27 July 2011

For prospective Peace Corps volunteers, I highly recommend the following book: Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village, by Sarah Erdman.

I read a few PCV memoirs (this plus Mango Elephants in the Sun and Living Poor) while I was in Tanzania, and Nine Hills was not only my favorite of the three, but I also thought Erdman perfectly encapsulated a lot of the emotions and frustrations that I (and probably other PCVs) felt during service, in a much more eloquent way than I could ever have written. She was in Coite d'Ivoire and there are definitely a lot of differences between TZ and Coite d'Ivoire, but her experience as a volunteer was shockingly similar to mine.

I also totally got some ideas for health projects and teaching methods from her.

20 August 2010


This post is a little late, but I finished my Peace Corps service on August 4th (just a little short of 27 months), and left Tanzania on the 13th, so I won't be posting here anymore.

Quick update on a few of my projects I have blogged about:
-Water pump project: All seven water pumps in the village are now working, and dirty water and sand were flushed out of the pumps to help prevent future problems. Toolbox and tools for the village were purchased so that the village technicians can fix the pumps in the future. Pumps that did not previously have "pump-masters" were assigned them to ensure that children don't play with or break the pumps.
-Chicken project for PLWHAs: Chicken coop is built, the group has 14 hensand 1 rooster, and as of the beginning of August, 4 of the chickens have started laying eggs..

Also, in a previous blog entry I wrote about some indicators of success that I personally thought would show if I had had a successful stay in Nanganga. Some of the goals, such as someone naming their child Raula after me, or people being able to correctly identify which continent America is on, or for people to understand sarcasm, were sadly not accomplished. I did, however, succeed in my goal of not being called mshamba by a child again, which was probably the most important goal.

On a more serious note, when I first came to Peace Corps, I had a few modest goals. Learn Swahili. Make friends in the village. Make a difference in at least one person's life. Done, done and done. Will the projects that I worked on continue in the future? Will people remember some of the information I have taught about sexual and reproductive health? Will Peace Corps' presence in Nanganga make a difference in preventing HIV infections and combating stigma? Can Peace Corps be an instrument for doing good things in the world instead of serving as arm of US imperialism and/or just providing idealistic Americans with a free travel opportunity? I don't know, but I really hope so.

I know that I personally feel like I have learned and gained a lot from this experience and I am thankful for that. And I choose to be an optimist and will hold to my belief that Peace Corps' volunteers' work has potential to make a difference; whether this happens in reality is hard to measure. I will say that there are no village-based Tanzanian NGOs or government programs that I know of that are doing full-time HIV/AIDS and life skills education in small individual villages in my region. (Sure there are the government committees and community health workers that are supposed to do HIV education...but being that these people are usually poor substistence farmers and aren't paid to do this work, does this work actually happen on a regular basis? I would guess no.) Just saying.

Thanks to everyone that has read this blog or commented or emailed me, and to the people of Nanganga, you have been great overall, and I really appreciate you all letting me live with you for two years and putting up with my bad Kiswahili, cultural incompetence, and crazy ideas.

I don't know what is next for me, but if anyone has any questions about PC/Tanzania, feel free to email; I'll leave my email in my profile.

Kwa herini.

20 July 2010

More of my favorite things

Some more favorite moments recently:

Girls Empowerment Conference:
-Taking fifty girls to the beach (most of whom had not been to the beach before), especially when they freaked out at the sight of boats, and when they picked up and tore apart some jellyfish trying to figure out what they were,.
-When some high energy and some hand-clapping games at dinner spontaneously turned into a two-hour singing and dancing party, with no other music besides their voices and buckets being used as drums, and relieving PCVs of the responsibility of having to plan a night activity to entertain them.
-The girls singing for the entire three-hour bus ride back home, and comparing that to the first-day bus ride which was completely silent

Making a difference? A month or so after teaching budget-making and saving money to my PLWHA group, I was sitting with a couple of the members and one was saying how she took my advice and started putting a little aside each day, and one day she didn't have any money to buy vegetables for lunch so she looked in the place she had been keeping her money and discovered she had saved 2000 shillings. (Around $1.50...But enough to buy food that day, anyway).

