October 28, 2009

things i'm glad i brought

I'm starting another short-post series, much like "small thoughts" and "wtf moments," where I dedicate a blog post to something that has been crucial to my comfort and success in my service, with the idea that it will help invitees and future trainees pack for their trip. In this post, I have two items I'd like to identify. First:

My Headlamp

This thing has seen some serious use in the past few weeks. I would be quite lost without it. Well, not necessarily, but it has contributed leaps and bounds to not only my own personal comfort, but also to my host family. Even in a homestay that has electricity like mine, a headlamp can be used every day. I use it at night when I turn out the lights in my room so I can properly tuck my mosquito net under my bed. When the electricity goes out in the evening (which is usually 2 or 3 times a week), it's usefulness quadruples. It's hands-free, so it's easy to use while cooking food, carrying things, washing pots, or just general business at night (choo visits). The other item I'd like to mention:

Baby Wipes

Tanzanians don't use toilet paper like Americans do (they use water and their left hand), although it is sold in many dukas (shops) in my area. Unfortunately, it's not the Charmin Ultra quintuple-ply super soft paper that my bottom is used to, so this can cause problems. Luckily, my parents thought to have me pack some baby wipes, and boy am I happy I did. I'm actually so happy I did, I'm having my parents send me more.


So I feel a little bad about this post, because my birthday yesterday wasn't really a big deal.  My mama didn't find out until last night apparently, even though I figured if I told one of my brothers in the morning, the information would disseminate through the family (we've been told on multiple occasions this happens frequently with Volunteers simply because of their status).  Well, it didn't this time, and my mama was a little upset that we didn't do anything special.  Which isn't entirely true.  I actually went to a bar in the afternoon and met a big chunk of my training class for cupcakes and drinks.  It wasn't crazy as some might expect, but awesome nonetheless.  In fact, a fellow trainee in my CBT was more visibly excited for my birthday than I was.  We've slowly learned over the past few days that this is the kind of person she normally is, and that she's been hiding it from us until now.  I'm glad my birthday could bring her out of her shell.

I also got to try the "pombe" here, which is the word for the local brew.  It's actually not all that local, but it's banana beer, which is very different from normal beers.  For one thing, it made my lips numb.  Generally not a good sign when sipping alcohol.  Maybe the fact it was 10% alcohol had something to do with that?  And of course for this reason, I could not finish it.  Not that I didn't enjoy it at all, it actually didn't taste too bad, but we have been warned to steer clear of the "pombe."  They aren't always brewed in conditions we would consider sanitary...

So overall, yesterday was a great day.  To end the day, I cooked and talked with my mama, which made me feel really good.  My Kiswahili was very good last night for some reason.  Probably a God thing.

Photo update:  The internet cafe where I've been uploading pictures has decided to block flickr.com, and thus far I haven't been able to circumvent it.  I'm still working on this issue, but if I can't find a solution soon, I may upload some photos to Facebook.  I'll keep you all posted, because I have been taking tons of pictures!  So many that my hard drive is just about full now, which is another problem itself.

October 18, 2009

wtf moments

We've all had those twilight zone moments in our lives, where you think "what in the world is going on???" My night last night was like this.

Yesterday, I cooked with my CBT in the morning before we took a trip to a school near CCT to play some sports. When I told my mama about the sports day we were having, she informed me that my brother was going to a celebration after dark, and that I would be joining him. So she inquired what time I would be home, and I informed her it wouldn't be later than 6 (the "celebration" started at 7).

After the sports day, I came home and greeted my baba, and then I asked him about the party I was supposed to go to. He told me it was a wedding ceremony, and my mind started to wander. There's already been a few stories about weddings floating around our training class, all of them generally not good. But I was ready to try something new, and I thought it would be fun to see another part of the culture. Given the title of this post, you can see where this is going.

One thing I wasn't expecting...it got cold. And I had a long sleeve dress shirt on. The reception was outdoors, and the night winds were whipping. It even threatened to rain a few times, which would have been quite awful had the sky opened up. Of course, that isn't the wtf moment. First, we need to bring some alcohol into the mix. So when we entered the reception, we receieved two "coupons" for drinks, which my kaka exchanged for two Castle beers for me. For all of you that are unaware, Tanzanian beers are almost twice as big as American beers and contain higher concentrations of alcohol. The Castle beers we had at the wedding were 12 proof. It wasn't long before I realized I was in trouble. I'm well aware of my lightweight status when it comes to consuming alcohol, so I was fairly sure my second beer wasn't even going to be opened. After finishing half of my first beer, I felt light-headed and quite sleepy (remember sports day earlier today?).

