Monday, August 24, 2009

Lazy Beans

In Tanzania Peace Corps we have three different sectors of which people volunteer in; Secondary Education with emphasis in math and sciences, Health Education with focus on HIV/AIDS, and environmental volunteers. I have told my fellow volunteers in other sectors that I don’t think that I would have been able to stay here for two years in their sectors because their jobs are ambiguous and their role is driven by their communities; which in many cases resulting in volunteers being targeted by people looking for easy money. I thank God for my students, if it weren’t for them I think my frustrations with the administration, corrupt community leaders, and the bureaucracies of the government school system it would have driven me out of this country; their role in my work here has driven me near the edge of insanity, but believing in education and the drive of my students have kept me grounded with composure.

Since arriving at Mzumbe I have been working with our HIV/AIDS club at our school in different capacities. I teach them lessons from our Peace Corps life skills manual, provide updated data and facts to my best ability, and distribute magazines that deal with the issues of HIV/AIDS that are provided by Peace Corps. This year I started a service learning project with my students motivated by their desire to be better informed and to be educators to their peers. They guided the project from observing the needs in our community and what our goals are for the club. They found local doctors at the Mzumbe University Hospital to facilitate a two day seminar to train HIV/AIDS peer educators. They worked with the doctors and provided goals and objectives to the facilitators while making a schedule for the two day training. The students wrote many parts of the grant that we received to pay for our facilitators and other necessities for the two day training. The students owned the project, it was theirs and that was my favorite part of managing this event.

The week before the training was to take place I got really sick and diagnosed with bronchitis pneumonia. I was in Dar es Salaam with the Peace Corps medical staff up until the Thursday prior to our Friday-Saturday Training. I had asked one of the facilitators to make some copies for the training because I was worried I was not going to get released to go back to site. I explained to our medical staff at Peace Corps that I needed to get back to my site for our training because people had to be paid and I was the one who the grant was under. I got released in time to get back Thursday night, in time for our training the next day. We had invited 10 students from three other neighborhood secondary schools, and had 35 students from Mzumbe participating so our training provide education to 65 Tanzanian students with the goal they would be peer educators in their respective schools and communities. During the training I monitored the activities and made sure topics kept moving with the schedule and food was prepared and delivered on time. I was pleased with the work the facilitators did and the students seamed to take a lot of good information from the training, which was transparent from our pre-test/post-test results.

During one of the sessions I heard the doctor talking of ‘lazy beans’ and was curies on what topic he was talking of. I was worried that maybe there was an outbreak of lazy beans that I needed to know about; if one eats these beans do they become lazy? By eating lazy beans can one acquire HIV? If we have lazy beans today could we have lazy tomatoes, corn, onions, or lazy bananas tomorrow? But as I listened in to the doctor these ‘lazy beans’ were a group of women who are sexually attracted to other women, a mere mispronunciation. I was relived; I don’t have to worry that my idle beans sitting in my pantry will become ‘lazy beans’ after all.

At the end of the second day the one of the doctor/facilitator dropped the inevitable bomb. I had a bad feeling from the start of working with this man that he was going to try and exploit the training and get more money then we had mutually agreed upon. After paying him for his facilitating fee he asked to be reimbursed for making copies, which was appropriate for him to do so. He asked for 100,000 TSH ($80 US) for the 260 copies he made! When I asked him for the receipt he said it was done for him on credit, most likely printed from his office at the hospital or his home printer. He already had a copy of the grant that we had written which clearly showed that we had a total of 15,000 TSH allocated for making all of our needed copies. I was beside myself at the audacity of this doctor to try and charge me the American (In his eyes we all have unlimited amount of money at our disposal) 10 times the local price. I felt insulted, I am volunteering my time in Tanzania for 2 years and here is a local doctor who drives a SUV who lies to my face and hoping I am unaware to his ploy. Him fully aware of our funding I asked him, where he thought I would come up with the money for this charge it being half the amount of money I get a month for my living allowance? I pulled out my wallet and showed him the only 5000 TSH I had and mockingly asked him, do you want me to eat this week? He TOOK THE MONEY and left!

He had full right to be reimbursed for any charges he occurred for making the copies but his lack of integrity infuriated me; being a Doctor a person well-off and valued member in the community I hoped him to be more honest. After discussing the circumstance with my neighbors and fellow teachers I came to learn he wasn’t as respected in the community as I thought and was known for operating in fraudulent schemes in the past. Another lesson to me that corruption has infiltrated Tanzanians and most sectors of commerce in Tanzania.

Monday, July 20, 2009

3 Peaks

Long time since the last update… I don’t know what defense to use, so you can pick one you like:
- I am having the time of my life and it’s hard to put my experience into words; especially after delaying an update for my blog for so long.
- Computer was broke for awhile until I got a part shipped from the U.K. and making time at the internet cafĂ© isn’t in the schedule.
- I got pneumonia.
- Think I have become a cynic and don’t want to expel my frustrations to the world.
- My life here seems commonplace to me now and things have been coming routine to me.
In June my school had their big mid-term break and my last chance to vacation during my service here in Tanzania so I tried my best to make the most of it; I think we succeeded.

