Monday, September 26, 2011

Useful Proposals

Let me just tell you, Jeanette may look younger and prettier than me, but I am worth about 400 cows. At 600,000 Tanzanian shillings per cow, that means about $150,000 for a bride price. I hope my parents don’t mind that I turned down the marriage offer from the lovely Maasai man who sat next to me in the pick-up truck on the way back to Lushoto from our hike. The tall, chubby man didn’t seem to be exaggerating when he said he had 10,000 cows. His girth was proof enough. As he said, it takes a lot of milk and meat from his herd to make him that fat. And though his four wives sounded like a companionable group of sisters – he married sisters to prevent in-fighting – I don’t think I would enjoy bearing six children. Jeanette didn’t seem to like the idea either.                                                                                                                                         
Despite that, he did teach me a valuable lesson about Tanzanian culture in general. During the ride, the conductor ask him for his fare by saying in Swahili, “Hey, Maasai man, give me the money.” To which he answered, “Swahili man, take this.” There was no shyness on either side about just referring to the other by their tribe. Though the Maasai are Tanzanian, they are often considered to be different from “normal” Tanzanians. The Maasai man referred to all non-Maasai Tanzanians as Swahili people, no matter what their tribe. It was the equivalent of all white people being called “Wazungu.” I asked my seat companion if he minded being called “Mmaasai,” and he said no. He seemed surprised that I would even ask. He said when his kids see a “Swahili man” when out taking care of the cows, they yell “Mswahili” to him just as they would “Mzungu” to a white person. (The “m” or “wa” prefix on a word means it refers to a person or people.)
As you might have noticed, children and even adults in this country have no aversion whatsoever to yelling “white person” at you or to referring to you as a white person in a conversation. Though blatantly identifying someone by their race or ethnic group in the States is considered exceptionally rude, here it’s just normal. I always thought it was specific to white people because we are rich, strange looking creatures who might give out money. Apparently not. Apparently racial or ethnic difference just is, so why make it taboo to mention it?
Knowing that makes it somehow less annoying when I hear a chorus of “wazungu” from children who are so far away that I can’t even see them. Not completely okay because sometimes it would be nice not to be a walking circus attraction, but in truth, maybe sometimes I just need to lighten up. Of course, maybe I also need to go get my 400 cows before all my hair falls out, and I look even older… (So long as Jeanette is okay with that.)

Note: Jeanette is not okay with that.

What a Difference the Rain Makes: Iringa vs. Lushoto

Traveling through the Usambaras has taught me a remarkable number of things about life in Tanzania. Most importantly, villages here vary greatly. In Lushoto, where it rains at least once a week even during the dry season, everything is lush and green. That means people can grow large crops of tomatoes, cabbages, and other marketable crops year round. As a result, people have considerably more money than in Iringa region. You can see it in the quality of the village houses – almost all of them have tin roofs instead of grass or leaves and are built of nice bricks or cement. Electricity reaches further into the region as well. People also have money to spend on the variety of goods sold during the twice-weekly markets that travel through the villages. 
 In Iringa region, villagers usually have to travel to much larger towns to buy things like used clothes, dishes, and other goods. I guess it’s because they don’t have enough money to support a consistent market.

Religion also seems to play out differently here. One of our guides mentioned that Muslims can marry more than one wife. I said so can Christians, and he looked horrified. Apparently men here are not polygamous. In Iringa region, many, many men have multiple wives. Contrastingly, almost everyone in Iringa region goes to church on Sunday or at least takes the day off from going to the fields. In Lushoto, people even farm on Sunday. I guess there’s more work to be done. That could also explain why people here walk more than twice as fast as people in my old village. Seriously. People in Itimbo saunter and make fun of my “American” walking speed. Here, they pass me on the trails. They have somewhere they need to be (and no blisters on their pinky toes.) It’s been a good set of lessons on how different things are in different parts of the country.

Usambara Mountains

  Note: Once again technology won and I (Jeanette) incorrectly saved the photos to the thumb drive.  Will try to post tomorrow or later this week.

