Friday, April 17, 2009

You know you are a backpacker when . . . .

(or at least crazy and in another country)

. . . you go into a nice restaurant, plug in your phone to charge, take your tooth brush and face wash into the bathroom, and then only order a bottle of water!

. . . when you see white people, you do a double take and decide that they really look funny with that light skin and all.

. . . when someone sits next to you in a bus with a live chicken in a plastic bag, and you don't think twice about it.

. . . if you could have any super power, it would be to be able to hover over your bed because it is so darn hot.

. . . you see a sign in front of a restaurant that says "We're not that dirty!" and you think "perfect!"

. . . your lonely planet has been rained on, sweated on, and you bring it everywhere! (or okay Rough Guides are really coming in to)

. . . (if you are a woman) one of the first phrases you have to learn is "I am married" "He is in (insert whatever country you like the accent to)", and "I left my ring at home" (alternately, you area wearing a ring to be prepared for this question)

. . . You circle a bus before getting on it to make sure that nothing important will fall out while you are on it. Flipping is not so fun!

. . . when almost every child you meet asks you for a pen. (Who went around the world giving children pens? Was there some huge movement for pens that I am unaware of?)

. . . you worry like a mother about your passport, constantly checking where it is, never leaving it alone. One very protective mother!

. . . Shantaram is in you bag, next to your mosquito repellent, hand sanitizer and the most beloved toilet paper.

. . . . you meet people who have never seen a white person before.

. . . an eight hour delay on any form of transportation is always expected (and slightly hilarious)!

. . . your sister's roommate's old roommate's friend's brother's dog's friend's sister is in the country, and you are automatically traveling together because you practically know each other, right? Small world huh?

. . . You hear someone with a similar accent in a restaurant, ask them where they are from, what they are doing, then you sit down and have lunch together and learn their whole life story. It's called making friends ! :)

. . . you send a message to someone telling them your whereabouts so that if you die on the scary, rocking, over-night ship, at least people will know where you are.

. . . waterproof everything??? Of course!

. . . You start to size up other people's backpacks, comparing them to yours and either feeling a bit jealous or proud of your own bag.

. . . your backpack is your world- your pillow, your seat, your storage. your protection . . . basically it is everything you need it to be.

. . . You mean you haven't had a raw egg thrown from a taxi at you? Weird!!!

. . . you go back home and attempt to barter with the clerk at the grocery store for carrots.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Glimpses of a 'National Geographic' life

At certain moments in my life, I see the world clearly for a split moment. I see all of the beautiful people, blessings, and joys crisply and clearly as if I am staring into a wonderful movie, as if I am detached for that moment to truly see, to wonder at the beautiful spectacle that is life. In those moments, I think to myself, this is not just a story I am watching on a screen; this is my life. I realize the hilarity and that fate alone could have brought me to such a place in my life.

One of these moments happened while I was in Tanga at a wedding. I was completely surrounded by women, full of joy, dancing in a large circle with children. We danced outside of the groom’s house under a tent. As we moved slowly in a circle around the traditional band, our feet kicking up the hot sand-dirt, I smiled at the huge group of onlookers and did a slight head bow to signify my happiness at seeing them, my gratefulness to share some time in their beautiful smiles and warm, wordless welcomes. The colors of the women’s congas were vibrant contrasts to the sandy floors and colorless exteriors of the homes. The congas were draped over the heads of the older women. The material fell delicately and honestly around their foreheads and wrists, as only material truly lived and loved in can do. A man in the middle of the band, the center of our dancing formation, loudly sang in a chant-like way words I will never know, meanings I could never guess. I was wearing my only dress that I had bought from the market in Morogoro. I wrapped the other part of the material around my recently shaved head, partially protecting my innocent skin from the rapturous of the sun, but mostly trying to respect the beliefs of the beautiful women, men and children around me.

At this instant as I tried to find a rhythm in my dance that was similar to the music, although I believe that I will never be able to hear the rhythm correctly and act appropriately, I looked around seeing my life as a national geographic picture. I could see the vibrantly, life-like photographs that the article would have. I envisioned the quotes, the story line, the descriptions of the band’s beat, the lyrical language that would be necessarily to come anywhere close to the real experience. I was in awe.

