Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Land of Poultry and Potatoes

The first time I came to England (9 years ago), I made postcards with a nifty little computer program for crafts. It was basically a glorified version of Microsoft Word and Paint, but that didn’t matter to me. Anyway, on these post cards was just a clip art of a chicken drumstick next to a baked potato with butter. All that I knew about England was that they ate a lot of meat and potatoes, so I thought I’d play that up in my postcards to my friends and family. Of course, I never used any of them.

Of course, now I know quite a bit more about Great Britain, especially after that trip and then after spending another week there.

I was obsessed with trying to get to London before the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. Having spent two months without television in a country that seemed to care much more about the Eurocup than the centuries-old world championship ,however, I was convinced it started on July 25th. Little did I know as I went round to baggage claim that they were actually starting the night I got in—July 27th. And then I cursed my folly for having booked a flight on what was likely one of London’s most traffic-congested days ever. Luckily, I only had to wait a few extra hours for my uncle (who had gotten stuck in traffic) to come get me and take me back to his home in Farnborough. Ironically enough, the ceremony started far too late (12 am fur the UK, but 2 am Tanzania time), and I ended up falling asleep after a couple of hours of struggling to stay awake. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t yet watched more than the brief recap. All you really need to see is the lighting of the torch, right?

From there I moved on to Derbyshire (which a very kind Brit we happened upon in Musumo informed me was pronounced “der-bee-sheer,” rather than, “der-bee-shy-er.”) to visit another aunt, only narrowly missing a reception being held for the Cameroonian Olympians that my Farnborough uncle had been invited to by the Cameroonina ambassador (just my luck).

Anyway, I’ve been having a great time thus far, and have been doing my best to live off of scones, Cadbury, meat pies, and fish and chips, with the occasional Nando’s here or there.

Monday, July 30, 2012

This is a Test

We all had something—my colleagues and I, that is. For me it was cloths, particularly khanga and vitenge, but eventually the beautifully printed Maasai cloths and a brief stint as a shadowbox-phile. For one of my other teammates it was scarves. For another Maasai knives of all shapes and sizes. Henna art for one, and Hakuna Matata t-shirts for another. We were willing to pay almost any price for these cultural trinkets that had caught our fancy. We understood the obsession that drove one another, though we could not understand the objects that the others longed for. Why buy a scarf when you could buy a cloth to make a dress out of? Or why buy a shirt when you could impress your friends with concealed weaponry?

Novelty. It’s all about the novelty. There’s still some novelty in visiting other countries, particularly ones in Africa. No matter how hard we try, it seems like a vacation. I suppose anytime you know you’ll be going home, it can’t seem like more than that. Even though we did a lot of work, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “But we’re going home.”

This summer was a test run. Last summer (10 weeks in rural Costa Rica) was hard, and that was kind of discouraging. I’ve always known I wanted to have a job that was health related and that was also international. I’ve always had dreams of traveling the world and learning languages and immersing myself in cultures, and I wanted to see just how real that dream was. Could I actually do the things I think I’ve always wanted to do? When the APHFTA opportunity sort of fell into my lap, it seemed like the perfect way to try again: summer abroad, working for an NGO, and it was health related and in Africa. Maybe it was meant to be.

Yes, there is novelty in Africa. But that doesn’t matter. I know that it is a continent on which I ought to spend more time. And I know that I will. For the first time, I finally feel like I have the ability to actually take ownership of my heritage. Yes, I could vacation in Africa, absolutely. But I now know that I could live there. I understand so much more about living abroad, I think. More about myself and what I want and what I can do.

I left Tanzania. Last Friday, actually. I’ve moved on to my next adventure in the land of tea and crumpets (England). We’ll see what happens from here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

That's How You Know

Early on we would always boast and joke about how well we knew Tanzania. Back then we thought we were knowledgeable once we had a certain number of taxi driver’s phone numbers, or began to recognize different areas of town. Little did we know we still had a lot to learn.