On our last day in Dar es Salaam we booked a Kilimanjaro hike. Problem was, we have barely been hiking since our days in South Africa, so we headed to the Usambara Mountains for a crash session of getting into better hiking shape.

After a fairly comfortable 7-hour bus ride from Dar we arrived in the gorgeous town of Lushoto, a lovely haven tucked into even more lovely mountains.  As we stepped off the bus we were, as usual, met by a swarm of men wanting our business in one fashion or another. (Not in THAT fashion! Get your head out of the gutter!) Lucky for us there were also five other wazungus on the bus who greatly helped to divert
the attention away from us.  Our guidebook recommended booking hikes through the Friends of Usambara as they are very involved in community projects, so we headed there.  A plethora of different hiking options
were on the menu and we chose the 4-day hike to the Mazumbai Rainforest largely because there had been a great lack of trees in our lives while living in Unalaska and because of the chance to see black
and white Colobus monkeys.

The next morning we met our guides, Issa and Abu, at 9 AM.  Although Issa is a more experienced guide, Abu is from the area where we were headed so they were both going on the hike in order for Abu to help
Issa familiarize himself with the area.  After a short taxi ride to the village of Soni we began our 22+ km hike for that day.  It was sunny and hot, and after just a few hours it became apparent that we hadn’t put on our boots in well over six weeks (Tevas being the shoe of choice).  Our feet were so delighted with the extra room provided by our Tevas that they seem to have sprawled out a surprising distance
and now very snugly fit into our boots.  This means blisters, more so for Anne than me.  She’s always said how shoe shopping is a pain for her because of her wide feet but I guess I never really looked at them
closely nor compared them to mine.  She wasn’t kidding.  They really do look like duck feet without the webbing. This explains why she typically gets blisters on the sides of her feet.  Towards the end of
the first day we both decided to take off the boots and finish the last few kilometers in our beloved Tevas.  Our foot-spreading has put a kink in the Kili plans though; it’s a hard enough hike as it is with comfortable boots.  Before this trip and even in South Africa where we were hiking a lot, we took such pains to make sure our boots were comfortable and suitable for Kili – so much for advance planning!  We have decided to rearrange our plans a bit and head to Moshi early to either look for new (used) boots on the street or to rent them from one of the companies and wear them around town for a few days before the hike.

Our first day of hiking led us up, up, and up a road to the town of Bumbuli.  Despite months of hiking inactivity, Anne hasn’t lost her ability to make dust out of me while going uphill.  We passed through two villages and saw tons of chameleons along the way.  Issa and Abu were so good at noticing them and pointing them out to us.  Anne and I would search the bushes along the side of the road and never did find one, until the last day when Anne spotted one crossing the street.

Awesome views.

Male Usambara Two Horned Chameleon doing downward dog.

I don't know what yoga position this is, but I bet I can't do it.
Every little kid we passed that day shouted wazungu at the tops of their lungs.  Sometimes we couldn’t even tell which direction it was coming from.  Although this makes me feel like I’m a circus act, the kids definitely had a friendly tone to their voices and the braver ones dared to say “good morning” or “how are you” in English quickly before running away and hiding in embarrassment.

The second day pretty much rained all day, a sure sign that we were near the rainforest.  The forest was beautiful but since we were drenched and cold we didn’t have time to linger and take photos. There was a little hamlet next to the rainforest that would be our home for the next two nights and given its lack of proximity to anything, we had very low expectations.  However, we were pleasantly surprised to walk up to a gorgeous house built by the Germans in the early 1900s.  When the Germans colonized Tanzania, they constructed a ton of buildings and destroyed much of the rainforest for timber and farmland.  Then the British came in and turned many of the buildings into houses and schools.  Within minutes of arriving we had on dry
clothes, a cup of tea in our hands, and were warming ourselves by the fire.  The grounds were beautiful complete with an amazingly colorful garden.

I have no idea what this is but it was pretty.

This is the flower on passion fruit vines.

Our lovely home for two nights.