I realized right then how hilarious I was, the experience was. Whitney, a little girl who grew up a few hours from Mexico in the heart of Tex-Mex saying “Ay Ay Ay” and waking up to mariachi bands, a little girl who’s favorite thing in the world was to go see her grandparents and jump on the trampoline with water and, more importantly, her cousins, who loved to play in the mud and drag thrown away christmas trees to her backyard with her brother and sisters to create a giant tepee (aka a hole to China to the neighbors, but don’t tell them that it wasn’t real). Here that girl was in Africa, in Tanzania, in Tanga, right off the Indian Ocean, dancing with women I could not understand, at a wedding for a groom and bride I didn’t know. But here I was. How did I get here? How did that little “Ay Ay Ay” saying, trampoline jumping, Christmas tree dragging hellion come to Africa, to this very spot, at this very moment to be sharing this experience with these people.

No words could suffice, no words could convey my awe at the moment, but no words were needed- I could only convey my awe through gestures, smiles and holding hands. I could never say it better. When people ask me about my trip, there is simply nothing I can say. I always feel like my answers to these questions are so ridiculous and inept. How could I sum up something that was never verbal, but a life experience of color, short shared moments with people whose stories I will never know, but who I experienced life with dancing around a band at a wedding, in Tanga, in Tanzania, in Africa?

More importantly, this moment causes me to pause and reflect and wonder what moments I am missing in my daily, ‘normal’ life. What moments with my loved ones have I missed the importance of? These beautiful moments of raw honesty and joy don’t just happen in Africa; they happen in living rooms in Texas, in parks in Virginia, in streets of Calcutta, in gas stations in Alabama. They happen in my day-to-day life, in the boring, in the mundane, when everything seems perfectly normal and to be the same old thing, there is a little miracle.

I wonder: why have I not realized this before? Me. I am not able to see the beautiful, life defining moments in my own life. Traveling has awakened my senses to see more clearly the gorgeous, little miracles at home. I want to recognize the ‘national geographic’ moments in my each day: when I am sitting around the table on a Tuesday night eating with my family, my mother laughing so hard she is crying, my littlest sister recalling some hilarious story of the day about a boy being cute until he opened his mouth, my brother patting his newly filled stomach and talking about running and lifting, and the ever complaint of how he can’t build muscles like other boys; the evenings spent sitting in the grass with friends discussing our newly built college lives, dropping tea all over the new concrete and eating dark chocolate for comfort; sitting in classrooms discussing ideas, dreams and hopes of the future with teachers and friends: long, life-drawing emails from people I love detailing their defining moments in the last weeks.

These are the times, the seemingly uneventful moments, which are the miracles that define my life. I am starting to realize that maybe ‘normal’ isn’t so normal; maybe ‘everyday occurrences’ are more than just everyday occurrences. I just needed a little African push to see the beauty in my own life, the little miracles.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Courtney's Family

Every Friday morning, Harold (with bald Whitney in this picture), an employee with the organization I am working for, drives 3 hours into Dar es Salaam to get samples from hospitals for the rats to sniff for Tuberculosis. He leaves at 5:30 am to start the drive to the economic capital of Tanzania (it also used to be the capital city until a famous Tanzanian president tried to create unity by moving the capital to the geographic middle of the country, but still Dar is the most important city in the country and the new capital is only by name the capital.) I have gone with Harold before to see some of the national hospitals and to see the collection of sputum samples (these are basically little cups of spit and phlegm). But this time my boss, Courtney and I were planning on going with Harold for part of the way and then taking a ferry to see her Tanzanian family that she had lived with for 8 months the first time she came to Tanzania.

I was really excited to meet her family and to experience Tanzania in a Tanzanian’s house- to see how they spent their time, to see how they prepared their food, how they slept. I was ready for an adventure because I was getting so much into my work that I needed a mental break, and I am always up for a new adventure or new experience.

So we got up and threw our stuff into the car to share with other loud talking Tanzanians. We drove the 3 hours to Dar and went to the hospitals, and then Harold dropped us off near the ferry to a peninsula of Dar. We walked by the hustling fish market where local fishermen sell their day’s work right next to the Indian Ocean. We walked into a large open area with a tin roof to wait for our ferry to the peninsula of Dar where Cournty’s family lives. Dar es Salaam is a very hot place; I would say about 95 degrees or so now with no air conditioners anywhere. But the part that makes Dar so hard for me is that the sun is incredibly bright. I guess Tanzania is closer to the sun because I can really feel the sun beating on my poor really (too white) skin and baking it until it is a nice crispy red. We crossed the ferry, which was about 5 minutes in total, to the peninsula. We got on a NDallaDalla (local bus) to go to their house. We piled in with our backpacks and sat crammed in the bus with as many people that could fit; they have a saying in Tanzania: There is no such thing as a full bus. I believe it, but that is very true in India and other countries.

