Saturday, June 30, 2012


Tanzanians have a custom called "kilio" or mourning, whereby neighbors, friends, family, etc visit the family of a diseased person. The kilio can last a few days and people just stop by, sit with the family, perhaps offer a condolence gift of money and pay their respects to the family.

I had the honor to attend my first kilio yesterday. A member of one of Caritas's village groups lost their child last week. The family said the child died of malaria, but when the father described how his son died, it sounded like it might've been something else. Of course, I'm no doctor, and I don't speak Swahili well. So I totally could've misread the situation.

It was a beautiful day, with a soft cool breeze (it's winter here) and, in the shade of the mango tree under which we sat, it sort of felt like a picnic. The village was quiet, with the exception of the sound of chickens and baby chicks wandering around in the surrounding grass. The view was spectacular, with fields of corn and other vegetables in the foreground to the rocky hills which surround the Mwanza region. It felt strange to be in such a beautiful, peaceful place under such sad circumstances.

I found myself thinking about how if I lost a child, or any loved one for that matter, I wouldn't want people stopping by. I wouldn't want the obligation of pretending everything is okay or trying to make conversation. The parents and siblings of this child were visibly upset, and they kept getting up from the tarp where we sat to walk away under another bush or behind the house for a minute and then they would return. Yet, at the same time, I didn't feel like we were unwanted and nothing felt forced. The family seemed genuinely grateful that people cared enough to come by. They also didn't seem to hide their sorrow. At one point, the father (who was quite old) sat down between his wife, children and daughter-in-law and recounted the story of his child's death. As everyone listened quietly I wondered how many times this sad story had already been told, even though the child died less than a week ago. When the father finished his story, people shook their head, uttered words of sympathy, or questioned why the doctors didn't do more for the child.

I've been thinking a lot about this experience. And I don't have any profound words or thoughts. I don't know whether Americans handle loss better or worse than Tanzanians. I'm sure it's mostly an individual thing. Sorrow is sorrow, no matter how you slice it. But I feel like there was some healing happening yesterday, just by the presence of family and friends who listened but didn't push, who offered company but didn't judge. Just a shared experience with little fan-fair. I wasn't the one who lost a child or a brother or a friend, so I feel a little sheepish in saying this. But I felt there was a sense of peace there and I feel privileged to be have been present.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Because I Haven't Posted Pictures in a While

Two pictures from this week that I love.

Tasty treat

Who are those crazy characters?

Long Way to Go

Today I attended a meeting of community activists from Kivulini. In their SASA! program, Kivulini trains 40 community members to take active roles in their districts to prevent, mitigate and resolve domestic and other forms of violence as it concerns women and children. The community activists meet each month to report on their progress and give feedback to Kivulini.

I really enjoyed the meeting today, even though I could only understand bits and pieces. I learned a lot of new words that I wouldn't normally hear in general conversations (i.e. court, resolution, cases, successes, referral), which is always good for my language acquisition. More than that, though, I was struck by how universal these issues are. The challenges that confronted me in my violence prevention work in the States are the same as those here. Admittedly, it's a totally different scale and there are greater hurdles here. But I just felt so at home in the meeting because I understood what the activists were talking about, even if I didn't understand all the words they were using.

Today I also found myself thinking about the skills that are necessary to be a good group facilitator. I often have a hard time pin-pointing what I'm good at because as a social worker my skills are so broad. I'm not an engineer or a doctor who is trained in a specific skill set. So I think I tend to overlook the skills that I have acquired through training and practice. Today I realized that I think I'm a pretty good facilitator. I have the ability to bring groups of people together, tease out various ideas, and bring it all toward a common concept. As a facilitator, I try to utilize the thoughts and ideas of my participants and keep the conversation interesting to them. I crack jokes, bring in relevant news or media, and just try to have fun with it.

I say all this because I was sitting in the meeting today realizing that I'm a hell of a long way from being able to be a competent facilitator here in Tanzania. In fact, I don't know if I'll ever be competent enough in Swahili to be even an adequate facilitator. The thought of this saddens me a little because I get such joy out of it. So, I continue to pray about and wait to see how my skills will be used here in this place that is so different and yet so similar to my own.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Medical Update and Some Other Random Things

I went back to the doctor today and got 1/2 of a clean bill of health. The pesky amoeba has been successfully evicted (good riddance) but the UTI is hanging on. I've already been treated for it twice, so I have to get a urine scan to find out which drug to use going forward. This required me to go to 2 doctors today in 2 separate clinics. The 2nd doctor told me I could avoid future UTIs if I cleaned my hands with hand sanitizer once inside the bathroom but prior to "going" because I could pick it up on the door handle going in. I'm not really sure how transmission in that manner could be possible, especially if I'm using toilet paper. But, yeah, okay. Either way, we will continue to work on getting me totally clean, but I'm at least happy the amoeba is done with.

