Happy Ramadan (Can you say that?)


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Africa » Tanzania » East » Dar es Salaam
October 25th 2005
Published: October 25th 2005
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Okay, so on to some cheerier things. Saturday night I went to Ali's home for dinner. As I mentioned this is the period of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, and they are fasting during the daylight hours. Ali very generously invited me to come and have dinner with his family as they marked the end of their daily fast. He told me the food they prepare for dinner during this time is "futari", soft and easily digestible, which I think has a lovely nurturing feel for the body that has had to go hungry all day.

I took the daladala through an entirely different route from what I have done before. When I got on I told the conductor where I needed to get off and he was quite agreeable, but I always worry a little bit, especially when it's a (semi) longer trip, as this was. The conductors are young guys who are always involved in a bunch of different things -- taking money, drumming up business, stopping to buy water, yelling to their friends -- and I always cross my fingers that they won't forget me, then get to the end of the line only to realize they have an Mzungu left that they have no idea what to do with. Fortunately that didn't happen this time. Ali had made a big deal of my needing to get there myself, and gave me instructions on how to actually get to his house once I was in the right neighbourhood, but as I suspected I would I found him waiting there for me when I got off the bus. He really is just a big softy. He was dressed in traditional Muslim clothing which surprised me at first because at the office he dresses in western clothes, but it was kind of cool and really added to the festivities for me.

We went for a walk through the neighbourhood, which according to him is completely typical of how most people live in Africa. The main thing he wanted me to see is how close the houses are together. There are no real yards per se, but maybe a small courtyard in front of each doorway where people were sitting out, cooking, hanging laundry, chatting with family and neighbours. He said there are a lot of kids in the neighbourhood and it's a very takes-a-village-to-raise-a-child kind of atmosphere.

I was interested to meet his family, but I think no more interested than they were to meet me. He lives with his wife, her sister and brother, and a young (about five years old) son of his brother, who is sadly now deceased. There were also a couple of housegirls (their word, not mine) who work for them, and this is completely common here in Africa, regardless of income level. The family was quite shy of me at first, but his wife asked me many questions about Canada using him as a translator. I think she understood English pretty well, but was maybe not comfortable speaking it. She was very warm and welcoming in spite of the language barrier and I felt very comfortable. One funny thing was she was completely shocked that I am a woman -- all this time she thought he was working with a man from Canada. That's not as strange as it sounds, because in Swahili the same word is used for "he" and "she" so you just have to go by the name, and I guess in her mind my name belongs to a man.

Ali went to the Mosque to pray briefly before dinner and I was left alone with the women, which was fine. He seemed a little worried but I said no problem, I'm great, and I was. His sister in law came up to me right away to chat, as soon as we were alone. Her English was quite good which surprised me because she hadn't really said anything up until then. She was lovely and we had a nice talk. All this happened while the housegirls were laying out a dinner on a blanket outside the main door. The little guy sidled up to me, I think trying to get a bead on who I was. I greeted him in Swahili and asked his name, which he told me although so quietly I had to ask him to repeat it. Then I told him mine. This seemed to satisfy him, and he wandered away happily, although I did catch him watching me at different points through the evening. Too cute. I was cursing myself that I didn't bring along paper to fold him a crane. Oh well, next time.

Ali mentioned to me when he came back that their family had had a bit of trouble a few nights before. His wife's other sister is married to a man who owns a local hotel, and they are apparently quite well off. They live on a larger plot of land which makes them more isolated from their neighbours, although they have the usual security measures of an alarm and a fenced in house. Well one night recently bandits broke in and began shooting the place up. Fortunately, as Ali tells it, the sister's husband also had a gun and was able to chase them off. Nobody was hurt and nothing was taken, but everybody was of course considerably shaken up. We agreed that money can sometimes bring a lot more problems than it's worth.

Dinner was a delicious sort of stew that they told me was made from sweet potato. Then there were some general murmurings of Swahili at the "table" and the sister in law (whose name I never did get, I'm ashamed to say) said, "pump..pumpkin". Ah yes, pumpkin, I knew I recognized the taste. Pumpkin, sweet potato, regular potato, spices, and it was really really good. I had told them about Thanksgiving when it happened, and so then I said that pumpkin is something we normally eat then, so nice to have it now. There was also a sort of noodle dish, and chapati, which is a sort of deep fried flat bread that I love. And I'm happy to report, not an onion in sight. To drink I had porridge, thinner than we would eat, so totally drinkable, and surprisingly good along with everything else. I took some pictures with their permission, saying that my family would kill me if I didn't, then Ali wanted to take a picture of me. You are a real social worker, he said, and I knew it was a compliment. He wanted my family to see how well I fit in. I found that really touching.

