Friday, October 18, 2013

Words. Experience. Sensation.

Oh. Here goes.

What started out as a two-week rest period in Dar became a month-long+ ordeal. I rested and medicated like I was supposed to and the pain had lessened, but was lingering. Then our good ole Close-Of-Service Conference (COSC) came along and the lingering pain came back.

With Peace Corps, it's almost like there's no happy medium. We PCVs have lived in villages with no running water, no electricity, ass-print sinking-in mattresses, and limited access to good foods; and where do they put us for our last training? A resort. On an island. Yes, 5 meals a day (mostly Indian food), a pool with a light-up rain-stage, a HOT shower with water that came from above, and a lovely bar and swing set area (I'm a child); which was all right next to the Indian Ocean. Talk about pampered. It's almost like we didn't know how to act.

We had daily sessions about readjustment into American society, PC closing documents, resume writing, job searching, grad school options, among other important information. Some barely went to sessions; others attended nearly all of them. I thought it was the most informative training yet.

After treating us like royalty, we were supposed to get back to our villages asap so we could sit there for the next 2.5 months until we were finished with our service. As much as I was dreading twiddling my thumbs (they don’t allow us to start any new projects in our last 3 months), I was disappointed when it was taken away from me…

Long story short, the doctors in Tanzania and the personnel in Washington D.C decided that I needed more assistance than Tanzania could provide. I had 6 days from the time they told me until the time I was looking at the moon while saying goodbye to my home through a plane window.

Thankfully, I was able to get down to my village for 2 nights to say goodbye, pack my things, look at my last project, and remember what my house feels like. A friend of mine was able to accompany me, which I appreciated immensely since I was in no mental or emotional state to do all of the above alone. What was going to be a 2.5 month process turned into a 2 night tribulation. The Tanzanian family I had grown close with were saddened and caught off guard by this news. Believe me, it was not fun to tell them. It was not until this moment that I felt remorse for not hanging out with them more often, or not putting in the extra effort to accompany my Mama to her cashew farm. The excuses were plentiful and I’m sure made sense at the time, but reflecting upon my time there in those last few days, I felt holes.

All I wanted to do was hug my Mama and Baba goodbye, but this is considered inappropriate in the culture. So, I merely shook the hands of the two people who were integral to my sanity and survival. No justice.

So, here I am, back in America. I’ve been back for almost a month now, and maybe it was a friend’s letter I received today from Tanzania, or maybe it is the fact that I’ve been too involved with medical frustrations that I haven’t given myself the proper reflection I deserve. I mean, I was in Tanzania, AFRICA, for 2 years. Living in a completely new and unknown world; brought together with 40 other people I now know like the back of my hand.

I thought culture shock was supposed to be this big hullaballoo and I was supposed to have some sort of break down when I enter Walmart, which I have yet to venture into (it’s my conscious effort to never step foot in a Walmart again). I’m guessing everyone experiences culture shock in many different ways; my sister said she felt some sort of difference when she went back to America and she was only visiting me for a month. Here, I’ve been gone for 2 years and can’t seem to pinpoint any sort of “culture shock” moments. I’ve drawn a blank many a time when asked about my experiences of reintegrating into American society. I just seemed to do it, because it was expected of me.

But, a friend just wrote in a letter: “take time to appreciate where you’ve been and where you are before you even start to worry about where you’re going.” That’s the best advice I’ve been given in a while…

If I were still in my village and I received this same advice, it would be so easy to reflect on the separate words in that sentence and their separate meanings. Time and space are abundant and the availability of distractions are limited. However, in America, I, first of all, never would have received a hand-written letter from anyone, and second of all, could read it and simply move onto the next “thing”; be it tv, computer, smart phone, stressing about work, worrying about medical insurance, etc. The list goes on. I’m not saying I didn’t worry about things in Tanzania, or crave internet when I was deprived of friends and family for too long; I simply let it be that way.