When my neighbor who has known me for almost two years and who is much more educated than most people I know here, asked me if America was in Europe (I gave him a map later).

Learning about devils and possession:
-According to my students:
1) Incense is the cure for possession; it makes the devils go away, at least temporarily.
2) "Wanachangamka wakiona bahari." (They get excited when they see the ocean).
-According to my neighbor:
1) Only Muslims get mashetani (devils)
2) Only females get mashetani
3) "A lot of people get possessed when I am the teacher on duty, but not when the other teachers are on duty. I don't understand why."
4) Only Muslims get possessed because they believe in possession; Christians here don't believe in it.

Boys Conference:
-When a photographer showed up at the beach and at least half the boys wanted their picture taken with me and another female PCV... Glad to know I am popular with male Tanzanian teenagers.
-Having some good discussions about the meaning of love and if girls & boys can be friends without having sex
-Having the students cook dinner the first night, and one group somehow managed to make their white rice look a very non-appetizing shade of gray. They then said that they had cooked pilau (a spicy rice dish which is usually brown). It did not taste like pilau.
-Teaching yoga, and hearing the boys compare the cobra position to "popo bawa," which is, legend has it, a large bat that lives on Zanzibar and rapes men.

21 May 2010

Some favorite things

Some of my favorite moments lately:
-Exact quote from a secondary school debate: "Please explain your truth."
-Some members of my PLWHA group looking at the pictures in my photo album and exclaiming about how beautiful I look... in my graduation cap and gown
-While staying at a hotel in town with another PCV: It's about 7 pm and getting dark. My friend goes to shower, comes back and is confused why I am sitting in the room in the dark...I have gotten so used to not having electricity, it honestly didn't occur to me to turn on the light.
-Talking with a traditional healer in my village, and getting some medicine from her that is supposed to bring me good luck
-My PLWHA group and their chicken-building project: the members are super-motivated and have been doing a lot of work, like walking 5 kilometers to talk to someone that sells bricks, carrying water in order to make the cement, making food for the carpenters
-Having a serious conversation with some secondary school teachers about what they can do to help prevent teen pregnancy and STDs

Not-so-favorite moments lately:
-Village politics in all aspects, particularly when it makes getting things done a lot more complicated than necessary, and even more particularly when people accuse me of doing sketchy things with money.
- Going over budget on projects: Do chickens really need a seven-foot tall house with a metal roof? Pretty sure they wouldn't notice if they had a grass roof... But what do I know.
-Fourteen hour bus-ride to Dar that should take 8 hours... It's amazing that they have been working on that road for say, the past five years, and it still seems like not much has been accomplished
-Planning for conferences = stressful, particularly when water is suddently unavailable in the town were are doing the conferences in and we are probably going to have to spend over a hundred dollars just on water for bathing and cooking

13 May 2010

Health Fair Pictures

150 people tested for HIV. 200 tubes of toothpaste. 200 toothbrushes. Four boxes of bar soap. 18 counterparts. 3 PCVs. 2 community theater/drum groups. 50 maandazi (fried dough snacks). Over 3000 condoms. Two guests of honor. One soccer game. One cardboard cut-out of a condom man. One pig that ran through and destroyed some flipchart stands.... Just some of the things present at my village health fair, or, as my villagers decided to interpret it, INTERNATIONAL HEALTH DAY (I don't think there is such a day, but who knew all you had to do was announce you are doing a health day, and suddenly everyone thinks it is a worldwide thing, and they decide they want to do it every year).

Ngoma group from a neighboring village

Pin the toothbrush on the mouth!

Nutrition table

Condom demo table

Flipcharts, and the awesome flipchart stands my counterpart made, prior to the pig running through them.

Condom man cut-out... if anyone working for Si Mchezo is reading this blog, it would be awesome if you would publish this picture in your magazine...