Sunday, August 18, 2013

Winter in Dodoma

(Written July 2013)

Hello Winter!
In the thick of dry season here, which means lots of dust, cold and wind. I’m still a fan of the cold weather but the rest of this season I could do without. Availability of water is getting progressively scarcer as our water source, which is a natural spring in the mountains, dries up. The dust is quite intense. Everything in my house is constantly covered in a thin layer of red dirt, including me. Enough about the weather though…

Couple significant things in my life – electricity and a new bike! Yup, the long anticipated electricity is finally here, and it was worth the wait. Electricity is awesome. I feel like a much more productive person now, although it also comes with its distractions… such as the ability to watch tv shows and movies until late into the night… But it also means that I can write fun blog posts like this. Also a surprising large amount of my Peace Corps work requires a computer, so it’s nice to be able to work on that stuff in the village when I have the most free time instead of when I’m in town. So yeah, don’t feel too bad for me out here, I’d say I’m living pretty comfortably these days. If I could only find more water and maybe some western food, life would be grand. But then that would kind of defeat the point of being here…

Having a bike is nice now too. Just biked into town and back today, so I’m feeling pretty productive. Although the road right now is more like a sand pit, so that made riding a bit difficult, but I think I’ll probably get the hang of it eventually. My Tanzanian friend in town was nice enough to bike back with me most of the way to the village and gave me pointers on how to bike in sand. Going to town is mostly downhill and I made it less than 30 min, but getting back is a bit tricky, so it was nice to have company for that part.

Let’s see, what have I been up to the past month or so… Well last month I took a little vacation and went to the island of Pemba to get scuba certified. There’s a great little beach resort on the island that gives volunteers a really good discount, so it was too good a deal to pass up. Turns out the coral reefs off the island are some of the best preserved reefs in the world, so that was pretty amazing to see. I’m pretty sure I saw every sea creature in Finding Nemo. And I have a new fascination with nudibranches. There were also the best tide pools I’ve ever checked out. Stay tuned for pictures to come! Now that I’m scuba certified I’m looking into other dive sites around Tanzania. I hear there’s a good spot to dive with whale sharks, but I’ve got a little phobia to get over before I agree to do that…

In village news…
I actually had a bit of a downer week recently. The day after I got back from my vacation my mama’s brother died in Dar es Salaam where he was living. He’s actually the same brother I wrote about in my last post who came to the village to sacrifice a sheep to ask for help from the deceased. I don’t know what trouble he had gotten into before, but his family says it wasn’t health related and they thought he was in good health. There was a dengue fever outbreak in Dar es Salaam a couple of weeks ago though and it sounds like that might have been what he died from. The symptoms are similar to malaria but more extreme, and unlike malaria there is no medicine to treat it. From what I’ve heard people who get it just have to try and get past the pain and wait for it to pass. His death was a major shock to the family and my mama is just now getting back to her normal routine. Since I’m really close to her family I spent the whole week helping out at the house and helping them get ready for the funeral. It took a couple of days for the family to raise enough money to transport the body to the village from Dar, so in the meantime I just tried to be as helpful as I could, cleaning the house, helping with the cooking and just being there for my mama. In one respects it was nice to see how the village really comes together after a death. There is a village group that comes over to the family of the deceased house and cooks all the meals on the day of the funeral so that that’s at least one thing the family doesn’t have to worry about. Extended family, neighbors and friends also spent every day leading up to the funeral at the house helping out and just providing support. It’s common and usually expected that most will also sleep at the house the night before the funeral. The women wear two kangas to cover themselves to show respect, and so I did the same. I’ve been to quite a few funerals in the village since moving here because it’s expected that all villagers will at least make an effort to go to a funeral if its in the village and if you are in anyway related to the family it’s definitely expected that you show up. This is the first funeral I’ve been to though where I actually knew the person who died and knew the family well. My mama’s family was very welcoming to me though and considered me as part of the family. As tough as it was, it was nice to see the whole family come together and help support each other through this. I also gained some street cred with my ability to cook Tanzanian food and prepare vegetables the Tanzanian way for a huge group of people.
            That’s pretty much it for my June and July updates… Stay tuned for August update coming up soon!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tales from the Village