So, I’m going to try to take my friend’s advice and appreciate where I’ve been for the last two years. Even though I can’t put it into words at the moment, I feel it. The last 2 years have changed me and made me into a different person. I didn’t magically become more patient or less anxious about things, but I believe I did find a way to channel those qualities and lessen their impact on my life as a whole.  I became closer with friends from home I thought I would have separated from, and allowed the friends I had no desire in keeping in my life slip away. I had the opportunity to sit back, read a book, and cook a pot of beans for 4 hours while I integrated into the village I called home.

So. I will continue to consciously reflect on where my life was, where my life is, and then worry about where my life will go...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Part Two.

To continue with the last entry, I'd like to start out by saying this last month has tested me as a whole more than the first 18 months total...

This really doesn't have a place here, but one more thing I've come to notice about myself here (in Tanzania as a whole) is that I'm real good at ignoring people now. Selective hearing has become somewhat of a skill of mine. Constantly getting pestered on the streets hardens your shell. If one more Tanzanian calls me mzungu (foreigner), friendi, sista, or, my personal favorite, bestie; I would like to say that I would do something extreme... But, tomorrow I bet I'll get at least 2 new besties and another sista on the streets somewhere, so it's become something more that I have to deal with.

Anywho, I left off saying that a good friend was leaving for America. Well, about 2 weeks later, ANOTHER good friend also left for medical reasons. Major sadness. Not only do I still have 4 months left, but now I have to survive it minus 2 good friends. Not easy people, not easy.

You adapt. You have to, or you'll never make it here. That's my slogan. Among others, which I'm sure I'll get to later. Other friends have magically appeared and have become close to me, and, so, we are all in this together til the end.

After I shook Obama's hand (YEAH that's right) I went back down to Mtwara town to hang out with a small group for the 4th of July. I actually half-shook his left hand, which in Tanzania is the hand/chosen finger(s) for finishing up their business in the choo. Choo in Kiswahili means toilet. Pit latrine. Bathroom. Poop. I was just hoping the good ole Pres would be able to spring for some tp. If there's one thing us PCVs will never get tired of is talking about our feces. Just this morning I gave probably TMI to my friend Steph. Haha!

Anyway, to get back on topic, that has got to be the most fun I have ever had in Mtwara at the beach house. There were 7 of us for a while until enough days passed and then we dwindled down to a tight-knit group of 4. While making dinner the last night it felt like we were all roommates, it was a nice feeling. We were wondering, why are we leaving the next day? Let's just say money doesn't grow on trees people, and the beach house is a delightful yet expensive retreat.

A girl in my class came to Mtwara for the 4th. Who ever says no one visits Mtwara region is WRONG! But, in all honesty, she is probably the only visitor we will get to permeate our little family of isolated PCVs. She came to my site for a few days to hang out before making the trek back to her site (a 3-day ordeal). What a trooper!

After this, I began to become accustomed to being alone once again. However, I did have the grant to oversee. Before I left for the Obama meet-and-greet, I gave my Mama (the Head Teacher) about 800,000 shillings (about $500) to begin the construction of the pit latrines at the Primary School. I pretty much let go of the reins and gave them to her. Which, could have gone really badly. But, to my delight, she was a wonderful leader and when I came back from seeing my friend off, they had made such great progress on the pit latrines! This, my friends, is one of the few projects I've implemented in my village that has gone according to plan! I'd like to think a lot of it was my Mama, that woman is the best. (Right after you American Mom!) I haven't closed the grant yet, and there are still some receipts to be accounted for, but I'm not worried. For once, I'm not worried about the outcome of a project. Huh. Now, lets see what happens in the next few weeks...

Then (dun dun dun), I experienced some medical issues of my own. Nothing major, or so I thought, until I was forced to call the doctors due to the pain I was in. Here, I feel like an old lady. It started with pain in my hip and migrated, due to the wonderfully-difficult daily activities of living in a village, to pain in my back. What a lovely combo.

I'm currently in Dar. Lovely, pollution-ridden, filthy Dar. I've been here for oh, about 9 days total; of my 2-and-change week doctor ordered rest, relaxation and meds. I think for the first time in my life here as a PCV I've successfully been able to wake up NOT pissed off from the screaming elementary school children outside my window every morning! Go Dar!

