Here is why I love not having plans: The morning that I wrote the last post, my friend Erica and I went to meet with our former teacher Mackrine, and the woman whose organization we will be working with for the next several weeks. I don't know how to describe Mackrine but she is the happiest, most laid back woman I have ever met who also is very on top of things and very professional (and I love her). So anyway, we meet her at her house and after the usual greetings, the first thing she says is: "So do you want to go to Dodoma tomorrow?!" Dodoma is a region in the center of Tanzania, about a 12 hour bus ride from Arusha, and although it was last minute, our response was immediately yes. She said we could stay with her friend and come with her to her appointments; she would be there for three weeks but we were free to leave whenever. Perfect.
So, that evening, I packed my things, had dinner with my family and said my "see-you-later's" (I'm obviously planning to be back before I leave TZ). It was unexpected and sad to know that I won't ever truly live there again, but I was excited for the adventure ahead of me. Mackrine's son picked us up around 10 that night and we officially moved in to Mackrine's house. Moving from my first home to this one is quite the change: Erica and I have our own bathroom connected to our second-story bedroom, we have a small balcony, running water, WIFI in the house, and we are living with about 7 other people our age, some are her children and some volunteers.
We didn't spend much time in our new house, as we left at 5am the next morning for Dodoma. We got to the bus station at the last minute, squeezed our way into the crowded bus and took off just after, beginning the ridiculous journey that was to follow. To start off, the driver literally ran over someone's foot leaving the parking lot, causing a huge scene but then just driving away. Of course we were eventually chased down by a police officer who made the driver go to the police station to file a report. After about 45 minutes of sitting there, we were back on our way. I had only gotten about 2 hours of sleep the night before, so I was eager to sleep for as much as I could. My sleep was constantly interrupted because we kept getting pulled over every half hour to have a police officer patrol the aisles, question some of the passengers, unsuccessfully try to flirt with Erica and I, and then let us be on our way. I was slightly confused, but not very surprised because law enforcement is so corrupt, I figured they were just looking for opportunities to make a couple bucks. Halfway through what was supposed to be a 7 hour trip, we were already almost 3 hours behind schedule, and then things really got interesting. A police officer came on the bus and started making a fuss about a report that was made saying that there were drugs smuggled in the luggage compartment. Everyone on the bus is extremely irritated at this point, so everyone gets involved. Meanwhile I have no clue what is really going on, but then everyone starts filing off of the bus as the officers start going through the luggage compartment. Of course they found nothing of value, and had only further enraged the passengers who were missing various appointments (one woman her brother's funeral). Finally, about an hour later, we were back on the road and had an essentially uneventful trip from there on out.
When we arrived in Dodoma, the only information that we had was that we would be staying with Mackrine's friend for up to three weeks. We didn't have any idea what the situation would be like, but it is safe to say we were almost shocked when we arrived at her house. This neighborhood is like the Beverly Hills of Tanzania, and I had no idea anything like it existed. There are paved streets that are lined with big, well-built and nicely furnished homes, well manicured lawns and gardens, etc. Our house has 4 maids, a security guard, a door bell (big deal), landline telephones, ceiling fans, all modern amenities, etc. It is the strangest transition ever (but I'm not complaining!). The family is very kind and welcoming (of course) and they have four adorable children. The father of the family we are staying with is a doctor and he said he would be happy to have us help at the hospital he works at.
Our first day here was SUCH a good transition from the sedentary lifestyle that I was burdened with during school-- we climbed a huge hill/small mountain" and got a gorgeous view of the whole town and nearby real mountains, I went on a run through the neighborhood (on paved streets (!) as opposed to the tiny trail I used to run on along the highway in Arusha), and we finished it off doing an Insanity workout video. Safe to say we had been deprived of physical activity, but it felt soooo good to be reacquainted with it. The best part was that we barely got any attention from anyone all day! I didn't hear "mzungu" once, and it was like no one even cared that we were around. Dodoma is much smaller and more peaceful than Arusha, and although I haven't been to town yet, I think I like it better already. I am very excited to surprise my host brother at his college here, especially when I told him that I probably would never make it all the way to Dodoma.
Soooo somehow the semester is OVER and I am officially a senior in college (not possible??)! We finished school on Friday and I am so excited to begin the second, and entirely different part of my trip-- the part where I am (sort of) in control :)
On Saturday night I had the symbolic (and somewhat surreal) experience of accompanying my friend Hailey to the airport. It was symbolic in that, while driving to the airport, I truly did feel like I was leaving Tanzania. And while I reassured myself that I did, in fact, have another six weeks left, I came to realize that in a way, I was leaving a way of life that has been the norm for me throughout the past three months; I was leaving my life of certainty, of being provided for, and of excess comfort. It was not until this moment when I realized that things really would be much different now.
But rather than being sad, I felt so happy, and light as a feather. After dropping her off at the airport and driving back into town, I felt like I was re-entering Tanzania, embarking on a whole new trip. I am so excited to experience Tanzania in a totally different way-- where I don't really have a plan, where I am not cooked and fed every meal, where I don't really know where I will be living a week from now (lets face it, I don't even know where I'll be living three days from now). I don't have anyone to report to, or anyone to worry about me on a daily basis. I feel so free, and I am so happy to have the freedom to do whatever, whenever. Of course during my first few months of being here, I really did appreciate all the help I was offered and all of the efforts taken to make me feel safe, comfortable and taken care of. But now I am fully ready to be independent once again, to do what I want and to be able to trust myself that I know what is and is not a good idea here. I no longer have anyone to make my decisions for me. Those who care about me trust that I have lived here long enough to know what I'm doing and to be able to take care of myself (for the most part), and I know that I am. I don't expect everything to go perfectly, but I do expect that I will be totally fine with whatever the next six weeks has to throw at me and I am excited for the adventure. I also am content knowing that I never am truly alone-- that I have a network of very loving and caring people who will happily help me when I need it, feed me when I am hungry, and offer me a bed if I need it.