Finally another blog update! To help sum up what I’ve been up to the past couple of months I thought I’d just write down some of the highlights. After I got back from training its been mostly village life for me. The biggest challenge is trying to keep myself busy. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow though, and a lot can change in one day here… or it can be exactly the same as yesterday…

It’s weird to be on opposite hemisphere and to be technically going into winter. Here it’s called the dry season though, and the villagers keep telling me that the rain is definitely over and we wont see another drop until November. This will be interesting… The rains weren’t very big this year and everyone is complaining about the crops not doing well and not harvesting enough food. That’s probably going to be a big problem in a couple of months since people rely on what they harvest to feed their families, and they’ll probably run out earlier this year. Corn and peanuts have all been harvested and people are starting now on harvesting the sunflowers and njugu (like chickpeas?). Sunflowers are one of the major cash crops here. People sell them to be made into sunflower oil, which is the preferred cooking oil here, so they usually get a good price for them. Still trying to figure out how all that works though.

Dry season also means that it’s getting colder though, which I wasn’t expecting. Its by no means New England winter cold, but I’ve brought out a light fleece and its nice to not be sweating constantly anymore. It makes bathing harder though – I have to heat up my water now, which can be logistically challenging.

Here’s an interesting glimpse of African tribal beliefs. The other week my mama’s older brother came to visit from the big city. He called ahead of time to say that he was coming and asked my mama to find a sheep and that he’ll explain later. So she asks around for a couple of days and finds a sheep to buy in one of the neighboring villages. Sheep aren’t that common here, and are only used for their meat, which not that many people seem to like to eat. The next day the brother arrives and explains that he has a problem and this apparently is his solution to fixing whatever isn’t going right for him right now. I’m told all this second hand, so I don’t really know what exactly his situation is, but I’m told that to get help he wants the whole family to go out to the father’s grave site to ask for help. According to local tribal beliefs, if someone gets into trouble, one solution is to go ask for help from a family member who has died. To do this, the family goes to the family member’s grave with the person who has a problem and slaughters a sheep. The idea is that the soul of the sheep is a sacrifice to the deceased family member who then will help the person in trouble. Or something like that. Then they all sit around the gravesite eating the sheep. It has to be consumed at the grave site and can’t be brought back. I didn’t quite understand all that was going on, and when I asked different people about it I was given quick explanations as if it should be obvious the workings of the souls of various animals and deceased people. There did seem to be an interesting division though between those that still believe in tribal beliefs and those that consider themselves Christian. The people of my village are mostly Christian, but it seems that some still have held on to tribal beliefs as well. According to others though they see this mixing of Christianity and tribal beliefs as immoral and against the wishes of God. I think because of this people don’t really talk openly of tribal beliefs. Even when I was asking people questions about it they would only talk to me about it if we were alone where other people couldn’t hear us, as if it was a big secret. Still trying to read the facial cues and other non-verbal communication to understand better what people are trying to convey. A lot of what people convey here isn’t obvious in their words, so I’ve found I get a lot more out of people if I understand the non-verbal cues they’re communicating.

Another fun story – one of the first days back in the village after I was away for a while, there was a Student Teacher good-bye party at the primary school near my house. Formal parties here are a big deal, especially in the village where they like to go all out. At the last minute before the party was supposed to start the headmaster for the primary school heard that I was back in the village and immediately invited me as one of the guests of honor. Since my mama was also going to be one of the guests of honor and was part of the reason I got the invitation, I felt compelled to go, even though I had no idea really what the party was about. When we got there they had a generator with a huge speaker and a mic. There were about 6 of us as “guests of honor” that sat behind a decorated table with sodas and bottled water, while the student teachers sat to one side of the room and the other teachers and people involved with the school sat on another side. We were then entertained with various groups of school children coming in doing a song and dance for the student teachers, saying they would miss them and good-bye, in Swahili and some broken English. After a couple of speeches by the other guests of honor, most of which I didn’t understand, they asked me to say a few words to the student teachers. I was still pretty clueless and only knew that the student teachers were going back to the teaching school to finish their exams then they would be assigned schools to go teach permanently. The only thing I could think of to say was congratulations. I would of said something like good luck too, but I hadn’t heard Tanzanians saying that phrase so I wasn’t sure if that would make sense to them. They usually say something about god bless and god will show the way, but I couldn’t think of something like that to say at the time. So I awkwardly stood there looking at the guy with the mic, just saying uh, Hongera (Congratulations)? They all laughed a little and let me sit down again. Then we got a sweet meal of pilau (spiced rice) and various meat, probably fanciest food I’ve eaten in the village. After that was the dance party, where I was dragged to join in on the Tanzanian version of the conga. Then people were just doing freestyle dancing, and several of the student teachers came up to me asking to dance with me, with the sole purpose of getting their picture taken dancing with me. Especially the guy teachers. The girl teachers came up to me acting like we were best friends, wanting their picture giving me a big hug. When they had their big group photo I was then called up again to be in the middle of their picture. So awkward. But at least it was pretty amusing. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the celebrity status I get, totally against my personality where I’d much rather blend in large crowds. Still working on accepting that I’ll never blend in here and I might as well just embrace it.