We arrived at our stop to find Macey, 22, and Joseph, 10, waiting to help us carry our things. They smiles were inviting and warmer than the hot weather. I introduced myself and hugged Macey as she said “Karibu sana.” Joseph was more reserved and quite, but he still smiled a big Tanzanian smile as we began our walk to their home. We walked past mud houses, normal for Tanzania, on our little path in between trees and untamed vegetation. After about 5 minutes, we reached their house. There were chickens and roosters running around with little chicks following every move of their mothers. On the side of the house was a little garden and clothes and sheets blew freely in the wind. We walked into the house, slipping our shoes off as we entered. I met Grace, the younger sister that is my age, with a hug and welcoming me in English. Grace is a wonderful singer who has a band that she is hoping will take her through life. She loves talking about music and about the Tanzanian music groups.

The house was a nice one for Tanzanian standards, but there was no running water, not stove or oven- however there was electricity. Little bugs ran in and out of the house- beetles, ants of all varieties, tiny cockroaches, mosquitoes made this their home with Anna and her family. They coexisted without causing the other too many difficulties. Macey took my backpack into her and Grace’s room where Courtney and I would stay during the weekend. We then sat down in the livingroom as Macy cooked ugali, a typical Tanzanian food made from boiling water and adding Maize flour to create a thick porridge-type rice dish. Then Grace and Macy brought the ugali and side dishes to go with the porridge, and we all proceeded to eat with our hands, a skill I thankfully learned in Nepal last summer- and it is a skill to eat with one hand without making a mess. The food was lovely and full of new spices and tastes. I looked over and noticed that Joseph made the sign of the cross and muttered to himself before eating. It made me think.
We ate and talked and even watched an American movie (funny).

Later, Anna, the head of the household, arrived like a storm of energy and liveliness ready to welcome me and hold my hand. Her face is so expressive and joyful- full of life in all ways. She hugged me and talked with me- I trying to speak some Kiswahili and she trying to teach me some. They all were able to speak English quite well though so I was able to fully communicate with all of them.

We talked for a bit before the process of dinner began. They have a ‘kitchen’ that is outdoors where they build a fire to cook rice and chapattis and everything else for dinner. In the middle of dinner preparation, a man brought buckets of water for bathing and cooking in large 10 gallon buckets. We carried them into large tubs in the short hallway to use for bathing later and the rest went into the cooking area for food.

I tried to help them make dinner, but they would not let me. I was a guest and therefore I would not do anything. So I sat with Grace as she cooked chapati (basically a crepe in this case) on a little charcoal burner on the front porch. I asked her about music and her band and we chatted as the chapattis cooked for about 2 ½ hours. Dinner took at least 3 hours to prepare and was a huge process of getting water and heating up the fire. Everything was done by hand. I realized the true meaning of “modern conveniences” as I really saw how long it takes when you don’t have modern conveniences. It is a long, but not impossible, process. Because they don’t have running water, they have one bucket where they put all of the dirty dishes and trash so that they can wash it later on.

As I watched the family in the way they interacted and loved each other, I was reminded of my family and how much I love them and spending time with them. Anna would smile a full body smile as she looked upon her children- a smile only a mother can do. In the family, I saw my sisters and brother and playing card games with them and little arguments. I was reminded of my mom laughing so hard she could not control herself. This family was so much like my own even across a huge ocean with a different culture and way of life. Through being with and experiencing life with this family far from my home, I truly understood the importance of my family and our love for each other. I miss my family dearly and can’t wait to see them all and spending time with Anna and her family reminded me just how important my family is to me.
Once dinner was ready, we sat down to eat. Anna said we must pray because it very important. We all bowed our heads and did the sign of the cross as Anna blessed the food and thanked God for the many blessings she has. She finished the prayer and began saying how important it is to pray and thank God for everything in life. She had such a powerful faith in a real-life way. She talked about her life and hardships as thanksgiving to God. Her favorite saying to any question of time was- God’s time is the right time. When the food was not ready, it was because it was not God’s time. When they had all been living in a one room shared apartment, it was because that was God’s time and she understood God’s hand in her life in a real way- through hardship and good times, heartbreak and love, sorrow and joy. Her faith was strong and unyielding, like a strong house that could go through many storms and still be strongly attached to its foundation. Her strong faith was inspirational to me. Her ability to see the good in hard things and hard times challenged me to do the same in my life.