A lot of people have been asking me "...so now what exactly are you doing?". Well, to be perfectly honest, I really don't know. I'm not worried about it, but I don't know. I have a list of things I want to do, a list of people who have invited me to stay with them, and that is enough to let me comfortably go with the flow. Technically and officially, I will be volunteering with HIMS (Health Integrated Multisectoral Services), but even that could really mean anything. I am very excited for all that I will experience with this, and I am equally excited to see where else life takes me. Stay tuned for updates I guess...
Looking back at my last week of school, its safe to say I had the most enjoyable "finals week" in history. I did excellent on all of my finals (pretty sure I finished with three A's and one A-), despite the fact that I did not spend more than half an hour studying for all of my finals combined (sorry to all of my friends in real college!). Tears were shed on the last day of school, both by us and our teachers, but I was comforted knowing that I can stop by their homes or work anytime.
We all went out to dinner on the last night, with most of our teachers and some of the staff from school, which was so much fun. I realized how strange it seems that I was spending the evening of my last final eating and drinking with my teachers, but I would not have wanted anything different. After dinner, my friends and I returned to spend our last night together "on campus" rather than in our separate homes. Before going to bed, we ran into Hans, the Danish administrator of the school, who invited us to his home for a drink with him and his wife. When we walked into his house (that looks the same on the outside as all of the other faculty members), we were shocked to see Hannah Montana playing on the huge TV, his daughter's huge collection of nail polish, a house cat (unheard of), and a living room that was entirely comprised of IKEA furniture! We were all truly shocked-- the way we reacted you would have thought we hadn't seen any of these things in 30 years, rather than 3 months. We had gin and tonics (with lime!) and fruit roll ups, and were equally excited about both. After a while, Hailey curled up on the couch and fell asleep watching some Nickelodeon show that I am too old to know the name of. The rest of us ended up staying and talking until 2:30 in the morning (also so foreign to us here, as most natives usually go to bed once it gets dark), and walked the short way back to our rooms on campus. Of the 50 or so rooms I could have stayed in, I happened to have been assigned the exact same room that I stayed in when I first arrived in Tanzania (the one with the mural on the outside). It was so strange to re-enter that same room with such a different perspective than when I arrived, and it reminded me of how much I have experienced since the time I first stayed there.
I surprised my family last week by asking to stay a week longer than arranged in their home. I actually thought I had discussed it with my mama a few weeks ago, but maybe I misunderstood my own Swahili because they were definitely surprised-- pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless. After this week I will begin my new nomadic lifestyle: hang out with my friend Kate in Dar es Salaam for a week or so, then come back to Arusha to volunteer for the next few weeks. Thats all the info I have for now-- more to come later!
I want to describe my weird life, but I don't really know how to do so because every day is different. Therefore, I have randomly chosen one isolated day to elaborate on, as it depicts my life here very well and why I love it so much. There has been no other day like it, and there never will be, but that is how every day is. Sooo here is what I have to say:
I woke up at 6:30 am and went on a quick jog. Because it was "late" according to my Mama (I usually leave by 6:15 am) and the traffic would be picking up, she told me I only had 20 minutes before I had to be back. As annoying as it can be to have these little reminders of my lack of independence, I also am very much appreciative of her care and concern for me. Due to the fact that I overestimated my speed and was gone for a half an hour, she had already boiled the water for the bucket shower I was to take (so nice after a run!).
After eating my normal breakfast (an egg, piece of toast, & half a banana) I was on my way to school by 7:15. Walking the 200 or so meters to the main road, I met my favorite little toddler (his name is apparently "G"?) on the way. He ran up to me to hug my legs and then took my hand and walked with me for a short time. I left him near his house and made my way to the main road to catch a dalla dalla. As usual, I only waited a few seconds before the van pulled over to the side of the road, and I hopped on. I basically sat on top of a random man for the 3 minute ride, and then got off at my school's stop.
My first class is supposed to start at 8:30, but when I got to school I learned that it had been "cancelled" for that period. This is a totally normal occurrence, and I have come to expect that at least 3 classes a week will be "shifted" or "postponed". Since we have guest teachers all the time, it usually happens that one of our coordinators will pop their head in the classroom about 20 minutes before the period, happily ask how our mornings are going, and then casually let us know that we will actually be having this class "another time", for one reason or another. So, instead of having class, I was happy to have 2 hours to do my favorite activity-- doodle and color random pictures :) After 10:00 teatime under the banda, we had a guest lecturer come talk to us about traditional healing. He is currently a professional dentist, but he grew up in a rural village and showed us the scars on his chest that are still there from the cuts he received at the age of two. He told us that this occured during a traditional ceremony, and the deep gashes were put there by the traditional healer to prevent malaria. While this, of course, does not prevent malaria, he went on to tell us more about some of the actual effective ways that traditional healers are beneficial to their communities.
Since we had a "private study" period in the afternoon, after lunch my three classmates and I headed into town on the free shuttle provided by the school. We just walked around and explored some of the only places we had not yet been, including the supermarket and a gelato shop (YUM). Then we headed back to our favorite coffee shop, where we randomly ran into some people we had met in town the week before. They are a group of rugby players who are on a "road trip" from London to Cape Town, spending about a week in each country along the way to teach rugby to secondary school kids and provide them with a "start up kit" of equipment-- I don't even like/know anything about rugby and this sounds like the greatest thing ever. They were fun to talk to for a while, and before we knew it it was almost time for the shuttle to pick us back up!
We headed to the shuttle's pick-up location, but about 20 minutes later we concluded that they definitely weren't coming. While it is very rare for our school's shuttle to be a no-show, we weren't too worried, we would just take a dalla dalla home. But as we were walking towards the bus station, we ran into the husband of one of our teachers who asked if he could give us a ride home. Of course we accepted, and he told us he had to have a quick half hour meeting and we would be on our way. In the mean time, he asked us to relax in the restaurant he manages and enjoy a beverage on the house. About two hours later (no surprise) he returned with his pick up truck and invited us over. Of course we were excited that he had a pick up truck because there is no law here against riding in the back of them (in fact, there are usually at least 15 people riding around in every truck bed!) so the four of us jumped right in. As if there were no one in the back, he peeled out of the parking lot like any "good" Tanzanian driver would and we were on our way. This was the probably best half hour car ride of my life. By the time we left, it was dark and the usual blanket of stars (or as Mufasa would say, the great kings of the past) had already coated the night sky-- we had a perfect view! The ride itself was hilarious-- we bounced around every direction and everyone else loved seeing wazungu in the back of a truck bed. I'm not sure if people were honking any more than they usually would (A LOT), but people were definitely leaning out of their car windows to wave or try to give us a high five as we passed them (on the shoulder, as usual). So fun.
