday, and the Morogoro folks thought it would be nice to send congratulations the day of. However, Gene does not have phone service at his site - he can climb a nearby hill, but it's a 40-minute round-trip, so it's a trek, and hard to know when he'll be there. However, I had heard of something called "bush mail", where one can go to the dala stand, and give the letter to a driver headed in the right direction. This seemed like fun, and definitely the way to go for a special birthday message. We prepared a note, and I went to the stand and found the dala passing by Gene's site. Things were chaotic/busy as usual, so I stood around for a minute or two, waiting until the ticket guy was free. He noticed me, and I said I had a letter for Mgeta. Without another word, he took the envelope and handed it to someone in the front seat. No request for delivery fees or anything. Gene got it in a few hours. So things may be chaotic, but they work.
Back to the stand and the new dala: It was empty, but the ticket guy pointed me to a seat in the middle. Now Gene had told me that the seats in the front were best, but I assumed they were spoken for. A minute later, I saw the ticket guy usher another guy over, and he got in the front. He said hello. I asked him how he got the front seat. He said he just took it. Hmm. I asked if I could ride there too. He said he doubted it, as they usually put three in the front, plus the driver, so two are usually children. I did some thinking, and some math, and decided that it was worth an extra $1.50 to have a fancy seat for the ride. I found the ticket guy and asked him if I could buy another ticket and take the "two" places remaining in the front. He was fine with that.
Mgeta is up in the hills of the Uluguru mountains, so after 45 minutes or so of gently sloping dirt roads, we started climbing up hairpin turns. The roads were nicely engineered, with concrete roadbeds, excellent drainage, even the occasional safety marker. Still, there were a lot of blind turns around escarpments, and sitting in the front, I had a breathtaking view, and was able to observe that our driver was, I can say, familiar enough with the route that he apparently didn't feel the need to drive cautiously. Also the horn didn't work, so there was no signalling drivers coming the other way. But there was a guy riding on the roof, which our driver spent a lot of time looking at in the mirror and talking to. So I felt pretty safe.
I arrived at Gene's site safe and sound, and had a great few days there. We didn't do much of anything, but Gene is a superior host and cooked some excellent meals. He has a great library and he was kind enough to share some books he had finished. We cooked up a mean pasta, and enjoyed some beers, rum & cokes, and great conversation.
I just got finished hosting a super visit from my good friend Marc Mehl, from New York. It started with a couple of nights at the Holiday Inn in Dar, always an oasis of civility. The breakfast buffet is widely revered amongst PCVs as it's got lots of great stuff - croissants & pain chocolat, cereals, fresh fruit, fancy cheeses, cold cuts, an egg station, and a juice bar. On weekends there are even mimosas, and it's all you can eat. Oh the gluttony.
July 8 was an independence day party at the Embassy. Hot dogs & hamburgers, beer, the ambassador in a dunk tank, fireworks, lots of PCVs, even an American band courtesy of Armed Forces Entertainment. And just when the party seemed to be winding down, the Marine security contingent invited us back to their house to keep things going. I'm pretty sure we rocked even harder there, but at some point one of the Marines decided tequila shots were in order, so I'm a little fuzzy on the details.
The next day, we flew off to StoneTown in Zanzibar. We stayed at the Tembo Hotel, which was beautiful, with a great view of the channel and beautifully decorated rooms. The highlight was the shower/bath, kind of grotto-like in deep blue tile. We wandered through the crooked alleys, looked at lots of crafts, and had a delicious seafood lunch. Dinner was at a place called Sambusa Two Tables, which was recommended by some folks we ran into during the day. It was smack in the middle of the proprietor's house (his children were watching television in the next room) and was a seemingly endless series of small courses of Indian-type food, all delicious. We left stuffed.
The following day we were joined by Tenney, and took a minibus to Nungwi beach. We stayed for a few days at the Paradise Hotel. It was pretty basic, but cheap and on the beach. We ate fantastic seafood, drank at beachside bars, and walked up the beach to Kendwa. We got caught by the tide coming back, turned back when we got up to our necks, and had to hire a boat ride back.
Then it was back to Dar for a night. Holiday Inn had screwed up the reservation, but Marc deftly turned that to our advantage by getting us transferred to another hotel, the Kempinski. Now, I have a hard time putting in words just how luxurious this hotel is. Modern rooms with dark wood and glass walls, fixtures out of a showroom, flat screen TV and well-stocked minibar in the room. But the pièce de résistance was the breakfast buffet - it was like the Holiday Inn buffet on steriods; twice as big, four times as wonderful. Didn't some famous PCV say, "I regret that I have only one stomach to fill for my breakfast" ?
Marc then made the heroic trek out to Morogoro for a day. He got a tour of my house and college, and we had drinks at the New Acropol Hotel and a nice dinner of Indian food at the Oasis Hotel. I'm sorry we didn't have enough time for kitimoto but maybe if he returns... The next day it was off to the bus stand, where he braved the return trip to Dar alone. He said he made it back to the Kempinski safe & sound - well done.
This past week was In-Service Training ("IST") for my class. It was so great to see everyone again. We learned about writing grants, and a little about "permaculture"/biointensive gardening. We went out almost every night, and because I didn't get per-diem (since I live in town) I'm broke. But we had a lot of fun.
One highlight was "MulletFest", in which many of the more hirsute members of the class decided to get the classic "business in the front, party in the back" haircut. Although suitably coiffed, I declined to participate. In an attempt to redeem myself, I did organize a final night of feasting at Mama Pierina's - goats were grilled, salads tossed, and many beers drunk. It was a very good time.
Also this past weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to the wedding of Stephen Kajula's son David, in Dar Es Salaam. It was at an incredible venue on the coast of the Indian Ocean, the Oyster Bay Police Officers' Mess.
Today Calvin died. I will always miss him.
Today was graduation at the college. Everyone looked so nice and was so happy - maybe graduations are pretty much the same everywhere. Today was also the end of Alexander. I figured the best way to make sure everyone got a little (and to avoid having the better part of a sheep carcass going bad in my refrigerator) was to have him slaughtered for the big staff supper after the ceremony. Unfortunately I was thwarted - the principal said this would not be possible. Doubly unfortunately, especially for Alex, was that the order for his demise had already been transmitted. By the time we reached the abbatoir to serve his stay, it was too late.
It was suggested that the right thing to do was to distribute the cuts to a select group after the feast. Surprisingly, most of the members of this group had already been notified. I was suspicious, but at least I knew them all. Protas and his friend did a nice job butchering, and deservedly claimed some spoils as well. I got a shank, which made great mishkaki with mint, but if I have the choice again, I might like to try the chops.
