Monday, February 1, 2010

Last Week’s Menu

A lot of people ask me what it is exactly I do over here as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Some even have the guts to ask what my daily routine is.  When faced with this question point blank, I never know what to say, because each day is so different and affected by the most random events, and then at the end of a week, everything has somehow blurred together.  But not this time.  I decided to write down everything that I did last week, from Monday to Sunday. I’ll try to do this more often, seeing as the Meeshloaf I served up in 2009 was barely enough to satisfy a cockroach.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Leave Mbeya town at 10am, arrive in Ilembo at 4pm after waiting in Mbalizi for a lorie truck to leave for a few hours. Luckily I was able to buy some kersone at wholesale cost before I left…5 liters for around 5000 shillings, this should fulfill my lantern and cooking needs for at least a month. I also travel in style with a debe of dagaa (large bucket full of dried fish so I can feed my dog, Raha). So things are smelling pretty good in the truck.  After getting into Ilembo I drop my bags off at Mbinde’s duka and go straight to a meeting with the OVC Committee to schedule the distribution of blankets, soap, notebooks, and school uniforms that will be given out in the next couple of weeks to about 100 of the most vulnerable children living in Ilembo, thanks to a grant approved by the Mary Ryan Foundation! ( The minutes were read from the last meeting and we go over the budget for building the out of school youth center, where there will be classrooms big enough to hold double the amount of students that are presently enrolled in the vocational program of sewing, carpentry, and masonry. The foundation has already been dug, and next Monday a trip has been planned for the chairman and the treasurer to go to town to purchase cement and to withdraw money from the account in order to pay for all of the bricks that will be used in building the classrooms. The meeting finishes at about 7pm, just when the heavy rain starts.  Luckily I intercept Skittles on the main road, who has my dog and an umbrella.  He and his friend walk me home and help carry my stuff.  It’s getting dark, so I light a candle and Skittles notices the Toy Story 100 piece puzzle on my table, and has no idea what it is.  So he starts working on the puzzle as I help explain that he should start with the outside border pieces first.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t think that this will really end up looking like the picture on the box of buzz lightyear, woody, the potato heads, and various aliens.  But he gives it a shot anyway (see pic)

DSC02997 and with a lot of determination is able to complete the frame.  I’m exhausted so I tell them I’m going to sleep and thank them for helping me get back in the rain.  I do a little work on my new netbook (I love this thing!!!) typing up a completion report for about an hour since I’m trying to close out the World AIDS Week Grant. About 10pm, I go to sleep.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wake up around 7, feed the dog, light the charcoal jiko so I can try out the coffee percolator that my sister Christy’s husband, Martin gave me.  I now have espresso, this is awesome!! I’m going to need some caffeine to get through today. espressoWalk up the giant hill towards the market, greet everyone I see with the local “Mwagona!” “Heyaaaah”

As you might remember, everyone here calls me Shali, it’s a name that’s very popular with the Umalila ladies, so they decided to give it to me because Michelle sounds too much like Mchele, which means dry rice, and Meesh was just not cool enough for them.  So as I’m walking up to meet with the OVC Committee for our first day of Most Vulnerable Children needs distribution visits, I hear “shali!!” “weh, shali, we!” (which means you, shali, you!) and literally shake everyone’s hand.  I stop by the Duka la Maziwa (the Milk Shop), and greet Joseph, the milkman, who is always smiling and happy to see Raha and I.  I grab a quick cup of maziwa mgando, which is almost like yogurt but more like some sour milk, but it tastes pretty good.  Then I continue walking on up the hill until I get to the sewing classroom, which is doubling as storage for all of the blankets, soap, notebooks, pens and uniforms we’ll be giving out.  Of course, Lorenci, my besti, is there on time at 10am.  I’ve mentioned him before..he’s 14, and orphan, is living with AIDS that he contracted from his mother at some point during the pregnancy, delivery, or while breastfeeding, and he’s a sewing student in the out of school youth vocational program.  And he’s just plain awesome.   lorenci The rest of the OVC Committee trickles in, and there’s about 5 of us that will go house to house delivering the goods today.  Our goal is to visit all the families of two subvillages, Mazigura and Madukani, about 35 kids in all.  These children were identified by the OVC Committee as living in a dangerous environment, and so we are trying to provide the basic items that these kids are unable to provide for themselves.  Most of them are living with the mother after the father had passed away, or living with elderly grandparents or aunts and uncles.  The living conditions were even worse than I had expected with certain families, but what we’re trying to do is provide them with materials that can keep them clean, warm, and supplies and clothes so that they can attend Primary School.  Primary school is free, but you need to have a uniform, shoes, notebooks and pens.  Some of these children had to drop out of school because they couldn’t afford these items.  The Mary Ryan Foundation has purchased Primary School Uniforms that were made by the out of school youth sewing students to give to those most in need; thereby helping the recipients and allowing the students to continue on with their program.  Other members of the community are also purchasing the uniforms, because they are offering them at a lower cost.  It’s kind of like a beauty school..same service, lower cost, because they’re still learning.  Only you never have to worry about the sewing students permanently ruining your hair.  After about 2 hours it starts to downpour, so all five of us hang out by the fire in the jikoni (kitchen, or place of the jiko) of one family’s house who we’ve just visited.  At about 1pm, we continue on the slippery sidepaths of Ilembo, and at one point I do a full on banana peel slip and fall right onto my ass.  Everyone laughs, including me, and I slowly get up and wipe all the mud off of me. This was one of my favorite kids who we visited. Evodi Mwile is in first grade, and is holding soap and looking at his very own new notebooks and pens that he’ll be able to use in school.   boy lookin at notebook The orange rectangular sticks in these pictures are all soap, and the clear plastic wrapped items are blankets.  You can see in Evodi’s eyes how genuinely happy he is to have his own school supplies, and you can also see by his unwashed clothes that he was in dire need of soap as well.  All in all, we visited 34 kids in the two subvillages today.  After we did the home visits we had a meeting with the sewing and carpentry teachers to discuss goals for this new term and for the treasurer to meet with the teachers to talk about purchasing supplies for the school, like oil for the  DSC03019


machines and more thread.  After meeting with the teachers and students, I get home around 5pm and my friend Moshi, the clinical officer at the health center, comes over to hang out.  We’re going to be doing a seminar on STDs and HIV/AIDS this Thursday.  We did one last Thursday too, hopefully we can keep doing one per week.  I then make some mac n cheese that I had gotten from the US, along with some crystal light pink lemonade, and watch Mighty Ducks 1 and 2 on my computer…I can’t believe how long the battery lasts!  Also can’t believe how ridiculous the Mighty Ducks movies are… Wolf “The Dentist” Stansson, Charlie Conway’s innocence, and Coach Gordon Bombay’s dynamic character development.  I drift to sleep dreaming of the flying V..