Issa and Abu were delighted with Anne’s ability to speak Swahili and many of the locals we encountered along the way were as well. Although our two guides could both speak decent English they habitually lapsed into Swahili, so Anne acted as my interpreter.  Her 31st birthday was our last day of the hike.  I had asked Issa and Abu to bring a candle out with breakfast that morning so we could all sing “Happy Birthday” to her, but they went above and beyond by picking her a bouquet of beautiful flowers, lighting a candelabrum, and buying her a kanga.  It was really sweet and obvious how excited they were to celebrate with her. (We didn’t tell them, though, that we also celebrated our six month traveling mark!) They were really good guides
and enjoyable to be around.

Abu, Anne, and Issa with their flowers and kanga gifts for her 31st birthday.

Boca Boca Tree with enormous roots for stability.

Black and White Colobus Monkey!

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and we had to head back.  It was sad to leave the rainforest, but we were comforted by the gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and villages.  It was a great hike and so good to be outside.  Now, if we could just square away this boot situation for Kili….

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Good Friends, Good Times

Well, our last few blog entries have been fairly negative.  We had some hard times on the move, we got overcharged for bus tickets, and we saw first-hand what the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa really means.  I am happy to say that despite having diarrhea (again – this is Jeanette; Anne is still in perfect health) in a place with squatting pit toilets and no running water, the last two weeks have been awesome.  Our visit from Pipa, Pam, and Jay completely rejuvenated my spirits and a small dose of good friends was all I needed to put a smile on my face and recharge my batteries for the next three months.
Upon their arrival, we hit the ferry for Zanzibar, a tropical paradise just a few hours by boat from Dar es Salaam.  The tourist mecca there is Stone Town, a maze of old buildings and narrow roads, full of local eateries, tourist shops, and everything in between.  I went diving for the first time in over a year, and it was my first time diving in a wet suit as well so that was exciting.  My dive buddy was Pam and the highlights were a green sea turtle and some sea horses. Pipa saw some of the same things when trying not to crush her dive instructor’s hand. She’s going to be a very good diver some day; way better than Anne, who went with Jay to see giant land tortoises.

There was a really cool evening food market with delicious, local food near the water that we ate at a few nights.  This, unfortunately, was likely the contributing factor in Jay, Pam, and I getting a stomach bug that necessitated us all getting on antibiotics.  As per usual, Anne remained perfectly healthy during this ordeal for the rest of us.

Our visitors were interested in seeing Anne’s village, and Mama Resti and Mama Yuni were happy to receive visitors so we headed back to the village for a day and a half.  Pipa, Pam, and Jay seemed to pick up on the language quite readily and everyone we encountered was more than happy to communicate with them and was always up for a laugh.  We spent a small amount of time on Mama Resti’s farm helping her to harvest corn, but I think she just wanted us there for the novelty factor because she thinks we’re all too soft to work the fields.  Just like our last visit, Mama Yuni and Mama Resti were extremely accommodating and fed us to the hilt.  We had an excellent goodbye dinner with many songs and drum beats to the tune of an overturned bucket.  Tanzanians have many songs with repetitive lyrics about saying goodbye to us and how sorry they are we are leaving and wishing us luck on our future travels, whereas our repertoire included classics such as American Pie, The 12 Days of Christmas, Old MacDonald Had A Farm, and Iko Iko.  While five white people in the village caused some heads to turn (and small children to stare), we were very welcomed and it was an excellent experience.  Despite the diarrhea.

A long and painful 17 hour bus ride put us in Arusha at 3 AM just in time for the start of our 9 AM safari.  As it is getting late and our entries tend to be long winded, I will let our photos speak for the safari part of the trip.  We spent time in Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, and the Ngorogoro Conservation Area.  I had been dreaming about going to the Serengeti for years now and it epitomizes the quintessential picture I had in my head of what Africa was supposed to look like.  It was awesome.  Really beautiful scenery and tons of wildlife, even though it was the dry season and we were too early for the wildebeest migration.

Then, before we knew it, it was back to Dar for a brief day of souvenir shopping and goodbyes.  It was such a good visit and just the perfect slice of home to keep us going.  Thanks for the smiles guys!
Red and Black Colobus Monkey on Zanzibar

Watch out!

Jeanette's favorite baby animal ever

Baobabs at Tarangire


Wildebeest/Zebra party

Ok, I'm coming...