Instead of going home after this, we had been invited to our teacher Ene's house for dinner. Due to our little transportation mishap, we were over 2 hours late, but she happily insisted we come anyway. Ene is Nigerian, and truly is one of my favorite women I have ever known-- she always greets me with a huge hug, genuinely asks how I am doing, and then genuinely listens to whatever I have to say. What starts out as small talk can often turn into an hour long deep conversation that I love every minute of. Anyway, we showed up at her house and after her usual hugs and greetings, she immediately shows me to the salad and red wine (she knows me too well). We were not the only guests there-- she had also invited a group of her colleagues, all of whom had just completed a week-long seminar together on Social Accountability. This group consisted of about 15 people from the ages of 25-60, each from a different country-- I felt like I was at a UN party (some of them actually had worked for the UN, so not too far off!). Since we were so late, we entered into a lively discussion (which got even more energized with each glass of wine) on world politics, about everything from George W. Bush to Joseph Kony. They were all very educated and offered such interesting insight into many current events, but each of course with their own unique background behind their individual opinions. I met a 50 year old Indian woman who had been the homecoming queen at the college she attended in Texas, and a Ugandan man whose sister's life had been taken by the LRA several years ago. There was such a wide variety of different people, all of whom were so interesting (and kindly expressed interest in us as well), and I was reminded of how fortunate I am to attend such a non-traditional school. While many people were out at the bars on that Friday night, I was casually drinking wine with leaders from all over the world.
WIthout our asking or knowing, Ene had arranged a car to pick us up from her house and bring us back to our village by 10:30. We wished our new friends well and went back to Makumira. Instead of going straight home, I stopped at my friend Hailey's house to stargaze on her roof. Perfect way to end the night :)
With 2 weeks left of my official program, I figure it might be time to attempt the daunting task of writing an update. Let's be honest, I have totally failed to keep a written record of everything I have done here (though I am impressed that I have even written at all!). I am officially over half-way done with my time here (WHAT?!!) which blows my mind in so many ways. Now I will try to write about it... again, sorry in advance for the length... yikes.
So obviously I love living here, and have from day 1. What has been interesting to me is to experience the transition from being a wide-eyed newcomer who is enthralled with every aspect of every little thing, to all of a sudden forgetting that I am in a foreign place. After two and half months of living here, there are now days where I have to literally remind myself that I am in Africa (and that I'm not African!?). Suddenly everything about life here that once made me literally cry tears of happiness, just seems so normal, and there is little that really surprises me or even seems foreign anymore. That is not to say that I am not still (SO!) in love with everything, it is just strange to have to remind myself that this actually is not my normal life.
As if simply living in Tanzania weren't enough, I have been living in absolute dream land for the past week due to the raging energy around the recent election. I feel like I am in the US 1960's, but in Africa (heaven?). Here is why: A member of parliament from the district that I live in recently died, and therefore his seat in the parliament was vacant. As a member of the (extremely corrupt) ruling party since the beginning of time (hi, i'm exaggerating), this was a big deal for the opposition party, as they finally had a chance to gain a seat in the parliament. For the past few weeks there has been a ton of campaigning on behalf of the opposition party, CHADEMA, by (mostly young) people everywhere. When I say this, I do not mean that people have t-shirts and buttons and posters-- I mean that people have decked out their cars, bikes, buses, and piki-piki's with the party's flags, and ride around with people hanging their entire bodies out of every window, people sitting on the top of moving cars and buses, standing on the back of motorcycles.... all joyfully shouting and waving as they drive down the highway. The party's sign/symbol is two fingers in the air (peace sign). To them it means multi-partyism, but of course from my perspective all I see are hundreds of people waving their peace signs all over the place. And when I do it back, the response I get is the equivalent to if I had just told them I was giving them a million dollars. The energy level has been through the roof-- compared to the excitement around Obama's election I would literally say it is 100x higher. To most peoples excitement, we found out this morning that CHADEMA did win-- at 7 am there were already crowds celebrating everywhere. Everyone I have passed on the way to school was smiling, cheering, and flashing their peace signs at me. The newly elected member of parliament is planning to immediately break ground to build a well for our village, which will have a huge impact on everyone's lives here (many people are still walking several kilometers a day to fetch water). After learning so much about how destructive corruption within the ruling party is to this country, I am SO HAPPY to see that at least there is some positive change coming :)
While I have obviously been able to recognize the difference in lifestyles from the start, it literally just hit me the other night how much living here has reallyyyy affected me as a person. I was hanging out with my friend Hailey, and our conversation eventually drifted to the difference between our lives are here and in MN. We were casually joking back and forth about our everyday stresses and strains at home, and I absent-mindedly started rambling about something that I can't even remember now, when she stopped me and said: "Wow, you're really getting worked up... I think I just had my first glimpse of 'American Olivia'". She was half-joking, but instantly I truly realized how right she was. Without even noticing it myself, the mere thought of certain aspects of my "real life" initiated a sharp change in my mannerisms: I was talking a mile a minute, rambling on about totally random things (sodium's effect on blood pressure, the dangers of cigarettes, and my political opinions, to name a few) and I was totally worked up-- a side of me that I realized Hailey had never really seen. Everyone here always comments and jokes about how ridiculously relaxed and care-free I am, and until now I have always just thought "well this is how I've always been". But it never really occurred to me that, due to a variety of factors, I am rarely able to enjoy such pure appreciation of life in my "real life". Of course I fully appreciate the opportunities & blessings that I have in MN-- I am fortunate to have a quality education, an engaging job, and awesome friends that contribute to a full social life. There is no doubt about any of that. But I also realize how much of an impact maintaining and balancing all of it really had on my stress level. I never really thought of myself as that hard of a worker, but in retrospect all I can do is wonder how the hell I managed to be so constantly overwhelmed with tasks, activities, commitments, and responsibilities, and not have even noticed what it was doing to me at the time! The thought of re-entering that lifestyle sort of terrorizes me, because now that I have experienced such an alternative way of living I don't know how I will be able to smoothly transition without losing everything that I have gained here. I guess I will start by not worrying about it, knowing that I have two months to figure that out :) Luckily I am so obsessed with my friends and family in MN that I do have a wonderful reason to be excited about coming back.