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

8am- Meet with OVC committee to start day 2 of home visits.  We have to start early because there are 3 funerals today.  We arrive at the subvillage of Igwila and find conditions are worse here than the other two  yesterday.  It’s more isolated and farther from the road and market.  One family in particiular, the Zyolas, really needs immediate attention.  Enita Zyola should be in third grade, but dropped out of school because her mother could not afford to send her and her older sister at the same time. Her clothes are torn and she wears no shoes.  She’s taking care of her younger sister, Jenifa, while her mother travels to a nearby village to visit a relative.  Their father passed away several years ago. She will be able to return to school now because of the support of MRF and the work of the OVC Committee.  The Zyolas are a top priority for the OVC committee, and when they do corn and bean distribution, they will be first on the list.  Today, at least, each of the three children will have their own blanket which will hopefully keep them warm.  They will also have soap so they can wash themselves and their clothes.  DSC03104 -->Enita We visit 12 more kids before noon, with the rock solid mamas balancing everything on their heads as we hike up and down the slippery hills of Ilembo. 

I return home around noon, and Asia Pachanga, a former secondary school Form I student who got pregnant last year and was kicked out of school, comes over with her newborn baby, Joseph.  She said she named him Joseph because that’s my father’s name.  I guess he made quite an impression on his visit over here! He was born on Christmas day, and when she came over last week my new PCV neighbor Adrienne was visiting and we sewed socks for Joseph, and Asia decorate a Christmas stocking with Joseph’s name and birth date with supplies sent by Dos and Matt in a Christmas package.  DSC02953   DSC02951

So Asia, a 16 year old orphan and new mother, comes over to play Mastermind (she loves this game and is really good at it), but then notices the Toy Story puzzle started by Skittles and decides to have a crack at it.  Asia is one of the most gifted students I’ve seen in Ilembo, but this whole jigsaw puzzle thing is new to her and so I give her a few hints.  Within a half hour, the puzzle is completed.  Asia tells me one of the funerals is for a girl a know, a third grade student who used to come play at my house.  I ask her to take me to her house so I can pay my respects to the family.

1pm – Go to the funeral of 9 year old Mage Baraka..She died suddenly last night for unknown reasons.  She had gone to school on Monday and Tuesday morning, then started to feel ill on Tuesday evening.  Her parents took her to the Health Center that night, but they said she would need to go to Mbeya town to the Referral Hospital.  They tried to find a ride, but her condition had worsened and they were unable to find transport so late at night.  At 5am, she passed away. The funeral, as most Tanzanian funerals are, was intense and incredibly sad.  First, we went to the house where all the women are wearing khangas and the men are standing outside.  The family is inside the kitchen by the fire with the body inside the open coffin.  People come in and cry out, scream, and mourn while saying their goodbyes to Mage.  Then the body is carried in the freshly constructed wooden coffin, and everyone RUNS to the burial site.  The villagers have been working hard this morning to make 3 coffins and dig 3 graves. Mage’s grave is set in a beautiful grove of banana trees, bamboo, and eucalyptus trees.  There is heavy thunder in the distance but the rain is miraculously holding out.  I started crying as the priest was speaking, not because of the words he was saying but because Mage’s mother and sister were crying so loudly they were screaming.  All the women are sitting on the ground with their legs straight out, while the men all stand crowded around the grave.  The coffin sits upon the mound of freshly dug up earth, and the priest stands next to it.  Typical of any Tanzanian event, there is even laughter coming from the men near the grave while the mother and sister and other relatives are wailing.  Tanzanians find it apprpriate to laugh even at the most somber times.  A few words are said about Mage, but what is most upsetting to me are watching her fellow students, all in uniform, squeezing into the crowd between the mamas and the babas.  I’ve seen primary students squished into so many audiences, but it was heartbreaking to see them do it at a funeral for one of their peers.  After the burial, which also included village announcements such as “Will whoever is stealing the corn please stop stealing the corn”, and “For those who haven’t yet contributed to the subvillage funeral committee please do so now”, gifts were laid on a khanga that is placed on top of the grave.  Some of the gifts were sugar, salt and 7,500 shillings in cash that had been collected on a shovel for Mage’s family.  From the burial site we return to Mage’s home, where dozens of mamas have been preparing Kande, the traditional funeral food.  It’s a pasty mixture of corn, ugali, and a few beans.  We all wash our hands and then dig into the communal bowls that are placed around the perimeter outside.  The kande burns my fingers but I continue to eat it so that I won’t be made fun of for not being immune to boiling temperatures on my skin.  Even when I eat thekande, the hot paste remains on my hands and I have to lick it off for the burning to stop.  Everyone asks me if I’ve eaten Kande yet, and laugh when I answer “yes, of course!”  I go to offer my condolences to Mage’s family.  The women are all sitting in the kitchen on grass mats on the floor.  Outside, the hundred or so women continue to talk and eat kande.  The howling sounds of mourning rise and subside with each new visitor who goes in to console the family. 