Dik Dik

What you looking at?

Topi (new species for us!)


Guinea fowl is tasty

Male lion in the Serengeti

the leopard that walked right past us

serval cat pouncing on rats

spotted hyena


sunset over the serengeti

yeah, that's the spot!

kids, stop!!

mom, what's that giant metal thing and those tasty looking morsels looking at us??

go away.

Elephant walking through campsite at Ngorongoro Crater

Maybe if I close my eyes all the people will go away...

Ostrich mating dance


Flamingos in Ngorongoro Crater

Pam, Pipa, Jay & Jeanette

streets of zanzibar

Pam's panorama

great skies...

short rains on the plains

more cheetah photos

Jeanette's sea turtle

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Going Home, or why I might consider an MPH again if I'm not too jaded

When I think about returning to my Peace Corps village I think about biking through the dense pine forest plantation to Mama Yuni’s mud room that serves as a “cafĂ©” of sorts and hanging out in Mama Resti’s smoke-filled kitchen. I was worried about returning this time – what if they didn’t remember me, what if they had died, what if everything was different, so many “what ifs.” I only received a few letters in the four years since last I visited, so I went back with many questions of what to expect.

The first change I noted was that public transportation options to the village have doubled in the past four years to two different buses, and the 20 km ride to Itimbo from Mafinga was significantly less crowded than in the past. We even got seats. But the ride was also significantly less beautiful. Two years ago a fire swept through the massive pine plantations and all of the trees were cut down. It looked like a barren wasteland littered with towering piles of sawdust. The forestry managers are starting to replant with a mixture of eucalyptus and pine trees, though it will take 20 years before it’s restored.

When we got off the bus to the village we encountered many more buildings and shops and a couple of houses even had satellite dishes on top. Electricity hadn’t arrived in the village, but some people could afford generators and solar panels to power their TVs. I nervously walked toward Mama Yuni’s old house wondering what else had changed when we met her walking toward the mill with a basket of corn on her head. After getting over the shock of seeing me – we haven’t exchanged a letter in years – she excitedly hugged me and escorted me back to her house. A ten-year-old boy trailed behind us. It took me forever to realize this was her son, who I hadn’t seen since he was three.

Mama Yuni’s world is full of changes. Her eldest daughter is now the mother of two, and they all live in the nice, new-ish cement house together. Two of her children are in secondary school, though school fees have more than doubled. She no longer runs an mgahawa cafe. In fact the old mud room collapsed in on itself when Mama Yuni was in Dar taking care of her dying mother. Like half of the village’s Catholic congregation, she has been “saved” and now attends the village’s new second branch of the zealously religious Assemblies of God Church. Near as I can tell that mostly means she no longer makes and sells beer, and her prayers at meals and in the evening are much longer and much more fervent. And she, like the rest of the village, now has a cell phone.

When I got my first cell phone in 2003, I used to hide it because it was considered so strange. I’d only have it on for an hour per night because I had to bike to Mafinga, one and half hours away, to charge it. Now, people have solar panels and generators around the village and make a business out of charging phones. Everyone has one dangling from their necks, and they use them to call friends on the other side of town, just to say hi. Twenty-one year-old Yuni is constantly sending text messages, just like every other young adult in Africa. Pre-paid airtime vouchers are available at every kiosk. Women still cook over open fires while balancing their pots on three rocks, but at least now they can do it while calling anywhere in the world.   

Soon after arriving at Mama Yuni’s house and immediately being fed, Mama Resti found out we were in town. She came down to the house and entered singing and dancing. Her goofiness factor, one of my favorite of her traits, was running strong. I guess she didn’t forget me either. Her life hadn’t changed as much as Mama Yuni’s, though she too has two new grandchildren and a beautiful new cement house. She has also lost her parents and her brother. Her husband still lives in a different village and still isn’t very nice to her. She’s the only one who learned to raise bees when I was in the Peace Corps who still does it, and she seems to delight in eating a spoonful of rich, thick honey in the evenings.

