Monday, January 26, 2015

Things I will miss when I leave Tanzania

Quickly following on the heels of my last post...  I'd like to write another post at a later time about why it's not so easy to leave here, despite all the challenges it presents. But for now, here's a quick list (in no particular order) of the things I'll miss when we return in just a few short months to the US:

- the Lulu girls
- the diverse expat community in Mwanza and all the friends I've made here
- fresh non-processed foods and cheap delicious fruits
- the kids in our neighborhood who stop by to play with our dog in the yard
- our cat and dog, Bubu and Nyeusi
- the relaxed pace of life and hanging out with Chris a lot
- chatting up the ladies at my duka
- the daily challenge of speaking in Swahili
- the Mwanza charity craft fair held 2 times a year
- no-plan cell phone and internet usage! FREEDOM
- chapatis, mandazis, and vitumbua
- home-made TZ hot sauce (pilipili)
- Sambusas from "All Hand-Suckin' Good" Uhondo take-away
- surprise packages from friends and family at home
- daily adventures

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Things I'm looking forward to having when I move back to the US

Besides the obvious of being close(r) to friends and family and seeing them a lot more, here's a list which I'll probably continue to expand, of things I'm looking forward to having at least easier access to when I move back State-side (in no particular order and most of these will probably be food-related)*:

- goat cheese / chevre
- alright, I really mean all kinds of cheese. I could have a subcategory here: brie, queso, sharp cheddar, blue...
- mmmMMMmmm, mom's blue cheese dressing
-  asparagus
- cooler weather
- berries
- other kinds of beer than light lager
- Philly/NY pizza
- concerts, movies, sporting events, and public events
- not constantly feeling or being sick **
- throwing and going to parties
- diversity of people ***
- road tripping

* Spoiler alert, this is definitely not a one-way street so I'll write in the near future about what I'll miss about TZ when I move back to the US.
** I'll admit I'm feeling nauseous as I write this and I just got over a non-successful gagging jag.
*** Living in a place that's different than America is not the same as living in a place that has a diversity of people.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Serial Serial

Alright, alright. I'm late in the game catching on to Serial and everyone else has already listened to it and written their thoughts about it, or so I've been told. So? I'm a little disconnected to American popular culture, cut me some slack! But after our friend Paula visited us in TZ and kept talking about it and went so far as to download the first few podcasts on our computer and force me* to listen to them while we baked cookies, I got hooked. Then, last weekend while Chris was on safari I had a lot of quiet time in the house and I went on a Serial binge, finishing up the last 8 episodes in 2 days. I understand I'm not alone in this.

Anyways, ever since finishing the series on Sunday I have had a lot of thoughts about it swimming in my head and I just want to get them out so I'm jotting down some things here. Admittedly I've not read anything on this podcast or about Adnan Sayed, other than going to the website but I'm sure my ideas are not original. Also, spoiler alert! If you are like me and are out of the loop to what everyone else in the apparent universe is doing and haven't listened to this podcast and you don't want spoilers, then you might want to stop reading here. Otherwise, proceed.

First question people ask when they hear you've just finished listening to the show:

"SO! Do you think he did it!?"

I understand the impulse to ask this question. It's so unclear and there are so many reasons why he could have or could not have done it. It's only natural that we want to hear other people's take on it. But to me, that question is irrelevant. As Sarah Koenig says in the last episode, and one in which I wholeheartedly agree, there is definitely not enough evidence against him to remove any benefit of a doubt, therefore, he should NOT have been convicted in the first place. I won't even begin to pretend that the US justice system isn't flawed. It's a total mess. Our American system of justice is quite perverted and definitely slanted socioeconomically (see more thoughts on this later in this post). But I guess there's a part of me that really believes in it and it makes me really upset that a person can be convicted of such a serious crime with such gaping holes in evidence. Oh and wait! Not just any person-- a 17 year old kid! I mean, look I know 17 year-olds can do just as heinous things as adults. But I still think it's wrong that younger and younger kids these days are being prosecuted as adults. 

