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Journals of the Black Mzunghu

Journals of the Black Mzunghu

Monday June 6th, 2011

Habari za jioni? (How’s the evening?)— Just a few words from what I learned during Swahili lessons this morning. Today was very productive and a bit busy.  I’m not complaining at all because I was becoming pretty bored and lonely at the central hostel without a large group of people to interact with and activities to participate in.

I had a full day of activities with the Global Service Corps, today. I met a majority of the staff, in the office, that we will be working with in and outside of Arusha region of Tanzania. We watched a PowerPoint presentation by two GSC coordinators about HIV/AIDS prevention and sustainable agriculture. I learned a lot of information in terms of the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the urban/rural areas on Tanzania. We were also briefly instructed on the different ways we will be drying fruits, constructing double-dug beds and tilling/non-tiling the ground.

The most interesting party of today was the tour of the city of Arusha. The people vary so much in terms of culture and customs. While some people were modernized in terms of their style of clothing, other men and women wore traditional Maasai gear, gaged ears, large beaded necklaces and also tribal face scars. Even when we had lunch at a Tanzanian restaurant called Milk & Honey, it was cool to look around and see the business attire, casual dress, and Maasai tribal gear from the different people.

Walking in the markets after lunch was also pretty amazing. Our tour guide and a GSC coordinator by the name of Janelle was a white lady with a 1-year old baby boy. All the older Tanzanian women would ask her for her child (in Kiswahili) or if she would give them her baby. It was awkward for me to hear that, but it was a typical Tanzanian gesture that Janelle was used to by now, having lived in Tanzania for 6 months so far. We also took our first dala dala (most common mode of transportation in Tanzania) ride today. It was thrilling and also reminded me of the dollar cabs that I’ve taken in Flatbush, Brooklyn or the transport I take when I’m visiting Jamaica, West Indies. They pack the vans to, or over, capacity and then drive above the speed limit and without adhering to driving rules and regulations. Nonetheless, it was a great experience because beginning next Monday, I’ll be using the dala dala on my own to commute to and from the Global Service Corps office and my homestay.

To end our first day of GSC day camp training, Melanie, Natalie and I walked about a mile by ourselves from the GSC office to the central hostel that we’re currently staying at. Though we were advised to try and leave a bit before 6:30pm to avoid traffic and the sunset (for safety purposes), we were too caught up with e-mails, Facebook, Twitter and blogging to notice that time was catching up to us. Today was our first day with Internet access so we were overly excited about getting in contact with family and friends to the point where we almost forgot that we had to walk to the hostel before nightfall.

After speed walking past the flycatchers (the Tanzanians who follow around the tourists) we met yesterday, including the persistent Barack, we made it home safely in under our usual 30 minute walk. We are stuffed from tonight’s dinner of stew beef, vegetable rice and potato wedges and are ready to practice our Swahili song for homework that was assigned to us by our GSC Swahili teacher named Godson. My hands are sweaty and tired, but I’m pleased that I have efficiently summed up my day. Good night!

Wednesday June 8th, 2011

I am smiling right now because I had such an awesome day. I am currently writing this entry from the humble abode of mama Marlyn Talent, my homestay mother. When I say this Tanzanian home is large, yet warm, it isn’t an understatement. There are four bedrooms in here, a kitchen, dining room, living room, washroom, bathroom, storage room and a large backyard with an avocado tree, banana tree and small sugarcane field. Just to think that I was worried about staying in a hut, living with a Maasai warrior’s family! I can just die of laughter at the way God has made a joke out of my naive thinking. Though Tanzania is a rural and somewhat developing country, there are still people here that are well off, such as the Talent family. Mr. and Mrs. Talent have seven children, of which four live at home. So far, I have only met three because one is living on campus at her university. My favorite is the 19-year old daughter named Novian. She is so beautiful, outspoken, outgoing and intellectual. I’ve only known her for the past hour and a half, but I am drawn to her fluent English and curious inquiries about my American lifestyle. This part of my study abroad trip was what I was least looking forward to (the homestay experience), but I know that this is what I will look back and reflect on as being the most thrilling and interesting part of my experience. I can’t wait to e-mail my friends about it this weekend.