After we ate dinner, I went to the room to change for bed because it was already 11 pm by this time. I put on my pajamas and then Grace came and told me that everyone was waiting for me to have a family meeting when I was ready. I walked into the room and sat down on a worn-down couch with little cushion left, and smiled at my beautiful host, Anna. I had just taken out my contacts so I was not really able to see everyone that well.

Anna started to talk about our plans for the next day- we were going to the beach to celebrate Grace’s graduation from Form 6 (Our equivalent to graduating high school) and Anna’s 44th birthday. We were planning on leaving at 8:30 am so we would need to get up by 5 am at the latest to prepare food to take and get everything ready. We talked about times as Grace and Macy complained about he early morning. After the morning plans were decided, Anna looked at me and said something like: “We want to welcome you to our home and to tell you that this will always be your home as well. We are now your family and you will always have a place with us. We have grown very close with Courtney as one of our daughters and we know that we will grow just as close with you. You are how our daughter and sister. You are always welcome.” I didn’t really know what to say; I was taken into the family so quickly without a second thought- just love and openhearted welcoming. Adam, Anna’s 28 year-old boyfriend, presented a conga, a Tanzanian piece of fabric that women use to wear over their clothes and for bathing. Congas are the Tanzanian version of a card, because they are given when someone comes or leaves or on any celebration. They have little messages on the bottom that act as the greeting. You have to be careful to buy an appropriate conga though so you don’t give a “You will be a wonderful mother” conga to a young girl for her Form 3 graduation.

So Adam handed me this piece of fabric, and I was officially welcomed as a part of the family. I was grateful and dumfounded and inspired. I realized how much I love my family and miss them. My family is incredibly important to me and growing with Anna’s family opened my eyes to see how much I want to be near my family.

Sometimes it takes me traveling far away to see what I have been looking for is where I started.

I travel far away
To find, to search
For meaning and purpose
For understanding and experience

I find
Meaning, purpose, understanding, experience
Leading me, showing me
The beauty and truth of where I started-

(My little try at poetry. I know I am not great but I enjoy writing!)
I also included a picture of me two days after I shaved my head! he he! the world is cooler with no hair! Who would have known?!?! :)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sokoni (In the Market)

One assumption can be made when traveling into a country that is developing- there will be a market. (I am pretty sure of this, but of course I could be wrong in some cases.) My definition of a market: People coming together in a dusty, outdoor venues to sell locally grown produce. Each country I have been in has its own little differences in the feel or essence of the market, but they are essentially the same in their function, with changing behaviors and food.
The market in Morogoro is just like this. I have been cooking a lot since I have been living here and thus the market has become a weekly destination for me. I love going to the market because it is a whole new experience in itself. The large market in Morogoro is in the middle of the city center, and probably the reason for the city center’s location. It is the center of the activity- every morning I see hundreds of people walking into the city with bananas and sugar cane on their heads heading to the market to sale their goods whole sale. People gather there to work, to buy food, to sale food, bags, carrying services and to meet and talk with each other. It is the life of the city during the day.

Today I need to buy many things- leeks, carrots, flour (chapatti flour- they also have maize flour that is very popular), eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, sugar, onions, garlic. Most of the time I am lucky enough to have a car to drive to the market, but I can also take a DalaDala into the city center from SUA (Sokoine University of Agriculture). Most of these run into the market, and they leave constantly throughout the day so it is an easy cheap way to travel.

I arrive at the market at 4 pm or so ready to shift through all of the people and goods- and dirt. The rainy season has begun, but the dirt is still dry and wild now. Nothing is safe from the dirt’s sticky grip, and a trip to the market always promises very dirty feet and legs. I look at my clean-ish feet and walk into the chaos ready to buy, to learn, to experience.
There are buses everywhere in the front section of the market bringing some unknown goods to the market. There are huge mounds of random dirt every once in a while. As I walk, I jump over holes and climb hills as I get closer and closer to the main section of the market. I can see pineapples and mangos everywhere with a strong smell of fish coming from the other side but taking over the whole of the air.

