Just Some Reflections

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October 9th 2005
Published: October 9th 2005
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Well, this will be a sort of laid back entry compared to the last one. Nothing too exciting is going on, but I like to keep in touch. I noticed this week that I am feeling really comfortable here. I am understanding pretty well how things work and it no longer seems to threatening to me when I don't. I feel like myself here, and I feel like I fit. Pretty cool eh? My placement is picking up steam as well. This week I have been working with Carol, who is a friend of Dorcas from school, on the data analysis for a questionnaire FOGOTA distributed to their group members while they were doing the training in Kagera region during the summer. This is good experience for me, especially considering at my last placement we did something similar only I had to leave just as the analysis was starting. So that's been good. It's slow going, and Carol had to do the first bit by herself because the questionnaires are in Swahili, but now that we know what we're working with in terms of responses we are putting together a report. I like this kind of work anyway, and I'm especially enjoying this because it gives me a window into what people in the villages are thinking and feeling.

It's good timing for this project because I got an email this week from the school reminding us that our midterm evaluation is due at the end of October. Hmmm, I thought, that could be troublesome being as things were off to such a slow start. But I have also been writing articles for an internal newsletter, and I helped Ali to organize his personnel files, identifying missing information, so I think I will be able to tell the school something other than that I have been eating chapati and making paper cranes with the local watoto (children).

So let's see, what else? The last couple of days I have had a minor cold so I am sort of dragging around. Just a small sore throat with a bit of a headache and stuffy nose. All I really feel like doing is lying in bed, but I needed to buy some food so I am here at the city centre. But it's a good opportunity to do some emailing as well. No internet again yesterday at Msimbazi...we had it for one night I think and now it's gone again. I was wondering where I got my cold, because I don't remember coming across anyone sick, but I might know. I was walking with Carol to the daladala one day (we work at her house) and there were two little boys by the side of the road, maybe five and three, very young. The littlest guy marched out to where we were and stuck his hand out to shake mine, without saying a word. I was delighted, as you can imagine, and I shook his hand and gave him a big smile. He turned back to his friend and said something, very seriously, that made Carol laugh. I asked her and what it was was, "I have greeted an Mzungu". Oh that just filled me with joy, I love these kids so much. The Tanzanian ambassador couldn't have done a better job, nor taken the responsibility so seriously. But with everybody touching me and coming close, I guess it was only a matter of time before I picked up a little bug. Not that I'm complaining. I saw two German girls who are living at Msimbazi and are here working in a hospital and both were off for a week with malaria. So I figure I'm doing pretty well.

I am still seeing stuff that interests me, although I am getting used to so much of it. This week I was walking to my Swahili lesson and I passed a guy with an aquarium on his head, water, live fish, and all. I have to admit, I stopped to stare. He was very obliging and stopped to make sure I had a good look. The men carry heavy things on their heads here as well, but they almost always are balancing it with one hand. The women when they do it walk along with no hands, as if there were nothing up there. It's quite interesting, as Ali or Thomas will say when I tell them something about Canada that surprises them.

One really funny thing this week was I walked up a street I have apparently never used before, and came across...a Subway restaurant! How crazy is that? I admit, at first I thought it wasn't really there, just a mirage in the desert, but indeed it was real and it was open. So I had a sub and thought about Canada. Like everything here it was not the same as home but I so didn't care. It's always so nice to find a piece of home in the least expected places.

So the Swahili lessons are going great. I love my teacher, a big guy named Musa who looks like every second is just excruciating to him, but who treats me very nicely and is very helpful with it all. I am getting verb construction and sentence structure and as much vocabulary as he can throw at me. It's every day so I have to do some work on it every night. I still have a long way to go but I am starting to understand some little things. I can read a few words on signs, and when I came through the gates of the compound one night with an ice cream the guard said to me, Oh you're having a little something to eat, in Swahili, and I understood him! So that was very fun.

I did make it to Zanzibar for a little while last weekend with Thomas, as I mentioned, and it was fine but so anticlimatic after what had happened with the nastiness on the Friday night. Thomas had stuff to do Saturday morning and when we got to the ferry we determined that I didn't have my passport (but it's the same country! I said. Maybe to you, the ferry guy said) so we had to go back for it and subsequently didn't end up sailing until 4:00. The trip takes about 90 minutes and oh, it was so beautiful to be out on the ocean. It was the first time I've felt truly cool since I got here...but poor Thomas froze so we had to go back inside after a while. Zanzibar itself is completely different from the mainland and you would swear you were in another country. Its influences are all arabic because it was ruled forever by Omani arabs, and it's known as the spice island since spices were the mainstay of its economy up until very recently. The buildings are tall white stone with elaborately carved wooden doors, and the streets and alleys are very very narrow. It was gorgeous. The people are about 99% muslim and so everyone dresses in a way that reflects that. What I like about doing stuff with somebody who lives here is that we always go to places that aren't touristy and so I feel like I'm really seeing how people live. The hotel was very cheap because again it was not a tourist place, and my room had a double bed (yay!) with a beautifully carved headboard that included pieces of something like stained glass. I took pictures. My window looked down onto the narrow street below and it was really just like a postcard. So that was really nice and relaxing after the stress of the day before. On Sunday I slept in (I asked Thomas what time he gets up -- 5:30 because he gets his sons off to school. Oh tough one, I thought, but I didn't hear from him until around 9:00) and we went to the market because his wife had begged him to get the boys some athletic shoes, knowing where we were going to be. I said can't you get these in Dar, and he said we can, but it's finding the time. So we wandered through the market and people pretty much left me alone because I was with Thomas, and he browsed and bartered and I wandered and gawked. It was perfect for how I was feeling. Then we caught the ferry back at 4:00. And I got sick on the return trip! Sooooooooooooo seasick! I was so surprised! I knew it was coming so I went out to the bathroom...and didn't quite make it, because there was someone in there. Oooooooooooooooooh touch one. Fortunately I had a plastic bag with me and the slight mess I did make was easy to clean up. But man, I was one sick puppy. I think what happened was that it was a much rougher crossing, plus there was a TV on and I was watching the movie. On the way over I did nothing but stare out the window, which is the recommended course of action if you're prone to seasickness. Staring at the stationary TV while your body registers all kinds of movement from the waves is pretty much a recipe for disaster. As I can now confirm. Happily it didn't happen until toward the end of the trip. I made it back to my seat but felt trouble again. I was heading back out but Thomas and the girl beside him stopped me and said, why should you go out there alone? Stay here and use your bag if you need to. So I dry heaved into the plastic bag and Thomas and the girl patted my back and told me not to worry about it, as it was "quite natural". God, I love these people.

So that has been my week. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I will be thinking of you all, but I'm not as homesick as I might be because I got a great care package from my family this week. That was so fun. So enjoy the turkey one and all, and keep a good thought for me. I'll be home for Christmas, at least, and not only in my dreams. I love you all, and I'm so thankful for everything you've given me.


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