All joking aside, I definitely needed this rest period. To catch my breath, recuperate and heal. I've gotten consistent phone calls of worry from my Mama, Baba, and two good friends in my village. That might seem like a small amount of people of support, but these few people are all I need and mean so much to me.

While in Dar on “bed-rest” I've successfully watched a shit ton of tv, downloaded a crapload of new songs, and gotten some pretty bad diarrhea for a few days straight from some very questionable street food. Perhaps now is not the time to save money on cheap street food? Although I haven't put my time here to good use yet(!), it has been really nice to have steady electricity and somewhat nice internet access.

Along with that electricity and somewhat nice internet access, I've been blessed with the opportunity to chat with my twin sister. There are no words to mention how much I look forward to those skype sessions. Talking with her, my best friend, is helping me heal too. Thanks sis.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Roller. Coaster.

Well, well, well, talk about one hell of a roller coaster. These past few months, I think I've felt every emotion in the book, more than once. And, with a vengeance.

First of all, sadness set in the minute Laura left me (May). My house felt very empty and I was back to feeling my normal amount of loneliness The day after I settled back into my village, I tried to call the Clinical Officer, Jane, to talk about their progress on the Health Dispensary grant. She was unreachable. I then called the nurse. She nonchalantly informed me that Jane has left the village. The literal translation of the Kiswahili word she used is: hama – to emigrate, move away, vacate. Now, enter the emotion I'd like to call 'pissed off'.

Jane never once told me she was leaving, or even thinking about leaving. She still has yet to tell me anything! The reason I was so aggravated is because Jane was my counterpart on the Health Dispensary grant which had been officially approved by Peace Corps the week before. So, pretty much the only person who was invested in this grant (or so I thought) had “vacated”, and couldn't even so much as give me a heads up.

The next emotion is defeat. Pure defeat. I have spent my entire service trying to motivate my village into lifting a finger. They seem to believe that wanting something and asking me for it will make it appear. Well, little do they know, I drive a hard bargain. And, I also play by the rules. You do your part, I'll do mine.

So, I thought to myself, “What do I do with this outrageous amount of money sitting in my bank account?” I could either a) give up and return the money to Peace Corps, or b) look into other options which could also end up failing. I took the latter option into my hands.

I remembered from a year and a half ago when I was talking with the Head Teacher of my Primary School, who is also my Mama here, about the school needing more pit latrines. Luckily, with some finagling, the grant I wrote could be ultimately changed into assisting the Primary School with this project.

It took some effort on both my part and the part of the school committee. I had to ultimately re-write a new grant, in two weeks; and the school committee had to show me their dedication to the project or else Peace Corps wouldn't allow the switch. Let's just say I never want to write another grant (for America or Peace Corps) in my life, ha. Although, that is one skill I've definitely mastered.

To my relief, the school committee was on top of things! Within one week they made a huge pile of bricks and finished digging the entire hole! That is what I'm talkin' about! What a difference from working with the Health Dispensary! I reiterated on multiple occasions the time issue of this project. We NEED to have it completed and all the receipts turned in to me by August 1st. After this date, my task is to write the completion report and turn in the receipts to Peace Corps before my COS Conference (Close-of-service) at the end of August. I was apprehensive to start such a big project in my last 6 months at site. But, my mama has told me not to worry, so I'm trying not to.

During the process of changing the grant, other Peace Corps related events were happening. All the volunteers found out that 25 PCVs would be chosen out of a hat (how official) to meet Obama who was coming in early July. We just had to tell our “bosses” that we wanted our names in that hat. Now mind you, there are well over 100 (give or take) PCVs in Tanzania; so the chances are slim. MY NAME WAS CHOSEN! Pure exhilaration!!

Or so I was expecting.

I called some of my friends here and they were all very excited for me. So, why wasn't I bouncing off the walls? I didn't realize how mediocre I had been feeling. You'd think the opportunity to meet the president as a Peace Corps Volunteer would have been something to jump and scream about, but I was merely joyful. I remember smiling. A PCV who was extending and had just gotten back from her home leave had once told me that she didn't realize how unhappy she was here until she went back to America. I can completely understand that now. Emotions are muffled here, and I'm not sure if it's because we don't allow ourselves to feel every emotion fully (because we might not be able to handle it), or if we become a certain amount of detached from our lives here.