I’ve been to many funerals in Ilembo before, but I hadn’t gone to one in a while and I had forgotten how comforting the sense of community is at an event like this.  Even more so than Anna’s funeral almost a year and a half ago, because now I actually could look around and see people I know and care about, not just faces in the crowd.  There was a calmness over everyone sitting in that grove, and I felt the grief that is the loss of a child from your community.  A child here is everyone’s child.  Mage used to come play at my house with a dozen other kids her age, and even though I never got to know her extremely well, I see her in every one of the smiling faces of the kids who continue to come and draw or color in books at my home.  I see many women from the widows group at the funeral, and they inform me that we will meet at 4pm at Mama Tuya’s house –the usual.  I go home and still feel very sad and exhausted and start to get a nasty headache, so I decide to take a 45 minute power nap. After debating staying in bed, at 4 I head up to Mama Tuya’s which is on the complete opposite side of Ilembo from me.  When i get there, I find that the rest of the mamas are tired and in the same mood as I am, and a few are resting inside.  I bring the rest of the money from the previous month’s apron sales, and they are excited because they will be able to buy pigs for their new pig project.  I have also brought the pattern for the toddler’s wrap around dress, and the widows immediately jump at the opportunity to learn a new design.  I suggest using two different kitenge patterns so that the dress can be reversible.  A two year old girl, Maria, is at the house and it’s decided she’ll be our model.  The mamas get busy tracing, cutting and sewing, and then the dress is put on Maria, who toddles around and looks adorable.  The widows are all laughing, because they’ve never seen a dress like this and are excited to have gotten a new pattern and a new project idea.  I get back home around 7, after buying an avocado and peanuts at the market.  I feed Raha and make some more crystal light.  Realize that I’m exhausted after the past two emotionally draining days.  Fire up the charcoal jiko, boil some water then decide to bake cinnamon rolls.  It takes about 2 hours, but it’s worth the work and cinn rollswait.  I listen to some mix CDs on my cvs Jensen CD player and speakers, and sit and enjoy my slightly undercooked rolls. I save half the dough so I can bake them again tomorrow.  This is the second time I’ve made them and I’m feeling more comfortable with the recipe.  I doze off to sleep after reading essays from David Sedaris’ “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” that Shan sent with Linc and Kirsten when they came to visit, and read until the candle melts down. 

 Thursday, January 28, 2010

7am: Wake up and feed Raha.  It’s cold and rainy and I want to go back to sleep.  A teaching from the sewing schools comes by at 7:30 to greet me.  After that, I finish the Sedaris book, appropriately finishing with his essays about finding silly English phrases in Japan, such as “Eye Rash Tint” which is relatable due to the similar ridiculous ones that you can find in Tanzania with the common R and L mixups.  I’m waiting for Mama Nulu to come help with washing clothes, she was supposed to be here at 8.  I talk to my friend Greta on the phone who is in Iringa teaching at a Peace Corps training for the first year health and environment volunteers.  I start to clean up the house, and Mama Nulu comes at 10am, just when I’m planning on leaving for the Village Council meeting.  I hang around a bit and just give Mama Nulu my clothes to wash at her house and she can bring them buy tomorrow.  She does such a better job at washing clothes by hand than I do, and it’s been nice having her help.  Cheri and Richard Romano gave me some money when I came back for Christmas, and I’m using it to help Mama Nulu and her daughter go to Dar so that Nulu can get surgery on her hand.  After a severe burn incident in July in which her entire hand and back caught on fire when she stood too close to the fire in the kitchen, her hand became severly disfigured.  I took them to the hospital in September to get it looked at again and they said unless she got surgery to correct the bone disfiguration her fingers would grow backwards and she’d most likely have to get her arm amputated.  Nulu is only 3, so if she goes to Muhimbili Hospital in Dar she can get free treatment, but the cost of getting there and food during the stay is what makes this trip impossible without some help.  So in exchange for the money Mama Nulu is helping me around the house; which works out well for everyone.  My laundry frequency is now up to once a week as opposed to once every two months.  DSCN4768

I walk up the hill with Mama Nulu and Nulu (pictured—>) and head to the Village Council meeting with the purpose of talking about the water situation in Ilembo. And that’s where I am now as I’m writing this by hand.  It’s after 12 and everyone is still rambling on about various village issues, mostly in Kimalila (local language).  There are the issues of farm thefts, secondary school classroom building, etc.. It’s a good time to write, because everyone thinks I’m taking notes but really I’m half listening because this meeting goes on forever.  The reason I’m here is because I met with the District Water Engineer and other water engineers when I was in town last weekend, and was able to get a map of the water stations that were built in the early 1980’s in Ilembo by the government.  All of them stopped working in the mid 1990’s and were built without any coordinator or consideration of the villagers. The pumps are reliant on a water tank and pump that is powered by a diesel generator.  Now, over twenty years later, the population has grown exponentially and none of these water stations are functioning.  Everyone gets their water from the rivers.  4000 people getting water from the river means it’s not clean or reliable.  So I got th engineer to come out here and talk to the Village Council.  He advised them to start a proper water committee and open an account and collect donations from the village.  Ilembo wants water from the mountain which is propelled by gravity.  The District engineers have already tested Ilembo and four other villages for the gravity water project.  The biggest obstacle towards completing the project is the lack of communication between the water committee and the district engineers.  So I’m trying to improve that communication and encouraging the Ilembo Water Committee to take initiative and be prepared. 

12:45pm..they’re still talking about problems with building the secondary school classrooms.  Raha is laying down in the middle of the room and providing comic relief to everyone since most dogs are aggressive and afraid of people, while Raha just hangs out and licks everyone.  i hope this meeting starts to move along, because I’m doing a training later with my all star counterpart Nahasibu.  We did one last Thursday on Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV. I paid for a liter of petrol to run the village councillor’s generator.  He has a beer hall that at night shows soccer games for paying customers, but now on Thursdays is a health education venue that shows educational videos and we facilitate discussions.  It’s a ghetto VHS player and TV but it gets the job done.  Moshi, the clinical officer, was able to answer a lot of questions about the biology of HIV/AIDS and how ARV therapy works.  The participants asked great questions and we ended up having about a 3 hour discussion about risk behavior and how we can avoid putting ourselves at risk to STIs and HIV.  Secondary school students, the widows group, out of school youth, teachers, and many other vilagers all attended.  There were about 70 people.  I think the videos are boring but since no one here ever gets to see anything on TV, they LOVE it!  It’s a relief to be able to show a movie and to have a counterpart who speaks the tribal language, because then the barriers of communication are broken down and  I’m sure that people have understood.  