I have been fortunate to make good friends with a couple; Nathan and Andria from Salida Colorado living in the town closest to me Morogoro. Not only is it great having people from home that have similar interest and similar backgrounds as I do but they have a really nice house and a car! As a Peace Corps volunteer you get very accustomed to riding your bike every where and putting your life in the hands of the public transportation system; so a friend with a private car is a luxury welcomed after a year and a half in Tanzania. As my holiday approached Nathan and I (Andria had to work) decided and planned an adventure across Tanzania to see parts of the country we hadn’t seen before while trying to avoiding the exploited cost of the Tanzanian Park system.

After weeks of planning and maps marked out Nathan and I were off on our three peak adventure. Our plans where conceived after weeks of reading travel books, talking with Tanzanians and other volunteer, inventorying resources, and compelled for an adventure. Plan: four hikes; 2000 year old rock paintings, Mount Hanang (peak one), an active volcano Oldoinyo Lengai (peak two), and Tanzanian’s second highest peak Mount Meru (peak three).

The first leg of the journey was an 8 hour drive from Morogoro to Kolo rock paintings via Dadoma. The first leg of the drive was a nice scenic drive to Tanzanian’s capital, Dadoma all on paved roads… the last we would see for some time. In Dadoma we picked up a Peace Corps Volunteer who was looking for a ride north to Kondoa which by his luck was on the way to Kolo. After dropping off a grateful Peace Corps volunteer who got to by-pass his four hour bus trip by a two hour drive in an air-conditioned Land Cruiser we arrived in Kolo where the rock-painting parks office was located. We weren’t able to locate the camp sites our guide books talked about but we were able to find the village officer who let us park in his compound and pitch out tent for the evening. The next morning we packed up camp and met our guide and paid our park fees at the Kolo office.

We visited five sites of primitive rock paintings some said to date back over 3000 years ago. The sites where scattered around the rift valley escarpment and about 30 minute drive from each other and another hour hike from each parking area. The paintings were lackluster because of the age and deterioration of the sites and the amount of recent graffiti at some of them. Despite their lackluster it was appealing for its historical context and hiking around the hills. Most the paintings were a deep red shade said to be made from the juice of a fig and animal fat most of the paintings were depicted animals like giraffes, zebras, leopards, rhino and humans hunting, snaring, and drying their hides. We spent most the day visiting rock paintings sites and we then made our way to visit and crash at a environmental volunteer’s site who was living near Katesh/ Mount Hanang the fourth highest peak in Tanzania.

Like most mountains in Tanzania Mount Hanang is volcanic in origin and has long since blown its caldera. On our way to Katesh we wanted to shave off some of the driving time so we decided to try and take a shortcut and veer off the major roads, and like most short cuts I have taken in my life we got lost. Luckily Mount Hanang is visible from hundreds of kilometers away on a clear day and we knew if we kept it in front of us we would get there eventually. The thing about back/dirt roads of Tanzania is that they crisscross cattle tracks. Most of Tanzania is open to pastoral people so there is countless number of roads/tracks that go this way and that and one has a hard time discerning between a cattle road a ‘real’ road. This was when we started to mastering our techniques of finding our way on back roads and figuring out how lost we were. One technique was following the tire tracks, we thought this was the sure fire way to make sure we were on the right track but as fool proof as it sounds is much harder in practice, as cars might only pass once a week. The other way was asking locals, this was easy because there was always people walking around and it wasn’t ever very long until we came upon people we could ask, but the problem with this was we were dealing with yokels and the site of a car and white people often rendered them speechless or incomprehensible. The other problem with this technique is that Tanzanians like to agree and say what they think you want to hear. So asking a question like “Is this the way to Dongabesh?” you would insistently get ‘Ya’ regardless of the way you are heading. We had to be wise of the people we stopped to ask and how we asked our questions, it became a fun game that would last our entire trip. In our own defense we had good sense of direction and navigation (I had my GPS) skills but somehow we never knew exactly where we were on the map but did know where we were and were we needed to go.

We arrived at Tara’s home a fellow volunteer near Mount Hanang just as the sun was setting and grateful we had found our way. Her house is a typical home in a small village for Peace Corps volunteers in Tanzania, no running water no electricity. We paid her neighbor to watch the car over night and filled the night drinking warm beers and playing a Tibetan dice game that Nathan had brought along. The next morning we went to the village of Katesh where we were to start our hike. We were given instructions from fellow volunteers on how to hike the mountain and where to begin our hike. We parked our car at a guest house where we made reservations for that night and started on our hike. We were instructed that the hike would take about 12 hours and we had a late start and had about 10 hours of day light to work with. The first half of the hike was primary through farms and homesteads of locals who live on the slopes for better rains; the second part was in the forest and the start of the crater rim that slopped around to the summit. The hike was a good warm up to our up coming hikes, and the first of our three peak tour. We twice had the privilege of seeing a male bush buck scamper through the forest on the mountain, which was rare as no other Peace Corps volunteers had seen any wildlife on the mountain on their hikes. The hike provided beautiful views of the surrounding country and the countless number of volcano craters scattered around the Rift Valley escarpment and the few salt lakes in the area. On our descent we approached a man carrying a machete as we draw near to the farms and homesteads. Both Nathan and I were hoping that this guy was going to the forest to cute down timber; but as we soon learned we weren’t that fortunate….