To add to the uncertainty of the pit latrine project and the exciting news of meeting Obama, one of my best friends here called me a week ago to tell me Peace Corps was sending her home on medical leave because of an injury. I was shocked to hear of this progression. Then I became dispirited. Here, friends are gold. Not only did another best friend move out of my region, but now this friend is going back to America.

You'd think I'd be able to handle change. Uprooting my life in America to live in Tanzania for two years isn't easy. But, I've realized I don't mind big changes as much as I mind small changes. When my friend moved out of my region, everything changed. I didn't have my best friend to talk to daily, see once a month, and share village experiences with. Now, this friend is going back to America. Once again, I will lose a friend to confide in. But, as they say, life goes on, and time heals everything...

To be continued...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tanzanian Adventure

After the two longest months of my life in my village, my friend, Kaarin, and twin sister, Laura, came to visit! They willingly went through the charades of immunizations, travel advice, and financial strains to make the trek to Tanzania, my longtime home.

Of course the arrival on their end was trouble-free, however, my end was a little more frustrating. I had called a taxi the night before to come get me at 3am. I stressed the AM part about 14 times. Some of you may think it's the pessimist in me, I'd like to call myself a realistic, but to my expectation, the taxi driver did not show up. I found myself wandering the streets of Moshi at 3am (thankfully another PCV was with me) to find another taxi driver. We were eventually picked up at 4:30am, over an hour after they had already landed. We showed up at the airport about two hours late but there they were, just waiting for me. I felt like an awful sister and friend :/ Luckily we were so happy, the lateness was quickly forgotten.

Their first day was supposed to be a rest day. This is my version of a rest day: I allowed them four hours of sleep, we took a few forms of transportation to swim at some “hot” springs, and didn't go to bed until 10pm. They were troopers! I kind of felt like a drill sergeant, but I knew being semi-active would help them get onto a more normal sleep schedule.

The next day was the start of our 3-day safari. Woot! It's about time I see some damn animals! We saw so many animals: giraffes, elephants, impalas, gazelles, ostriches, zebras, rhinos, lions, wildebeests, monkeys, baboons, flamingoes, pelicans, warthogs, jackals, hyenas. I'm sure there are more (Kaarin would remember). We all could have watched the monkeys for hours, they sure are silly little creatures. The 'dome tent' we stayed in each night was quaint. It was definitely luxurious camping. The heavy duty tents were on a platform with a rain cover, had two wooden beds with mattresses and a towel. Luxury. It was an amazing three days.

The day after we returned from the safari was an open day in Moshi to re-pack and prepare ourselves to climb Mt. Meru. I can honestly say this was the most difficult physical and mental task I've ever completed. And, guys, I've been living in Tanzania for the past 18 months. That's not easy. Granted, I have six more months until I can say I've completed my service, but still. Not easy.

Steph, one of my best PCV buddies, was able to meet us in Moshi and join us. We all summited, and. It. Was. Amazing! We chose to do Mt. Meru because it's significantly cheaper than Kilimanjaro. We had no idea every guide and porter who has climbed both all unanimously would say that Meru is more difficult than Kili. Very cool. The reason is because the amount of days to the summit is less, which means a bigger change in altitude each day. We summited Meru in two days. TWO DAYS. Meru is 14,980 ft tall, high, up in the air. Again, very cool.

I'm unsure of how altitude affects me, but the last three hours I felt very … unaware. Kind of like I wasn't really consciously putting one foot in front of the other, but it was happening; a very out-of-body-experience. Pretty sure if the other three would have known about this, they wouldn't have let me scale those rock walls by myself, ha. Sweet deception!

We summited a bit after 5:30pm. If there is one feeling I'm absolutely in love with, it's the feeling of being on top of a mountain. You could see EVERYTHING. It was a bit cloudy, but not raining and we were grateful for nice weather. In three minutes I went from sweating buckets to freezing my butt off. The cold does not agree with me! (Hence my wanting to live in a hot region! Thank you Mtwara.) 