Today I visited the home of an HIV patient of Doctor Babu by the name of Frida. This was such a tearjerker trip because the story of what she has been through was one to dampen the mood of any cheerful person. I asked her many questions about her situation, in which the answers consisted of her having no support or motivation from neither family nor neighbors. I sympathized with Frida, but embraced her for her daily courageous battle against the virus. Before I left, I was sure to get a huge hug and a picture with her. I’ll never forget her smiling face and warm hug.

Although in this lovely house, I still miss being around Natalie and Melanie. They are such humorous and caring girls. I hope they are enjoying their homestay families as much as I am right now. To bed I go for now because I have a long morning travel with my new sister to the Global Service Corps office.

P.S. My homestay mama has nicknamed me “K.” Different, but I can get used to it.

Saturday June 11, 2011

Fun day! After waking up past breakfast this morning, I got my hair beautifully braided by Novian’s schoolmate for 1000 Tanzanian shillings (the equivalent to about 85 American cents). Amazing, isn’t it? I am in awe with the turnout and didn’t hesitate to go and meet up with my GSC girls to show them the outcome. I filled them in about my night spent at an overly boring fundraiser event for an orphanage, then a crowded, fist-pumping party in AQ Nightclub. I had a blast with Novian, Norman and his girlfriend and her older sister who funded us all night. It was a great way to bring in my first weekend being spent with the homestay. We didn’t make it in until 4:15 this morning, in which I was beat and headed straight to bed. I awoke this morning by my homestay mama who quickly exited the room because she thought I had a hangover and needed extra rest. I only had a shot of tequila, but that definitely wasn’t enough to get me drunk. Drinking age in Tanzania is 18 years old, but I wasn’t looking to come to Tanzania and get wasted. Not part of the agenda!

After my hair was complete, I met up with Natalie and Melanie to spend a day out in the town of Arusha. It felt great to just walk around the busy streets without having to meet any time requirements as to when to get back to a hostel. We had lunch together at Milk & Honey restaurant, one of my favorites for its nicely seasoned curry and stew meats. We did a lot of souvenir shopping and met lovely Tanzanians in the process. A handsome 20-something year old Tanzanian sold me 2 beaded bracelets for under 5USD. Can’t beat that! We definitely didn’t stop there because the town had so much to offer us before sunset. We returned to a mama that previous sold me a wrap skirt and we purchased a few bags, bracelets, headbands and shirts. To our surprise, she gave us each a free keychain of our choice. I was caught off guard by this warm gesture so found it only right to give her a huge hug and snap a picture for memories.

 At this point, the sun was at its peak so we ventured not too far off to park our butts at an ice cream shop we had been eyeing for a few days. It was so cheap, yet very tasty! They also had box juices that were shaped like frozen ices that come in the triangle shaped 3D boxes and my favorite Danbury milk chocolate bar. I was in heaven! We also decided to take Jenaya, the GSC coordinator; up on her suggestion and check out the Arusha Hotel and its bathroom, etc. That hotel was simply gorgeous. It was such a chic, modern African décor hotel, finely furnished with huge plants and plush sofas. We caught ourselves taking photos in the mirror, which brought us back to our early high school days. Melanie, Natalie and I also went to the souvenir shop in the hotel to look at their overpriced goods, which were very nice to say the least. Next to the store was a jewelry store for Tanzanite and they were stunning, as expected, but very pricey. Anyhow, time for dinner. Gotta go!

