25 January 2010

Hello world

I was recently going through old papers and notebooks and came across several things I have written to blog about. So today I bring you not one, not two, but FOUR new blog entries. They are in order from most funny to least funny.

Many thanks to everyone who donated, especially the kind people who I have never met in my life. You all make me feel a little better about humanity. I will post updates about the project on here from time to time, assuming I can get to the internet. Hopefully we'll be getting starting on pump-fixing and well-building in a little while after the rains have died down and people are not busy at the farm every day.

As to my life in general, it goes on as usual. The price of tomatoes has sky-rocketed, leaving my food options even more limited. I tried making mango wine, results to be seen in a few weeks. My cat is pregnant again. My house floods on a semi-regular basis now that it has started raining. Bad for me, good for people's corn. Tomorrow I am heading to Iringa to help do a training for the new group of volunteers that arrived last june. School opened this week, so when I get back I will commence teaching again. Other projects going on: starting a PLWHA group; piloting "office hours," ie sitting in the village office at a designated time each week in case people want to ask questions or get condoms; building an information board and question box at the dispensary; hopefully continuing with the testing days and community theater in my area; freaking out because I only have 7 months left in the village and I finally know what things I want to do there.

The Guide to Getting Things Done in Tanzania

The Guide to Getting Things Done in Tanzania

Want to work in Tanzania? Have you had the (dubious?) honor of receiving a Peace Corps invitation to TZ? Curious about what some of my daily activities usually entail? This guide is for you!

So you want to...

Plan and put on an event of some sort

First you must get permission from the ward government/ headmaster/ district official/ drunken village leaders, etc. Don't make an appointment since you will inevitably be stood up. Go to the office of one of the aforementioned people and tell them your plan. They will ask you to write a letter regarding your request. If you have planned ahead you will have already written this letter; if not you can just step outside and write it provided you have brought a pen, white paper, a stapler, carbon paper, inkpad and personalized namestamp. Give the official your letter. If your letter's not favorably received, the official will say something like, "We'll see" or "We'll talk about it another day." If you do in fact get permission, the official will tell you to wait, and then in your presence write, stamp, and staple a letter saying that you indeed have permission for this event.

For the actual event, you must invite as many important or not-so-important government officials as possible. You must furthermore pay them at least fifteen dollars for attending the event, even if they are not doing anything besides sitting there. These "special guests" must sit at a "high table" covered with a kanga and fake flowers, and must be provided with several sodas and bottled water. They may give a speech, but will more likely just sit there and fall asleep. They must be provided with lunch. A goat or other animal has to have been slaughtered for this lunch. The "special guests" will eat and then leave immediately after, regardless of whether the event is over. The day/event is not over until someone officially announces that the event is closed. If your special guests are satisfied from their lunch, your event is considered a success, regardless of whether you actually accomplished what you set out to do.

If your event is a graduation, students must sing songs and dance while people throw kangas and other gifts at them, wrap leis around their necks, and stick coins in their mouths. Then half the women in the audience join in the dancing.

Plan a village meeting:

The day before the meeting, hire a village drunk to walk around the village playing a drum and announcing the meeting. For the actual meeting, find a large cashew tree, mango tree, or another kind of tree that provides a lot of shade. Set up a table for the village officials, a straw mat on one side for the male villagers, and a straw mat on the other side for the female villagers. Start meeting at least two hours after the planned starting time. If district officials are coming, add one hour to the wait time. To start the meeting, a government official must say that the meeting is opened. This official then reads the agenda for the meeting, which usually goes something like this: 1) Open Meeting. 2) Introduction. 3) Discuss issues. 4) Close Meeting. Follow agenda for meeting. When introducing a new topic or making sure you have everyone's attention, say the name of the village you are in followed by "Oye!" Villagers may only speak if they raise their hands, but government officials can talk whenever they want. When the meeting is over, a government official must say the meeting is closed.