If you really want to know if you know Tanzania, here’s how:
·      You don’t need a menu when you go to a restaurant
·      You don’t go to restaurants where the staff speaks English
·      You don’t need to order at a restaurant because they already know you’ll be getting wali kuku and Fanta Passion.
·      You confidently stride into the kitchen and gesture around so that your waiter or waitress can fully understand what you want
·      You know which place has the best kuku, where to find the softest ugali, which place has the cheapest mishkaki, and where to get the freshest fish.
·      You have to say a heartfelt, bittersweet goodbye to the restaurant owner whose eatery you frequent every night.
·      You know when you’re being cheated
·      You get the price down to 1/10 of what they ask for, and you know you’re still being cheated
·      You get the price down from $130 to TZS 30000
·      You are known at the market by nationality (the girl from Cameroon, the China, the girls from Sri Lanka, etc.)
·      You are known at the market by first name (this is when you know you really need to stop)
·      You go to a market one day by yourself and then return later with some Tanzanians in the hopes you will get a better price, and then realize that you’re better at haggling than they are and take over from them to keep from getting severely cheated
·      You rattle off the names of the scores of other markets you’ve been to and their prices as part of your haggling strategy
·      You are offended by the
·      You have a personal tailor, wooden spoon seller, maasai knife vendor, vitenge shop, scarf place, fruit vendor…
·      You (literally) chase down a street vendor after he walks away from—and successively ignores—you for giving too low of a price.
·      You avoid places with too many wazungu
·      You see that there are price lists at the entrance, but you insist on haggling anyway and succeed in getting an entrance for less than half the listed price
·      You’ve seen literally everything a town has to offer
·      You’ve seen over 60% of the sights in Lonely Planet’s “Do Not Miss” list
·      You’ve used every form of transportation (taxi, daladala, bajaj, bodaboda, boat, plane, and safari jeep)
·      Your priorities in a place are not running water, hot water, or electricity, but toilet seats
·      The owners of your hotel start giving you gifts (shout out to Econo Lodge!)
·      You start getting resident rates
·      You find out you can ask for more toast at breakfast
·      You ask for more toast at breakfast
·      You no longer turn on the A/C or use mosquito nets
·      You introduce yourself under a Tanzanianized version of your name (usually this means leaving off ending “i”s, leaving out any unnecessary “r”s, etc.)
·      You warn wazungu against specific Barclays ATMs
·      You can tell people where (not) to stay in different cities
·      You stop people from buying seriously overpriced goods
·      You know which beggar children will take money and go and which will take it and then follow you around for the next 3 hours asking for more
·      You know which places are guaranteed to give stomach issues the next day
·      You walk home after your bajaj driver punctures a tire
·      You know which cities are best for Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo, or Zantel

But most of all, you known you really know Tanzania when you tell stories of your travels and experiences to locals and they respond with awe, amazement, and envy at having done and seen more than they have.

I’ll miss you, Tanzania.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Region Report: Mwanza and Mara

As the summer draws to a close and as we have visited more and more places, it really seems like Dar is the only true city (perhaps, in the Western sense of the term). The cities we visited—Mwanza (town), Sharati, and Musoma—can only be categorized as quiet, quaint, and small. Though they all border Lake Victoria, these are the types of towns that boast little to no traffic (that is, if there are even cars), Sharati, despite it’s lack of running water, was actually my favorite town of the three. It was definitely the most peaceful and tranquil. Because of the proximity to the lake, they all have a good amount of fresh fish, though they specialize in tilapia.

Mwanza: There are a few expat hotels up in the hills (Capri Point) such as Tilapia Hotel which boasts Tepanyaki-style Japanese food, but we found La Kairo hotel nearer to the center of town to be our best (non-home-cooked) meal of the week. Additionally, there is a certain type of ugali unique to the Mwanza and Mara regions that is made from a combination of millet and fermented cassava. I found this to be my favorite because it reminded me a lot of Cameroonian gari fufu (same as ugali), but with added fiber! That was my staple food when given the option

Sharati: In Sharati, we ate only at the home of a friend of our supervisor’s. Thankfully, this meant saving on food, but it was also delicious and had many more options than we could find elsewhere. The only food we did buy in Sharati was a delicious sandwich bag full of roasted meat from the market. If all else fails, I’d say go for that, but I’d recommend finding the ugail.

Musoma: We were only in Musoma for one night, but the breakfast served at our hotel (okay, let’s be real, it was a hostel) was definitely the best we’ve had so far. We were able to sample all of Tanzanian’s morning-time delicacies and we were not disappointed. I was particularly impressed by the sweet potatoes (fried nearly whole). Much better than in the States.

Mwanza: I found the Mwanza market scene to be rather startling. As I said before, Mwanza clearly does not cater to tourists. We had a taxi driver drive us around town and he showed us one corner of a street rather far from the city center that had 1 souvenir shop. The market in the city center, however, was quite a bombardment of sights and smells. Mwanza is right next to Lake Victoria, so the market contained all sorts of fish in all sorts of places. Across from the bananas, next to the vitenge, just after the mango. And it was incredibly and horribly crowded. It definitely was not a place I would want to visit more than once.

Sharati: As small as it was, even Sharati (well, the town next to it) boasted a special, Tuesday evening market. Here we saw the usual large piles of clothes probably donated by the Salvation Army, vitenge and khangas, and random assortments of odds, ends, and power tools. This was also the place where we found the delicious roasted meat.