That's the highest all four of us have ever been. I can't even describe what it felt like to be on top of that mountain. I think I'd like to continue climbing things! Since we summited in the evening, this meant climbing a good portion down in the dark with headlamps. I'm not gonna lie, there were some scary moments. Mom, I'm glad you weren't there to see us. Love you! We arrived at our hut around 10:30pm. I was exhausted. Merely going through the motions. Water, sleeping bag, zzzzzzz.

The third day, we made the decent from the second hut down to the bottom. There were some arguments/discussions about price and tipping which sucked. It seems like nothing in Tanzania can ever be easy or clear cut, like oh I don't know, guide fees or entrance fees. Politics, I will never understand you... It ended up being fine, just a stupid (and normal) hiccup in our amazing trip. Once we reached the bottom, we each got a little certificate :)

I must say, Kaarin and Laura are such good little travelers! They attacked the Tanzanian transportation head on and survived. They didn't even complain. The day after we descended Meru was another rest day, to get ourselves together, move our muscles, and get ready to head out of Moshi. We went to Lushoto next, just a bit south from Moshi. Here, we walked around the sleepy town, and made a day hike up to an amazing lookout point with another PCV buddy of mine, Glenn. He takes so many visitors on that hike, he should get paid for his services. We had a delicious lunch of homemade cheese, jelly, and bread at one of the local tourist stops. Best cheese I've ever had. Well, in Tanzania. Oh come on guys, I'm from Wisconsin, what did you expect?

The next day we made our way by dala to Pangani, a town on the coast. It took us all day to get there, but once we did, we slapped our suits on and went for a swim in the warm bathwater that is the Indian Ocean. We spent the next day kayaking and body boarding around, indulging in a great lunch at the resort next door, and taking pictures of the nearby caves. Kaarin and I ended up getting stung by jelly fish, but thankfully neither of us had an awful reaction, we self-medicated ;) All in all, it was very relaxing and nice end to Kaarin's portion of the trip. We spent the next night in Tanga, in a guesti with AC! Once again, luxury. The next day we made it to Dar early enough so they could do a little shopping. It was kind of fun being the only one who knew the language to make sure they didn't get ripped off and got good prices on things. Laura and I took Kaarin to the airport at midnight :/ I was sad to see her leave, but so glad we could partake in Tanzanian adventures together!

Laura and I got on a bus to Newala with only 3 hours of sleep. It was an 11 hour ride. But! No complaints; because Laura and I were together :) Once again, she was a trooper. We got a bunch of fruits and veggies to last us the week and went to my village the next morning. She spent six straight nights in my village; that's more than some PCVs can handle. I kept telling her she'd be a great PCV. We didn't even do a whole lot (there's not much you can do in a village), but we had a blast all the same. We cooked, baked, did laundry, read, biked, hung out with my Tanzanian family, and took some walks around my village to greet people and show her things. All my villagers kept telling us they could tell we are twins because we look alike. Um, I don't know if ya'll know what we look like, but we look nothing alike. They just like saying things sometimes. We roasted some cashews my mama gave us, I'm glad Laura got a chance to take part in that, cashews are a huge part of my region's income. All in all, I'm glad she got to come down to my village and see where I've been living for the past 18 months. It was just nice to hang out with her in my house!

We then traveled on three different buses in a total of eight hours to make it to Mtwara town on the coast, where we were able to meet a majority of the other PCVs in my region. We stay at a house on the beach which is always super fun and really relaxed. We had a chance to go shopping for gifts and carvings. When our last day together arrived, we both got really sad :/

I decided to fly her from Mtwara to Dar, which took a lot of convincing. Me, not her. I've heard many a horror story from other PCVs about the Mtwara airport being unreliable and expensive. My biggest anxiety was that her flight just wouldn't take off that day, which was a definite possibility. I accompanied Laura to the airport and physically waited until I saw the plane take off with my own eyes. If they were to have “decided” not to fly that day, she would have missed her international flight back home...which would NOT have been ok. The airport security let her hang out with me in the lounge until she had to board. They also didn't make me pay for my overweight luggage. Being nice pays off sometimes, talk about a break! So, it's not Tanzania if something's not delayed, but we got an extra two hours of hang out time! I immediately missed her, and still do...