Teach in a classroom

Show up in any classroom at any time of the day, because there will inevitably be no teacher present no matter when you decide to go. The students will stand up to greet you. Tell them they can sit down, or they will stand up for the entire period. Begin teaching. Do not use participatory methods or activities that require critical thinking, because the students will not understand what to do. Ask them if they have understood everything. They will say yes. Ask again. They will say yes. Move on until it becomes clear that they have not understood you at all, then go back and explain again everything you have just taught. When you are finished teaching, greet all the teachers that are sitting in the office, doing paperwork or, more like, staring off into space.

Have a party

Set up is similar to other official events, in that you need tables with kangas, fake flowers and soda. Before the party, send "invitations" to the guests telling them how much money they need to contribute in order to attend your party. Cook pilau (spicy rice and potato dish) and chicken or goat. Eat and drink in silence. Have everyone stand up and give a speech. If there is a DJ present, play music and start dancing awkwardly, preferably with everyone walking around in a circle and sort of shaking their upper bodies.

Things I like

Recently I was hanging out with several other volunteers, and a friend of a PCV who had just come here to visit. We were doing what most PCVs do when they get together (complaining), when the visitor from America asked, "Is there anything you all like about Tanzania?"

I don't know about the others, but I was kind of embarrassed by that question. Surely we don't complain THAT much right? We just don't get to see each other or speak English very often, we need to vent, etc etc. But could I come up with a lot of things I like about Tanzania? I could probably name hundreds of things that annoy, anger, puzzle, frustrate, worry, bother, perplex me, and/or make me want to commit violent acts. But could I come up with ten things I really, truly, without qualification, like about Tanzania?

Well, I am a master at making top ten lists. This task cannot vanquish me!

Behold, 16 things I like about Tanzania. In no particular order.
-Topetope (a weird fruit that I don't think has a name in English)
-In general, Tanzania is a beautiful country. Landscape-wise.
-The way Tanzanians dance. Hilarious.
-Kande: one of the few Tanzanians food I like. It's just corn and beans but it's delicious.
-Afternoon nap time. It's too damn hot to do any work at two in the afternoon anyway. Why not nap under a tree.
-Telling time by looking at the sun. I don't like wearing watches.
-The things you can buy on trees. Like a wide variety of used and almost-new clothing.
-The plethora of things you can buy out of bus windows. (See one of my other top ten lists for examples).
-Being able to just sit in silence with people without it being awkward. Sometimes it's just not necessary to fill the air with empty words. Sometimes you just don't feel like talking, and that's ok. I particularly like when you have been sitting with someone for a long time, and they will just say a random word out of nowhere.
-Tanzanian love for awesomely bad things- Music (ie Celine Dion, boy bands, soft rock radio). Dance moves. Kitenges with chicken heads.
-Not to romanticize poverty, but kids' creativity with toys. They can make a car out of a few sticks and some mud. Or they are entertained for hours chasing bike tires. Kids in the US just aren't entertained that easily.
-Not to romanticize poverty again, but Tanzanians' resourcefulness in general. They hardly ever throw anything away, use the same plastic bag over and over and over, and can fix/rig anything
-Huge generalization: People are really friendly and helpful, for the most part. Most people in my village are incredibly welcoming and generous. I don't think Americans are that nice to foreigners that move into their communities.


Something I often finding myself wondering: Is there just something wrong with the people of Nanganga?

Other villages just a few kilometers away from Nanganga have groups that start projects, and actually succeed at carrying out and finishing these projects. To my knowledge, there are no active groups in Nanganga. Groups start and then die after a month, and rarely start projects, and never finish them. Other Peace Corps volunteers talk about the numerous groups that they have started or work with in their villages, while I can barely succeed at getting five people to show up to a meeting. Other communities build schools or wells by getting villagers to contribute money or labor, but the district government had to cancel a water project for Nanganga because the villagers wouldn't contribute to the project. Recently, I even told a group that I would GIVE THEM MONEY TO START A PROJECT if they would just come up with a project they want to do, and submit a project plan. No one showed up to the next meeting.

Is there something wrong with what I am doing?

