I know, I know, I’m a total bum for not updating my blog since September. Well, here’s what’s been going on. After Joanna left, we had a flurry of activity leading up to World AIDS Day on December 1. I had written a grant to get gardening and sewing supplies for the orphan group at the secondary school in Kibakwe. It turned out my counterpart was going to be in Dar at the same time I was, so we decided to get all of our supplies together. This involved two days of scouring Dar by daladala (minivans disguised as public transport) to find used sewing machines and supplies. Over those two days, we went to parts of Dar es Salaam I did not know existed. We went to parts of Dar that no one should ever go to. The ends justified the means, though, and we got what we needed. My poor counterpart had to travel all the way back to Kibakwe by bus with four sewing machines. Once I got back to Kibakwe, the onus was upon me to start organizing the students in the orphan group. Here lies the rub. Over half the students in the group were preparing for national exams which run for two weeks, then the other half of the students take their exams over the following two weeks. So we’re looking at a month where none of the students are able to be on the same page. All of this is going on while Carla is trying to show HIV/AIDS videos to the students every week. Another factor that impacted Carla’s project were the sporadic power cuts which prevented her from showing the videos on a few occasions. OK, that was half of October and most of November. Now students are starting to go back to their homes (not all students live in Kibakwe) to prepare their family farms for planting. Simultaneously there’s a nationwide teacher’s strike with varying levels of commitment, so the secondary school headmaster decided to close school a couple weeks early. Students had already stopped coming, teachers were more disinterested than usual, and the students who did show up complained they had nothing to do. As for our clubs at the school, students’ attendance was spotty at best. Nickson and Mama Cocu and Madinda were all doing their level best to encourage the students to show up for the clubs to no avail. As we say in Swahili, “bahati mbaya,” which means, “bad luck.” This expression is used to explain everything from getting a flat on your bike to incompetence of bank employees to people dying. In other words, “you’re screwed.” Now, November’s almost over and we have World AIDS Day, December 1, looking us in the face. Please refer to Carla’s blog (www.carlaintanzania.blogspot.com) to get all of the details of that event. I can’t do it justice compared to what Carla has written. Technically, it was a fantastic event for the community and tons of people were tested for HIV and others at least received education and increased their awareness. Incidentally, it’s not like Tanzanians aren’t aware of HIV and AIDS, but it’s more a case of Tanzanians not wanting to speak openly about these issues and what really causes them and reducing the stigma associated with the disease. In retrospect, the three day event did have an impact on people testing and I’m glad we did it. Also, it was great to have our friend Stephanie staying with us that week. Sorry we didn’t have more of a chance just to chill with you, Mr. Stephaner. After World AIDS Day, we needed a little bit of a break, so we took it easy for a while. After all, the big event was over, students were out of school, and we were free just to hang in Kibakwe, visit with our friends, and reconnect with our village. During this time we began to get more involved in the local PLWHA(People Living With HIV and AIDS) group, Kikundi Cha Upendo (Love Group). This might be the best thing we’ve done since we arrived in Kibakwe. This is a group of HIV+ people, caregivers, and our head doctor who meet once a week to talk about the issues they face and to get education on how to better care for themselves and others. Since we’ve been meeting with this group, I’ve realized that some of my favorite people to work with in Kibakwe, I’ve met in this group. The devotion and amount of compassion in some of the members of this group has made a profound impression on me. We’ve recently started digging a garden behind our house dedicated to benefitting these people. Madinda and I did a short permaculture and double-digging demonstration for the members of the group, and it seems that most people are really into it. Since the heavier rains just started this weekend, we’re planning on finishing the bed prep and planting by the end of the week.
Christmas this past year was spent with the Cs in Dar. We are so grateful to this wonderful couple for welcoming us, and other volunteers, so readily into their home. The Cs invited us and another PCV couple to celebrate Christmas dinner with them and other friends. This involved a Christmas feast akin to an American-style holiday, complete with turkey and all the trimmings and pumpkin pie and cookies. Now, here’s the downside to a wonderful meal like this when you’re accustomed to eating rice, beans, and local greens: my body reacts to the richness of this food by rejecting it. That’s right, later that night I refunded the meal. I spent the next day recuperating down the street at the Js’ whose house we were staying at for part of the holiday. All in all, it was a fantastic Christmas and a great bit of relaxation before receiving our visitors from the US.
