October 31, 2010


I officially started my twenty-fifth year of living on this Earth just this past Wednesday. It marked the end of 11 months of service overseas, the beginning of the next 13, and also the end of a rather troubling string of days and events.

The week before, I traveled to Singida town to say goodbye to a volunteer who had reached her COS date. All of us in the Singida region made the trip. We shared laughs and stories over beer and street food, we danced together and cried together. And when the time came, we hugged and said our parting words. Goodbyes are never easy in the Peace Corps; you hate to see any fellow American leave because you become that much more outnumbered, and it doesn't matter who it is, you've shared something special with them.

Then, when I arrived back in my village, I received some troubling news about one of my best Tanzanian friends. The man who ran the pork shop near my house was in the hospital. I soon learned the circumstances around his condition, that his nephew had burdened him with a large debt before leaving abruptly, that his sister-in-law refused to help him, and that his wife left him equally alone in the matter. He became irritated and threatened to beat his wife, but she escaped to the police station for help. By the time the police had arrived, he had returned to his shop and became intoxicated. When the police tried to arrest him, he resisted, insisting he had not done anything wrong. When he resisted, they beat him. This is why he was in the hospital; the police had broken his left leg, gashed his forehead, knocked out a tooth, and left him with bruises all over his chest. I went to visit with my second master as soon as I heard, but couldn't stay in the room longer than 5 minutes. Who do you blame in this situation? So many poor decisions made. All you can really do is grieve with the people who are hurting.

The next day, another close PCV friend from the neighboring village came to town for the last time; he, too, had reached his Close of Service date, and was picking up gifts for some of his students. We didn't have a lot of time together, but we shared some stories and thoughts about the future over a beer at 10am that morning. After he left, I found my village babu and tried to be optimistic about tomorrow. It was going to be my birthday, after all.

Mama Tina and Tina
Mama Tina and Tina
I woke up on the 27th refreshed, having slept through my alarm by an hour and a half. I had to get my house in shape for the weekend because all of the volunteers in the Singida region were planning to visit for a Birthday/Halloween party. I went to a graduation ceremony for a local day care center in the early afternoon, but I spent most of my day making contact with carpenters and electricians, and by the time the evening rolled around, I had someone fixing my front and back doors while another installed new electrical sockets. In the meantime, the neighborhood kids paid me a visit on my front porch. We celebrated, but not because it was my birthday. It was simply a reflex of youth, being young and enjoying the company of others. We danced to music, we had a tickle fight, and we imitated all the animals we could think of. In twenty minutes, my age dropped twenty years.

It's been a week of heartache and singing, of suffering and waiting and joy. It's been hard, it's been fun. Most of all, I think it's been life the way God intended it to be lived.

Project OASIS
Project OASIS update
And now it's Sunday, Halloween. And Election Day here in Tanzania. The party we planned to have didn't happen because our cell phones have been on the fritz, but my house is looking fantastic. I suppose it's just as well; I am planning to host some trainees for their shadow assignments, and that starts next week. And now that our friend in Singida town has finished her service (and she isn't being replaced), I'm the closest thing to an urban setting in our region. There's a good chance my house will be hosting visitors more often in the coming months. Let's just hope I can keep it this way.

October 20, 2010

africa hates my clothes

Battle Scars!
Now that about 13 months have passed since I arrived in Tanzania, some of my clothes are starting to get a little worn out. They've made a valiant effort to stay intact for so long in such a harsh environment; not that the environment here is that much harsher per say, but the fact that I wear these clothes a LOT compared to my habits of switching clothes every day (sometimes more) back in the States. Not to mention the hand-washing.

I just tore the pants today; I was only lightly tugging them down while sitting, but that particular spot on the knee was already looking a little ragged. It happened while I was tutoring some students in math in the computer lab, but I guess they didn't hear the rip, so it wasn't horribly awkward. The walk home was, however.

The shorts...I'm not totally sure what happened there. I've chalked it up to either bugs eating the cloth, or chemical burns while I was helping some teachers set up the NECTA chemistry practical. I prefer the chemical burns theory.

In other news, the clouds are starting to roll in! I don't think I've ever been this excited for rain before. All I know is that when it finally does come, it will be magical. There will be dancing in the streets, with buckets poised to capture it in all its glory. Even just the thought of smelling it for the first time in 8 months is enough to make my knees buckle. Seriously, this rain can't get here soon enough.

