Tuesday, March 1, 2011

50 Years of Peace Corps, today


In short, it's been a while since I've posted to this blog. I've long since abandoned it, mostly out of uncertainty. I didn't know if I had any way of returning to Tanzania, or what my next step would be, for that matter. I suppose today would be the proper time to sum up what has happened since, and how my experience in Peace Corps Tanzania, however unexpected, has made an impact on my life.

Today is March 1st, 2011 (well, one hour left of it here in Eastern Standard time.)
It is 50 years to the day when then-President John F. Kennedy, Jr. signed executive order to form the United States Peace Corps.

Regardless of myriad debate (especially recently) of the effectiveness and security of volunteers in their respective placement sites, I still believe in what PC aspires to attain. Most notably, a cultural exchange. It's one that affects the volunteer for the rest of his or her life in ways that cannot be experienced otherwise. There is so much to learn about oneself when faced with daily challenges, taken from the securities of home, and becoming aware of an entirely new environment. Learning about oneself, her inner struggles and weaknesses as well as strengths, the need to connect with other people, and the willingness to admit that everyone (even the do-gooder volunteer) needs help.

In many ways, it is an eye-opening experience. It's not easy. There isn't much support (if any) when a volunteer returns home. Especially, if that volunteer (like myself) must come home early for whatever reason. There is no system in place for transition when a volunteer doesn't return at the same time as the rest of the group. In sum, it sucks.

The village of Itimbo had a deep impact on me, and I can only hope that I made some impact on the people I came to know and trust. It has been too personal a thing for me to write more about, and that is why I abandoned the blog for so long. I couldn't reflect on how or why I was not there any longer, or what I was going to do next. Since returning stateside in May of 2009, I have lived in Chicago, IL and am now residing in that big, crazy, blight-infested apple of New York, NY. Transitioning from Tanzania to Chicago proved difficult and bewildering, and prepared me well for the same feelings of living in the city that never sleeps.
It was not an intention of mine that I would want to live here, I'm too outdoorsy of a person to want to live in such a dense city, but it was my desire to continue teaching and serving that led me here.

In Chicago, I eventually found work in freelance and full-time design, though it took plenty of time to get back on my feet. I credit my sister (so much) for helping me through that. During that time, I also found a network of returned volunteers through the Chicago Area Peace Corps Association, and spent many hours involved with organizations such as 826 CHI and Chicago Hopes. Time spent teaching and interacting with students through these organizations, led me to realize that my time in the PC wasn't just a hiatus from full-time work; it was the beginning of my teaching career. I am currently pursuing my Masters of Education for ID/Autism in the Peace Corps Fellows program at Teachers College, Columbia University.

As one of my design instructors told us back (a few years ago) in my undergraduate years at Kent State, "You just never know where you're going to end up in a few years. Some of you will be doing something totally different." He was right. I'd like to think that I'm not abandoning anything, or leaving a different career behind, but adding to it. Creativity is creativity, and a knowledge of visual communication and organization is key to setting up a classroom of visual learners. So there, justified. bam.

So the one thing I can say about PC, is that it really brings out an understanding of who are and what you just gotta do. Wish me luck. "Bahati Njema."

... and thank YOU to whomever may have read this. Any and all support is (and certainly was) appreciated.

~ C

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rudi Nyumbani

There's a song that is currently popular in Tanzania . .. with a chorus line that sings "rudi nyumbani," which means "come home." The song was stuck in my head for those two weeks that I was stuck in Dar es Salaam, staying at the YMCA, awaiting several meetings with Peace Corps staff about the situation with my site placement. Unfortunately, all my options dried up. I was the sole person out of our group of 49 volunteers to be asked to leave with "interrupted service," which is basically leaving country for reasons beyond my control. I didn't want to arrive to that decision, but as Mick Jagger so eloquently puts it, "you can't always get what you wa-ant."

Everything was just getting peachy for me in the village. I had gotten in comfortably with teaching at the primary school, my Swahili was improving considerably, I got a puppy. I was just getting comfortable with the fact that I could stay in this spot for another year. And then it happened. One too many thefts . .. the last one being an attempted break-in while I was home, at 2am. This became a security issue. Peace Corps staff says, "evacuate." I have to write a series of security reports for Tanzanian staff as well as headquarters in Washington. Everything was a whirlwind of "what just happened? . .. how the heck could this happen?" . .. the village was finally accepting me as one of their own, right? So one person had to go and ruin it for everyone . .. including myself. "Bahati mbaya," I suppose. Bad luck.