Speaking of being a teenager. Do you remember when YOU were a teenager? I sure do remember when I was, despite many years' effort trying to forget the stupid, thoughtless things I did.** For the case of Adnan Sayed, they kept bringing up what I felt was really normal teenage behavior- like stealing money from the collection in mosque or being jealous of his girlfriend- and trying to say that because he did those things he was a bad person, a person capable of murder. I mean, what kid doesn't do stuff like that? Heck, how many times have I heard stories of kids stealing from the collection plate or drinking the wine from church? Even me as a teenager, there were many times when I was with friends as they stole trinkets and things from corner stores. I'm not saying teens should do these things, but I am saying that if they do it's not abnormal. Besides, brain science is now telling us that teenagers are still developing their ability to make rational decisions. Their brains are still being formed up until their early 20's.  So it's part of development, then, that they do stupid things without thinking of consequences. They think they're invincible. That's a dangerous cocktail- a mix of risk-taking behavior with a dab of irrationality coupled with feelings of invincibility. But doing those things does not a murderer make.

But still, stupid things lead to dangerous behavior for teens, with lifelong consequences. Throughout the whole series I kept finding myself thinking about how easy it is for teens to find themselves very quickly in more serious crimes, often without even realizing it. I remember a case from when I was in high school when a boy from a neighboring school was beaten to death with a baseball bat by another group of teens. Luckily my friends at the time didn't have anything to do with the murder. But I knew people who were friends or family of people on both sides of this incident and it really stuck with me, even to this day. One minute two different groups of friends are hanging out, drinking, doing the things kids do. The next minute one of the groups has beaten a kid to death and all of their lives are changed forever. How can it go from one extreme to another so fast?

So as I was listening to these podcasts so many memories of my teenage years came back and I couldn't help but feel sick to my stomach not only for the bullets that I dodged as a kid, but also thinking forward about what life will be like for my children when they are teenagers. How can I instil in them some level of caution- heck maybe even fear- so they understand they're not immune to horrible things happening and that if they make one potential bad move- be it accidental or not- they could be judged based on that move for the rest of their lives? I especially fear this because my husband and I, although we don't yet have kids, we hope to adopt in the near future. Meaning, we don't know what race our child will be. If we raise a child of color, he or she will be put under even more scrutiny. I know this is becoming more and more of a common topic of conversation in American households so maybe by the time my kids are teenagers things will be a little different? But somehow I doubt it. So how is it that before I even have a child I am afraid for his or her life? Sigh.

Lastly, and maybe one of the most important things. Or maybe not? I don't know. I have a hard time figuring out these thoughts in my head. But the whole time I was listening to Serial I kept feeling very voyeuristic. Like, these are real people. Hae Min Lee was a real girl who was really killed. Her parents are still out there grieving for the loss of their child. Adnan Sayed is a real guy. He is still in jail, whether guilty or not. All the people impacted by this crime? They are all real people. What kind of damage was done to them as a result of Hae Min's murder? And what kind of damage is being done all over again by bringing it all up again via radio? I don't know. I don't think there's anything wrong with having this story on radio, per sey. And I definitely think this case deserves another look-see. But I kinda think there's something wrong with us (myself included) for being so captivated by it and wanting to play detective for ourselves. We Americans love a juicy murder story. Heck, I've been spending my nights over the past 2 months watching the TV show Castle, about a mystery book novelist who shadows murder detectives to help flesh out his stories. I can't get enough of it. But that show is a story, a work of fiction. When do we go over the line? And more importantly why are we so drawn to it?

As I already said, our criminal justice system is so effed up and this story demonstrates in minute detail how and it what ways. It's a prime example of our country failing to protect its people. Yet why are we not outraged by it? We spend all this time listening to the story and questioning Adnan's guilt or innocence. Did he do it? Did he not do it? Is Jay lying or telling the truth? But why not question the role of our criminal justice system in this case? Was the case tried fairly? Should a high school student face the same trial as an adult? Was there racial/religious prejudice involved? Where did it go wrong? How can we make a better system not just for Adnan, but for all the Adnans out there? How can we fix this? And why do we not care to fix it? Those are the questions I want answers to.