I don't even know where to begin in terms of what I have learned... I guess I should call a spade a spade and admit that, academically, I have not had an easier semester since 5th grade (dead serious). By the same token, however, I have not learned as much in such a short period of time in my entire life. And this is the beauty of studying abroad :) It is hard to put words to all that I have learned about myself, this country and the world in general, but I will simply say its a lot and leave it at that for now. I literally love all of my teachers-- they treat us like their own children and so many of them go out of their way on a regular basis to make sure that we are all okay and have everything we need. We spend so much time together at school, but have also attended multiple parties and family functions with them that I have come to consider them second (or third) parents. I will miss all of my baba's and mama's so much once school is over, but I have been invited to stay with many of them for the time that I will be here after school is over.
Aside from the "normal" everyday adventures of life here-- when I say normal, I mean that nothing is really normal, therefore making everything normal?-- I have had a few extra-exciting events that I will mention. First and foremost, I assisted with my first labor and delivery a few weeks ago, and it was definitely one of the best moments of my life. One of my classmates and I spent a day working in a local maternity ward, posing as "medical students" (ethical, I know...) and luckily we were able to use the language barrier as an excuse to hide our lack of medical knowledge. I won't go into detail about the events of the day, as they are likely to make some people queazy, but I will say that I had the privilege to assist in the birthing of the most beautiful baby girl in the world and it was absolutely incredible. The experience as a whole was so exciting, but the moment the baby was born and we confirmed that she was, as far as we could tell, healthy and beautiful, I was so overwhelmed with happiness that I could not contain my tears of joy... I think I was more blatantly excited than the mother, but that's neither here nor there. The whole day was just so perfect and completely confirmed my desire to go into midwifery, a career which previously seemed perfect in theory and now in real life as well :) :)
I spent my twenty first birthday on the shores of the Indian Ocean in beautiful Pangani, TZ and it was so perfect. The beach was lined with palm trees as far as we could see, was not littered with tourists or big hotels, and the water was that perfect blue green ocean that you see in calendars (and was as warm as a bath!). I woke up at sunrise for an early morning solo swim that may or may not have included a swim suit... I take after my mother :). The waves were so calm (or nonexistent) that I could lay on my back and float for a half hour at a time without getting water up my nose or being taken by the current. We (my 3 classmates and I) spent the weekend swimming in the ocean, relaxing on the beach and enjoying a few cocktails here and there. It was so nice to feel independent again! As much as I love my family here, it was wonderful to be able to eat what and when I wanted, not to have to explain why I wasn't home before dark, etc. We met a lot of fun people (and a few crazy ones) and had a perfect weekend.
While I am reminded every day of the beauty of life here, I have also been exposed to a much darker side of Tanzania, and I cannot explain the sinking and increasing feeling of helplessness with each new encounter. The term "ignorance is bliss" has never been more real to me, as I have been so disturbed by countless first-hand accounts of the struggles of life here. It really is difficult living such a privileged life in Africa and meanwhile learning about how poverty stricken the majority of the country is. The statistics are bad enough, but meeting new people everyday who put a face to the numbers is even harder. I have sat down for multiple discussions in the living rooms of severely impoverished people living with HIV and AIDS, of women whose husbands have taken everything from them and left them with nothing, of children who have prostituted themselves simply to pay their school fees. I have met elementary-aged children who are working after school so that they and their mother can afford to eat a single meal during the day. I have met pregnant women who are due any day, walking 20+ kilometers (alone!) to the nearest dispensary, only to turn around and walk home after their appointment because their husband won't allow them to stay the night. I have met doctors working around the clock, only to receive about $10 in 24 hours, if they are even lucky enough to receive their salary when expected. I have met people who have barely escaped murder, simply for refusing to engage in the corrupt practices that pollute every level of society. I never thought I would be emotionally able to sit and hear about these hardships and know that I am not able to help them all, but I also know that I cannot ignore the real problems that are on the ground affecting so many people. While things are slowly changing, it is incredibly saddening and frustrating to know that the government is essentially to blame for the root of all of these problems, and that they are so much bigger than a few dollars here or there.
While all that I have learned so far is not close to all that I will, I feel that I have built a very strong foundation for the community work that I will engage in throughout the second half of my time here. I will be volunteering with the NGO that Mackrine, my Public Health teacher is the director of, Health Integrated Multisectoral Services (HIMS for short)- you can see the website here: http://www.hims-tanzania.org/en/index.html. I absolutely love this woman and her organization and I am so excited to work with her across so many different aspects of public health in Tanzania. Everything is very up in the air right now, such as what exaclty I will be doing, where I will be living, and even the possibility of me being deported early (yikes)-- but Mackrine assures me not to worry and I know she will take good care of me :) Hakuna matata!
To sum up, LIFE IS AWESOME :) I will try to update more often so that I don't need to write a NOVEL every time but who knows if I will succeed at that... All my love to MN! xoxoxo
Sooo I wrote this literally over a month ago and I am too lazy to go back and edit it but I figured I might as well post it late rather than never...
Hello hello hello from TZ! It has been a few weeks since I last updated and I know my millions of followers are just dying without an update. Everything has been wonderful here, though I have definitely noticed a shift in the way life has been going since the first few weeks-- just another reminder of how important change is, especially embracing that change rather than resisting it. I have now lived here for almost a month and a half, which is the strangest thing ever in that it feels both so much shorter and so much longer than that in different ways. As always, time is flying, and as always, I am doing my best to just enjoy every minute. I sometimes have dreams that I am back in the US, blown away by how quickly my trip went-- I must say I am always relieved to wake up here beneath the safety of my mosquito net! Lately I have been getting a little frustrated with myself because I have come to consider so many of the things that I was initially fascinated by and (maybe overly) excited about as "normal", but also know that the ability to think of these things as "normal" is amazing in and of itself.