Last fun tidbit – some kids came to my house the other day trying to sell me a hedgehog. I asked them where they got it and they said out in the forest/wilderness area. I didn’t even know hedgehogs lived here! Since pets aren’t really a thing people have here, except for protection and mice hunting (neither of which a hedgehog would be good at, I assume) I tried to ask what people do with hedgehogs here, but I was just given blank stares. I was really tempted to buy it, I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a pet hedgehog, but I don’t know anything about how they lived and the last thing I need is to have to look after this thing. It was pretty cute though. So I turned the boys down and left them grudgingly walking away with their new friend.

I think that’s enough for now. Hope you’ve enjoyed it!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pictures... Finally!

Finally got enough internet time to upload pictures. Here's the links for the photo album for the first 3 months in Tanzania and one from the holidays. Enjoy!

Pre-Service Training Album

Holiday pictures

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Another milestone passed

Already its time for my last training to get ready for working on projects in the village. The past 3 months have gone by so fast. Life in the village is going well. Lots of stories which I will try and get better at writing down in the future. But mostly I've spent the past couple of months settling into my village and getting to know the area/people.

One major update that will probably help my presence online is the edition of ELECTRICITY in the village. I didn't think I'd be so excited about getting daily access to electricity, but now that it's becoming a reality I've decided to take full advantage of it. I always thought electricity was one of those things I was just going to have to give up for the next couple of years, and I was completely fine about that. I have been in country for about 6 months by now and most of that time has been spent living without access to electricity, which has actually been quite enjoyable and I've adjusted accordingly. But now all of a sudden the power company has chosen my village as one of the villages in the country to be eligible for a special promotion offering to hook up houses to the power lines for an extremely low rate. Best of all its courtesy of a U.S. development program. Because of this the village government asked me to help finance the installation of all the necessary wiring within the house and they offered to pay the rest. My house is technically owned by the village, and since the promotion is only good for the next couple of months, they were worried if they didn't hook up the house with electricity now they wouldn't be able to afford to do it in the future. So now my house has got outlets and light sockets... (even in the outside bathroom!) and now I'm just waiting for the power company to come and connect the house to the power lines. Don't think I'll be totally spoiled now though. I'm still living on a budget and I can't afford to get a fridge or tv or anything like that. But it'll be nice to have some more light at night and be able to charge things more easily. Which possibly means more updates to the blog!

Overall though I'm hopeful that the availability of electricity will help give more opportunities to people in the village to possibly take on small businesses and help them get more income instead of relying on just what they harvest. We'll see what direction they take though... Already the first few villagers with electricity have used the opportunity to invest in rather nice speaker systems so that music can be blasted for the better part of the day... Starting at 7 am... I'm hoping this novelty will wear off once they see how fast they're going through their electricity credit.

In other news, as I said earlier I'm starting my last training before I get started on actual projects, which means I've finished my report of the village, which has been what all of my work has revolved around the past couple of months. To get the information I needed for the report I got to visit all of the sub-villages in my community, talk with lots of families, and I even tried a bit of farming. Turns out using an ox powered plow is significantly harder than driving a tractor. I think I did more harm than good by "helping" my friend plant peanuts and sunflowers. Although after a couple of tries I got the hang of scattering peanuts in a straight line while speed walking ahead of a pair of ox and hoping they don't catch up with me. If those peanuts don't grow well though I fully plan on denying any involvement in their planting... Or just say it must have been the bad weather, which is probably a real reality this year...