We were apparently in an unmarked forest reserve and needed a forest permit to enter their forest. They were asking for 30$ U.S. for permission to enter the forest we were just leaving. As I explained to him that we didn’t have the money and that he wasn’t getting any money from us, we resorted to plan B: Take us to your Leader. We were escorted to our guest house by four yokels with sticks and machetes. At our guest house we were introduced to the newly appointed Hanang Forest Officer, we will call him James. Since James was the newly appointed officer there who by chance was coming from his previous post the Uluguru Forest Office (my back yard forest) I thought it appropriate to inform him the flaws in the system. How could his office justify trying to charge two residents of Tanzania 30$ U.S. a day to visit, after the fact we had already left the unmarked/unpublicized forest reserve. This ‘guard’ of his only came after us after being informed by a belligerent guide who we did not hire that morning on advice of fellow volunteers, the guide then informed the guard we were on the mountain without a permit. I think what got us off the hook was to point out the irony if the half dozen women we saw that day cutting down timber illegally for their cooking stoves continued unhindered in their forest reserve that both the guard and the officer would be out of a job without a forest (the area has suffered far too long without forest management). And we might be more inclined to pay if it was advertised to us before going into and before we had already left the forest. James saw our side of the story and was sympathetic, we bought James a beer and shared dinner together for his time; looks like we beat the heat on this one.

James that night over dinner told us a story of a man earlier that week that was killed by villagers of a different tribe after he killed a baby of a mother who witnessed him killing an elephant. The mother apparently made a commotion when she found the man with his slaughtered elephant and threatened prosecution. So the man killed her baby in reaction to her outrage, and he was then killed by her village.

The next morning our goal was Katesh to Karatu via the main…cattle track? I would say 75% of the day was either being lost or wondering if we were lost. We ended picking up a sweet old lady looking for a ride to a town at the junction of the main road we were looking for; I think that was the first car she actually had been in other than the daladala buses here. In Karatu we were given a cell phone number of a return Peace Corps volunteer from Libya who loved hosting guest. She proved to be a gracious host and an affirmation that you can meet the most interesting people living and working abroad.

Our next peak to climb was Oldoinyo Lengai the only active volcano in Tanzania and the only active carbonate volcano in the world. Oldoinyo Lengai comes from the Maasai language Maa meaning Mountain of God. They believe their god who granted them the ownership of all cattle in the world has resided in the active volcano. Maasai believe that sacrifices of cattle and goats done near the mountain will bring rains or help cure ailing relatives. The Maasai are pastoralist and known to be fierce warriors whom would not succumb to slavery or western ideals and culture, still to this day many still wear traditional robes draped over their shoulders and only feed almost exclusively off their cattle. The volcano lies just outside the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area and south of Lake Natron which is the largest breeding ground in the world for the pink flamingo. This area is part of a much larger Maasai Steppe, a region that is among the most extensive of any Tanzanian tribe. The drive out to our camp ground near Lake Natron was through the most desolate, dry, dusty, barren land I have ever witnessed. In 100 degree temperatures we drove in dust pools which took control of our Land Cruiser like two feet snow drifts, and kicking up a tail feather of dust that went on for hundreds of yards past the car. With no sign of water and land that was well over grazed it was remarkable we past any inhabitants. Before arriving to our campsite we passed three gates constructed by Maasai to enforce a toll for passing. It was absurd to have to pay a toll at these homemade gates on a road that isn’t maintained but when a six and half foot African with a spear and sword asks you to pay a toll, you pay the man.

We stayed a few days at Lake Natron, spent time haggling with the locals, watching jackals chase flamingoes and hike to waterfalls. Our most important task was to climb Oldoinyo Lengai it took a long time to find our guide Li who was willing to climb the volcano with us, he seamed to have the traits we were looking for; young and full of vigor. We would start our hike at 1:00 a.m. in the morning to make our summit by sunrise, and to beat the heat of the day. The volcano proved to be the hardest five hour hike I have ever done due to the loose volcanic ash footing, the severe slop, and lack of a trail to the top. The Volcano last erupted in 1998 and the landscape of hardened lava flows was a transparent reminder we were hiking on a very active volcano. After testing our tenacity we arrived at the calderas rim, and there was no mistaking the lapse in judgment I had made in wanting to climb Oldoinyo Lengai. The ominous steady noise of the boiling rock, smoke, and the orange glow of lava made me feel vulnerable beyond my comfort level. After taking in the great spectacle of an active volcano from its caldera and a few pictures I was exited to begin my journey as far away as possible. It was much like a colonoscopy; glad to have it out of the way and done with but never wanting to go back.