AMAZING trip and I would not have changed anything for the world. Thank you Kaarin and Laura, for giving me the boost I needed.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Work schmerk.

I know, I know what you’re thinking. All this gallivanting around, is she ever working? Good question, very observant. Actually, the answer is yes. You see, work and progress here happen very slowly. Sometimes, time literally stands still. Literally.

My most recent work projects are moving along nicely, slowly, but nicely.

First, my mama, who is also the head teacher at the Primary School (to which I get the ‘pleasure’ of living in front of) had mentioned the desire for a possible water project. The existing rain water catchment system at the school was in need of repair. Re-cementing, new tin roof and gutters, and new reinforcing beams. When she came to me I suggested she talk with the school committee, come up with a budget, and then have a meeting with me present. To my surprise, my mama had already made a budget. So, I went to the next school committee meeting and we schemed. Turns out, the Water Charity application was a breeze. Water Charity is an organization in the states which fund water projects around the world up to $500. I was promised the full amount in less than two weeks. I even had time to post my project on facebook and solicit donations. Thank you to all who donated! Total friends and family contributions came to $260. They appreciate it!

At this time, I was leaving for some adventures/holidays/trainings, so my mama promised they would do their part and cut down some trees, make the beams, and get the cement. When I returned with the money, I was overjoyed to see they did their part. At once I gave all the money to my mama and merely watched everything happen. The fundis (cement layer and wood worker) worked hard. It took them one full month to repair the tank. Now, the 750 children and 5 teachers can have clean water.

Since I don’t enjoy teaching (sorry Dad and Erica!), I was glad to be able to help the school, teachers, and my mama get clean water. They are very grateful and so am I, to be able to provide the means for them to finish the work and reap the benefits.

Secondly, I have written a grant (which I started in August 2012) to help the Health Dispensary get a new delivery bed as well as other smaller equipment to accurately monitor the progress of pregnancies. Now, I’m not ‘giving’ them all this equipment, that’s actually the reason it has taken so long. If I had the inclination to write this on my own, it would have taken me three months max. However, that’s not the point.

The Health Dispensary committee must be involved and invested, and they have failed to come to meetings on many occasions, delaying the process further. With the failed meetings, we’ve had many letdowns of participation and lost a lot of time, but it seems they finally got their act together. With the information we gathered, I was able to do my part (write and submit the grant). We had a meeting with all the village leaders of the surrounding villages, a total of five villages use this Health Dispensary; and they all agreed to donate their allotted portion of the community contribution (25% of the total). Now, I’m kind of putting all my eggs in the basket labeled “please follow through”; and if they don’t, they simply and sadly don’t get the equipment. They must do their part. I’m not here to give them things, I literally can’t give them things. I’m here as a liaison, a person who brings the right people to the right people.

And now, I wait. I wait for PC staff to agree with my grant proposal and fund my project. Then, the real work begins…

Thirdly, I FINALLY had the opportunity of attending a Zinduka training in late January. I had applied last year, but since my region is the furthest away/hardest to get out of, I wasn’t allowed to go. Region discrimination! I got over the insensitivity and applied once again.

Zinduka is “a program that empowers community role models and coaches (me and my two counterparts) to deliver an activity-based curriculum that uses soccer analogies to deliver key messages and start conversations that promote healthy, responsible behaviors among Tanzanian youth (age 10-19).” So, basically, I get to play games with soccer balls and tennis balls to teach about the importance of health, and HIV/Malaria prevention. Pretty sweet deal.

The kids absolutely love it. And, the two “coaches” I chose to bring with me to the training in Iringa have been more than amazing. They’ve been prepared and on time to each practice, and they’re not even getting paid; this is them purely volunteering their time after teaching in the classroom all day.

Each ‘intervention’ is 10 ‘practices’ total. I am supposed to complete three interventions before my close-of-service in November 2013. Each intervention has 30 separate students. Right now we are just over halfway through with our first intervention with the 5th graders at the Primary School. This is also a great program for me, because it’s teaching outside the classroom setting with games and analogies which are fun and entertaining.