Then the hunger set in. My CBT ate our brunch at 12 noon, but it was brunch. We ate fruit, eggs, and bread. Not exactly enough to sustain me for the next 10 hours. But it had to, because we didn't get food at this wedding until 10pm. And here's the wtf moment. Standing in line for food, I noticed the girl at the end of the serving line looked awfully familiar. I thought, "what??? That doesn't make any sense, why would she be here for one, and why in the world would she be serving food???" I was convinced it was someone else, and left it to my imagination that she was in my training class. But sure enough, when I got to the end of the line...

"Hey Dave."
"What are you doing here???"
"Serving you food, what does it look like?"
"What in the world is going on...there's a story here, isn't there..."
"Oh, there is..."

To reiterate, wtf?

What's funny is this would've made the perfect mefloquin-induced vivid dream (mefloquin is my anti-malarial drug). Why on earth it actually happened, I haven't the slightest, but I will definitely get the story from my friend about serving food at the wedding and share it. My mind has been buzzing all night with ideas about what the Peace Corps really does behind the scenes. I was telling my kaka on the walk home that it felt like the Peace Corps was orchestrating these weird situations on purpose to see how we react. Almost like a big brother reality show. But of course, delirium and exhaustion can make you think and say crazy things.

I still can't get over that "wtf???" feeling, though...

EDIT: I know this is long overdue, but I don't want to leave future readers hanging. The resolution of this story is that my friend, Charlotte, was living with one of the families involved in the wedding. As a "family member," she had to serve food at the reception. Certainly not the kind of experience you would expect to have during your Pre-Service Training in the Peace Corps.


Deep down, I think we all have the desire to create a masterpiece.

Of course, not all of us are painters like Picasso was, but I'm not talking in the artistic sense. There is a more general definition of "masterpiece" that I learned in my winter session art history class, way back in that time when I was in college. The general definition of a masterpiece is a revelation or a theory that articulates or reveals something about the human condition or consciousness that was previously unknown (this is my own paraphrase, so please correct me if you have a more accurate definition). Essentially, you do something new, something that hasn't been done before. And it's good.
We usually talk about "masterpieces" in terms of art, but it can be applied to other things as well. Albert Einstein's Theory of General Relativity is a pretty good example. It articulated something that was previously unknown, the properties of mass and space. It blew minds. It still blows minds today. And I think everyone longs to contribute something like this to our human culture. I know I do. How many people can say they've figured something out that no one else has?
I think this is what I'm finding a bit daunting about teaching at the moment. Essentially, my charge as a teacher is to create a masterpiece every day. To clarify or bring to light something that, to the audience, was previously unclarified or, in many cases, completely unknown. Now throw a language barrier into the mix. As if teaching wasn't already challenging enough!
Yes, of course teaching is hard. You're attempting to open up worlds to young minds. And I'm convinced this is why there's such polarization when it comes to teachers. There are many teachers that love their jobs, because they see their students discover the unknown every day. And then there's teachers that...well, they're awful to say the least. These teachers not only miss opportunities to make an impact, but they can even hamper the chances of future success. While I'm fairly confident in my ability not to become one of these bitter teachers that poison their students, I'm a bit scared of being average. Average in many cases is worse than being good or bad. It's even biblical (see Revelation 3:15-16).
So amidst the flurry of prayers that casually flow through my mind each day, I lift up my hope to create a masterpiece every day for those students that will be in my class come January, whatever it is I happen to be teaching.

magic couches

The couches in my host family's living room have a magical power. It almost never fails. Within about 10 minutes of sitting on these couches, I start to lose consciousness. It doesn't matter if it's nighttime, in the morning 20 minutes after I wake up, or in the afternoon while we watch poorly acted kung fu movies. I don't know what it is, maybe it's the posture they force me into because of how firm the cushions are. And seriously, these couches have some firm cushions. But it's quite strange that I can fall asleep on them considering how uncomfortably I have to sit on them. I suppose I still haven't adjusted to life here in Africa and my body's natural response to this is to shut down. Hopefully I'll start adjusting soon, because I'd really like to listen to the Kiswahili Bible readings we have every night in our living room sometime.

October 15, 2009

small thoughts

There are birds nesting up in the roof of our CBT classroom, and within the past two or three days, we've seen two dead baby birds on the floor. Today, one of them fell on one of my fellow trainees before it hit the ground. A bit traumatizing, really. But my question is, what's the deal with the parents of these baby birds?? Either you need to find a better place to nest, or keep your babies in check. We would prefer not to clean up your dead babies anymore.

nyerere day

October 14th is the day that Tanzania's first president, Julius Nyerere, died back in 1999. It is now a national holiday, and people observe it by staying home from school, attending festivals of sorts, and having parades. I only did one of those, the first namely, although I watched what looked like some sort of festival or parade on TV. I've also been watching Nyerere's speeches all day today, and apparently he's hilarious. I don't understand a lot of the things he says unfortunately (except when he starts speaking English), but I look forward to the day when I can finally understand Kiswahili enough to be able to go back and hear all of his jokes.