Returning to the village was in many ways like returning home. It was so nice to see friends, to hear how things had changed, and how they had continued on. I had the same conversations I always have –why I’m not married, why I have no children, how my sister is doing, how are my parents. I was awestruck by stories of horror – Mama Resti’s brother was murdered for money so her relatives hunted down and killed the murderer in return. Another woman was beheaded when her cloth wrap was caught in the spinning belt of the grinding machine and it pulled her in. I was treated as if I had never left, and Jeanette was treated like I was when I first arrived ten years ago. She was force fed tons of food and patiently taught Kiswahili while sitting in the kitchen. (The universal conclusion is that she’s very bright and learns quickly.)
Mama Yuni and me

Mama Resti and me

On our second day back we attended a show put on by a group from Mafinga. Their aim was to change men’s behavior so that they would become more involved with home life. The event contained the usual mixture of dance competitions between children and skits that tell men not to sleep around and to actually help their wives at home. When one village man was asked if he ever helped bathe his children, he looked scandalized before answering what he knew was expected of him – no, but he would be willing to try. I somehow doubt that…

Jeanette and I skipped out of the performance to go escort 18-year-old Lili to the makeshift testing center. Once a year, the group from Mafinga comes to the village to provide free HIV/AIDS tests. We told Lili we would get tested as well, but when we got to the house, people were competing for a spot. Four years ago, hardly anyone knew their status in the village and no one really wanted to know. They didn’t see a point. Now, ARVs are available for free, theoretically, in the village and in Mafinga. Fifty-five people get their meds in the village each month. Now that AIDS isn’t seen as a death sentence people are more inclined to know their status. I was shocked and elated. Just four years ago, when I was interviewing people about AIDS, I never would have foreseen this.

The testing process seemed very straight forward. You get a number, the testers take a sample of your blood, you go outside again to wait, and then they call you back in after the results are ready. Mama Resti went to be tested, just in case. When she came back out she looked ashen. Jeanette and I had already decided to forgo the testing so more villagers would have a chance, and we returned home with her to find out what was wrong.

Mama Resti was told that her blood was dirty –the common, indirect way of saying she was infected with AIDS. The “counselor” didn’t provide her with any counseling, any information on what to do next, and any information on what causes infections. He just wrote down “CTC” on the ripped off corner of paper that served as her results and said to go to Mafinga. She wasn’t even sure that it really meant she was infected. We decided to go to Mafinga with her the next morning so she could be tested again and find out what to do.
We arrived at the CTC, which turned out to be the AIDS treatment center, and walked into a room full of people waiting for services. Posted on the walls were large handwritten signs declaring that they only accepted new patients on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, a helpful fact never mentioned by the man from that same clinic who tested Mama Resti the day before. After making fun of Mama Resti for coming to the clinic with a white woman to help her, the woman in charge told her to go get an out-patient file from another part of the hospital. That process alone took an hour and a half.

After bouncing around the hospital for a bit longer seeking services, Mama Resti was finally admitted to the AIDS clinic. She tried to explain that she just wanted to be tested again, but everyone seemed to ignore her. The lady yelled at her for not coming with her husband and not getting tested with him. She didn’t listen when Mama Resti said that her husband lived in a different village and didn’t listen when Mama Resti said she felt unsure about the results and just wanted to be tested again. The machine to test her wasn’t working, the lady said. She could go to another village, maybe, but she doubted it. It was confusing. Eventually Mama Resti was sent to wait in a long line in the back and about an hour later she returned to us in the waiting room. She said that she was given drugs to take once a day for the rest of her life and that she should come back in a month to get more. They didn’t explain the importance of the drugs, of staying healthy, of how to avoid infecting others, of anything. And they didn’t do the only thing she wanted – to get tested again.

We stood outside the office and discussed what to do. The people in the clinic made it seem as if she couldn’t get tested again anywhere and that it wasn’t important. As we were discussing having Mama Resti come with us to Iringa (an hour and a half away) the next day to get tested again, one of the doctors in the clinic who Mama Resti had spoken to earlier during that chaotic morning saw us out his window and called me over. Not Mama Resti; me. He said she didn’t look comfortable and wanted to know why. I explained, again, that she wasn’t sure of her results. That the rushed, chaotic nature of the day before left her feeling unsure, like maybe the results weren’t right. All she wanted was to be tested again. This time, because I said it, he listened. He came outside and escorted us to the clinic where they do rapid results AIDS tests. A place that we tried to visit earlier but wasn’t open at the time.

