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.


  1. Laura,

    I have been wondering where you were since I check the sight from time to time. It is good to hear from you. All is well here. I hope you have a Happy New Year.


  2. Hi,
    Just found your blog and found it thoroughly entertaining and insightful. I spent 32 months in Masasi as a VSO in the early 90's and can endorse many of your frustrations and appreciation of the place and most of it's people.
    kwaheri, Alistair