A boy I have seen before walks up to me and says “Mambo” and the usual greetings continue as he follows me during my shopping trip. There are many boys that hang around the market looking to take people around, but it doesn’t matter if you want to be taken around, they won’t leave and they will always find you. I think that they probably add something on the top of the normal prices for them to make money. I don’t really like this though; I want to shop by myself and find my own food. I like to find the shops I want to support, so I walked on. He followed me still.
I walk up to a main section of the market- it is a large wooden structure with little booths and roofs, but not much else. People have built little tables to hold their products out of wood and the food lays on bags or dirctly on wood. There is not a thought about sanitation or refrigeration; in fact, it is not an option. The vegetables and fruits are piled on top of each other, and the shop workers sit on a stool next to their food ready to sell tomatoes or carrots or onions to passers. There are not very many women present at the market, but there are a few sitting at stalls so I attempt to buy things from them. Around the market there are dirt gutters that contain water and waste and other things that I probably don’t want to know about. They have little wooden “planks” that work as bridges to the little outdoor shops.
I walk up to a man who sells onions and garlic and ask “Shilling n’gape Kilo?” (how many schillings for a Kilo) and point to the onions. “Moja?” (One?) “Ndiyo” (yes) and the boys that have been following me show up, and I am irritated that they just follow me. They start taking over the process of shopping, and I think of India. There were lots of people like this there, but the culture is also more upfront, or shall I say honest in situations like this. In India, I would tell them I will do it myself please leave. So I decide to try to go to another shop and do it myself. The boys follow me again, and I sigh and tell the shop owner that I want to talk to him, not them. This would have been okay in India, but Tanzania is a place where people seem to suffer anything not to be rude in any way. I learned that I shouldn’t have said that, but it worked. After a bit they left me alone. Next time maybe I will try a different way- because although I try to experience and be in a culture, I am also not a person who will suffer anything to not be rude and it is almost against my person not to say what I think! Maybe that is bad, but it is me.

I continue on by myself down the little rows of shops and search for eggs. I try to haggle down prices, but I have learned that there is not as much haggling here as there is in other countries. I take the price and move on, but I am starting to learn the normal prices more so I can tell if they are trying to cheat me with a high mzungu price (white or European).
I walk into the center market section and find the only man who sells leeks in the market- sometimes he even has fresh mint! I love to make tea with it. He smiles and shakes my hand when I come up. He has gotten used to seeing me and always looks so joyful when I arrive. “Karibu sana” (very welcome) he says, and I say “asante sana, Shikamo (thank you, and a respectful term for elders that acts as a greeting). He holds my hand a bit longer and his eyes shine with a certain happiness that I have rarely seen in the united states or Europe. It seems like a total and honest happiness at that moment. It is not something that I can completely understand or explain, but it is a captivating smile. I talk with him a little bit and then buy leeks and ask about the mint, but the mint is not read until Sunday. I say thank you and continue on.

Next, mangos! I have fallen in love with mangos. They are basically my favorite thing to eat (except maybe chocolate, but that is almost impossible to beat). I arrive at the mango area and begin talking, but then I hear “hodi” (something like coming or so) and see a man carrying a huge crate of mangos over a little wooden bridge towards me. I move and say pauli (sorry). The crate is huge and looks incredibly heavy, but he carries it very easily. I am about finished with the market now so I buy a bag for all of my vegetables and walk back to the bus to go home.
There is so much real culture at the market. I learn way more at the market than I could ever learn at a cultural museum. This is real culture- seeing how people work and talk and what they eat. How people live on a daily basis, and how they express themselves. The market is all of those things and more.

Nitarudi nubani kupika chakula jioni na ninafriyhe. Ninapenda Kuenda sokoine. Ninajefunza sana kwo watu lini ninaenda sokoine.
(I will return home to make dinner, and I am happy. I like to go to the market. I learn a lot about people when I go to the market. My elementary kiswahili practice!)

Ninapenda kuishi, Ninapenda Kuona,
(I like to live, I like to see,)


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Work and . . . Malaria

It has been a long time since my last update- sorry! I have been so busy working! I love my job; I am learning so much about organizations and life in general here. Little things sometimes take so much effort- internet goes in and out and then out and out some more! And a lot of my job is over the internet, updating people who have adopted HeroRATS or updating the website or writing newsletters. Who would have known that African internet wouldn’t be so stable? He he! But I am learning so much from that. When I have good internet it is really exciting! It is like a little miracle in my computer instead of me just expecting it all of the time. The little things make life great! And my patients is growing I believe. (or I hope!!)
I have not really talked about life much on the other entries, but I will tell you more now! (And here are some pictures of some of the cute little landmine detectors!)
I am working for a Social venture that trains giant African rats to detect landmines and Tuberculosis. Sounds crazy? It is really amazing to see and true. Check out the website- I update it and work on it all of the time as well! (as I am working on it, if you have any suggestions or thoughts please send them to anything good or bad! I am working on a survey right now that I am kind of obsessed with! He he, but really I am.)
So needless to say, this organization is quite different and new. Innovative even. I would have never- ever- thought of rats to detect landmines and definitely not Tuberculosis.
Within all of that, is a public arm of APOPO- the HeroRATS fundraising arm. I am working mostly on this part of the organization with a wonderful boss. We are writing newsletters, rat updates, following rats around to take pictures from each and every angle, sending adoption materials, making facebook pages for HeroRATS- you name it- we are working on many new ways to get out HeroRATS (or we are open to any new way if there are any ideas around!)
It is cool because there is so much space for this part to grow. I feel like I can really help and make a difference in the organization.
So I love it! It inspires me to want to be a social entrepreneur one day if a new idea presents itself that is redefining the box and great. I will be ready!