*Maybe my wording is a little strong here. She didn't force me, but rather gently urged.
 **Sorry again, mom, dad, Jim and Holly. Thanks for loving me anyway and let's not mention those things ever again.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

I was just sitting there... in traffic

waiting for them to change the Vodacom street sign. Perfect thing to do in the middle of the day during busy traffic.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Safari from Hell

Ever since we made veiled references on social media to what a disaster it was, we've had a lot of requests for the story of the December Serengeti safari that we took with our friend Paula. I'll try to keep it short and sweet, but here it is for posterity.

We'd planned a 3 day safari just before Christmas because our friend Paula was visiting from the US and she requested to see some animals and visit Olduvai Gorge. Since Olduvai is located in between Serengeti and Ngorongoro parks we decided to plan a visit to both parks, starting in Serengeti heading east on day one, continuing east into the Crater on day two, then turning around and heading back west through Serengeti on day three, stopping at the Gorge and by late afternoon arriving at our car, which we left at Ndabaka Gate on the western entrance to the park. We used a guy named Richard, who owns a company called "Pumzika* **, and who came recommended by some friends after they used him for a few one-day safaris. He's cheaper than the larger companies and we were trying to keep the cost minimal since we're trying to do this on a missioner's stipend.

Before setting out on the first day, innocent of the disasters that lay ahead.

The first day was mostly perfect.  We saw some good animal viewing, the highlight being a huge cluster of elephants, probably upwards of 500-600, as far as the eye can see. Hard to believe these beauties are being killed at such a fast rate that they'll probably be mostly gone in 10 years.

Huge sighting of elephants.

We camped in Serengeti that night to the sounds of hyenas and lions close to our campsite and ate breakfast that morning while watching the birds and hyrax scavenge for breakfast.

Breakfast on day 2. Ready to head into Ngorongoro Crater for more animal views! Hint, that didn't happen.

On the road for less than 2 hours our car (#1) broke down. Completely stopped. Dead. And Richard couldn't get it started again. So we flagged down some other safari-goers and after a few failed attempts, finally hitched a ride (car #2) with some nice French visitors who left us at the Naabi Gate, which is the corridor between Serengeti and the Crater. Richard blew it off as no biggie, I'll have a driver bring in another car and come get you at the gate in about 3 hours, he said. Mindless to the long wait ahead, we left our bags in his car, grabbing only our valuables, and went to Naabi. Six hours later Richard pulls up in another (#3) car, amidst pouring rain. By this time we were wet, cold, cranky, and tired. We'd wasted a whole day sitting at a rest stop with very little shelter from the cold rain and nothing to entertain ourselves. Oh, but wait! Car #3 had a flat tire. So the cook/assistant got out in the torrential downpour and changed the tire. Seven hours after having arrived, we pull out of Naabi Gate.

By this time it's close to sunset and our prearranged campsite is several hours' drive away. We explain to Richard that we are cold and wet and we suspected the camp equipment was also wet since they had to open the back door and take things out in the rain to change the tire. We requested a closer place to stay the night (this was a promise he had made when booking the trip--if there was too much rain we could stay at a guest house). Richard informs us that this isn't possible and starts the drive. We protest and get a little heated saying that it's not a choice, we are the customers and we're saying we're not driving to our campsite. Find a place closer. At this point Richard stops talking and just drives so we assume (haha, right?) that he's heard our demands and will do what we want.

Yeah, of course that didn't happen. So this resulted in us driving 3 hours on dark, foggy, windy roads up Ngorongoro Crater. There's no way to capture the danger in doing this, only to say that we all thought that would be the end of us. It was so hard to see the road through the fog that the cook got out of the car at least two times to shine a flashlight on the road to ensure we were not going off a ravine (good thing he did that because we WERE headed in that direction! Another couple feet and we wouldn't gone off the mountain.). Oh, and don't forget, this is a WILD GAME PARK so there are dangerous animals along the way. Needless to say, by the time we got to the campsite we were a bit heated. We got in a big fight with Richard, who only would say that we encountered a problem together and it was our responsibility to overcome the problem together. He admitted no fault in putting our lives in danger by driving at night or abandoning us all day at Naabi. When told that he must refund our money he said that you incur risks on such an "adventure" and that he wouldn't return any money to us. Well, let's just say that some choice words were said and Richard, although he probably still doesn't understand what he did wrong, at least agreed to discuss a refund, later.