2pm- Do my part in the meeting and then head out to make advertisements about today’s seminar.  We’ll be doing male and female condom demonstrations on the wooden penis model and Nahasibu himself constructed.  Go to buy petrol for generator. On way I pass the Baptist church and see an mzungu, an Austrian woman named Gitte who works with SIL, translating the Bible and other literature into Kimalila.  They’re doing a seminar at the church today at tomorrow, so I invite Gitte, her husband Thomas and a British women, Jo, over to my house for dinner.

3pm- Wait for people to show up. Since I advertised it to start at 3 I expect that the majority of people will show up between 4:30 and 5.  This is the Tanzanian way.  In the meantime, Nahasibu is drawing on the flip chart pictures and instructions of how to use a male condom. 

4:30pm- Majority of people have arrived, and we talk again about the types of STIs and their symptoms, and then we go back to prevention.  Nahasibu demonstrates putting a condom on the penis model and then we get volunteers to come up and do it.  Uzia, one of the girls who attended the girl’s empowerment conference last year and is a peer educator, came up and did it, teaching as she went.  DSC03146 DSC03140

After several hours of condoms and family planning education, we have to finish at 7pm because the Diwani Patrick, owner of the beer hall, has arrived and they need to turn on the soccer match.  So we all vow to try to show up earlier next week so that we can watch the video about a widow and her family who lose all their property because the husband didn’t write a will and so his family came after the mourning period and kicked the wife and her children out.  This happens a lot here, so we’re trying to get people to do living wills to try to prevent the loss of farms and homes with widow headed households. 

7:15- Go to the market and buy a kilo of flour and 4 avocados so I can make tortillas and guacamole for my SIL Bible Translating friends.  I also still have that leftover cinnamon roll dough so we should be good.  I thought the Tanzanian staff were coming too so I bought soda.  Turns out they already had ordered food so the soda went untouched at my house.  Thomas, Gitte and Jo were really interesting people and it was fun hosting guests for dinner in my home.  They had brought some soups in packets so we had that and then enjoyed the guac and tortillas.  They had never seen an oven made with on a charcoal jiko so I think they were shocked when the cinnamon rolls came out and tasted delicious.  All in all, I was coming off as a pretty good host.  As long as they didn’t need to use my bathroom, I was in good shape. They left at 10pm, and I went straight to sleep.

Friday, January 29, 2010

7am- Stephano, the chairperson of th OVC Committee, comes over and I help him organize the Most Vulnerable Children data in a book we received from the ministry of health and social welfare.  It’s pretty technical and not very user friendly, so we go back to using the Child Status Index that is easier to understand.. Basically you use a rubric to assess the needs in the various sectors of a child’s life: Education, health, shelter, food, legal, etc.  He goes on his way up to the market since it’s mnada day, or the day where everrrrryone in the Umalila region comes to buy and sell and just hang out.  I tend to try to avoid the mnada days, except to run up and buy pineapples and mangoes on the cheap, because there are usually a lot of drunk people and I hate it when drunk Tanzanians scream ‘MZUNGU’ and try to grab and talk to you.  So I designated today as a house cleaning day.

8am- Mama Nulu comes over and helps me clean out the weeds from my courtyard.  During the rainy season the weeds grow to be many feet high in just a matter of a few days.  It’s crazy.  So in order to navigate through my courtyard it helps to just take a jembe and clear everything out.  It’s raining while this is going on, and I give Mama Nulu and Nulu a taste of the leftover cinnamon rolls…great success!!

9am – Nahasibu comes over to plan out tomorrow—We were invited by a PLWHA Group (People Living with HIV/AIDS) in the neighboring village of Ruanda to come and do a seminar on Saturday.  I’m really looking forward to it because Ilembo has yet to start up its own group, and I’ve worked with the group from Ruanda in the past.  They are very motivated and have done a lot to reduce stigma in their village.  Ilembo is much bigger than Ruanda and as a result people are afraid to join a group for fear of being discriminated and stigmatized.  I’m hoping that before I leave there will be a PLWHA support group established in Ilembo.  We decide we’ll leave for Ruanda at 7am tomorrow and then walk the 2 hours it takes to get there.

Rest of day – Cleaning, cooking, and organizing.  I take a hot bucket bath and then keep the charcoal going so I can boil a bunch of water and stock up on drinking water.  At least in the rainy season i can catch water in buckets outside…makes life so much easier!  I tackle cleaning the choo and outdoor area..there’s some termites that are building up castles on the wooden doors so I knock them down.  Start to organize stuff my parents had brought with them, like medicine and band aids, antibiotic ointment, throat lozenges, and other pain relief meds, because I’m going to be giving the PLWHA Group a first aid kit and training on how to use all the stuff in the kit, along with a Kiswahili translated version of Where There is No Doctor. 

7pm – Bag up all the medicines and get ready for bed. It’s been a long week and tomorrow is going to be a long day as well.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

6:30am- Wake up and get my stuff together.  I might try to hike from Ruanda to a neighboring PCV’s site in Tukuyu, so I bring my computer and other work to get done in town in case I get there.

7-8:15 – Waiting for Nahasibu to arrive.  He’s running late, so we’ll have to try to catch a lorie going towards Ruanda or else we’ll get there extremely late.

8:30- Nahasibu shows up, we start heading up the hill towards the lories.  Luckily, one is about to leave, so we hop on it and get to Ruanda within 15 minutes. 

9am-3pm: Have a great seminar with the group.  Discuss STI’s, do male and female condom demonstrations and each member of the group has to stand up and teach the rest of them.  Talk about the importance of preventing infections when living with HIV, and do a training on First Aid and Home Based Care, stressing importance of protecting oneself and others when taking care of a patient. We’re fed ugali and chicken as the rain comes down at 1:30pm, then head to an outside pavillion where a TV and vcr has been procured, and I throw a thousand shillings towards some petrol.  We show a video called “Tuvunje Ukimya” or “let’s break the silence”, which follows the lives of three health care workers who are HIV positive.  It brings up good discussions of ARVs, stigma and discrimination, and the benefits of having a support group.  There are a few really great participants in the PLWHA Group, one of them being the mama who is wearing the sweet grizzly bear sweatshirt, reminds me of our old lax assistant coach, Brian, who always wore the wolf shirts:

DSC03199  male condom demoDSC03211 watching the video outsideDSC03208 showing how to use a female condom correctly.