After arriving back to camp and a safe distance from the volcano we packed up the car with our Maasai trinkets and were hurried to get somewhere where the dust didn’t infiltrate every space of our belongings and our body. The next stop was a camp site Mto wa Mbu to clean-up, swim, and mingle with cute American tourist, I love American women. While at dinner in Mto wa Mbu Nathan and I were enjoying a beer while we waited for our 1.5 kg of grilled goat when a mob of Tanzanians started walking down the street. Nathan and I both gave each other the look of, ‘are you ready to run!’ I started asking people what was going and why were all these people gathered. The story we got was that a man walked onto someone’s farm and stole a bunch of bananas from its vine ($5 value) and was caught and his leg was chopped off! The mob was carrying him to try and get him to the hospital in Arusha; I would be surprised if he survived the night. Another reminder that the mob rules in Africa; no one has faith in the systems of government here.

Mount Meru the second highest peak in Tanzania was our next objective. After stocking up in Arusha for backpacking supplies we made our way to the Arusha National park gate, where we were able to find a camp site just out side the park. Colobus Camp Site which by our luck on the evening of our arrival was surrounded by a family of feeding giraffes.

We arrived early the next morning at Arusha National Park headquarters to pay are only national park fees of our trip. We drove around the fabled park where John Wayne’s Hatari was shot before we headed to the trailhead and parking lot for Mount Meru where we would acquire our armed ranger for our trek to the summit of Meru. We had our trek scheduled for a three day trip with the last day being our summit attempt and descent back to the trailhead; we were highly discouraged by the park employees for restricting our hike to three days and not hiring porters for our bags but as Coloradoans and experienced hikers we felt up to the task. The first day was a four hour hike through woodlands where we saw duikers, bush bucks, and water buffalo which is really a unique experience at Meru because most safaris you are restricted to your cars so having the intimate experience of seeing African wildlife by foot was fantastic. On our hike to the first hut we had passed a 4x4 on the trail that was bringing down an exhausted hiker who tried to do the hike in three days. The driver was joking with our guide after he found out we were trying to summit in three days, that he would be back to pick us up for rescue in two days; now the pressure was on. At each of the camps we stayed at they had well maintained huts for us to stay in which was virtually vacant other than one other couple from Holland. The second day to Saddle Hut was a hike that was to be along a ridge of the crater and much steeper than the previous day. We kept passing lots of signs of elephants in the forest but didn’t ever get a chance to see one from the trail. The best animal sighting of our trip occurred this day as we walked up a side of a ravine and just on the other side a hundred yards off stood a very large male bush buck. It was a great sighting because of the size of the male and how he appeared in the only opening of brush on the opposite side of the ravine and we stood there together trading glance for unforgettable moments of time. Saddle Hut provided our first views of Kilimanjaro and our staging point for our summit attempt.

We planned our departure on the fact that we wanted to be on top of Meru in time to see the sunrise and careful not to arrive too soon such that we would have to wait at the summit in the freezing temperatures at 14,980 feet. We left at about 2:30 a.m. for our hike. It proved to be a beautiful night with plenty of stars in the sky we hiked with the aid of our head lamps. This being the third peak of our trip Nathan and I had our pace in sync and we were covering a lot of ground passing the only another group who had left an hour and a half before us. The summit proved to be very cold, even after climbing Kilimanjaro the previous year and experienced with the high altitude climate in Tanzania I was still under dressed for the frigid temperatures. We arrived at the summit, Socialist Peak just in time for the great show that Mother Nature had in store for us. It was a beautiful site to be above the clouds and to see the sun rise up from behind Kilimanjaro and the extensive pallet of colors that she used in the sky that morning was out of this world.

We enjoyed our time on the summit as long as we could before we had to start moving to get our blood flowing. We hiked back to Saddle Hut to grab our packs and make the rest of the descent to the trail head. The descent was uneventful other than passing a few buffalo, wart hogs and another group on the way up and by chance one of the porters in the group happened to be our assistant guide on Kilimanjaro Sam.

After our hike we loaded up into the car and made our way to Moshi to stay with a friend of Nathan’s. That night we cheered to a fantastic trip and I relearned the healing powers of beer on aching bones and muscles, works every time.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

New Years onZanibar

My good friend and fellow volunteer Albert had reserved 16 rooms at a Pemba resort for three nights on the northern coast of Zanzibar for the New Year and forty-some close friends planned on spending days sipping on sugar and alcohol filled drinks and bringing in the New Year on Zanzibar, it sounds good right? New Years on Zanzibar.
Sorry mom and dad I didn’t bring a camera and most my stories…well… I don’t want to bore you so, I best feel a picture will describe my experience on Zanzibar.