After an emotional return to the village to pack up my things, I returned to Dar es Salaam for one last meeting with the PC staff. I wanted to stay, but to switch to another village or to work in conjunction with an NGO (non-government organization). Alas, there was nothing currently available for a Health Education volunteer. I felt complete support from the PC Tanzania staff on how to safely leave my current village .. . but not nearly enough on how to stay in country, or transfer to another, and I got caught up in a changing administrative staff. Short staffed and overburdened as they were, I felt as if they had to let me go due to lack of time to commit to researching another available site or country transfer. Thus, my return plane ticket was handed to me rather quickly.

With Interrupted Service, I am eligible to re-enroll in Peace Corps . .. but there are stipulations. It's not guaranteed I could return to Tanzania, or even another East African country . . . and it's much like starting all over again. Instead of re-enrollment, I'm looking into other options so that I can return to TZ in the near future. Work with non-profits, NGOs, orphanages, even missions. I just want to return to say my proper goodbyes, help out with a few more projects, take that orphan girls group to climb the Marangu route that's reserved for us on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Take my puppy home. I miss her so much, my Luna.

Coming home has been bittersweet. I met a number of wonderful people passing through the YMCA in my last days in Tanzania. Many of them passing through, volunteering, experiencing new food, language, culture. I befriended other Americans, Brits, Norwegians, Koreans, Australians, Indians, and other Tanzanians. It was a cultural hodge-podge of people all with the same goal in mind . .. where to find the cheapest, most delicious food and the coldest beer.

My plane ride home was silent, lonely. I always thought that I'd be ecstatic to be on that plane ride . .. instead i felt very numb, very confused. To be coming home in such different circumstances, so early. I felt literally, interrupted. I took the window seat on my second flight and watched the landscape go from endless sea, to patches of green with snaking rivers, to patchwork quilts of farmland, to the rigid organized grid of Chicago cityscape. I was entering back into modern "civilization," and it had not welcomed me back with ease. It said, "you're home now, and you gotta catch up." But it didn't feel like home, it just felt, strange. More strange than when I landed in the heat of Dar es Salaam on my arrival.

But there was my sister, waiting in the airport, in front of a large group of people at the gate. I spotted her through the glass door and started waving uncontrollably, with a little yelp and the beginnings of misty-eyed sobs. But our smiles and hugs took over, smiling Indian women nodded approvingly at our long-awaited embrace . .. as if to say, "oh, we know what that's like." They probably have sisters who live across the globe, maybe they were waiting for them to return as well.

Seeing my friends and family again was wonderful but difficult in a way. It made me realize how much I missed them, and how hard it will be to leave them again if I decide to return abroad. They all bombard you with questions and comments at first, but then the news comes up, or the latest on YouTube, and you can't help but be swept back into those things along with them. And after a few days, things just fall right back into place as they had before you left. you realize that you were gone, and maybe you changed a bit, but life still went on. Babies were born, people got engaged, married, separated, divorced, laid-off. You forget that you were gone almost an entire year, and you literally come home around the same time you left, feeling like you're simply picking up where you left off. The same issues apply now that you thought you wouldn't have to worry about for another year . .. where will I get a job? How will I pay my bills? Do these jeans make me look fat? But then, some little memory will creep back up and beckon you back to your "other" life, your peace corps life, like a glass of icewater or a warm shower that reminds you of how long it had been without one, and how you can never take that for granted. You become a little more conscious of each thing you throw away, and to not buy those things you don't necessarily need. Maybe not spend so much time with a drink in your hand. But regardless, to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate life and all it has to offer you, and to teach you.