Overall, it was a really productive day and I’m excited to work with the group again.  They are going to come to Ilembo for one of our Thursday seminars and try to motivate HIV positive people at Counseling and Treatment Clinic to start a group.  They are a great example of people living positively with HIV/AIDS and the benefits of adhering to ARV therapy.

3pm- Stand out on the road for 5 minutes to see if I can get a ride down the back road towards Tukuyu….

3:05pm- Success! Daudi, the District Agricultural officer who came out to Ilembo to do a pig and chicken training for my groups, is in the car and there’s room.  They take me to Isangati where I then hop on the back of Lorie that goes down the mountain to Kiwira.  It takes only a couple of hours, and then I get on a dalla dalla going to Tukuyu and arrive at a new education volunteer, Andrew’s site.  There are about four of us from the nearby area and we play poker using bottle caps as chips.  We make three big pizzas and end up having a really relaxing night, complete with watching the movie Role Models on my computer.  This was a nice, light end to a pretty heavy day..But that’s the only way I can balance out stuff here. In the morning, I can be motivating a group of 15 people all living with HIV, and in the evening, I am able to unwind and play some poker.  I was glad that I was able to get a lift so late in the day. 

Sunday, January 31, 2010 (new month’s eve!)

12pm- Head to Mbeya town so I can use the internet and type up these blogs.  I’ve also got to deliver some letters to Kihumbe Group so we can do another HIV testing day in Ilembo, and hopefully in Ruanda too. 

4pm- Use the internet modem of a friend in town so I can skype for the first time on my computer!! I was able to see addy, luca and jonah playing operation and also talk to my mom and dad and to dos and matt about the possibility of them coming out here!. Although this is delaying me actually writing my blog I’m so excited to be able to see everyone on video. 

10pm- Gchatting still ( i love having this modem and electricity) and writing the blog.  I’ve gotta head back to Ilembo tomorrow but hopefully I can be productive until I leave. Meeting with the water committee tomorrow and going to be visiting more orphans and vulnerable children on Wednesday in some of the other subvillages.  The foundation for the new youth center has already been dug, and Stephano and the treasurer, Suzana Bahati, are going to town on Monday to purchase cement. The pictures of the foundation and the future site of the school are below. Thanks to everyone who has helped the Mary Ryan Foundation.  These children now have access to opportunities that they would not have been able to have without your support!!

Well, hope you enjoyed this week’s binge of Meeshloaf..I’ll try not to leave so much time between helpings. Miss and love you all!

DSC03110 DSC03111

DSC03108 foundation for the new out of school and vulnerable children youth center

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Raha & Me…eshloaf

*peace corps life with a tanzanian dog

Marley & Me book cover.jpg raha adorable

If a Tanzanian were to read a Kiswahili translated version of Marley & Me, he or she would probably think that it was a fictional tale…something that could have never happened to a human being on this earth. Maybe they would have elevated it to a story as tangible as Harry Potter, or Jurassic Park*. After being here for a year and a half and knowing the extremely different views that Tanzanians and Americans hold toward pets, one day in August, I impulsively “bought” a puppy from a neighbor in my village. (they asked for 1000 shillings for her, which is less than a dollar) When asked why I did this by some of my friends in the village, my response was simply, “cuz she’s sooooo cute!!” They usually ignored that, assuming I was joking, and skipped straight to the matter of “When she’s big and vicious, can you give her to me so she can guard my house?” This request still happens anytime someone new sees my dog with me, they ask for her, in an almost kiswahili Borat way of “how muchhhh?? i liiiikeee-a-very-muchhh!!” I’ve had my cat, Pilipili, for over a year, but never really got comfortable (aka loved) him. After he came of age and took an unannounced three week long journey to sew his seed with the entire female cat population in Ilembo, I could never look at him the same. His teeth are incredibly sharp, he’s huge, and has terrifying ninja-like moves at night that scare the crap out of me. I’ll just be trying to make guacamole by candlelight and BOOM! Lights out, and before I know it he’s already climbed halfway up my body, chasing down the avocado that’s in my hand.

Pili pili did a good job at keeping the rats at bay, and to him, I was like an open house that had free food and drink; a place he could pop back into when the nights were too cold, or if the hunting and love searching weren’t going so well. He thought he was the best thing that could’ve happened to any pet owner. So you can imagine his surprise when he returns one night to find a puppy, smaller than himself, asleep in my lap, being showered with more attention in just a few minutes than he was given in the past year. As Raha tried to initiate a friendship by smelling Pilipili’s buttocks, Pilipili took offense and within milliseconds lept into his ultra-scary hiss and pounce mode. When it came time to feed them, I feared the worst. They both eat the exact same food – dagaa – tiny little dried fish, along with ugali or rice –and, as I’d feared, things got really ugly. Hissing and barking and other sounds of imminent death or at least serious injury occurred at each feeding time, and I though I might have to choose one over the other. Of course, I already knew I’d choose the puppy I’d had for 6 hours over the cat I’d had for a year. I’m a dog person. I guess things could have turned out differently if I were allowed to keep the little abondoned kittens I found in our shed when I was in 4th grade on Tinkerhill Road. But, due to my brother Frank’s “allergies” (read: My mother HATES cats), after I nursed them back to health and got them used to humans, I was forced to give them away. About a year later, we got Binker, the lovable, excitable chocolate lab (may she rest in peace in Perryville, Maryland) from the Amish farm, and the rest is history.