I had such a nice time and I came away feeling so good. I think it's really a special kind of gift when somebody invites you into their home, and especially when there are differences that you don't know how the other person will react to. Very cool.

On Sunday I went with Muhalley to a basketball tournament here in Dar, sponsored like at home by an alcohol company, in this case Kilimanjaro beer ("If you have a passion for basketball, Kili is your brand" according to all the banners.) She played for years then has been very involved in the organizational aspect of things. I got to meet a lot of her friends which was really fun. One in particular I quite liked and we spent a lot of time talking. He mentioned that he has four kids and we talked about how hard it is to be away from home doing all you have to do. Later on at the end of the day we were standing outside, waiting for some people, and Muhalley came over and started to play with my hair. This made me laugh because I know she has been dying to get her hands on it. I took the barette out and said, go nuts. (After I wrote here in the early days about Thomas loving my hair, my friend Perry emailed me and said it was a "universal truth". I told them that and they all laughed. I said, she likes to play with it too.) This guy came and stood in front of me and put his hands on my face and said, ah, so pretty. Um, yeah. I said, okay, that's enough touching of the Mzungu, which cracked everyone up but served the purpose of moving him away. Later on he was quite a bit friendlier, and asked me, so, are you married. I said, um no, but you are. This hit him as completely hilarious, and he said, are you reminding me? I said, well do you need reminding? I just want to make sure we're all on the same page here. This seemed to amuse him to no end. Those Wazungu (white people), I tell ya. The guys here are pretty "flexible" shall we say, on the meaning of their marriage vows. The general sentiment seems to be that if your wife doesn't find out, what harm does it do? The problem is that the women inevitably do find out, or if they don't spend a great deal of time wondering and worrying about it. As one told me with a sort of matter-of-fact fatigue, "They ALL cheat" . I have no idea if that's right or not. The best person to ask would be Muhalley herself, but her husband is away in South Africa for a year, so it doesn't seem like exactly the best time to bring up the topic!

One interesting thing that happened while we were standing there is an insect landed on Muhalley and everybody just went nuts trying to get it off and kill it. Now that really surprised me. I have seen the most hideous insects and nobody bats an eye. This just looked like a really big house fly. And it was, sort of. A Tsetse fly. (They pronounce it "say say". I said, we always called them "Titsi", which set off another round of laugher. I'm a huge source of amusement for everybody here, even still.) Yesterday at my Swahili class the exact same thing happened. The teacher, a very unflappable guy, went after the thing like the cooks did the rat that night in the canteen. Ooooooooooooookay then. Turns out that in addition to having an extremely painful bite (which I did not know) they also cause Sleeping Sickness (which I did), apparently not something to be casual about like malaria (haha).

Somebody mentioned to me that I never really explained what FOGOTA is. It stands for the Forum of Grassroot Organizations of Tanzania. FOGOTA is a network of 361 community level groups that deal with all manner of income-generating projects, including agriculture, horticulture, beekeeping, fishing, social services, blacksmithing, environmental protection, cultural awareness, and HIV/AIDS. What they all have in common is their need and desire for self-sustainability. They are currently in the process of switching over from a position of receiving grants from SwissAid, an international NGO, to establishing their own micro-credit schemes. It is a challenging process and one that will take several years to complete. The groups are scattered over four areas of Tanzania - Dar es Salaam and Coast regions on the eastern shore, Mtwara region in the south, and Kagera region in the north. I am placed at the national coordinating office in Dar with Ali and Dorcas. The SwissAid building is right beside us, and we are all walled in together in the same compound.

My mom posted the nicest comment to the last real blog, where I said that the country is in my blood and I don't know what that will mean. She said not to worry, that what will be will be. That touched me so much. We are very close and I know how hard it is for her when I'm gone, because it's hard for me too. She loves me and misses me and hates it when I'm away, yet always always always what she says to me is, go. I wouldn't be here now if it weren't for her. How incredibly blessed am I? Go home and hug your loved ones, we are really incredibly blessed in so many ways.


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25th October 2005

my baby!!!!
What sweeter words could anyone say? I have told you before the Lord blessed me with the best kids in the world and that is the truth!!! I love you tonnnnnnnnnnnnns, mama xxoo
31st October 2005

happy ramadan
honey , we are all so happy that your associates are such kind and loving people, it makes all of us so happy and comfortable.Please tell them ur uncle tom said thanks. p.s. ur blogs are great, way better than the orillia newspaper lol

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