So life is great!

I think I should write a few words on malaria though.
I had malaria a few weeks ago. I am quite healthy now though so no need to worry! Malaria is a blood disease transferred through female mosquitoes mostly in Africa. It is really common here; in fact, everyone gets malaria. It is very normal, and people get it like the flu. Malaria affects each person in a different way so it is hard to describe it in general, but I can tell you a bit of how it was for me. First I started to feel very tired but in a different way than normal. My throat began to hurt as well so I decided to go to bed really early. I could barely sleep because I felt hot and cold all at once. I was a bit out of it during this time as well thinking about ants. I don't know why ants, but that is what I remember. And my stomach hurt a lot, and I felt like I needed to throw up. But then the next morning I was able to get this great medicine and the malaria began to clear up. Two days later I felt completely better! So malaria is not as big of a deal as it seems in itself. It is a part of life here, and I think it is beautiful how people adapt to whatever situation they are in. People deal with malaria because they have to, and they continue to live and laugh and play. Life continues on.
Malaria is an easily curable disease; All you have to do is take some medicine and you get better in a few days. That is why death from malaria is such a big deal. It is a easily curable disease and many people who die from it only die because they are too far away to get the medicine or are malnourished anyways.
Tuberculosis is the same way as well. It is a curable disease, but without treatment, people will die and spread it to many other people. It is a disease that is spread through coughing or even breathing on people. People who are malnourished (or HIV positive) are most susceptible because their immune systems are down. Areas with poor ventilation can also be dangerous. Every year it is estimated that a person can unknowingly infect 15 other people because they are not getting treatment. That is why detection methods like rats (!!! ☺) are so important. So adopt a rat!! He he

And I have an idea! I have decided that there are way too many negative statistics out there. I want to create positive statistics. I find that I focus too much on the things that don’t work or are wrong, but what about all of the wonderful things in my life that continue. Everyday that I don’t have malaria I should be excited. When my internet works, I should be thankful. When I learn a new word in Kiswahili I should be happy to know that I am that much closer to being able to communicate with more eastern Africans. I should be happy about having electricity and running water. Instead of focusing on the typhoid in the water, I should be thankful that I have a stove to boil the typhoid out. Instead of focusing on the heat and humidity, I should be thankful for my soft elbows! (India especially!) Instead of thinking this is going wrong, I want to program my mind to first register what is going right. That will take longer- because so much goes right it the world. Everyday I get up- many many things are going right. My cells are working together and my bed is still standing. I have toothpaste, shampoo, soap, mosquito net!!
Sorry I am rambling, but I get on a roll of positive things in my daily life that it is easy to forget.
So that is one goal!
Other goal- I will shave my head so I can understand and view the world as a bald person. I think it will be interesting. I don’t remember ever experiencing the world with no hair. I have beautiful African Head coverings to wear when my hair is buzzed- he he! I am quite excited. I have always wanted to do this.
So I wish you all wonderfull days full of love and the many positive things that fill up your days. I hope to hear from you all! Send me an email and update me on your life! Tell me the good things you don’t usually notice- or bad things. Whatever needs to be said!