Looking back on all that I have done since I last wrote is a little overwhelming-- I would love to share at least one awesome thing about every day, but I will spare the details and try to pick out the major highlights:
One of my favorite days was a few weeks ago when we adventured to a village called Boma Ngombe. We had seen a friend from school's photos of the most beautiful oasis I had ever seen, and decided that we 100% needed to go. So I wrote the directions down and that Saturday we got our hiking gear and swimsuits ready and headed out: "Flag a bus down on the side of the road, pay the equivalent of $2, ride for about 1 hour and get off two villages after the airport. When you get off walk to the last road in town and ask for Mr. Price. When you meet Mr. Price, ask directions to Maji Moto ('Hot Water'/ hot springs). It is down a very long road but if you stay straight you will eventually get there." Sounded easy enough, and actually everything went smoothly until we got to Mr. Price's and found out that the "very long road" truly was very long-- 25 km. long! Not a chance were we going to walk 25 km out into the wilderness and make it home by dark. Rather than giving up, however, we were determined to get there. We asked around for where we could find a taxi to take us, and met a guy about our age with a "friend who has a car". We met this friend, agreed upon a price of about 6 US dollars each, and headed out. The ride was hilarious. Immediately after leaving "town" we found ourselves violently bumping down a rather non-existent "road" in his little Toyota sedan-- I was 90% sure it was going to break down at least 15 times, and after 45 minutes of seeing nothing resembling what I had seen in the photos, decided he was definitely taking us to the wrong place. To top it off, he informed us that his name was "Lord Ricky" about halfway through the ride-- so at that point we were basically sure that we were on our way to some sort of prostitution camp. But, to our pleasant surprise, over an hour later, we finally made it! It was even more beautiful than the pictures my friend had shown me: the clearest, bluest water surrounded by the most lush trees I had seen thus far. There was a rope swing hanging from one of the trees, and the water was the perfect temperature. After a few hours of swimming, floating on my back along the slight currant, and hanging out with some Europeans we met, I saw a Tanzanian guy that we had been talking to earlier climb at least 25 feet up a tree, and then slowly walk about 10 feet out onto a limb over the water. The water was so clear that I was able to see the rock bottom of the "pool" from where I was, and I instinctively yelled at him that it was way too shallow for him to jump from there. He gave me a goofy grin and plunged into the water below him. Seconds later he surfaced with the same excited smile, saying he didn't even touch the bottom. After drilling him to make sure that it really was deep enough (and finishing the single can of beer that I brought), I was compelled to do it myself. As freaked out as I was (I spent at least 20 minutes at the top of the tree, screaming obscenities and debating if I could physically bring myself to do jump) I finally walked the 10+ feet out on the limb and jumped! I felt like I was airborne for 6 minutes, and when I hit the water I experienced the closest thing to an enema, but it was absolutely awesome and so worth it. I was happy to see my Tanzanian friend there to meet me at the bottom, and I instantly swam into his arms, as I was literally too shaken up to use my muscles to swim.
Another amazing day was of course going to Ngorongoro Crater, but my photos depict that experience much better than my words can. I will say that I literally felt like I was in The Lion King the whole time, and it was absolutely amazing. We were so close to lions, elephants, zebras, buffalo, hippos, hyenas, cheetahs, ostriches, warthogs, rhinos... The best part is that they were all just coexisting together, grazing and playing together peacefully. SO AWESOME!
Last weekend, my "brother" Deo, Hailey and I had quite the experience walking to a waterfall that I had been begging Deo to take me to ever since he mentioned it. He had actually never been there, but he got "directions" from a friend and was confident we would find it. We were instructed to take a Dalla-Dalla bus (the ones with about 5x the max. capacity of people, where people literally hang out of the door of the moving vehicle) and got off about 20 minutes from home. We bought some snacks and pina colada ingredients (obviously) at the little store and began our trek up the mountain. We were told it was a half-hour walk from the road, but about a 45 minutes up through the mountain villages Deo stopped to ask for directions. We were informed that from that point we were at least a two hours walk away! With the whole day ahead of us, we decided to keep going. It was actually awesome to walk through so many villages and meet so many different people in attempts to get directions (it was definitely not a straight-shot!). When we finally made it (it was beautiful!) it immediately started down pouring with the hardest rain I had seen since being here! After 2+ hours of walking uphill, we were grateful for the natural cool-down, and once we were adequately drenched we sought shelter under a little cave. As we were waiting for the rain to let off, we were met by a security guard who apparently is in charge of the nearby water treatment plant up the mountain. He and Deo had a friendly chat in Swahili away from Hailey and I, who by the looks of the situation were not worried at all. After a few minutes, Deo walked over and casually informed us that we were under arrest. Apparently in TZ that doesn't mean you are actually under arrest, it means that you pay the officer a little bit of corruption money (known as "chai") and you are free to continue. Having learned all about corruption in our classes and how detrimental it is to this country on so many levels, I was reluctant to pay. But after hearing what would happen if we didn't, we coughed up 10,000 schillings ($6) and were free to continue playing in the falls. Deo and the guard exchanged phone numbers because the guard was worried about another guard catching us, but fortunately no one else came.
After several fun-filled weekends, I took this past weekend to relax and rejuvenate, and I could not have made a better decision. For some reason I was experiencing my first bout of feeling down since getting here, though there was really no issues or event that initiated it... In all honesty it wasn't BAD at all, I just got to a point where for whatever reason I had begun to lose the (somewhat ridiculous level of) positivity that I had consistently held for the first month. I think I was mostly frustrated with myself-- all of my experiences were still just as awesome, but I was just feeling a little down for no reason at all, and that became all I could focus on. It is interesting how this attitude shaped the way that I felt about everything-- the people around me, my experiences, and myself as a person. On Saturday I chose to read and relax in my room for the majority of the day, and spent the rest of it just hanging out, doing some housework and messing around with my family. I was so thankful that I was able to do this because by the end of the day, I felt totally myself again, just as excited about everything as usual :) SO HAPPY that all of those negative feelings are gone, and I am back to loving everything here!