Some quick language notes for the following entry:
So here's a little story for you: Sunday morning (April 2nd) Courtenay calls me to ask if she can stay at my place with a bunch of PCVs that I'd met the night before: Josh Pelletier/Gregory, Jason Leonard, Megan/Hippie G, and Jen Harding. Of course I say sure, because I like having guests and hanging out. They say "let's meet at Dragonaire's", I say "how about 6:30ish", they say "great". Just before 6pm I get a text saying they're coming to drop off their stuff. I haven't left yet so no big deal, "karibu". A few minutes later I get hodi'ed at the front door and there are Megan, Court, and Jen. I think to myself "where are the guys" but don't worry about it, I am occupied with greetings etc. A minute later one of them says "I think you're getting hodi'ed at your kitchen door" and sure enough I was. At this point you might think that I would have known something was up, but no, I'm clueless. So I open the kitchen door, and what should I see but a sheep, tied to my security grate. Standing behind, Josh and Jason, with, sorry to say, sheepish grins. So I'm thinking, ha ha, this is pretty funny, they've got a sheep with them. Then they say, "This is Alexander, your new sheep". I wait for a good few minutes for them to say "just kidding". But apparently they're not. They say "Look how great he is. See, he'll eat almost anything." I look on as he begins to snack on the one plant that I've bought since arriving.
Amid many laughs I manage to extricate myself for a few minutes and call one of my counterparts. He is at home so I wander over to apologize for the interruption and explain the situation. He says "Don't leave it outside, it might go missing". He suggests putting it in the kitchen. Sounds good to me, he's the expert. (Later he told me that where he's from they don't raise anything bigger than chickens.) When I get back I realize there is much sheep-mischief to made in the kitchen, but the bafu looks suitably spartan after removal of cleaning sundries. So into the bafu he goes, and off we go to Drag's. There was some bleating as we left, but he calmed down eventually (or at least by the time we stumbled back.)
So, I had a sheep living in my bafu. An interesting change of pace. I would wake up early to take him out for morning relief and some grazing. When it was time for staff chai, back to the bafu he'd go, and after he would come back out; I would spend the rest of my day on my porch, grazing him. I tried to be a good sheep dad, and avoided taking showers in the bafu, lest Alexander get damp and then sick. Well, more sick, since he already had a runny nose and would occasionally sneeze, showering whereever with sheep snot. But I started thinking that at some point in the future, particularly if I were to once again allow guests to my house, it would be nice to take showers in the bafu and not the choo. Also the bafu was beginning to smell more like a stable and less like a place one might go to get clean. And the grazing schedule, while relaxing, and a huge encouragement towards neighbor interaction, was definitely interfering with my productivity as an ICT volunteer (if only I was in the environmental program). I realized the sheep had to go.
Very luckily, there is a fundi at the college, Protas, who raises goats. My counterpart put us in touch. After some negotiations, some funding on my part, probably some fundiing on Protas', a lot of Swahili that I didn't understand, and three days of waiting, Alexander went to live with Protas and his new goat friends. I scrubbed out the bafu, swept out the house (sheep shed), and starting going back to the computer lab. When I got lonely and had trouble sleeping, I counted my sheep (one... one... one...). [There were a lot of bad sheep jokes that weekend. You should see the guest book.]
Now, a little supplementary sheep Q & A, taken from a recent IM session with Kate, slightly edited for continuity & content:
Sure enough, a week ago, Protas appeared with Alexander in tow. Alexander happily munched on a plant (this time, not one planted by me). I was confused. Protas was confused. More Swahili was exchanged, little of it understood. Eventually, I figured out that Protas assumed that, since the next day was Easter, I would want to do some slaughtering. More negotiations, more funding, no fundiing, and Alex headed back home with Protas. Not sure when he'll be back. But it's good to know he's doing okay.
I really hope Protas sits around with his buddies and laughs at me, my Peace Corps friends, and the sheep. Because otherwise, he's probably annoyed at us. And I hope Alexander is happy.
Went to Wes' site, Mzumbe, for a St. Patrick's Day Party. Code word: McZumbe's. It was a great group and we had a fine time. Mzumbe is a perennial Peace Corps site, because it's one of the top secondary schools in Tanzania. And it doesn't hurt that one of the education program directors was headmaster there for many years. The last volunteers at the site had a special barbecue made, from an oil drum. But it was somehow lost between their departure and Wes' arrival. He had been looking for it, and magically, just before the St. Patrick's day party, the search for the "holy grill" was successful. It ended up being my responsibility to get the fire going while Wes took a group to observe Mzumbe's renowned sunset. He directed me to the grill and a bag of charcoal, but was unable to come up with any kerosene, which is pretty useful in fire-making. I asked for newspaper at least, which was forthcoming.
I had previously attempted, to light a fire using no kerosene. I had figured out that crumpled balls of paper don't work, but tubes with small pieces of charcoal above do, so I set about constructing the fire, and was thankfully successful in getting it going. The key to a good fire is plenty of air. We cooked a few kilos of meat as mishkaki and it was delicious.
Last week I was in Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, for a PEPFAR HIV/AIDS conference. Infections rates in Tanzania are around 10%, depending on who's data you use, so it's a serious problem. One of the sessions involved members of a group that supports people living with HIV/AIDS, and all of them were HIV positive. It was pretty intense. I had no idea what to say during small group discussion. Hopefully I will be able to make use of my role as an educator and IT person to make a (small) difference, though making a page on a web site seems like a puny effort compared to the magnitude of the problem.
Dodoma town was very nice. We stayed at a conference center which had hot running water (SO wonderful) and friendly staff. I got lots of social time with PCVs which was a real treat. We ate out a few nights at Rose's Restaurant (excellent curry) and the fancy New Dodoma Hotel (great gnocchi, good chinese and mexican food too, and delicious South African red wine.).
A few weeks ago, we had our first heavy rain. This precipitated a massive swarm of flying insects - I'm told they were termites. They came out towards the end of the rain and were flying around, even while it was still coming down hard. They would fly for a while, then land on the ground and chase each other around. There were some very strange looking toads (jpg wmv[16+MB]) that ate them. Interestingly, my neighbor's children were also catching the bugs. I asked why and they said in order to eat them. I thought we must be having some kind of English/Swahili breakdown, but after multiple confirmations, that is indeed what they were doing. They were generous enough to offer me some. Maybe next time.
Also a few weeks ago I had a little going-away evening for some Swedish exchange students here at the college. We got a lot of fresh produce and made salad, a killer pasta sauce with eggplant (thank you Hedda & Sara), and some tasty green beans:
chop onion, garlic. cut green beans into 1-inch pieces on high heat: sweat onions in oil, a few minutes, stirring occasionally add garlic, stir more when garlic soft, about one minute, add green beans saute for a bit, then cover and let cook a few minutes, until beans are a little soft the onion will carmelize, looking almost burned - don't worryThe onion gets sweet and a little chewy which seems to me to go nicely with the beans. My house was full of delicious food and beautiful women, just as it should be. Afterwards we were full.