Excited for a change of pace and looking forward to learning how to actually create projects in the village. Also the mama that's been helping me out a lot is coming next week as my counterpart to learn about how we can effectively work together to get stuff done. Should be a good time.

That's all I've got for now, until next time!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

1 Month mark!

It's officially been over a month at site now. First off, I've got a new address so for those of you who would like to send me mail, my new address is this:

Alison Nord
Box 34
Mpwapwa, Dodoma, Tanzania

Email is also easier for me to check than fb, so feel free to send me emails as well!

Life is going well in the village. Spent Christmas and New Year's in the village, which turned out to be nice and relaxing. I've also eaten those most meat I think I've ever eaten before in my life in the village, but hey when your new family slaughter's a goat to celebrate the New Year you can't say no. Spending my time learning about the village and meeting new people - I've even been given a new tribal name (Matika) which makes people happy. The name means one who was born during the time people are eating a lot of corn, which I'm assuming has something to do with the harvest season. Right now it's the rainy season though and people are busy farming. It hasn't rained in a week though and the water pump is out again, so ironically water is still a problem now. I spend most of my time with a mama here who has taken me in as one of her own daughters. She also appreciates my dancing and one of my new past times is walking down the main road dancing to Shakira's Waka waka that my mama plays on her phone. People are going to stare at me anyways, might as well give them a show.

That's all for now, sorry about no pictures, hard to upload...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Training Wrap Up

Here's a post I wrote awhile ago write before I swore in and became an official Peace Corps Volunteer. I was never able to post it during the time I wrote it, but better late than never! In the process of uploading photos now, so hopefully I'll be able to share them with you all soon!

Written December 10, 2012

So training is officially over now. It’s surreal to be back in Dar staying at the same place we stayed at 2 months ago when we first landed in country. It feels like no time at all has passed since I was last here, but at the same time I feel like a different person. I’m definitely more comfortable, and my Kiswahili is obviously much better, which makes a world of a difference.
            The last time I wrote I was just about to go to my house in Dodoma. A bit of an update on that: turns out the picture I was given for my house ended up being the neighbor’s chicken coop… So no hobbit hole for me! A bit bummed about that, but my house is much nicer than I thought, which is a plus. I’ve got a lovely walled in courtyard, and the volunteer before me left a lot of furniture, which is a relief. Not sure how I would even buy and transport furniture to my house… When I visited my neighbors were super nice and helped me out a lot, and one of them is my age and knows some English! They made me feel a lot more at home and I’m not as anxious about moving in now that I know some people. Even though training is over, I’m really heading into another sort of training since these first 3 months at site I’m only supposed to be observing the village and writing up a report that is essentially a comprehensive survey of the village, which should help me figure out what projects to start on. It’s nice to know that these next couple of months I’m not expected to start any projects right away and that I have the time to get to know the dynamics of the village. Time is not something development volunteers are always given – especially when working in a foreign country.
            I’ll hopefully be posting pictures soon, so stayed tuned for those! I can’t wait to share with you all the beautiful landscapes of the places I’ve been here! Tanga region was very tropical, not at all what I expected Africa would be like, and so fertile! We are leaving just at the start of mango season, which is a bummer, but I was able to make plenty of mangoes right before leaving. We were there for orange season though, which was also rewarding. The oranges here though aren’t orange on the outside, they’re green, even when ripe! Still not sure how you tell when they are ripe… Luckily I’ve discovered that if you want fruit you just become friends with the nearest neighbor child, who is most likely an expert at climbing up trees to find the ripest fruits. My siblings in homestay, who were 6, gave me fruit countless times that they had gotten from the trees just around our house. Going to miss all the fruit in Tanga, not so much the situation in Dodoma. At least Dodoma is wine country, so I’m excited for that.
            I’m looking forward to the independence of living on my own, although saying good bye to my family the other day was difficult. I’m definitely going to miss them, especially since my Kiswahili was getting better and I was actually able to have real conversations with them. Transitions are always hard, but I keep meeting amazingly friendly, helpful people here, so I’m not as nervous as I thought I would be moving into my site. It’s going to be difficult for sure, but it feels good to have completed training and feel slightly accomplished.