This year happens to be the 10th year anniversary of his death, as you could've guessed given the year I gave in the previous paragraph. Since this is the only Nyerere day I've experienced, I don't know if this one has been particularly special, but I do know he is held in very high esteem here in Tanzania. While my family didn't really do anything out of the ordinary today, they all have a healthy respect for Nyerere and the things he's done for the country. I can certainly understand why, considering his legacy is still fairly modern. And a president that makes you laugh every time he gives a speech is a winner in my book.

October 13, 2009

small thoughts

What is up with these cockroaches getting all up in my toothbrush??  I've found one hiding inside my toothbrush cover twice now, and this one was decidely bigger than the first. It wouldn't bother me so much if they were hanging out in the cover when my toothbrush wasn't in it. I suppose it's time to take some more proactive preventative measures to make sure this doesn't happen again. But seriously, why do roaches love my toothbrush...

church in africa

It's different. I'll just go ahead and put it out there. That's the gist of it.

The service length, as you might suspect, is a bit longer than the short-and-sweet, just-under-an-hour American variety. I don't object to this personally, but I'm not going to lie and tell you I haven't looked at my watch. I doubt that many people would want to spend 2+ hours listening to a sermon they can't understand, and then stand awkwardly with the congregation and observe while everyone else sings songs. That's pretty much what church has been like for me since being here. I try my best to listen for words I know, and then when I get tired of doing that, I have my devotional book and Bible with me so I can at least stay focused on God.

I do get excited when I understand little phrases, though. During one song, I caught part of a verse that says "...na Wewe, Bwana" ("...with You, God"). It was stuck in my head the rest of the day. And during a sermon, I heard the pastor referring to "Yoshua."

Small sidenote::

When Tanzanians pronounce the "J" sound, it sounds like a "Y" to us, even though we've been told over and over by our LCFs that it's a hard "J" after we've pronounced it as a soft "J." I have resolved to simply hammer every "J" in my Kiswahili, even though it sounds like I'm butchering the language. I've been told by my LCF many times that I sound like a native speaker, which I think is why Tanzanians love to talk so fast to me. They think I know a lot more of the language than I actually do, so I have to tell them to "sema polepole, tafadhali!" ("speak slowly, please!")

::End of sidenote

I am currently reading the book of Joshua, for a few reasons. Reason 1, God showed me Joshua 21:45 the second day of my homestay, which I texted to my dad. A couple days later, my dad informed me that pastor Mike at PC3 had mentioned Joshua's crossing the Jordan in his sermon (reason 2). Then I found out the Levites were in Joshua, of which I remember a friend telling me about and comparing me to before I left (reason 3). On Sunday and Monday night, "Yoshua" was the scripture of our family devotional (reason 4). I have deduced that this is God's voice calling me to check into Joshua.

Ex Officio Update: I promised some of you back home to keep you informed of my underwear situation, which you are interested in because I wrote about it in one of the first posts on this blog. If you need a refresher, all you need to know is I only brought 3 pairs of underwear with me for two years. Ex Officio status is good! No problems whatsoever with any pairs so far, they have all washed clean and dried quickly just as advertised. Generally speaking, I've been washing underwear every week, so I 'll wear two pairs for about 6 days and then switch to the third on Sunday, freeing the other two to be washed. I actually think I could've gotten away with two pairs at this point, although I've only been here long enough for two or three wash cycles. In case you're wondering, my 2 undershirts are also doing well, although the collars have changed colors a bit, from white to slightly brownish. It doesn't really matter, since you aren't supposed to see the undershirt, just the effects of it.

The next update should include something about Nyerere Day, which is on October 14th (tomorrow at the time of this writing). Hope you all are enjoying the fall back in the US, because I'm definitely jonesing for it over here in the heat...while drinking my hot chai...

October 10, 2009

processing homestay experience

This is what is on the schedule every morning we have sessions with our CBT, and I found it quite funny the first time I saw it last week.  Not that it was actually funny, but because I knew it would be very necessary and that there would be stories.