Musoma: Unfortunately, we were not in Musoma long enough to find a market, but there were tons of fruit and vegetable vendors around. Additionally, there are a lot of sweet potatoes grown in this area, so many of the women roast sweet potatoes that they sell. It’s so beautiful at night when you drive by all the fires.

Besides Lake Victoria and Bismarck rock, there’s not really much to see. We were actually quite surprised. We figured that the lake considered to be the source of the Nile would have a few more attractions, but we were quite disappointed. One really unique thing about the area, though are the enormous, smooth rocks that can be found almost anywhere. There’s a particular formation in Mwanza where the rocks are balanced precariously on one another and have been for thousands of years. But that’s nature for you.

While there are hotels, for me, stays in Mwanza and Mara regions were categorized by hostels and lodges. They’re incredibly cheap (less than $5 per night), and clean, and a lot of them actually had televisions—when there was electricity, that is. Though the Mennonite hostel we stayed in in Sharati didn’t have running water,  it was definitely my favorite. Despite the lack of electricity (at times) and the running water (always), it was very distinctly western it’s style. Our bed even had a quilt! Perhaps that’s a cheap reason for liking it, but hey, I’ve been here a long time! I think I deserve a little taste of home!

Warning: As I’ve said, there’s not a whole lot to do in these places, but if you’re like my colleagues and I, then you won’t mind. I really loved how quiet it was there (besides the roar of the generator). It was so peaceful and relaxing, even with doing all of our trainings and incredibly long bus rides from one town to another.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Everything's Comin' Up...

While things have been going very well this summer, there is a lot that goes unposted, as I’m sure you know. To say that everything is perfect with this internship and my experience in Tanzania thus far, or that there are no frustrations would be to gloss over quite a few of the things that have happened while we have been here.

For instance, the lack of political correctness is often incredibly irritating. Why people think that someone walking down the street has to have their (assumed) ethnicity yelled at them is beyond me. We don’t need people to speak seemingly Asian-sounding gibberish at our friends, and neither do we need them to touch or pull our hair or touch our skin. Of course, I think we can take the PC a little overboard in America, but I think that our struggle to be as correct and tolerant as possible perhaps makes our skin softer than it needs to be. While I am welcomed with open arms, even receiving special deals from taxis and markets for the color of my skin, I still feel anger and frustration on behalf of my teammates. To be constantly pointed out as being different is never fun.

We’ve taken to denouncing our American ties in whatever way we can. While we do have two international students in our team, the other three of us claim roots only from our parent’s countries. For the purposes of avoiding being cheated, I am from Cameroon; one of my teammates is from Sri Lanka, and the other Vietnam. It’s much more practical to live this way. While most people can’t comprehend Asian countries other than India, China, or Japan, I am welcomed with open arms as a fellow African. People often look to me to act as translator when the language barrier between them and my colleagues rises too high. Unfortunately, I usually can’t communicate much better than they can.

Even though most of our trainees speak English, we still find that sometimes the language barrier proves to be a challenge. Even more so than that, however, is the technology barrier. Many of the people we train have never used a computer before. While it is incredibly awesome to get to see someone going from absolutely nothing to something, and to get be involved in that journey, it’s can also be a pretty bumpy one. It’s so easy to take for granted the intricacies of electronics. While I find scrolling to be an entirely intuitive action, many of our trainees struggle with this aspect of using a computer the most. My patience is tested every time I have to explain that the up arrow is used to move the page up, that a drop down menu uses a different scroll bar than the main page, or the 15th time I have to remind a trainee the difference between the scrollbar and the up-down arrows. And each time my patience is tested it reinforces my sense of gratitude that I do have the privilege of knowing these things.

And latrine toilets. In particular, they type that don't flush. Nope. All of them.

I don’t think this will be like my experience last year in whichi always recount the bad things before mentioning any of the good ones, but it has certainly had its tough moments.  I’ve grown to prefer long skirts to pants, and while I didn’t feel comfortable enough to go swimming in Zanzibar, it provided some great conversation time along the beach. While wali nyama does get repetitive day after day, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the accompanying mangos, bananas, pineapple, soursop, mangosteen, rambutan—the list goes on. I’m not itching to be home as I thought I would be by the time I reached the 4-week mark. I’m very content. Of course we’re not occupied every moment of every day, or even the majority of everyday, sometimes. We never have Internet access on par with what we’re used to in the states, if we have it at all. But I appreciate the sun and screams of children and just having time to stop and smell the hibiscus. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

What are you doing here?

Sharati is a town—or a village, really—in the Mara region. It does not have electricity sometimes, but that’s okay. It does not have running water, either, but that’s okay, too. It does not have taxies, so we ride bodaboda—motorcycles—instead.