Another story, from quite a while ago at this point (sorry) that I forgot until reminded in Dodoma: Some time in January, Wes and I were eating dinner at Street Chicken. There is also a Street Chicken in Dar, but it's not the same. It's just a generic name for a place that serves up barbequed chicken, chipsi, mishkaki, etc., with sidewalk seating. Invariably delicious and reasonably priced. Anyway we were sitting outside, eating our food. Just nearby in the road was an uncovered manhole/utility access. This is not unusual in Tanzania - one must be alert or one may fall into a hole at any point. Some of the ones in Dar are really deep - you could lose a cow in them, or at least a goat. Weeds out the unobservant I guess. Wes was just saying how it seemed kind of dangerous, when a taxi drove up and sure enough put his front wheel right in the hole. Now Wes is a can-do kind of guy, so he said, "Hey let's go lift this guy's car out of the hole". That sounded flat-out impossible, but I couldn't let him end up in traction alone. so we went over and, believe it or not, it is completely possible to lift the corner of a car out of a manhole. At least it is if you're in Tanzania and have recently fueled up on street chicken and Tusker. Who knew ?
EARTHQUAKE At about 4:10am today there was a little earthquake. No big deal, but it was cool because you could hear it coming: a low rumble, like a garbage truck maybe, that got louder as it got closer, but if it was a garbage truck it was travelling really REALLY fast. Then a little shaking, kind of like that truck driving by if you lived in a not very well built frame house. And that was it. But it was neat. Supposedly I've been through two other earthquakes, one in NYC and one in San Francisco, but because they're both noisy rumbly cities, I didn't notice them. Can't find anything on this quake in Google News so I can't say anything about the magnitude or epicenter, sorry.
Hope you enjoy the pictures of friends and links to their blogs. Maybe they'll be better at keeping you updated than I am.
I know you're thinking, "We could be funding a really cool secret bombing campaign but instead, we continue to allocate precious tax dollars to this crazy Peace Corps... Well at least I can be entertained by this folly via my designated volunteers's blog." And then said PCV doesn't update the blog for more than a month. What can I say but... sorry. And trust me, I'm not seeing a whole lot of those tax dollars.
In fact I ran out of money shortly after arriving at site. If you ask my neighbor, this was because other volunteers got lots of per diem and travel allowance because they lived far away, while we hardly moved at all. I say it was just poor budgeting on our part. But I have attempted to address that issue with a nifty budget spreadsheet (Excel required). You can see that I'm already running behind, but I think there's hope.
So now I will try to backtrack to the holidays and catch up. First was christmas. I had a full house - Wes, Katie, Dianna, Aussie Matt, Bram. Thanks to Dianna's decorative/religious influences we managed a nativity scene plus pagan icon. I remembered to start a guest book as folks were leaving, reminding me of summers on the Island in Maine years ago. People wrote nice things. Just think of how popular I'd be if I got a guest bed or two. We had xmas eve dinner at the fanciest place in town, New Acropol. They had an amazing buffet, including turkey, roast, and salads. They even had red wine.
Having guests made me realize that a larger water filter (1 2) might be a good idea. Four candles is total overkill; two would probably have been fine, and three definitely adequate. But hey, I can filter 20 liters of water in 2 hours, and if I added a transmission I could drive it around the block.
On to cooking adventures. First was literally my debut attempt at cooking in Tanzania: risotto. The recipe:
Ingredients: rice ("mchele") onion ("kitungu"; plural "vitungu") garlic ("vitungu saumu") cooking oil ("mafuta ya kupikia") beer ("bia"; Tusker is my favorite) filling (see 1 below) water boullion cube (or stock if you've recently killed a chicken) a cobweb cleaner (optional, depending on circumstances) Process: start charcoal stove ("jiko") (0) clean the charcoal soot off your hands open the beer; have some if the jiko is off to a good start put an aluminum pot ("sufiria") with water to boil while coals get started when the water boils, the coals are probably ready dice the onion chop the garlic heat the skillet add oil; if the oil from the duka which you bought by the ladle-full is growing something funky, strain it sweat onions until clear add garlic if you forgot to clean and wash the rice, remove skillet from heat, clean & wash rice (2), re-heat skillet when garlic is soft, add rice stir until rice is well-coated with oil and very slightly browned don't be afraid to add more oil, you'll still be using about 1/5 of what the average Tanzanian would use (3) when the rice is ready, add some of the beer. half might be good if you've got that much left. it's okay to open another. the beer will sizzle and foam. that's good. remember the water we boiled earlier ? mix some up with the boullion cube as the beer cooks down, add boullion a bit at a time at first you can cover the skillet and let things cook this is a good time to cut up the filling keep adding boullion and stirring eventually you will have to sit and watch and stir frequently to keep it from sticking at some point during the cooking, if it smells just right, a snake (1 2) may come to check out the deal. you got the cobweb cleaner, right ? it's nearly the proverbial 10' pole; use it to escort the snake out. if you run out of boullion you can use the liquid from the canned mushrooms, or just hot water, or mix up more boullion if you like it salty if cleaning your rice after the fire was started caused the coals to be a little cool, add more charcoal eventually the risotto will be creamy and the rice no longer chalky put it in the hot pot (4) put a little more oil in the skillet add the filling cook until hot, spicing, sweetening, etc. as appropriate when ready, add to risotto and mix serve - how many depends on how much rice & filling you used and how hungry people are. peace corps volunteers eat a lot, just ask the ambassador. disclaimer: I'm not really sure how risotto differs from slightly over-cooked rice, other than the spices and beer. But after the adventure of cooking, it tastes pretty good. Notes 0 - I am perfecting my jiko technique and expect to expound upon same in a future entry. 1 - From Tanzanian and US experience I think that soft fillings work best. I tried a hard salami once and it was not right. Mushrooms are excellent. In Tanzania, out of season (canned) you can choose between "La Ming" and "Ma Ling" brands. Both are rubbery but okay. I've also tried pineapple ("nanasi") and mango ("embe"). I don't recommend mango, but pineapple might be good with some hot peppers ("pilipili kichaa"). I will report back on this perhaps. Also apparently you can tell if a pineapple is ripe by thumping it. At least, every time I buy one the vendor gives it a few taps. Unripe, ripe, with or without rotten spots, they sound the same to me. Never take the first one offered. 2 - This is a pretty cool process, in which you put the rice in a large woven lid and toss it into the air. I don't know if this actually separates the small rocks, etc., from the rice; mostly it just spreads the rice out so you can pick through it more easily, but it looks kind of cool when you do it, unless half the rice ends up on the kitchen floor. 3 - Lots of oil is not necessarily a bad thing. I remember from my dining hall adventures that oil does wonders for the endurance of warm food. And if you only have one burner, and three dishes you're cooking for dinner will be sitting around in hot pots while the fourth cooks, it makes a lot of sense. 4 - A hot pot in Tanzania is not something you plug into the wall. It is a double-walled stainless steel container good for keeping hot food hot. Not quite a thermos but close. Again, critical for cooking if you only have one burner and aren't so lazy that you only cook one hot dish at a meal.