Anyway, to make a long story short, Raha, whose name means “joy” or “happiness”, was allowed to sleep in my bed the first night while Pilipili didn’t enjoy that luxury until the third month. Since I returned from visiting the states for two and a half weeks, however, I have not seen Pilipili with my own eyes..I’ve only heard tales from the secondary students who live in the hostel across the valley that he came by to beg for some ugali and that he was looking rather strong and fierce (in kiswahli = kali), so I have to assume that he’s doing well and is happy as a wandering bachelor. My house is suffering the consequences of his absence, however, as I now hear the rats running over everything at night and in the morning see their little droppings that they somehow release with such precision. One even sat upon the edge of a 1.5 liter water bottle cap, which is about less than an inch in diameter. Needless to say, I’m beginning to miss the perks of having a cat, but have no regrets whatsoever about getting a dog. Raha follows me everywhere and that creates simultaneously the most terrifying combination for small children and the most entertaining for adults in Ilembo: white person walking with a dog. Most of the kids who are of primary school age love playing with Raha, and they always ask where she is and constantly yell her name, trying to get her to chase them. It’s hard trying to explain to Tanzanians that most dogs in American homes are allowed to sleep inside and are viewed as protectors AND friends..most of them just think I’m crazy…my counterparts Nahasibu and Stephano have been good sports, though, and let Raha jump up on them and play with her whenever they see her. Then of course there’s Sikitu, more commonly known as Skittles, who takes care of Raha when I’m gone. Skittles is a student in the OVC sewing program and does a great job looking after her, although I don’t know how much longer either of us can keep Raha from joining some of these gangs of dogs I see walking around Ilembo at dusk, constantly looking for new young recruits. I hear them at night sometimes, not so much barking but shrieking as they’re most likely fighting another gang of dogs. I think she’ll be street smart though and stay neutral since at least she’s getting fed at home. The rest of the dogs need to work for it.

Raha’s hobbies include: chasing chickens, chasing goats, chasing children, eating cow feces, retrieving jaw bones of cows or goats and bringing them back to the house, eating dagaa and avocados, tearing up toilet paper, interrupting health seminars and community theatre performances, and barking at birds.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What the Buck-et?

Sooooo let's just get this out of the way. It's been a while. It's been a long time. It's actually gotten to the point where it's awkward even talking about how much I've not been cookin up some Meeshloaf. You might be angry, you might be hungry, you might be asking yourself what the bucket has meesh been up to? It feels good to say this. I feel better. I think we can do this. I think I can do my best to sum up what I've been up to the last six months. Maybe pictures can do a better job. Bottom line, as the Will Ferrell/Chris Kattan parody duo of Air Supply said, "We're back. In a big way."

Not that I'm going to ignore the events of the past six months, but I think that the best place to start would be with the most recent activities and then going backwards. I just got back from Dar es Salaam for the VAC (volunteery advisory council) meeting with Peace Corps staff. I stuck around Dar after the meeting to go to the US Embassy for a 4th of July celebration (which was actually on the 5th of July) This event was really really fun but strange, since it felt like I was back in America. I had yet to visit the embassy, but basically we were outside on the lawn and they had a barbeque, a water dunk tank, bean bag toss, kids running around, US marines as bartenders, and at the end of the night there were fireworks. Real fireworks, which must have scared the crap out of Tanzanians outside the gates of the embassy who aren't accustomed to large explosions of light in the sky in the beginning of July. Most of the people that were there live in or around Dar, far from where I'm posted, so it was shocking to see the number of American families that live in Tanzania! After leaving that little bubble of Americans in the Embassy, literally minutes later I was on a ferry headed towards Mikadi Beach (a stretch of peninsula not far from the city, but a completely less crowded, less sweaty, less hectic atmosphere), elbow to elbow with all Tanzanians, standing next to cars, bajajis (tuk tuks), motorcycles, all thrown together on the same platform, making sure that no one was secretly pickpocketing me. Strangely, I felt more comfortable on the crowded ferry with Tanzanians than I did surrounded by the Americans living in Dar who were having rapid conversations like I used to hear and partake in while living in DC...trying to network for jobs, casually but purposefully dropping names of VIPs, which school they were sending their kids to, generally being careful about what they were saying...all social customs and topics that I had not been used to in a while.

It was during this trip to Dar, however, that I found Diet Faygo Root Beer in a store right in downtown posta area. I was shocked! How had this Detroit company managed to extend its market all the way to Tanzania? Who was buying and let alone drinking it?? There is no root beer in Tanzania. There's barely diet soda in Tanzania..let alone a diet brand of soda that no one drinks in this part of the world. I didn't understand, and still don't. Maybe it's better not to think about such deep perplexing issues such as this. Also, I think it's important at this time to say that there are no soda fountains in this country. I've tried to look for them, but have yet to find it. I love drinking soda in bottles (especially when going to towns that have electricity and having cold sodas), but thing I miss from the states is a giant refillable cup of fountain soda with ice cubes. When my parents came they watched in awe (or horror) at the joy I got from just eating ice with other PCVs at the nicer place they were staying. As I sat there eating ice from the plain glass of ice cubes, it was like that cereal commercial with the crunchy raisin bran or whatever it parents were saying things, and I just nodded, crunching the ice, not really listening, just basking in the glory of electricity and frozen filtered water.