I've been in the homestay for about 2 weeks, and it's been quite the experience.  What's weird is that I had this dual-sided attitude going into it, thinking "I need to stay humble and be prepared for challenges," but really in the back of my mind thinking "this isn't really much of an adjustment, it's not a big deal."  I've found out after only 2 weeks that even the small adjustments have the capacity to wear you down over time.  Things like bedtimes, eating times, and even chai breaks have had their effect.

Chai is something that was very foreign to us at the beginning of our training.  It isn't breakfast, because that was 2 hours ago, and it isn't quite lunch, because that isn't for another 2 hours.  It's 10 in the morning and there's practically another meal occurring.  Many of us did not eat at chai during the first few days.  After a week, however, we have come to love chai very much.  To the point that we miss it when there is no chai.  Which brings me to another point.

Hot beverages.  I don't know why people drink nothing but hot beverages here, but they do.  It seems counter-intuitive given the climate; hot and hotter.  The only drinks you can get cold here are soda and, on occasion, water (as far as I know).  But it's another adjustment many of us have eased into over the past few weeks.  While I drank no hot beverages almost at all in America, I have at least two every day now.  When we missed chai last Saturday at our school because it was the weekend, we really missed chai.  We actually paid for it today because we wanted it so badly.  I'm fairly certain this is something many of us will be bringing back to the United States.  It may even get us fired at our new government jobs when we get back because of our refusal to work at 10am.

October 3, 2009

title post

Like many music albums have a title track, or a song for which an album is named, I am dubbing this entry the "title post," as the freshness has now started.

The first week in Tanzania has been full of blessings and challenges. Maybe overflowing is a better word. Some of the challenges:

  • passport troubles at the airport
  • learning to sleep under a net
  • figuring out how to properly set up said net
  • dealing with jet lag and malaria drug side-effects
  • adjusting to a very starchy diet
  • the malaria self-test (story to follow)
  • staying properly hydrated
  • trusting the Steripen
  • greeting strangers in Kiswahili
  • understanding Kiswahili being spoken to me

Some of the blessings:

  • everyone made it to Tanzania!
  • no major health problems for anyone yet
  • the desire to learn Kiswahili (many of us are picking up the language very quickly!)
  • the overall friendliness of Tanzanians
  • abundant friendships
  • having two current TZ PCVs help us with questions
  • the entire PST staff

Both lists could certainly go on. Spirits have generally been good, although everyone has had their ordeal with something. For many it was having trouble sleeping. For me, it was the malaria self-test.

On Friday, we had our session "All About Malaria." Our PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) gave a lecture on what it is, why we should take it seriously, and how to prevent getting infected. In the case that we do actually contract malaria, we need to be able to confirm this with a malaria self-test. It looks very much like a pregnancy test, in that it will show you one or two lines depending on whether the test is positive or negative. To take the test, a drop of blood is required, which is where this story begins. At the end of the lecture, we were given the self-test "kit" to try it out. Along with the testing stick, there is a pin, with which you prick your own finger. Many of us, including me, did not know the proper procedure for extracting a drop of blood from a finger, which resulted in a few bloody messes and some failed malaria tests. I'm not sure if it was the jet lag, the change in diet causing an empty stomach, the medication, or maybe the 3 vaccinations I had gotten eariler that morning, but my self-test in particular did not go very well. My first attempt at pricking only produced enough blood to fill the small crevases in my finger. At this point, I should've realized that my blood was looking a bit thin, but since everyone else was having trouble, I thought I'd give it another go. Upon pricking a second time in the same finger, going a bit deeper this time, I produced quite a bit more. My strategy of squeezing the finger and trying to let gravity create a drop proved a grave mistake, as the blood simply stuck to my finger via friction (van der Waal's forces maybe?). Trying to smear it into the little hole the blood is supposed to go into didn't work, and by this time I noticed my hands shaking a bit. Before I knew it, I was getting tunnel vision and I started to lose my hearing. I'm not sure how much time passed before the PCMO walked by to check on me, but when my head came out from between my legs, she let me know that I should contact the local office to get the test done by someone else in the future. Quite embarrassing really, but the cold sweat from nearly blacking out actually did a wonderful job of keeping me cool for the next few hours.

Currently, I just got back from a tour at the Peace Corps Office in Dar es Salaam, which is quite nice. We had a few learning sessions there, and were treated to fresh veggies at lunch, something that's missing in the diet at the hostel we're currently staying in. Our first week is almost over, and from what I hear from the staff and trainers, the first week is a little bit like la-la land (which is funny, because "lala" in Kiswahili means "sleep"). PST really begins with the homestay, which will be the first major challenge we all face. There's one more day to prepare us before we leave the city and meet our host families. Everybody is buzzing with excitement, and all of us are eager to begin our service in what we've heard is the gem of the Peace Corps!