We calmed down and warmed up by the roaring fire at the campsite, ate a small dinner, and went to bed agreeing that we wanted an early start tomorrow, our last day, so we could at least see some of the Crater and still get to our car at a reasonable hour.

The view of the Crater in the early AM from our campsite.

After eating an early breakfast we come out of the mess hall to discover that Richard's car (#3) was being PUSHED by another safari car, trying to jump start it. Completely in disbelief, we vow to ourselves that we were by no means getting into that car again. Even if he gets it started, there's no way it'll survive the steep twists and turns to get into the Crater. No, better hire another company so at least we aren't stranded for our last day. I tell Richard we're abandoning ship and ask if he knows of any other company we can hire in the area. He tells me there are no companies in this area, an obvious lie because this is a popular destination site. Fine. We don't need him.

Paula and I devise a plan of action and I start going around to any safari driver left at camp asking if they know of any company in the area that we can hire to take us into Ngorongoro Crater for the morning and then drive us back to the western gate of Serengeti by evening. We get a few numbers and start calling, even speaking to the security guard at the campsite. By this time, Richard drives up; the car is started and he's asking us to get in. Haha, no way, my friend. He admits defeat and gives us our bags, which we just put on the side of the road. (At this point an elephant enters the campsite just a few hundred yards from us. I suppose he was just waiting for it to quiet down?)

After lots of negotiations on price, we finally agree with a guy to drive us into the Crater, do 2 hours of game viewing and then out into Serengeti where we will either meet Richard, if he can get his car fixed, or this driver (car #4) will take us back to our car at the western gate. You must understand that we are now paying another company to do something that the first company was already paid to do. And, we don't have much negotiating power so we can't get the price down very low.

We head out and have 2 very nice hours of viewing, in which time we spot not one but THREE rhinos! That's unheard of. And they were relatively close. All the rhinos we've seen up to this point have been from quite a distance so our moods started to pick up. That is, until the driver of car #4 tells us that he's charging us $50 to go into the town of Karatu to go to the ATM because cash is his only method of payment. That's in addition to what we had already agreed on as the price of everything. Yes, he's basically extorting us. We're pissed but we agree amongst each other that we'll subtract this $50 from the total fee at the end of the day. We also agree that we'll pay him for the game drive up front, but we're not going to pay him for the trip into Serengeti until we reach our final destination safe and sound. We've had too many letdowns on this trip so far. As I hand over the money for the morning, I tell him we'll pay the rest when we reach our final destination and he's really pissed. We get into a fight but I hold firm. Fine, we head to Karatu gate entering into the rim of the Crater starting to head back on our way to Serengeti.

When we arrive at the Karatu Gate driver of car #4 informs us that his tire is broken and he can't go into the park. He's leaving us, he says, and we'll have to find another driver. Yup, we are now further than we were ever supposed to be, out more money than we had ever expected to spend, and still with no driver.

Stranded at Karatu Gate and trying to cool down from our anger and frustration.

So now we start trying to hitch again with any safari-goers going that direction, but the problem is that we are on the eastern gate of the Crater, which means that people are entering into the Crater today and Serengeti tomorrow. It would be next to impossible to find someone who is going straight to Serengeti today, let alone someone who would have room for us. We even contemplates catching a bus because there are public buses that go that route, but it's 2 days before Christmas (Chris's birthday!) and they are all full. We finally find a park worker who has a Land Rover and is willing to take us (for a fee, of course) to our destination. We haggle again about price and settle on a still astronomical fee to take us through the rim of the Crater, into Serengeti, and to the middle where Richard has "fixed" his car (spoiler) and is awaiting us. But wait, this guy has to run into town first. He'll be back for us in 1/2 an hour.

Over an hour later he comes back to get us. It's now after 3:00 PM and we are headed into the Crater gates. Incidentally 3:00 is the hour that the gates are supposed to close to incoming traffic. We're racing against the clock because 6:00 is when the gates close to outgoing traffic and 8:00 is when they close the roads to all traffic in the parks. Calls are being made and exceptions are being asked on our behalf. Is this going to cost us more money? We have no idea what lies ahead. But we're moving, so okay, there's at least that.

And that's when it happens. The car. Car #5! RUNS OUT OF GAS! FIVE MINUTES AFTER PICKING US UP! I couldn't even make this up!