Tuesday June 14, 2011

Tired isn’t even the word to use to describe how I felt after my first day of teaching in Namanga (name of village in Arusha district). Not only was it very trying to keep the students awake during my spiel on why HIV/AIDS, health and life skills are important, it was blazing outside. The sun was roaring something crazy and due to the weather I was accustomed to in Arusha town, I was not dressed for the heat I had to face today.

Much of the time was spent outdoors because the students didn’t arrive until about 11:00 a.m., so the two hours from when the staff arrived at 9 a.m. until then were spent setting up and giving a long introduction by the school headmaster, teachers and also the Global Service Corps staff.

Following the introduction, my teaching began with a game to help everyone learn each other’s names and another game suggested by the Canadian volunteer, Cara. I then spoke of the goals, expectations and rules of this GSC day camp with translation help from my counterparts Editha and Ray. They did an awesome job of not only translating everything I said, but also adding in sentences and questions that were necessary to keep the trainees from being confused and helping them to be responsive.

Many of the students were very attentive and helpful in terms of frequently volunteering to answer questions. Others were a bit shy and it took them a little while to warm up and get comfortable enough to start participating.

A rough patch of today was the hour and a half delay for lunch because the food was not prepared at the school, but a distance away and it had to be driven to our location. After eating with no utensils, kids were still satisfied and ready to end their day with arts and crafts, drama and singing, volleyball, soccer, jump rope and catch. I ended up playing volleyball with Melanie, the school headmaster, teacher and a couple students. The heat was completely on during this game and I was losing so much willpower that I chased the ball into a bush of thorns and came out with some minor cuts on my hands. It hurt so much when I had to pull a thorn out of my middle finger.

About a half hour later, the school headmaster gathered the trainees and reminded them about punctuality and we called it a wrap for the afternoon until the next day. When we got back to the guesthouse from our 24-minute walk from the school, I changed out of my wrap skirt and took a two-hour nap. I was beat! I will definitely be going to bed earlier tonight. Hopefully I get to use Tula’s computer to check emails, then bed. Until tomorrow.

Monday June 20, 2011

It is currently 5:21pm in Tanzania and I am feeling so enthusiastic about my vacation. Some GSC volunteers/counterparts and myself just finished walking back from Kenya to purchase some Cadbury chocolate bars for me, of course. I ended up purchasing a beaded bracelet with the Kenyan flag because I felt that it was the perfect opportunity: I was in Kenya and my name is Kenya, so why not? Jane and Emma felt that I was ripped off by the Kenyan woman that sold me the bracelet because they felt that 5000 Tanzanian shillings was too much to pay ($3.25USD). In my opinion, this was not too much money. Cara, our Canadian GSC day camp volunteer, made a valid point that I was in agreement with. She said that these people rely on the money we give them for these crafts to sustain their lives and if we have the money, what’s wrong with just paying the price? This comment brought me back to a moment of the same sort of scenario that I witnessed at a food market in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica. Little toddlers to humped-back old women run up to any approaching vehicle to try and sell them fish, roast corn and other cooked foods. A lot of these people were personal friends of my grandfather who simply aren’t making enough money and decide to sell food on the roadside for additional income. This is why I hung close to Cara’s comment and decided that I wasn’t going to feel bad for paying what Jane felt was a ‘mzungu’ (tourist) price for a bracelet that means something to me. I even got a free, colorful beaded ring from the lady who sold me the bracelet, so I didn’t do too bad on my winnings today.

On another note, first day of my second week of teaching at Namanga’s secondary school wasn’t as much of a breeze as I thought it would be. A lot of the students are getting way too relaxed and causing distractions during the lessons. Because I had to spend so much time restoring peace to a room of 12-18 year olds, they missed out on their break and play times that we have for games outdoor during the lesson. It sucks that the students have to suffer for a select few troublemakers in the class.