October 19, 2010

blue or red?

I've been contemplating my future in recent days. The reasons behind this vary, from the book I've been absorbed in since last week (see lower left), to the incomprehensible groanings and mumblings within my heart.

President Obama's vision for a revolution in the way we think about government in the 21st century has my head spinning (it's quite detailed and technical), but it also has me wondering where I fit into his picture. He talks constantly about training and raising a new generation of engineers and scientists which, if you look at my college degree, I am a part of. Unfortunately, I get the sense that, perhaps not my opportunity for a engineering-based career, but rather my desire for one is beginning to slip. The plight of Africa is hard to ignore, especially when you're steeped right smack in the middle of it, and its gravity is starting to tug and pull. Just last Saturday, on my way home from a short visit with a nearby friend, crazy thoughts about spending the rest of my life here were cascading through me, the sheer implications of them weighing heavy within me. "It doesn't matter what you do, really, just being here and suffering alongside is the important part." I've been praying about these groanings, especially now that I'm distanced from them by a few days, because I'm not entirely sure where they originated.

At times, I find it a bit alarming how swiftly and gracefully I made the transition from science-centric college grad to impoverished social worker. I know the vast majority of fresh, young, undergraduate degree holders don't necessarily go into the fields they majored in, at least not right away, but in something as specialized as aerospace engineering (with an emphasis on the "space"), I feel like there's generally an expiration date on how long you can hold out on your future, and the longer you wait, the more your prospective employers will wonder where your allegiance, or your heart, truly aligns.

One thing I'm sure of is that this tension which has surfaced has far-reaching consequences. It could determine how and where I spend the prime years of my life. And something I'm beginning to ponder is whether or not I'm currently receiving what Oswald Chambers dubs the irresistible and "baffling call of God." When I read that phrase, I used to think of God simply directing my career path.  Now I can see it's a little more involved than that.

October 13, 2010

the dance

The first bit of footage from our girl's conference in Singida has officially landed on Youtube!  It was choreographed by a subset of our brilliant Singida/Manyara talent pool.  It might be a hard life out here in the desert, but we certainly know how to put on a show.

Thanks go to Lauren for filming for us!  If you're looking for an extra dose of Peace Corps/Tanzania Volunteers doing dance routines at girl's conferences, check out the folks from Mbeya here.  We've got some natural-born booty shakers out west!

October 11, 2010

it's that time of year

Yep. The seasons are changing. Leaves are shifting their color, the air is crisp and cool, and trees are stripping down to their bare branches.

If you're in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, that is. If you're in my neck of the woods, the temperature is going from sauna hot to broiler hot, the sun is attempting to push the UV index beyond its current limit, and everything is just as dusty as it always was, perhaps a bit more so. And I guess technically, this is like springtime for the local vegetation.

And yet, we have this picture. How is it even remotely possible that my body knows it's that time of year? When I look around, everything is still dead! It makes me wonder if the passage of time is some kind of placebo effect that my allergies fall for; "well, it's been about 5 months, guess it's time to get started." I mean, of all places to have allergy issues...the desert? Really??

I suppose it's only fitting that in the time it took me to write this entry, I went through the rest of that toilet paper roll. Looks like I have an errand to run...

October 3, 2010


I've decided to take a personal day today here in Singida before I head back to site, this post being one of the reasons for hanging back. That being said, don't expect much; I've probably slept a total of 15 hours in the past week (just woke up from a three-hour nap).

October 2, 2010


Cessie led our condom demonstration
Don't be afraid. This is the theme for our girls conference. After 2 full days of sessions, the girls have learned quite a bit; I lead off with Facts and Myths about HIV/AIDS, followed by HIV/AIDS education and prevention...we've had sessions on goal setting, communication skills, and of course, a condom demonstration.
Madata, my counterpart
The past week has gone quickly; I've essentially been surgically attached at the hip to my counterpart since last Sunday, filming for a video that hasn't been finished, getting our presentation ready, and finally getting the girls here to the conference venue. So far the hard work has paid off, and while not everything has been perfect (our schedules haven't even been close to a reality), we've been rolling with the punches and our girls have been enjoying their time with us.

Sewing menstrual pads!
Hopefully there will be more pictures for you all tomorrow; I'm doing what I can with a 3 kb/sec internet connection (I'm tethering my phone to my laptop).