Mama Resti was seen immediately. The woman took drops of her blood and spread them on two different types of tests. As we waited for the results she explained to Mama Resti how infections occur and made sure that she understood that she couldn’t get it just from handling dirty clothes of an infected person. While we talked she kept glancing at the tests. Eventually, she just kept staring at them. I asked her what was going on, and she said to wait while she called the doctor in. He came back from the other clinic and also looked long and hard at the tests.

Both tests said Mama Resti was negative. Both tests. The day before, the rushed counselor had made a mistake. Either he let Mama Resti’s test sit for too long and it showed a false positive, or he mixed up her test with someone else’s. That means that someone in Itimbo could be infected but thinks he or she is not. It means that more tests than just hers could have been wrong. It could mean many horrible things, but just one wonderful thing: that my friend is okay.

When we got back to the village we went to see Mama Adam. Four years ago, when I was back in the village conducting interviews for my thesis research, Mama Adam told me that her husband and his second wife had both been ill for a long time and had recently died. I strongly encouraged her to get tested for HIV. Though she was scared, not long after I left, she did. She found out that she was positive. She said that for about a year after getting her results, some people refused to go visit her for fear that they would also get sick. She was heartbroken and didn’t know what to do, until others in the village told her that she could get free medicines in Mafinga. Now, people are over their fears and many of the infected people are part of a group called “Living with Hope” that has small projects and a support group. She goes to get her medicines every month in Itimbo, provided for free by the same group in Mafinga.

The problem is that they don’t give her enough drugs. She gets enough for about half of the month and has to buy the rest, if she can afford them. It’s unclear if others actually buy more or not. The “counselors” never explained to her that she has to take it every day. If she doesn’t, she can still get sick. The medical students we traveled with in Malawi explained to us that the main problem these days for patients with HIV/AIDS is noncompliance. If patients don’t take all of their drugs, then the drugs don’t help. Here, the government, supported by aid agencies, is giving out partial treatments and not full treatments. People can’t comply because they don’t have enough medicine, and they don’t know the importance of taking it every day anyhow. The half-assed program isn’t really helping anyone; it’s just providing false hope and wasting money.

The whole experience made me feel frustrated and impotent and hopeless. What could be an effective tool for fighting a devastating disease just causes more problems. People get false test results, get shuffled through a system of people who don’t listen, are left feeling stressed, and are given only half an answer anyhow. But what can I do about it? How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again? Truth be told, Mama Resti is probably right. The only reason she eventually got re-tested is because I was there - a white person who could potentially get the clinic in trouble with their donors. They didn’t know that really, I’m just Mama Resti’s friend and nothing else. So I’ve helped one friend. Now what? How do I make it so the people running the program actually start to care? It’s frustrating and painful and leaves me with the same questions I’ve had for years: what’s the point of “development,” does it work, what role do I have as a western, as an educated woman, etc.

I loved going back to my village. I loved dancing and singing with my friends. I loved feeling so comfortable and so welcome in a world where I shouldn’t fit. People I hardly knew greeting me with enthusiasm and kindness. Jeanette finally experienced the genuine hospitality and openness of Tanzanians who were genuinely happy to have us visit. But ultimately, I realized again that the village is a world that I can’t go back to except to visit. And a world that leaves me with all of the questions I’ll probably never answer but probably never stop trying.             
Mama Yuni and her clan (minus Charlie)

Turns out I can still carry water on my head. I've graduating to carrying the same amount as a third grader.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Long time no post...

Sorry for the extreme lapse in posting. It feels like we've been going at a non-stop pace. Tomorrow we accidentally get a break because of a miscommunication about when our friends are arriving to meet us... We'll update you on our recent adventures back to my old Peace Corps village soon. Stay tuned! And know that we're ok, just too busy to write. -Anne