Let's raise our glasses, of wine or tea or icewater, and toast to lessons learned and experiences had, and wish for the best outcome . .. and more to come.

thank you to all of you who read this, and supported me along this journey.

much love,

p.s. stay tuned for more pictures and a return blog . .. cristina in ethiopia? cristina in chicago? cristina in cleveland? cristina back to tanzania? "tutaonana baadaye" . .. we'll see later. ;)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Blue Eggs n' Ham

A village Easter. It wasnt' like usual. No hiding eggs or babies in bonnetts. However, there were girls in brightly colored dresses and mothers in bold prints, from headwrap to toe.
I walked for an hour and a half, struggling to keep up with the mamas who were leading me to the closest Catholic parish. We have a small catholic church in the village, but no priests or nuns reside there. Hence, our trip out east. It was early in the morning, we left about 7 am. Bleary-eyed, I put on my brightest Kitenge cloth skirt and matching wrap I had sewn by a village seamstress. It's black with bold, bright pink concentric circles. Not normally something I would wear at home, but my loveliest piece of clothing in the village.
I wore my Teva sandals, as I knew we would be walking quite a distance, and I wanted my feet to be comfy. This walk, however, did not deter the village mamas to wear their best and shiniest plastic sandals or heels, or thin cloth slipper-like shoes. I don't know how their feet didn't end up blistered and sore . .. but then again, I wonder why only my hands blister after using a garden hoe for more than one hour. It's a difference in tolerance. Mine is not so built-up. My skin is sensitive, and theirs, resiliant.
The walk took us out past the eastern border of our village, on a path that I had yet to discover. We walked out through amazing views of the out-croppings of our rocky hillsides bordering the dusty center of Itimbo. The hillsides were green, and the sky, grey and cloudy with bits of sunshine peering through, from the nearing end of the rainy season, and I felt as if I wasn't in Africa at all . . . but on the coast of the Irish sea.
A parade of girls in their Easter clothes crested one of the hillsides, and they looked like a line of brightly-colored easter eggs.
The mass itself reminded me much of mass back home . .. only the hymns were embellished with african drums, claps and rhythms. The choir from my village, brought instruments made of old soda bottlecaps and wire, shaking to the rhythm.

After the long walk home, I purchased some eggs from a local shopowner and found the blue food dye I had purchased a week earlier in town. I had promised the neighbor kids that we would "color eggs" like kids do in America. they had never heard of such a thing . .. but were exciting to see what it would be like.

We dyed the eggs blue. A crowd of women and children, hovering around me, wondering what this blue stuff would do to the eggs. I explained they wouldn't taste any different, nor would it hurt to eat them. After the eggs took to the color, we soon ate them. Afterall, the exciting part to the children, was not to see the eggs in a different color, but the opportunity to actually eat them. It's not very often a child gets to eat an entire egg. It put a few things into perspective for me. Even I, myself, had forgotten how delicious and simple boiled egg can be.

That evening, I had dinner with my neighbors. We had pork on our plates, as it was a holiday, and cause for meat! therefore, my day was filled with blue eggs and ham ;)

The next day, we celebrate "Easter Monday" at the village Catholic church. I dont' believe any of the other denominations of Christianity in my village celebrated, but within our church, it was a big day. I had regretted getting up and going to church a second day in a row .. . until I saw the large gathering of people. Many children and older wazee who were unable to make the trek to the parish the day before. My favorite bibi, or old woman, being the one who always wears giant pink shaded sunglasses to church. It's a rarity to see anyone in the village with glasses or sunglasses . .. especially an old woman with such style ;) Two priests and three nuns from Iringa came to give and attend the service. After the service, we were invited to a communal gathering where I was served three bowls of rice and beans, tea, soda, and two cups of Ulanzi, or bamboo wine. The ulanzi tasted more sweet than strong, but it's effects were soon felt . .. and I had a great time drinking with the old ladies inside a dark but comforting hut/house of women. They loved to celebrate . .. and sang and danced until the priests and nuns had to board their landcruiser and head back . .. and they sang them songs of thanks until they could no longer see the car in the distance.

I had hoped that when I left the village, I would feel that same sense of gratitude. Unfortunately, I have been required to leave my village by authorization of Peace Corps, and also, from my own agreement. I didn't want to leave, but had no choice due to a series of thefts from my home and an attempted break-in. We agreed that the incedents will prevent any volunteers from replacing my position . .. and as much as I feel it is necessary . .. it still breaks my heart to think of my favorite bibis and babus . .. my orphan girls, my village friends, who may have been sad to see me go, but I didn't even have a chance to say a proper goodbye.