Second cooking adventure was a direct result of Mama & Baba's New Year's largess. I saw them shortly after the new year and Baba said, "Come back to the house, I have something for you". We got there and he said, "We killed a goat for the holidays. Here's some leg for you." Meat in my Tanzanian diet is a rare and celebrated thing, so I was quite happy. Until I got home and realized I had no idea how to cook goat. So it sat in my fridge for a couple of days while I fretted about what to do. Then was inspired with the image of bicycle spokes, for this is what every good street cook in Tanzania uses to cook "mishkaki", or kebabs. I cooked them with the usual tomato, onion, and green pepper ("pilipili hoho"), and added slices of hot pepper ("pilipili kichaa") for zest. It worked deliciously (1 2 3 4); possibly the best meal I've had in country.
New Years was a non-event, and that was fine with me after 5 days of houseguests. I drank the last of the beer and went to bed, only to be awaked at 1pm by a crazy parade. I am pretty much on the parade route.
I am also on the water-filling route. The entire neighborhood to the east of my house does not have running water, so they come trouping past my house every morning to fill up at my neighbors' outdoor taps. Mine was diabled by the previous Peace Corps volunteer. Shortly after I arrived one of my colleages said it could be fixed if I wanted. I offered to switch houses with him if it was and he declined. Seriously it's not so bad, but there is no sleeping in at my house if the water's running.
After the holidays I was just fixing things around the house or in the computer lab. I have succeeded in joining the new unix network with the existing PC network, thereby giving internet access to all of the staff computers. People seem happy. I have designs on a nearby stand of bamboo, as I would like a towel rack and some end tables. To this end I bought an axe and have been sharpening it when I have time. When it's ready, we'll see how much I remember from Boy Scouts about chopping and lashing.
The other morning I awoke and walked over to my bathroom. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the top of the door was particularly green. This was unusual, because the door is normally dark brown. Upon closer inspection, a long thin green snake (1 2 3) was perched upon the door. I took care of business, got the camera, took some photos, then got the aforementioned cobweb cleaner/10' pole and showed him the door. He proceeded to climb up it and perch above my front door transom. I reminded him that I was higher in the food chain and that he would end up as a particularly flashy belt if he didn't quit it. He was gone when I left for work later that morning.
Every time I tell one of the snake stories to a Tanzanian, they inquire incredulously as to why I didn't immediately kill the snake. This is apparently the local default reaction to any snake regardless of type or temperment. I suppose I will pay for my alternative views with a snake bite before my tour is complete. Note that this non-agression pact does not extend to any insect that lands on me. You would not believe the size of some of the bugs that make it into my house and then fly around like there was a local tornado. My kitchen spider (not the one in the photos, another smaller one that lives next to the light) gets anything that's still moving after a good swat - he seems happy.
Some photo links (some are large, some are small, but you all have high-speed connections so no worries, right ?):
Sorry for the month's delay in updates. It's been busy.
I have a phone: +255.787.487.449. I can get text messages from some networks, presumably GSM. If you want to call I would love to hear from you, but check the tariff as I hear it can be horrendous. Phone cards are a good bet; in NY you can get them at newsstands and bodegas, in the rest of the country I'm not sure but maybe 7-11 ? Or check the internet. I used them when Tyler was in Senegal and they worked okay. But don't buy high value cards; the companies have a way of going out of business. I can't afford to call you on my budget, sorry, it's a day's stipend for two minutes. And thanks to all who have sent e-mails, it's great to get news from home. Keep it up !
I also have a new address:
c/o Morogoro Teachers College
PO Box 691
Stuff sent to the old address will still get to me, just more slowly. Some folks have kindly asked if I want anything for the holidays. Sure ! I've got a wish list on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/1D9F7ZTXU47DV or even better, send me a book you really like - especially if it's got a philosophical bent. Shipping recommendations: padded mailer, under 3 pounds, declare low value (<$5), describe as "books" and/or "educational materials" both of which are, in theory, duty-free. Boxes are sure to attract the attention of customs.
Nov 13-16 was a trip to Dar Es Salaam for visits to the US Embassy and Peace Corps Headquarters. It was my first ~solo (non-chaperoned/charter) bus trip. All went well - $3 got me a 3-hour trip with no break-downs, hold-ups, etc. I went on the same bus with Tenney and Aaron, and we split a taxi from our neighborhood to the bus station, also $3. When we arrived at the Dar bus station, all was chaos (not surprisingly) but we went to a local cafe to await friends of Tenney's: Blaze and Margaret. They arrived with a car, and proceeded to drop our luggage at our hotel, get Tenney fitted for a graduation dress, ferry us to different banks until we could get money, and give us a quick tour of Dar. We ended in a bit of a surprise visit at another friend of Tenney's, Aleesha. She was a very gracious host and we all went out to a pizza dinner.The embassy was nice and, not surprisingly, very secure. I now have an excellent mental picture of a blast door. Signs said that a slow wailing siren meant evacuate immediately, while a high screaming siren meant hit the deck. I worried that I wouldn't be able to distinguish the two, but thankfully didn't have the opportunity to find out. We met the charge d'affaires (2nd in command) who was very friendly and wants to sign us all up for the Foreign Service.
Some of us also took advantage of visiting rights at the American Club, which is pretty much a country club clubhouse. It's air conditioned, has a pool, and one can pay in dollars. And on a volunteer budget, it's pretty expensive. But the Cokes are very cold, and come with ice cubes.
Next was a trip to Moshi, Nov 17-20, to "shadow" a current volunteer and see what we've really gotten ourselves into. I visited Eric, again with Aaron and Tenney. We had a great time. Moshi is on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, which is just awesome, and the city is beautiful. Highlights included The Coffee Shop and the hot bread shop (which has another formal name, but that's what everyone calls it). And we were treated to an absolutely fantastic afternoon at International School Moshi by Kathy - swimming pool, mac & cheese, HBO shows, and gin & tonics with ice. Heavenly.
