Sunday, June 14, 2009

we're home!

Yep, it's true--we finished two years of service with Peace Corps Tanzania and we got back to America on June 8th. There were many, many tearful goodbyes, and endless hours spent packing, purging and preparing to move from one continent to another. 7 checked oversize bags, 4 carry-on bags and a crate full of cats--we did not travel light. Everyone is happy and healthy and Tony and I are trying to readjust to life in America, which is not as easy as it sounds. Living in Tanzania was the experience of my lifetime, and I am grateful for every moment I had there--I wouldn't change a thing. Thanks for reading my blog.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

gathering up the loose ends

Wow, so much to say! First of all, Pipi had two kittens on April 4: the first kitten is named Bonge, which means chubby or chunky, and the second kitten is called Soksi, which means Socks. We are, obviously, madly in love with them, and are planning to bring them all home with us. Should be a very interesting plane ride.

Tony and I were approved to finish our Peace Corps service on 5 June!! We are in a mad rush to the finish line, packing and finishing final projects and saying our goodbyes. Living in Tanzania has been the most enriching experience of my life so far, and despite the hard times, I am grateful for every minute I've spent here. We will bore you to tears with photos and stories. Our village is planning a goodbye party for us next weekend, and I think it will be very sad and emotional. Tanzanians don't like to see people cry, and I'm worried that I will give a lot of them anxiety with my inevitable tears.

We just finished our final Peace Corps conference; actually, it was more of a retreat, as we spent it at a lodge inside of Arusha National Park. All the people from our group--the people that we came to Tanzania with--were together for the last time to reflect upon the last two years of our lives and say goodbye. It was a really nice way to end, and this morning, on our way out of the park, we saw over 30 giraffes together, along with warthogs, zebras, buffalo and baboons. On the morning of my birthday, around 10 giraffes wandered up the driveway to the lodge, and I could see Mt. Kilimanjaro behind them. Unbelievable and unforgettable.

See you all very, very, very soon!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

random tidbits

1. The thing I am most looking forward to upon my return to the US is getting my hair cut. More than anything else: more than getting a massage, more than sitting down to poo, more than drinking tap water, more than drinking a soy chai latte--a haircut.

2. My sweet cat is about to have kittens. I have never seen kittens being born before. When we bring her home with us, I want to have her in the cabin of the plane with us but Tony thinks she will meow the entire 20 hour trip home; I think that would be really funny.

3. It is going to be very, very hard for me to say goodbye to my closest Tanzanian friends when we're finished with our service. There are no words to describe how their kindness has made me feel welcome and safe. Many of these friends have AIDS, which makes saying goodbye even more difficult.

4. I don't think I can happily live my life without all the tropical fruit I've been eating for the last 21 months (plus two extra months in Asia before we came to Tanzania).

5. I had no idea how hard this would be, for all sorts of reasons I never anticipated.

6. Traveling in Tanzania on public transportation (our only kind) sucks. There is no other way to say it. It is the worst part of living here.

7. Every single day, everywhere I go, everything I do: I am watched. When I walk down the road people stop and stare at me. When I hang clothes on the line to dry, people stop and stare at me. When I speak to someone at the market, other people stop to listen to me. When I sit in my courtyard, people try to see me through my fence. People yell at me to get my attention. I crave anonymity and I can't wait to be ignored again.

8. I worry that Tony and I will be really annoying when we come home: "When we lived in Tanzania, we..." Be patient with us as we work it all out. We will be different people when we come home than we were before we left.

9. I am really happy to be here.

10. Some of the things we've seen we will not be able to talk about; we have witnessed some awful things that would be extremely upsetting to talk about and hear about. So we won't tell you the whole story.

11. I wish everyone could live in a developing country for a while. It brings amazing perspective.

12. My favorite Swahili sentence: Karibu tule. It means "Welcome, let's eat." If a Tanzanian is eating something and you walk past, you will be invited to share. No matter how poor the person is, you will always be asked to join in. This is not special treatment because I'm a foreigner--everyone is always invited to join in. I love this about Tanzania.

13. Have I mentioned the fruit??

Monday, February 2, 2009

bananas and coconuts and mangoes, oh my!

As usual, it’s been a long time since my last update. Quite honestly, I have lost interest (a little) in updating my blog; I feel like most of the things I have to say might be boring to read or difficult to understand. For example, I can write every single time about how important rain is to the people in our village, but until you actually set foot in Kibakwe, you cannot possibly understand what I mean. Life is so totally, completely different in rural Tanzania than anything you can imagine, despite how many movies you’ve seen or books you’ve read about Africa. So, having said that, I’ll do my best to paint a little picture of what’s been going on.

Speaking of rain—we just got the heaviest rain of the year so far. It rained a little yesterday—enough to put some buckets outside to collect it—but then it started pouring at midnight and continued for about 10 hours. Everyone went to their farms today to check things out; we stayed warm and dry inside, reading and cooking. These rains are desperately needed; crops have started dying. Dead crops mean potential starvation. Thank goodness for rain!!