The headmaster also overstepped his boundaries (again) by asking me to do a mock lesson of correctly using a male/female condom. I only went in his office to get a pair of scissors, but ended up being in his office for over five minutes with his five coworkers (also, men) trying to sincerely deny his request. I don’t understand why he feels that his advances will work if they have not been effective as yet. He even came to from my class for a brief moment this afternoon to tell me that he is leaving school early today and wish I didn’t “break” my phone because he would have called me later to just say hello. I replied, “I know…Pole!” (Sorry in Kiswahili). I’ll get the message across to him in due time that I am not interested. He’s married, as well. Shame!

Besides these issues, I am enjoying every part of the experience. Earlier today, I was trying to figure out if I was homesick because I was really pooped about not being able to check my e-mails yesterday. However, I thought about all the people that worked so hard to assist me in making it here, such as my supervisors in the President’s office at UAlbany, Professor Hancock, Professor Morgan, Patrick Romain (EOP counselor), my neighbor in Brooklyn; Ms. Ilett, my amazing parents and God for answering my prayers throughout the difficult process that led up to me being here.

Every mountain, ditch, red sand pile, lizard, spider, squat toilet, dala dala (taxi van), Maasai, local bar or “mzungu” screaming child, I see and encounter, my gratefulness for being here increases a hundredfold. I am overwhelmed by this opportunity I have been given to come to this continent and live amongst the local people to get a full experience of the Tanzanian lifestyle. I could not ask for more. I wish to just continue upwards from here in my educational, professional and personal endeavors to make my parents proud at my success in life now and what is to come.  Stay tuned in!

Thursday June 23, 2011

Discrimination sucks! Today at school, we played a social/psychology game called Blue Circle/Yellow Squares in which we discriminated against every student, which had a blue circle taped to their chests. It was a part of our lesson to teach about stigma, discrimination and stereotyping. The students being stigmatized were so bitter about it. I felt like Cruella DeVille. They would raise their hands to answer a question or make a comment and I wouldn’t answer them. These students became annoyed, made a lot of noise, took naps, and ignored the lesson after a while. It became more intense because the blue circle students were also told that they had to eat last for lunch this afternoon, which made the yellow squares laugh and run to get their place in the lunch line. Though it became frustrating to play the game, the lesson behind it was received. They all understood in the end that stigmatizing and discrimination is prominent in Africa and around the world, mostly towards HIV/AIDS patients. The students had first hand experience how it felt to discriminate against someone so I know that they won’t be stigmatizing someone anytime in the near future.

The school day ended so lovely! I’m not even being dramatic. My student Sabrina brought me three photos of herself and the beautiful waters of Morogoro, which made me so happy. I also sat in on singing class with Joshua and Bezalel after lessons. The Tanzanians might be the best dancers in the world! They have great rhythm and powerful singing voices to go along with the movement. The students looked really awesome dancing together in a circle along with the drums being beat in the background. Some of the girls had signature dances in which they dropped low and came back up, swinging their waist very fast. They put my Jamaican moves to shame. The nominees for the peer educators of Namanga secondary school were chosen and I was proud of them for their hard work. Talk to you soon!

Monday July 11, 2011

This village called Engrikaret is so different in comparison to all of the other villages I’ve visited in Arusha region. I feel as if I’m in an episode of an Animal Planet or Discovery Channel show, covering the earth’s driest places. It looks as if the Dust Bowl has recently passed through this place. The sun is in plain sight, the wind is blowing, there are barely any leaves on the trees, and the homes are widely dispersed.