Well, probably, but I am a minor celebrity in my village, and I have decided that as a celebrity it is my prerogative to blame things on others. Therefore, back to blaming the village. But there being something inherently wrong with the villagers doesn't make sense either. There are a few good, motivated people. And people aren't just born to be lazy thieves. So what is the deal here?

For awhile I thought it had something to do with the village being on the main road. People don't have to work as hard here as if they would in a village in the middle of nowhere? The lure of pool tables and buses and other distractions and income opportunities at the road has somehow made people uninterested in development activities? That doesn't make sense either. There are plenty of villages on this same road with active groups, with villagers that contribute to community projects, with motivated people. So it's not the road.

Is it just that Nanganga is a big village, and getting projects done and trying to do anything communally is always a tremendous challenge, and corruption is going to be a big problem wherever you are in Tanzania, and I am just having a hard time finding the right people? Maybe.

But all of these explanations don't seem to quite add up. Surely there must be a bigger explanation.

Two days ago I finally found out the reason. I present you with-

German missionaries were in Nanganga from the 1920s to the early 2000s. Since the 1920s. I am competing with 90 years of handouts and viewing wazungu as walking banks. No wonder I can't get shit done. No wonder when I tell people I am not rich and can't give them money they just don't get it. In the past people could just go to the missionaries if they were having problems, and it seems the missionaries would just help them out. Now the missionaries are gone and they don't know what to do.

(Now, I'm not entirely dismissing the work that missionaries do. Missionaries have definitely started some hugely important projects and provided important services in Tanzania, especially in Mtwara region- ie the hospitals in Ndanda and Nyangao. And building schools in villages. Etc. However, based on some anecdotal evidence and my entirely biased views, it also seems to me you can't deny the fact that a constant presence of missionaries whose role largely consists of giving out handouts of some sort can have a negative effect...)

Other contributing factors (told to me by a friend, who didn't grow up in Nanganga but who lives here now, so the accuracy of this information can be disputed):
-In old times (not sure what year), Nanganga was populated by only the Makua tribe (now it is Makua, Makonde, Mwera, and maybe a few Waio). The Makua chief was apparently a greedy bastard and stole a lot of stuff from his citizens, and people were required to pay him bribes all the time, and stuff like that. Other villagers saw that the only way for them to get ahead was for them to be greedy corrupt bastards too, and their children followed suit, and their children followed suit...
-Apparently people's income for a long time was based on "kuchimba madini" (digging for minerals) and not on farming. (This explains why people come up to me every month trying to sell me gold. I was always wondering where this gold was coming from. There seems to be a mine of some sort not too far from Nanganga). So a lot of people just aren't used to farming, and I guess even though these days there aren't too many minerals to be found, people still don't want to farm because they haven't for so long. This combined with the fact that Nanganga has a large youth population, and, in general, youth these days don't really want to farm for a living either.

So now I know some of/most of the reasons it is so and difficult to get things done in Nanganga. What do I do with this new knowledge?

I need some inspiration here...

I wrote the following several months ago with the intention of submitting it to one of PC TZ's newsletters. Haven't done that yet, but am posting it here anyway.

Giving credit where credit is due: The ideas and quotes in this essay are all taken The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb. Which in turn was given to me by an awesome college professor, Sherryl Kleinman. If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend it, by the way.

Is anything I am doing here making a difference?

This is a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. I have been at site for almost a year and a half, and what do I have to show for my efforts? Sure, I've been teaching and starting groups and doing workshops and trainings and conferences, but to what avail? Does all this work have any tangible effect? Or do people just come to listen to the crazy mzungu speak bad Kiswahili, then continue on with their lives as before? The problems we're working on as Peace Corps volunteers, HIV/AIDS, poverty, malnutrition, even helping kids pass secondary school, are so big and complex and beyond our ability to solve, and we're working on them alone in our villages with a handful of motivated villagers. Is it possible for us to make a difference at all?

I don't think I am alone in wondering these things. At mid-service conference in August, it seemed like a lot of my fellow volunteers were feeling frustrated and burnt-out. (And I doubt Peace Corps staff were encouraged by a half-hour long question session about the advantages of finishing one's service versus ET-ing). I remember one volunteer asking, "Is there any hope in combating HIV/AIDS in Tanzania? Because I'm tired, and I need to know that there is hope."