Another thing to be thankful for: zambarau (plum) season is over. Approximately 4 million children came to our house to ask to collect plums—only a slight exaggeration—and trampled our garden beds and broke through our fence to sneak in when we weren’t looking. Grrrr. Tony has massive work ahead of him, re-building the beds and re-planting.

Here’s a random tidbit, to help put the Tanzanian travel situation in perspective: we live approximately 25 miles away from Mpwapwa, our banking and shopping town. It takes 2-2 ½ hours to get there by bus. It is faster to go from Milwaukee to Chicago than for us to ride into town to buy toilet paper. I’m not sure I will ever allow myself to complain again about traveling in the United States.

We are winding down our time in Tanzania, as our Peace Corps service is coming to an end in the next handful of months. We are focusing our sights on more hiv-related projects: vegetable gardens with our Persons Living with HIV/AIDS group; small hiv resource libraries at the hospital, women’s clinic and secondary school; creating Memory Books with our Persons Living with HIV/AIDS group; condom demonstrations at the secondary school. I’m sure we’ll come up with other things, but this is what we’re thinking of right now.

We took a little vacation when our wonderful friends, Brooke and Mike, came to visit us in late December. We did the triple threat: time in our village, safari at Mikumi National Park (we saw male lions!) and Zanzibar. We had an amazing time together; Brooke baked a chocolate cake over our charcoal stove, and Mike helped fill buckets with water when our faucet came on—quintessential Peace Corps Tanzania experiences. They met our friends, saw our village, said hi to some wild animals, swam in the Indian Ocean and shopped for treasures in Stone Town (Zanzibar). It was a perfect vacation, and they were troopers (sorry again about the cockroaches, Brooke).

What else? It’s fruit season in Tanzania, and the eating is GOOD. The freshest, juiciest, most delicious pineapples you can dream of; papayas that will convince you that you love papayas; mangoes that drip down your chin and make you say “am I really eating something that tastes this good?”; bananas that taste more banana-y than you ever thought possible. One of my favorite ways to enjoy the fruits of the season: make coconut rice (with fresh coconut milk made from grated fresh coconut), sprinkle on some raw sugar (the only kind we can get), top with chopped tropical fruit. Close your eyes and marvel that you were born in a human body that can enjoy such wonders. Truly one of my favorite parts of living in Tanzania.

Pipi hajambo. Anawasalimia sana. (“Pipi’s fine. She greets you all a lot.”)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

world aids day 2008

The dust has finally settled after our event and the numbers are in: for World AIDS day 2008, a total of 1,251 people were tested for hiv; 9 were positive. Hundreds and hundreds of hiv educational materials (books, pamphlets, and posters) were distributed; there was fierce competition for Tony’s hand-sewn AIDS ribbons and for the t-shirts we had printed (the t-shirts read: Ninajua Afya Yangu. Na Wewe Je? This translates as: ”I know my health. How about you?”) We showed hiv-related videos and held the first-ever candlelight vigil; people publicly told their stories about becoming infected with hiv, which is brave in any country, and there was lots of singing and drumming. There were small bouts of drama over the three day event, which we now understand is normal, and our garden hose got stolen when we weren’t at home, but all in all, I am proud of this project. It’s impossible to know the impact of our presence here, but I’m hoping that with every hiv-related thing we do we are raising awareness of the magnitude of this disease in Tanzania.

In other project news: I managed to show 8 of the 10 planned hiv-related videos at the secondary school before running into a snag. Towards the end of the school year, which is late November, the students have final exams, plus they start helping their parents to prepare the fields for farming; the last few videos were poorly attended because so few students were still in town—most left school early to get started on farming. Good lesson to learn. I will show the final two videos to our hiv support group, which is called Kikundi cha Upendo (which means “Club of Love”). We have been spending a lot of time with that group, which consists mostly of people living with hiv or AIDS; we talk about nutrition, health issues, medication issues, stigma, and anything else related to hiv. It’s hard to believe, but many, many people here (not only in Kibakwe, but I’m guessing in Tanzania as a whole) do not understand how they were infected with hiv, and they do not understand the progression of the disease and the need to stay as healthy as possible (and avoid other diseases, like malaria or diarrhea, which are particularly hard on people without fully functioning immune systems). I am inspired by so many people that I have become friends with who are infected with hiv; many of them have come to accept their disease without anger or resentment, and are eager to help educate others. They are the sole reason I am here.