The day after returning from shadow visits (Nov 21) we had site announcements. Each site was described, with the volunteer assignment at the end. Mine was:
Little did you know that when you reached Morogoro TC for your first day of CBT, you were already at your site. You all have been wondering who was going there and who would be filtered out... saved some of you would say by the madness. One of you were going to be posted there without question. Who that would be would remain a mystery until today. No need to get on a bus, train or plane. Shift your bags from Dar and your homestay... enter into the campus and move in... it's really that simple or perhaps that anticlimactic. No travel is necessary. Although challenged in organization from an internship perspective what you do and how you carry forward the SIDA project will have impact on the other zonal colleges in Tz. You will be one of the masterminds behind the cause to wire the TC for sound and further ICT infrastructure enhancement. We need not say more, because you have been there for nearly the last 8 weeks. You know many of the characters, many of the challeneges, many of the potential rewards. Not the Bronx my dear... nor Manhattan... this is not even Broadway... regardless you will do a fantastic job serving PC and the MoEC in building the country to what it is to become... treat it like an honor as in gained experience, it will be exactly that for you ALBERT... congratsSo I'm in Morogoro, where I've been for the past 10 weeks. No anticipation of something new, but no unpleasant surprises either.
On Thanksgiving, Peace Corps and the Embassy graciously invited all of the trainees, plus most volunteers, to the Ambassador's house for a party. It was spectacular - open bar, roof deck with a view of the Indian Ocean, and a full turkey dinner. Unfortunately that ran out before I got any, so I got local food (ugali and beans). I did get some delicious pumpkin pie. Hopefully he'll have another party next year, and you can be sure I'll be at the front of that line.
At the end of that week (Nov 25-26) were Swahili proficiency exams. Not much stress over the written exam, but the oral was a trial. I passed, but suspect that was for convenience. We get the opportunity to test again at the end of service - we'll see how I do then. Somewhere in there we all moved out of homestays and back to the hotel we stayed at when we first arrived. It was great to be together again, especially since we'll all be leaving for sites soon.
Then nearly all the trainees went to Mikumi National Park. Lions, elephants, water buffalo, giraffes, warthogs, hippos, vultures, stunning blue birds, alligators... nature overload. All while 30 volunteers and a guide crammed into a bus designed for 24. Good times!
The next Tuesday, Nov 29, was graduation. The ambassador and Country Director came out to Morogoro and we all sat through a nice long ceremony. There were dancers for entertainment, speaches by dignitaries in Swahili and English, with various translations, and a big spread of food afterwards. Mama and Mark came, and Mama Chilipachi/Golf (Alex's mom) gave me a corsage.
The next day we all left for sites. In my case that meant a 10 minute drive with Wes, my nearest neighbor from training. We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to open bank accounts. We were eventually successful, thanks to random political connections. That seems to be how many things work here.
So I'm moved in to my house and work seems to be starting. As I said at the beginning, More details to be added to this entry in the near future, and hopefully more entries in the near future.
The Eid weekend is winding down. I again had a relaxing Sunday morning doing laundry. Yesterday morning I finally installed VS.Net, after a little partition re-sizing (dang it's big) and did a little programming. Eventually my music will get organized. No doubt there is some open source tool, or even feature of Media player, that does exactly what I want, but it's nice to program and keep sharp.
As I was finishing that project, Aaron stopped by and we went to town to get him a cell phone. We went last weekend, but the recommended store was closed for Ramadan. This time, success. The recommendation was right on, we had a great sales-guy named Alfaz who was very helpful. I can't wait for the GSM Treo I ordered to arrive from the US - it's probably in Dar (Es Salaam) right now, awaiting the next Peace Corps transport in our direction.
Saturday afternoon was spent at a local hangout drinking beer. Very relaxing, and nice to see various trainees and volunteers and catch up on news. In the evening we went to another local hoteli to celebrate some birthdays. I had a delicious shish-kebab & chips (fries) dish. There was a dog slinking around on the outskirts, but he left before I could sneak him anything. Aaron, Alex, Rob and I split a taxi home after some amusing haggling over the price. The breakthrough was when the driver laughed at our terrible Swahili (and something funny that Rob said - he can make anyone laugh - thank you Rob). It was nice to see the dog at Aaron's house so happy to see him - tail was wagging furiously. Dogs here are often not treated very well, but it's obvious that Aaron is nice to his, at least when no one's looking.
Ramadan was supposed to end tonight (Id/Eid al Fitr) but didn't. Apparently the Imam has to see the moon just right. I wonder if that isn't a way to conveniently move the holiday for a three-day weekend - if I get the chance I'll check the stats. We were looking forward to the day off tomorrow, but it will be Friday instead - three-day weekend is fine with me.
Someone asked when I would post an entry in Swahili. Here goes:
Jioni jana (Jumanne) mimi na Aaron na Alex tulienda Kola Hill kunywa bia na soda. Pale ni pazuri. Tulipokuwa pale, mkuu wa MoTCo (kiazi kubwa) alifika. Tulionana na tulisalimiana. Alitununulia roundi bia. Nilijisikia 'Alhamdulilai'.
Yesterday late afternoon (Tuesday) Aaron, Alex, and I went to Kola Hill [a local hoteli] to drink beer and soda. It was nice there. While we were there, the head of the teachers college (the big potato) arrived. We saw each other and said hello. He bought us a round of beers. I was grateful.
That may give you some indication of my language level - I will not be discussing philosophy or politics in Swahili any time soon. I did however do okay on the oral & written midterm. At least they didn't threaten to send me home.
In other news, I made a relatively major purchase - I spent a week's worth of allowance. Every day I walk by a little furniture manufactury at the college. They make desks, tables, etc for the classrooms, from wood and square tubing. It's fascinating to see them welding, sawing, planing, and finishing various things. One day one of the chairs in our classroom broke, and we took it down to them and they fixed it on the spot. Good guys to know.
Anyway, for a while now, I have been wanting to get my stuff at home off the floor. But I knew there was no way I could afford a table (starting price: one month's allowance). Plus then I would have to get it to site in a month. I figured there had to be some place that sold lumber, but I couldn't find one in town, and every time I stopped by a furniture place (there are at least 3 on the main road), once I succeeded in explaining what I wanted, I had no luck. I guess they only buy what they need for things they're already building. But at the college shop, I noticed they had a pretty substantial inventory of lumber.
So today I stopped by, and came away with a roughly 1 x 10 foot plank, for about $15. There was a minor mis-understanding and the plank got sawn into three 1.2 meter pieces - I would have preferred 2 pieces, but I thought they weren't going to sell me the whole thing. Also I'm sure the price was terrible, and the piece they selected was clearly the least desirable. But it was a learning experience. And as I write, I am looking at one plank atop two buckets, and another hanging from the cross-piece where the closet doors would hang if there were any. Only my shoes are on the floor. I am content. If I can find the right size buckets, I might even be able to make a desk.