Teaching nutrition to Maasai men and women was very different. I tried to pick up a few words from their conversations, but they have their own language, so it didn’t work out well. Their way of dress is still very intriguing to me. It was hard to focus on the lesson when their necklaces and earrings were jingling and making tambourine noises. There were only three people dressed in Western-style clothing. The remaining 13 people wore kanga wraps, beaded anklets, necklaces and bracelets. The women were all shaven-headed with multicolored kanga wraps. Some were shy and quiet, while others were loud and talkative. I can’t complain because they gave me more class participation than some of my secondary school students in Namanga. The ages of the students ranged from 24 to 72 years old. Sustainable agriculture and food drying teaching consists of training only adults since they are the ones cooking for their families. The lessons aren’t drawn out like the HIV/AIDS ones because the men and women have to go back home and care for their children. Classes end at around 2pm. Tomorrow we may end a little later because we will have practical teachings of food drying. We are going to instruct the Maasai on how to create food dryers and how to use them. I think food drying is going to be my favorite focus topic of the GSC trainings. HIV/AIDS teaching was okay and sustainable agriculture is more challenging. Food drying is simple and more resourceful, in my opinion, than biointensive agriculture.

This week should be quite interesting because there is absolutely nothing to do in this town. Melanie and Natalie attempted to walk to find a store, but soon returned because they only saw goats and chickens in the distance. I was looking forward to camping out in the tent with the girls, but it had been given to Carl and Babu (grandfather in Kiswahili) Kipada because the guesthouse is for women only. Bummer! I’m sure there will be much entertainment with all these women (and different personalities) in 1-2 rooms. Talk to you later.

Thursday July 14, 2011

Today was an exhilarating one. The Maasai people entertained the hell out of me today. While watching Natalie and Joyce teach, a Maasai elder man decided he was going to hold his nose and blow his boogers out at my feet. The woman sitting behind the both of us hacked up some mucus from deep down somewhere and spat it out not too far from my feet. Seemed as if a few of them had a cold and didn’t feel the need to keep their dada (sister in Kiswahili; me) from picking up their germs. Despite all of this, I took some great photos with them after teaching my PLWHA (People Living With HIV/AIDS) lesson. I finally met up with the man who asked me to answer his questions about African-Americans, racism, poverty and third-world countries. It was a bit tough to answer these questions because I am no politician, great debater, historian, professor, etc. I did the best to accurately answer his questions based on my experience and knowledge from school. He is also an educated man so some questions, he had partial knowledge as to their answers because of books he had read.

Not soon after this conversation, a fight broke out between two of the Maasai women, over some stolen merchandise. The drunken Maasai woman (who had earlier given me attitude because I advised Melanie not to buy her jewelry) picked a fight with the feistiest Maasai woman in the clique. The feisty one realized that the drunk one took a few pieces of her jewelry that she had been selling. The drunken one was defiant in returning the goods so during their verbal exchange of harsh words; the feisty Maasai slapped the drunk one across her face. Shocked the hell out of all the onlookers (about 10-12 in number), including myself, of course. I wish my camera or Flip camcorder were on me at the time because I’d receive crazy hits on YouTube with that video posting. It started to become pitiful though because the drunk one wouldn’t let up and she continued to put on a show for everyone by yelling, crying, and throwing herself on the ground. Drama!

Anyhow, tomorrow our GSC crew leaves Engrikaret and heads back to town. Can’t wait because I have to link up with Chris to find out if he is still going to bring the girls and I to Mount Meru’s waterfall on Saturday morning. I also have to use the computer and reply to e-mails because I’m sure my father thinks that something terrible has happened to me by now seeing as how it’s been over a week we’ve last spoken. When he sees my phenomenal pictures and recordings, he will understand why I wasn’t able to reach him. He will visually see this beautiful desert!

Friday July 15, 2011

Back at my homestay safely, thank God, after I almost got my right foot ran over by a car exiting the gas station. Just when I thought that Manhattan taxi drivers cared the least about pedestrians! Anyway, I just finished taking one of the best hot showers ever! Of course, when I returned to my room, I realized that the power was off (never long-lasting here). I’ll be fine for now because the sun is slowly setting and I have enough time to write before the sunset.