My Mama helped me wash my clothes and it was so fun to just sit, talk and hang out with her. I love her a lot and truly do think of her as a mother figure of mine, but in a very different way than I am used to. As I have mentioned before, she speaks very very little English, so conversation is a very minor aspect of our relationship (though we have fun speaking Swahinglish to each other). It is so amazing that it is possible to build a close relationship with someone without really being able to effectively speak aside from very basic conversations, but it also shows how important other aspects of a relationship are. As hard as it has been, we really have grown into a "mother-daughter" pair that, while rather untraditional, is equally cherished as it would be if we were able to speak the same language. It took the two of us over two hours just to wash less than what would be one load of laundry! We literally had 5 buckets of soap and water set up outside for different "cycles"-- the first to soak in detergent, the second to scrub with a bar of clothing soap, the third for the first rinse, the fourth for the second rinse, and sometimes even another rinse once the third bucket started getting soapy! It will never cease to amaze me how much effort is put into the activities that we don't really give a second thought to, much less spend several hours on: laundry, cooking, daily house clean-up, etc. It paid off though, as my clothes dried perfectly clean and fresh (and believe me, they were long overdue...)!
My family has had a few changes since I got here, and while I have been sad to have my sister Mary gone at boarding school for the past few weeks, I have been happy to have another "brother" move in. He is actually a nephew of my host parents, but in Tanzania, any distantly related family member is equally considered a son, daughter, brother or sister. His name is Deo, which also happens to be the name of my other host brother as well. I have actually gotten to be rather good friends with "New Deo"-- we go running together in the early mornings and have had countless fun conversations. Unlike "Original Deo", he is in college and speaks very good English, so we are able to relate on several levels. I am so happy to have him as a true friend, especially because he never expressed any further interest in me aside from just being my friend/brother. Based on my experience thus far, I have pretty much come to expect every young Tanzanian male I meet to eventually bring up the topic of marriage or of financial support. Obviously this is extremely frustrating because I am so happy to meet everyone here, but it gets hard to have to continually turn people down in one way or another.
School has been going awesome as well-- we have had so many amazing opportunities to explore the different aspects of culture here and I am so grateful to be able to have such a comprehensive and personal understanding of Tanzanian life. We visited an old man's banana/coffee "farm" on the gorgeous slopes of Mt. Meru, and learned from him about family and community roles in the tribes' leadership, which is incredibly respected and deep-rooted. We were directly exposed to the way that government officials operate when we were so rudely walked out on during a meeting with the District Council Chairman-- a situation that ended up being absolutely hilarious due to our teacher's reaction. We of course did not take it personally, and rather were glad that we saw the type of behavior among government officials that we have heard so much about. We have visited several other places to learn about environmental degredation, community development and more, but my favorite so far has been a trip that we went on last week. We visited a women's clinic on the border of the Serengeti, about 2 hours away from all developed civilization, and met the Massai women who have been using this clinic for the past year, as well as the nurse from San Francisco who helped to establish the clinic.
In other news, I am happy to announce that my personal fan club / group of stalkers has (finally) left campus. When our classes started in January, there was a 6-week course being taught at the same time for already established leaders of organizations and I was initially very interested in the non-profit work they were doing in their communities. My interest in their work, however, led to an unending interest from their end in me, which grew to be the most annoying and uncomfortable thing ever. By their last week here, my fan club had grown to more than 10 men between the ages of 30-45 who would go extremely out of their way to talk to me, would ask my friends how and where I was if I was not around, and would argue in front of me about which one of them was going to marry me (at first it seemed friendly, then it just got really wierd). This was not the worst of it, as when I would be napping or reading on the grass outside, they would approach me and insist that I come to their bedroom on campus, and twice I was invited to stay the night with them. As awful as this was, I have learned to appreciate it for what it was: a not-too-dangerous chance for me to practice the thing I am worst at-- being assertive. Never would I choose to be directly rude or standoff-ish to a person, but I have also learned that sometimes it is necessary and okay to do. I am truly glad that I met them in my first few weeks (and even happier that they have now left!) as I was able to learn early on how to ensure that this does NOT happen again.
I would love to share more, but my fingers are sore from typing and I have a feeling any one who has read this entire thing is ready for it to be done anyway :) xoxox
Another week has FLOWN by-- it is already freaking me out how fast the days are passing, although I am doing my best to simply enjoy every moment and embrace the fact that I actually don't remember what it feels like to be stressed out. AHHH :) I will spare the details of everything I have done this week, but some highlights have been:
1. Going to church last Sunday with my sister Mary and her friends. Didn't understand a word but the singing was so much fun. Wish I could take the choir back to MN for everyone to hear-- so awesome!
2. Going to a traditional African music performance at the college nearby. Sat in a room filled to at least 300 people OVER capacity for about 3 hours, but it was totally worth it. LOVE the drumming, singing and dancing! I randomly met some of the performers at a bar this weekend and was invited to come to their next drumming class-- so excited!
3. Watching a meteor shower and drinking African wine (only the best) on the brick foundation roof of a 3-story building that was never finished (a common occurrence here). So beautiful and much fun, will probably become our go-to Friday night activity.
4. Kissing a snake and riding a camel in a Maasai village. Hi, I'm a tourist... whatever it was awesome.
5. Volunteering at Cradle of Love orphanage every day after school (there are over 40 babies under the age of two... need I say more?) Absolutely love the facility and staff there, so happy the little angels have such an amazing home! Already in love with too many of them... Yikes.
6. After getting lost at night one of the first nights I moved into the village (I'll be honest, I was somewhat terrified), I am now able to get around by myself without a worry in the world. Not that I really have to, because my friends live within a few hundred meters of me. Still, its nice to feel at home and like I can handle myself without acting like a stupid "mzungu".