As of now, Peace Corps is trying to find a new site where I can be placed, one without any incedence of crime, and one which is in need of a health education volunteer. Unfortunately, it's not been an easy process. I'm floating in the ether, waiting around in sweltering Dar es Salaam, for an opportunity to arise. In the mean time, I'm staying at a ymca, and meeting people from across the globe in various states of travel and volunteerism. It's been a great way to find out how many young people love to travel and seek the excitement one can only receive by learning about new cultures. It's not without stress, disappointment, bureaucracy, and . .. monetary problems . .. but all in all, it is worth the experience, no matter what.

Please keep your fingers crossed for me, I hope to continue my service, or some type of service here in Tanzania. . .. besides . .. I need to get my puppy back and safely home!

Wish for Bahati Njema, or good luck.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

They have been written about by everyone from Ernest Hemingway to the lyrics of Toto's Africa. Some people say that by 2025, the snows at the summit may be all but gone . .. the snow seems already considerably less than it shows in the pictures of my guidebooks . .. but maybe it's just the time of year. No doubt, pollution, population, and climate change will have their effects on the most beautiful places on our Dunia, or earth, but we'll have to do what we can to lessen those effects. The problem is, that the developing world only wants what we have- light, electricity, television, computers . . . and we want what we already have and still wish to conserve our planet.
So, the question is, do we all have to regress and live as the "third world" does in order to save our planet, or do we eventually all move to Scandinavian countries and subsist on bio-manufactured foods . .. hmmm. All I know is, right now, i hear all about the "climate crisis" on the BBC or VOA stations of my shortwave radio. I feel kind of like an outsider looking in . .. living without electricity or running water on a daily basis (but obviously, i still have access a few hours away or i wouldn't be writing this now) and without choice, having to walk, bike, or take public transport. My carbon footprint is considerably less since last year . .. umm, except for those three plane rides it took to get here.
Either way, I still pine for the creature comforts of home- movies, ipods, computers, driving with the windows down on a four lane highway . .. those things, once instilled, are hard to shake. But, at the same time, i'm happy to say I have seen the snows on the peak of Kilimanjaro, and hope to climb it in november . . . but i dont' know if my kids or grandkids will be able to see them . . . except for in some old, fuzzy photographs . . .

I was in Moshi, a town which sits at the foot of Mt. Kili, to run my first half-marathon. It was not without difficulty . .. and i will say that I completed it, but emphasis on completed. i ran most of it, but walked a little on the rough parts or when the downhill half gave me killer shin-splints. I wasn't able to move for a few hours afterwards . . . but i'm happy to say i've done it. Maybe next year, with some more training, i can run the entire thing. and still be able to walk afterwards ;)

Upon return to my village, i hit another rough patch since my last kitten "pili-pili" or pepper, was missing, and hasn't turned up since. i miss the crap out of that cat . .. and to think i used to consider myself "not a cat person" before i came to this country. And then, i became not only that woman who talks about her cats constantly . .. but also takes hundreds of pictures of them.

Things looked up as I began my compost lessons and bustani kwa maisha bora, or garden for a better life demo gardens. I have posted one picture on this blog of some of my fellow PLWHA group members and orphan girls' group members in -action. The compost and garden took a total of four days to complete, but it was well worth it to see my villagers involved in something that will benefit them not only nutritionally, but also, to change their beliefs in thinking that crops can only grow better with expensive, chemical fertilizers. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the rains keep up and let our vegetables grow!

I have also resumed teaching English at the primary school and will begin health and life skills lessons this monday. These lessons are not without difficulty (upon the students' shyness and inability to ask questions when they don't understand, and the teachers' apathetic approach to their incomprehension. I will try my best, but all in all, it's worth it just to get more involved in my village and to gain the trust of the children and village leaders.

On a side note, i'm happy to announce that i'm the proud mama of a new mbwa (or dog). I'm in complete puppy love! She is adorable! I've named her Luna Nyota Lalli. Luna- Italian for moon, and Nyota- Swahili for star. You could say it's a bit of a "hippie" name . .. but hey, i'm in the Peace Corps afterall ;) I think she's going to bring me a lot of joy and relieve a little loneliness in the village.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mwaka Mpya