much life,


Monday, January 26, 2009

A walk to Choma

This asubuhi (morning) Renaud, my hosemate, and his girlfriend, Victoria, and I set out to walk in the mountains with Hemedi, our house’s gardener. We didn’t leave too early, but because we went dancing at a local Tanzanian disco (dance) the night before, we were all a bit tired. It was a lot of fun! I really enjoy Tanzanian dancing, and there were several nice ladies who were teaching me some rhythm! I probably already lost it though.
In the morning, I was ready to go and explore some more of the land and villages, not knowing what to expect but ready to sweat and experience new things with new people. Hemedi was planning on taking us to his village, Choma. I am not sure if Choma means the top of the mountain or if it is the name of the village he lives in on top of the mountain. We started to walk up the very steep mountain on a little dirt road that soon became a little dirt path.
Hemedi walks down the mountain every morning to come to work and then back in the jioni (evening). He told us that it takes him 1 hour and 20 minuets to anatembea (walk) down the mountain, and then 1 hour and a half to walk up the mountain. Every day he does this! It is amazing what a person is capable of! It is truly beautiful to see this strength, and he never complains. This is his life and he laughs more than most people I have ever met. When I try to speak Kiswahili, he lights up and laughs as he corrects me or tells me “ndiyo” (yes). He seems to live and love life. I hope I can learn more from him while I am here.
We began our walk at about 8:30 am, and I was sweating profusely by 8:34 am. Thankfully the sun was not out yet, but the mountain blocks much of the wind and the humidity was giving my pores a work out. The walk was hard work, and I was acutely aware of how out of shape I am with each step. I loved the walk though! The scenery was beautiful- mimti (trees), banana (ndizi) trees, blackberry trees, mango trees, avocados in abundance, maize plants and grasses of many varieties lined the majestic mountainside. The path looked like something I had seen in a book somewhere in the years before my trip when I had obsessed over the beautiful continent I am now in. Every few meters, we would pass by a home or two. The homes are constructed of dried mud bricks and bamboo with dirt floors. People looked up from their Sunday work to shout a friendly “habari” (hi or how are you?) or “mambo” (another greeting). They smiled and many of them called to friends, “mzungu!” (white person) and smiled widely as we passed. I would return their greetings with a few of my own- I am happy to say that I think I have the greetings down! After about two hours, we reached Choma and Hemedi’s home; we were not quite as fast as Hemedi is. He was barely sweating during the walk—I was soaked! I felt like I was in India again.
His parent’s home was like the many we had passed. His mother was so welcoming and happy to have us at her home. There were about 9 children sitting outside around their house and the neighboring house. They smiled and laughed as we said our “habari za . . .”s and repeated nzuri to each question. The garden around the premises of the house was beautiful. There were gorgeous flowers- red, purple, yellow and orange sprinkled the greenery. Hemedi’s father, Saidi, is also a gardener for another APOPO house. He obviously loved flowers and wanted to be surrounded by them. I talked a bit to the mother and learned about her husband going up and down the mountain everyday as well. Hemedi’s mother gave us some bananas to take home, a gesture full of welcome that I find so touching. The Children smiled and watched us from a safe distance, but when I came closer to talk to them they were very pleased. I took a few pictures of the children, and their faces lit up to see what they look like in a little camera screen. Every time I take pictures of children, my favorite part is to see their huge smiles when they see themselves and their friends in the screen. The giggle and point at one another on the screen and talk about the picture. I wish I could capture that look on their faces to show other people the joy that a simple picture can bring. The little every day things, in my opinion, make the world a beautiful place. We said goodbye to the family and then headed to Morning Side, an old Belgian camp for mountain climbers. There was supposed to be a beautiful sight of Morogoro and the mountains from that point. We spoke with random people as we walked to our next destination. I loved shaking hands with the women and men that I met; there was some kinship in the way that they shake hands. There was additional part to the handshake—after the normal handshake, they would grab my hand another way and hold. In those short moments, I felt that there was an understanding between us. An understanding that goes beyond words, but that says you are a fellow human being in this world and I am truly happy to meet you. Their hands and eyes said so much to me. There is just something special about the handshakes that I can’t quite translate into words.
We made it to Morning Side with no difficulty and sat down on a ledge to eat some fresh vegetables. We had some delicious tomatoes, avocadoes (which I have come to love!), bananas and black berries that we had bought on the way up the mountain. After we were done at that stop, we decided to head to a stream to swim a bit. I am not skilled in walking down mountains; I think it is from when I seriously sprained my ankle from jumping off of a bale of hay when I was 15. My ankles were shaking a bit as we walked down, and the paths are right on the edge of the mountain. I missed my step a bit, and fell down the mountain a few feet. Thankfully I was able to grab onto a lot of grass to keep myself from falling further. Hemedi noticed that I was not on the path and came running to help me up. I love how those things happen! Of course I don’t mean that accidentally falling down a mountain is fun, but it is really interesting. I didn’t even think about what was happening fully while I was falling; I just instinctually grabbed on to something to hold me there. It is amazing how the mind works fast than I do. I pulled some muscles in my uncle and it made walking a bit more difficult, but there was no big problem. And it was pretty funny!
We made it down the mountain in about 45 minutes or so. Hemedi joined his family on the top of the mountain and wished us goodbye—“kwa heri!” I sat by a creek with Renaud and Victoria and put my feet in the cold water. It was so refreshing.
Later that afternoon when I returned to my house, my ankle was hurting and I tried some medicine and a cream but it was not really helping. Then Leonardi, the house’s night watchman, came and was asking me how I was. So I told him about my fall and my ankle. He said he could help. He didn’t need any fancy medicine or anything to fix this problem. He got hot water and a piece of material and pressed on different areas of my ankle. He diagnosed my problem—I had stretched or ripped the muscles around the front of my ankle. While he was working on my foot, he kept on saying: “God will heal you. Jesus heal her foot, help it to get better soon!” He said other things to this extent and said it will be better soon- Got will heal it. I smiled and said “Asante sana.” In about 20 minutes my foot was feeling so much better and I could walk on it again. Sometimes simple remedies and not complex medicines are the best answer to problems. He was so gracious and wanted to help me become better.
I am thankful.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A university life across the globe