7. The MTV-like station that is always on at my house has been playing a ton of old Eminem music videos. Best thing ever, thanks East Africa TV :)
As much as I sometimes miss home, I know that the second I leave here I will miss everything about this place, so I am focusing on the millions of amazing things that I enjoy here every day, some of my favorites being:
- Tanzania Flex Time (TFT) a.k.a. NOT HAVING TO CARE ABOUT WHAT TIME IT IS EVER! (The switch back is going to be so hard, maybe even impossible. And you thought I was bad before... sorry in advance!)
- There is not a single mirror in my house. And if there were I would not even care to look in it.
- I eat pineapples and mangoes at every single meal. Not exaggerating.
- The cutest kids in the world (literally) run into my arms when I get home to the village every evening.
- Half a liter of beer costs a little over $1 (and for some reason I like beer here? Maybe cause its 90 degrees every day).
- I am actually friends with all of my teachers, and it's not even so I can get a good grade.
- I haven't heard a SINGLE thing about the Kardashians since I got off the plane in TZ (though I did flip through a tabloid or two in the Amsterdam airport..) But roomies- don't get me wrong, I DO appreciate the updates while I'm in the US :)
- Bucket showers. Yes, I will seriously miss these... you have to try it to know it, but all I can say is I'm going to be totally freaked out the next time that I experience the multiple jet-streams of a real shower head.
- Let's be honest, I have no real responsibilities or obligations to anyone. What a strange concept, but for right now it is perfect :)
- I can go days without spending a single dollar.
- Monkeys running into the classrooms on the reg.
- Telling my sister that I have a stomach ache when I wake up, and by the time I get to school half the staff is asking if I'm feeling better.
- Letting my computer, cell phone and camera run out of battery and not charging them for days.
- Shoving 11 people in a 5-person sedan is the only way to get around (yes, seriously, 11). I know, sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm thinking but... when in Africa?
- People greeting me as if I am their friend everywhere I go. You would think it would only be the natives who are like this, but it turns out that white people are so excited to see other "wazungu" that even they are really friendly.
- The weather is absolutely perfect. Every single day. Not to mention the palm trees, mountains in the horizon, beautiful flowers, streams, and African trees.
- Stargazing on the roof.
- Volunteering at the baby orphanage next door to my school without having to sign in, get a background check, or even introduce myself to the person in charge. I can just walk in and play with angel babies as often as I want.
- "Dolla-dolla" rides that cost about 17 cents (I'll even miss the 20 extra people shoved into the Jesus/Obama/marijuana-decorated vans)
- The fact that I haven't eaten food with preservatives in it since I got here. So, so good.
- Getting totally used to referring to where I am from as "America" and not even pronouncing it "Amurica". (People don't really get it when you say "the US" or "The States")
- Coloring, playing cards, watching music videos and cartoons and making bracelets with the cutest little brother in the world (who gives me hugs when he leaves for school... so adorable).
- Going jogging at sunrise with my sister. Also referring to waking up at 7:00 am as "sleeping in", and not setting an alarm clock anyway because I know I'll wake up to the roosters, the sun or the Islam prayer being chanted through a megaphone at sunrise.
- The soap operas: Latino drama with English voice-overs, and Chinese drama with Swahili voice-overs. Does television get any better??? (OK fine I'll admit it, I miss Prison Break).
- Cooking with mama and baba (they let me do all the fun stuff and insist on doing everything else themselves). And having them speak to me in Swahili like I am a 3-year-old (let's face it, language-wise, I basically am).
- Hearing the whole village cheer almost nightly when the power comes back on.
- Reading as much as I want before bed-- as strange (and sad) as it is to not live with my best friends, I actually enjoy having nothing better to do than read at night. "Nerd alert", whatever ;)
- Having names not matter-- if you recognize someone's face (or even if you don't), they're you're friend. No questions asked.
- Getting rides from random people on the highway-- normally I would not do this, but I swear it's legit here. And Mom, I DO have my pepper spray in my backpack if it makes you feel better :) ...even though I know I'll never need it.
To sum up, I love Tanzania. If you got through all of that I appreciate your caring :) That is the best I can do to describe how much I am loving this place right now. Missing my favorite people at home, but I mostly wish you could all be HERE! I also want to make a public apology for my lack of communication with my loved ones-- I know you know how bad the internet situation is here but just to reiterate, it's bad! All I ask is you don't forget about me-- I do manage to facebook creep on you when I get a chance ;) LOVE LOVE LOVE (LOVE!) to you all!
It has been only a few days since my last entry, but I feel like so much has happened. I apologize in advance for the length of this post-- I don't really know where to begin or how to organize my thoughts, but I will try anyway...
I moved in with my host family on Tuesday evening (only 4 days ago??). I am so so so happy to be living where I am, although it is safe to say that I will be spending the next three months living a lifestyle I could have never imagined until I got here. Driving into the village was honestly pretty shocking... after getting used to the luxury of MS-TCDC and not having much exposure to anything else, I was not really prepared for the true African village that I was moving into. There is one road (if that's what you want to call it) going through it, and there are several self-owned "businesses" as you enter, including a "stationary" store, some fruit and vegetable stands, and "The Game Hair Cutting Salon" complete with hand painted portraits of gangstas on the outside wall. Jutting off of the main road are several rows of tiny houses, brick foundations, and wooden shacks (it kind of reminds me of The Three Little Pigs). There are chickens and goats and cows running all over the place, and I have no idea who they actually belong to. The best part is that there are children EVERYWHERE-- who are the absolute cutest little people I have ever seen. They are so excited to see a white person that they often excitedly run up to me and hug me and pet my hair and hang on my arms. It is pretty hilarious, especially when there are more than ten of them doing it at once. Obviously I love this, even though I know that they mostly just get a kick out of touching a real life "mzungu" (crazy white person). It is definitely an adjustment being one of only three white people in the entire village, and very eye opening to be SUCH a minority. Aside from the children, I get stared at like I am an alien (literally) anytime I walk anywhere through the village. While it is very strange to be stared at so intensively, once I smile and wave, people are generally very friendly back, and often greet me in English. I am thankful for this, as I can't imagine how I would feel if the stares were all I got.