Something awkward happened today. One of the teachers (21 year old) staying at the guesthouse with us in Engrikaret called Natalie fat today. I felt awful and angry because it was a discussion he was having with me that caused the whole thing. I asked him if that little bit of lunch he served for himself was all that he was going to have. He told me that it was enough for him because only people of Natalie’s size, “fat” people, need to have plenty servings of food. I was shocked and glad when Carl stepped into the conversation and told this guy that Americans deemed the comments he had just made as rude and disrespectful. (I was surprised that he didn’t already know this). The mwalimu (teacher in Kiswahili) apologized for his statements, but it was still awkward and Melanie was nice to tell Natalie that she wasn’t fat (once again, after I told the teacher the same thing). Sad that she took note of this as the worse/rudest thing a Tanzanian had said to her thus far. Pole (Sorry in Kiswahili).

As of tomorrow, three more weeks left in Tanzania. It’s bittersweet that the time has passed so quickly. I love this place! Met so many people. So much has happened in the six weeks I’ve been here. Can’t believe it is coming to a close. Kweli! (True in Kiswahili).

Sunday July 17, 2011

Nothing more calming than writing surrounded by a bunch of roosters and chickens. Good times! I’ve just finished packing for my week in the village I’m being sent to next. Time is going so quickly, but the fun is running down because of all the tiring work we have been doing. Also, the girls are tired of going to Maasai Camp to party because they know it isn’t going to end until 5:30am. I make the most of my days hanging out in the town, eating snacks and buying souvenirs until I run out of money (as was the case today).

I have gotten much used to the way of life here, though. Instead of always rushing off somewhere, I enjoying relaxing, having long conversations with random Tanzanians and walking slowly when I’m going somewhere. I now move on Tanzanian (rather, African) time because they seem much more calm and happy than the New Yorkers who are always in a hurry. I don’t fret when there is no power because I know that I will make out just fine with candles or flashlights. I don’t get angry or scared when it is becoming dark out and it is still a little ways from home because I know that I can call a friend, they will find me and without any fuss, safely escort me back to my homestay. Such is the way of life out here in Tanzania. Hakuna matata! (No worries in Kiswahili).

Tuesday July 19, 2011

Well it’s only after 4pm, but what the heck! It is hot out here in Makuyuni. The kids are all over the dusty roads playing. I love the sight of it. Even my new little rafiki (friend in Kiswahili), Juma from across the street is having a blast. I’m sure this is probably his best day ever because majority of it was spent with the GSC folks; Juma playing Anna’s first born son. She doesn’t have any children by the way. He even brought along a crowd of the neighborhood children to the guesthouse to play and stare in amazement at the ‘black Mzungu’ (tourist). Good times!

At the primary school today, I sat as a student and watched Tom lead today’s class on puberty. Seeing as how we started a day late, I thought it’d be best if we had him teach this first class and I begin with tomorrow’s class. It was very different to sit and listen to a mwalimu (teacher) instruct in Kiswahili because I could only pick up on a few words here and there. Not complete sentences. It was only a 45-minute lesson so not to worry. The day went very fast and I believe that they will continue at this pace until Thursday. It sucks that only 30 students are allowed to sit in on the lessons, out of the hundreds of students that are in the school. You can only change the world in increments, I now see. I wish there was more that could be done. I’m glad at what we are doing, though. Thomas is an excellent teacher and works very well with the students. His passion for what he does shows when he is up there in front of all the students. I really respect him for that. I’m not too sad to be without the other volunteers this week. My work team is good how it is.

The time is winding down and I am feeling happy/sad about it. I don’t want to stay forever, but I also don’t want to leave right now. Life in Tanzania is sweet. No one complains about his or her lack of things. They smile, laugh and live. I love them for that. These are some qualities that I need to live by every day, instead of pitying myself sometimes. I will have to come back again when I have enough money to do so on my own. I hope one day to be able to travel all over the world (on my own funds, of course). Africa will definitely be seeing more of me. Maybe Ethiopia or Morocco next? Who knows? What I do know is that I will be back. Too much love in one place not to do so.

Rediscovering ‘Home’

Rediscovering ‘Home’