Homesickness :(

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September 19th 2005
Published: September 19th 2005
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So, yes, Friday I was so homesick I could hardly stand it. It's the first time it's really hit me since I got here. It didn't help that I spent most of the day alone at the FOGOTA office since Ali was at a workshop and Dorcas was off doing other stuff. One interesting thing though was that it rained -- the first real rain I have seen since I have been here, since this is not the rainy season. It poured down for about five minutes, then cleared up as quickly as it had come. I was really surprised to see it, and I think everybody else was too judging from how people were responding outside the office window. Rainy season starts in December and I think really gets going in the new year.

But Friday night as I was leaving FOGOTA I sent Thomas a message to wish him a good weekend as I had not seen him for a few days. He sent back a message saying he was missing me, and where was I. I have noticed that here they use the word "miss" in a much lighter way than we do. Somebody I have just met may send me a message and say they are missing me the next day. It doesn't have the connotation of intimacy that it has when we use it, more it seems to just mean, I'm not seeing you and I wish I were. So I stopped by House of Peace to see him and we hung out for the evening. We fixed a problem with his printer, then went to an internet cafe to run some stuff off for his wife, then went to dinner. So that helped considerably with my loneliness.

Speaking of language, the other funny difference I see is the use of "at least". Most people I talk to don't exactly know how to use it the way that we do. I might say, I was really homesick Friday but at least I had dinner with a friend. There's a sort of comparison there -- things are bad, but here's the consolation. But when they say "at least" it's out of the blue, and it sounds really comical to me, I have to say. There is no comparison with anything else. I think they use it more like we would say "here's something good". Ali might say to me "at least you can spend some time reading through the background documents for FOGOTA", but nothing came before that led to the "at least". It's hard to explain and I don't think it's translating well at all here, but it's making me laugh all over again just typing this out. Oh well, as long as I'm entertained...

One funny thing on Friday was that Thomas turned to me at the internet cafe and said, completely out of the blue, you must go down for breakfast every day. Um, pardon? I started to laugh and said what made you think of that? But Thomas is extremely literal and not to be distracted (like most people in their second language, I think) and he said, no, no, it's very important. Now, we have had the breakfast discussion several times already. I am not a morning person as we all know and sometimes it's just more than I can do to make it down there. I have told him that I eat in my room on the mornings that I don't go down, but to him that's not good enough, I need something hot in the morning. It's been an ongoing source of frustration for us both. Finally on Friday I said, what is it that you're worried about? And dead serious he said, if you lose weight while you're here, your family will be angry and think we did not take care of you. Ooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhh, that's what it's been about. Interesting again to see weight loss as a negative thing, but of course here it is generally associated with sickness and want. I said, Thomas, my family LOVES you. He said, "is it?", which is his way of saying "really?", and I could tell he was pleased. That is a LOT of pressure, when you are thinking you have to return the foreign student in exactly the condition you found her. Sometimes I feel like we all understand each other so well, and sometimes I recognize that we are worlds apart, even when we're in the same room.

And speaking of worlds apart...Thomas is starting law school tomorrow, and wonders if I know anybody who would be interested in sponsoring him. Um...well...I'm not sure. Do people actually do that? I have no idea. But he was so gung ho that I told him I would ask. I also told him that everybody I know is a student and pretty much completely broke with their own tuition load, but I would try. So, if anybody is interested in sponsoring a very intelligent and motivated guy as he works his way through law school, or knows of somebody who would, it's about $5000-6000 Canadian per year, for three years. But I'm sure all donations would be gratefully received.

So anyhow after a kind of crappy end to the week I had a great weekend. Ines (my Austrian friend) and I went to Mwenge market on Saturday. She is feeling much better by the way, but ended up sick again on Friday. Again they took her to the hospital, again she was tested for malaria, again it came back negative. The doctor determined that the drugs were making her sick, which I can believe because they were potent enough that she was supposed to eat and drink a lot while she was on them, but of course she couldn't, so taking them on an empty stomach caused her to throw up. Lovely. Anyhow, by Saturday it was all sorted out. Mwenge is just outside of Dar es Salaam, easily accessible by daladala. It's the centre for handicrafts in the area and we had a GREAT day and a very successful shopping trip. But that will be all I say about that except to announce that I have started my Christmas shopping. And let's just say that I would be rattling bags like crazy if I were at home. Rattling bags is a custom in my family designed to torment family members when you have been Christmas shopping and are particularly pleased with your purchases.