It is a peaceful town, with peaceful people. We are staying at the Community Center, a small hotel run by the Menonite Church. The rooms are small, but incredibly clean, and furnished in a style that reminds us very much of home. There is a quilt on the bed, a bureau with a half-length mirror, and wallpaper in the bathroom. While the faucets on the sink and shower appear to be just for show, we are provided with 2 buckets of water—one for the shower and the other for flushing the toilet—and a heating coil.

There is a special market on Mondays, where khangas are TZS 5000 each, and you can get a sandwich bag full of roasted meat for TZS 1000.

Dr. Z, lives in Sharati. He is from Tanzania, and he completed his bachelors, MD, and residency from Dartmouth, Howard, and Stanford, respectively. He manages to maintain a fully stocked hospital despite the lack of reliable electricity and running water. His library is full of books with subjects ranging from surgery, to children’s rhymes, all in English. His children went to Tufts and continue living in America, yet Dr. Z…lives in Sharati.

When we entered the dining room the first morning of our stay at the Menonite community center, we were the only other people in there besides a dark-haired woman and her clearly mixed children. She was speaking some language that we sounded very much—but not enough—like German. After a few minutes of speculation, our Supervisor from the APHFTA office in Mwanza just out right asked her. It turned out she and her Swiss-German speaking children were from Switzerland, and her husband was Tanzanian. They had just built a house in Sharati and she was awaiting his return from a safari into Mwanza for furniture for their new home.

At the special Monday Market, we saw a big group of the worst kind of wazungu—and by this I mean the tall, blond-haired, fair-skinned type that screams foreigner. It runs out that they are from America and are working with one of the clinics we will be visiting tomorrow.

I always wonder what brings a person to a place. I don’t know exactly what it means to belong, but I know what it looks like when you don’t. perhaps I think of myself and my team as an exception. We have a reason to be here. But other people? Hardly. Some of the places we’ve visited, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to come to for a random holiday. Sometimes I see frantic tourists in front of the John Harvard statue and I wonder the same thing. It’s not that these places are not beautiful or relaxing or historical, but sometimes there’s just not really too much there. But that’s okay, I guess.

The world is a very small place and it will only continue to get smaller. Perhaps I take these places for granted—Harvard Yard included. Perhaps one day I may see and not wonder: How in the world did you end up here?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Winds of Change

Soulprint is a book by Mark Batterson. It was given to me by my pastor a few months ago. I ought to have read it, but as all things I ought to have read, I didn’t—until just a few weeks ago. I thought it was something I would be able to read all the way through, but the first chapter was packed with so much for me to think about that I decided to devote an entire week to each chapter.

This book has really got me thinking. As I try to find my “divine destiny,” it’s so easy to get lost in all I’m surrounded with for the majority of the time while I’m at home or at school. I feel like it’s summers like this that help me to screw my head back on right and think straight. I remember reading through the WorldTeach Costa Rica pre-departure information last year. They emphasized pretty seriously that I should not go into my 10 weeks in Costa Rica with the intention of it being a time of self-exploration or self-discovery. Now, of course, I find this laughable. Of course I taught and loved my students as well as I could, but I can’t imagine how a summer in rural Costa Rica with no Internet and nothing to do after 1pm could have been anything but a summer for self-exploration and –discovery. So, while I knew I would be doing a lot of work this summer, I knew that it would also be a time for the fog of stress, anxiety, responsibilities—everything, really—to clear.

Batterson says that one’s soulprint is made up of a few experiences—certainly fewer than you’d think—that shape it. They’re points along the way. Some big, some small. Like connect-the-dots, they are the backbone of a shape or a picture that is great.

I was interviewing the CEO of APHFTA with one of my colleagues, when I was made incredibly aware of something. Both of us were struggling premeds—and by that I mean people struggling to figure out whether or not they should actually be premed—so we thought we would ask the doctor if he had always know he should have been a doctor. The simple answer was no, but he instead of giving the simple answer, he weaved for us a story embroidered with hope, diligence, and vision. He gave us the connect-the-dot story of how he became a doctor, starting with his missionary father moving from Tanzania to various parts of East Africa, going over his brief stint as a 17-yr old business man, and ending with how he came to be sitting in his leather computer chair that day. It was fascinating. It truly struck a chord within me.

I think I have a new vision of what things are supposed to see. Something as simple as a new understanding of hard work and doing what you are supposed to do when and where you are supposed to do it. But that’s not even quite it. It’s a lot more intangible than that. I am really, really looking forward to next school year, and I can feel a change coming along. I know that a lot of things have to change. They’re going to be really, really big changes, but they’re also going to be great ones.  I’m going to have to make quite a few big decisions, but it’s all a part of a bigger outline.

That, I’m sure of.