We lost a trainee today, someone I knew really well. A guy in my language group of 5 people was sent home. He took it hard, and I feel very bad about it. He was one of the more interesting people in our intake. I will miss him enormously. I had been looking forward to visiting and interesting conversations with him once we got to our sites. It's especially sad because he was a great teacher and was well liked by students at the college.
Today I spent a wonderfully peaceful afternoon doing laundry. I had been able to do a bit here and there, but for pants and shirts I need to get started in the early afternoon at the latest, so they'll have time to dry. And I don't mean that the laundromat closes early - it's all by hand & line dried. So being pressed for time is no way to go, because it takes a while, and I want a few hours of sunlight to get things dry. Socks are a special case - they take so long to dry that I hang them in my room.
For some reason, my socks generally end up kind of crunchy - maybe I don't do such a good job getting all the soap out. Soap here, at least the brand I use (Omo) is incredibly strong. Or maybe laundry soap in the US is just as strong - I've never used it by hand so I don't know. Anyway it's hard to get the last of it out. And every time I do laundry I'm amazed at how the water turns black. I think my clothes are all going to be grey by the time I leave, they won't have any color left.
I can't resist writing about the various guests I have when I take a shower. Sometimes there is a small gecko - he's my favorite, though I haven't seen him for a while. Lately there is a NYC-sized roach who lives in the door - I can see his antennas sticking out of the crack where the panel joins the frame. There are at least two and sometimes three hunting spiders, who argue over who gets the ceiling and who gets which wall. There are mosquitos - always less when I leave than when I enter, but I can't get them all. And some little flies that I've seen in the US in dorm and gym showers - their wings look a little like a heart. And finally a web spider in the corner, and sometimes a daddy longlegs. Aside from the mosquitos, we all keep to ourselves, which makes for a peaceful shower.
Also seen, sort of, but not in the shower, are ant lions. I must have seen a TV special on them many years ago, otherwise I wouldn't know the name, but that's about all I remember. They build little pits in the sand/soil, which look just like little volcanoes. When hapless ants venture in, they fall to the bottom, where the ant lion grabs them with pincers and I assume eats them. I've never actually seen an ant lion, because they hide under the dirt at the bottom of the pit, and when they catch something all one ever sees is the pincers. Yesterday I was lucky enough to see one in the process of making the pit - they flick the dirt out a bit at a time. When a particularly large pebble is left, they get it just right and then - pop - out it flies. They're still hidden in the dirt, but it's quite something to see stuff fly out - like a little eruption.
About once a week our whole intake class gets together for large-scale presentations. At this week's, one of the physics-teachers-to-be was lamenting the lack of supplies for demonstrations. He said he was thinking of going in to the market to buy a pulley. You should have seen his expression when I told him that I had brought block & tackle with me. Can't exactly explain the thought process behind that, other than that I already had them and I thought they might be useful. The line is pretty useful for drying socks after laundry too.
Also very useful to date: zip-lock bags. Not used yet: fancy rain gear that I was talked into at Paragon Sports. But the pants the saleswoman recommended, by Columbia, are amazing. They hardly wrinkle and practically repel dirt.
Apologies for the lack of updates ! I either have to travel to town or get to the still-being-built computer lab at the school in order to access the internet. Sometimes connectivity is down at these places. Twice I have not had the right data with me. And the Peace Corps is keeping us VERY busy with projects, Swahili, vaccinations, teaching, etc. Hopefully the situation will improve.
In the meantime, things are good. Appetite and energy are pretty good, so I guess I'm getting used to the roosters at 3am, the mosque at 5am, etc. and walking up the hill to the teachers' college.
I told Mama I wouldn't be home for dinner last night, and had a hamburger, fries, and beers at one of the local mzungu hangouts with a bunch of other trainees. It was fantastic.
Baba had cable/satellite TV installed last night. Reception is much better, and we now have 20 or 30 channels. I will need to get a table & chair for my room so I can study - if I sit in the living or dining rooms I will end up focusing on the BBC, or the amazingly addictive South African soap opera.
Today was a free day, no classes. I begged out of going to church (RC) and studied instead. I also boiled some water, and took a closer look at the stove. The height adjustment for the wicks is a rack-and-pinion affair, and the teeth are all mis-aligned. If I find a screwdriver and a file (or a sharp rock) I might go to work on it. I tried pouring the boiled water into a water bottle, and it immediately shrunk/melted. Boiled water takes a long time to cool.
When the family got back, we had lunch, then everyone except Mama went to the market. First stop, Baba's office, which is in the market and which I have walked past probably both times I've been. He sells mosquito nets. We left Charles at the office and made some sales/delivery/collections rounds. Mark summed it up as, "they tell my father they will pay him tomorrow".
We also did some shopping, which included an adapter/power strip for me after some hard bargaining by baba. We toured a shop with what looked like lots of western goods, which Baba warned me was very expensive. We also picked up vegetables and a rooster.
When we got home it was time for laundry, which I had been waiting for all week, both because I was running out of clothes and because I had heard some stories from trainees. Baba was a patient and eager teacher, but the water has been out for two days so I think we might have skimped a little on rinsing. I will report back on whether I am feeling a little sudsy this week. Also I noticed that one pair of pants lost quite a bit of dye, and realized that I always get them dry-cleaned in NYC. I wonder how they will come out. They're on the line right now, drying.
After laundry, I watched mama deal with the rooster. It was educational. He's cooking now. Aaron stopped by mid-way and we had some water and a nice chat.
The adapter/power strip is working great, and now I'm caught up on the last week. Hopefully I'll get near some internet some time soon and upload. I hope everyone's doing well, I miss you.
This morning I was in charge of chai. That meant turning on the kerosene stove (wicked, not pressurized), putting the milk in a pot, and boiling it. Not too bad, but I couldn't find half the milk (the daughter had done something with it), and the height adjustment for the wicks is fubared. I managed with help from a pair of pliers. Unfortunately I ran through all the matches.
Today, FINALLY, we were released on our own recognizance. They have been keeping us pretty much on lock-down until now, with escorts at all times except on the way to the college and activities to keep us busy all day & evening.
We all went into town, in various groups. I bought an extra bucket for trash, some spiral notebooks, and more matches. I bargained for all but the matches, and was told by one of our trainers that I didn't do too badly.
I really want to find some bamboo sticks to improve my mosquito net. It currently hangs kind of funny, and I'm sure I could fix it if I could just get my hands on some sticks. And I've seen some growing on the way to school, so I know it's around. But I haven't seen any for sale. Nor any other thin stick-like materials other than pipe (which would probably be unaffordable and certainly ridiculous).