We were both exhausted by the end of the day because the sales tactics are quite high pressure in Mwenge. Everyone wants you to come into their shop (and there are a lot of them) welcoming you, and calling out "Sistah, sistah" and "Mzungu!", and if you show even the slightest bit of interest in anything they are all over you, albeit it in the most charming and pleasant way. Ines is a kickass bargainer, much better than I am, but even I am getting the hang of it. I usually end up feeling too guilty to do battle of what amounts to a couple of dollars, but I can recognize when something is way out of the normal price range.

Anyhow by Sunday we were wiped so spent a quieter day, going in the morning to the Shoprite, which is the closest thing they have to a grocery store back home. I feel somewhat conflicted about going there, but ease my guilt by eating local food all through the week, and indulging in North American stuff (or facsimile) only occasionally on the weekend. Mostly I go for crackers and peanut butter, and things like that. Stuff to eat for breakfast when I don't make it down to the canteen. In the afternoon we just hung out, but later on went to Slipway, another very touristy area with shops and a restaurant on the water. Last night was Ines' last night because she is going traveling for the remainder of her time in Tanzania. She left for Arusha today which is a good jumping off point to do a safari, and she promised to report back on what it's like because I am planning to do the same thing at some point. Then she will spend some time on Zanzibar, the big island off the coast which is part of Tanzania but culturally very different -- lots of Arabic influence. She'll come back to Dar on the fifth of October to fly home and we will meet up for dinner then because she left some stuff in my care while she travels. I am soooooooooo sorry to see her go. She has been a great person to hang out with and really made these first two weeks fun.

This afternoon I have left FOGOTA early because there wasn't really much for me to do. That's a bit hard, but again something we were warned about. I'm not quite sure how it's going to go because a lot of what they do is done in Swahili, but I'm sure we'll figure it out. We have to. Dorcas is going to be my supervisor, which is a change that came about when I realized that she is graduating with her MSW on the 29th of this month. She was in a program offered through the University of Dar es Salaam in conjuction with an American university. I much prefer on site supervision so although my original supervisor seemed great, I switched things around. I think Dorcas is a little nervous about it, but truly she is already doing supervisory things with me, and as far as the evaluation and other Laurier expectations I know what to do about those. So I think it will be fine, and a much better arrangement for me, which frankly is my priority at this point. It's frustrating to be off to a slow start as far as the work goes, but I am hearing from Chizuru and Louise in India that they are having the same problem -- and their agency has had Laurier students before. So I do think it's just part of the process.

Anyhow tomorrow I am going with Ali to the department of Home Affairs to see about a residency permit. Ali is a great guy in his own right, quieter and less energetic than Thomas, but deeply kind and sensitive to how I am doing. The day he took me to get the phone charger I told him how hard it is for me to be dependent on them for everything, and how much I appreciate his kindness. To which he gave me a big hug, saying no problem, no problem for us. Then his face got sad and he said, but I understand for you is problem. Strangely enough, not as big a one as it had been thirty seconds before. I brought a laptop computer with me for FOGOTA at Ali's request and there is a problem with it, namely that the USB port does not work. This is something he can't do without. We found out today it will cost about $50 to fix, which they cannot begin to afford at FOGOTA, but I told him I want to pay for it. This has been an ongoing discussion and a source of considerable distress for Ali (my paying, that is) but we are working on it.

And the other news is that my friend Muhalley has malaria. This is the girl who works for FOGOTA and took me to the big market. She sent me a text message Sunday to tell me. Her biggest complaint about it was a big headache. They are falling all around me, because this morning Dorcas mentioned casually that she wanted to go for a blood test because she's pretty sure she's coming down with malaria. The last two nights she couldn't sleep because she was sweating and shivering so hard. Yes, that does sound like a problem, I agreed. Wow, do you think???!!! Then a fellow that we had lunch with, who works for Swiss Aid (which is FOGOTA's main partner and has their offices in the same compound) mentioned that he thinks he is getting malaria, and wants to go for a blood test. Yikes! I said to Ali, you'd better stay healthy or I'm going to end up running FOGOTA! Which they all thought was hilarious. Then Dorcas mentioned that this is the THIRD TIME THIS YEAR that she's had malaria, and Ali agreed that yes, he had it while they were in the field just before I got here, whereas Daniel announced proudly that if he does have it, it will be the first time this year. They all agreed that was quite an accomplishment. I don't know how they manage to get anything done if that's what it's like for everybody. I am really in awe of how things are done here.


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