The rains have started! We have had 5 or 6 big, hard rains, and everything is turning green: our living fence came back to life, the mountains look like broccoli, Tony is working in the garden every day (pulling weeds, preparing beds, planting seeds—the sunflowers have already sprouted!), and our beloved giant zambarau tree (remember from last year? It’s a plum tree) has begun raining tiny purple plums all over our yard. It’s amazing how the rain and clouds improve my mood and outlook here—like we were all dying of thirst and now we’re coming back to life. It’s hard for those of us who don’t farm for a living to understand the absolute necessity of rain—imagine putting ALL YOUR FAITH in the rain, all your hopes for food and money (from selling your crops) for your family’s well-being. Water is life, and living here has illustrated that in ways I could never imagine.

Pipi my beloved kitten is doing very well. She is probably about one year old by now, and has gotten very courageous about exploring; she climbs trees (with the great ambition of catching a bird, but so far hasn’t gotten one) and hunts with tenacity (lizards, insects and mice are her preferred objects of prey.) She still purrs more than any cat I have ever known, and sleeps curled up against my body every single night. I love her.

How’s my mood? Up and down, quite truthfully, which has been the case ever since I got here 1½ years ago. I’m proud of how far I’ve come; I’m proud that I can speak Swahili, and I’m proud that I’ve managed to live in a difficult environment for as long as I have. I’m sad that I’ve missed so many happy things back home (babies being born, friends buying houses, friends falling in love, friends getting married), and when I have a case of the blues here, realizing all those things that I’m missing is extra sad. We won’t be on the beach this year for Christmas, but we’ll be in Dar es Salaam with Peace Corps friends, enjoying some luxuries that we usually live without. Some dear friends from home are coming to visit us after Christmas, and we are counting the minutes until they get here. So—we’re in the home stretch of this phase of our lives, and have started setting our sights on the next goal (grad school and MAYBE a baby, if you can believe it). I hope this update finds you happy and healthy and grateful for everything you have. Ninakutakia heri ya Krismas na mwaka mpya (“I am wishing you the happiness of Christmas and the New Year.”)

Friday, November 7, 2008

hard times

This is going to be a completely honest blog update. I am really struggling right now: struggling with motivation, struggling with optimism, struggling with enthusiasm, struggling with the blues. I''m not quite sure what happened, but everything suddenly became very, very difficult. While we are going full steam ahead with our World Aids Day plans (massive hiv testing event over 3 days, with music, movies, singing, dancing, drumming and a candlelight vigil), and my hiv movie days at the secondary school have been a big hit, some of our other projects are fizzling. Our English and Art clubs at the secondary school have had dwindling attendance; Tony's wrote a grant to buy sewing and gardening supplies for our orphan's group and many of them have lost interest in learning to sew or maintain their garden; we have had big problems with water, just like last year; people have been begging from us worse than ever. We don't honestly know who wants to be our friend because they genuinely like us or because they want something from us. We have most definitely put ourselves out there and are doing our jobs the best we can, but I think this is pretty typical of development work: people lose interest in projects and simply wait for the next handout. I have lost heart. I am burned out. My posture is hunched because I have subconsciously started trying to "hide" from the constant, relentless staring--I cannot do anything without being stared at like the pink elephant in the living room. No, don't send somebody to come and get me--I'm going to ride this out and see where I end up. I am doing my best to take care of myself, but right now, I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life, post Peace Corps Tanzania. Sorry. I warned you it was going to be the whole truth this time.

In other news, we managed to find a tv in Mpwapwa to watch some election coverage, and we got to see Obama's acceptance speech. I am so very proud to be an American.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

me again!

We are just finishing up a week in Dar es Salaam for our Mid Service Conference-- we had medical check ups, dental cleanings, and processed our first year of service. It was a good week, really nice to hear from our fellow volunteers about their projects and plans for the second year--a nice exchange of ideas. So we are heading back to our village after an exciting week in the big city, eating as much pizza and yogurt as we could lay hands on.

I am sending out a call for puzzles--yes, puzzles. Tony and I were talking about fun, useful games for the kids in our village, and we remembered puzzles! If anyone is interested in sending us a care package of puzzles, we would be most grateful--easy puzzles for the little kids, and difficult puzzles for the high school kids. We're trying to provide as many options for positive after-school activities as possible. Thanks!

So I had an idea that I'm really, really excited about, and I wanted to share it. I mentioned our Orphans group, Tumaini, in my last blog entry. Well, I started thinking about the stories that they told us about their lives, and I decided that I would like to try to informally publish a book of their stories--stories about being an orphan or vulnerable child in Tanzania. Once we get home from Dar, I'm planning to meet with them to talk about my idea and see if they're interested, but I expect a lot of kids will want to participate. I'm going to ask them to write their story, or write a poem about their lives, or draw a picture that represents an experience of their lives; then I'm planning to translate their stories in English, then, somehow, take all those stories and assemble a book so their stories can be heard. If this idea goes anywhere, and we actually sell copies of this book, the profits can be used to start a scholarship program to support these kids in continuing with their studies after high school. What do you think?

I haven't been home in a week, but I hear Pipi's hajambo (Pipi "has no issues").