I had told Mama I would be back by 6pm (around when it gets dark) and thankfully I had time after the market to stop by a local expat hang-out. It was full of Peace Corps folks and I had a great time. I had my first beer since leaving the US. Wanted to have more, but I didn't want to come home smelling like a bar (I can save that for a few more weeks); also (I think) it's hard to drink when it's so hot out. Next time, gin & tonics, if I can verify that the ice is mzungu-friendly.
Middle brother Charles came home tonight. He is quiet so we didn't say much.
Our first large-group day, at another training center. I don't think this one is run by nuns; at least I haven't seen any - no crucifix in the lunch room either. It's great to see everyone and hear stories about their homestay families. Nearly everyone is happy; a few folks have very religious families, or are vegetarians but were served meat, but nothing insurmountable as far as I heard.
We got more shots today - second rabies booster I think. Also, amusingly, we got the informational insert from the anti-malarial (Larium) which clearly states that one is supposed to start taking it 2 weeks before travelling to an endemic area - we got our first dose the same day we left DC. Many of us are wondering why, none of us know. They are impressing upon us the fact that not taking the anti-malarial is grounds for instant dismissal - apparently there was recently a volunteer who didn't take his and got very sick. In general they have threatened us a fair bit with rules, and presumably every one has a story behind it. It's driving one guy, Nathan, crazy, and I don't blame him. I think keeping a cheerful & absorptive attitude will be very helpful in making it through training.
I had a nice walk home with Alex. He's worked while putting himself through school, and had some good stories. I hope I get placed near folks I like, I think it would make a huge difference to hang out with friends once in a while. Too bad that the computer trainees will all be placed in different colleges - more or less a guarantee that we won't be near each other.
My family's 18 year old daughter Asteria came home last night - she is off from school for some amount of time. She also speaks good English, and asked me another of the tough questions - Do I believe in god ? I danced around it for a bit and she seemed satisfied (or the ideas got too abstract to express in English - whatever).
Tonight my family had a guest for dinner, Emmanuel. He is a lawyer working with underpriveleged class rights for a Tanzanian NGO. He spoke excellent English and we had a nice conversation, which drifted over to one of the topics the Peace Corps warned us about in training: Why am I not married and why don't I have any children ? As it turns out, he is 35 and not married either, so we ended up on exactly the same page.
Last night I slept well, right through the muezzin. But I had to get up at 5:30 anyway, because there was a college-wide assembly at 7am. It started with the students singing, and was absolutely beautiful. It might help to picture the college campus, which is up on a hill amongst a thin forest. The big potato introduced us, then asked us to introduce ourselves. I once again mangled it, but not too badly.
Our little training group is 7 and consists of all the computer training volunteers:
We are broken into 2 sub-groups for language training, the first 4 and the last 3. Our language & culture teachers, Albert & Paul (my group has Albert) are fantastic. Very friendly, encouraging, patient, and great at teaching. Our new best friends.
Baba had warned me that the water was unreliable, and sure enough, tonight it came out very muddy. I flushed it a bit and it sort of cleared up; I ran it into a bucket for a shower and hopefully most of the sediment settled out. Just like swimming in a lake, right ? Anyway I feel cleaner than when I started.
Mark and I planted some mint seeds that I bought at the Amsterdam airport, in some used water bottles. I tried to explain to mama that they should stay in pots or it would spread; I hope she understood. We'll see if they germinate. I hope so; no one appeared to be familiar with mint, so it might make a nice surprise. especially given the cultural obsession with chai.
Chai here consists of tea made with boiled milk (no water, generally). The tea seems to be basic black tea, grown in Tanzania. The brand I've had is "Kilimanjaro", but Baba has spoken of "green label" which is supposed to be better. Aaron's family grows their own in the yard. No matter what it is, it's taken with plenty of sugar by most, and often accompanied by bread, "Blue Band" fortified margarine, and jam. Sometimes the bread is excellent.
We met in "pod" for the first time today. We get together with a few more volunteers for instruction in practical skills (teaching, health, administrative issues, etc.). It was good to see folks from intake/staging. Believe it or not I learned the names of all 37 trainees during staging, and it would be a shame not to be able to take advantage of the effort. We met in a local secondary school, which seemed pretty typical of the architecture here - masonry with a tin roof, slab floor, dirt courtyard. It's very practical, as the stone seems to regulate the temperature pretty well. A ceiling fan is definitely a nice addition. The a/c in the computer facility at the college is heaven. It's hot here.
I had a great discussion with Baba tonight. I asked him about his first job as an engineer with the national railways, and then we transitioned to economics, politics, and education. I feel like we bonded a little.
So maybe the jet lag is back, because last night was not so great. It probably didn't help that I had two cups of tea with Baba when he got home last night. Also contributing their parts were the rooster crow-down at 3am, the dog howl-out at 4am, and a direct summons from god at 5am via the local mosque. I have to say the muezzein sounds kind of angry. I guess I would be too if I had to be at work at 5am. One of the dogs barks so hard he's hoarse.
I managed to get up on time, have a quick breakfast (chai, bread with margarine and jam, an egg) and head off to school with baba escorting me as far as the road to the school, so I didn't get lost. I think I spotted some ant lion traps along the way which I will have to investigate further later, and there are certainly plenty of ants.
We met with the principal of the college, whom our teachers refer to as the "big potato". I think he is eager for us to start working. Even though I don't know Swahili, it's fun to see him run a meeting, because he's a character.
When I came home, Mark was waiting for me. I studied a little Swahili, then reviewed with him. Then I pulled out a map of Tanzania that I brought with me, and we spent some time picking out places for the other to find.
Baba came home and mama served tea. I tried to learn from last night, and had only hot milk with a little sugar. Dinner was fresh fish, tilapia I think, and was good.
Today I arrived at my host family. Mama met me with a big smile, and I was so nervous/excited that I completely botched introducing myself in Swahili. She thankfully speaks some English and just laughed. She is very sweet and wonderful. Also in the house is Mark, a nine year old whose English is excellent. We spent the rest of the early evening chatting while Mama cooked. Then Baba (father) came home and I thankfully got the introduction right, and managed to ask him how his day was, courtesy of coaching by Mark. Baba also speaks good English so I'm in luck; though he is already threatening me with using only Swahili "so I will learn quickly".
I should have said yesterday, the Tanzanian staff here are fantastic. All of them are friendly and clearly love what they're doing. I hope I can be as successful when I'm teaching here - probably not as my Swahili won't be nearly as good as their English. Learning it is going okay, but there's a lot to stay on top of.
We are 7 hours ahead of EDT, I think. The jet lag had me out at 9 last night, and up at 5 this morning, but it's not as bad as I thought it would be - I can stay up the whole day and stay focused on what they're teaching us, mostly. Poor roommate had to wake me up at least once for snoring. The training activities continue. We started Swahili today, and got our health kits. I haven't opened mine yet, because I'm more worried about Swahili. Lots to learn.