Fourthly, the Community Based Savings Group I initially started in my village in May 2012 has snowballed. There are now 2-3 groups in EACH of the surrounding five villages. And, now there are 5 total in my village alone. These groups empower the community to save their money in a safe place so they can eventually borrow (take out a loan) for a business investment or family emergency with a three month window of repayment. It’s brilliant. Who needs a bank? This grey box with three padlocks will do just fine.

Once again, all I had to do was talk to the field officer in town, get him to come to a village-wide meeting, and boom! 30 groups! Throughout the process, I also made a really good friend. Which is always a perk

Monday, February 25, 2013

Nimepotea sana.

No matter if you’re gone for one day or 53 of them, there is one common greeting from the villagers, “Umepotea sana!” Meaning, “you have been very lost!”. Yes everyone, nimepotea sana. Pole (sorry). Indeed I have been “lost”. Personally I like to call it “traveling”.

My trip was sort of in five different parts. For the first part, I took the train from Dar to Zambia and back again; for a total of five nights on the train. You’d think a person would go crazy, or grow just a little bit edgy from all that time on a train, but man, I’d rather spend five nights on a train as opposed to five hours on a Tanzanian bus. Maybe I’m just used to taking night trains from traveling around Eastern Europe, but you won’t understand what I’m talking about until you’ve been forced to sit on a bus for 14 straight hours.

The insanity was lessened and moderated due to the seven other PCVs  I was traveling with. We were a good mix of chill, crazy, and somewhere in between. I had the pleasure of spending 52 hours straight in a cabin with two outrageous education volunteers, and an even more ridiculous brother of one of them who was visiting. I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in my life. Or, at least not yet in my life in Tanzania.

We ended up white water rafting down the Zambezi, and were able to see the enormity of Victoria Falls. It really is outrageous how huge the falls are, and white water rafting was intense! I’m glad I did it, but I think I’ll stick to land adventure for a little while. By the end of the day, my head was full of water and I was exhausted from trying not to drown. All joking aside, it was an amazing experience and I got to be a part of the Zambezi for a day.

On the way back to Dar, our train stopped. We didn’t know why, and to this day we still actually don’t. Due to the upcoming holidays (Christmas and New Years), there were a lot of other PCVs traveling on the train; from Uganda and Zambia mostly. We all got out and started to wait, this ended up being 4.5 hours of waiting. The instant you know you’re a true PCV is the instant you don’t realize how long you’ve actually been waiting for. After a while, we noticed there was no engine to be found, so, we did what any normal PCV would do, played Frisbee. And when it got dark, we played light-up Frisbee. It was a pretty relaxing wait actually. Due to the 4.5 hours of waiting and the already slow-and-steady speed, we ended up spending an extra, unexpected night on the train. Some were upset; we looked at it like a free place to stay! It did, however, alter our Christmas plans (as it was going to be Christmas Eve the next day), but we improvised.

Part two: Bagamoyo. Bagamoyo is a historic town just north of Dar. We spent Christmas lying on the beach. Difficult, I know. But, coming from a girl who has been eternally freezing for the past 24 (I was in Tanzania last year) Christmases, I deserve a Christmas on the beach. It was a sleepy town with an art market, slave sights, and one of the oldest mosque ruins in Eastern Africa. But, the beach was by far my favorite part of Christmas 2012.

I spent New Years on a beach too. Zanzibar. Yes, that is all I do. Lay on the beach. About seven girls in my class and I all went to Zanzibar for New Years, we saved up our shillings like good little girls so we could splurge on a good drink here and there and do a bit of gift shopping.  We had a good mix of girls and did an array of exciting things. Our first day there we pulled an all-nighter at a very rare full moon party on the North beach. It was nice to be in a modern setting with some other Americans. We ended up going back for another all-nighter a couple nights later for New Years. Aside from all the nightlife fun, we also got to see some HUGE tortoises, ride in a boat called “Boo Yah”, have margaritas and daiquiris on a roof-top bar, and experience the intensity of the Fordhani Gardens (huge food market).

