27 October 2008

some random things

Anecdote: A man at a bus stand tells me he wants to learn English. I ask him why. He says, in English, "I want to survive."

My neighbor the other day said something I really liked. "We are just passengers in life." I made the mistake of telling him that I didn't believe in God, which is basically inconceivable to most Tanzanians, and he was trying to convince me there was one. His comment was in reference to the afterlife. But I think his comment could also have a much different meaning, referring to how little in life we have control over, ie where we are born, who our families are, our sex, our skin color, etc.

Before I did Peace Corps I wondered what a typical day was like for a volunteer. Well, I don't really have a typical day, but here are some thing that happen on a daily or regular basis:
-Boil drinking water
-Heat water for bathing
-Get neighbors to remove a large insect from my house that I am terrified of
-Block door so mice don't get in, and/or chase mice out of house at night with broom and headlamp
-Sit on my porch and hang out with other teachers from the secondary school
-Children stare at me, chase me while on my bike, and/or run away from me in terror
-Once a week, I ask people in my village to bike 1 km to my house with 5 buckets (100 liters) of water, for which I will pay them about 70 cents. Then I get angry and haggle with them when they try to charge me 1000 shillings (about a dollar). Then after we have agreed on a price and they say they are going to bring it, they don't always show up.
-People laugh at me
-I agree to things I don't understand or only half understand

Things I would like to teach Tanzanians about, in addition to HIV/AIDS/Health education:
-Basic geography: ie America is not located in Europe or Asia, and George Bush is not the president of North and South America

10 October 2008

things on my mind

For those who were wondering, I survived the 56k bike trip and it only took around 8 hours. This included my pedal falling off halfway through the ride, walking 1 km to get it fixed; resting for an hour and a half for lunch; having a random guy try to sell me a Makonde wood carving, and then giving it to me as a gift after i refused to buy it; then taking a short nap under a tree before gearing myself up for the last 10 km of the ride. My ass was sore for about a week.

The following are things that I have been thinking about for a long time. I don't really have anyone here to discuss these things with, so I'm releasing these thoughts into cyberspace.

-Is Peace Corps, and the idea that a foreigner can come help communities "develop," inherently imperialistic? Or is it possible for Peace Corps Volunteers to effect, positive, albeit small-scale, change? Or is Peace Corps something that privileged Americans do to feel good about themselves, that in the end has very marginal effects on the communities, either positive or negative?

-For that matter, Peace Corps has been in Tanzania since 1961. What exactly has been accomplished?

-As an employee of the US government working in the Global South, on a project partly funded by PEPFAR, how am I perpetuating the very systems that I have problems with?

-Tanzania was colonized by Germany. My family heritage is largely German. Am I perpetuating the domination carried out by my ancestors? Or is it possible that I can try to rectify some of the damage they caused?

-Why are the overwhelming majority of PCVs white?

-Peace Corps talks a lot about being "culturally appropriate." What exactly does this mean? Tanzania has over 100 tribes and 35 million people. I'm still learning about TZ, but surely the idea that there is one, homogenous culture and a uniform conception of what is appropriate is ridiculous.

-Why do I get upset when people ask me for money? I'm American and a foreigner and still making more than a lot of people in my village (even though PC living allowance is supposed to put you at the same standard of living as an "average" Tanzanian). So of course people are going to ask me for money. I know I shouldn't get upset, but I still do. Is it because it happens every time I leave my house, which gets old after awhile? Or is it simply because I feel uncomfortable at my privilege being pointed out constantly?

-As part of my job in health/HIV/AIDS education I'm supposed to educate youths about "life skills," ie communication skills, decision-making skills, relationship skills, in hopes that such life skills will prevent youths from making "risky" decisions and participating in "risky behavior" that causes the spread of HIV/AIDS. I have a few problems with this approach:
1) By blaming an individual/an individual's "risky behavior" on HIV/AIDS, this framework ignores the role that structural/social and economic inequalities and inequitable access to services and resources have in affecting one's health and behavior.
2) Blaming the spread of HIV/AIDS on risky behavior ignores the fact that many girls/women are coerced/forced into sex or are unable to negotiate condom use with their partner.

So. What is a more effective method of HIV/AIDS prevention? Any input on this or my other questions is appreciated.