Training today culminated in a trip to town. My group was assigned a tour of internet cafes. They were pretty much what I expected: a bit obsolete but functional and cheap, about 50 cents an hour. Phone costs were sky-high at $3/minute. Sorry to say, I will not be calling anyone any time soon. We also wandered through the food market, which was huge, and passed through the dala-dala (bus) station. In both places, I was surprised at the non-agressiveness of vendors. I remember from Senegal that touts would approach constantly, and we certainly saw that on our bus when we passed through checkpoints on the way here. Maybe the placidity in the market was because we were accompanied by Tanzanian staff. I heard someone say that in the bigger cities it's worse, so maybe things are just more mellow where we are. That would be nice.
We are in Africa! We flew from DC to Dar Es Salaam via Amsterdam on KLM. The flights were long and uneventful - it seemed like they were feeding us constantly, but probably that's because they woke us up for meals. But apparently not for the ice cream snack, which I was sad to miss. I wonder when I'll next have some. A nice surprise on arrival was that we were met by the country director Christine, who is very friendly and sweet and had lots of good stories and advice. She kept an eye on us for the next day or so and I felt well looked-after.
We spent the first night in Dar at a Catholic hostel which looked old but was nice. There were birds about, sometimes in the larger rooms up in the rafters, and large snails (or slugs with shells anyway) which I think I heard the gardeners crush when they could. The food was good - eggs & bread for breakfast, chicken or beef with greens, starches, and fries for lunch and dinner. Also tea with every meal, which I usually made sweet with boiled milk.
The next day (today) we had meetings, got our next set of shots (rabies and typhoid I think), then hopped on a charter bus to the city where we will be in training for the next 10 weeks. Now we are at a conference center, also run by Catholic nuns. It's just being completed, and is beautiful, with an inner courtyard garden, great food, nice rooms, and what looks like will be beautiful grounds - they're still working on those, and asked us not to take pictures because they're not finished. Great food again - I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop on this, because we were warned to expect a lot of bland starchy meals, but we've been getting wonderful spiced food with plenty of meat for now.
Today we were up early for shots, then off to the airport. I ended up not getting any because the ones I got in 2001 for visiting Tyler, when he was in the Peace Corps in Senegal, were still good. We all took our first malaria meds as well.
Sorry for the lack of updates. I got a nifty new external drive a few weeks ago, and it needed the right drivers to work at high speed, and those drivers only worked with an updated operating system, and that update screwed up the entire computer. I should have known. It's all fixed now, but it stole all the time that I was supposed to be contemplating the coming adventure, writing the occasional blog entry, organizing everything in storage, and carefully packing.
Now I'm in DC, with almost all of the stuff I wanted to bring (the rest lost somewhere in storage) so all is well. Very well in fact; I've met the folks I'll be going to Tanzania with and they're great. It's a little like being back in college, with lots of get-to-know-your-neighbor activities, and a primer on goals, safety, etc. Good stuff.
If there aren't any updates for a while, it might not be my fault - they're keeping us very busy, and computer accessibility is sporadic at best. But I'll do what I can. Also, the Peace Corps says, "As a safety precaution, Volunteers shall not post information about their or other Volunteers' precise whereabouts or about events that will be attended by a large number of Volunteers." So this will be lacking in certain details, particularly my address in Tanzania. But if you want it, just e-mail me. It might take a while but I will get back to you.
This is the month that I will leave for Africa. For the next 2+ years. No pressure.
I had my "last" dentist appointment this morning. The hygenist seemed to think it would be worth the round-trip ticket to come back for regular check-ups. She's funny. Why does she always ask me if I floss ? Then when I say "yes", she says, "Don't worry, I believe you." This has happened three times in a row now.
Last night I listened to some fantastic live music at Rockwood Music Hall. The name is totally misleading; it's a small one-room joint, but wonderfully intimate and they have good wine and some tasty-looking apps. And I thought the sound mix was remarkably good. According to their calendar, they have several live music acts nearly every night. I don't know if I just got lucky with last night's line-up, but if every night is this good, it makes me sad that I've found the place just as I'm leaving.
I went to see Melineh Kurdian who actually remembered me from her last gig and was cool enough to say hello, twice. Also on the night's bill were Sarah Brindell, Kate Evans, and Julia Brown, variously enhanced by Kiku Collins. Kate dedicated a heart-breaking acapella version of the spiritual By and By to New Orleans. If you get a chance to see any of these women, especially at a place like Rockwood, do it, especially Melineh because she rocks, and double-especially because she's leaving NYC for LA soon.
I got back today from a great weekend in Maine, celebrating my parents' recent 40th wedding anniversary. I took a few photos with the new digital camera. Highlights included a boat ride on Saturday around Boothbay Harbor, and a cookout on Little David's Island on Sunday. It was a wonderful opportunity to see lots of friends & family before I leave. Thanks to everyone who was so interested in the upcoming Tanzanian adventure - your good wishes are inspiring.
A special thank-you to Les Read, for reminding me throughout the weekend that whether or not you miss the train, regardless of whether you make it to the big dinner, what's really important is that you have a good story to tell. I will try to keep this in mind during the coming months.
After 5 net-free days (perhaps I should start getting used to that) I returned to a backlog of e-mail including one from the Peace Corps which included a letter to friends & family. Please pay special attention to the details for sending cash and plane tickets; I am expecting plenty of both and it would be a shame if my future partying/vacation resources were mis-directed towards someone's new-goat fund. (But it would be a good story.) Note the prominent Western Union product placement in the letter - no doubt it cost my former employer quite a lot, but I'm sure it was worth it. Too bad truth-in-advertising laws require such prominent disclosure on the fees. But programmers have to eat too...
My favorite piece of advice so far, from a nifty re-location guide sent to me by HSBC, written by Employment Conditions Abroad Limited: "clothing should always be hung on a line to dry (not placed on the ground) and then thoroughly ironed to avoid infestation by egg-laying flies whose young hatch and burrow into the wearer (there is a simple and effective treatment)." Also, "man-made fibres are recommended as woolen fabrics get eaten by insects."
I'm joining the Peace Corps in September. I'll be serving in Tanzania, teaching computer skills to secondary school teachers. That's the plan anyway. The first three months I'm there, I'll be in staging, living with a host family and getting schooled in Swahili, local culture, etc. At some point during staging I'll get assigned to an actual position; then I'll know where I'm going to be for the following two years.
No promises on whether I'll keep this up once I get there - I'm pretty lazy in the best of circumstances, and I'm sure I'll be plenty busy. Also I'm not sure what my internet connectivity will be like - hopefully good once I start working, since I am supposed to be teaching computers, but who knows.
© 2005 Albert Lingelbach, Jr.