I didn't respond to this volunteer's question during the conference, because it was a question I didn't want to think about too deeply, but I've thought about it now and I'm answering: I do think there is hope. Maybe not hope in the conventional sense. Not hope that we will see resulrs now or by the end of our Peace Corps service. The kind of hope I'm talking about isn't dependent on results. Vaclav Havel (former president of the Czech Republic), defines hope as this:

"I understand hope above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don't; it is a dimension of the soul; it's not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit; an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons."

"Hope in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as job that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."

I think we PCVs all have a little of this kind of hope within us, or we wouldn't be here in Tanzania right now. Something in us made us choose Peace Corps instead of something else, because we saw something meaningful in this kind of work. This work is hard and frustrating and even impossible at times, but as journalist I.F. Stone says, "The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins."

Resigning ourselves to the possibility that we are going to lose may seem scary and counter-intuitive, like we are resigning ourselves to despair. This seems especially dangerous if one is working on literally life or death matters, like HIV/AIDS or hunger. Letting go of the desire for success, though, can be liberating. Social activist writes about Havel's definition of hope, saying:
"Havel seems to be describing not hope, but hopelessness. Being liberated from results, giving up outcomes, doing what feels right rather than effective. He helps me recall the Buddhist teaching that hopelessness is not the opposite of hope. Fear is. Hope and fear are inescapable partners. Anytime we hope for a certain outcome, and work hard to make it happen, then we also introduce fear. Fear of failing, fear of loss. Hopelessness is free of fear and thus can feel quite liberating...Thomas Merton, the late Christian mystic, clarified further the journey into hopelessness. "Do not depend on the hope of results...you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no results at all, if not perhaps results
opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to
concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself."

Let us do our work as volunteers not because we expect to save the world or our villages or even one villager, but because we find this work meaningful and important. Let me work on HIV/AIDS education because I think the HIV/AIDS crisis is a problem and something needs to be done about it, and I need to do what I can, in my own limited way, to try to solve the problem. Let us enjoy our work not for any successful outcomes we have achieved, but because we know that there is value in our purpose. Let us focus on gaining insight and enjoyment from our everyday experiences, instead of binding our happiness to whether we meet all the goals we set for ourselves. Let's cherish small successes and victories when we achieve them, and let's not get down on ourselves for not achieving bigger and better things.

In college I was part of a small, semi-radical feminist student group. One of our goals my senior year was to put plaques by certain buildings on campus, drawing attention to the fact that the people the buildings were named after owned slaves or participated in racist activities. This campaign never took off, however, because our group got bogged down by lack of experience and a small membership and inter-organizational politics, and we never succeeded in putting up any kind of plaques. Does this mean that I view our efforts as a failure? No, because I learned a lot about myself and group organizing that I didn't know before, and so did the other members of the group, and I think that there is value in this knowledge, regardless of whether we achieved our goal.

Peace Corps expects us to account for our efforts with tangible "outcomes" and "indicators" and "results" and numbers of people and concrete goals reached. I understand the need for this, and that we need to constantly examine what we are doing in order to find ways to work more effectively, but I don't think these "results" and "outcomes" should be the sole focus of my work, especially if it means that I get overwhelmed and depressed when I think about the huge scope of the problem and what little difference I am making.

Moreover, I think the effect of a lot of what we are doing, especially in HIV/AIDS prevention, is something that can only be measured over a long period of time. One of my friends is the third volunteer at her site. HIV is openly talked about in her village, and a fairly large number of people get tested every month. In a village a few kilometers away from her, however, HIV/AIDS is highly stigmatized and rarely talked about. Could this difference between the two villages be attributed to the presence of Peace Corps volunteers? I think so. I also think that we are making differences in our villages that we simply aren't aware of. I have done several week-long camps for secondary students. After the camps were over, none of the students came up to me to thank me and tell me how much they learned at the camp, like I was fantasizing that they would. But does that mean that they didn't learn anything? I don't think so.