I was standing in front of Sokoine University of Agriculture’s (SUA) store for students trying out a few of my Kiswahili words on the store worker. I was looking for batteries of my flashlight and little battery-powered lantern.

There are many power problems in Morogoro, the city I am living in. I have not figured out the complete picture of the power problem, but I know that the city has decided to ration the power to certain areas of the town for certain days and other areas get other days. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, you are not getting power out of the usual electric source during these times (or maybe it does- but I am definitely one of those people so I don’t know). (I also heard that there were just power problems in SUA so maybe I am wrong.) This happens in many countries including Nepal where most houses don’t have power for 16 hours a day even if they want to pay for it. As I write this I am sitting in the dark relying on my apple’s battery power. All I can say is that I really like batteries.

The lights could go out at any time and I would not be expecting it and my fellow volunteer is out with his girlfriend in Zanzibar, an island off of the coast of Tanzania. So I am alone in my house without any power, and it makes me a bit uncomfortable. There were no batteries for the flashlights or lanterns and thus darkness. On the third day of the electricity problem, the night guard, Leonardi, told me that he needed to have a “light torch” so that he could protect the house. I firmly agreed and quickly decided to run to the university store to find some type of batteries for the light torch and lantern I had found in draws in my house. I walked down the rough dirt roads ever present in Tanzania past the dormitories, the cafeteria and finally to the university store. As I stood in front of this line of huts with dirt floors and random products I was so happy to see, I realized something I probably should have before. This is SUA’s version of a university convenience store. This poorly built wooden hut selling batteries, cocoa, butter, feminine hygiene products (although never tampons ladies- more on this later) was their One Stop Patriot Shop. Insects are by no means strangers to this store and a few layers of dirt cover every product dimming the bright colors of packaging. Forget air conditioners or refrigerators, those are no where to be seen- I was so grateful they had batteries I wouldn’t care if there were giant rats in the food- and there may be! Who knows?
I laughed a little at the differences between this convenience store and the ones I think of when I think of my university. So completely different, but then, the same.

So there I sat with the convenience store talking with the man behind the counter who, even if he was trying to rip me off by charging 100 shillings more per battery, was trying to help me get my light torch to work. I was so incredibly thankful for this hut, this man, the paths that had been forged on the red Africa dirt- they had batteries and that is all I needed.
Three little girls walked by with veils on their heads; I called out “Mambo! Habari za jioni?” (How is your night?) “Nzuri” (good) they all replied. Nzuri- the common and basically only response to any version of ‘how are you’ in Tanzania. No matter what is happening in someone’s life, they will always say nzuri. I thought that this was nice first, but then realized that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Would nzuri ever really mean really good? Or is it just the word that comes after any Habari za . . . phrase? I guess it is the same in other ‘polite’ countries like the US, but I don’t think it is quite to the extent that it is here. I am not sure how to really ask someone how the are and get a true response. I don’t think there is a way here, because people seem to just want people to not worry and like their responses. Back to the three little Muslim girls, they laughed and smiled at me, and then ran up to counter of the SUA store, they giggled once again and then ran off.

While this was happening, one of the male university students stood next to me and started the usual welcoming greetings. I responded and smiled, as I figured what was coming next. He asked me my name, and I replied “Whitney,” he said “Quidni.” The W sound is quite difficult for people to pronounce I have noticed. Then he asked me where I lived, knowing where this was going, I told him I didn’t know what it was called, so he told me to point, and I replied by point my finger in the general direction of my house and moving my finger back and forth- many houses were in the general direction. I then said asante and decided to move on. I went back home to find the electricity on, and then after about 15 (kumi na tano- I am trying to practice a bit) minutes, the lights went out again.