After our stay on Zanzibar it was back to the main land of Tanzania and we had a week conference in Dar es Salaam for our Mid Service Conference and medical check up. The conference was a lot of fun to see and exchange remarkable stories with all the volunteers I trained with in September, October, and November of 2007 many of whom I hadn’t seen since our training. It was also nice to get a full check up from our Peace Corps medical unit; it’s always good to know your running on all cylinders.
The best part of the conference was the place we stayed at right outside the city-center of Dar es Salaam. It was a hotel/camp site with full bath facilities, camp sites, wood huts with a bed, bar, and a beach on the Indian Ocean. The resort had just changed management a year ago to a newly wed couple from Zambia/Peru; they had friends staying there that week for the holidays and a wedding from Zambia, South Africa, Czech, Tanzania, Namibia, and England. So the week was spent sharing good stories, games of cricket on the beach, company, and cuisine with people just as diverse as the places they call home from Professional African Hunters to people operating non-government organizations. It was a serendipitous joining of star crossed friends, which made me, redefined what it means to be truly welcoming and cordial. After our conference in Dar es Salaam and a memorable going away party from the people at our hotel, it was back to Mzumbe with time to start preparing for the new school year.

School has since started, a week behind schedule do to food not being delivered to our school cafeteria. It seams the problem is solved for now… This year I am teaching form III Math, a much easier syllabus to teach than my A level students but I do enjoy the students more. I am looking forward to working with my students this next year and still can’t believe that I am on my downward side of my two years here. Am I going to be ready to leave in November?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Tubing Mgeta River

Have you done this before? Have you seen it done before? These are the questions I get when the topic of tubing to Mgeta come up. Have you heard anyone that has done this? Have you ever seen the river? Can you swim? Do you know you could possibly fail?

Yes, it was the answer to the last question that made me reply regardless of the question, I don’t know; but I am going to try.

The story really starts a few months earlier on a failed attempt to visit a water fall near Bunduki village. The road from Mgeta to Bunduki is in the Mgeta River valley in the Uluguru Mountains and flows down hill to Mgeta. Walking the road you are always with in a few hundred yards of the river, and I remember looking from the road and remembering my Poudre River tubing days in Colorado and said “that river looks like a tube could float down it.” So the idea was born, and when my visitor for Christmas were eager to explore the Ulugurus the first thing in my mind to do was Mgeta River tubing.

After many of the guest (the smart ones) had departed my home either to go back home or continued travel; four of us Bev, Sarah, Matt, and I left for the Bunduki and Mgeta River, on the other side of the mountain from my home in Mzumbe. Day one we left my house and for the first hour we walked through fields of hand planted corn and cassava trees. After crossing a small stream at a field of bee hives kept by locals for their o’so sweet golden honey we started up an old no-longer-passable road through a series of small farms. After another hour we entered an enchanted mountain side known as Mongwe, which is a village/mountain community that exist and prosper because of their ‘banana tree forest’ that has been planted in place of the natural vegetation that thrives because of the high mountain tops of the Ulugurus receive more rain fall then the plains. The people in the community greet us and love all these white people that speak Swahili and are visiting their community, for the next two hours of walking through the mountain side maze of walk ways through Mongwe escorted by the 20 dirt covered self appointed miniature tour guides. As we left Mongwe we reached the main ridge separating Mzumbe and Bunduki our destination, at the top is tundra like bolder field with large rock faces shooting up to the sky. Most of my times on this pass it’s been engulfed in clouds and your visibility is limited but not this day, it was a clear hot Tanzania day where we could look out onto the savanna as far as the eye could see and not a cloud in the sky which made for breath taking views. As we skirted around this ridge and proceeded to climb up we came across a dozen peach trees, ripe with fruit! I had passed these trees never before knowing they were peach trees and now five hours into our hike these peaches are natures candy bar and the answer to our bodies’ craving for sugar. This hike makes all of us marvel at the notion that the Uluguru people live her everyday and carry everything they need on and off this mountain on there heads, and choose to live on the side of a mountain. A life style appreciated over time by some of God’s hardest working and toughest people.