I think the best we can do is to just keep trying. Keep trying and be there for each other, lame or trite as that sounds. In the words of that popular bonga flava song, "Bado nipo nipo sana." I need to stay here and keep trying, because the other option is to give up and not try, and that is not really an option at all. Mary Wynne Ashford says, "Since you cannot see into the future, you simply put one stone on top of another, and another on top of that. If the stones get knocked down, you begin again, because if you don't nothing will get built...Whether or not we succeed in pushing the rock up the hill, there is meaning in the journey, not in the hope that one time we'll be able to shed the rock forever and live in a perfect world."

Let's enjoy and learn from this journey.

03 January 2010

"We can redream this world and make the dream real."
-Ben Okri, The Famished Road

02 January 2010

Year End Countdown

Top Five Reasons You Haven't Heard From Me in Awhile

5)Avoidance. Peace Corps is now having volunteers report on their activities using this Excel application that I am estimating will take me 17 years to fill out. I have been avoiding doing these reports and thus avoiding internet/computers.

4) Life/Being Busy, Part 1- Kuuguza. In November I was at the hospital for awhile helping take care of some students that were there. Let me just say that I don't know what hell is like, but I am pretty sure that being in a Tanzanian hospital for an extended period of time is like being in one of the first circles of hell. Or purgatory, if you think I am being dramatic.

There are maybe two doctors in an entire hospital of hundreds of patients, and don't know what they are doing a lot of the time; a lot of nurses do little more than yell at and berate patients; there are eight or ten patients in one room and no privacy; a quarter of the beds don't have mosquito nets, and there are hundreds of mosquitoes and flies and it is impossible to sleep; people with broken bones or other serious injuries are lucky if they get a couple of tylenol per day. It is the job of the patients' families/caregivers to essentially do everything besides dispense medicine and medical advice, such as: cook for the person/make sure the person is fed and has drinking water; bathing him/her; getting and emptying the bed pan; buying supplies that the hospital should have but doesn't; getting water for the person to take their pills with; doing anything else that the nurses don't feel like doing themselves.

If someone in your family is in the hospital and you are taking care of them, you essentially live at the hospital until they are discharged. At night you sleep on the cement walkway outside the patients' room, along with everyone else that is taking care of sick family members and friends.

I could make an entire new blog entry analyzing the problems I see in the Tanzanian health care system, but I'm not going to right now.

3) Life/Being Busy Part 2- World Aids Day Projects. One of my latest projects has been doing a series of HIV-testing days in my village and surrounding villages. Testing in the village isn't available, so people have to go to the hospital if they want to get tested, which is often impossible because they don't have the money for the bus fare to get to the hospital. The idea with the testing days is to make testing available and break down the stigma about getting tested, and to provide accurate information/education about HIV. 423 people tested so far, 2 villages to go.

2) Life/Being Busy Part 3- The First Annual "Boyz to Men" Conference. Some volunteers in my region and I just did a five-day camp about health and life skills for secondary school boys from our villlages. Highlights included: teaching them how to play basketball; having a co0k-off; having the boys pretend that eggs were babies and that they had to take care of them the entire week; doing a talent show by the light of cellphone flashlights; teaching about a variety of tuff, like: goal-setting, resisting peer pressure, how to save money and budget, what is love and having healthy relationships, how to study better, how to manage stress; and doing yoga, aerobics, and step.
All of this in Kiswahili by the way.

1) This is Tanzania. This is what I do when I want to use internet: I go to the road and wait for a bus, which will inevitably be packed with 20 more people than should be on it. After about an hour and a half or two hours we arrive in town. In town there are theoretically two internet options. In actuality, there is no internet. The internet at the government office only works if 1) there is electricity (which there usually isn't),and 2) if the Japanese volunteer that keeps the internet working is there (which he often isn't), and 3) if they have paid their bill (which they usually haven't). The other internet option is outside of town and a far walk or kind-of expensive taxi ride, but they have a generator so they are (in theory) not dependent on sporadic electricity. However, most of the time there is no gas for the generator, and the place is often closed when they are supposed to be open because the people that work there don't feel like coming to work.

