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Published: September 9th 2005
Okay, I seem to be effectively connected to the information super highway, so let's see what happens. Things are going really really well here. I feel very happy and comfortable and I know it's in large part due to how I am being treated. On one hand I can't believe I've been in Africa for a week, in Africa, I'm in Africa!!!!!! That hasn't exactly sunk in yet. But on the other hand it's hard to believe it's been only a week. Ali has returned from Kagera region -- he was my contact all through the year as I was arranging this placement, but then he had to go away because they were conducting training in another part of the country. That's why I was hooked up with Thomas, even before I came here. So it was wonderful to meet Ali and he is just as warm and friendly and open as his emails. He is Muslim, but we had a big hug when we met. It is like being at home with my family and friends. Everyone says "Karibuni" and indeed I do feel most warmly welcomed wherever I go.
We have not finalized the particulars of the work I will do with FOGOTA, but that's okay. I met my superviser, Mchomvu, earlier this week, and he wants me to get oriented to the culture a bit before we get too specific. He is the dean of the Institute of Social Work here and has a Master's in counseling, which means he will be a completely appropriate superviser, something I was not sure of until I actually talked to him. When I explained to him that this is not a thesis project but a practicum, he said, oh yes, we have block field work in our program, and proceeded to explain what his idea of supervision would be. It sounded like he understood exactly what I was looking for, so that was a relief. He has had some experience supervising foreign students, and is interested in the stuff that the university sent for him. He is off site, which will be different, and he will have to go a loooooooooooooooooooooooooong way to equal the supervision I had in my first placement, but I felt quite comfortable with him and I'm feeling like it will all be fine. Ali has said that maybe on Monday we will sit down with all the FOGOTA team and "share" about what we all think I could be doing here. That should be interesting. He is wanting Dorcas, a woman who works there as well, to be involved in this and she is off today because her child is sick with allergies.
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to go to Kisarawe, which is in the Pwani ("Coast") region of Tanzania, not too far from Dar es Salaam. I went with Muhalley, a woman working within the FOGOTA network. She is advisor to some of the community level groups. I got to see a food processing group that dries fruits and vegetables on a sort of solar rack and packages them for sale. They were excited to show me the new space that they have rented -- a house with three rooms: one for washing and preparing the food, one for packaging, and one for marketing and retail. Dirt floors and filthy walls, but I have to tell you to me it was beautiful. I love to see the hope and excitement that comes when people have a plan. The final product was very appealing and in fact we bought some as a snack -- dried mango, dried banana, and cashews. Yum. Muhalley told me that last year some people in France wanted to buy their product but they didn't have proper certification to export food. FOGOTA is now helping them get this certification. I also saw a teachers' group that FOGOTA helped to buy a couple of cows, so that they can sell the milk. Very interesting to see their barn set up, and very moving to understand how much the milk of two cows really means.
But maybe the best part of the day was that a bunch of children were following us around, and one of the women mentioned that some of the children live in the local orphanage. I asked if we could go see it. It was the same as all the other houses, with basically a woman paid by the church to take care of five children. The children here, all of them, seem happy and content, like children anywhere. In fact I think in some ways they are better off than our children, because children are greatly loved here in Africa. They are friendly and like to get close and I think that's in part because they're very trusting, and used to receiving care from a great many adults. Not a bad way to be.
Anyhow, I brought out the crane making paper (oh right, I have to get some more) and they were a huge hit. But after a while I noticed there were more children than we had started with. I said to Muhalley, is it just me, or is the room filling up? She said the children are running off to get their friends. Yikes! I'm good, but I'm not good enough to produce cranes for the entire village in a timely fashion! But we got through it. There was one little guy who had a Tigger shirt on and I asked if they knew who that was, but no. So I tried to explain it but I'm not sure I got it across. They are nothing if not polite but I am starting to recognize a look that means that people have no idea what I'm talking about.
I would have kept walking and looking forever, but poor Muhalley was starving so we stopped for lunch. Eating here is always an adventure, and I never know for sure what's going to appear. But that day we had fried banana and beef (two separate dishes) and it was very good. The funny thing about meals here is that we all very carefully wash our hands first...with the contaminated water that nobody can drink. Hmmmm...wonder how that works? I try to discreetly delve into the hand sanitizer in my bag, but that's not always the greatest idea either. Some things we eat with our hands...for example I tried ugali one day, which is sort of a very stiff porridge (a maize based product) that you roll into a bite sized ball with your hand and dip in the sauce of whatever else you're having. I found it extremely bitter, which was odd because nobody had mentioned that and normally they try to warn me about such things. Then I realized it was probably the hand sanitizer and/or the mosquito spray. Tough one. As you can see I'm still working out the kinks.
The houses in Kirasawe are constructed like those in Bagamoyo, out of wood and red mud. They are surprisingly pretty against the greenery. When you enter someone's home, or office for that matter, you call out "Hodi", which is sort of like sticking your head in somebody's screen door and yelling "yoo hoo" at home. It means, I'm here, I'd like to come in, is anybody home? Then you will always get "Karibu" as a response, meaning welcome, come in. They are very hospitable here and make sure that you feel welcome and comfortable.
Being with Muhalley was like being with my friends back hom. We talked and laughed all day long. She is a kindred spirit. The women we were with spoke only Swahili which is not unsual I'm finding, so there are a lot of conversations where I have no idea what's going on. But I never really feel left out, and this is why. While we were at lunch and everyone else was chatting in Swahili, Muhalley kept putting her hand on my leg, or patting my arm. She said to me, I'm telling you that you don't speak Swahili, but it doesn't matter, you are with me. And you know, that's exactly what it felt like. When he heard that I had spent time with Muhalley, Ali was very pleased. He said that he told Thomas, make sure you hook Jackie up with Muhalley, because he felt we would get along and it would be nice for me. He was so right. She has said that one day she will take me shopping to where the locals buy everything there is to buy. Something very fun to look forward to.
I'm going to post this now and I will keep writing again if it works. Thanks so much for all your comments, they're up now. I have to approve them before they are attached to the entry. Gillian, you mentioned asante sana and was that the song they sang in the Lion King, which made me laugh. I know you were just kidding, but the song is hakuna matata and they say it here! It's Swahili. No worries indeed...and no hurry in Africa!
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