I was happy to find that my house is a legitimate, properly-built home, though from the front it looks incredibly small and run down. It has a stucco heart design along the roof, and cute windows in the front. The back is where the actual entrance is, where there is a little back patio that opens into the living room. I was surprised to see how nice (and very clean) the inside of the home is-- there is a matching furniture set of very comfortable couches, chairs and a loveseat, a flat-screen TV, speakers, a coffee table, etc. There is also a tacky dog statue sitting on top of one of the couch backs, which I find hilarious. Moving through the house is a small dining room, a kitchen complete with a refrigerator and oven range, bed rooms and a shower room and toilet room. The bathroom sink is actually in the hallway, but the house generally doesn't have running water most of the time anyway so it doesn't really make a difference. I am very happy with my bedroom-- it is a small room with a bunk bed, makeshift closet, and desk. My bed has a mosquito net on the bottom bunk, so I keep all of my clothes on the top bunk, which works out great.
The house is fine and I will get used to the bucket showers and hour-long nightly dishwashing sessions. What makes me so happy and comfortable here is my awesome family, who I am already in love with. They are all so kind, so welcoming and so eager to be my second family, which I am so incredibly grateful for. Even though my parents (they introduced themselves and Mama and Baba, so that is what I call them) speak very little English (and at this point my Swahili is at the level of a 2-year-old Tanzanian), they put in a huge effort to communicate with me and make sure I have everything I need. Since I have yet to receive my second checked bag from the airport (yeah...) there are quite a few things that they have very happily provided me with, never making me feel uncomfortable or awkward about it. When I commented that I loved my Mama's kanga (skirt) she excitedly ran to her room and grabbed about ten of them, telling me to pick out one for me to keep. She was so happy to give it to me, and I was so excited in return-- I had been wanting to buy one since the minute I got here! My youngest brother's name is Shedrack-- he is ten years old (but looks like he is six), and is the happiest, nicest, cutest little boy in the world. He is always so excited to play cards, color (yes!) and make bracelets with me. I literally miss him when I am away at school, but when I get home he always greets me with a big smile and hug and asks me about ten questions about how my day was. He goes to an English speaking school, so his English is almost perfect-- he speaks with a British tone and it is adorable. My sister Mary is 20 years old, and she is so kind. While she does not get as hyper as Shedrack about me being here (that would be impossible) she is very very nice to me and I think we will become good friends. She has been very happy to help me wash my clothes, play with my hair (she had to cut hers for school, so she really likes mine), and show me around. I was so happy when she asked me if I would like to go jogging in the mornings with her, and after three days it has already become one of my favorite routines. We wake up with the roosters at 5:45, just before the sun rises and make our way out by 6. It is the perfect temperature and we run along the highway (considered to be one of the most dangerous highways in the world...) as the sun rises. It is perfect. When we get back she always makes me take the first shower (bucket shower that is, which I actually really like) and then Baba makes us breakfast. Since he is a cook, there has literally been about 15 items for breakfast every day thus far-- I am hoping he stops making so much because there is only so much I can eat at 7 am! People always ask me what I eat here-- for the most part it is all delicious. There are lots of mangoes, bananas, oranges and pineapples for every meal, so that alone is awesome. At breakfast there are crepes, omelettes, toast, sausages, tea, juice and more (yes, this is in one morning alone). At lunch and dinner there is always rice, which I normally don't like but here they add lots of vegetables and (I think?) a little vinegar and it is actually pretty good. There are a lot of fresh vegetables served in a variety of ways, and there is usually chicken (sometimes beef) at the meals, but I don't usually eat this because everything else is so good. It is safe to say I am eating very well here, and so far I haven't missed American food at all.
I still love my school- the staff here is so friendly, and almost everyone who works there already knows me by name-- a little different from the U! My classes are very different, being that there are only 4 students in every class, I can no longer skip them and download the powerpoint lecture online, as I often tend to do at the U (oops...). At this point we are only taking two classes, Swahili and Tanzania in Context, both of which I am really liking. I am slowly catching on to speaking Swahili, and when I say that I mean I can finally function with greeting people, a custom that lasts for the majority of the conversation here. "Hi, what's up? what's new? how are you? how did you sleep? how is your morning? what are you doing today? how is your mom? how is your dad? how is your home?..." and it goes on. Safe to say I have a long way to go, but at least I feel comfortable talking to people briefly, which is often how it goes anyway. Even though there are only four students in my specific classes, there are a lot of other students that I have gotten to know pretty well already. We have a lot of social breaks between classes, where all of the students meet in one area to have coffee, tea, and snacks. Between that and lunch time, the library, computer lab and just plain seeing each other around, I have already made a lot of new friends. I have also gotten to be good friends with the other three on my trip, and we are all still getting along very well. Even though we are all pretty different, we are all loving Tanzania, and it is easy to mesh well in this environment. We often hang out after school with each other's families, who are all very good friends with each other. When we are overwhelmed by being with so many people, we go to the local "bar". It is just outside of our village and we are generally the only people there-- it is a nice break from socializing in such a foreign environment and brings a sense of familiarity (if there is such a thing here).
We went on a safari yesterday, which was awesome! We saw giraffes, zebras, hippos, baboons, huge monkeys, flamingos, deer-like animas (forgot what they're called), and more. The scenery was soooo beautiful, I am reluctant to post my pictures because they do not come close to what it looked like in real life. Speaking of pictures, obviously I woke up the morning of the safari with a dead camera... I tried to charge it for as long as I could but I only got about a half hour out of it. So that explains the lack of pictures. Luckily one of my friends has an amazing camera and took awesome pics of all the animals-- I plan to steal them soon.
Well that is about it for now... clearly I have written more than enough already! Aside from all of the above, I am missing my family and friends quite a bit--- esp watching prison break with my sibs, daily chats with my parents, and being ridiculous with my roommates and friends back home. Unfortunately I am only free to use the internet at very inconvenient hours for everyone back home, so it has been hard to skype my loves. Luckily I am always so busy that I don't have much time to think about it, and my Tanzanian family has done a wonderful job of making a second (totally different) home here for me. Sending so much love to MN!!! xoxooxo