Lately I have been deciding it's better for my mental health if I don't even try to use the internet.

The Year In Review: Top Ten Nanganga Moments of 2009
I think the best way to sum up this year in the village is with a top ten list, of course.

10) Condom demos: Anytime I do a condom demo is hilarious, because whenever I pull out the penis model people start laughing hysterically, even if it's a group of 50 year olds, or a group of all men.
9) TOT: I did a teacher training about HIV for about 50 teachers in my area, which I was originally dreading, because I didn't have a Tanzanian counterpart helping me teach, and most of the teachers are much older than I am (so why would they want to listen to what me?), and generally expect money if they go to trainings. However, a majority of the teachers that came to my training were awesome and complimented me and the PCV helping me on doing a good job teaching, and asked a lot of questions and thanked us for doing the training.
8) Singing debut. I do not sing in public. Until I was desperate for creative teaching methods and sang a song in Swahili about STDs in front of 100 secondary school students. I don't think I will do this again. Although the students seemed to enjoy it.
7) Finding a counterpart. I was really frustrated for a really long time about not being able to find good, motivated people to work with in my village that weren't just after money. After being at site for more than a year I have finally found someone to work with that is awesome and trustworhthy. Finally.
6) Talk Sex with Doctor Laura. A lot of people in the village come to me when they have random health questions they are too embarassed to ask other people, apparently. Like when a secondary school girl came and was describing to me what I thought were symptoms of a yeast infection, but I said I wasn't sure, so she kept insisting that she show me her vagina in order for me to diagnose her. Or when a secondary school boy was asking me why people's nipples get swollen during puberty, but I wasn't entirely sure if I had understood his question so I asked him to repeat it, and he lifted up his shirt and pointed at his nipple, saying "Do you see this? Do you know what this is?"
5) My three-year old bestie using my courtyard as his choo. My friend Tino was hangng out at my house awhile ago, and I was in the kitchen and he was in the courtyard. After awhile I was like, "Tino, what are you doing?" "Nakunya." (Translation: I am pooping). Tino was taking a shit in the middle of my courtyard, the bathroom two feet away from him.
4) Bride price offer. There is this guy in my village that asks me to marry him pretty much every time I see him. The best was when he offered to give me 600 shillings (about 50 cents) and a palm tree to marry him. Another time I told him I couldn't marry him because I was worried about getting HIV, and his response was: "But there are condoms." Good answer. Still not marrying you though.
3) Birthing five kittens. I had never witnessed anything give birth before, until my cat had kittens in september. Apparently she didn't know what she was doing either, because she wouldn't chew off the umbilical cords and was dragging the kittens around in the dirt and not licking them off. Luckily, a PCV friend who knows about animals served as a birth attendant via text message, so after a lot of running back and forth between the courtyard, where the cat was giving birth, and my front door, the only place i get phone service in my house, I cut the cords with dental floss and all of the kittens survived.
2) Peer education skits. My peer educator group is ridiculous, to say the least. I wanted them to come up with skits teaching about HIV/AIDS. In one skit they wanted to teach about condoms. To do so they wanted to strap the wooden penis to the male lead in the skit and use it to show how to use a condom in the scene before he and the female lead are going to have sex. They were then supposed to perform this skit for the prime minister when he came to my village, but this (fortunately?) did not happen.
1) Ridiculous dance party at the secondary school. The teachers at the secondary school where I live had a party awhile ago for one of the teachers who was recently married. This was a typical tanzanian party, in which everyone sits at different tables eating and drinking soda in silence. Then they cranked up the music and danced for about three hours. I had never seen any of the teachers dance until this moment, and I could barely keep from cracking up the entire time. One of the teachers did the running man the entire night. One of them swayed awkwardly back and forth by himself in a corner. One of them did this weird gorilla-like walk the entire time. One of them looked like he was pretending to ride a bucking bronco at a rodeo. My favorite part was when they made the guest of honor and his wife leave, and then everyone else stayed and continued dancing for another hour.