We're never getting home. Stuck on the side of the road with no gas!? Is this really happening!?

"No worries," the driver says in English after I yelled out, "ARE YOU F@*%ING KIDDING ME! WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO US?" To his credit he did have an extra canister of gas in the back. But after what we'd been through!? We weren't prepared for this. Oh, and while we were filling up on the side of the road, car #4 goes whizzing past us up the hill with a car load of people. BEEP BEEP and wave. Yup, we just realized we'd been duped. Ugh. This place.

At this point I think I can fast forward through the story just as the driver of car #5 did when he drove 110 kilometers an hour (almost 70 miles an hour) through dirt and rock roads of the no-man's-land between Ngorongoro and Serengeti. We speed to a stop at our old haunt the Naabi Gate, arriving around 5:00 PM. Dangerous, but good timing! Except that Richard, who "paid" for us to get into the Serengeti, didn't leave enough money for the entrance fee, and it takes an hour of negotiating by our driver to get us through. At 6:00 we get through the gate and, as the sun is setting over the beautiful Serengeti plains. We meet up with Richard at 7:00 PM and the sun is now set. We load into his car, which overpoweringly smells of exhaust and proceed to drive at a snails pace toward the Western Gate and our car. That's when we realize he never fixed his car. It's just barely running. Let me say that again. It's dark. We're in a safari park. Again. In a broken car. Again. The SAME broken car. With dangerous wild animals around us. But what choice do we have? So we go.

We limp along, on the way seeing night-elephants, a porcupine (they only come out at dark), a hippo on dry land. I mean, how many people in the world can say they drive through the Serengeti at dark? Oh wait, I think there's a reason for that. And in the back of my mind I keep coming to the thought that if this car doesn't make it, there's no one on the road until morning because traffic is shut down after 8:00 PM. That's when I pray a Rosary for our safe arrival at our car. 

We do indeed arrive at Ndabaka Gate and our car safe and sound at 10:00 PM on our 3rd day. At which point Richard is basically like, "Okay, drive the 2+ hours back to Mwanza even though it's essentially the middle of the night." No way, Jose. So we have yet another fight with him, telling him that it's his responsibility to not only refund us money but to also put us up in a hotel for the night. Somehow we come to an agreement and we drive (he rides in my car, me driving!) to a guesthouse where he puts us up for the night, agreeing to refund us just less than half of the money we paid him if we give him 3 weeks to get the money together. We agree because we think it's not going to get any better than this. But we assure him that we WILL sue him if he doesn't come up with the money.

Last week was three weeks since our trip. You wanna know the status of our refund? He says "his mother died over Christmas" and he needs a few more weeks to get the money together. Any bets on whether we'll have any refunded money in our bank account come April when we leave this country? My bets are on no.

UPDATE: If you wanna know whether we got our refund or not, check it out here.

*I have no qualms mentioning this guy by name and with his company because I definitely do NOT recommend him and want the whole world to know it.

**Pumzika, ironically, means rest is Swahili. Definitely NOT aptly named for our trip!

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Lulu End of the Year Festivities 2014

When I posted about Lulu's December graduation I referenced that we also had other festivities to celebrate the end of the year. I'm a little slow at posting pictures and telling end-of-the-year stories because Ive been down for the count with malaria (still). I think it's the same bout that I had when our friend Paula was visiting (actually I was sick when all these festivities that I'm posting about where happening), but I didn't have the opportunity to rest much then, so it lingered. This time around I'm trying to take it easy and rest so that I can fully kick it. Here's hoping.

Back to the topic at hand, though. On the last week before we closed Lulu for the year, we had a day of batik making (more like what we call tie dying in the US) for those Lulu girls who had good attendance over the last few months of the year.

Some of the finished products at the end of the day.

We like to give incentives to those girls who are doing well in the project and we try to make those incentives be something useful to the girls. We also try to empower them to take ownership of the projects; so in that manner we paid 3 girls who were more experienced in batik-making to teach the rest of the girls. They had to devise the budget, buy the materials, and teach the class.

Learning how to fold and sew the fabric into patterns.

Eliza (far right) teaches a small group of girls how to fold the fabric like a sambusa to make a triangular pattern.

