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.