The title means, "the new year." I have abandoned this blog for a little while, mostly due to the holidays and a two-week long In-Service training. I've had some ups and downs since then . .. planning projects and grants, celebrating the new year on a beautiful beach off the coast of Dar-es-Salaam, further training in HIV/AIDS care and awareness as well as sustainable gardening techniques. I came home from the two week training to find a few things had been stolen through a window of my house and my mother cat and three of her kittens had all died. The last one had died two days after I returned, the result I believe, of intestinal worms. I hit a low point then, thinking that I could have saved them had I only gotten them to fully eat their anti-worm pills. But one kitten still remains . . . and i can't decide on what to name her. Something cute, like "pili-pili" which means pepper . .. or "chupi" . .. which is just a plain ole' cute word . .. but it means underwear ;)
Things are going along as usual but for the most part, it has been uneventful . .. or maybe I'm just becoming increasingly familiar with the lifestyle here. It has in a way, lost it's newness . .. but then there are times where i catch myself and say, "oh, right, I'm in Africa . .. "

One such instance happened the other day as I was walking back from the main road to my village. I had missed the one bus back from town, so I had to hike the 8k by foot . .. which does't sound like much, but with a backpack full of groceries, up and down unforgiving hills, it can take it's toll. It had taken me over two hours to hike back, and I was almost to my village, perspiring profusely and muttering to myself about how much i wish I could have a motorcycle or a landrover like so many other NGO workers and the like, I looked up to see two children turning around and smiling at me. They greeted me while running along to keep up with who i assumed to be their father walking his bicycle up a hill, full of supplies from town. He then smiled and greeted me as well, saying "Unajitaidi sana! sana!" He was telling me that i try very, very hard. But when i looked down, they had no shoes on their feet . . .
My villagers have told me on several occasions how impressed they are that I can walk long distances . .. they thought white people could only drive cars or ride bicycles. I say that we have legs, too . .. and they just laugh.

Two days ago, I decided to visit a friend in a nearby village before heading into town together to stock up on supplies and get our bi-monthly stipend. I was literally down to my last 3,000 shillings or so .. . about $3.oo. It took me 2,500 tsh to take a small bus to the stop off the main road where she lived. Unfortunately, the bus driver did not stop where I had asked and so i therefore had to get off the bus and hop back on another coaster in the opposite direction . .. and pay another 500 shillings . . . my last 5oo. Needless to say, I was irrate. People looked at me as I huffed and rolled my eyes about their missing my stop, I mean, I didn't know where the heck I was going, they were supposed to know. I gave them the name, they were supposed to stop. A woman turned and smiled and laughed at my troubles . .. as they always do here, which only unnerved me even more. When they stopped I sarcastically yelled in the bus driver's face, (Nashukuru Sana!) "Thank you so very much . . ." and threw my bags off the bus onto the side of the road . .. reeling in my head that if i were in America, I would cry justice and my full ticket would be reimbursed and they would have to personally drive me back to my said destination . .. but this is Africa. Things don't work that way here . .. there are no return policies, no customer service . .. just mild frustrations and a "tough luck" attitude . ..
A man came running up to me, picking up my bags and asking where are you going? what happened? blah, blah, blah . .. and i just looked at him angrily and in English asked him, "Why do you need to know?!" He just looked at me like i was crazy . .. he then flagged down another bus for me and made sure they got me to the stop i was supposed to . ..
I then felt rotten . .. he was just trying to help me out, and i had reacted harshly, wanting to scream at him to just leave me alone, i'm an american woman and i can take care of myself! But I am not used to this sort of help and hospitalitly . .. I take it as insult, as if I can't handle my own. I think that the only reason a man would run up to me to pick up my bags would be to steal them or harrass me . .. but the thing i have to remember here is that there are not only annoying and untrusting people all over, but there are also good, well-doing people all over. I just have to keep my temper under control and have the ability to know the difference between the two.

So, I paid the driver my last 500 shillings, got off at the right stop, and began my 8 kilometer hike . .. just as it was starting to rain. To my luck, the rain never continued more than a light sprinkle for the whole three hours or so it took me to hike to her village. Along the way, i ran into two other volunteers in a nearby village and sat to drink some water and catch up with them. The hike was tiring, perspiring, and seemingly endless . .. but beautiful. I was a bit jealous to see the rolling green hills and surroundings of their villages, they seem almost more "peace corps" than my own village, but then again, maybe it's just the sight of something new. I ran into the other volunteer who was coming to visit as well, and hiked the last leg of the trip with her. We attended a party for the teachers at our friend's primary school and ate rice and roasted meat and warm sodas and beer . .. being pulled up every once in a while to dance with the women. They were so grateful to have visitors and asked repeatedly when we will visit again. Though we came bearing nothing, they fed us well and treated us with great hospitality . .. which is another aspect of Tanzanian culture that i have to remember never to overlook.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holidays Abroad

To all those who wonder just how you celebrate the holidays in a small Tanzanian village, well, you really don't. I mean, there is church, obviously. My village is predominantly Christian, with few traditional animist beliefs intermingled. There is no decorating of trees (even though there are pine trees near my village,) there are no exchanging of gifts, and of course, no christmas cookies or fruitcake.