Adding the dye and chemicals.

The "sambusa" pattern finished.

These fabrics are very popular here and are used for a variety of purposes, as just a fabric worn around the waist of a women or to turn into clothing or other items. Those girls who learned to make the batiks can make more and sell them on their own.

The day was a big success for a variety of reasons. I was happy to see so many girls (more than 20) with such a high attendance that they were able to take part in the batik making. But also the day was a lot of fun. It brought together girls from all different groups to work together and visit with each other. And at the end of the day each girl was able to take home one piece of fabric, which they will show off to their family and fellow Lulu members.

First-ever Lulu Kid's Day
As the year was coming to a close Corine and I learned of a generous donor from Europe who wanted to give the Lulu kids a present for Christmas. As I said earlier, at Lulu we like to give experiences or skills as gifts rather than presents because we want it to be useful for the girls. So we organized a kid's day, where every child of a Lulu girl could buy a new outfit and then we all share a meal together. We were surprised to learn that over 50 of our girls had at least one child, many had more than one. Unless the child is very young, the girls come to Lulu group by themselves so there were many children we had never met. We also invited all the facilitators even if they did not have any children.

The day started out meeting at a clothing market in town. As you can imagine, organizing that many kids was quite a challenge! But everyone helped out and it went very smoothly! The moms knew exactly what her child needed and wanted.

Waiting in town for all the girls and kids to show up.

In the market checking out what was for sale.

After shopping we went to a restaurant/retreat center on the beach where we all could share a meal and rest a bit.

Resting in the shade at the beach.

Queen wearing her suit. She's ready to swim!

I knew the kids would want to swim in the lake, but I was really surprised to see how many of the Lulu girls swam too! I didn't take any pictures of them because, honestly, they were swimming mostly in underwear or a cloth wrapped around them. But what a great day they had, which they will remember forever! These girls don't get much opportunity to "play" and be teenagers. They have little say in their own homes and are the workers, not only for their children but for anyone else in the house--cooking, cleaning, shopping, carrying water, etc. So for them to have a day to let it go and just play! What a treat!

More kids in the water.

Thank you on behalf of the Lulu project for your support in 2014! It's been a wonderful year full of many successes. Can't wait to see what 2015 has in store for us!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

2015. What Does It All Mean?

Whenever a new year approaches I feel like it's a standard comment for people to say "I can't believe it's XXXX year already." So pardon me if I fall into that trap, but 2015 holds even more significance for me so it seems really unbelievable that we're here.

When we signed up with Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 2011 we signed a 3 1/2 year contract and made a commitment that we'd live in Tanzania at least until 2015. So, the year 2015 has been a date riding large in our minds and has seemed so far away for so long. Almost unattainable. But now, in seemingly a blink of an eye, here we are.

So what does 2015 mean? Well, sometime this year we will head back to the live in the US again.  That's no small feat and I expect, despite all the wonderful things that will come with the move, it'll be even harder to return than it was to leave. Just take the logistics: find jobs, find housing, get things we need to live in a house (Furniture, essential items, etc. We got rid of almost everything when we left), get a car or some sort of transport. This is just the tip of the iceberg not even including cultural adjustments, and it's all very daunting.

Don't get me wrong, I can't wait to see how this next year unfolds. There's going to be so much good stuff! Reunions with family and friends. Exciting new jobs and career endeavors hopefully putting what we've learned over the past 3 years to good use. Saying goodbye to constant cultural misunderstandings, power and water outages, and limited access to... well, everything. Hopefully we'll be able to start the foster care and/or adoption process. There's so much to look forward to it just makes my heart happy thinking about it.

But also, 2015 is the end of era for us in some way. For the better part of our lives it has been a dream of mine and Chris's to live in Africa. This year we will have fulfilled that dream and, not that we can't ever move back here or to another foreign country, it's just a strange thing to think that that goal is in the past. We will always say "remember when we lived in Tanzania and this and such happened," instead of saying "when we live in Africa it would be nice if we could do this and such." So strange.

So, here's to 2015, y'all. The end of an era. The end of a dream fulfilled and the start of new dreams and new eras. Yikes! Now, can anyone help us find jobs?