Before going to Dar for the VAC meeting, I ran a week long Girls Empowerment Camp in Mbeya with 6 other volunteers. It was a great success, with about 65 girls participating from all over the region of Mbeya. We got some of the media to come since the place where we had the camp, Mbeya Instititute of Science and Technology, donated their hostel and all facilities, so that they could get some good press and hopefully be motivated to host more conferences like this in the future. Everything went really well with the participants and the PCVs who were facilitating the seminar. We learned a lot about what worked well during the week and what we would do differently next time. There's a ton of great pictures from the camp that I will try to post later, or send a CD back to my brother Frank to upload onto this blog, but all in all it was by far the coolest thing I've done in country thus far. The main goal of the camp was to train girls from each school to be peer educators, so that when they return, they can share what they learned with other kids in the schools, and help dispel myths and reduce stigma towards HIV/AIDS in the communities. One of the most interesting sessions we did was about myth vs. fact of HIV/AIDS. We did condom demonstrations, including one of the PCVs blowing up a condom to show that no air could pass through, since many of the girls believed that there were holes in condoms (some even thought that other countries made condoms with holes in them and gave them to Tanzanians for free in order to try and spread the disease) We were able to have some really good discussions and even though it was difficult at times following the discussion and mediating it (since it was all in Kiswahili), we all ended up on the same page and I think the girls were satisfied with the answers they got. Another main goal of the camp was goal setting and looking at career options for women in Tanzania. We had two female engineers from MIST come and help the girls plan out short term and long term goals, and to talk about the wide variety of jobs they could have if they continued their education. Many girls in Tanzania do not do well in science and math. Actually, most students male and female do not even pass their math exams at the end of secondary school. The girls were so excited to see two women who were actual engineers, one in computer engineering and the other in civil engineering. Each one of them made their own journals (the idea of journaling, creative writing, or writing down your thoughts was completely new and foreign to most of them) in which they were encouraged to write down how they felt at the beginning and end of each day, and what they had learned. One thing that became clear was that they all LOVED learning about computers and getting to use them. The computer lab at MIST could seat all of the girls and they each learned how to use the START menu to find Microsoft Office, and start a new word document. They each wrote out sentences and stories on the computer and learned how to save them. If I am able to link Ilembo with an alternative energy source, I really want to try and find computers that can be donated to the school. It's such a marketable skill and there are many jobs available for Tanzanians with even basic computer skills, like data entry related to health the next couple of years Tanzania is going to try to digitize their health info, so it would be a great field to train young people in now so that they can be ready for it.

Warning to men who don't like talking about periods: the next paragraph deals with talking about periods, aka, menstrruuuation
One of my sister Christy's friends, Heidi, sent me the description of a project she had done with women in Tanzania related to reproductive health dealing with sewing your own menstrual pads and also making cycle beads. This project went over really well at the camp. Each girl sewed her own menstrual pad and made cycle beads. Cycle beads help with knowing which days in a girls' menstrual cycle she is most likely or least likely to become pregnant. Since most of these girls at the camp had just gotten their period for the first time within a year or two (and some had yet to get it), the calendar method is not as reliable but it was a good way to initiate discussion about how they feel when they have their period, physiology and where the blood comes from, and what supplies they use during that time. It was really interesting and it was the first time many had ever spoken about their period at all. Many had said they were not warned about getting their period (like in the movie Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields), so they thought they were sick and were afraid to tell anyone. Sewing menstrual pads is such a great project idea because many of the girls do not use sanitary methods because they cannot afford pads that are sold at the dukas, and therefore they are more likely to get infections or miss school if they are too embarassed that they might leak through their clothes. After translating Heidi's lesson into Kiswahili, we gave it to every girl at the camp so that she can teach other women in her village how to sew these pads too.
Okay, period discussion is over.

Obviously, at the end of the camp we had an OLYMPICS day (complete with a relay race and tug of war similar to the one we did in training last year) and a talent show. The girls were so competitive with both the sports and the talent show, so it was hard giving the "you did your best speech" at the end to my girls who didn't win, even though their skit and song was by far the best from the group (not biased at all). I brought 9 girls from Ilembo, 5 from secondary school and 4 from Primary school. They were incredible. I was shocked at how well they participated and how creative they made me so excited to work with them and their new peer education groups once they start up the second term of school next week. I'm trying to figure out a way to use a recording studio in mbeya, Iringa or Dar that some Tanzanian musicians I know have talked about so that they can make CD's and tapes and we can sell them or give them out to buses. They pump out beautiful songs about HIV/AIDS, life in their village, friendship, god, and almost anything in the blink of an eye. And they always have perfect harmony thanks to predetermined vocal placements that I'm pretty sure are given the minute they come out of the womb. 'Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Mwampamba on your beautiful baby girl, she's 7 lbs, 20 inches, and an alto.'

I've gotta leave this internet soon but before the Girls Camp, my parents, Joe and Sheila, came to visit me in what will be known as the greatest Santoro African adventure in history. It was during their visit that my father and i killed two chickens in my courtyard and then cooked and ate them. It was during this adventure that Joe and Sheila saw how useful buckets are at every second of the day. It was also during this time that my mother danced with my widows group after eating ugali, bean leaves, spinach, pumpkin leaves, and being presented with homemade baskets. Her dancing skills (the side to side step and clap move worked really well here) impressed all of the women, who still ask where she learned to dance like that and if I can dance as well as her. I told them there was no way my skills compared to Sheila's, the former aerobics instructor. My dad, at this same party with my friends in the village, sang Fields of Athen Rye like he has done on so many other occassions, but I dont think any of them were as quite as memorable as this one. They sat at the meza kuu (head table) at world family day in my village, got Tanzanian kitenge clothing custom made for them in less than a day, and spoke in front of the catholic church and got a standing ovation. They were treated like movie stars and everyone in Ilembo is still asking about them, greeting them, and hoping they will come back again so that they can give them more food and soda. After the village, we went up north to Ngorogoro Crater, Serengeti, and Lake Manyara park for an amazing safari where I got to have a real vacation without worrying about travel, food, or anything and we all just got to relax and try to find animals. We saw everything! Black rhino, cheetahs, leopard, lions, and the migration of the wildebeests. My dad, by the end of the 4 days in the 4x4, had perfected his narrator voice on his new video camera...most used phrase... 'it's just....incredible' or 'very cool' while concentrating on steadying the digital zoom. Our guide, Hamza, was rewarded for his superior animal spotting with a Pittsburgh Steelers baseball hat that really went well with his yellow Zara tours shirt. To top it off, we ended up in Zanzibar until the day my parents flew home. The food in Zanzibar was incredible, and I got to have a massage and sushi on my birthday which was fresh and tasty and it felt like I was worlds away from the village I had been in just days before. So, in short, it was the best vacation I think any of us had ever had (who would have thought me, sheila and joe, veteran trio travelers of the Pennsylvania Turnpike from '98-'03, would be doing a safari in the Serengeti???), and my parents did it all without a hitch..they were incredible and I hope they inspire more people to come out and visit, it really meant a lot to me and of course to all of my friends in the village.