On December 28, our wonderful friends, Brooke and Mike, arrived from the US for a much too brief, two-week visit. After the first night in Dar, we catapulted them right into village life by going straight to Kibakwe the next day. Brooke and Mike were fantastic guests, Mike helping with watering the garden and Brooke baking her first cake over an open fire. There were some violations of our very stringent shoe system in the house, however. Anyone who has ever visited our house is familiar with our systems and probably resents us for them, but it is the only semblance of control we have living in this country. As we like to say, “We do what we have to on the inside” (fans of Good Fellas will get the reference). Of course, Brooke and Mike were beloved by all our friends in the village, and there was even a gift exchange with Madinda and his family (I’ll post pics as soon as I can). After several days in the vill, we moved on to Morogoro and a one-day safari in Mikumi National Park. We had a fantastic time and even got to see a couple of male lions languishing right on one of the roads in the park; this is not typical of most parks, especially Mikumi. Side note: I never got tired of Mike saying,”Hey Lion, that’s a crazy mane you got. How ya doin’? Say hi to ya mutha for me.” Finally, it was on to Zanzibar: Stone Town and Paje Beach. Here is where we met up with Stephanie and proved that you can have two sets of friends become friends, but you need to know what you’re doing. I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t love Brooke and Mike and who doesn’t love Little Mr. Stephaner? Needless to say, it all worked out, and we had a great time in Stone Town and on the beach in Paje. It was the perfect end to a perfect visit. Other PCVs will know what I mean when I talk about the post US visitor hangover. After you have your tearful farewell at the Dar airport, and you’re faced with going back to the village (sometimes a multi-day bus trip), and you’re more homesick than you were before, you just don’t feel like doing anything for a few days. Of course, we all get over this and get back into the swing of things, but it’s tough for those first few days after a really good friend leaves.
Since Brooke and Mike left, we’ve mainly been doing logistical work and planning what we’ll do for our last months before we return to the US. This has involved continuing to meet and work with Upendo Group (PLWHA), meeting with the headmasters and certain teachers of both the primary and secondary schools in Kibakwe, and trying to figure out what else can be done in the time that we have left here. We have become more involved in working with our newest Mpwapwa VSO (Volunteer Service Overseas) volunteer, Peter, a delightful palliative care nurse from England. Since he arrived in October of last year, he has been working with a local NGO that provides home-based care for PLWHAs through a paid volunteer network. When his work brings him to Kibakwe to do home visits, we usually tag along to provide translation services. This has given us an opportunity to see some of the tougher cases of people living with AIDS. Actually seeing patients in their homes and witnessing the obstacles they have to proper health care makes you realize how easy it is for someone to fall through the cracks in this country. Peter has been a great inspiration to all of us working in Mpwapwa district. He has a tremendous amount of compassion and has the opportunity to improve the lives of many people here, and I know he has already done this in the short time he’s been here.
Most recently, we went to Dodoma to help Peace Corps with the IST (In-Service Training) for the Health and Environment volunteers who just arrived at site in August 2008. Our presentation, which we gave with the help of our counterpart Madinda, dealt mainly with program design and management. Basically, a fancy way of saying project planning, or “How do you do a project in your village and make sure it doesn’t turn to crap?” Honestly, we’re still trying to figure this one out, but we have picked up some pearls of wisdom along the way. We were brought in as the voices of experience. Madinda was there to help the new Tanzanian counterparts who accompanied the new volunteers get an idea of how it is to work with Americans, what is expected of them, and how to bridge the cultural and linguistic gap. I think everything went fairly well and I believe our presentations were well-received by the volunteers and the counterparts. I’ve said it a million times before, and I’ll probably say it a million more, Madinda is a rockstar. This man, who only has a seventh grade education, has more conviction, integrity, and compassion than most Americans I have known. For a Tanzanian, especially a Tanzanian in our region, to have these qualities is incredibly rare.