In some of the bigger towns or cities, you can find artificial christmas trees and shiny banners saying merry christmas . .. or my favorite "merry crrysimas" . . . misspellings go unnoticed at times. I received a text message from a Tanzanian friend that said "Heppy Klisimas" . . . many people here mix the "l" sounds with "r" sounds and vice versa . . . My name has also been written "Klistina" at times.

The one question that villagers have asked me multiple times is "what will you eat on Christmas?" Those who can afford it will have rice or pilau with meat. I joined up with a few volunteers in my region and we cooked a small feast together (stuffing, roast pork and beef, home-made bread, spinach salad, home-made cakes and pies all cooked over charcoal or wood-burning stoves) . .. along with a gift exchange and plenty of lounging around and watching christmas movies. (Yes, there was electricity at the guesthouse where we stayed . .. and access to a vcr and dvd player!) My highlight of the day, however, was hiking to a small waterfall near the town of Njombe, where we were staying. I can't say i've ever been able to do that on any previous Christmas.

Of course, I missed my family and friends back home . .. to the point where I had to lock myself in the bathroom for a little bit because I thought I was going to cry. I mean, how could I go through Christmas without my mother's home-made pasta and fried calamari?! But I was fine, it didn't really feel like Christmas, just a nice holiday, an excuse for us volunteers to get together and "do American things." There was no snow, just a bit of rain . .. I made a small tree made out of toilet paper rolls and biscuit wrappers. those are kinds of things you do when you're bored in the village and it's rainy season ;)

I was stricken with some bad news last week of my Host mother's sudden death due to a car accident on her way up north to Moshi. She was so good to me, and I was just talking to another PCV about visiting her next year, and sending her a christmas card . .. and some pictures of us together from my three month stay with her. I found out on the day of her funeral, which was an eight-hour bus ride away, so unfortunately I could not go to say "goodbye" to her. It's an unfortunate thing that we have to deal with death a lot in the peace corps . .. but we were warned in training, "you will lose many friends here" . . . and so far I have lost two.

But loss is often followed by birth . . . and on that note, I watched my cat give birth to five kittens. I woke up one night to hear her making an unusual sound . .. and then when i rubbed my eyes and figured out what was going on, I grabbed my headlamp and a pair of rubber gloves and sat there . .. wondering if i had to do anything. instead, i just rubbed her belly between contractions of each birth . . . and after two hours, was proud of myself for being a good "grandmother." I'm happy to say I have five healthy kittens . .. and have found good homes for each of them.

So, yup, that's what I've been doing the past month . . . making christmas trees out of trash and mid-wifing kittens . . . but as far as volunteering goes . . . I did participate in a batik workshop (a wax-dye process for fabrics) and plan to make a possible income generation project for my orphaned girls group. I have been researching and planning more projects, and will be attending a two week training in January for project implementation and grant writing. . . yeah, i don't even know where to begin to write grants, so this seminar will be more than helpful.

I have been receiving packages of used books for the library project, and i know that three more packages are sitting at the post office waiting for me to pick them up, and I thank you all so much for your donations! I am so very appreciative. At this point, I dont' think I need any more books from home, but instead I need to find a way to get more books written in Swahili. So, if you have some of those stashed away, you are more than welcome to send them. ;)

Happy Holidays to you all back home. . . and remember, someone in Africa is thinking of you all and actually misses the snow and warm fires back home. Traveling is a wonderful, eye-opening experience, but it never expels the need to be with family and friends, especially during the holidays.