I've spent many years over the course of my life thinking about what life in Africa would be like. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be on my way home from work and enjoying a double rock block of Milli Vanilli and TLC on the radio. That happened today. Good times.

If you've ever had a conversation with an employee about days off, paychecks, and any other manner of employment issues, you know how touchy those topics can be. Imagine doing that in another language. I just did that tonight with our guard. I was trying to convey to him that we will be out of town in a few weeks and wanted to check if he could work every night that week. I also was trying to work out payment with him because he will get paid at the end of the month. I hope we understood each other! God bless the Tanzanian people who have to put up with my butchering of their language every day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Out and About a Little

I'm 1/2 way into my new round of medicine and so far I've been nowhere near as sick as I was on the other stuff. The only side effects that I can tell are very vivid dreams and slight depression. So, I've been a bit down in the dumps and emotional. But hopefully the medicine is working and I won't need to go through this much more! I know there is an end in sight.

The up-side of not feeling completely yucky is that I'm able to get out of the house a little bit. A few weeks ago I mentioned briefly that I was going to start visiting other organizations in order to help facilitate my learning. Well, today I started my first day at Kivulini, an organization that does great work on issues related to gender based violence. I've known about Kivulini for years, even in the States, so I'm super excited to get my feet wet there. I'm not certain what I will exactly be doing , but it's definitely up my alley! Everyone was very nice and welcoming today so I look forward to making it part of my regular routine.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I'll take that "to go"

Headed out to the doctor (again) this morning with my stool and urine samples in a little doggie bag. This is the recipe for so many "to go" jokes, but I don't really have the energy to make them.

Here's hoping I have no more visitors in my gut.

UPDATE: Well, just got back from the doctor. Inexplicably, despite waging nuclear war inside my stomach for the past week, I still have amoeba and a UTI. The doctor was baffled, but she was really sharp. So we're trying a third round of meds on my amoeba friend and a second dose of meds on the UTI. I'm to go back in a week to test again and if I'm not cleared up she said she'd refer me to a gastroenterologist.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Should I be concerned that I need to look up the definition of the words on the insect spray bottle in order to be sure I'm not going to poison myself when I use it?*

*Don't worry, I'm just using the spray to get rid of mosquitoes. We don't have any crazy infestation yet.

UPDATE: I think the bug spray made the mosquitoes more mad because I'm sitting on the couch (which I just sprayed) and there's more mosquitoes buzzing around me than there were before. Sheesh.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Don't Bite Your Nails"

That's what my mom said to me on a daily basis when I was growing up. But I continued to do it out of habit and nothing bad ever came from it. At 34 years old, I still bite my nails and am not ashamed. I even tell my niece, who is also a nail biter, that there's nothing wrong with biting your nails.

That is, until I moved to Tanzania.

I've been pretty good here at not biting my nails. I've kept them clipped short so I'm not as tempted. But I've reverted to biting my cuticles instead. And that, my friends, I'm fairly certain, is what has given me amoeba. Remember, I mentioned a couple times over the past month that I had it? Well, it's still here. That little bugger just doesn't want to go away. And along with it I've now gotten my first ever urinary track infection. Yippee for me!

I'm not sure which sucks more, the UTI or the amoeba, but they're both pretty miserable. I think the UTI in itself is bad. Yesterday I was in a pretty severe amount of pain and had trouble sleeping or doing anything because of the ache in my back and stomach. Plus, I would vomit anytime I tried to walk around. Luckily, I started feeling significantly better last night once I'd taken a few doses of antibiotics. Also luckily, the amoeba itself isn't very painful. But the medicine for it totally knocks me out. So just as I'm starting to feel better from the UTI, the meds for the other will make me sleep for days.

So, this week I'm waylaid at home, mostly relegated to the bed. Too bad, too, because I was super excited to start working at Kivulini, the organization that does work on issues related gender based violence. But I guess that'll wait until next week.

In the meantime, I've bought the Bloggess's book, Let's Pretend this Never Happened, via Kindle to keep me company when I'm not passed out.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Wading into Uncharted Relationship Territory

I asked (read that, begged) my husband to cut my hair this weekend. He was a little freaked, but I think he did a good job. I don't have a shot yet but maybe I'll take one soon just to show the evidence that it doesn't look messed up. It's nothing dramatic anyway so you might not even notice the difference.

On a completely unrelated note, here's another shot of our living room. Like it?

Another shot of our living room

This one does.

Happy pup

She takes every opportunity to run into the room whenever the front door is left slightly ajar.

And here's a shot of our nighttime guard, Josephat.

Our guard, Josephat
He's a nice guy. Very quiet. We've just caught him sweeping the front yard. Yep.