This brings me to our Mid-Service Conference (MSC). One year! Woo! Our entire class congregated in Dar for an entire week. It was nice to see everyone after about nine months. Work-wise, we went to the dentist, got poked and prodded by the PC docs, who needed to make sure we weren’t dying or malnourished, and shared information about what we’ve been up to in our villages. It was an exhausting week, but nice to see everyone and catch up.

I then had a bit of a choice to make. I could either take five buses and spend nine days in my village; or take one bus and spend 14 days visiting friends in their villages. Naturally I chose the latter. I ended up visiting and staying at six different villages in Singida and Manyara Regions. It was really interesting to see how different we all live!

After playing hooky for about two weeks, I went to Iringa for a Zinduka training. Zinduka is a grassroots soccer program teaching kids ages 10-19 about HIV and Malaria. Right up my alley! It would have been the most fun and time worthy training, except for the fact that I had strep throat the entire week. Finally on Friday, after four days of suffering, I had a fellow PCV look into my throat and lo and behold, white pussy shit. After taking the first antibiotic I felt a hundred times better. It was still an amazingly fun training with two counterparts from our villages. We are all “coaches” now J  I was debating going to this training for a while. It was bad timing with ending MSC, and it does suck to travel down to Mtwara in the rainy season (right now), but I’m overly pleased I went. It gives me one more approach to try in my village. Sometimes ideas are either shot down or not even given a second look; but this program has been a hit (I’ll explain more).

All in all, me being “lost” has been rejuvenating and given me a breath of fresh air. It also helps that now I have a site mate who is super sweet and only a nine minute bike ride away. If our respective PCV classes had grade levels, I’d be a Junior in college right now; a Senior in June. Feels good to be the elder, the one that knows most things about the way things work (or sometimes don’t) in Tanzania. But, I still have a lot of learning to do, I’m sure.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A little pep talk...

Living over here so far away from family and friends has forced me to rely on myself a lot more than I thought I’d be capable of. Now, I’m fine with that change and for the opportunity to grow. But. When I get to a handwritten letter or am able to chat with a family member or friend for even just a few minutes on facebook or G-chat, I realize how much I really do need their active support and encouragement. It’s not that I need a cheering section complete with uniforms and pom-poms; I simply crave the old and familiar connections of home. That’s what gives me refuge in my hardest times here, that’s what gives me comfort when I’m sick. I realize I also need to remember why I came over here…

I’ll be honest . . . lately, times have been a bit tough. It may be the scary and ever so dreaded one-year mark us PCVs hear about, or it could be a lack of work in my village. It seems no matter how much work I put into a project or thought; something happens that prevents it from coming to completion. For example, my World AIDS Day event (a village wide testing day) has been postponed, maybe canceled due to a shortage of tests at the District level. How are we supposed to support the testing for HIV when we can’t even get tests? Another example, the one project I’ve been excited for at my Health Dispensary may not happen either. They desperately need a new and safer delivery bed, but the people who need to be involved and invested may not make the time or effort; therefore it can and should not happen. I cannot write a grant myself. I cannot ‘give’ them what they want, for it will ultimately be unsustainable. And this is what they will expect from all ‘wazungu’. I cannot push and push them to do the work either, for that is not going to make them want to help any more than if I were to care less about the project. However, there are a few accomplishments and successes that have been tangible here and those are the ones I need to dwell on. Those are the ones I need to contract my encouragement from.

So, when I feel utterly useless here, I realize I need to remember why I’ve thought about Peace Corps since I was a freshman in college. Since stepping off the plane from Ghana.  Why I wanted to come live here for so many years. I’m afraid the cliché answer is also my answer. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to get a life experience only a handful of people would understand. I wanted to challenge myself in ways I never thought possible. I wanted to walk down a path in my village no one else will walk down. I wanted difficulty. So, that’s what I got. This is the challenging part; this is when I need to re-read my aspiration statement. To remember why I decided leaving my life in America to learn a new culture, language, and way of life in Tanzania would be a good idea.

It’s a good idea, because I’m learning more about myself than most people will probably ever know about themselves. I know that I can do this. Now, while that knowledge may get clouded and misplaced sometimes, it’s always there. And, that while life may not always be easy, I know I can ultimately persevere and succeed.