love and peace, cris

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A time to "pumzika"

pumzika, it means rest. And unfortunately, I haven't had much of it lately, but I'm planning on much of it for the next, say, month or so . . .
Lots of goings-on, for village life, that is. I have been busy trying to finish Peace Corps now mandatory VSA (village survey assessment, or something like that) which entailed going from house to house interviewing people and their needs, problems, etc. I have been planning to have testing and information for World AIDS day, organizing songs and skits with my orphan girls' group "kikundi cha kipepeo" and my PLWHA group, and trying to get plans together for holiday trips. Along with all of that, the power has been off and on in the towns that have it, due to storms and such (yes, it does rain in Africa . .. especially during the months of December-April) and internet has been on sporadically, which makes writing and sending my VSA report very trying. I have been completely devoid of energy . . . and have had many unmentionable trips to the bathroom . .. so now i'm in town, just back from the visit to the regional hospital, with the final verdict. amoebas. now i'm just waiting for response from my Peace Corps Medical officer to see what medication i should be taking for that. I feel fine now, but yesterday was another story . .. and with a 5 hour bus ride from where I was trying to write my report in Makembako, to the other side of the region in Iringa, with my head-throbbing from tanzanian music being blared on the Coaster, it was a fun trip into town . ..
I had testing done at a local clinic in makembako, but of course, they told me it was malaria. they always say malaria. So thus, i had to haul myself back into public transport for a more reliable opinion. Oh, and did I mention I was attacked by little biting ants the other day?! not fun. really.
So, it's been up and down, but I'll focus more on the ups. I was able to get something together for World AIDS day. It didnt' go quite as planned, but at least, it went. The nurses showed up . .. a good 4 hours late . .. (pretty good for Tanzanian time) and it rained, so the skits and songs that were planned just didnt' happen. I was able to speak a little on AIDS prevention but got a lot of blank looks and giggles. Luckily, I had the nurses there to reiterate what I said in better Swahili . . . We ended up testing 200 people, and of those, 18 were HIV positive. ( considered a low number for my region.) However, there are over 2000 people in my village and its subvillages together, and the demographic with the most rapidly growing rate of HIV transmission is young adults- which very few showed to be tested. For next time, I need to focus on how to get young people out to be tested. And children . .. I need to plan a separate day devoted to just testing children, as there are so many orphaned by this incurable disease.

Thanksgiving was great. Of course, I missed my family and friends back home as much as I missed my mom's homemade stuffing, but we made the most of it with what we could. Most of the volunteers in my region were invited by a former PCV who now works at a nearby orphanage, set way up in the rolling hills near the Udzungwa Mountains, among miles of green tea plantations. It's absolutely breath-takingly beautiful there, but the cabride to get there was . .. umm . . . adventurous, if you could call it that?! We had a puppy with us . .. that got a little carsick from the bumpy ride, and we had to have several stops due to the puppies' indigestions. . . as well as the fact that we could not find the place! As soon as we did, our cab blew out a tire . .. bad luck, but at least we had arrived! We all pitched in and cooked a dish or two ( I made potatoes, half of which spilled on the bumpy ride) and a lopsided chocolate mocha cake which made up for the lack of potatoes. We had a feast! No turkey, but we did have some pretty damn good ham . .. and potatoes, soup, cornbread, green bean casserole, etc. No pumpkin pie . .. but we managed apple and mango/pineapple! mmmm . .. yeah, we ate a lot. It was a nice break from rice or ugali. Barely being able to move after dinner, there was no loafing around and watching football, but instead, we took a torturous but beautiful hike up the mountains to wear the proprietors of the land (British ex-pat tea estate owners who also run an orphanage) have a lodge and beautiful gardens, including a tennis court and croquet lawn. what? in Africa? yes. Yeah, I have never played croquet before, but I can now say I first played in Tanzania . .. of all places. Sure it may all sound so "colonial" but honestly, these people are doing wonderful things, and it was kind of nice to have a little break from village life and sip wine, eat a big meal, and hit around a croquet mallet.
The next day we had a little party at a friends' village, and it was great to have a mix of Americans and Tanzanians eating and drinking together . .. which somehow ensued into a freestyle rap throw-down between one of the PCVs and a local teacher. absolutely hilarious. I'll let you all know when the album comes out, because apparently, there are plans in the works :)

I thank you all for your support, letters, and messages you've been sending. It keeps me floating, head above water, everyday. I miss you all, but I can't wait to share more stories and pictures with you when I return. I am thankful for all of you. Happy Belated Thanksgiving, and Happy Holidays!