After reaching our high point we started our two hour descent into Bunduki Village and for the first time the group as a whole was able to see Mgeta River, the consensus was it looked floatable but first we had to find lodging in Bunduki, food, and a way to pump four Land Rover inner tubes up to float down the river. Walking into village among many looks from the local villagers as the four white people who just strolled down their mountain with a bucket and four inner tubes slung around their shoulders looking for a place to sleep and beans and rice. We avoided questions about the inner tubes through the night not to shock the locals too much so they would not put us up for the evening. We stayed at a local grandmother’s little shop in the back among corn and the rats, it was nice. What can you expect? Bunduki never has visitors, but we will all agree they were great host and cooked a great delicious dinner for us of ugali, spinach, and eggs which the taste was complimented with a spoonful of hunger which is always the best spice for a late well deserved dinner.
The next morning Matt and I were in search of a bike pump to pump up our inner tubes, with the help of a young lad we got our tubes inflated. By now we had lots of attention from the locals as today was Sunday, great day for God and for a drink. The local bar/benches with a large drum of home made corn wine was busy that day and they couldn’t believe what we were attempting to do and the effort we did to come and swim in their river. My travel mates were finally set assured that there were no snakes or crocodiles in the river by the local people, apparently my word on the matter was not good enough; I told them it was too cold for them in the river but they didn’t believe me. By 11 o’clock we were off down the river, four tubes and one dry bucket bungeed to my inner tube and we were entering the unknown. I have to admit I felt like we had just ported through Brazil and now was floating down a undiscovered tributary of the Amazon, it was cool and for the first two hours it was a blast of small rapids and long lazy stretches of snaking down the river on a inner tube a good time and smiles all around. But like all adventures things don’t always go as planned, the river ahead started to make a low thunderous roar and the river began to pick up speed, Matt yells from behind me “maybe we should’ve walked up the river first to check out the rapids.”

I reply “Matt that sounds like that would have been a good idea.” As the deemed water ox of the group I took the rapids first and guided people from down river where to go and where to avoid large rocks. As I approached a bridge made by the local villagers I could tell by the terrain that we had to portage as the elevation began to drop and the roar of the river was louder than before. I was warning everyone up river to stop and get out their tubes as we had to get out and walk around this section of river. All was fine until my little Korean American friend was stuck in her tub and could not stop her self so I grabbed her tube and got her stopped, but in the skirmish I lost my footing in the fast current and her momentum collided with me, I was off down the river head first on my tube! After a couple four to five foot waterfalls a lost hat and lost sandal I was able to grab on to a fallen tree and to pull my-self out of the water. I only lost my lucky hat I had had it since high school, and a few bumps and bruises. It was all worth it because I gave the thirty something villagers something to talk about who were on they way back home crossing the bridge and watching these white people struggle in the river like we were seals playing in the water exhibit at the zoo and they were studying marveling at our strange behavior and asking themselves why, and wondering when the next show would begin?
It wasn’t until after three or four more portages and a few more bumps and bruises that we started to ask our selves why too. I was tenacious and not willing to give up on our goal of floating to Mgeta village, but the rest of the group thought the road a safer and warmer passage. So after pulling up my boot straps up and admitting remedial defeat on our adventure, we were out of the river and walking the road to Mgeta where there lived another Peace Corps volunteer who would be willing to put us up and feed us. Although we didn’t make it to our final destination floating on the tube we still arrived in Mgeta that evening and jumped off the 10 meter high bridge that spanned the Mgeta River, a nice bath at the end of a long day. The trip was concluded as a big success and a lot of fun stories to be told on our next adventure on Zanzibar and I with the newly titled nickname Water Ox; which I fear will stick for the duration of my time in Tanzania.

After returning back to Mzumbe and a day of rest and laundry we were off to the beach. New Years on Zanzibar, it just sounds good, I like saying it “New Years on Zanzibar.”

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Turkey

December in any Christian community I think is hectic with more people traveling and markets bustling with holiday shoppers after a fruitful harvest. It’s especially chaotic when it coincides with the break for most school aged children, and a month of heavy tourism in Tanzania. For many Peace Corps volunteers who teach at secondary schools it is also a time for much needed breaks from our villages and a chance to recharge our relationships with fellow volunteers. The plan as of September was to have Christmas at my house in Mzumbe. I had arranged a teacher friend of mine who raised turkeys to raise a turkey for our Christmas dinner, with instructions to feed it well and make it fat. White elephant gifts were arranged and a bottle of Canada’s finest whiskey held in reserve for the occasion.
Matt from my training group arrived first he had just come from Dar es Salaam he had dropped his mother and his uncle off at the airport; they had come to visit Matt and do a Safari. So days before the other guest would arrive Matt and I where on task mode; we had a turkey to kill and cook, food and drinks to arrange, and a tubing trip to plan (keep reading). We had a great time reminiscing with people from training, running around the bureaucratic halls of the Tanzanian Forestry Department in search of permits…only to be swindled, hiking the mountains, testing local beverages, and biking the never ending dirt roads of Africa. We had a good time…
When Christmas day came and the arrival of the other party guest Matt and I had completed our entire task list except for one: Turkey. As far as cooking the turkey went deep-frying was the choice most liked by the group, and it sounded like an adventure to me. There is something about the possibility of failure in an adventure that I love, to prove the naysayer wrong. Deep frying a 10 kg turkey (that we had spent $50 for because Turkeys are rear here in Africa), 15 liters of hot flammable oil, a open charcoal flame, all to be done by Americans who had never fried a turkey before; ya this has failure written all over it I am so in! The only rule of the day was no beer until the turkey is out of the oil, I have seen one too many flaming Texans on U-tube to know better; “Hey ya’ll hold my beer and watch this?”
The turkey was paid for and would be picked up Christmas morning…of course mom it was after we went to the sunrise church service. So at nine in the morning we had a large live turkey at our Christmas feast so step one: live turkey + sacrifice = delicious food. People where most curious about the sacrifice in this equation. Only three willing to take part in the sacrifice the others had their own task, film and photo crew. I being the good host that I am and I couldn’t ask any of my dinner guests to kill the turkey so the blade was in my hands. I made quick work of it and was complimented on my surgical like knife skills while preparing and butchering the turkey for the fryer, thanks dad for all the red-blooded American service learning field experience. My neighbor Edward was tickled pink to have turkey gizzards, legs, and intestines for Christmas dinner as was I to get rid of them. I borrowed a industrial size charcoal stove made out of a old car wheel and a large pot from my secondary school, the missionary couple was graceful enough to deliver us 20 liters of vegetable oil, and Matt and I rigged up a pulley system to lift and lower the turkey into the oil and a wire basket to cook the wings and thighs. The turkey had to be cooked in two portions torso/wings and thighs in the basket; because Wikipidia said that any turkey over 10 pounds is best fried in two parts. After four hours of fanning flames, balancing pots of hot oil on rocks, checking the turkey with the pulley system and meat thermometer, and making sure no one died. The turkey was deliciously cooked and served around five o’clock and I got to enjoy the first well deserved beer of the day and the most satisfying turkey I had ever eaten before. And for all the fixings I have to thank my great partners in crime in the great Christmas feast that cooked it all from stuffing down to the cheese cake! Everything was delicious and best of all we had a community of good friends and relationships that were made from unlikely cultures and personalities.