I'll have to dig deeper in my brain to remember things from before my parents came, because that took up a lot of memory space. Maybe I'll just post a picture montage instead. Spread the word. Dinner's ready, and everyone's invited to have some more Meeshloaf.....BOOM.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Meat the Kids

SIX SUPERBOWL CHAMPIONSHIP VICTORIES....GO STEELERS!!!!! It was a difficult and slightly terrifying couple of hours for me and those around me since I was unable to watch the game, but I want you all to know that I was wearing my Hines Ward jersey when I traveled from Dar through Johannesburg and into Lesotho, and the first evening of the conference. The morning after the game, or actually just a few hours from when it ended in Africa time, I saw highlights on CNN World News and I think I am okay with admitting that I cried a single tear when Santonio Holmes made that incredible TD reception. Moving on before I get too excited/start missing the Pour House even more, for what I have been lacking in words lately I will desperately try to make up by posting pictures. This has been a challenge for me, but seeing as I am around electricity and internet for a couple of hours I am giving it another shot.

And now.....Introducing Mary Ryan Foundation's Class of 2013 (the inaugural class):
Mwisho Luwela, Litiel Kiwoyela, Elisha Luwole, Mwakasita Saimon, Diana Nsahani, John Mwawa, Asia Pachanga, Afeli Juma, Willy Yella, Ebby Mwile, Shila Zakaria, Jeremia Elia, Tabitha Jackson, and Tabia Kaseka.

Many thanks to those of you who have donated to the Mary Ryan Foundation ( I know the MRF and the kids of Ilembo will appreciate your ongoing support..there is a lot of work to be done and it really is a unique chance to help an extremely underserved population in Tanzania. Again, I am working as a liaison between Community Based Organizations in Ilembo and the Mary Ryan Foundation, and the money is never going into my personal account, which is good, because it would be hard to do volunteer work if everyone in the village thought I had an endless supply of money. By giving the CBO's and OVC groups different resources to partner with, I hope that these kinds of support programs for vulnerable children could continue for a long time. All of these children are between the ages of 14 and 17 years old, and are living in an extremely difficult home environment. Most of the kids' parents have passed away, so they either live with a grandparent or in some cases a friend of the family or an older sister. When visiting them at their homes, it was such a wake up call as most of them slept in the uninsulated 'kitchens', which means on a straw mat on the dirt floor. It gets pretty cold in Ilembo at night, so seeing these sleeping conditions at their homes, along with the fact that women cook over a smoky fire almost all hours of the day made it not surprising that one of the most common diseases in Ilembo are upper respiratory infections and pneumonia. All of them passed their Standard 7 exams, which means that they are extremely bright because the majority of the Std 7 students do not pass, and therefore do not get the opportunity to go to school. (I am working to start up an OVC committee in Ilembo that would target helping the recent out of school youth who failed their exams, and getting an apprenticeship program going with these kids and the "fundis" in the village, so that the children can learn a skill of their choosing, such as sewing, making furniture, raising livestock, as well as teaching them different income generating skills like making batik, baking different foods that they could sell at the market, and bio intensive gardening/permaculture.

Each of the children above have written letters of introduction in Kiswahili, which I will be working with them to translate into English. In the meantime, I think it would be really cool if we started a Pen Pal program between you all and these kids (and eventually adding more kids if many of you show interest) If you would like to have a pen pal, simply comment on this blog and say that you would like to start writing letters, and I will "assign" you a child. If you are a teacher and would like your group of students to do this, then let me know and we can arrange something with the Coverell worldwide penpal service. This LoafLetters (too much?) thing would be a smaller group and it would be really cool for the first letter to enclose a picture and a letter of introduction, and I would incorporate the Pen Pal into the life skills session. So start commenting and getting your name out there if you'd like to get involved, it's a pretty easy, fun, and inexpensive way to make the day to day life of a child more exciting!

..and now I will try to post some photos of these kids and their caretakers...

...that didn't work so I am uploading some pictures to Picasa.. the batiks in the pictures are ones that we did during In-Service Training in Iringa with our was really fun and everyone came up with some pretty cool designs..mine is the red and yellow one that has the sun with a circle around it. There are also pictures of us doing permaculture gardening with our counterparts from IST, under the instruction of Peter Jensen aka King of Compost! He Some of the other pictures are from the HIV/AIDS and ICT conference in Lesotho. It was a really great time and I am so lucky to have was like a mini america! We stayed at an actual hotel, and I had cereal and orange juice and was incredibly excited. Besides the superficial parts that were a nice treat, I learned a lot about ICT and the activities and practices that are going on in other countries and in Tanzania. With everything from cell phone programs that health workers could use to send patient data to district hospitals (which would greatly help the PLWHA's that are awaiting ARV treatment), to anyone with a cell phone being able to text to a program to get information on the nearest Counseling and Treatment center or anonymously ask questions about a variety of health topics, these types of programs are getting started up across the region and Peace Corps volunteers could play a huge role in helping with the capacity building and training of local counterparts to use these programs to help the people in their community. So a lot of ideas were sparked and I'm excited to see how I can integrate the information from this conference with what I have already been doing...I am going to do a project to get just one computer and enough solar power to charge it so that I can start to teach basic computer skills related to health to a few people from the community (and start to transfer data from paper into digital so that it can be shared more easily with the higher levels that are actually providing the support for people with HIV and OVC's. At first I wasn't even considering this but in Lesotho they gave a lot of examples of health clinics in low resource areas where NGO's were able to assist them in setting up with solar power and basic skills training, so it seems like no matter where you are now it's getting easier to find ways to connect even the most rural areas. I hope the picasa album works... Miss you guys a lot, thanks for all the packages and letters, I can't tell you how much I love them. Well I guess I can tell you. I like them a lot..a wholleeee lot. But please visit the Mary Ryan Foundation website and also explore the other blogs of volunteers in Peace Corps, you can get them from the main peace corps website.. everyone is fired up from this In Service Training in Iringa and I know a lot of people from my training group are going to be doing some amazing things. Myself and two other female volunteers from my region are hopefully going to be writing a grant for a Girls' Empowerment Camp in June where we would select a group of young women to do life skills, HIV/AIDS awareness, teaching income generating projects/marketable skills, sports, and just all around good camp fun. Thanks for all your support....GO STEELERS