Recovering from our gluttonous holiday weekend it was time to get to business. I real adventure, not none of this prissy cooking stuff. It was time to go tubing.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rungwe Mountain

Since the last update the incoming class of Peace Corps Trainees has finished their training and has been placed as volunteers at their respective sites. A new volunteer was placed near me as a site mate for me at another secondary school in the Uluguru Mountains. She has already decided to return back to America, “It wasn’t what I expected.” I was disappointed when I found out her decision to return before she started teaching but was not taken back.

November I made a trip to the Southern Highlands of Tanzania to work with a fellow Peace Corps Teacher and his students to map a trail from their school Rungwe Secondary School to Rungwe Mountain Peak. I left on a Friday morning and boarded a bus to Mozambique. Before arriving at the boarder of Tanzania/Mozambique I got off the bus at a village where the road to Rungwe began. After meeting up with the other volunteer and his mountain club we had a nice dinner and left for the Rungwe Mountain Peak at 10 p.m. Before I go on I want to preference this story that I was ill prepared for this trip too few clothing and not enough water, two things I should know better coming from Colorado…I feel shame. The night was perfect with no clouds and the stars painted the entire sky, half hour into our hike we saw the biggest of which we would see three, shooting stars. The first shooting star was the biggest one I have seen to date, we saw it shoot across the sky and slowly burn out into the darkness and it was amazing. The hike that night was four hours to the lower tree line of the mountain where the students built two campfires to keep warm until first light. At first light we made the last hour to Rungwe Mountain Peak, Rungwe Mountain is a dormant volcano with a large crater at the top. The crater was the former top of the volcano but now is the size of four football fields, which made for a great piece of land to play Frisbee. The crater was a lot of fun to play in and take a short nap in but the hour down navigating the steep ridge was a sign of the work it would take to climb out of the crater. By now it had been fourteen hours into our hike and I had started to become low on drinking water and the two hour hike out of the crater in the African heat was making me curios; why is it that humans find joy in making themselves suffer? From the summit of Rungwe to the next available water source was four hours back down the mountain, when we arrived at the stream I had never drunken so much untreated water in my life…ever. I am happy to say that I didn’t suffer any major illnesses despite my efforts of drinking liters of untreated water and the handfuls of wild raspberries we ate on our way down. Arriving back at Rungwe School was very sweet it had been 36 hours since I left my home in Morogoro on a bus and then proceeded to climb a mountain; the only sleep during this time came while upright on the bus and a calm nap in the crater of a dormant volcano. The first shooting star we saw that night proved to be a good omen for the trip!

After the trip to the southern highlands it was back at school to wrap up the finale term before the New Year. I was engulfed with work at school as the term came to an end with the preparation of exams, administering of exams, marking exams, getting finale grades together and filling score cards and parent reports out to mailed before we were to be released for our term break.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

It's a Baby Girl!

Tanzania spring has sprung and things have been heating up around here. I have been busy helping to prepare for the new volunteers coming in to teach here in Tanzania and best of all officially marking a full year living in Tanzania. 33 new volunteers arrived in the evening of September 19th in Dar es Salaam after 24+ hours of traveling and ready to start their two year journey teaching in Tanzania. They didn’t come empty handed they arrived with a ton of luggage and hundreds of question, and me and two other seasoned volunteers welcomed them in Dar es Salaam and stayed up answering their questions and reassuring them they made the right decision to come to East Africa to teach Math and Science. For me it was a great way to mark my first anniversary of arriving in country and a reminder of how clueless I was getting into this experience and now how I am transformed as a veteran volunteer here in Tanzania. I spent the next five days with the volunteers while they stayed in Dar es Salaam and then took their bus trip to Morogoro, their new home for the next three months and my home for the last year. I was around during their training sessions held by the staff to help interject personal experience and the point of view from a volunteer, my only request of the Peace Corps staff while there was “don’t scare the new volunteers!” I think I succeeded; no one has packed their bags and returned home yet. While in Morogoro I held training sessions on what to prepare for at the Homestay Families that they would be living with the next three months, a session on the town and community of Morogoro with a walk around of town in small groups. The session on Morogoro gave me a new sense of pride of my home community and a reminder of how beautiful it is around here. There is nothing like adding a boost to my moral by looking through the lenses of new enthusiastic volunteers. The training experience has helped in looking back and reflecting on how much I have accomplished in the last year; from my Swahili, cultural integration, working in a Tanzanian school, and just to be able to be comfortable in the community and to feel like ‘welcome to My town Morogoro’.
The overall experience of helping with the new volunteers has been great and a great way to surge forward to the next year. The only down side was the time away from my school Mzumbe, three days spent preparing for the new volunteers with the training staff and the five days with the volunteers. I have been able to get back to site and been busy at school as well.

My neighbor and best friend here at Mzumbe Remy Mpagama have been expecting his first child with his wife Mary. Last week was week 38 of her pregnancy and I had left her and the unborn baby with strict instruction to wait for labor until I was back from my training duties with the new volunteers, we had a good laugh. Two days after returning back to Mzumbe I was over at their home enjoying dinner and Mary was having pains and felt that the time was to be very soon. That night at one in the evening Remy and his wife went to the dispensary at the Mzumbe University where they were referred to the regional hospital in Morogoro and were given a lift with the university’s ambulance. At five in the morning Remy came and knocked on my window and informed me that Mary was at the hospital and the baby was coming. I got dressed quickly and Remy and I jumped on a daladala into town. On the way there we got in accident, our daladala and another daladala got to close to each other at an intersection and hit/scraped each other as we passed. After the drivers got out and decided they were both at fault and no major damages, we were back on our way. Our first stop in town was to the bank so Remy could have money to pay for the hospital bills. But the bank employees had been on strike for the last two days and this was the first day they had been open that week so as we arrived the line for the bank was 50 meters long. Remy’s uncle met us there and held a spot in line as we went to the hospital to check up on Mary. Mary was having complication and it was hard to get a doctor to come and look at here for a diagnosis. I have two South Korean friends who are volunteers at the hospital one a nurse, and another is a doctor. I was able to get a hold of them and with in ten minutes they were both there helping Mary and finding out what was going on, and finding the doctor that was suppose to be helping. They were great! I felt guilty getting special treatment for Remy and Mary just because of whom I knew and being a foreigner, but it’s good to have friends in high places especially when getting treated at a public hospital in Africa. We found out she was having an enema and lost a lot of blood and needed a blood transfusion before she could give birth. There is not blood bank at the hospital and the nearest Red Cross blood bank could take a while to get the blood we needed. Next best thing to a blood bank is a school full of students who would love a free ride to town and a free lunch. Four students with O+ blood and a teacher escort made their way to the hospital. When they arrived and the technician who was taking blood asked if they had eaten that day, none of them had eaten a thing. So I ran with them down the street and bought them some food and they scarefed down the food and it was back to the hospital to give blood. The blood was taken and the transfusion started in a matter of an hour, I am not a blood expert but I can’t imagine too many test were conducted in that time before the blood transfusion was given. Mary was doing well but her contractions were not serious yet, so Remy and I went back to the bank to wait in line. After the bank we communicated with Mary to make sure things were well, and decided to go have some lunch. It was the first time he had eaten since the previous night and still hadn’t slept. We went back to the hospital and waited, men typically aren’t allowed in the pregnancy ward so Remy and I waited outside and a fellow female teacher kept running out side to give us updates every half-hour. At 7:30 PM September 24 Beatris Mpagam was born, 3 kg and healthy. It was a relief both mom and baby were healthy and we celebrated outside and Remy was on the phone calling everybody he knew. It was one of the longest days of my life, I was grateful to be there with my friend and a chance to experience the hospital system here.
It was great to see how our community at Mzumbe Secondary School came together to welcome a new addition to our family here. Not only the students for their blood but all the teachers who stopped by at the hospital that day, the phone calls, and arriving back home that night in a taxi honking the horn and people running to the car to congratulate Remy. Seeing how a community/tribe here rallies together for such an occasion was a great experience and provided a deeper understanding of how every community member owns situation of other community members and a great sense of unity.